Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick #BookReview #DiverseBooks #YA

a1Title: Saint Death
Author: Marcus Sedgewick
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 272 pages
Publication Details: October 6th 2016 by Orion Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA; Contemporary; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

Goodreads 

bookdepo

A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by prize-winning novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence – and beyond it – America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead. Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Review

I’m a big fan of British author Marcus Sedgwick but the last book I read of his, Ghosts of Heaven was a monumental disappointment. I therefore went into this with some trepidation. Saint Death also feels like a bit of a departure for him, although I’m not sure why because he’s nothing if not eclectic.

In this story, Sedgwick returns to the YA genre but takes us to a whole new place – a slum on the US/Mexico border and immerses us in a  dark, spiritual culture. 

Arturo has learnt how to survive in Anapra. He knows how to collect water in old coke cans and feed himself on scraps. He knows not to look to the men in the big black cars with the neck tattoos in the eye. He knows to never owe anyone anything. 

But, when his best friend- who disappeared a year earlier- returns with his pregnant childhood sweetheart asking for his help, Arturo can’t turn him down. But in helping him, he will be exposed to all the things he’s learnt to stay away from – gambling, guns and drug lords. The only thing he can hope for is that the white lady, Santissima Muerte, AKA Saint Death hears his prayers and grants his wishes of protection.

Gah! I’m very torn by this one. It is a story which sheds light on an enigmatic, often brutal culture, with immigration at the heart of the matter. It is a story which is perhaps even more appropriate today than it was a week ago; portraying an important message that I think is wonderful to see in a YA book. 

However, my main issue was that it wasn’t very exciting. It took too long to get to the short-lived thrilling action in which Arturo is locked in a high-stakes (not just money-wise) game of cards with a drug lord in order to save his friend’s life. 

It was a quick read, yet the action felt slow and too simple. It was written beautifully, yet it never truly amazed me. It was just one big contradiction in my mind. 

I applaud Marcus Sedgwick for putting diversity at the forefront of another of his YA books, but Saint Death didn’t have the emotional drive that She is Not Invisible did. His writing is beautiful, as always, but there was something lacking here. Maybe the ‘message’ overshadowed fully developed characters and plot!?

The jury is still out for me.

unicorn rating 3

Saint Death is available in hardback or digital versions now. 

Labyrinth Lost #BookReview #YA

summer16.3Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
Format: Digital ARC, 336 pages
Publication Details: September 6th 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Disclosure? Yep, I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

Goodreads 

bookdepo

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…

Review

I was dying to read this as soon as I saw that stunning cover. It’s also not often you come across YA books built upon Latin American culture. So WIN.

Labyrinth Lost is the story of Alex and her close family of bruja’s – sort of witches. Alex, a middle sister, should have come into her gift by now and had her Deathday ceremony just like her older sister and and her parents before her. Little do they know that Alex’s magic is much, much stronger than they ever imagined and she’s been hiding it for years. 

Unfortunately, an incident exposes Alex’s magic and her family rally around to arrange her Deathday party – the one thing Alex was fearing – as once the dead are raised and her magic is blessed, she will be stuck with it forever.

However, the ceremony doesn’t exactly go to plan for anyone, and Alex’s family disappear leaving just her and brujo Nova to journey through the Labyrinth of Los Lagos to reclaim their souls. 

This was a book of two halves for me. I was absolutely entranced with the  first half. I loved Alex and her family. Her relationship with her sisters was so full of love but fraught with annoyances it really rang true. 

I also loved the dynamic between Alex and her best friend, and felt for her for having to keep so many secrets from colourful Rishi. 

Córdova brings Latin American history, spirituality and mythology to the forefront in Labyrinth Lost and I found it spellbinding. I did however, think it lost a lot of pace when they got Los Lagos – a definite downside to creating a dreamy, psychedelic limbo – I did wish it moved along a bit faster during the second half. I also thought the believability factor was stretched to breaking point in parts.

Overall though, this was a quick, interesting read which stands out from a lot of generic YA fantasy. The mythology Córdova built on and evolved was a delight, and now I’d love to read more about Latin American beliefs. It was also nice to see a gay relationship in here – although I wasn’t convinced of Alex’s feelings half as much as I was the other character’s.

unicorn rating 3

 

Blog Tour: Rush of Shadows by Catherine Bell (Review)

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I’m delighted to host a tour stop today for Catherine Bell’s Rush of Shadows, depicting the conflict between settlers and natives in 1800’s Calfornia. It was a rollercoaster of a read!

