Vinyl Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. BrowneFive weeks ago Angel was dating Darius. Five weeks ago she still believed he loved her. Five weeks ago, after one terrible night, all of that changed.

Now Angel is across the country in Brooklyn. She’s getting used to living with her uncle Spence and exploring the Flatbush neighborhood that’s now home. She’s trying to figure out who she is when she doesn’t have Darius telling her everything she’s doing right–or wrong–and who she is when she doesn’t have her younger brother Amir or the triplets to take care of.

After that horrible night and the argument that changed everything, Angel know she needs to heal. She just isn’t sure if she deserves to yet.

As she makes new friends and discovers books and music that feel like they were made for her, Angel starts to realize her world could be bigger than her family, bigger than Darius. For the first time in years, Angel has space to be anything she wants to be–once she figures out who that is in Vinyl Moon (2022) by Mahogany L. Browne.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of a school year, Vinyl Moon is a deceptively short novel with quick vignette-like chapters narrated by Angel as she gets situated and begins to feel at home in Brooklyn. Free verse poems are interspersed with the prose highlighting different elements of the story and adding a lyrical quality to this unique reading experience. The audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin (quickly becoming one of my favorite voice actors) who does a fantastic job bringing Angel’s world–and her voice–to life.

Angel and most characters are Black. Angel’s classmates include characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum with a variety of lived experiences including a single mother finishing high school, secret poets and DJs, and alternatives to college with potential love interest Sterling who is in the ROTC. The story is also deeply and authentically grounded in its New York City setting and specifically Brooklyn as Angel explores many neighborhood instituations that local readers will readily recognize.

The novel features flashbacks that slowly unpack exactly what happened to get Angel to Brooklyn and her complicated past with her family. As she gains distance from everything that happened with Darius, Angel begins to understand what happened and her agency in making sure it does not happen again. New friendships, her uncle, and support from teachers at her new school also help Angel view her fraught relationship with her mother in a new light and realize some relationships are worth saving.

My favorite part of Vinyl Moon is Angel’s journey to understand her own past while discovering a love for books, poetry, and music–Browne presents this plot thread with joy and passion as Angel’s world starts to expand. As Angel observes, “It’s not that I don’t like reading. I’ve just never had room to do anything for myself.”–a sentiment that applies to so many people making their way back to (or discovering) things they love.

Vinyl Moon is empowering, hopeful, and not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Push by Sapphire, Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Blackout: A Review

Blackout by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola YoonEveryone who’s ever lived in New York City has a blackout story. Maybe it involves the looting and chaos of the 1977 blackout. Maybe you were at your first part-time job orientation about to get your ID photo taken when the blackout in 2003 hit the entire northeast (that’s mine). Maybe you were without power for five days after Superstorm Sandy in 2011 (still me). Maybe you have a different story.

For a group of Black teens things get a lot clearer after the lights go out. Like, all the lights. Everywhere.

They all start in different places. Stranded in Manhattan, isolated from friends, worried about elderly relatives, thinking about what comes next.

But tonight is the last block party of the summer. Missing it is not an option. Whether walking, biking, or going rogue in a NYC tour bus (for real) everyone has somewhere to be tonight. And, along the way, everyone has something to learn about themselves and their heart in Blackout (2021) by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackout is a collaborative novel featuring six interconnected stories from some of the best voices in writing YA fiction right now. Clayton–the initiator of the project–pulled these authors together to create their own version of the ubiquitous Hallmark romantic comedies that often fail to feature Black characters (or any characters of color) finding love. The audiobook is pitch perfect with narrators Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles and Bahni Turpin bringing the characters to life.

The book starts with “The Long Walk” by Tiffany D. Jackson, a story told in five acts throughout the novel as exes Tammie and Kareem reluctantly travel together back to Brooklyn after the blackout (and finding out they were both offered a single internship) leaves them stranded at the Apollo theater in Harlem. Tammie’s narration is sharp and still smarting after the breakup but as the two make their way to a block party where Kareem will be DJing, both teens realize that maybe growing apart doesn’t mean they have to stay apart.

In “Mask Off” by Nic Stone JJ (Tammie’s brother, who is bisexual) is trapped in a subway car with his longtime crush Tremain. Helping Tremain manage his claustrophobia as they escape the crowded subway allows the two to talk–and connect–more than their years at school together and JJ’s suspicions about Tremain’s sexuality have allowed. This is one of the shorter stories but Stone uses every word to great effect drawing readers into JJ and Tremain’s dramatic subway exit.

