The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

“The Officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried any colored person upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons”

Jim Crow Law regarding burial

I looked up the Jim Crow law……I wrote the words, then I cried. When I finished reading The Forgotten Girl I fell down the rabbit hole of the internet. I wanted to read everything that I could find about abandoned segragated graveyards. I needed to know that something was being done to help find all the people that had been lost and forgotten in time. The African-American Burial Grounds Act was introduced to the house on 02/13/2019 as of 12/22/2020 it is being held at the desk. I have no idea what that means. While I was researching the lost segregated graveyards, I thought about my uncle. I am know where he buried, it is a beautiful military cemetery, with lush green grass and large trees. There are soldiers of every race around him. I don’t know what I would do if he was lost. But if he had passed during the time of Jim Crow there is a good chance he would have been. You see my uncle is black. The idea that he couldn’t be buried near my aunt by law is something that I can’t even fathom.

Thank you to my LOVELY Pima County library for always making sure that there are diverse books for the children in our community.

Synopsis: A young girl and her best friend discover a forgotten graveyard.

What I liked: Holy hell there were a lot of things that I loved about this book. I think it is a wonderful own voices book for middle grade readers. The characters are relatable and 3 dimensional. The story it self is paced beautifully. Something I also truly enjoyed about this book is the boy and girl friendship. There was no pre-teenage romance angst. It was just a beautiful friendship. The friendship between the families is something that I really appreciated as well. We see a lot of dysfunctional families in literature and not enough good family dynamics.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything that I didn’t like about the story.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My Thoughts: There is a lot to unpack about this story. I really enjoyed the way that Brown brought social issues into this story. Whether it is girls of color are more harshly disciplined in a classroom setting to Jim Crow Laws and the desegregation of schools. As I am not a person of color I can’t speak to many of these things as I do have a privilege. However, I think this story really hits many of this issue in a way the is understandable to any reader. Many of the themes of friendship, being bullied and familial love are universal and are worked in the story with love. Another theme that Brown really works into the story so wonderful is that of a girl and self esteem. The age group that this book is aimed at is when a girls self esteem really begins to take a nose dive. I also loved the idea of community that was discussed through the story as well.

What I am a little disappointed about is that I haven’t seen this book ANYWHERE. That is disappointing. This is a beautiful story that can will send people into a rabbit hole on the internet. The African American Burial Grounds Act is something that needs to be discussed and highlighted.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

I love stories with strong and quirky characters. I also love when the main character has a buddy that partakes in their adventure. I also love a book where an animal is actually a character in the story. Not just fodder that barks at the monsters. This is something that I really enjoy about Kingfisher’s stories. Her characters are so human. I also read her other book The Twisted Ones, which I loved.

Synopsis: Following her divorce a woman moves into a room in the back of her uncle’s oddity shop. And weird things happen.

Things I liked: There are so many things to love about Kingfisher’s writing. The first is the use of place as a character. I have said this multiple times but that is something that I really enjoy. The oddity shop isn’t just words or the backdrop. It is part of the story. It is a character, it comes alive and I love that. The pacing was perfect for me. Kingfisher is really great at the build up and the reveal. It is like something that is niggling at the back of your brain as you are reading. Her writing makes me so happy.

Things I didn’t like: Nothing

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: My what I loved was basically becoming my thoughts. So, I moved things around. I lover her characters. They are quirky and honestly you want to be friends with them. They are likable and flawed. But they are so well written. There is such curiosity and a sense of adventure in her characters. I really appreciate that they have friends. These friendships aren’t fake but are really believable and relatable. I also appreciate her treatment of animals in her stories. They aren’t fodder but rather their own character which you are rooting for the entire time. They are pretty badass in their own right. I really hope that she keeps writing these wonderful stories.

