Tag Archives: magical realism

Witcha Gonna Do by Avery Flynn

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<em>Witcha Gonna Do </em>by Avery Flynn

Flynn, Avery. Witcha Gonna Do. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 978-0593335215. $17.00

***
I fell in love with Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series as a young adult librarian about twenty years ago (I might or might not but definitely do still have a three-in-one compendium of the first volumes–ICYMI, the series is concerned with a magical teen who doesn’t know her heritage who gets caught up in a love triangle with two other powerful witches). I’m surprised I have not pursued more books in this vein: charming magical realism romance like The Charmed List, which I really enjoyed for its more complete, and better-paced world-building.

Witcha Gonna Do is a classic enemies to lovers romance. Tilda is an anomoly in her gifted family, and she keeps getting matched with hot, sauve Gil, who figures out pretty quickly she isn’t non-magickal, she is in fact, an amplifier. Powergrabs (and attempts to prevent them) ensue.

The voice –and language–are youthful and may not appeal to all romance readers.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #WitchaGonnaDo from #NetGalley

Out of the Blue by Jason June

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Out of the Blue by Jason June

June, Jason. Out of the Blue. HarperTeen, 2022. ISBN 978-0063015203. 384 pp. $17.99

***

Merperson Crest is on a coming-of-age journey on land to help a human and earn his return to the sea — if they choose to return after experiencing the wonders of twenty-first century Los Angeles. When Crest, who goes by Ross on land, runs into recently (unceremoniously) dumped Sean, it seems their mission is to help Sean win back his ex, and Crest/Ross becomes a willing participant. Of course, there are rules: no human can find out Crest/Ross’s true nature, and if they return to the sea before the month is up, they will have to remain on land forever. Rules, of course, were made to be broken, amirite?

An accidental reveal at the Hollywood Walk of Fame results in a surprising plot twist that I didn’t see coming–well done on author Jason June, it’s difficult to pull a fast one on someone who has been reading YA romance for 35 years. The writing was a little disappointing overall. Although well-plotted using Sean’s film-making interests and Crest’s time constraints to lay out an agenda, there was a LOT of drama: characters yelling and screaming for emphasis or to TELL us emotion instead of conveying and revealing through action. There was consent in the sexual scenes, but also snapping towels and ass-smacking and a violent outburst from another student.

I’m lumping this into magical realism rather than fantasy, but the worldbuilding for under the water and in the Blue was nicely done, simple and complete. Sometimes the merperson lingo or oceanic references were a little too much, and sometimes, Crest’s/Ross’s dissing of human consumption and environmental concerns struck a didactic note (though I am by no means in disagreement with Crest/Ross’s assessments.

I especially appreciated the diversity of the cast; straight people are the anomaly and like L.A., the book is peopled with real people in all colors, shapes and sizes, and it’s mostly NBFD. I wanted to care more about Crest/Ross and Sean than I did, but the ending definitely tugged at my heartstrings. Like most fake-dating tropes, the characters of course come to care for one another (and are wildly attracted!). When they act on their instincts, it’s developmentally appropriate and safe.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #OutOfTheBlue via #NetGalley

The Charmed List by Julie Abe

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The Charmed List by Julie Abe

Abe, Julie. The Charmed List. Wednesday Books, 2022. 304 pp. ISBN ‎978-1250830098. $18.99

****

This magical realism young adult friends-to enemies-to-lovers romance is utterly, well, charming. Author Abe imagines a reality where some small percentage of the population is able to pull raw magic from a source to imbibe food or potions or salves for a little something extra: a boost of confidence with your tea or quicker healing for a rash. Those with magic tend to band together in small communities and those without are oblivious but benefit.

Artist Elie is looking forward to a road trip with her non-magical bestie Lia. the magical convention she and her family will be exhibiting at is near Lia’s relatives and Elie will have a chance to accomplish the goals on her new Anti-Wallflower list. But a prank gone wrong exposes Lia to magic and one of the consequences is Elie now has to make her road-trip with her former bestie, Jack, who has become her worst enemy in the years since he lost his mother and starting licking on her.

Worst of all, Jack has seen the List, has a near-photographic memory and recall, and now has something to hold over Elie. Instead, he seems intent on helping her check off items. Something (magical?) happens on the trip down the California coast: sparks of the friendship they once had and maybe something more?

