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BOOK REVIEW: Reverie by Ryan La Sala (5 Stars)

Book cover of Reverie, depicting the title in white swirly letters on a dark blue background with light blue, light pink, and orange dots and swirls

Rating: 5/5

Five star rating represented by five bumblebees

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

It’s been a while since I’ve come across such an unexpected instant favourite. Reverie by Ryan La Sala was vaguely on my radar, but I wasn’t planning on picking it up. That is, until it popped up in my library’s recent acquisitions and I was seduced by the stunning cover. Can you blame me?

The blurb describes Reverie as “Inception meets The Magicians in the most imaginative YA debut of the year!” I don’t think that comparison does the book justice in its whimsy and in all its queer glory. La Sala’s writing completely submerged me in a dream-like atmosphere that felt both magical and chaotic, taking on a more and more nightmare-ish quality the deeper you get. The suspense of Kane trying to recover his memories in order to understand all of the strangeness he keeps encountering kept me turning page after page, barely able to put the book down at all.

The diverse cast of characters was a delight from start to finish. From our Latinx gay protagonist, Kane; to his elusive love interest; to his group of maybe-friends, a Jewish boy, a strong tall athletic girl, a black sapphic ballerina; to a mysterious black drag queen who seems to hold the keys to Kane’s lost memories; and finally to Kane’s (I think) bisexual sister… there’s not a single character I didn’t love.

Kane shoved down his curiosity, knowing it was useless to expect a drag queen to do anything other than exactly what she wanted.

As much as I love Kane’s romantic story arc, I love a strong connection between siblings even more. For a while, it seems that Kane’s secrecy might be destroying their relationship, but in the end the love Kane and his sister Sophia have for each other is central to the story’s conclusion.

There was one thing I found frustrating: Kane’s complete inability to do as he’s told, even when he is aware of the dangers of going rogue. There were some huge mishaps that could have been avoided if that boy hadn’t been so goddamn bullheaded! In the end, it was easy to forgive his stubborness, because he ultimately has a big heart and just wants to do what’s right. I also caught a couple of instances of him potentially being coded as neurodivergent. They were few and far between so I hesitate to tag for disability representation, but there is definitely subtext if you’re looking for it.

He shook himself out, hopping in a small circle, then hopping in the reverse direction to undo the coil. These small rituals often worked for him, and the tension eased from his body.

I could have easily quoted a dozen passages from the book; it’s so beautifully written, so atmospheric and submersive. It also just feels queer, and not only because of the many queer characters. La Sala has imbued his writing with queerness in a way that I think will make many a queer reader feel as welcome in the world he has created as I did. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves magical realism, teenage friendship, and a thrilling mystery needing to be solved before the clock runs out.


Have you read Reverie by Ryan La Sala? What do you think? Did you love it as much as I did?! Let’s chat in the comments!

BOOK REVIEW: For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig (5 Stars)

Cover of For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, depicting the silhouette of a girl against a background of flames wherein a dragon is visible

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. In this first book in a new trilogy, Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood.

But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away. — Goodreads

For content notes, please see the author’s note on Goodreads.

Earlier this year, I read and loved The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, and I knew from the moment that I picked up For a Muse of Fire that it would be another five-star read. Set in an alternate universe 1874, it combines an ambience of historical fiction with fascinating magic elements. It takes place in South East Asian inspired Chakrana, a country occupied by French inspired Aquitan, and the author explores issues of colonialism through a Chakran lense.

I love Heidi Heilig’s writing. It completely draws me into the world she’s creating on the page. For a Muse of Fire combines different ways of story-telling: chapters from the main character Jetta’s point of view are interspersed with theater scenes in an homage to Jetta’s family tradition of performing shadow plays, as well as letters, telegrams, songs, and folklore. This probably isn’t for everyone, but to me, it felt like the perfect way to tell this story.

Jetta is a wonderful main character. Her magic was so cool and breath-taking, though in the course of the book she also discovers a darker and scarier side to her powers. Learning that she might not be who she has always thought she was leads her on a journey of self-discovery. She questions her existence and where she belongs, and the exploration of the meaning of family was beautiful and heart-wrenching.

“Blood may matter to the spirits. But what we share is even better.”

The words come slowly. “And what is that?”

