Hello everyone and welcome to one of my favorite feature-Bites From Our Backlist. While I’m the only one writing these reviews, Winston is here snoring beside me, lending moral support. He seems unconcerned by the reviews that have piled up over the last few months and well, that makes one of us.
Today I’m talking about books that either have magic interwoven in the story or, in the case of Katherine Center, is just a magical story by virtue of its loveliness.
Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa BashardoustGirl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
on July 7, 2020
A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse...
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it's not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother's wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she's willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.
What I Loved: I was initially drawn to this book because of the inspiration taken from Persian mythology and folklore. My undergraduate degree was in Ancient Near Eastern SItudies and so I’m familiar with a lot of the source material of this story. Essentially a sleeping beauty retelling, Bashardoust’s sophomore novel promised an intricate story, compelling characters, and political intrigue at every turn. The pacing was fine and the mystery at the center of the novel was interesting. I appreciated the ownvoice angle and the fact that protagonist was bisexual. I wanted so desperately to like this book more than I did but there were just some issues of execution, plot and character development that were really disappointing to me.
What I Didn’t Love: I really enjoyed the book until a certain point when a twist was revealed. Then the book just kind of felt chaotic and confusing. Too many of the characters were shallow and superficial and merely made choices to move the plot along. There were a handful of threads that were brought and then quickly brushed aside. Maybe it was because I largely experienced the story on audio at a time when I was struggling to focus on much of anything, so many this is more of an issue of right reader wrong time, because I love dark fairytale retellings. Despite my dislike of the novel I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a dark, slow burning fairytale retelling.
What You Wish For by Katherine CenterWhat You Wish For by Katherine Center
on July 14, 2020
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living. But she wasn’t always that way.
Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen. But he wasn’t always that way.
And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.
As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.
With Katherine Center’s sparkling dialogue, unforgettable characters, heart, hope, and humanity, What You Wish For is the author at her most compelling best.
What I Loved: As a public librarian I cannot say enough about how much I loved this latest novel from Katherine Center featuring an elementary school librarian. It was so fun to read the book and see the similarities between Samantha’s day to day routine and my own experience. The romance at the center of the book was entirely believable and quite complex. Sometimes I struggle with romance novels because they are predictable but there were enough surprises in the story that the book held my attention the entire time. Another facet of Katherine Center’s books that I adore is their tendency to tackle difficult issues without making the story feel dark or bleak. In the case of What You Wish For, Center tackled the subjects of epilepsy (in Sam’s case) and violence in schools (in the case of Duncan). This story of joy and comfort tackled these issues respectfully and effectively. Last but certainly not least, there is a goldendoodle in this book that I wish I could adopt. All of it worked together to make an amazing romance novel.
What I Didn’t Love: Honestly, I really have nothing to complain about. I do wish that we had been given even more of a glimpse into Sam’s experience as a school librarian. But honestly, its a very minor complaint and What You Wish For was one of my favorite romance novels of last year. Overall, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a feel good story
Lobizona by Romina GarberLobizona (Wolves of No World, #1) by Romina Garber, Romina Russell
on August 4, 2020
Some people ARE illegal.
Lobizonas do NOT exist.Both of these statements are false.
Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who's on the run from her father's Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
Until Manu's protective bubble is shattered.
Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past--a mysterious "Z" emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it's not just her U.S. residency that's illegal. . . .it's her entire existence.
What I Loved: I loved this fresh take on a werewolf story. It tackles the difficult subjects of immigration, systemic racism, misogyny, and understanding one’s identity. Drawing on Argentinian folklore. My husband lived in Rosario, Argentina for a few years before we got married which means I am endlessly fascinated by books that draw on the history, culture and mythology of the country. I absolutely adored Manu, she is fierce, independent and determined. The book definitely went in an unexpected direction and I mean that in the most positive way. What I assumed would be an urban fantasy quickly morphed into a book featuring a magical school, witches, werewolves and magical sports. I found it absolutely delightful. I honestly cannot believe Lobizona is a debut novel and while the title may give away one of the key reveals of the story, there were still plenty of twists and turns I was not expecting. I cannot wait to see where the next book goes and to read more about Manu and her rag tag group of friends. You can find the Q&A I did with Romina here.
What I Didn’t Love: As with the title above, I have very little to complain about when it comes to this debut novel.
These Violent Delights by Chloe GongThese Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1) by Chloe Gong
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on November 17, 2020
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
What I Loved: This Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai is rather divisive but I really enjoyed it. I loved the star crossed protagonists, both Juliette’s ruthlessness and Roman’s inherent desire to be good even when there was immense pressure to act to the contrary. I found numerous facets of the novel pleasantly surprising, but at the top of the list is how dark and violent it was. There were some incredibly gory scenes and, as someone who adores horror, I loved all of it. I also really appreciated how the author played with the theme of colonialism, symbolized by a madness that ravaged the city, regardless of class, gang affiliation, or family association. While there were some twists that I found predictable in the story, there were plenty of unexpected turns and I enjoyed the slow burn romance at the heart of the book. Overall, I really enjoyed this one and cannot wait to read the author’s second book coming out next year.
What I Didn’t Love: The pacing. While this was not necessarily my complaint I have seen plenty of frustrations around just how slow the book was. Normally slow paced novels have a tendency to send me spiraling into a reading slump. However, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the characters, and the mystery that I had no problem with it- even if the book did take a few days longer to read than a book of that length normally would.
A Wicked Magic by Sasha LaurensA Wicked Magic by Sasha Laurens
Published by Razorbill on July 28, 2020
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets The Craft when modern witches must save teens stolen by an ancient demon in this YA fantasy-thriller debut.
Dan and Liss are witches. The Black Book granted them that power. Harnessing that power feels good, especially when everything in their lives makes them feel powerless.
During a spell gone wrong, Liss's boyfriend is snatched away by an evil entity and presumed dead. Dan and Liss's friendship dies that night, too. How can they practice magic after the darkness that they conjured?
Months later, Liss discovers that her boyfriend is alive, trapped underground in the grips of an ancient force. She must save him, and she needs Dan and the power of The Black Book to do so. Dan is quickly sucked back into Liss's orbit and pushes away her best friend, Alexa. But Alexa has some big secrets she's hiding and her own unique magical disaster to deal with.
When another teenager disappears, the girls know it's no coincidence. What greedy magic have they awakened? And what does it want with these teens it has stolen?
Set in the atmospheric wilds of California's northern coast, Sasha Laurens's thrilling debut novel is about the complications of friendship, how to take back power, and how to embrace the darkness that lives within us all.
What I Loved: Out of all the books on this list, this one surprised me the most and mean that in the best way possible. I thought I was getting your run of the mill YA fantasy featuring teenage girls messing around with magic, making mistakes, and reaping the consequences. What I got was the closest read-alike I have ever come across for Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. If you have hung around Stuck in the Stacks for any period of time you know that Sawkill Girls was one of my favorite queer horror novels and while A Wicked Magic definitely leans more towards fantasy than horror, there are so many similarities and I absolutely loved it. I also was not expecting the depth of the female relationships in this book. There were complicated friendships, potential romances, found family, and complicated pasts. The novel is told in numerous points of view and while in less capable hands, it might feel chaotic or confusing, Sasha handled each point of view brilliantly. If you can’t tell I absolutely adored this book and really have nothing negative to say about it. You can check out the Q&A we did with Sasha here.
What About You?
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!