Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)   Rating:

Hardcover:  336 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Note: I won an copy of this book via Samantha’s YA Halloween giveaway.

overview Alejandra “Alex” Mortiz is not just any other Bruja. She is one of the most powerful Brujas of her generation.  But if she could have it her way, she doesn’t want anything to do with the magic that runs in her lineage; her blood. All Brujas usually show or start exhibiting their magical abilities before they are sixteen. Well, so has Alex; a long time ago. But she has hidden this fact from her mom and sisters. Showing it the first time killed her pet cat and drove her dad away from home so she wants nothing to do with magic. But with her Deathday celebration just days away, she is worried that she can no longer exercise the choice to subdue her magic. After all, the whole point of the Deathday ritual is to invoke the blessings of her ancestors’ souls so that she is able to control and use her powers in the best possible way.When Nova, a mysterious Brujo boy with a shady past tells her that there is a way to refuse her “rite-of-passage” to become a proper Bruja, she is determined to see it through.  With hopes of living a “magic-free” life, she takes matters in her own hands and tries out a different Canto in her Deathday ceremony. But instead of wiping out her magic, it wipes out her entire family and guests…

Now, she has to turn to Nova for help to get them back. But getting them back from Los Lagos – a place where the dead rest before passing on and where Brujas are banished into exile by the Deos  – is not going to be easy.

My thoughtsBringing in elements of Latinx culture and folklore into its world-building of magic systems and ancestry, this book was all kinds of wonderful. I loved how centered it was on family and traditions passed down from generations. It is something that I don’t read a lot in fantasy world-building these days. I mean, maybe it is just the genre- but everything is so large-scale with huge stakes, kingdoms, and borderline-dystopian, if not dystopian. The world in Labyrinth Lost felt “smaller” in geography but cozier. Even when the story shifts from regular Brooklyn to the magical Los Lagos, it felt like some strange private island and not an open battlefield. I think by keeping the actual magical locations easy to remember and understand, the author could focus more on what Alex was going through emotionally in trying to understand and process what is happening around her and within her. (Psst.. it does help that we get a map of Los Lagos).

I can also now understand why this book made it to so many of the LGBT recs list last year. Alex’s bisexuality is presented in the same way any cishet characters’ romance would have. This is how it should be in fiction, and I needn’t have to be “applauding” a book for it.  But it doesn’t happen that often.  So kudos to the author for such a casual, non-gimmicky rep. Thank you for not unintentionally othering Alex.  There is enough of that nonsense going on in real life.

I loved all the Mortiz family scenes, especially with her older sister Lula. It was nice to see her not being the usual older sister stereotype – rude, bitchy, insecure and aloof from the rest of the family. I can’t wait to read about all of them again in the next book and maybe see more of them. This book, understandably, was all about Alex getting her family back so we don’t read much of them in this book. Although, the author does manage to make their presence felt as much as possible during Alex’s journey.

I rarely see Hindus as one of the MCs, so it was nice to see Rishi Persaud not just being a token desi character. (Sidenote – Rishi is a very uncommon choice of name for a girl.) It was also nice change to see a desi who is not shown as conforming in terms of styles or choices. (I am not saying that it is not accurate rep, but it is just that I have already seen such characters in too many books, so Rishi was a welcome change) Oh, and thank god she is not eating “naan-bread” or “chai tea” but just roti and dal. No, seriously, I thought if I did look twice, I would see “roti-bread” or “dal-lentil” instead.

I am not sure how I feel about Nova though. His backstory and motivations were explained in the end but it was all at once and it felt rushed, and I don’t think I even understood it in terms of the “magic logic”. I also feel that in terms of magical concepts, the plot might have been.. stronger (?) if all the explanations didn’t come back to (or rely heavily on) souls. (So many of the other elements that we see throughout the book, like magical creatures, just come together in the end like some sort of a monolith.) That just made some things in the end feel less menacing than it should have been. The main villain – the Devourer – definitely should have creeped me out. But I felt like I could have probably taken a kitchen knife, jumped into the pages and stabbed her in the – well, wherever her heart is supposed to be.

Alex is more likeable and personable once she is more accepting and open about how special her family and heritage is, and how special Rishi is to her. But just by herself, she is pretty clueless through most of the book .. which works. There is nothing more eye-roll worthy than a Chosen One being a know-it-all. Alex gets a lot of help and pretty much blunders her way through a good portion of the book before having direct advice handed out to her about just how exactly being a conduit of magic works. But I feel  I would have probably liked and know more about HER (rather than all that comes with being a Bruja) in the next book (assuming the next book features her..)