“We share history,” he says. “We share tradition. We share years and memories and everything that makes a family.”

“But not blood.”

“What is blood?” he says with a gentle smile. “We share a heart.”

Shh. I’m not crying, you are.

But there’s more! For a Muse of Fire has by far the best and most honest mental illness rep I have ever seen in fantasy. Like the author, Jetta has bipolar disorder. She longs to go to Aquitan to bathe in the healing springs and cure herself of her “malheur.” Even though Jetta is desperate for a cure, Heilig avoids the usual trappings of the ableist “miraculous cure” trope. Instead, she shows the value in accepting your illness, but also the legitimacy of seeking a way to mitigate its effects. Through the course of the book, Jetta struggles both with the symptoms of the illness itself and the way people perceive her because of it.

“Les Chanceux is supposed to cure madness.”

The word is sibilant—a hiss in the dark. I swallow. “That’s what they say.”

There is a long silence. He cocks his head and glances at me. “Are you sick, Jetta?”

I open my mouth to give an answer—a single word. It should be simple, easy, but it sticks in my throat.

I also want to say that Heidi Heilig is the only author allowed to write F/M romance from now on. I’m sorry, but those are the rules. Not only does she have a knack for writing compelling relationships, but considering that F/M romance between Asian (inspired) characters has not been allowed to be explored as freely as white F/M romance, we have to allow space for that to continue to happen. The love story between Jetta and Leo was very sweet, even though their path was littered with obstacles of obligation, betrayal, and existential dread. Every time they found their way back to each other, my heart jumped happily in my chest. Plus, there’s some delightful background WLW rep.

For a Muse of Fire was exactly as stunning and entrancing a read as I was hoping it would be, and the sequel, slated for publication in October 2019, cannot get here soon enough.


Have you read For a Muse of Fire? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (5 Stars)

Cover of The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, depicting two red balloons on a background of the star-speckled night sky and search light beams

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out? — Goodreads

Please see the end of the post for content warnings.

The Spy With the Red Balloon is the second book in The Balloonmakers series and set in the same universe, though it doesn’t feature the same characters. It’s more of a prequel delving into the origins of balloon magic, and I loved it even more than The Girl With the Red Balloon. It’s one of my favourite reads so far in 2019, and Katherine Locke is now definitely on my list of favourite authors.

I loved both Ilse and Wolf so much. The book alternates between their POVs, and even though I tend to prefer to stay with a single character throughout a book, I enjoyed both of their narrative voices a lot.

16-year-old Ilse is the bolder of the two siblings, while her older brother Wolf is more reserved. Ilse is a physics genius, and she is using her scientific knowledge to study the magic that is in their blood. When Wolf is sent to Europe to complete his mission of sabotage, Ilse finds a way to stay in touch via magical means. Ilse, for her part, is enlisted to study ways to employ magic in delivering a nuclear bomb, she is more interested in sending Wolf useful magic equations all the way across the world. Their sibling relationship is so wonderful, and it’s clear that they love and admire each other, and value each other’s opinions.

“I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” I said softly. How cold I ever have wanted to leave her shadow? All she’s ever wanted to do was stand in mine. For all her genius, Ilse was still my little sister. She still looked up to me, without ever realizing how she outshone me.

Ilse and Wolf are Jewish, and they’re also both queer. Ilse is bisexual and falls in love with another girl in the course of the book. Her science group of magic-practicing girls is delightful and I loved all of them, especially Stella. Stella is black and therefore continuously underestimated even though she is brilliant, even more so than Ilse, but I loved how much respect Ilse had for Stella and her superior knowledge. It was also incredibly sweet to read about Ilse discovering her bisexuality, her blossoming feelings for Polly, and her scientific approach to determining whether she really liked girls, kissing a girl being an important step in this particular scientific experiment.

Meanwhile, Wolf is off in Europe receiving rudimentary training for spying and soldiering, and is reunited with his childhood best friend Max, whom he hasn’t seen since Max enlisted a year ago. They parted on bad terms and have to find their way back to each other, Wolf grappling with the fact that his complete disinterest in anything romantic or sexual seems to have a Max-shaped exception. I loved their relationship so much! I said on Twitter that it was giving me strong Bucky/Steve vibes except that they actually get to kiss—and they use parachutes, unlike some people who will remain nameless. Wolf and Max are far from a carbon copy of Bucky and Steve, but their relationship dynamics and circumstances reminded me strongly of them, and just got me right in the feelings.

