Mini-Reviews: Blazewrath Games [ARC review] + Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

I have been reading so much over the last couple of months that I have only had time to write snapshot and mini-reviews. I miss writing full reviews, so I am hoping this month I can get back to doing so. Today, I have two reviews of books by Latinx authors, one of which comes out tomorrow!

Title: Blazewrath Games
Author: Amparo Ortiz
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Page Street Books
Release Date: October 6th 2020

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review**

TW: violence, mention of domestic violence

      “How to Train Your Dragon meets Quidditch through the Ages in this debut fantasy, set in an alternate contemporary world, in which dragons and their riders compete in an international sports tournament.
      Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
      But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.”

swirl (2)Amparo Ortiz’s YA debut, Blazewrath Games, is an utter delight, a captivating fantasy from start to finish. Lana Torres has one dream, to become the Runner for the Puerto Rican team in the Blazewrath World Cup, a game played with dragons and their riders. After a dangerous brush with death in which Lana confronts a follower of the notorious Sire, a man who was once a dragon, Lana misses her chance at tryouts. But when the president of the International Blazewrath Federation takes notice, Lana is given another chance to join the Puerto Rican team. As Lana and her new team train together, news of the Sire conducting raids on dragon sanctuaries begins to circulate. Soon Lana finds herself caught in another game as the Sire threatens violence if the Cup is not canceled; meanwhile, the people Lana is supposed to trust the most are calling for the Cup to go on as planned. Ortiz’s has built such a complex world with Blazewrath Games. I enjoyed every time we as readers got to see another layer and loved how each new fact built on the last. Dragons aren’t the only magical beings, there are also witches and wizards. One of my favorite side characters was Lana’s best friend, Samira, who is a copper-wand witch and what she lacks in magical skill she makes up for in drive. It was really interesting to explore different polarizing views in this world and how they  influenced both the heroes and villains of the story. Blazewrath Games is a celebration of camaraderie and belonging, with enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

 

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: Paola Santiago, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: August 4th 2020

TW: mentions of deportation

      “Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.
    Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
      Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.”

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Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Middle Grade debut, Paola Santiago and the Rivers of Tears, takes inspiration from Mexican-American folklore as the young Paola Santiago discovers that all the fantastic stories her mom has been telling her about since she was small are in fact real. Pao knows the world is best explained through science, which is why her mother’s stories about supernatural beings like La Llorona seem so unbelievable. That is until Emma, one of her best friends goes missing. Pao begins to have strange dreams and when she discovers the world is not what she thought it was, she sets out on a quest with her friend Dante to save Emma. Pao is an easy character to like, she is ruled by her head but has to reevaluate everything she believes when the supernatural becomes impossible to deny. She is also trying to figure out all the new and messy feelings of her first crush. The most compelling relationship in the novel is Pao’s relationship with her mother. There is a divide between the two, not just because of their differing beliefs, but because Pao feels that she has to be the adult, the one who worries about things like rent while her mom is stuck in a make-believe world. I really wish we explored the latter part of this relationship more. Pao has some very strong feelings that I don’t think were addressed enough. While I enjoyed this debut overall, I do think it had issues with pacing and considering that it dragged in places, could have been shorter. Still, I will be checking out the sequel to find out what other adventures Paola finds herself in.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Blog Tour: Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Thank you to Hear Our Voices for having me for this blog tour. Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. I have been a fan of both of these authors and have spent the last month and a half rereading books by both authors for the #MeteorShowerReadathon. They both create such wonderful characters, so it was no surprise that with Miss Meteor, Mejia and McLemore have created such memorable and enjoyable characters with Lita and Chicky. I hope you have the pleasure of meeting these two soon.

Title: Miss Meteor
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 22nd 2020

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this ARC from the publisher which does not influence my review.

TW: bullying, homophobia, fatphobia, transphobia, xenophobia

      “There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.
      Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.”