I can’t wait for synopsis of the second book to come out. The tidbit released by the author last month has me wondering whether it is again going to be from Alex’s POV or someone else’s.

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Plan Bea – By Hilary Grossman

Rating:

Buy Links:

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Note : Received this book through hellochicklit.com (aimee) blogiversary giveaways.

Synopsis:

We live our entire lives thinking we know those closest to us. But do we ever really? 

On the outside, Annabel O’Conner has it all – the perfect husband, two adorable children, an amazing job, and a mother from hell! Just when she gives up trying to regain her overbearing mother’s love, an unexpected call turns her world around and makes Annabel question everything she believes about her life.

Could falling in love give a cold, stubborn, and selfish woman a second chance to open her heart back up to her family?

Beatrice Buchanan has spent more years than she can remember distancing herself from everyone close to her. She barely has a relationship with her grandchildren. The only time she manages to have a one way conversation with her daughter is during her weekly fifteen-minute commute to the nail salon. When Bea meets Walter on a cruise she realizes there may be more to life than designer clothes, killer handbags, and impressing the ladies at her posh country club.

As the mother and daughter duo team up to plan “Long Island’s wedding of the year” they confront the secrets and lies that have defined them. This humorous emotionally honest women’s contemporary fiction novel will tug at your heartstrings and the twist ending will shock you.

“Although a light read, the subject matter was very sad at times and I found myself choking back tears, but in a good way! It was so authentically heart wrenching yet often very funny too. The characters were so well fleshed out and three dimensional – no one was perfect and no one was fatally flawed – like real life. I thought the twist was genius!” – Meredith Schorr Best Selling Author

My Review:

This was so different than the chick lit I have read till date, and yet so chick-lit-y “in spirit”. For starters, men are not the focal point of drama or conflicts, instead we have a strained mother-daughter relationship at the heart of this book. Anndd… there is a lot of shopping and wedding preps, but for a change we have the young, female protagonist investing her time to shop, celebrate and prep for her mom’s wedding and not her own. Annnddd .. this is a biggie – For a change, we have people pointing out she is whiny and on a self-pity mode. That doesn’t happen too often and usually she goes through the entire book feeling entitled to act whiny and wallow in self-pity.

Beatrice, being the titular character, and with a lot of background information on her to partly explain where her difficult behavior stems from, is definitely the most “interesting” and fleshed out character in the book. In fact, I can even imagine a prequel titled “Bea-fore Plan Bea” chronicling her younger days. So in comparison, I guess it is easy to for Anna’s “virtues” to go a bit unnoticed.  But she does deserve most of the credit to ensure that her bond with her mom doesn’t completely wither away and die – by diligently keeping up with the weekly phone call appointments regardless of how hard it is. Sure, it was hard for Bea too, but it was Anna who was kept in the dark about all the reasons for Bea acting the way she did.

This was an archetypal feel-good book – the sort where you don’t really mind that it gets a bit predictable in the last few pages and some things were easy to guess. My only quibble was that, after a point the whole arc of Bea and Anna confiding in each other about some past nugget of secret began to feel like a clinical planned exercise. After a point, I just knew and expected some new detail to be revealed at every stage of their wedding shopping – be it selecting a cake at a bakery or a table decorations for the venue.  There are a couple of other scenes too, such as a crucial meeting between Anna’s marketing team and a client; that feels sort of stage-managed. It was difficult to imagine them panning out that way in real life. In contrast, some other moments were written pretty well and felt very real. My favorite one was a tiff between Anna and her husband Cole.  It was handled and resolved in a way that, I think, most happy couples who have been married for over a decade would relate to.

The supporting cast of characters is really good too, and all of them come together in the end;  and by the end of the book, I just had a nice, goofy, smile.

Do read this if you are in the mood for something happy and uplifting.

[Book Spotlight+Excerpt+Giveaway] Silent Sentry – By Theresa Rizzo

Family drama was probably one of the earliest genres that I took a liking to, and if you combine that with crime/mysteries – I am hooked! So I am pretty excited to feature this book on my blog today..