***FYI I am aware that T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon****

Women in Translation: The Memory Police by Yoko Ozawa trans. Stephen Snyder

A couple years ago, I read a book that was based on a Russian fairytale. After I read that I went looking for another book that wasn’t necessarily set in Russia but had the same type of vibe. I ended up reading the epic which is Kristen Lavransdetter by Sigrid Undset. Since then Women in translation has had me hooked. This is the third book by Yoko Ozawa that I have read. I have always enjoyed her work but this was a little uh for me.

Synopsis: A writer lives on a island where things disappear and are “erased” from memory.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the idea of the story. I also like the parallels that the reader can draw with other times in history. Also there were passages that were lush and full. I do like Ogawa’s characters. They usually have quirks or something that makes them unique. I enjoyed the pacing of the main story.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t really enjoy the story that the writer in the book was working on.

Star Rating: 3.5

My Thoughts: I normally like Yoko Ogawa’s stories, but this one was a bit different. I enjoyed the idea of the book but I wasn’t a fan of the story about the typist being inserted. For me it didn’t work. I am sure that there is a thread there that I may have missed. But it just fell flat for me. The rest of the story was flowed well and was enjoyable but the typist story really pulled me out of the main story. The ending also felt a little forced. The story meandered along and then BAM the end. The ending though…..I really liked the doing. I think my heart broke a little.

There is a lot to like in this story, but I don’t think that this is the best of Ogawa’s books. I personally, enjoyed Revenge immensely!!

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Very rarely do I sit down to write a review of a book as soon as I am done with it. But here I am, eyes puffy and reddened from crying and nose running. Every few years a book comes a long that will just tear your heart out and rip it into a million pieces. Betty is one of those books. My heart is torn into a million pieces but there is a small girl there that is sewing the million pieces back together, wit a lining of silver so I can put my heart back into my chest and have some hope. This is one of those books. The story is that of a family. The beauty and the darkness that comes with family is laid bare for the reader. Also if you don’t think that this book is horror then I will fight you.

Synopsis: The life of Betty and her family; with the beauty and the ugly of growing up.

What I liked: Tiffany McDaniel is a helluva writer. She can take the words and weaves a spell with them. Here is the spell….you can’t put the book down. You want to sit and read. NO food, No sleep and lock the family out of the house read. The characters, the landscape everything….It is beautiful.

What I didn’t like:

Star Rating: ALL THE STARS!!! EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IN THE SKY!!

My Thoughts: Oh dear lord. That is my thought. There are so many things about this book that I want to scream about but I don’t do spoilers. However, this book has made me think about families and people. It also makes me think about history and the choices that people make. I do want to talk about one character…..Betty’s dad. His entire arc is filled with magic, pain and hope. Yes, I said hope. There is hope in him. (okay I am starting to tear up). This book is horror. It is familial/social horror. Look at me coining new sub-genres this year. Blood and gore doesn’t make a horror book. It is the feeling that you feel as you read that makes the book horror. MANY times during this story I felt revulsion, disgust and pain. Lots and lots of pain. So yes, it is horror…..and for those horror purists horror adjacent.

Now here is where I am going to beg. If you only read one book this year PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!!! But I will warn you…..make sure you have lots and lots of tissues.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I had two whole weeks of vacation at the end of 2020. I had absolutely no idea what to do with all this time that I wasn’t going to be working and we weren’t doing virtual learning. I stood in the middle of my office and surveyed the books that are on my bookshelf and looked for something that would feed my very tired mind and soul. I picked this up a few years ago because I love a good fairytale retelling. This lovely book is based on a Russian fairytale “Snegurochka or Snegurka” the rough translation is Snow Maiden. I hadn’t actually heard of this fairytale so I wanted to share it. This is a rough

In the woods lives a childless couple. They are getting on in their years and have no children to help care for them. One evening the couple make a child out of snow. This snow child comes alive and lives as their own child. There are two different endings to the story….the first is that the snow child grows into a beautiful woman who falls in love with a young man from a neighboring family. As she falls more deeply in love with the young man her heart begins to warm her and she melts. The second ending is that she is playing with some other children in the woods. The other children build a fire and take turns jumping over it. The poor snow child does the same. Soon the warmth of the fire melts her. In both cases she melts. Sad story right.

