Any Alice in Wonderland fans who like the concept of retellings, but still want something wholly unique? “Labyrinth Lost” is that in spades! Meet Alex, a girl who believes magic is a curse and will do anything to avoid her Deathday and deny the magic in her blood. And, because this is a YA fantasy after all, her desire backfires when she takes steps to strip her magic away and instead banishes her family to a place of nightmares; where bruja’s and brujo’s are sent to be punished. Desperate to save her family, Alex ventures to Los Lagos to free them, meeting strange, nightmarish creatures, and those disguised only to appear like nightmares, on the journey. And, again because it’s YA, learning about herself, her magic, and the idea of family being home all at once. While this book has some mixed reviews, I have to say, I really, really enjoyed Cordova’s interpretation of witches, magic, and the ceremonies and gods that inhabit this world.
“Screamcatcher” is a young adult, fantasy adventure that centers on young Jorlene Pike, left alone at 17 when both of her parents die in a tragic accident. Jorlene—Jory—now helps her grandfather run their family curiosity shop that specializes heavily in Chippewa items and lore. Jory doesn’t necessarily put much stock into her heritage, until one night when she is having a sleepover with three of her other friends. The nightmares of her friends, as well as Jory, overload the old dream catcher in her apartment, they are then sucked into an alternate reality steeped heavily in Chippewa Indian folktale and lore. But as only Jory knows anything about what may be happening, and the strange alternate reality full of terrors they suddenly find themselves in, it’s up to her to navigate the twisting web and lead her friends to safety before they get stuck in the dream catcher forever—or until the nightmares kill them. This quick-paced adventure is nonstop action! Literally! The action almost never stops and features so many different native legends and harrowing survival scenarios, but the quick pace does mean this ended up being mainly a story focused on plot, and little character development.
I’m really late to the party on this book, but hey! At least I got here, right? “Simon vs.” is a cute, contemporary self-discovery book that had me on the verge of tears on occasion. We get a close-up view of Simon who KNOWS he’s gay, but no one else does. When he finds a Tumblr post from his school from another gay boy, he responds, and a whirlwind email pen pal relationship ensues. But there’s one problem: these boys don’t actually know who each other are, and because neither is out to their friends and family, they decide to keep their identities secret. But part of the thrill is getting to know someone without fear of judgment, because they don’t really know you, right? But then these adorable boys catch a case of feels, and suddenly the excitement of anonymity begins to slip away… Except anonymity is only fun with Blue, Simon’s crush, but that secret is important for Simon to keep from the wider school. Now he just has to keep the guy blackmailing him from spilling the beans to everyone… This story was endearing, and fun, and quick, and each time I was CONVINCED I knew who Blue was, the author did the old switcher-roo, which kept this otherwise straight forward story exciting.
“A Darker Shade of Magic” was one of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year, so I was so excited to read the sequel with my friends again and dive back into these magical London’s, and snuggle up next to my favorite sad boi—Kell—and most deadly and clever of thieves—Lila. “A Gathering of Shadows” takes place 4 months after the end of the first book, and all our favorites are dealing with the repercussions of that epic battle. Well, except Lila, she does what she wants, consequences be damned, but more on that later. Kell remains in the palace with Rhy, who he sacrificed everything for. But instead of being thanked for this sacrifice, his adopted family drops all pretenses of Kell being their son. And while Rhy and Kell struggle to find a new balance, to move on, to come to terms with what their lives are now, Lila lives her dreams by being part of a pirate crew, finally “getting” her own ship. Which also introduces us to a new main character—Alucard. Who is really everything you want in a pirate so I loved his introduction to the story. I loved the all too real pain of what Kell goes through now, ostracized and trapped in his gilded cage of guilt and power, but, where I ADORED Lila in the first book, in the sequel, I found myself wanting to shake her.
“The Spec Set” is a little piece of neurodivergent lit that is part superhero adventure, part spy thriller, part alien encounter, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of coming-of-age drama for our MC, Emile. Emile has always taken care of his little brother Max; making sure he gets around, that he’s safe, that he has what he needs. But Emile knows that Max is brilliant, that he is capable of more, even though he doesn’t talk, if only their over protective father would stop coddling the kid. Then Max finds a therapist whose young daughter (Lily) not only helps Max, but introduces Emile to a whole new world, one where he can play a part—as long as he, too, can see his little brother for who, and what, he truly is. I really loved the narrative voice of this novel from the onset, it’s fun and just my kind of sarcastic. I also really loved how Emile views Max early on; as someone with a neurodivergent brother, I related to being a sibling’s keeper, and feeling like they were playing the system more than necessary. But there was also a lot happening in this short read, and I often felt like chunks were missing from the story.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!