Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Cover of the book Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova on a white background with tiny yellow flowers

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
ISBN: 1492620947
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: September 6, 2016
Page count: 336
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads summary:
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: 4 Stars!

I really enjoyed this! It has familiar tropes that you can slip right into (heroine who doesn’t appreciate her gifts and acts rashly without understanding the whole situation, a little bit of a love triangle, and a quest to redeem her actions) – but it felt totally fresh. The underworld of Los Lagos was really original – I loved all the fantastic creatures we met there (and some were pretty scary!). The description of the colorful landscape itself was really great – I would *love* to see this is as a movie or mini-series! I can see it as supersaturated, so many purples and oranges…

This book was a page turner – the short chapters might have had something to do with that? Whatever it was, I liked it, I felt like I was flying through it without rushing at all. The pacing is absolutely perfect – no lulls or long drawn-out boughts of hand-wringing.

Alex felt totally believable to me as a teenager – she’s confused, she’s afraid of her magic, she’s unsure of her feelings – but she’s also not taking any shit, she’s brave, and she stays true to herself. Her growth as a character over the course of the book felt really authentic. I worried a bit about The Chosen One trope, but I think the author handled it in a really cool way – I won’t say anymore because I hate spoilers.

Side note: The Devourer reminded me of a scarier, waaaay meaner version of David Bowie’s Jareth, The Goblin King, from the movie Labyrinth (which is one of my all-time FAVES). She had a much more developed backstory though (I mean, who the hell is Jareth? How did he become the Goblin King?!) ANYWAY, she’s a worthy foe, and I want to see someone’s rendering of her cool steel and bone dress and mask.

The system of magic that Córdova created is really cool and original, and I thoroughly appreciated her Author’s Note at the end where she explains what’s real, what she used as inspiration for the fictional pieces, and where you can learn more about each facet.

Also: it’s rad that this book is populated 100% by people of color. And, bonus queer rep. If that’s a thing you try to read more of (I do!), then know that this book has it.

All in all – two very enthusiastic thumbs up to this book. It’s fun, it’s heart-felt, and it’s super satisfying. I will give a side WTF to that epilogue, buuuuut, I guess since it’s the first in a series, we’re just going to have to come back to see what’s up with that in Book 2! Very much looking forward to the next adventure.

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Friday Reads: March 17, 2017

4 pics: top left, cover of book Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard; top right, cover of book Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden; bottom left, cover of book Octopus Pie Vol 1; bottom right text with #FridayReads March 17, 2017 / leveledupreading.wordpress.comWhew, it was kind of a bad book week for me last week! I DNF’d one book and didn’t love another that I read – this doesn’t happen to me all that often. Or maybe I’m just becoming more critical/curmudgeonly.  🤔

In any case, I decided to hit the library this week for something fresh. I’ve been meaning to check out Girl Mans Up since Liberty talked about it on the All the Books podcast. Rolling Blackouts has been on my radar for a while too – I super love graphic novels for history – and I was SO excited to see that my library acquired it recently! I thought for sure I was going to have to ILL it, so when I saw it just waiting for me on the shelf, I straight up swooned audibly.  I’ve seen Octopus Pie on the shelves in the YA Graphic Novels section a few times and was happy to find Volume 1 there this time. 

Do you read multiple books at the same time? It’s a pretty recent change to my reading habits, but I do enjoy having a couple things going at once. This represents a fairly typical spread – I usually don’t double up on book types simultaneously, so in this case I’ve got a novel, a non-fiction graphic novel and another fiction/comics trade. They’re different enough for me to serve different moods or reading opportunities. Being home with kids means sometimes I only have time for just a few pages of comics, other times I know they’re engaged enough that I might sneak in a chapter or two of a novel.

What are you reading this weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Cover of Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

Title: Follow Me Back
Author: A.V. Geiger
ISBN: 1492645230
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire / Wattpad
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Page count: 368
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 stars

Summary (from GoodReads): Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies. When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts.

