Archive for September, 2016

emperor-eight“It was a time of troubles and opportunities. In the capital the Emperor was weak, his sons rivals. His brother-in-law, the Prince Abbot at Ryosonji, was regent in all but name. He favored the Emperor’s younger son and carried on endless intrigues against the Crown Prince.”

Premise :

Dark forces plot against the heir to the Lotus throne, wishing to replace him with his younger brother.

Far from this royal contention lives a young orphan named Kazumaru. After his uncle forces him from his rightful inheritance, he is used by a magician and sorceress for their dark magic, giving him a power that changes the course of his destiny. He becomes Shikanoko, “the deer’s child,” and soon inadvertently attracts the attention of a dangerous sorcerer, the treasonous Prince Abbot. But as Shikanoko learns to wield his powers, he finds that instead of giving him freedom, they put him in new kinds of bondage.

The power struggles of Hearn’s medieval, mythical Japan pose all kinds of threats to a friendless teenaged boy. Shikanoko trusts no one, but still he devotes himself to the service and care of others, giving readers hope for the development of a just warrior over the four installments of the fantasy series. Adult Fantasy, Published April 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals.

About :

I wasn’t thrilled with the first Lian Hearn book I read, Across the Nightingale Floor , which to me felt underdeveloped in almost every way. But when I saw her new quartet, published entirely within the space of a year, it occurred to me that with a few changes, I might enjoy her books. So I decided to try Emperor of the Eight Islands.

I’m so glad I did.

Pride began to well up in him, sweet and seductive, telling him he deserved all things, that he was allowed all things, that he could take what he wanted, in this world and the next.”

Thoughts :

This book felt much darker and more adult than Across the Nightingale Floor. Sex plays a large role in the dark magic that binds Shikanoko to his destiny—and sex rarely means love, in this story. It means power: the power of the heir, the power of dark magic over a victim, the power of lust. Everything is a power struggle.

Thus, ambition and motivation animate the characters much more than personality, giving substance to the clashes between them and making them, at times, unlikable. But within a few paragraphs of reading from their perspective, I found myself in full sympathy with them, despite my direct opposition only pages before.

The style is very spare and active; activity, rather than thought or conversation, drives every scene of the narration. Hearn only gives us one or two telling details of everything, amidst the action, but I was never confused. Every vital piece of information stands out clearly in this concise 251 page installment.

This is the magic of Lian Hearn.

The terrible, horrible cliffhanger of an ending is only mitigated by the publication of the rest of the series in such quick succession. Emperor of the Eight Islands is more installment than standalone. Immediately upon finishing, I requested a copy of book II and started reading.

Overall :

The style of Emperor of the Eight Islands is spare and brutal, but the characters lead us to hope for the destiny of the Lotus Empire. Recommended to adults and—maybe—older teens who enjoy a more literary kind of fantasy.

Trigger Warning :


4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FS&G Originals and Netgalley for the review copy!


Premise :

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing. Unfortunately, she’s also a cyborg, and cyborgs are considered the lowest of the low in Earthen and Lunar societies. Cyborgs are even used as test subjects for plague research. So the last thing Cinder expects is a business call from Crown Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth. But before Cinder gets a chance to fix his droid, her horrible stepmother volunteers her for plague research.

Things aren’t going well for the prince, either. His father, the king of the Eastern Commonwealth, is falling to the plague and the evil, power hungry Lunar Queen Levana is threatening to glamour the prince into political marriage in exchange for the cure. YA Sci-Fi/Fairytale Retelling, published 2012. Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Young Adults (2014), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2014), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2012).

First Impressions :

I decided to listen to the Cinder audiobook after hearing how popular it still is among my library’s 2016 summer reading teens. For the first quarter of the book, only the technological developments (such as Cinder’s cyborg traits and the little robot droids wandering around everywhere) kept me entertained. The worldbuilding is interesting on the surface, but unfortunately, it remains undeveloped. The characters, while not simplistic themselves, fall into simplistic groups of “good guys” or “bad guys,” until we meet my favorite character later into the book. I was still unsure, at 20-25% percent, what the book was going to be about

What I Liked :

But when Dr. Erland injects Cinder with the plague, I was immediately intrigued—how would she get out of this one? I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this is where things start to get fun. The plot becomes clearer, as we find out that it hinges on several questions: Will Dr. Erland find a cure to save all of Earth? How can Prince Kai resist the evil Lunar Queen’s powers? Are all Lunars as evil as she is? And—perhaps most important—could there be another Lunar heir?