There’s also some disability representation, although I was at first a little hesitant to tag it as such. I still really want to mention it, but it’s mildly spoiler-y, so if you’d rather avoid that, skip to the next paragraph! Max suffers some head trauma mid-book that impacts both his intellectual and physical functions. It’s not clear for the majority of the book whether or not it’s just a temporary injury, though by the end of the book it’s confirmed that the injury will have a lasting impact on Max’s health, as he continues to suffer from debilitating headaches. That’s a kind of disability rep we don’t see often, hence why I’m tagging it as rep even though the disability is acquired late in the book.

And of course, I loved the world-building. I’m a huge fan of history retellings but with magic, and Katherine Locke strikes the perfect balance between the historical and the fantastical. I was fascinated by the balloon magic in the first Balloonmakers book, and I was once again absolutely spellbound. Combine that with spies and intrigue, and you’ve got the recipe for what to me is a perfect book.

I truly cannot express how much I love The Spy With the Red Balloon and I want everyone to read it! You can read it as a standalone, although I also highly recommend  The Girl With the Red Balloon. (You can read my review of it here.) Please everyone love my queer Jewish babies! Katherine Locke is an amazing author, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next.

CONTENT NOTES: Holocaust mention, explicit description of the murder of Jewish prisoners, character death, physical abuse of a minor during an interrogation, racism, racial segregation, homophobia.


Have you read The Balloonmakers series or any of Katherine Locke’s other books? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (5 Stars)

Cover of The Girl With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, depicting a painted red balloon on a grey background

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process. — Goodreads

Please see the end of the post for content warnings.

I suspected I was signing up for heartbreak when I picked up The Girl With the Red Balloon, and friends, it did indeed make me cry. The book is told from three different points of view: Ellie’s, first in present day Berlin and then in 1988 East Berlin, Kai’s in 1988 East Berlin, and Benno’s in 1941 in Łódź Ghetto. I usually find it hard to fully immerse myself in books with several POVs, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem here. The shifts weren’t too frequent, and the flashbacks narrated by Ellie’s grandfather Benno really tied the story together.

There was some great diversity, too. Benno is a German Jew who survived the Holocaust and later emigrated to the US, so Ellie is Jewish American with a German background. There are frequent allusions to her Jewishness and it is a strong part of her identity. Kai and his sister are Romani (CN for use of the g-slur, though it is primarily used as a descriptor in the flashbacks), and an important side character, Mitzi, is gay. I personally also read Kai as being on the ace spectrum. (“I’d never understood how people could get distracted so easily” — really, Kai? Sounds ace to me.)

“Magic and balloons,” I whispered, shivering from the cold and the dark. “And Walls and time.”
Kai’s voice was low and sad. “The things that get us out and the things that keep us in.”

I really loved the magical atmosphere of the book, and the idea of magic balloons that can transport people out of places that have imprisoned them. The writing was beautiful but simple, and I highlighted so many quotes that I couldn’t fit them all into one blog post even if I tried. The only thing that threw me off were the poorly translated German phrases here and there, but it wasn’t so egregious that it hampered my enjoyment.

The romance between Ellie and Kai was sweet with a tiny dash of sexy, but I also loved the friendship that developed between Ellie and Mitzi. The ragtag band of characters Ellie encounters in 1988 end up being a found family for her in a time and place she doesn’t belong, a home far away from home.

The theme of finding where you belong, of finding your home, isn’t only brought up with regards to Ellie’s time travel, but also by Ellie and Kai both belonging to peoples that have been historically persecuted and uprooted.

Fernweh, maybe. A longing for a home that didn’t exist. Too many outsiders thought of us Romani like that. Like every human needs the solidity of a place. I didn’t need a place. I wanted the solidity of my own mind, whether or not that required the solidity of a place.

But home and belonging aren’t the only themes that The Girl With the Red Balloon grapples with. It asks profound questions about faith in the face of evil, and about whether or not you could or should go back in time to change history, ultimately coming to the painful conclusion that you cannot save everyone. The book acknowledges the importance of doing what you can when you can, but it also addresses issues of white / gentile saviourism.