Review: Ok. Look. I’ve read some seriously top-notch fanfiction over the years – fantastically written, well-researched, the whole gamut. I have deep, deep respect for fanfiction writers. I also really enjoy YA, and I know that so much of YA can and does have appeal beyond the YA-aged audience.

But this reads like very underdeveloped, sophomoroic, wish-fulfillment fanfiction by a very, very young person.

This just felt…young. Not in topic, but the writing style. Yes, there was a plot. There were twists and turns. But it is ALL telling and nooooo showing. It’s a bit like a paint-by-numbers book. I am holding your hand and telling you every single thing I want you to see/hear/think, and I’m not leaving anything up to interpretation. No metaphors. No subtext.

For a while I thought this would be a 3-star read – it’s fast, it’s easy to read, the police interrogation documents keep you wondering what all this tweeting and DM-ing can possible lead to. But. Nah. I didn’t hate it – but I rolled my eyes. A LOT. And by the 70% mark I was skimming a lot of the filler text. At that point, I just wanted to see the resolution, so I didn’t waste a ton of time on reading every word carefully (because by then I knew that I wasn’t going to miss a great turn of phrase or something particularly underline-worthy).

SPOIILER:

The “twist” ending felt soooooo tacked on. Boooooo. It felt like a total last ditch effort to make people talk about this book. “OMG! What do you think happened?! Why?!? How?!?” I don’t care. I see in GoodReads that there is a sequel forthcoming – I will not be reading it.

If you need a high calorie snack type of book, this is your bag of greasy potato chips. I’m not angry that I read it, but I can tell that I will spend exactly 0 minutes thinking about it in the future.

This books was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher in exchage for an honest review. Thanks to both.

Friday Reads: March 10, 2017

Cover of the book The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
Ooooh, look how pretty this cover is! I was somehow lucky enough to snag this ARC off of my library’s free shelf sometime in December. Its publication date is next week, so I thought the time had finally come to actually read it! It’s kind of literary fiction with a heavy space travel/science theme, and *I am always here for SPAAAACE!* I’m digging the sly sense of humor, lots of stuff I want to underline (but I don’t write in books! Perish the thought). Full review to come next week.

What are you reading this weekend? Let me know in the comments! 

Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

Title: Borderline
Author: Mishell Baker
ISBN: 1481429787
Publisher: Saga Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: March 1, 2016
Page count: 400
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Photo of the hardcover of Borderline by Mishell Baker on a black and white scarf

I used to read a LOT of urban fantasy. For a few years, it felt like I was reading it almost exclusively, with a bit of straight up SF and fantasy thrown in there. Needless to say…I kinda burned out on it. There are a few series that I still follow or followed to their conclusion (The Hollows by Kim Harrison and Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs, I’m looking at you), but I really started to get sick of all the tropes of the whole urban fantasy sub-genre.  So in recent years I’ve approached urban fantasy warily. 

I’m happy to report that Urban Fantasy and I have had a very happy reunion in the form of Borderline. 😁

Millie Roper is a very interesting character to get to know – I really appreciated seeing the world through her eyes. She has Borderline Personality Disorder, and she’s survived a suicide attempt that resulted in the  double amputation of her legs. She’s been voluntarily living in a psychiatric facility for quite some time when a stranger walks in and offers her a job adjacent to the world that she has left behind – the film industry. Cautious but interested, she agrees. However, she finds herself in a verrry different situation than she anticipated: instead of fetching lattes for executives, her first assignment is to track down a (famous) rogue fey actor who has overstayed his fairy visa. Wait, what? 

Yes there are fairies, but honestly? They’re kind of the least interesting part of this whole story. Really. This is more a story of how the world of fairy and the fey themselves end up affecting people in our world, for better or worse. 

Millie is joined by a very interesting cast of supporting characters, some of which we get to know, some I’m still very curious about. Luckily this is the first in a series, so we have time to do just that!

The pacing is great, the various mysteries (both the main plot and the back stories of many of the characters) unfold slowly and kept me guessing the whole time. 

 Super looking forward to reading more in this world! It’s also nominated for a Nebula for 2016, which is pretty cool – I feel like it’s kind of unusual for urban fantasy to be nominated, but that’s a gut reaction thing – research may prove me wrong. 

