A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (2020)

by Laura Taylor Namey
ISBN: 9781534471245
Publication date: November 10, 2020

**I received a copy of the book from Netgalley for an honest review.**

After devastating changes in her life, Lila is forced to take a one-way flight to stay with her Aunt Cate in Winchester, England. Despite her initial hesitation and desire to return home to Miami, Lila starts to appreciate the town. Not only is she making new friends, but she’s also sharing her love of cooking, creating a new community that begins to rival the one at home.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is so many things. It’s about family. It’s about culture. It’s about loss in its many forms. It’s about reconciling the changes that come with growing up, growing apart, and ultimately growing into the unexpected. There is so much packed into this novel but it’s ultimately Lila’s resilience that will leave a lasting impact.

When we meet Lila, she’s broken and still reeling at the unfairness of being forced to spend summer away from the city and the people she loves. But little by little, through cooking and baking, she begins to carve a place for herself in a town that is so different from Miami and yet begins to call to her in a similar way. Despite the challenges and the changes in her life, she trusts in her skills, allowing her to successfully fuse English and Cuban flavors into her culinary creations. When she allows her certainty in the kitchen to trickle into the rest of her life, we finally get to see the Lila that she was…but now a bit wiser.

While it’s a guide to tea and tomorrow, I found more tomorrow than tea, and Lila’s guidance about tomorrow is immeasurable. A traditional recipe that has been perfected may produce the same flavors to a tee (pun intended…hehehe) but sometimes accommodations have to be made; experimentation may be necessary to discover new and possibly better flavors. Lila’s experiences allowed me to reflect on my own life, and I am all the better for it.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow enfolds you like the wool knit sweaters Lila wears, warm and comforting even if a little prickly at first. Once you settle into it, you wonder how you might survive without it. When I finished reading, I felt a sense of loss in having to say goodbye to Lila and Winchester. The introspection it provided was invaluable. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend reading it with a cup of tea–my favorite, mint steeped 3-5 minutes with water at full boil–and a warm blanket, making sure a pastelito isn’t too far away.

The Wise One (2020)

by K.T. Anglehart
ISBN: 9781777331719
Publication date: October 28, 2020
Series: The Scottish Scrolls #1

**I received a copy of the book from Netgalley for an honest review.**

The Wise One is an urban fantasy that incorporates Celtic folklore to create a world in which McKenna, the main character, journeys to discover who or what she is. While the novel begins in Massachusetts, it quickly shifts to a trip to Ireland with new friend Nissa along with Cillian, someone who just happens to be going that way. Oddly enough, everything seems to fall magically into place…as if something or someone is ensuring she arrives at her destination. (Hmm…)

With the title being so mysterious, and the beginning of the book not giving too much away, I couldn’t help but turn to the next page, swiping quickly through the book because I needed to know who or what the wise one was. I was not disappointed at the reveal. In fact, the reveal and the events surrounding it were probably my favorite parts of the novel.

The story moves quickly and the beginning immediately had me engaged in McKenna’s story. I did have a lot of questions though. Why does Nissa follow McKenna without question? Why is a random couple helping McKenna and Nissa out? How is everything just falling so easily into place? The answer seems to be that events are being set in motion to ensure McKenna is headed where she is supposed to be. While an acceptable answer–for now–I hope more will be explained in the next books.

I expected magic to play a bigger role than it actually did. Readers shouldn’t expect to see much magic utilized or else they’ll be disappointed. The book is more of an introduction., leading to something that doesn’t happen in this one. We get glimpses of the world Anglehart is constructing and the magical creatures that inhabit it but not much else until closer to the end. It’s mostly about the manifestations of McKenna’s powers and her trying to figure them out–like an origin story. I do hope this is building to something bigger.

Something that bothered me immensely was one of McKenna’s dads (Andre) being okay with her running away from home. She’s underage with nowhere to stay. How was it that he felt they should just wait at home for her to return or contact them when she was ready? Sure, it’s the ’90s and all but even in the ’90s your kid running away from home doesn’t mean you just let her go. I was confused by his attitude. Maybe…more on this in the next installment??

Despite all these questions, I liked the story overall. It’s a lot of traveling and nothing big happens but it’s still interesting. I want to know more about the wise one and the role the wise one will play going forward. This alone kept me turning pages even when I might have stopped if it were some other book. It does end abruptly with a cliff hanger. I had to make sure that it really was the end of the book. If you’re not a fan of cliff hangers, you might want to wait to read this.