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Title: Rush of Shadows
Author: Catherine Bell
Series: n/a
Publication date: October 15th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction; Literary Fiction
Purchase from: Amazon

Synopsis
When American pioneers set their hearts on a California valley where Indians had been living for thousands of years, a period of uneasy appraisal emerged, followed by conflict and soon enough by genocide. The epic greed and violence of the 1850′s and 60′s has been brushed aside by history, conveniently forgotten in the pride of conquest. Willful ignorance and cruelty, terror and desperation were common in that time, but there were moments too of nobility and compassion, ingenuity and forgiveness, qualities which might have prevailed if certain things had been different. Rush of Shadows brings to life two freethinking women, Mellie, a white, and Bahe, an Indian, who enact the clash of their cultures, endure, and come to an unlikely understanding.

My Review

I’ve always had a weird fascination with this period of history, despite not actually knowing much about it (shamefully). I remember a book my dad had when I was growing up which was essentially just photos of Native American Indians going about their lives, and I thought it was beautiful and magical.

So when I came across this book and was asked to be part of the blog tour, I was delighted. And, I still am!

Rush of Shadows is about Mellie and Law, a recently married couple who become some of the very first settlers in an area of California, an area inhabited by Indians.

Mellie is sweet-hearted yet extremely strong-willed, with a degree of irreverence about her. You get the feeling from the start that she’s not entirely happy about her lot in life, and has reservations about her husband, Law, but she goes along with his plans regardless.

When they arrive at the place Law has his mind set on, he is concerned with building their home and finding sustainable work, leaving Mellie feeling isolated and alone. This is when she meets Bahé. Bahé, as Mellie names her, is the opposite of Mellie, yet somehow they are similar in many ways too.

To Law’s dismay, Mellie finds herself seeking Bahé out more and more. But as time goes on and more settlers arrive bringing with them their ignorance and fear of the Indians it gets increasingly harder for Mellie and Bahé’s friendship to develop.

This book was such a rollercoaster. On one hand, I loved the way the Indian’s were portrayed, in that the way they lived was such a mystery to the settlers it made them seem so spiritual and almost magical, but on the other hand, the way the settlers saw them and feared them made me so angry.

I liked that Mellie had her own mind and stood up to her husband on occasion (and that he enjoyed it!), but she also let the influence of others impact on her relationship with Bahé and her family.

There is massive scope in this novel. We start at the very beginnings of settlement, when there were only two houses in the region, to the development of a town and a government. I found this really interesting and enjoyed the contrast of this story to that of Bahé’s who learns a lot from Mellie but will never fully understand her or their ways – which I guess works both ways.

Bahé and her family’s lives are in danger from the settlers. Everything that was once theirs – nature, wildlife, freedom, is slowly taken away from them to the point that they begin to starve, and their traditions are basically damned, but she never blames Mellie, or lashes out – such is her spirit.

I found Rush of Shadows dramatic, emotional and infuriating – but all in a good way. Catherine Bell did such a great job of juggling multiple narratives, something which I often dislike in books. I thought it was written really beautifully and the amount of research she did comes across in every single line (you should see the list of sources)! It is definitely one of those books that gives you food for thought, as the themes here are universal and can be applied to any era.

unicorn rating 4

Meet the Author

DSC_0974Catherine Bell grew up in a New England family with a sense of its past as distinguished and its culture superior, as chronicled in many of her short stories.

An early reader, she found in fiction that penetrating experience of other people’s lives that opens a wider world. The Winsor School, Harvard, and Stanford prepared her to recognize good writing and thinking. She credits work as a gardener, cook, cashier, waitress, and schoolbus driver with teaching her how to live in that wider world.

She has also worked as a secretary, freelance writer, and therapist, served as a teacher in the Peace Corps, and taught in inner city schools. She has lived in Paris, Brasilia, Nova Scotia, Northern California, and Washington, D.C. Culture clashes, even within families, are often subjects of her fiction. She has published stories in a number of journals, including Midway Journal, Coal City Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Sixfold, Solstice, and South Carolina Review. Her story “Among the Missing” won The Northern Virginia Review’s 2014 Prose Award.