Even when her heart is broken, Nella loves visiting her grandfather at his nursing home, Althea House in “Made to Fit” by Ashley Woodfolk. There’s nothing like hearing about her grandparents’ love story or hanging out with all the cool seniors–especially when Joss and her therapy dog come around. When a cherished photo goes missing, the girls work together to try and track it down leading to a search through the house that reveals as much about their mutual interest as it does about the missing photo. Come for the cute banter, stay for the matchmaking grandfather.

“All the Great Love Stories … and Dust” starts with Lana’s big plans to finally confess her feelings for her best friend Tristan. A plan that is delayed when the blackout strands the two teens in the main branch of the New York Public Library. While Tristan never quite feels like a worthy love interest for her, Lana’s internal dialog as she tries to figure out how to finally admit her feelings is compelling and authentic.

Kayla thought she had problems before her class trip to New York City in “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” by Angie Thomas but that’s nothing compared to how the trip has been going. Things have felt stale with her longtime boyfriend Rashad for a while but that doesn’t mean that Kayla is prepared for her entire class to discuss the intricacies of her love life when Micah starts trying to get her attention. Kayla is an anxious, fast talker and her narration here is exhausting as she spins out when–with the advent of the blackout–it feels like things between her, Rashad, and Micah are about to come to a head. Unlikely advice from the class’s tour bus driver (Tammie’s dad) remind Kayla that before she can choose either boy, she has to remember how to choose herself.

Blackout wraps with “Seymour and Grace” by Nicola Yoon. Grace’s ride share to the block party takes an unexpected turn when she connects with her driver Seymour. Her entire plan for the night was to get to the block party looking sharp as hell while she gives her ex Tristan the earful he so righteously deserves. But plans change all the time. Maybe this ride share is a sign that Grace should make some changes too. Yoon brings her usual excellent prose and clever characters to this story making it a powerful conclusion to this collection.

Blackout is a fun, multifaceted story centering Black joy and highlightling love in many forms. The interconnected nature of the stories leaves room for fun Easter eggs to tie the different pieces together while leaving space for each author to shine in this book filled with humor, pathos, and plenty of love. Blackout is a must read for fans of contemporary romance–short story or novel–and a perfect introduction to these talented authors.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins, The Meet-Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Up All Night: 13 Stories Between Sunset and Sunrise edited by Laura Silverman, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: A Review

“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab1714, France: Adeline LaRue grows up learning about the old gods. She makes small offerings here and there, hoping for something bigger than the life she can see forming around herself in her small village. As she gets older, she begins to understand that the longer you walk, the fewer chances you have to change your path–something Addie is still desperate to do even as she feels time slipping through her fingers.

After offering everything she values, after praying far too long, one of the old gods finally answers long after dark. A bargain is struck.

A soul seems like a small thing to barter for more time but this deal has a catch. Addie will live forever but she cannot leave anything behind–no physical mark and, even more painful, no memory.

Over the centuries Addie learns the limits and loopholes of her bargain–her curse–ways to leave traces if not marks, inspiration if not memories, and ways to survive in a world that will always forget her. But even after three hundred years Addie is unprepared when she meets Henry–a young man in a secluded bookstore in New York City who remembers her name in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020) by V. E. Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop.

Schwab’s latest standalone fantasy may be her best work yet.

Through a multi-faceted narrative, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue explores themes of creativity and the weight of expectation (or lack thereof). This book is filled with well-drawn characters and thoughtful commentary on art and inspiration and what it really means to leave a mark on your piece of the world.

Evocative prose and detailed descriptions bring both the cities of Addie’s past and New York City vividly to life and lend a strong sense of place to this story that spans centuries.

With her aggressive resilience and optimism, Addie is a timeless character readers will always want to cheer on and, especially now, she’s the exact kind of protagonist we all need and deserve. Despite the bargain she has struck, I can guarantee Addie is nothing if not memorable.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is an empowering, perfectly plotted fantasy that subverts and defies expectations. A must read.

Possible Pairing: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe, The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Pride: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Pride by Ibi ZoboiZuri Benitez loves her family and her block in Bushwick in equal measure. She is proud to be Afro-Latinx and she is proud to have a part of the fabric of Bushwick long before the neighborhood started to gentrify.

Which is why Zuri wants nothing to do with the Darcy family when they move in across the street even if the brothers are cute. While her older sister Janae falls hard for Ainsley, Zuri cannot stand Darius.