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Lita – Lita Perez isn’t like other people, technically she isn’t a person at all. She wasn’t born on earth, but materialized from stardust from a meteorite that struck her small town. Lita knows she is different and in a place like Meteor, New Mexico, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, she loves this town and the few people who accept her for who she is, like her adopted mother, Bruja Lupe, and Cole, the boy, who despite his popularity, always makes Lita feel seen. Her one quiet dream is to be Miss Meteor in her town’s regional pageant, even though she knows girls like her, who are too short, too brown, and too fat don’t usually win. Lita has the biggest heart. Even when she and her former best friend, Chicky, aren’t on the best terms, Lita is always thinking about her and taking that extra step to nudge her in the right direction. Lita thinks her quest to become Miss Meteor is all about finding a way to stay in the only place she’s called home when it really is about her declaring herself to the world and taking her fate into her own hands.

Chicky – Chicky Quintanilla does not like the spotlight, in fact, there are times when she wishes she could just disappear. The youngest of four sisters, Chicky, short for Chiquita, is used to being overshadowed. There aren’t too many people in her life who get to see the real her and that’s partially her own fault. If Chicky is good at anything, she’s good at running away. It’s what happened with her and her former best friend Lita. It’s what’s happening with her current best friend, Junior Cortes. It’s easier to run away than to come out as pansexual in a town that might praise her family one minute for coming to this country the “right way” but will still look at them like they aren’t worth their time. Chicky’s journey isn’t just about gaining confidence, but about learning to be vulnerable with those closest to her.

Pros and cons of small towns – Many looking from the outside would call Meteor, New Mexico a quaint place to live with such staples like Selena’s Diner, Chicky’s family’s business, or the upcoming Fiftieth-Annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition. But the truth is, for people like Lita and Chicky, their small town isn’t always the most welcoming of places. There is a clear divide between the well-off white residents and the brown residents who work for them. There is also a lot of hypocrisy and surfaces-level acceptance of those belonging to the queer community. Cole, a trans boy, for example, knows acceptance by his peers is conditional. While he often challenges their bigoted views, he knows he is only allowed to go so far before they turn on him.

Friendship – The heart of Miss Meteor is friendship. Lita and Chicky used to be inseparable until Chicky pulled away. With Lita running for Miss Meteor and Chicky assisting her, the two find each other again. Lita needs someone to believe in her, someone who will be in her corner and push her when it feels easier to give up. For Chicky, she needs someone to listen to her and have patience with her. I love that these two become each other’s safe spaces and how they extend this to include characters like Cole and Junior.

Nothing to note.

With a little bit of magical stardust, Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore deliver an empowering story of friendship and belonging in their first collaborated work, Miss Meteor.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

#OwnVoices Reflection:

While reading Miss Meteor, I could not help but see myself in both Lita and Chicky. While Lita’s origins are something out of this world, her heritage is a grounding force. When she enters the Fiftieth -Annual Meteor Regional Pageant and Talent Competition, she has no idea what her talent will be. After a few mishaps, she ends up on stage making tamales for a largely non-Latinx crowd. I have been here. I was here in fourth grade, trying to explain to a room full of mostly non-Latinx classmates how to make tortillas. It is awkward sharing a part of your heritage with a room full of people who will probably never understand all the history behind these traditions. Chicky’s family is often held up as the “right” kind of immigrants, the kind that came to this country the “right” way. Reading her story and how the townsfolk treated her family reminded me of the time we were assigned to make family trees. We were instructed to ask about our family history. I will never forget that I never got the full story of one of my family member’s history of immigration because they were too afraid to share. Because in this country, not all immigrants are accepted. It’s something I understood early on and something that unfortunately continues to be true.

I can’t tell you what it means to me to see these two Mexican-American authors finding success. Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the first authors I came across in YA who wrote about characters with family histories like mine. Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut We Set the Dark on Fire was one of the first fantasy books I read with Latinx characters. We don’t see a lot of these books, but I am hopeful that publishing has taken notice of the love so many readers have for the ones we do have. And hopefully, Miss Meteor will not be the last time these two collaborate.