What are your favorite Urban Fantasy reads? I’m in the market for more these days. 😉

March 2017 TBR

I struggle a bit with TBR commitments. I have really good intentions about working methodically through my challenges, knocking off the appropriate number of books per month, reading books that I own, and generally being what in my house we refer to as “a good-job-pig.” (I can’t even remember where this expression came from, but I find it useful!) However, it turns out that I am both a mood-reader AND easily distracted by shiny new things available at my library, so my TBRs are ALWAYS more of a menu of options rather than a linear to-do list.

All that said, here’s what’s on my menu for the month of March!

Physical Books: 

Ebook TBR:


Graphic Novel TBR:


I think I’ve narrowed it down to starting with Borderline by Mishell Baker (nominated for a Nebula last week!), Southern Cross Vol. 1 by Becky Cloonan (who also does Gotham Academy, which is great!) and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (of Daily Show fame) on audio.

Do you keep a strict TBR or do you change your mind a lot? What reads are you most looking forward to this month? Let me know in the comments!

February 2017 Wrap Up

My reading stats for 2017: 8 books, 7 print, 1 audio, 2003 pages read, by women: 63%, diverse reads: 38%, Fave reads: Scrappy Little Nobody & In the Woods
This month was a little spare for my normal reading amount. I blame influenza, which left me feverish and unable to focus on reading for almost a whole week, and the fact that February is a short month. 😜

I’m happy that I managed to read 63% books by women, but I am BUMMED about only reading 38% diverse books (it was 73% last month!). Definitely going to try to improve this for March.

Without further ado, here’s what I read in Februray 2017:

A Kiss for Midwinter – Courtney Milan | Though not my favorite of the series, this was a fun little novella in the Brothers Sinister series focusing on Dr. Grantham and Lydia. I’m constantly amazed at how deft Milan is at handling prior trauma for her characters – just really excellent. I love this series for its fantastic banter, strong ladies, and guys that grok them. This one felt a little rushed and sometimes I wanted to smack Lydia for what seemed like beligerent ignorance of Dr. Grantham’s affections. 3/5 ⭐️

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch | This was one of my Book of the Month picks from last year – everyone on my book feeds were losing their minds of this book! So there were definitely high expectations. I liked it fine, the multiverse science and the questions it inspires are always interesting. I felt like the ending was phoned in, alas. This book reads like a movie though (and if doesn’t become a movie or TV show I’ll be SHOCKED – he is also the author of the Wayward Pines books that became TV). If you’re looking for a fun SF thriller that you can get swept up in, you should check it out. 3.5/5 ⭐️

Mooncop – Tom Gauld | I heard about this on Litsy and I think All the Books, so when I saw it at my library I snatched it up quick. Perhaps I was just not in the right mood, but I liked it fine, but didn’t love it like others have. It’s very spare and quiet, a tad depressing yet whimsical? Side note: I’m soooo glad that I got this at the library because it would have been a $20 10-minute-read and I think I would have bee quite frustrated with that. 3/5 ⭐️

The Revolution Where You Live – Sarah Van Gelder | This sounded really interesting – Van Gelder is one of the co-founders of YES! Magazine, and decided to take a camper on a 12,000 mile journey to talk to people in communities either actively resisting terrible things (environmental destruction, long histories of racism, etc) or actively trying to transform their communities through the arts and other avenues. Her basic argument is – resist in place. You can make huge strides by trying to change/improve the place where you are – seems simple and obvious, but it isn’t, really. I liked this book, but I had some reservations. Read my review on GR for a deeper dive into my criticisms. 3.5/5 ⭐️

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick | I listened to this on audio, and Kendrick narrates it herself which is AWESOME. It’s basically like having a friend tell you stories of their childhood and early adulthood, but your friend is super funny and neurotic and self-aware and great. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Not quite as emotionally vulnerable as say, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, but a laugh-out-loud look back on Kendrick’s life on the stage and screen, and lots of behind the scenes as well. 4/5 ⭐️