At the end of the story, the girl said, “Don’t you Jews have any happy stories? You’ve told me two sad stories. Tell me a happy one.”
“I’ve told you two stories that end in freedom,” I protested. “How much happier could you ask for?”
“But all of the story that comes before that tiny little bit of freedom is sad,” she said.
“If the story was happy, you’d care less about that tiny little bit of freedom.”

This was one of my favourite moments. It encapsulates something essential about this book. The Girl With the Red Balloon is a bittersweet story, and though it is heartbreaking at times, it always glows with the hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. This book is not only a journey through time, but an emotional journey as well, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes their heartbreak with a dash of the fantastical.

CONTENT NOTES: This book narrates events in a Jewish / Romani ghetto during the Holocaust, including starvation, child death, parental death, deportation, and mentions the terrors of Stasi imprisonment in East Germany several times.


Have you read The Girl With the Red Balloon or any of Katherine Locke’s other books? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: The Fever King by Victoria Lee (5 Stars)

Cover of the Fever King by Victoria Lee, depicting a bright silhouetted figure from which lightning is forking out all over the dark purple and blue background

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good. (Goodreads)

Please see the end of the post for content warnings. 

The Fever King is Victoria Lee’s explosive debut and the first book in her dystopian YA series, Feverwake. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s hard to believe this is even a debut. The author’s narrative voice is strong and compelling, and I enjoyed The Fever King from beginning to end.

I’m not going to lie though, it took me a while to digest what I’d read after I finished the book. The plot unwinds as a layered exploration of right and wrong, and of how far you can go in the service of right before it becomes a wrong of its own. The author combines modern dystopia with elements of Jewish storytelling and a strong theme of seeking to repair the world.

The main character, Noam, brings a fresh gust of air to the dystopian genre. He is both Latinx and Jewish, and openly and explicitly bisexual. The cast overall is ethnically diverse. Noam’s mentor and minister of defense Calix Lehrer is also Jewish, and Noam’s love interest, Dara, is also brown—his name suggests a Persian background—and was raised Jewish.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam moonlights as a hacktivist for the immigrant cause. His affinity for technology causes him to become a technopath in the wake of surviving the magic virus, and while at times his abilities seemed maybe a little omnipotent, it was a fascinating take on magic.

But if Noam could use magic—Carolinia’s most treasured resource—for the Atlantian cause, then maybe being a witching wasn’t such a bad thing.

Noam is passionate about refugee rights. As a witching with access to the minister of defense Calix Lehrer, he plans to learn everything he can in his government training program and use it to bring the government down. But the closer he feels to achieving his goals, the more he starts to question whether he really is on the path to making the world a better place. He gets more and more caught up in Lehrer’s machinations until it becomes hard to distinguish between right and wrong.

GIF of Magneto saying
GIF of Magneto saying, “Peace was never an option.” Source.

Lehrer is a character that I felt and still feel very ambivalent about. He is, if not a clear-cut villain, definitely an antagonist. He certainly has some good intentions, but the methods he uses to achieve them are dubious at best. I was able to discuss some of the particulars about Lehrer’s character with some wonderful Jewish friends, whose perspective helped me contextualise Lehrer as a character, for which I am infinitely grateful. One of them compared Lehrer to Magneto, a very fitting analogy:

The cinematic Magneto was never a villain for villainy’s sake, along the lines of “Heh, heh, heh – and now for my malicious plan to take over the world!” He was a reasoned, charismatic villain; yes, he had an extreme agenda, but an understandable one. The new film – the prequel – further elaborates and buttresses Magneto’s backstory. Actually, he is the hero of the film; only later does he become the bad guy. (Source; CN: use of the g-slur)

This quote from the linked article in particular really helped me frame my feelings about Lehrer. He is not a villain for villainy’s sake either, and his villainy is borne of understandable and traumatic circumstances. I think he started out wanting to repair the world in his own way, but his view of the perfect world has become warped. While Noam wants to empower everyone through equal rights, Lehrer wants magic to dictate the distribution of power. (You know, kind of like Magneto wants to put the power in the hands of mutants only.) I’m a huge marshmallow, so I’m not usually very interested in villains, but I truly appreciate the way Lehrer’s character adds dimension to the story here and I’m so intrigued to see what direction the author will take him in the sequel.

