The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

34522727._SY475_When seventeen-year-old Marisol pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber’s, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as “an illegal”, but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi’s, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn’t be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn’t have been caught crossing the border.

But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She’s asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It’s a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.


Content warning for suicidal ideation and attempt, violence including murder, attempted sexual assault, PTSD, depression, and homophobia.

3.5 stars

This was the group book for Latinxathon and LatinxLitTakeover and they chose well!

The good:

  • Don’t tell me all writing in YA sucks. There are some great lines here, great characterization, little moments that sing.
  • No italics for Spanish, huzzah! And the code switching is so real. I connected with it as a person living in my second language – reverting to my first for low-frequency words like “freckles”, and how mood can affect which language I default to.
  • The plot is well done. I couldn’t put the book down until I reached the 75% mark. It was like I was attached via rubberband, constantly getting pulled back. And I love how many chapters end normally, you flip the page, and the first line of the next would makes you go “whaaa?!”
  • Being speculative fiction we can examine devotion and dedication via the fantastical element of Marisol assuming someone else’s grief. It makes the unknowable visual. The use of asylum seekers for medical experimentation also ties into the ongoing history of marginalized groups being used as subjects in drug and other testing in the United States.
  • As the story goes on we see that nice people, despite being kind and well-meaning, can be part of an awful, unconscionable thing.

The not-so-good:

  • While I like the ending, it was a bit too pat for my liking.
  • After gulping the book down I gave it four stars… but for whatever reason it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I hoped. I’m not finding myself thinking about the characters or going back to reread passages. So a half star off for that.

If you like speculative fiction with plot, if you’d like to explore immigration issues from the inside out, if you want to be swept away by a story, read The Grief Keeper.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

34374331In this inimitable, beloved classic Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea. Drawing inspiration from the shells on the shore, Lindbergh’s musings on the shape of a woman’s life bring new understanding to both men and women at any stage of life. She casts an unsentimental eye on the trappings of modernity that threaten to overwhelm us: the time-saving gadgets that complicate rather than simplify, the multiple commitments that take us from our families. And by recording her thoughts during a brief escape from everyday demands, she helps readers find a space for contemplation and creativity within their own lives.


I picked up this book in high school because, as someone who grew up nowhere near an ocean, I loved the ocean. It was probably a cover buy because, oooo, the sea! I didn’t connect with it at 17, though, so I put it aside.

Other people may enjoy it at any age, but it’s definitely a mid-life book for me. Lindbergh’s writing is timeless in style, and while written in 1955 much connects to our modern, digital lives today. She talks about how women are expected to give of themselves – to their husbands, the upkeep of their households, the rearing of kids, caring for whomever needs to be taken care of.

I believe that what woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposefully. What we fear is not so much that our energy may be leaking away through small outlets as that it may be going “down the drain”. We do not see the results of our giving as concretely as a man does in his work… except for the child, woman’s creation is so often invisible, especially today.

Chapters like this resonated with me. On the other hand, some chapters didn’t resonate with me at all. For example, there’s a section talking about what it’s like when your kids leave the nest and a woman realizes she’s left with so little… not a concern for child-free me.

So while some parts, isolated, are amazing, others I could have passed over completely. If you like this idea of this book do pick it up though – your mileage is likely to vary.

Give My Regards to Black Jack #2 by Sato Shuho

16000671“Professor, have you ever cried when your patient died?”

Saito is currently undergoing training at the Cardiology department as an attending physician for a patient with unstable angina. After he’s been ordered to hide the fact that the patient requires immediate surgery, distrust begins to grow between them. From there on, a desperate fight for resistance inside Saito begins, asking himself over and over again about what it means to become a doctor.


Give My Regards to Black Jack is not an uplifting, ‘feel good’ medical manga. Saito Eijiro, a resident at a large university hospital, spends his time mired in ethical dilemmas and the dark side of practicing medicine in Japan (at least when this was published in 2002). The first volume looked at inadequacies built into the heath care system, and here Sato examines how doctors can be corrupt within that system while concentrating on the cardiology department.

Doctors withholding needed care, asking for bribes – it’s awful, gut-wrenching stuff. The volume does end on a high note, but I don’t fully believe the one good doctor’s character arc. His reasoning for refusing to operate any more makes sense, but the reason he comes back is mushy.