About the Author:

      TEHLOR KAY MEJIA is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult fantasy novel WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, as well as several forthcoming young adult and middle grade novels (WE UNLEASH THE MERCILESS STORM – Katherine Tegen Books, MISS METEOR (co-written with National Book Award nominee Anna-Marie McLemore) – HarperTeen, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS + PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE FOREST OF NIGHTMARES – Rick Riordan Presents/Disney-Hyperion).
      Her debut novel received six starred reviews, and was chosen as an Indie’s Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild selection, as well as being an Indiebound bestseller in the Pacific Northwest region. It was featured in Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and O by Oprah Magazine’s best books of 2019 lists, as well as being a book of the year selection by Kirkus and School Library Journal.
      Tehlor lives in Oregon with her daughter, two very small dogs, and several rescued houseplants.

Follow Tehlor Kay Mejia: Website, Twitter, Instagram

About the Author:

¡Bienvenidos! I’m Anna-Marie, author of fairy tales that are as queer, Latinx, and nonbinary as I am. My books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Books Review Editors’ Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and the forthcoming THE MIRROR SEASON.

Follow Anna-Marie McLemore: Website & Twitter

Click here to preorder Miss Meteor today!

Blog Tour: Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez [Snapshot ARC Review]

Thank you, Algonquin Young Readers, for inviting me to take part in this blog tour for Yamile Saied Méndez’s YA debut, Furia. I was in awe of Camila’s spirit and her unwavering determination. I hope you all have a chance to meet Camila and be inspired by her the way I was.

Title: Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: September 15th 2020

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

TW: domestic abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, homophobia, femicide

      “An #ownvoices contemporary YA set in Argentina, about a rising soccer star who must put everything on the line—even her blooming love story—to follow her dreams.
    In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.
      At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.
      On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.
      But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.”

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Camila – Camila is very aware of how society sees girls and women. She understands that she will always be undervalued, more of a burden to her family than an asset. It’s why she has kept her fútbol playing a secret. But there is a fire deep inside her that won’t let her let go of her dreams of playing professionally. When she becomes La Furia on the field, she feels unstoppable, a contrast to how she feels in the real world. Whether it’s keeping secrets from those closest to her or holding her tongue when she wants to lash out at her domineering father, the fútbol field is the only place that she feels where she can be entirely herself.

Argentine Setting – I love reading about the Latinx diaspora in the US, but am so glad to see a Latinx story take place in Latin America. Yamile Saied Méndez transports readers to Camila’s city of Rosario. Camila is very aware of the beauty of her city and her people, but she is also conscious of the ugly parts as well. I appreciated the honesty in Camila’s POV, who doesn’t romanticize her home, but who also very much loves it. Camila is also biracial, her heritage includes Afro-Latinx and Palestinian grandparents. This is personally the first time I’ve seen an Arab-Latinx character in a YA book which is something I would like to see more of.

Female sports – I would love to see more books that focus on girls in sports. We know female sports are not given the same kind of reverence as men’s sports. Camila has to jump through so many hurdles before she is taken seriously. Various players on her team are forced to leave for reasons that have nothing to do with their hard work and talent and everything to do with misogyny. The only way for someone like Camila to succeed is if she does not waver in her faith in herself. And even then, the odds are always stacked against her.

Discussions of feminism and femicide – Ni Una Menos, a Latin-American feminist movement is part of the backdrop of Camila’s world. Furia also touches on femicide and domestic violence as symptoms of a patriarchal society who views girls and women as expendable.

Camila and her mother – When Furia first opens, Camila’s mother is just as much a hurdle toward her dreams as her father. Camila does not want to get stuck in the same situation as her mother, who had to put away any childhood dreams she may have had and be tied down to a man who does not love her. Both Camila and her mother have to learn to see each other differently before they are able to have any kind of positive relationship.