A tarot card depicting Dara from The Fever King, captioned with the word
“He who holds firm to good.” Art by bbonbonss; source.

I cannot end this review without mentioning the romance between Noam and Dara, and that Dara owns my heart. He is what it says on the packaging: cruel, dangerous, and beautiful, but he is also so much more. In Persian, Dara means “He who holds firm to good”, and Dara has held firm to good through trauma and abuse as best he could. He is another complex character who, like Noam, is trying to work towards a better world while being tossed around by bigger political players. It’s heart-breaking to see him struggle and all I want to do is protect him.

I loved seeing him fall in love with Noam and Noam with him. They have a fraught relationship from the start because there are things that Noam doesn’t know and that Dara cannot tell him, but they start chipping away at each other’s defenses, opening up to each other in trickles. They are, underneath all of their protective armour, just two soft boys looking for love.

He exhaled softly, breath fogging the window glass. He looked so … happy, as if he’d swallowed one of those stars and it illuminated him from within. Noam was struck with the urge to capture this moment somehow, so Dara could relive it.

They had so many missed kissing opportunities that it made me want to scream, but the author definitely delivered on resolving that sexual tension. I don’t want to spoil too much, but they have a beautiful scene together. Of course, the ending tore my heart apart again—if Victoria Lee doesn’t let my boys be happy at some point in this series, I will have some strong words.

Either way, if you haven’t read The Fever King yet, you should run, not walk. But be warned: it’s not a light read and it will leave you reeling with emotion for a while.

CONTENT WARNINGS: parental death, suicide / hanging (past), substance abuse, physical and emotional child abuse, statutory rape (not explicit), mention of the Holocaust, mention of past medical experiments

All quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and might not match the published version.


Thank you to NetGalley and Skyscape for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Have you read The Fever King? What were your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK SERIES REVIEW: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Series Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Cover of The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, depicting a ship with red sails riding a wave on a black background

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.
As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

I loved this book so, so much. The premise is promising and the author delivers a riveting adventure. I loved the unique take on time travel, a ship not only sailing through space but also through time. The pacing was exactly right for me, diving straight into the action. The plot moves along quickly, but leaves room for world-building and introspection.

The Temptation is crewed by a diverse cast of characters that I immediately fell in love with. The crew consists of half-Chinese Nix, her father Slate, Kashmir, a boy rescued from a mythical place, ex-buddhist monk Rotgut, Bee, a black African gay woman, and arguably her ghost wife Ayen. They are such a wonderful found family and I was so invested in every single one of them.

But the character I loved most of all was, of course, the main character Nix. Her narrative voice is clear and strong, even when she goes through patches of doubt or existential angst. She has encyclopedic knowledge of history and mythology, and is mostly in charge of picking where they will Navigate to next. Her dream is to learn to Navigate through space and time herself and to set out on her own, but she is struggling with making a decision that would mean leaving behind her father and her home, the Temptation. Nix is a conflicted character, but she has a good heart and wants to do what’s right, even if it means self-sacrifice.

Nix’s conflict also extends into her love life. Kashmir has been her best friend and travelling companion for years, but she toys with the possibility of a relationship with a new arrival in her life. Although I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, this one was actually not that bad, and blessedly mostly void of jealousy. I could even see Nix, Kashmir, and Blake in a poly relationship, but alas, I didn’t get an OT3 ending.

In The Girl From Everywhere, Nix learns to navigate her relationship with her father, blossoming love, and eventually time and space. While this first book in the series is packed with action, it also largely acts as a set-up for the sequel. The ending is very open, so I was glad I was able to delve right into The Ship Beyond Time.

Cover of The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig, depicting a ship with red sails on a cresting wave on a white background

After what seems like a lifetime of following her father across the globe and through the centuries, Nix has finally taken the helm of their time-traveling ship. Her future—and the horizon—is bright.

Until she learns she is destined to lose the one she loves. To end up like her father: alone, heartbroken.

Unable to face losing Kashmir—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—Nix sails her crew to a mythical utopia to meet a man who promises he can teach her how to manipulate time, to change history. But no place is perfect, not even paradise. And everything is constantly changing on this utopian island, including reality itself.