In Zuri’s eyes Darius represents everything that’s going wrong in Bushwick as new rich families buy up houses and push out poorer families like Zuri’s, changing the neighborhood forever. Worse, he is a total snob with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

When Zuri and Darius are repeatedly thrown together, their mutual dislike starts to shift to a hesitant understanding and maybe even something else. With college looming and so many changes in her future, Zuri has to decide if her pride and her prejudices might be stopping her from embracing a wonderful opportunity in Pride (2018) by Ibi Zoboi.

Find it on Bookshop.

Pride is Zoboi’s sophomore novel and a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Pride is a sweet story imbued with Zuri’s love for her family, her neighborhood, and her words as Zuri often journals her thoughts as spoken word poems. Zuri is a decidedly modern narrator but in trying to capture teen authenticity this story leans heavily on nicknames (which don’t always make sense) and slang that has the potential to date this story very quickly.

In addition to Zuri’s evolving relationship with Darius, a lot of this story explores gentrification both as a way to bring classism into the story and also as it relates to Zuri’s beloved Bushwick neighborhood. This aspect is the weakest of the story as Zuri’s opinions and idealism of the past feel much more authentic for a much older character with a very different life experience. The message and discussion are important but never quite make sense coming from a teenager who would have limited memories at best of the Bushwick of her so-called youth.

Pride is a short novel that stands nicely on its own as a contemporary romance despite limited space to develop the large cast of characters. Readers already familiar with the source material (or one of its numerous adaptations) will catch more of this novel’s nuance and shorthand nods to elements from the original

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt

The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

Find it on Bookshop.

Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Lobizona by Romina Garber, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Vassa in the Night: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterSixteen-year-old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein isn’t sure where she fits in her family or if it even qualifies as a family. Her mother is dead. Vassa’s father stayed only long enough to settle Vassa with his new wife. So now she has a stepmother and two stepsisters. Chelsea is nice enough but Stephanie might actually hate Vassa–which is fine since it’s mostly mutual. It’s an odd living arrangement to Vassa but no more peculiar than a lot of things in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

The nights have been acting especially strange as they become longer and longer. When her stepsister (Stephanie, naturally) sends Vassa out in the middle of the night for light bulbs the only store that’s still open is the local BY’s. Everyone knows about BY’s, and its owner Babs Yagg, but people do tend to remember a store that dances around on chicken legs and has a habit of decapitating shoplifters.

Vassa is sure getting out of the store quickly will be easy. Even her enchanted wooden doll, Erg, is willing to behave and keep her sticky fingers to herself this once. When things don’t go as planned in BY’s it will take all of Vassa’s wits and Erg’s cunning to escape the store alive and maybe even break whatever curse has been placed on Brooklyn’s nights in Vassa in the Night (2016) by Sarah Porter.

This standalone urban fantasy is inspired by the Russian folktake “Vassilisa the Beautiful.” Although Vassa is described as incredibly pale, the rest of the book is populated with characters who are realistically diverse. Complicated dynamics within Vassa’s blended family add another dimension to the story. Evocative settings and imagery help bring this bizarre corner of Brooklyn to life including strong allusions to the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Vassa is a cynical, no-nonsense character who is quick to make jokes and take risks with the delightfully sharp-tongued Erg at her side. Vassa’s frank narration is sure to remind fans of Veronica Mars as will her resigned acceptance of her role as hero in this story.

Elements of traditional horror blend well with high-concept fantasy in this surprising and engaging tale. A deliberate lack of romantic tension makes Vassa in the Night a refreshing read focused on themes of self-reliance, friendship, and family.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Reader by Traci Chee, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2016 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Little Elliot, Big Fun: A Picture Book Review

Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike CuratoLittle Elliot and Mouse are back for another fun adventure. This time around, the two friends decide to go to Coney Island. Mouse is excited to try all of the rides but Elliot isn’t so sure. With so many rides that are too high, too crowded, and plain old too scary, will Elliot find a way to have fun with his friend in Little Elliot, Big Fun (2016) by Mike Curato.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is Curato’s third picture book featuring my favorite polka dot elephant. (Other books in the series: Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family.)

Curato once again brings old time New York to life–this time turning his eye to Coney Island. The illustrations in this book really draw readers into the amusement park. Curato’s signature eye for detail (and careful research) also make sure every ride is accurate to the book’s era (somewhere around the 1940s). A fold out spread from the Coney Island Ferris Wheel is especially stunning.