Even though some of these questions have predictable answers, I still enjoyed the ride, especially once Dr. Erland was introduced. This morally ambiguous doctor is a kind of a trickster—I couldn’t figure out where his loyalties lay until the very end. But his loyalties matter, big time. I also enjoyed the clever nods to the Cinderella story—reimagined, of course.

But my favorite aspect of the book is how the author develops the theme of prejudice by showing how we, as humans, can unintentionally fall into the “ist” traps. The prejudice, particularly surrounding the Lunars and their mental abilities, is complex and interesting, and as I have just started the audio version of Book II, I can tell you that the prejudices continues to be examined there.

Other Stuff :

The only actually irritating thing about this book is that Cinder refuses to tell the prince she’s a cyborg. I mean, seriously. JUST TELL HIM ALREADY! He’s telling you state secrets and you’re like, “What if he finds out I’m 30% metal?”

Overall :

Overall, this is pretty good YA. The plot is very “Cinderella,” but the idea is much more sci-fi than a lot of YA out there, and I enjoyed the themes developed by Meyer. Unfortunately, since the setting is painted almost entirely from Cinder the Cyborg mechanic’s perspective, we don’t get much in the way of cultural examination or character study. But we do get a fun, super clever sci-fi retelling of the Cinderella story and an ending that left me excited for more.

Recommended To :

Teens in general. It’s not too nerdy or too romantic for any particular group, and the story questions will probably keep them entertained. Some adults will enjoy this, as well, if they don’t mind the predictability and general lack of worldbuilding.

The Audiobook :

The audiobook is a perfect, relaxing way to enjoy this book. There’s no real “adult content,” so this would be a fun story to listen to with family.

3.5/5 STARS


I hadn’t thought my heart could break any more than it already had. Apparently I was wrong.

Premise :

Sora believes herself to be a kami, a Japanese guardian of the natural world. Kami have made their home on Mt. Fuji for generations, and now Sora lives there with her kami parents and community.

But when hordes of ghosts invade the mountain with the help of a demon, Sora finds out that her whole 17 years of life have been a lie: she’s a decoy, a human changeling given temporary kami powers only to protect the identity of the true, prophesied kami heroine who will save Mt Fuji from certain doom. Sora’s last responsibility to the kami is to find and prepare the prophesied one to save the beloved mountain kingdom. YA Urban Fantasy published September 13, 2016 by Another World Press

About :

A Mortal Song, an action-oriented Fantasy set in modern Japan, turns the expected YA Fantasy trope—”Prophesied teen hero saves the world!”—upside down. I requested this arc based on freshness of the premise and the fact that Megan Crewe’s other work sounded so promising. But the book turned out to be a complete 4 star surprise!

First Impressions :

My first impressions, upon starting the book, were negative. The first 15-20% of the book is the weakest section, to my tastes, for two reasons: (1) I already knew the first “reveal,” which Sora spends the first 10% learning. (2) Right off the bat, Sora’s apparent crush on her friend Takeo bored me; the descriptions are painfully clichéd, such as, “My heart skipped a beat.”

But when I met some of the well-drawn secondary characters, near the 20% mark, I realized A Mortal Song was going to be more than a plot-first three star with lackluster characters. It took a little while to interest me, but I was totally hooked by 40%.

And about that boring crush? Just wait till you see how that turns out. Sora is awesome.

Other Awesome Things :


(1) A Mortal Song is so Japanese! Especially the good mix of unique and well-trodden mythology. I mentioned that I enjoyed the hints of Asian culture in Keira Drake’s The Continent, but those were background noise compared to the rich, thriving culture and mythology of A Mortal Song. Just the idea of the nature spirits that live on Mt. Fuji feels very Japanese, but add in the descriptions of modern-day Tokyo, the supernatural creatures and the style of warfare, and we have a totally unique YA Fantasy.

(2) The action. I felt like I was playing a video game as I read the fight scenes. The large, well-developed cast of heroes fights their ghost and monster opponents with both typical and atypical weaponry—legendary swords, yes, but also charmed slips of paper called “ofuda.” Sora and the human fighters slap ghosts with the ofuda to banish them to the underworld. In addition to the exciting action scenes, Sora actually solves problems creatively, which is a fresh attribute in a YA heroine. She combines human and kami techniques to make good tactical decisions.