If Nix can read the ever-shifting tides, perhaps she will finally harness her abilities. Perhaps she can control her destiny, too.

Or perhaps her time will finally run out.

Again, I was engrossed in this book from start to finish. Heidi Heilig is an amazing writer, and in The Ship Beyond Time she masterfully interweaves history and myth in a fascinating story.

Pulling on the Breton myth of Ker-Ys, Heilig creates a fantastical setting for the crew of the Temptation. I wasn’t previously aware of this somewhat obscure myth, and finding out more about it was really interesting. I love both history and mythology, and this book asked a lot of questions about what makes something history or myth, and what that means for the characters’ identities.

In her quest to figure out changing history, Nix again grapples with herself and with what’s right. Even though she is originally driven to Ker-Ys by selfish motives, her drive to do the right thing and to help others always wins in the end. I really like characters discovering power and its ensuing possibilities, and grappling not only with whether or not they can, but also with whether or not they should.

In this book, we also got some insight into Kashmir’s thoughts via a few chapters from his POV scattered throughout the book. At first, I wasn’t too thrilled about this because I thought the POV shifts would be regular and I wanted to stay with Nix, but the author managed to intersperse Nix’s narrative with the perfect amount of Kashmir chapters, and I ended up loving them, too.

I only wish that there had been better queer rep because the only queer character having lost their spouse, though remaining married to their ghost, tastes a bit sour with the lack of overall wlw representation. Bee’s and Ayen’s relationship is incredibly sweet, but it would be improved by both of them being alive. It’s also a shame that there wasn’t any disability rep, unless you count Slate’s addiction.

Ultimately, though, this series so well-written and filled with things I love (history! mythology! heists! found family!) and the POC representation was so good that I really can’t envision giving The Girl from Everywhere anything but the full five stars.

Have you read The Girl From Everywhere? Did you like it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: Brooklyn Brujas Series by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Cover of Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

I was chosen by the Deos. Even gods make mistakes.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.

I first read Labyrinth Lost in May of last year. I finally got around to reading the sequel, but since I couldn’t remember much from the first book, it seemed like an opportune moment for a reread.

The main character Alex is a bisexual Latinx girl, and like most of the main cast she is repeatedly described as dark-skinned with unruly hair. It’s great representation, and it’s well-written, with an engaging plot and a relatable main character. Even though in the beginning Alex makes a couple of unsympathetic choices, she more than redeems herself in the course of the book.

According to my Goodreads review from last year, I docked half a star for what I then perceived as an unnecessary love triangle. I like to think that I’ve become (and still am becoming) a more nuanced reader, and I definitely had a more nuanced read on that this time around. There is an underlying possibility of a love triangle and it is clear in the text that Alex is attracted to Nova, but I feel now that more than anything it serves to establish Alex’s bisexuality rather than to create unnecessary tension. She’s very obviously in love with Rishi, her best friend, who is also a queer girl of colour. Their relationship is adorable and delightful, and it’s so gratifying when they end up together.

The most important bond in Labyrinth Lost however is between Alex and her family, her mother and her sisters Lula and Rose. Like every family, they have their conflicts, a lot of them based around their magical heritage and the absence of the girls’ father after his mysterious disappearance. There is some very realistic bickering among the three sisters. However, they are incredibly close and protective of each other, and would go to the ends of the world for each other — which Alex actually ends up doing. The prevalent themes in this first book of the series are accepting power and finding love, embedded in the context of family and Latinx magic traditions.


Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova

Cover of Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

Bruja Born was an incredible read. This second book of the series is told from the point of view of Alex’s older sister, Lula, the stereotypical “pretty one.” She has the gift of healing, and even in the first book, her warmth and unconditional love for others shines through. I love Lula’s narrative voice even more than Alex’s.

At the beginning of the book, she is still healing from the trauma of being imprisoned in Los Lagos, and struggling with depression and her father’s unexpected reappearance in her family’s life. After she and her boyfriend almost die in an accident, she tries to save Maks by healing him and by calling on treacherous powers. She causes an outbreak of casimuertos, and ends up having to race against time and her weakening body to fix her mistake.