Readers have previously seen Elliot make his way in a big world (when he is quite small), and find an adopted family when he comes to Mouse’s family reunion. In some ways, Elliot’s problems are smaller in this one but just as universal. Coney Island is fun and exciting but Elliot struggles with the crowds, the noise, and many of the rides.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is a sweet story that shows young readers it’s okay to be scared but that it’s also important to keep trying to find things (say, amusement park rides) that work for you. And sometimes even scary things are manageable when you tackle them with a friend. Like the other picture books in this series, Little Elliot, Big Fun is highly recommended and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Shadowshaper: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José OlderSierra Santiago’s plans for the summer are quickly derailed when old-timers from around the neighborhood start to disappear. As soon as a strange zombie guy shows up at the first party of the summer, Sierra knows something is up even if her mother and grandfather refuse to admit that anything is remotely wrong.

When one graffiti mural starts crying and others begin to fade, it’s clear that something sinister is at play. Everyone in the neighborhood agrees it’s vitally important for Sierra to finish the mural she started, but no one will say why.

It’s only when she starts hanging out with Robbie that she learns about Shadowshapers and their ability to connect to magic through art. They used to be very powerful. But that was before the Shadowshapers had a falling out years ago. And before they started dying. With only scant clues, limited experience with her newly-discovered Shadowshaping powers, and not nearly enough time, Sierra and her friends will have to think fast to save their neighborhood–and maybe the world–in Shadowshaper (2015) by Daniel José Older.

Find it on Bookshop.

Shadowshaper is Older’s first novel written for the YA market and a standalone.

Older uses concrete details and real locations to bring Sierra’s Brooklyn to life in Shadowshaper. The story effortlessly evokes New York wandering and handles issues surrounding gentrification and the changing landscape of the city extremely well. Sierra’s voice, and those of her friends, are authentically teen which only adds to the ambiance of this novel. Additionally, a diverse cast including Sierra’s friends, neighborhood regulars, and Sierra’s family create a great story in a sub-genre that is often frustratingly (not to mention unrealistically) white.

While Shadowshaper excels with characters and setting, it unfortunately falls flat as a fantasy. The mythology surrounding Shadowshaping is slight at best with rules and mechanics that are poorly explained when they are explained at all. There is a lot of potential here that might have been better served with a longer novel or even a sequel.

Breakneck action and numerous chase sequences also diminish the story and leave little room for characterization. While Sierra is very well-realized her friends often come across as stock characters with limited personality or purpose within the narrative. While it is incredibly empowering to have a book where the only white person is the villain, it was disappointing to see that villain become little quite one-dimensional by the end of the novel.

Shadowshaper is a fast read. Unfortunately, many parts of the novel feel rushed. The hardcover has some obvious continuity errors with blocking (characters standing on one page and then standing again three pages later without ever having sat down for instance) and many opportunities to complicate the narrative and characters are ignored.

Shadowshaper is a great choice for readers looking for authentic characters and a fun read. Recommended as an introduction to urban fantasy for readers willing to suspend their disbelief with only limited justification. Ideal for reluctant readers and anyone who likes the novels fast-paced and full of action.

Possible Pairings: Tithe by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine, Lobizona by Romina Garber, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

BEA Part of It: NYC Libraries to See and Things to Do

Thank you again to Estelle from Rather Be Reading for inviting me to participate this year in the awesome BEA Part of It series!

BEA Part of It Updated Banner 2015

Since I’m a librarian I decided to organize my suggested sites around three libraries that I have frequented regularly along with some things to do in the area (thanks to BFF/fellow librarian and blogger Nicole for helping me hash out the idea and some of the places!):

Jefferson Market Library – New York Public Library

Jefferson Market Library, New York Public Library
425 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10011: Jefferson Market Library was originally a courthouse (where Mae West was tried for obscenity charges in 1927 and the infamous Stanford White murder trial  took place in 1906–partly inspiring the 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing). A women’s house of detention previously stood on the grounds of the neighboring community garden. Inside the library boasts a welcoming children’s space, specialized New York reference materials and impressive stained glass windows. Be sure to stick around to hear the clock tower mark the hour.