Abe writes with empathy and honesty about family and friendship, trust and betrayal, trust and vulnerability. The world she imagines and builds feels wholly believable. The beauty of California comes through and Asian-American readers may see themselves in this story.

Supporting characters, like Jack and Elie’s younger siblings (who are best friends like they used to be), and potential customers along the road, have depth and are finely drawn in few words. Even with the tropes of Forced Proximity and Just One Bed, the story is fairly chaste.

While the shift from dislike to attraction seemed pretty fast given how mean Jack was to Elie, and she may have been too quick to forgive, readers who can suspend their disbelief for magic all around us can let that go, too. The Charmed List is a sweet story and a quick read.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheCharmedList from #NetGalley.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Bender, Aimee. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Doubleday, 2010. 292 pp. $25.95

*****

I’m usually not a fan of magical realism, preferring straight fantasy, but I started reading the Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake this evening, went to bed, and got up an hour later to finish it, compelled to find out what happened. What a lovely, lovely book.

When Rose takes a bite of dessert one night, she not only tastes the flavor of the food, but the emotion of the baker behind it, her sad mother. And it keeps happening, to a point of distraction, until she can only eat processed, packaged food. Meanwhile, her reclusive brother has a secret of his own.

I really appreciated the palpability of the novel–the descriptions of food and how things taste, and the emotions associated with the creator of each dish Rose experiences, but also the detailing of her mother’s woodworking, the crazy things her grandmother sends in the mail, the way people smell. It’s a richly sensual book, but doesn’t feel over the top with lush writing.

The setting is not quite a character in it’s own right, but it’s diversity makes its presence the perfect backdrop for this dysfunctional family. I’ve only been to LA twice but could visualize the streets, yet didn’t feel alienated by the references I didn’t get.

The rituals defined within the story: the mother’s insomnia/sleeping in, the father’s morning horn honk, how the reader gets the story and circumstances of her parents meeting and Rose and Joseph’s birth, all appear several times, through different lens, giving a sense of Rose maturing and coming to deeper understanding of herself and her family members.

Rose’s narrative voice was entrancing for me, and one of the reasons I found this unputdownable. She is straight-forward, thoughtful, perhaps a bit flat in places–she doesn’t push for the things she wants: to be seen, by her parents, friends at school, by George–it’s a bit ironic her brother is the one with the skill he develops. I think her voice, and her sensitivity to emotions, make the novel highly appealing. I also found it an easy read in terms of pacing and language, making it highly accessible.

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro

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Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro

DeNiro, Alan. Total Oblivion, More or Less. Spectra, 2009. ISBN 978-0553592542 306 pp. $

***

If you take the narrator’s first sentence at face value and just go along for the ride, you’ll LOVE this surreal book that reads like Marsden’s Tomorrow When The War Began with a touch of magical realism throw in. Unidentified horseman seem to have conducted an uprising and taken over the US, which is newly divided into strange territories and factions and stricken with an odd, insect-driven plague. Teen Macy rolls with punches as she struggles to survive and maintain a family unit.

Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia Block

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Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia Block

Francesca Lia Block. Necklace of Kisses.

Francesca Lia Block has still got it. In this gem of a book, we revisit her heroine, the slinkster cool girl who started it all, Weetzie Bat. Her secret agent lover man has been in a state of despair since the September 11th 2001 tragedy, and nothing can shake him from his funk. When the kisses have gone, so at last is Weetzie, whose midlife crisis arrives in the form of a solo trip to the pink and green hotel that was the site of her prom, where magic happens. Weetzie runs into a host of archetypes fleshed out as realistic but fantastical characters with their own problems. Each bestows upon her a healing kiss that brings her to herself and reveals themselves. Meanwhile, Max knows a good thing has slipped from his grasp and does some soul-searching of his own.

Fans will appreciate Block’s attention to sensory detail; she delivers the same mouth-watering detail of food and fashion as in previous books, with attention focused on unusual pairings and the non-mainstream. Familiar characters such as Dirk, Cherokee Bat, Witch Baby, and even Charlie Bat resurface. This A/YA book is more appropriate for teen readers than her previous title Nymph, but the themes of Necklace of Kisses may not have teen appeal, although the characters and writing do. This is a novel will leave you hungry and nourished at the same time.