I’m usually a slow reader, but I inhaled this book in the span of two days. In Bruja Born, the author introduces some new players, such as the Hunters and the Thorne Hill Alliance. At first I felt like they were kind of ushered in, but it ended up being a neat expansion of world-building after the first book was mostly set in a different realm. I actually preferred the stronger urban fantasy vibes of the sequel.

Watching Lula grow and heal and learn to let go was a wonderful journey. I fell more in love with all three of the bruja sisters and their unique strengths with every page. Lula, Alex, and Rose are all brave and amazing in their own ways, and I love how inseparable they are. Bruja Born was one of my absolute favourite reads this year, and I legitimately cannot wait for the third book to come out, which will be about the youngest sister Rose and the mystery surrounding their father.

MINI REVIEWS: Aru Shah and the End of Time, Scarlett Undercover

I just finished Aru Shah and the End of Time, but it’s been a while since I read Scarlett Undercover. I still wanted to share my thoughts about it though, and since both of these have shared themes of mythology and sisterhood, I figured I’d stick them in a Mini Reviews post together.


Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Cover of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Rating: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees (3 out of 5)

Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?

I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan and I love learning about mythology. I’ve been looking forward to picking up the Rick Riordan Presents books ever since they were announced, and Aru Shah and the End of Time was no exception.

Going especially by the more recent Riordan books, my expectations may have set an unfair example for Aru Shah and the End of Time to live up to. It just just skewed a bit younger than I was expecting, which dampened my enjoyment a little. The writing was on the simpler side, and everything seemed to happen too quickly for my taste. It felt like the solutions to the protagonists’ problems kept falling into their laps more often than not.

However, I still think this would be a very enjoyable book for younger kids. Aru is a spunky but vulnerable heroine, and I loved the relationship between her and her found sister, Mini. Another focal relationship is the one between Aru and her mother, which grows closer as Aru learns more about the past and her family’s secret. The bits from Hindu mythology were sometimes fun, sometimes brutal, always fascinating – as mythology tends to be.

I don’t think I will be picking up the next book in this series because it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, but I will definitely still be giving Chokshi’s books for older readers a try!


Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Cover of Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Rating: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5)

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks — and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

I was in a weird headspace while reading this book so I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but this was without a doubt one of my favourite reads of 2018. Some time had passed between this first landing on my TBR and my finally picking up and I didn’t reread the synopsis then, so I was surprised and delighted by the supernatural and mythological elements of this.

With regards to tone and subject matter, this might best be described as Veronica Mars meets Rivers of London, but it’s so much more than that. It’s unique, the main character has an engaging voice, and the action is fast-paced and character-driven. Again, I especially enjoyed the bond between Scarlett and her older sister Reem who both clearly love each other a lot. I appreciated that Reem wasn’t entirely relegated to the maternal role even though they are orphans, but is a kick-ass in her own right.

The representation is great. Aside from having a diverse cast of Muslim American characters, this book is also repping Black Jews, which is still all too rare. I’m not sure whether there will be a sequel, but if there was I would snap it up in seconds. Scarlett Undercover is definitely a candidate for a reread. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a gumshoe mystery with a supernatural twist (with content warnings for parental death and teenage suicide.)

BOOK SERIES REVIEW: The Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore

I only really warmed up to the Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore with the second book, Fire (haha, get it? warmed up?) I’m so glad I stuck with it after my initial reservations because it just kept getting better and better. This is why all three books ended up with different ratings:

Graceling: Three star rating represented by three bumblebees (3 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Fire: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5 Ramblebees)

Bitterblue: Five star rating represented by five bumblebees (5 out of 5 Ramblebees)

The overarching theme of the trilogy is young women finding their place in the world in the face of difficult choices, and reclaiming their kindness in adverse circumstances, both of which happen to be some of my favourite tropes.

The covers of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Graceling is the first book in the trilogy. It tells the story of Lady Katsa, niece and executor to her tyrannical uncle, King Randa of the Midluns in the Seven Kingdoms. Marked as a graceling by her differently coloured eyes and graced with killing, she’s a threat to all who cross King Randa, until she decides to defy her uncle. She builds an underground organisation known as the Council which fights against the many abuses of power in the Seven Kingdoms. In the course of her work with the organisation, Katsa realises King Leck of Monsea is not all that he claims to be. As she races to rescue his ten-year-old daughter from his tyrannical clutches, she not only discovers new truths but new strengths as well.