Silent Sentry

Author: Theresa Rizzo
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Romance
Publisher: Rizzo Publishing
Release Date: September, 2015

Synopsis:

An entrepreneur must team up with the man she’s secretly loved to outwit a psychotic hacker before she destroys all she holds dear.

Award-winning author Theresa Rizzo delivers a thrilling crime novel packed with suspense, romance, and redemption.

The Scarfilis and Donnatellis love deeply and protect fiercely. “Family takes care of family” is the code they live by.

So when a hacker threatens Gianna Donnatelli’s life, Dr. Joe Scarfili is determined to keep her safe, only he has no police or tech experience, and Gianna’s penchant for aiding Detroit’s underprivileged is the same kind of altruism that got his wife killed. Gianna protects Joe with the same unyielding resolve. 

Gianna pushes all his insecurity buttons. Joe tries her patience like no other. But together they’ll fight to save each other and their love… Or die trying.

Excerpt:

The cool air-conditioning refreshed Gianna as she entered the house. She watched Paul steadily make his way across the crowded living room. How had he managed to get away from Aunt Rosalie so quickly? Must be his suave European manners. Gianna used to tease Paul about his charming demeanor, but apparently it had some advantages she’d overlooked. He shook hands and chatted with those waylaying him before smoothly excusing himself and moving on. With each delay Paul’s smile seemed a little less warm and his conversations more abrupt.

Excusing herself, Gianna followed her brother as he broke away from one final group of mourners and slipped into the study. Gianna hesitated at the closed paneled door before approaching footsteps propelled her into the room. Quietly she shut the door behind her. Although it’d not been quite two months since her attack in this very room, it seemed a lifetime ago. She frowned to keep the tears at bay.

“Don’t look that way,” Paul ordered gruffly. “There’s nothing you could have done.”

Gianna blinked to disperse determined tears. She cleared her throat, swallowing hard. “It’s my fault.”

Shaking his head, her brother made a dismissive noise. “It’s not.” Pacing from one window to the next, he searched the yard, watching people come and go from the house.

“I left Pa waiting on the front porch like a sitting duck.” Gianna took a shuddering breath. “I had the locks changed and forgot to send him a new key. He rang the doorbell a couple of times before I reached it.”

Paul unbuttoned his double-breasted navy suit coat and brushed it aside. Ramming one hand into his pants pocket, he crossed to the wet bar and poured himself two fingers of scotch. After taking a generous sip, he stared at the family portrait above the fireplace.

“Pa’s death had nothing to do with you,” he said in a deep, quiet voice.

Gianna peered at her brother, as surprised by his seeking alcoholic courage as by his confident tone. Paul sounded so sure, yet there was something else.

“How do you know?”

Paul took his monogrammed white handkerchief from his pocket and blotted the sweat from his forehead. Crossing to the window, he again watched the people. “I just know.”

Know what? What was he hiding? Why was he so nervous? Slowly Gianna approached. She tugged on his arm. “What do you know, Paulie?”

He looked down at her upturned face and then pulled away, turning his back on her. “Come on, Gianna, you can’t be that naive,” he snapped, taking another sip.

Her grief turned to impatient suspicion at her brother’s short temper and strange behavior. “Let’s pretend I am. Spell it out for me.”

He wheeled around. “It’s obvious.”

Coldness settled over Gianna, chilling her to the bone. She stared at her brother hard. “Enough innuendos, Paul. Who killed Pa? And why?”

Buy links

Kindle 

Paperback – Amazon US

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1Q9pmSx

Amazon CA: http://amzn.to/20XywJQ

Amazon AU: http://bit.ly/1XljNGo

 Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1WgbFWN

B&N UK: http://bit.ly/1O4KE2A

iBookstore: http://apple.co/1QtREHZ

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1TakdPm

About the Author:

Theresa Rizzo is an award-winning author who writes romantic crime fiction and emotional stories that explore the complexity of relationships and families through real-life trials. 
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she currently lives outside of Boulder, Colorado with her husband of thirty-three years. After attaining a BS in Nursing, Theresa retired to raise four wonderful children and write.

Connect with the Author:

 Facebook Twitter  Goodreads

Website:

 www.theresarizzo.com

GIVEAWAY!!

The author is giving an e-book copy of The Silent Sentry (Thank you Theresa!!) Click the link below to enter the giveaway

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[ARC Review] Shelter – By Jung Yun

Rating:

Buy Links:

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Audio CD

Summary (From Goodreads): 

Why should a man care for his parents when they failed to take care of him as a child?