(3) The plot never gets bogged down in character-building, but the female heroines are wonderfully drawn. The true kami heroine, Chiyo, is such a great character! I love her relationship with her human boyfriend and how she and Sora are both so strong, but so different. Sora’s character arc is particularly complex and interesting. She has to accept the loss of her kami powers and learn to think as a human. It’s exciting to watch her accept and use both her human and kami skill sets during the course of her heroine’s journey. I love the climax of her character arc and I’m so excited for readers to meet this new heroine.

Complaints :

(1) The antagonist isn’t entirely believable, although his plan is creative. (2) The guy characters basically feel like props to fill out the character arcs of Chiyo and Sora.

Overall :

A surprisingly moving read. The beginning and ending of the book are the weakest points, but as far as emotional resonance, the middle—from 35-95%—is full of surprises.

Recommended To :

Teens and adults looking for a good Asian Fantasy and/or good action-oriented fantasy. Fans of Mulan. This is way better than Eon by Alison Goodman, imo.

****4/5 STARS

Thanks so much to Megan Crewe, Another World Press, The Fantastic Flying Book Club & Netgalley for my arc of A Mortal Song!



Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

Megan’s first novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST, was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her second, THE WAY WE FALL, was nominated for the White Pine Award and made the International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choices List. Her Fallen World trilogy (THE WAY WE FALL, THE LIVES WE LOST, THE WORLDS WE MAKE) is now complete and she has a new trilogy forthcoming in October 2014, beginning with EARTH & SKY. Her books have been published in translation in several countries around the world. She has also published short stories in magazines such as On Spec and Brutarian Quarterly.

Contact Megan online at these places: WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookTumblr & Instagram

 FFBC.pngYou can click here to follow the tour!


Includes all of the following Japanese media and treats (all books in English translation and all DVDs with English subtitles):

BooksMoribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi and Death Note Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba

Anime series (DVD, complete collections): Cowboy Bebop and Princess Tutu

Anime movies (DVD): Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke

Live action movies (DVD): Battle Royale and Hana and Alice

3-month Japanese snack box subscription: WOWBOX (your choice of type)

Click to enter A MORTAL SONG Japan Extravaganza Giveaway!

WWW Wednesday #2

Posted: September 21, 2016 in WWW Wednesday
Tags: ,


WWW Wednesday is a weekly MEME hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I got the idea from Socially Awkward Bookworm. The three W’s are these:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Recently Finished:

I’ve been reading lots of great YA Fantasy, lately! Last week, I posted my review of Keira Drake’s lyrical debut, The Continenta YA Alternative History that will be published in early January 2017.

I also recently finished an awesome YA Japanese Urban Fantasy, A Mortal Song by Megan Crewe. The Fantastic Flying Book Club’s book tour of A Mortal Song will be stopping here, at Christy Luis Reviews: Speculative Fiction (Mostly) tomorrow morning, September 22nd. Currently, the FFBC is hosting a ~* GIVEAWAY *~ of Asian swag, here on my blog’s “Current Giveaways” tab. Stop by tomorrow to read my review and enter the giveway! [Review now available!]

I resisted The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer for a long time, but my library teens finally convinced me to give it a try. I just finished the audiobook of Cinder and will be posting my review next week. Cinder is a futuristic YA SF/F retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale wherein “Cinder” is a cyborg.

Currently Reading:

I’m 40% of the way through Lian Hearn’s Emperor of the Eight Islands, which was published in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The next three books in the series were also published this year, as the publisher tries out the book binge model on this new Asian adult fantasy series. I should be posting the review either next week or the week after.

I’m also listening to the audiobook of Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer and reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn #4, The Alloy of Law, for my bedtime reading. (Don’t you just love the cover for The Alloy of Law? Except that Wayne doesn’t carry guns, of course. Still. Pure awesomeness.) Those reviews should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

TBR Next:

Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark, published on September 6th by Orbit, will be my next read. Orbit puts out some good stuff, so I though I’d given this adult sci-fi a shot.

Remade by Andrea Phillips, the second installment in a serial YA Dystopia published today, Sept 21st, 2016, by Serial Box Publishing. I loved the first installment, so I’m looking forward to reading #2!