Fire, the second book in the trilogy, is a prequel to Graceling. Set in a country East of the Seven Kingdoms, it tells the story of the Lady Fire, a so-called monster with colourful hair and the gift of reading and molding people’s thoughts. Her now dead monster father and abuser, once adviser to the king, has plunged the kingdom into upheaval with his taste for chaos. With civil war imminent, Fire has to decide whether or not to use her abilities without becoming like her father.

The third book, Bitterblue, picks up eight years after Graceling left off. The now eighteen-year-old Bitterblue is Queen of Monsea but feels like she has no knowledge about or control over her kingdom. Her advisers’ curious lies and evasions both about her father’s past reign and the present conditions in the kingdom lead her to investigate. With the support of Katsa and her Council friends, Bitterblue sets off in search of the truth and discovers that the wounds from her father’s reign she considered healed are more present than ever, and that it will be a long road towards recovery.

I enjoyed Graceling well enough, but it had a few flaws that nearly made me abandon the trilogy. The world-building was interesting and I liked the characters and their relationships with each other, especially the bond between Katsa and Bitterblue. However, plot-wise the book felt closer to a draft than a finished product. All of the important story elements were there, but they were rather loosely connected and didn’t quite knit together into a satisfying arc. The story could have benefitted from being stretched out a little, which would have made the plot twists less predictable.

I had gone into this book with high expectations because it had been recommended to me as great asexual representation several times, so I was a bit disappointed that the writing let down the great premise and characters. However, a friend assured me that I would enjoy the remaining books in the trilogy which led me to pick up Fire after all.

Fire still had some of the same weaknesses that Graceling did, but less markedly so. I again would have preferred a bit more stringency in pulling all the different story elements together, but the plot was overall coherent and satisfying. In spite of this, I found myself wishing time and time again that Fire had been the first book in the trilogy. I suspect that the author chose to publish the books out of chronological order so that the revelation of Leck’s grace would have more of an impact, but as mentioned above the twists in Graceling were predictable due to its slight incoherency. Only a couple of tweaks would have been necessary to publish the books in chronological order, which in my opinion would have worked in favour of coherency. Looking back while reading Fire, I appreciated Graceling a lot more, and I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I had read Fire first.

The final book in the trilogy, Bitterblue, unequivocally blew me away. It picked up all the loose ends from the previous two books and combined them masterfully into a nail-biting finale. Cashore’s writing evolves wonderfully throughout the trilogy, and it was fascinating to see her real skills unfold and shine in this third book. The characters’ motivations were more implicit, which held me in suspense waiting for the myriad questions and inconsistencies to be resolved. Being fed the conclusion trickle by trickle was sweet agonising torture and I loved every bit of it. Bitterblue coming into her own as both a woman and a queen was exciting to watch. It was a bit different from both Katsa’s and Fire’s arcs considering that both of them had an inherent physical power that they needed to come to grips with, while Bitterblue had to consolidate and grow into a less tangible power, but the overarching theme was still very much present, tying all three of the books together.

I appreciated the fact that all three of the female main characters were allowed to be emotional and unreasonable at times without being labelled as hysterical. Emotional outbursts were treated as natural, and they didn’t result in the other characters respecting either Katsa, Fire, or Bitterblue any less.

In addition to her great treatment of women, Cashore also had a diverse cast of characters. Characters’ differing looks and complexions were described casually. There were a number of physically disabled characters. One important character and love interest loses his eyesight, another supporting character is without use of his legs and uses a wheelchair, and one of the main characters loses two fingers due to frostbite and has to relearn how to use her hand. Of course, there are also a whole slew of characters who suffer from trauma and related mental illness. A word of warning though: the circumstances that these characters’ trauma results from are brutal and upsetting, including emotional and physical abuse and even rape, so the trilogy might be triggering for some readers.

The queer representation was okay. Katsa can very easily be read as being on the asexual and aromantic spectrum, while Fire explicitly states her attraction to women and men. In spite of two out of three main characters being queer women though, all of the main relationships in the Graceling trilogy are M/F, which I found a bit disappointing. There are however two explicitly queer supporting couples, one of them F/F and one of them M/M.

Overall, I really ended up loving this trilogy, even though it didn’t start out as strong as it could have.