Nothing to note.

Yamile Saied Méndez’s Furia is as fierce as its title suggests with a protagonist who is unwavering in her ambition. Despite the many people telling her she can’t, she proves again and again that she can.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)



About the Author:
      Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Méndez is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx middle grade and young adult authors. Furia is her first novel for young adult readers.

Follow Yamile: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Click here to order your copy of Furia now!

Mini-Reviews [ARC Edition]: Land of the Cranes + Each of Us a Desert

How about another quick round of mini-reviews? I managed to get through all the ARCs I needed to get through (I only have two ARCs after this and I don’t know what I will do with myself when I finish those), but it would not have been possible without these mini-review posts. Both of these are out tomorrow, so if you are able, please preorder!

Title: Land of the Cranes
Author: Aida Salazar
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Scholastic/Levine
Release Date: September 15th 2020

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the author, which does not influence my review**

TW: deportation, psychological and physical abuse, mention of miscarriage, child molestation

      “From the prolific author of The Moon Within comes the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story in verse of a young Latinx girl who learns to hold on to hope and love even in the darkest of places: a family detention center for migrants and refugees.
      Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. The Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, what is now the Southwest US, called the land of the cranes. They left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe-Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. It was prophesized that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita that they are cranes that have come home.
      Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind on their own, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?”

swirl (2)Aida Salazar’s newest middle grade novel-in-verse, Land of the Cranes, shines a spotlight on the cruelty surrounding immigration laws and their enforcement in this county. Betita has a passion for poetry, she loves words and expresses herself though picture poetry. She and her family are also undocumented. When he father fails to pick her up from school one afternoon, the world as she knows it, irrevocably alters. Her pregnant mother and herself end up in a detention center and Betita’s once bright world grows more and more dim. Betita grew up on her father’s stories, believing that she is descended from cranes destined to soar and find freedom. The detention center where Betita and her mother are imprisoned contain unspeakable horrors and it’s where Betita learns that hope isn’t just something that can fade, it’s also something that can be taken from you, one cruel act at a time. Told through the eyes of a nine-year-old protagonist, Land of the Cranes does not hold back as it describes the inhumane ways migrants are treated. It isn’t an easy read and is made less easy by the fact that as a reader you know these stories have happened and are happening to thousands of people. It initially made me sad, but in the end, I ended up extremely angry. Land of the Cranes is the kind of book that should only exist as a work of dystopian fiction. It should not have to exist in order for people to condemn the treatment of undocumented immigrants. It should not exist in order to get people to pay attention and care. And yet, here we are.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Each of Us a Desert
Author: Mark Oshiro
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: September 15th 2020

** Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review.**

TW: body horror, gore

      “From the award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life.
    Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
      Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
      One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.”

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Mark Oshiro’s Each of Us a Desert is one of the most unique novels I have ever read with writing that will have readers pausing to bask in its beauty. Xochitl has been her village’s cuentista since she was a child. Her gift enables her to take the confessions of her people, freeing them of their guilt. In turn, Xochitl gives up these stories, forgetting their confessions and returning them to Solís, a deity who watches over them. When Xochitl learns of a frightening secret, she is forced to set off on a journey to find answers. But the desert is an unforgiving place where travelers are confronted by dangers both external and internal. As Xochitl crosses paths with others and finds an unexpected companion in the unscrupulous Emilia, she discovers that the world is bigger and more complicated than she could ever imagine. Each of Us a Desert is more character-driven than plot-driven. Oshiro’s writing shines in their descriptions of the land, but also in the way they write Xochitl’s inner conflicts as she claws her way out of loneliness, grapples with her belief system, and finds solace in another. If you are looking for an introspective novel that will very quietly burrow its way into your heart, Each of Us a Desert is the one to reach for.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)