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber. Tor did a giveaway on their blog for The Eterna Files, Eterna and Omega (The Eterna Files #2), & Hieber’s earlier book, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Mercy Parker, and somehow I won! I’m pretty excited to review all three of these because they sound awesome.

So, anything strike your fancy? What have you been reading? What’s on your TBR? Share links to your WWW or bookshelf roundup in the comments; I’d love to check them out!


“Snow and ice, miles and miles of treacherous wilderness…Let’s be honest—it’s not the scenery that has every citizen in the Spire clamoring to see the Continent. It’s the war.”

Premise :

Vaela Sun is going to the Continent. Citizens of the Spire, a peaceful federation of nations, rarely get a chance to visit the mysterious Continent, but it is the focus of much curiosity and speculation, for it is home to a curious anachronism of the past: warfare. On the Continent, two “uncivilized” societies engage in bloody battle, and Spirians are drawn to witness the barbaric pageantry.

“Living in the Spire is like looking at the world from behind a veil—we don’t have a true sense of what things are like. Not really. I just want to see something real.”

Soon, Vaela and her parents set off on the tour and find themselves marveling both at the landscapes and the foreign spectacle of the savages at war. But Vaela is wholly unprepared for the tragedy that brings her face-to-face with the violence of genocide. YA Alternative History/F/SF. Expected publication: January 3rd 2017 by Harlequin TEEN.


No book is perfect, but this one comes pretty close to “genre perfect.” Crossover appeal will be limited by a few elements, but the book will find many eager readers among the YA, Alternative History and Fantasy crowds. I suspect fans of Veronica Rossi’s wonderful Under the Never Sky trilogy will love The Continent.

The universe quickly establishes itself as a sort of “alternative Victorian.” No magic, no monsters and no huge tech changes (except, perhaps, a heavier reliance on steam than on other sources of energy). There are two main changes: (1) the worldwide peace treaties that boast 300 years of success (excluding the Continent, of course) and (2) the general land formations and their ethnic distributions.

What I Liked :

(1) The storyline is perfectly set up and paced. Literally, by 5%, Vaela is climbing on board a “heli-plane” for her tour, and before long, she’s mapping the Continent from aerial views, feeling horribly transfixed by the violence and tramping around on the actual terrain.

During this period of further setup, readers spend a lot of time with Vaela’s very Victorian sensibilities and her rapturously loving and proud parents, and nothing terribly exciting happens. This will irritate some readers; but I was never bored, even during quiet periods of setup and recovery, because I knew Vaela’s happy, naïve existence would not last. Drake foreshadows the tragedy in store for this rich Victorian heiress, so I knew her happiness was temporary.

And when the tragedy comes, at exactly 20%, it’s just as shocking as if I hadn’t been expecting it. Certain details enliven the setup and the twist and make it far more engrossing than it would have otherwise been. [Highlight to read spoiler: I was so shocked when Aaden took the escape pod!!!!!!] It begins to highlight the theme of the work—that savagery and nobility can be found in any society.

(2) I was engrossed in Vaela’s point of view and character arc, as she matured and interacted with other characters throughout the book; I love how she overcomes the Victorian attitude that exertion is unladylike. She becomes a much more confident, capable woman.

“’You would stay Noro’s hand in defense of a man who knowingly slanders your honor?’ ‘Oh, honestly, you Aven’ei!’ I say. ‘My honor is intact, whether Shoshi slanders it or not. I don’t need his good opinion to know myself.’”

(3) It surprised me to find that the warring tribes of the Continent were of an Asian-like culture, and I enjoyed the Asian-flavored details, like the dance of manners and the languages.

You May Not Like This Book If… :

Readers of fantasy and historical fiction might find a moving read in The Continent, depending on what they’re looking for. The main reason I say “crossover appeal will be limited” has to do with the 300 years of world peace. How did it happen? The Continent never really explains the history of the treaty. The book gives most of its attention to the characters and their reactions to seeing, experiencing and coping with violence for the first time, instead of developing the worldbuilding history. As with many novels, good writing can help suspend disbelief, and I was hooked once the story took off toward the Continent; but some readers will not be satisfied with this.