Iron Cast – Destiny Soria | This is a cool YA read set in 1919 Boston, just a bit before prohibition hits the country (but it’s on the horizon). The twist: in this world, a smallish percentage of the population suffers from “hemopathy” – a disease of the blood – where they canNOT tolerate being around iron and also have a kind of gift that can affect the perception of others. Some are wordsmiths who recite poetry and can make people see visions; others are songsmiths who can play an instrument or sing in a way that can make people feel very strong emotions or forget things. Hemopathy has just been made illegal (using it), and our two protagonists are just trying to survive and create a family in a world that does not welcome their kind. At its core, its a story of the friendship of Corinne and Ada, of growing up, of clear-seeing, and finding one’s place in the world. For about 60% of the book, I thought it would be a 3-star read – it was a bit slow, there seemed to be a million plot threads and characters. However around the 60% mark it picked up for me, the threads started to come together in a satisfying way, and in the end I gave this one 4/5 ⭐️.

Faith Volume 1: Hollywood & Vine – Jody Houser | This was kind of a weird read for me – I had the privilege of reading the first two issues as ARCs via NetGalley about six months ago. I remembered liking it fine and wanting to see where the story went. Fast forward to this month and my library had the graphic trade (4 issues of the comic), so I grabbed it to see where the story went. Meh. I really like Faith, I love how she is a fat superhero and that is not even A Thing, really, I love the geeky references and the fake BuzzFeed place that she works. But the plot of the overall story was just kind of – trite? It just feels like its been done a lot, and it was kind of silly and far fetched and forgettable. This was my first comic in this world (Faith comes from the Harbinger comics originally, I think). I gave issues 1&2 4/5 ⭐️ , but overall this was a 3/5 ⭐️ read.

The Baker Street Peculiars – Roger Langridge | I am officially DNF-ing this, which is something I don’t do often, maybe just a couple times a year. I received a copy of this via NetGalley in exchange of an honest review, and I forced myself through 50% but I just. Can. Not. This graphic novel sounded really cute – a gang of unlikely kids (and a dog!) solving crimes in Sherlock Holmes London. The art is ok, not my fave honestly, but the real crime is the font/resolution of the text. It is *terrible*. No matter what I do in terms of size or orientation on my iPad, the text is fuzzy, in places soooo tiny, and it often borders on indecipherable. The story wasn’t compelling enough for me to keep fighting to read this, so I’m throwing in the towel. 0/5 ⭐️ aka Bail.

In the Woods – Tana French | I just squeaked this read under the wire for February. The first installment of French’s loosely linked series The Dublin Murder Squad, this thriller/mystery was INTENSE! It’s Dark and gritty, with two cases – one cold, one recent – constantly competing for the story’s attention. I wanted to kick the protagonist, Rob Ryan, often, and I’m still wondering if that was intentional on the author’s part or if he just rubbed me the wrong way. If you like psychological thrillers, this is a good pick! 4/5 ⭐️

What were your favorite reads of Februrary? Let me know!

2017 Reading Intentions

It turns out that I am VERY MOTIVATED by categorical reading challenges. I love the thrill of searching for a book that checks the box of a challenge like Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge or my local library’s Book Bingo. Sometimes I change my mind 10 times about what book I’ll read for a particular category, but hey, I’m flexible that way.

Here’s a summary of my goals for the year:

20017 Bookish Resolutions / Increase diverse reads / Keep reading 60%+ women / Read Harder 2017 / Litsy AtoZ / Litsy Reading Challenge / Read 150 books

Litsy AtoZ | Litsy Reading Challenge | Mt TBR Challenge | RH2017

It’s a lot of stuff, but my personal rule is I’m allowed to use one book for multiple challenges (but not more than once per challenge).

In an effort to read more backlist and/or books that I’ve owned for a long time and put off, I’m also trying out Game of Books, with a goal of scoring 50 points/month.

I’m also super geeked to be utilizing the amazing book tracking spreadsheet, Way Too Many Book Stats 2017 by Brock Roberts. OMG, automatically generated charts?! I looooove data sooooo much.

Have you ever done a book challenge? Do you set yearly reading goals? Let’s talk!

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