Synopsis: A childless couple create a child out of snow….she lives with them. (If I say anymore I will totally tell the entire story)

What I liked: There is so much to like about this story and so much to enjoy about Ivey’s writing. It is lyrical and so very magical. Even as a retelling Ivey was able to keep the fairytale quality of the story. I loved her characterizations and how she used the bones of the fairytale to mold her story. Also there is some interesting history there about the Alaskan hinterland. I have never been to Alaska so that was really fascinating. I enjoyed the story so much I started trawling through my Russian fairytale book and the internet to find the story of The Snow Maiden.

What I didn’t like: Nothing……

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My thoughts: While I was reading The Snow Child I was thinking about retellings. I had seen a tweet a few months ago about retellings, it said something to the effect of someone not having an imagination blah blah blah. Yes, a hot take which is so so wrong. Retellings take so much imagination. You have to take a story and change it or add to it, to make it yours. Obviously, this person had not read The Snow Child. The bones of the original story are there with so much added to it. This is a book that I read to get me out of the un-year slump. It had sat on my bookshelf for a few years and I would love to kick myself. BUT, I think that it came to me when I really needed it.

Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge

The Louisiana bayou is a place that holds a lot of fascination. All the animals and the mystery of the swamp. There is so much that we don’t know about the swamp. But if you are one of the lucky few to live deep in the swamp there is a chance that you will have heard about the supernatural creatures that live deep in the swamp.

Synopsis: A young swamp witch has to fight off a very specific monster.

What I liked: Eldredge’s writing is perfect for the age demographic the book is aimed at. The story was charming and creepy. It was just spooky enough for the age the book is marketed for. The illustrations are also super charming. The pacing for the story was perfect. I really enjoyed my adventure with Evangeline.

What I didn’t like: Their isn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 4 Stars

My thoughts: I really wish that books like this had been around when I was a kid. It was just the right amount of spooky. I love that many of the middle-grade books have girls as heroines. From Ages 11 – 13 girls begin to change. They start to lost the self confidence and that spark that they have during childhood. This is one of the main reasons that books where the girl is the heroine at that age is really important. Girls need to understand that they are strong and they can still have adventures even when teenage hood is knocking on the door. We are so much more than workers and family members. Just my opinion…..I think as girls grow older they are discouraged from using their imaginations. Unless, it is for playing house, playing mommy or for romantic type things. I really hope there is another book about Evangeline.

Infernal by Cheryl Low

Adventure horror it is totally a thing right?! A story where someone goes on an adventure (in the jungle or on a boat or something of that nature) and then horrible things happen to them. I never really thought that it was it’s own genre of horror until I sat down to write this. I was mulling things over and over in my head where do stories like this fit. We have body horror, splatter-punk, ecological horror and psychological horror…so why not adventure horror. So I dub a new sub-category adventure horror! Okay, so I may not have the power to create a new sub-category but lets just pretend shall we.

Thank you for the review copy Cheryl!!! Sorry it took so long 🙂

Synopsis: An adventure team heads to a isolated island with dire consequences.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the pacing of this story. Once the characters hit the ground running you where swept right along with them. The action didn’t actually stop until the end of the story.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything in particular about the story that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the premise of the story. If you follow me on twitter you will know that I am not a fan of the ocean. Like I really don’t like the ocean…..THERE ARE THINGS THAT WILL EAT YOU in the ocean. So the fact that the book was set around and island already made me a little anxious. No this is not a different retelling of every ocean horror. (coined a new sub-category) But rather the ocean and the island were actually characters in the story and I really appreciate that. When they are featured like Low did it just reaffirms my belief that we don’t belong on the ocean. If you want a fast paced adventure horror (see what I dd there) defiantly pick this up.