Hush (2020)

by Dylan Farrow
ISBN: 9781250771667
Publication Date: October 6, 2020

**I received a copy of the book through Netgalley for an honest review.**

After her brother dies of the Blot, Shae and her mom are ostracized and forced to move outside of the village.  When her dreams start to come true and the things she stitches manifests itself in real life, she begins to worry that maybe the Blot has not only taken her brother but has also cursed her.  Her search to remove the curse is cut short when her mother is murdered and the village refuses to acknowledge her account of what happened, effectively trying to silence her.  Lies are twisted into truths, making Shae question what she knows, or thought she knew, but she will not stop until she finds her mother’s murderer. 

The tone she sets at the beginning of the book is eerie and ominous but it doesn’t quite carry through to the rest of the book. The latter part of it left me more frustrated than intrigued, more exasperated than in suspense–states both largely attributed to Shae’s behavior even understandable as her behavior was. Shae is a generally likeable protagonist but has a penchant for not listening and being impulsive. (Also, don’t get me started on her crush on Ravod.) The best way I can explain this is when you’re watching a horror movie and the character does something you know will put them in danger, or worse killed.  While you should be at the edge of your seat, you’re instead sitting back and just yelling, “Why did you just do that? Don’t open the door!  Now, you’re going to die!”  That’s how the last two thirds of the book felt like: “What are you doing? Why did you just say that? Stop bumping into things!”   Again, her behavior is understandable (I need to remind myself of this) but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating or infuriating.  I guess if that was in fact Farrow’s goal, then it worked. Everything does come together at the end fairly well, maybe even a little too nicely, but it leaves you with enough questions that you’ll want to read the next installments. 

Despite my frustration, I found Farrow to be a masterful storyteller.  The strength of the book comes from the recurring theme of truth.  Farrow weaves it into the story so effortlessly.  The magic of the Bards or the gift of Telling is illusion and manipulation.  Someone with the gift can Tell a lock to become mangled so that a door can be opened but the power of the illusion, or the lie, has a limited lifespan. It will eventually revert back to its true form yet the illusion was still powerful enough to allow someone to walk through the door, essentially making a profound impact on outcomes. Ink is powerful in its ability to communicate the truth. Instilling fear in ink, in spreading words, works effectively to obscure truth.  What is the use of learning to write or learning to read when one can die from it? The sickness that comes from ink is known as the Blot, and what does a blot do but to stain and hide. It’s all so smartly done. This is the reason for my 4 stars when the story started to dip into 3 star territory.

P.S. I Like You (2017)

by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780545850971

This is a recommendation that originally came from the Trope-ical Readathon to fulfill the secret messaging trope.  Obviously, it’s too late for the readathon but I had to wait a few weeks for it to become available through the library.  I am glad I followed through with the library loan (Libby is awesome) because I ended up enjoying the book. 

The book isn’t overly complicated.  It’s about a girl who finds a connection with a fellow student through anonymous letters in chemistry class (chemistry in chemistry…what a perfect set up right??). Initially, the connection is enough but it is inevitable that Lily starts to wonder who it is she has been sharing so much of herself with. Who is it that seems to understand her so well? I’m a bit of a romantic so I started to look forward to the letters as much as Lily did.  I also shared her anxiety at the realization that weekends and vacations meant no letters to read or to write back. (Where are my letters??)

The book gives us the upside of communicating anonymously, tapping into the romantic ideal of falling for someone for who they are rather than what they look like. The letters aren’t terribly deep or introspective but they’re intimate. Within the letters are things neither writer would probably tell anyone else, even to best friends for that matter. That’s the beauty of being anonymous. You can be vulnerable in a way that you’d be afraid to be in real life; you don’t have to be self-conscious.        

Of course, when dealing with a trope about communicating anonymously, it cannot be helped that the author tries to have readers do a bit of guessing —whoever could this person be??? Thankfully, West does not drag it out too long and if she had, I might have stopped reading it or skipped pages. As much as I liked the anonymity, I think I like what happens after a bit more. It calls for certain discussions that I can’t exactly talk about without giving things away. (But if you’ve already read it and want to discuss it, we should definitely do that.)  

Having read so many stories with absent parents or bad familial relationships, it was nice to have a main character with a loving family despite life being somewhat chaotic–Thanksgiving with her family was fun.  I generally liked Lily even though she could be flaky at times. Because she has to fulfill family obligations, she constantly has to reschedule hanging out with her best friend, who seems to just have to take it in strides. Of course, I sympathized with Lily just a bit more than her best friend because of my own experiences with trying to balance family expectations with anything outside of the family.

A few events leading up to the ending weren’t necessary. But, that’s just my opinion. The book would have been fine without the additional hurdle. Also, the book ends rather abruptly. I had to swipe to back and forth to make sure I hadn’t skipped over anything, to make sure there were no more pages.  (This is it? It’s really over?) Despite this, I think it ends on a note that will leave readers somewhat satisfied. I mean, I eventually came to terms with it but would not have minded a few more pages to close it off a bit more neatly. Overall, it was a good book.