I have to spread these volumes out to give my (figurative) heart time to recover, but I’m definitely picking up the next volume. Saito is going to pediatrics, eep. I should stock up on tissues now.

Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau (The Beast Charmer #1)

42366222Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.


Content warning for physical and emotional torture.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy and this one delivers.

The good:

  • The characters make this novel. They’re complex and shaped by their pasts in real and meaningful ways. Hangups are spun out slowly, both to other characters and to the reader, and motivation and character arcs ring true.
  • In that vein, people keep their secrets for as long as makes sense and no longer. This is big for me, as I’m not a fan of secrets in general, but it works here.
  • There are heaps and heaps of plot once the story gets going, which is the escapism I wanted while stuck inside during a windy typhoon.
  • Themes include found family, finding home, redemption and forgiveness, and how to take care of those we love. Love itself is explored on many dimensions – romantic of course, but also platonic, material, familial, and love for those you are responsible for.
  • Side characters have pasts that are hinted at, and make me excited for more. It appears to be a Happily Ever After For Now for the main couple, with other couples coming together in future books.
  • Noc has the best cover for being an emotionally stunted man that I’ve seen in a long time. It makes for a slow burn and thoroughly confuses Leena.
  • Queerness is natural and a given – stated as fact and not commented on beyond that. When Leena turns on her charm both men and women get starry eyed. While some characters seem to prefer a particular gender for romantic partners, several others are attracted to more than one.
  • And speaking of sex, Leena is given the same latitude a male hero would get. She enjoys casual sex and isn’t above considering it as a means to an end. She’s experienced, enjoys her sexuality, and doesn’t apologize or feel guilty for her desires. Most excellent.
  • Similarly, Leena proves her self as equal to, if not better than, the guys early on. There are a couple of moments where she takes action without giving them warning because she knows better, something men do all.the.time in fantasy. It’s challenged and connects to a couple of character arcs, but it isn’t framed as something wrong, mean, or awful. She has to get shit done, yo.
  • The more that I think about it, gender differences are minimized overall. The immediate bad guy is indeed a guy, but the Big Bad is a woman. When the group stops at an inn she isn’t given a separate room “because she’s a girl” – everyone shares one room or gets their own as circumstances dictate.
  • The ending strikes a nice balance between wrapping things up (the romance and main conflict) and unresolved storylines (the Big Bad, several characters’ mysterious pasts).

The less-than-good:

  • There are some first novel wobbles where details don’t come together or quite make sense.
  • The worldbuilding is good but not perfect. It took a while for me to get my head around the world.
  • The healing nature of some beasts leads to convenient deus ex machina moments. Big stuff comes with a hefty price, which helps.
  • There’s an index of all the beasts mentioned but beware using it as a reference while reading – many spoilers are contained within.

I ended up giving Kingdom of Exiles 3.5 stars, and I can’t wait to see how the story develops from here!

A Little Tea Book: All the Essentials from Leaf to Cup by Sebastian Beckwith

41118705._SX318_Tea, the most popular beverage in the world after water, has brought nations to war, defined cultures, bankrupted coffers, and toppled kings. And yet in many ways this fragrantly comforting and storied brew remains elusive, even to its devotees. As down-to-earth yet stylishly refined as the drink itself, A Little Tea Book submerges readers into tea, exploring its varieties, subtleties, and pleasures right down to the process of selecting and brewing the perfect cup. Featuring featuring charming, colorful charts, graphs, and illustrations by bestselling illustrator Wendy MacNaughton and Beckwith’s sumptuous photographs, A Little Tea Book is a friendly, handsome, and illuminating primer with a dash of sass and sophistication.


Beckwith, with the help of beautiful illustrations by MacNaughton, has put together an adorable book that provides a wide and just-deep-enough look at the world of tea.

He’s obviously passionate about tea and eager to share his knowledge with us. I thought I knew most everything I needed or wanted to, but I still learned some neat tidbits. We also hear about his travels in tea growing regions as part of his work sourcing ethically made, single estate tea.

I appreciate that he doesn’t shy away from tea’s sordid past – Brits outright stole the bush from China then planted it in their colonies to feed the ever expanding demand of England. Beckwith also touches on how climate change is affecting how the drink is being produced.

The text has many beautiful photographs and illustrations, and the 144 pages flew by in a little over an hour. A fine stocking stuffer or birthday present book for the tea lover in your life – be sure to pair it with some tasty loose leaf, of course.