In addition, readers who require complicated, well-detailed milieus may be disappointed, as the book focuses much more on humanity than on how the world itself works. For example, the solution to the war, in this book, makes war seem overly simple. Also, the world displays an utter lack of religious development. Nobody swears or prays or does anything remotely religious (or irreligious), during the whole book, even before going to war and even though Asian cultures often have strong religious components; it’s as if the book is sanitized from anything controversial. Perhaps the insinuation is that religion has been eradicated right along with war; but in that case, at least one of the warring tribes would be religious, wouldn’t it?

Finally, I would not recommend this book to readers who value a tactically complex plot or riveting action over emotionally complex work. They might find this book rather boring. There are few battle scenes and no quick-thinking, clever plot fixes.

Recommendations :

If you like YA, READ THIS BOOK. I recommend it, in fact, to anyone who enjoys emotional complexity, even at the expense of plot complexity. Vaela is a fabulous heroine finding her way in a world that has suddenly thrown her the king of curveballs. I love every word of her journey and I can’t wait to try the audio version!

4.5/5 STARS

Thanks you so, so much to Keira Drake, Harlequin TEEN & Netgalley for my review copy of The Continent.


Update 11/12/2016- On the recent controversy criticizing this book as “racist”: My original thoughts still stand. Portraying racism does not make a book racist (see Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Earnest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying), especially when the point of the book is about overcoming cultural assumptions and superiority. Young people need books that help them understand racism; shielding them from racist thought does absolutely no good.

The Continent is no Huckleberry Finn, but I think it’s an important pop culture read for teen girls. The heroine’s inner journey repudiates the racism portrayed earlier in the book. Please consider reading the book before you make judgments about the content.

Update 11/16/16- For those who are saying the “white savior” trope makes this book racist, I don’t buy it. If Vaela were any color but white, no one would be complaining about her saving the world. I’m all for multicultural heroines, but that includes white heroines as well.

My personal reviewing policy is to give credit where credit is due and to be honest about a book’s weaknesses. Therefore: This book uses the “teen girl saves the world” trope, which is among the most common in YA; that is part of why I took away a half star–it’s unoriginal and unrealistic. It makes the war plot seem overly simplistic. But that’s a relatively small fault for a beautiful character-driven allegory.

The reviewer outcry against this book frustrates me. Many reviewers just seem to be shaming this author because it’s popular and easy to do.

*Update 5/11/17: Thanks to clearer heads and the rise of more coherent, helpful discussion from authors and others, I finally understand why the original ARC of The Continent frustrated readers:

In The Continent, two cultures are at war with each other for reasons of genocide or material gain. (Wars have been fought on these bases, of course, but it’s certainly unflattering for the cultures described in The Continent.) Although this is a fantasy book world with allegedly fantastic races of humanity, these two warring civilizations closely resemble colonial Native American and medieval Japanese cultures in certain descriptions. The other main culture in the book (there are lots of cultures, but only three are directly involved in this novel’s plot) is a white Victorian England-ish culture, and it has somehow inexplicably made peace with all other nations except these two warring nations, who refuse to participate in the alliance with the other multi-colored nations.

Put as such, I can see why readers may feel the the skin color distribution unintentionally implies white racial superiority. I’m grateful to those who took pains to explain this carefully, instead of jumping on the bully-train and muddying the waters without actually bothering to understand the issue.

I personally still think the outrage is over-the-top because the author is clearly not a racist, but we’re all allowed our opinions.

In the last year or so, I’ve found myself hopelessly addicted to mysteries—mostly of the Pre-WWII or Victorian Era variety, both of which are normally tame enough for my bed time reading, but clever enough to keep me interested. Here are two of my favorites:

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

A middle-aged spinster—for I was at that time thirty-two years of age, and I scorned to disguise the fact—who has never received a proposal of marriage must be a simpleton if she fails to recognize the sudden acquisition of a fortune as a factor in her new popularity.

When her shockingly rich father dies, Amelia Peabody adroitly dances from the reach of her grasping relatives and suitors by taking the course of any self-respecting self-proclaimed Victorian spinster: touring Egypt with her friends. There, she finds enough adventure to satisfy even her demanding expectations. But traveling as an independent woman comes with dangers, especially in a land so full of ancient secrets as Egypt. Victorian Era Mystery, First published 1975.

So, let’s start with the fact that I supremely enjoyed this book.