She researched and wrote Rush of Shadows, her first novel, over a period of twenty years after she married a fourth-generation Californian and fell in love with his home territory, the Coast Range. The bright sunburned hills, dark firs, clear shallow streams, and twisted oaks were splendid, but the old barns and wooden churches and redwood train station didn’t seem old enough. Where was the long past? Where were the Indians? There was only the shadow of a story passed down by her husband’s grandmother late in life. Born in 1869, she grew up playing with Indian children whose parents worked on the ranch her father managed. One day the Army came to remove the Indians and march them to the reservation, and that was that. She was four years old, and she never forgot.

Bell lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. and visits children and grandchildren in California and Australia. As a teacher at Washington International School, she loves reading great books with teenagers.

Links:
Check out the rest of the tour schedule here: JKS Communications
Add Rush of Shadows on Goodreads
Available from Amazon

Many Thanks to Catherine Bell and JKS Communications!

Come With Me Now on a Journey Through Time & Space: The Corporeal Pull by Sara B. Gauldin

19046365The Corporeal Pull is a story of love that transcends both time and the mortal plane. Terra, a guiding spirit of the Tweens, was content to manage her corporeal charges on Earth and help them towards their divine purpose until she was faced with Liam. The strange attraction she feels towards this lone entity forces her to reexamine the narrow perspective she has held for centuries. Suddenly, the relevance of soul mates is thrust into the forefront of her thoughts, and she cannot deny their relevance.

When Terra realizes that Liam’s intended path is one of incomprehensible suffering in the mortal world, it is already too late. She has let herself become entangled in his fate. Terra is faced with an impossible quandary; how can she knowingly send her love to a human lifetime where he is meant to be sacrificed to slow the flow of evil in the world? She realizes that without Liam, her immortal existence will become one of never-ending pain. If Liam cannot continue his existence; than neither will she. Things do not go according to her plan!

This epic tale of good versus evil seeks to answer the age-old question of “why me” that all earth-bound travelers must eventually ask about their own life experiences. This action-packed love story will invite you in and leave you breathless!

Woah.

I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like this before.

The Corporeal Pull is is two parts Fantasy, one part Romance and a whole lot more. It is the kind of book that throws questions at you left, right and center and invites you to think about the world and our very existence in ways you never have before.

Terra (I love that name btw) is an immortal spirit in charge of guiding corporeal entities through their transformation into a life on earth. It’s also Terra’s job to follow her ‘charges’ lives and keep them on the path they are destined for, no matter how good, or bad that path may be.

Enter Liam.

The start of this book was so promising I found myself highlighting passages ferociously, knowing that I’d want to remember them. I found the way Gauldin explores the themes of creationism, divine intervention and soul mates in a Supernatural/Fantasy setting unique and thought-provoking.

However, the romance between Terra and Liam unfortunately didn’t work for me which put a bit of a dampener on an otherwise great story. It was a bit of an Insta-love thing going-on, which was probably intentional given the emphasis on them as soul mates but I couldn’t muster any emotional connection with them, which is a shame.

The Corporeal Pull is such an ambitious book and I’m glad I read it even if the romance element was a let down. Being a Young Adult/Fantasy fan, it’s not everyday you come across a book that makes you think about your own existence and spirituality. It’s full of big ideas: Reincarnation, love transcending mortality, the origins of Evil to name a few, so it’s hard not to recommend it despite some shortcomings.

Here are a few of the passages I highlighted to whet your appetite:

From a mortal perspective, an individual has always been destined to become the person that they are. It seems evident to those on Earth that a person’s soul and body belong together. They seem predestined for one another; two parts of a whole. In fact, this could not be further from the truth.”

“The Scourge comes in many forms. It is the evil force that spreads acts of hate and depravity among mankind. It uses mortal shortcomings and physical pitfalls to trick charges into becoming willing participants.”

All sentient beings are created, except for ‘The One’. He has no beginning and no end. Therefore he was not created, he is as he always has been and will be. The rest of us have a starting line to cross.”

unicorn rating 3

Disclosure: I received a copy from the Author in exchange for an HONEST review.
Title: The Corporeal Pull
Author: Sara B. Gauldin
Details: E-Book, 288 pages
Publication Date: November 29th 2013
My Rating: 3/5 (More of a 3.5 if I could bring myself to chop a unicorn in half)