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of the Year (Selected by Edan Lepucki)

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

My Review: 

Oh, how I loved this book! It reminded me of everything that I love about literary fiction with messed up family dynamics at its core. The book bristles with a frenzied, unsettling energy, with unhappy people, unhappy marriages and .. uneasy silences. At the heart of this story is Kyung, a Korean-American, estranged from his parents, and who has maintained a distance from them for over two decades and kept contact to a bare minimum though they stay only a few miles apart. But a brutal robbery and attack at his parents’ home changes everything – his father is left bruised with a broken arm and his mother and their housekeeper are raped. Overnight, Kyung’s perfect facade of keeping up appearances of a normal family is shattered as he is forced to confront the fact that he has to step into the responsibilities of a son, something he has tried to stay away from for years.
Kyung is conflicted, confused and angered by the strange, changed situation. He is bewildered with Jin’s closeness to his grandson, and wonders why he never had the same equation with Kyung. He is frustrated with Mae’s aloofness with Kyung, even after all these years, and even more puzzled to see Jin and Mae distant with each other. He is surprised to see Mae not acting like a subordinate to his dad anymore. He wonders what has he missed and doesnt know how to deal with everything – his parents, the Korean Church folk who take over his home and seem to do a better job of “caring” for his parents, his wife Gillian, who tries to be “understanding” of Kyung’s dilemma, but for all of her pop psych talk and self help advice, doesnt really “get it”. She doesnt get why he is rigid about not “forgiving” his parents. Why he is unable to move on. Or maybe Kyung does a bad job of explaining it. Because he is not able to explain it to himself in the first place. And Kyung feels, Gillian is swayed by his dad’s financial help as a compensation for all their trouble, and that makes him feel more uncomfortable with everything.
I think it is not until I finished the book did I fully appreciate how fitting and contextually loaded the title of the book is. It means so many things, and in some ways, nothing; atleast for Kyung. What is Shelter supposed to mean or signify anyway? A roof over your head to give you a sense of security? Well, Gillian and Kyung’s current home has brought nothing but constant financial burden through mortgages and bad loans, that they have always tried to play catch up with. Is shelter supposed to remind you of your roots, the first safe place that you look back and think of with fondness? Well, if you ask Kyung, that can’t be right either. The only memories he has of his parents’ place is his dad hitting his mom and his mom in turn hitting him as a means of taking out her frustrations of being trapped in a bad marriage in a new country. Is it meant to be a getaway vacation home for a family to enjoy and destress? Well, Kyung’s dad does have one in New Orleans, but as it turns out, Mae lost interest in that home ages ago, once she finished playing her role as an interior decorator and couldnt pretty up the place anymore. But the current Mae is different, changed by the recent events. She can’t bear to stay here in or near her current house any longer and wants a change in environment. Gillian and Kyung’s in laws are thrilled with the idea, and go along with Kyung’s parents.. but Kyung can’t stand the idea of travelling with everyone and making forced conversation. However, he does join them later when he cannot delay it anymore. What happens next is an outburst from Kyung, of pent-up grievances and complaints, with tragic and irreversible consequences.
I finished this book a few days ago but I couldnt immediately type down a review. And I feel like there is so much more that I want to say, but I am not able to, maybe because I have delayed the review a bit, so I feel like there is so much of the “immediate reactions” to the book that I am not able to recall entirely and put it in words. But I will say this – it was a wonderful read with some characters you would care about and wish that their lives turned out differently. There were a few things that I didnt like much though. Kyung ends up doing something impulsively and I just felt that.. that was an unnecessary add-on to the story.. because it is something irrelevant and independent of Kyung’s circumstances, or atleast that is how I judge it. So Kyung lost some major sympathy points from me there. Okay, to Yun’s credit, she didnt justify or “explain” it, but I guess I was so invested in Kyung’s hard-done-by arc, that, this kind of burst the bubble for me. Another thing I didnt like is the book’s final moments. I did get and appreciate the thought behind it, but I found it a bit schmaltzy rather than impactful. All this doesnt dilute the overall effect of the book though, and I guess the best part of this story is the ample room for grey. Do let me know what you think of this book if you get around to reading it .. maybe you are going to see the Chos differently.

*Note: I received this ARC from the publisher via the Goodreads giveaway programme. Thank you Picador!*