I’ve known about the series for a long time and knew I wanted to read it—partly because it’s set in Egypt, partly because I’ve developed an affinity for old mysteries, and partly because so many library patrons love it.

But this book is refreshingly funny.

Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the travel of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide…. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted with a comment on his manners…After that, Piero and I got on admirably.

Surprisingly, delightfully humorous. I didn’t expect that.

Although the book purports to be a mystery, the mystery element doesn’t assert itself very strongly until the second half of the book; even then, the reveal is not a surprise, nor is it the most important aspect of the story. The book’s real charms lie in the characters, particularly in how Amelia herself, the anti-Victorian lady, interacts with and perceives others. The mystery element is only slightly stronger than the elements of social satire and romance.

At any rate, I think most mystery readers enjoy this because even if they solve the mystery early on, they’ll read on just to enjoy the banter. If you like the social satire of Jane Austen and Gail Carriger, you’ll enjoy this book.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Harriet returns to Oxford for a school reunion, but soon after her arrival, she receives a nasty prank letter—apparently, a prankster has been tormenting the students and staff for months. Harriet discreetly sleuths around campus until the pranks turn ugly; only then will she call Lord Peter to help her find the culprit. Pre-WWII Period Mystery, 1935

So, that’s the premise…but that’s not really what this book is about. The brilliant plot illuminates the real story, here: Harriet’s psychological journey. This story is really about Harriet coming to terms with the events of book 6 in this series (wherein she is tried for the murder of her awful former lover), which is, in turn, a necessary step in finally answering the advances of her paramour, the famed sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. The mystery explores Harriet’s psyche in a dazzling fashion new to Sayers.

Sayers’s other Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries explore the psychology of the criminals (as does this one), but this novel delves deeply into the mind and soul of the protagonist herself. (Peter, the usual protagonist of the Sayers mysteries, is examined from afar. Other books only occasionally probe his psychology with any depth.)

I adore the pitch-perfect tone and voice of all Sayers’s work, this book included. I have always loved Sayers’ dialogue and the way she plays with her readers’ expectations, but Gaudy Night truly perfects the art.

At first, Harriet and her uppity college friends irritated me—they were so judgmental and bitter! But this reaction became an integral part of the story [Highlight to read SPOILER: as part of what motivates the antagonist]. Sayers explores the theme of “women in modern society” throughout the book, and the cloistered atmosphere of the women’s college is a very important element to both the mystery and the exploration of Harriet’s psychology.

Of course I highly recommend this book to anyone. I love it. I love the whole series. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you start with Gaudy Night, if you’re reading the series for the first time. I would recommend starting with book #6, Strong Poison, because of the charming protagonist we find in Lord Peter Wimsey, the stellar mystery and the added bonus of an unattainable love interest. (It introduces the character of Harriet, for the first time.)

I love them all and I think you will, too.

Labyrinth Lost

By Zoraida Córdova

September 6, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492620945

 Praise for Labyrinth Lost

“This work is a magical journey from start to finish… A compelling must-have for teens

School Library Journal, STARRED review


Córdova’s (the Vicious Deep series) magic-infused, delightfully dark story introduces readers to an engrossing, Latin American–inspired fantasy setting and an irresistible heroine”

Publishers Weekly


A brilliant brown-girl-in-Brooklyn update on Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno. Very creepy, very magical, very necessary.”

Daniel José Older, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper


“Labyrinth Lost is more like reading Paradise Found. Zoraida Córdova brings us a new generation of witches, enchanting and complex. And every page is filled with magic.”

Danielle Page, New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die


Córdova’s world will leave you breathless, and her magic will ignite an envy so green you’ll wish you were born a bruja. Delightfully dark and enchanting. An un-putdownable book.”

-Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles and Shiny Broken Pieces


“Córdova’s rich exploration of Latin American culture, her healthy portrayal of bisexuality and her unique voice allow this novel to stand out among its many peers.”

–RT Book Reviews


“Cordova draws inspiration from Ecuadorian, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Caribbean folklore and mythology to craft a page-turning tale about a young bruja unsure of her place in the world.”


 “Córdova pulls elements from Greek mythology and Spanish and Latin American legends to craft a memorable world in Los Lagos, a supernatural realm that is as fascinating as it is threatening. The history and customs of Alex’s family’s type of witchery are also carefully constructed, giving readers a complete world to sink into with satisfaction and wonder.”

-Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books


“This succeeds with its lush use of Latin American mythologies, an unexpected love story, and, above all, in Alex’s complicated relationship with her family. Alex is a necessary heroine, and this dark fantasy nicely”




Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives. 

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 boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Goodreads Link:

Buy Links:

Book Trailer Link:

Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page:

Book Trailer

About the Author:

Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro or visit her at

Social Media Links:

Author Website:

Labyrinth Lost Website:


Twitter:  @zlikeinzorro


Author Tumblr:

Labyrinth Lost Tumblr:


 Chapter 1 Excerpt


Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos


he second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”


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It was the dimmest sort of hope, but hope had never come in the blinding bright variety in Cenaria.

Premise :

No one is safe in Cenaria, a country where kings are protected because they’re inept and the powerful underworld leaders known as Sa’Kagé rule the streets. Azoth, a street urchin with no power at all, knows this well. That’s why he idolizes Durzo Blint, the most famous, deadly wetboy to ever exist. Azoth wants to be Blint, so when he gets the chance to train under the famous assassin, he hardly bothers to consider what he’ll have to suffer—what he’ll have to lose. The alternative is worse. So Azoth disappears and becomes Kylar Stern. And with that decision, the world is forever changed. Adult Fantasy published 2008 by Orbit.

What I Loved :

Basically everything.

The Way of Shadows is gritty, humorous, character-driven and action-packed. The first scene is a good indicator of the rest of the book: I’m so deep in Azoth’s head, I can feel his panic as he stuffs his face into the mud to slide under a low-lying beam. But the plot is a little disorienting because Azoth is often the last person to learn about the secrets that surround him.

Weeks pulls every trick in the book to keep readers invested through the setup of the first half, and it totally worked on me. I kept thinking, this writing isn’t very good. Why am I still reading it?

But I couldn’t put it down.

It reminds me of 24, but with better characters and swords instead of guns. Even during the setup of the first half, I was immersed in the non-stop action and unexpected humor. The lord general Brant Agon’s interactions with his king, whom the general mentally refers to as “Niner,” are priceless:

“King Aleine IX barged in. ‘Brant! You pile of—‘ the lord general mentally erased the long list of repulsive things he resembled and refocused his attention when Niner got to the point. ‘What happened last night?’

‘Your majesty,’ the lord general said, ‘we don’t know.’

Another stream of curses, some of them more creative than usual, but Niner wasn’t terribly creative, and no one dared to swear in his presence, so his arsenal was limited to variations on the word shit.”

Then, suddenly, around halfway through the book, all the setup starts paying off. Secrets, bombshells and treason galore. Important characters die and wetboys examine the pitiful tatters of their souls. (I love every minute of the soul-searching; it reminds me fondly of Louis from Interview With the Vampire.)

To put it succinctly, the payoff is huge.

Why You May or May Not Like This Book :

This book is never on my library’s shelf. It was published in 2008, but it’s still always out on loan. So clearly a few other people found themselves as addicted as I was. (Okay, okay, as I AM!) Brent Weeks’ writing voice is very personal, very emotional. I never thought, “MAN IS THIS PROSE THE BEST THING EVER!” But I was laughing so hard and cringing so often and reading so quickly that I didn’t care.

It’s got heart, folks. It won’t be everyone’s favorite, but I love it. Another Goodreads reviewer said it felt like “video-game fantasy,” which might be a fair way to state it. If you can let yourself enjoy a book despite a few weaknesses in the writing (the last scene, mainly, and the fact that a few secondary characters feel like archetypes/fantasy tropes), you’ll enjoy The Way of Shadows.

Overall :

A fast-paced read with lots of unexpected humor, redemption and (funny) swearing. The plot can be tough to follow (sometimes it’s only tied together by the prophecies of a seer who doesn’t get much face time), but the action never stops and the plot threads do come together at the end in surprising, emotional revelations. If it sounds like it might be your kind of Fantasy, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Also, if you like audiobooks, I recommend this one. The plot gets disorienting, in places, but it smooths out if you can manage to keep everyone’s names straight.

*****5/5 STARS

Trigger Warning :

The very beginning depicts child abuse of every kind and is the hardest part of the book to read. Thankfully, the reader doesn’t live on the streets with urchins like Azoth for very long, so I recommend reading past the beginning before you judge whether or not this book is for you.