Seeing Things by Sonora Taylor

We all have authors that are must read authors. Sonora is one of those for me. When she releases something I must must read it. In the un-year, I received Seeing Things and my heart skipped a beat. I excitedly tore into the first few pages and was as always pulled into Taylor’s story. I put the book down due to things that were happening in life at that time. However, over Christmas I took some time and picked this book back up. I am so so very glad that I did.

Thank you Sonora Taylor for my review copy!

Synopsis: A girl begins to see things. But what does it all mean.

What I liked: I really enjoyed how the story unfolded. It was a total artichoke. The petals on the outside leading to the a delicious center. What I am trying to say things were revealed in a way that I needed to keep reading to understand where they were going to go next. What was going to happen next? That is the beauty with Taylor’s writing. Once you open the book there is a little string attached to your head from the book and it just draws you in. (That actually sounded much better in my head but you get my meaning).

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like but I WANTED MORE!! I want to know what happened to the person that did the thing. (no spoilers here folks)

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My Thoughts: Like I said Sonora is a must read author for me. Sonora writes such fantastic characters. They are believable and well rounded. They never feel two dimensional or like characters; they feel like they could be living breathing people that I know. Sonora takes pride in her stories and it shines through in the way that the words come to life on the page. If you haven’t read anything by Sonora I would defiantly fix that…..her other works are just as wonderful as Seeing Things.

#ladiesfirst21 The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

When I dropped off the face of the earth last year. I basically dropped all my commitments: read-alongs, podcast episodes…there was no more room in my brain to deal with anything. Which really sucks, because I was suppose to have Alexis Henderson on the LOHFPod and I feel crappy that I didn’t follow through. I was thinking about that whole fiasco when I was choosing my #ladiesfirst21 read of the year. HOLY SHIT I truly missed out. I have so many questions and thoughts. Like a lot of them. I have been thinking about this book since I finished it.

Thank you ACE/Berkley for sending me a review copy.

Synopsis: A girl born under very sad circumstances learns about her heritage and family through trials.

What I liked: My synopsis doesn’t really do this book justice! Henderson’s writing is heartfelt. Her characterizations are three dimensional and believable. The stories pacing was perfect for the groundwork that needed to be laid.

What I didn’t like: There is nothing I didn’t like….besides the fact that it ended 🙂

Star Rating: 5 Stars

My thoughts: There is a lot of mythology woven into this story. Lilith for example, stems from Jewish mythology. (I don’t want to say anymore than that and give the story away). There was a lot of social commentary that I really enjoyed and was woven into the story really well. Henderson really explores the theme of otherness and belonging. She explores race throughout the story and I was here for it. I loved how she combined all these different themes into story that read like a fairytale. It is commentary on so many different things, at least this is how it reads to me. I highly highly suggest for your next read you pick this book up and devour it.

psstttt…..I heard a little rumor that she is working on something else as well!!

The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste

Ghosts are something that are found in every culture. In some cultures they are the spirit of someone who has unfinished business. In other cultures they are hungry for something that they wanted in life. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts. Is it a sentient being, someone’s spirit or energy? If it is a spirit stuck in a loop constantly doing and experiencing the same things over again I would be horrified. Another thing, do ghosts know they are ghosts? Do they remember who they are and what they are doing? Do they remember their past?

Thank you for a review copy Gwendolyn!!

Synopsis: A girl who has no memory of her past deals with her present and future.

What I liked: I have a deep appreciation for Kiste’s writing. It is beautiful and haunting. This chapbook is no different. The story is haunting. The story unfolds as you read it. Kiste leaves small bread crumbs through the story as to what is really going on. Kiste is so damn talented. She knows her craft so well that anything that she puts to paper is beautiful.

What I didn’t like: There is nothing that I didn’t like about the story.

Star Rating: 5 Stars

My thoughts: I love how Kiste played with past, present and future in the story. She played with the friendship in this story with such grace and beauty. This was an amazing look at the memory and the friendship between the two girls in the book. When the story was finished my heart hurt for awhile.