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Peanut Butter & Co. (240 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012): Peanut Butter & Co. is your one stop shop for all things peanut butter. This cozy restaurant has kitschy charm and simple fare. You can build your own sandwich (complete with potato chips and carrot sticks on the side) or choose from custom menu selections that include options ranging from The Elvis (grilled peanut butter sandwich with bananas and honey–bacon optional) to Dark Chocolate Dreams (dark chocolate peanut butter and cherry jam, stuffed with coconut). The menu also includes some non-peanut butter options (tuna or chicken salad or grilled cheese for instance). Be sure to save room for dessert!
    Peanut Butter & Co.
  • McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St, New York, NY 10012): This two-floor bookstore is a must-see for bibliophiles in New York. The indie bookstore boasts a great cafe (complete with books hanging from the ceiling), Print on Demand services, a respectable children’s and teen collection in the basement, not to mention a full events calendar.
    McNally Jackson
  • Union Square (14th-17th Street, (Broadway and Park), New York City, NY 10001): Union Square is one of Downtown Manhattan’s iconic parks not to mention a transit hub and a great shopping destination. You can explore the park and take in views and also explore the surrounding area (particularly Fourteenth Street) to find a variety of shops, restaurants and street vendors. While you’re in the area be sure to check out the enormous Barnes and Noble, Forbidden Plant, Sephora and keep your eyes peeled for the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.
    Union Square Park
  • The Strand (828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003): As one of New York’s most famous bookstores, The Strand of course gets its own mention. With used books galore, The Strand is definitely an obvious stop for any bookish tourists. Be sure to buy a signature tote as a functional souvenir!
    The Strand

Central Library – Brooklyn Public Library

Central Library, Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238: Want to see a library that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, has more than one million cataloged items (including 120,000 items for kids and teens in the Youth Wing), and boasts a beautiful Art Deco exterior? Look no further. This library is also centrally located near several places worth checking out during your trip. You can fuel up at the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Cafe in the library lobby before heading out for more adventures (I recommend the Chocolate Chess pie if it’s in stock!).

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket (Prospect Park West & Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn): Every Saturday Grand Army Plaza (across the street from the library) hosts a greenmarket with local vendors, musicians and a variety of programs including story times and cooking demonstrations. After perusing the market you can admire the majestic fountain and arch found in Grand Army Plaza proper.
    The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden (150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11215): Next to the Central library you’ll find Mount Prospect Park and just beyond that the entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden which has a variety of seasonal exhibits.
    Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Eastern Parkway entrance.
  • Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238): Because Brooklyn has so much more space, this museum is enormous with tons to see including rotating exhibits, sculpture gardens, Egyptian artifacts and more.
    The Brooklyn Museum.

Muhlenberg Library – New York Public Library

Muhlenberg Library, New York Public Library
209 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011: The Muhlenberg Library is one of the original Carnegie libraries and opened to the public in 1906. Although small in size, the branch is mighty in services offered including a children’s floor and a bustling media collection.

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Doughnut Plant (220 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011): Doughnut Plant is known for their all natural doughnuts (including cake donuts and square filled donuts!!) and their seasonal specials. Doughnut Plant also has a ton of locations around New York City. I recommend their Chelsea locale because you can also check out the historic Hotel Chelsea at the same time.
    Doughnut Plant, Chelsea Hotel
  • Books of Wonder (18 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011): Books of Wonder is an indie bookstore dedicated to children’s and teen books (along with a gallery of artwork by famous illustrators and a collection of rare books). As one of the places for YA and children’s events, the store always has a nice selection of signed books and fun literary window displays.
  • Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011): Chelsea Market is a shopping center in Chelsea (right near the Meatpacking District) the converted warehouse features shops, eateries, and more (including an indoor pipe waterfall). Be sure to check out Fat Witch Bakery or Eleni’s Cookies for something sweet and Chelsea Market Baskets for some containers to hold all of your new purchases. Local news station NY 1 and Food Network has space on the upper floors so if you time your trip right, you might even spot a local celebrity.
    Chelsea Market
  • The High Line (New York, NY 10011): The High Line is an elevated park along a defunct rail line called the West Side Line. The park runs from Gansevoort in the Village up to 34th Street along the west side of Manhattan with a variety of access points. The park has great views, restaurants, art installations and viewing outlooks. Although it can get crowded in nice weather, the High Line is a great spot to end your NYC wanderings by admiring scenic views of the surrounding area.
    View from the High Line
  • The Whitney (99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014): The Whitney Museum of American Art recently moved to a new (larger) building downtown near the High Line. If you plan on exploring downtown Manhattan this May you can also be among the first people to see the museum’s new digs.
    The New Whitney

Now you know three of my favorite libraries in New York City and some of my favorite places near each of them. I hope you have time to check some of them out during your next New York City adventure!