ARC Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Mexican Gothic
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: June 30th 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes a reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel, a story about an isolated mansion in 1950s Mexico — and the brave socialite drawn to its treacherous secrets.
      He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.
      After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find — her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.
      Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough, smart, and has an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
      Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
      And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to be unparalleled in storytelling ability with her first horror novel Mexican Gothic. Socialite Noemí Taboado would rather attend a party than be weighed down by family responsibilities. Despite being called flighty and unfocused, accurate descriptions if she’s being honest, Noemí is determined to attend University to further her education, even if this isn’t the norm for someone of her social standing. When a letter arrives from her recently married cousin, Catalina, claiming she is being poisoned and alluding to the existence of ghosts in her new home, Noemí is sent to assess whether her cousin is any real danger or in need of psychological intervention. When she arrives at High Place, Catalina’s husband’s family estate, tucked far into the Mexican countryside, the only thing gloomier than the dilapidated house are its inhabitants. With each day that passes Noemí becomes more convinced that her cousin’s erratic ramblings are a sign of something worse than what the family physician claims is just a case of tuberculosis. She is convinced she must find a way to take Catalina way from from High Place and her cold husband. But soon Noemí begins to experience the oddest dreams, begins to hear strange noises and see even stranger visions. Could Catalina’s incoherent ramblings be rooted in truth? As Noemi begins to doubt what is real and what isn’t in the dark halls of High Place, it becomes clear that it isn’t just her cousin who may be in danger.

Mexican Gothic is the embodiment of a compelling atmospheric read. The moment Noemí arrives in El Triunfo, the novel takes on an eerie tone. The small town is shrouded by a thick fog and moves ever so slowly. As Noemí travels by car on the uneven roads, the presence of civilization dwindles even more. Noemí is used to the city where there is a constant flow of activity. High Place, the Doyle house, is a shadow of its splendor. It has suffered from years of neglect and yet, it still stands. The electric system is unreliable, forcing inhabitants to rely on candles and oil lamps. The walls are lined with portraits of the Doyle clan, watching over the house. Remnants of the past cling to every nook and cranny. The Doyles once ran a successful mine that employed many of the townsfolk, but a series of unfortunate events forced its closure decades before. High Place is far from town, too far away for any regular visitors, not that the Doyles would ever welcome them. Descended from an English family, they have done their best to recreate their homeland in Mexico. Servants have been brought from England and even the very soil was exported as a way to replicate prized foliage. Most of the family speak only English and demand only English to be spoken within the walls of High Place. Their perceived superiority is present in every corner of their estate. The cemetery is a prime example, housing the English workers who died during an epidemic, honored with tombstones, while Mexican workers are left with unmarked graves, no thought given to honor them. The Doyles are invaders but lack the kind of self-awareness to call themselves such, or maybe they lack the empathy. They are selfish and self-serving; every major event in Mexican history is only understood in the context of how it affected the Doyle family.

The Doyles are stuck in the past. Catalina’s husband Virgil is cold and detached, alluring but in an unsettling way. His father, Howard, the Doyle patriarch, is aged and in constant need of care. He is confident in his race’s superiority over Mexican people and openly spouts views rooted in eugenics, volumes of which line High Place’s library. The first chill down the spine Mexican Gothic elicits is not from a ghostly apparition, but the way in which this man appraises Noemí, assessing her mestizo heritage and determining whether or not she is worthy to sit at his table. Florence, Howard’s niece is even more unwelcoming. She insists that Noemí follow the house rules no matter how arbitrary or infantile. Her son Francis is the only kind face in a very frigid family, but lacks the kind of worldliness Noemí is used to. Her presence disrupts the household, but even more so, this house disrupts Noemí, altering her forever. Used to putting on airs, Noemí’s time at High Place tears away at every mask she wears, strips her down to her most base desires and tempts her to give in to the darkness.

With Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia offers a different take on the genre, where colonialism is the horror story and how this manifests in ways that become more frightening with each page turned. The exploited are never quite free of the actions of the colonizers. This history seeps into the very soil, altering the land. Its consequences are never innocuous and sometimes they are plain insidious. Mexican Gothic tiptoes to a foreboding climax and will follow readers long after they finish the final page.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

ARC Review: The Dream Weaver by Reina Luz Alegre

Title: The Dream Weaver
Author: Reina Luz Alegre
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 23rd 2020

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

      “Twelve-year-old Zoey navigates the tricky waters of friendship while looking for a way to save her grandfather’s struggling business in this heartwarming, coming-of-age debut novel perfect for fans of Kristi Wientge, Donna Gephart, and Meg Medina.
    Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From start-up companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.
      So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother, José, will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!
      After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it.”

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Reina Luz Alegre’s The Dream Weaver is a heartwarming middle grade novel about learning to find a voice for yourself. Zoey is used to being moved around. This summer her father is seeking out yet another one of his pipedreams and leaving her and her older brother with their grandfather in New Jersey. While there Zoey discovers that her Poppy’s bowling alley is in financial trouble. With the help of her new friends, Zoey sets off on a mission to save Gonzo’s Bowling Alley and maybe help heal some of her family’s wounds along the way.

Zoey is one of the sweetest and most earnest characters I’ve come across in a middle grade. I saw so much of my younger self in her. She has the biggest heart and just wants her family to be happy. The tension between her brother and father sometimes feels unbearable and she’s learned to be the peacemaker. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve issues between the two and Zoey is just beginning to understand that relationship are very complicated. Fixing one thing in a person life doesn’t fix everything, especially when they are reluctant to talk it out with the other person. Zoey has a very strong bond to her older brother José, but can’t help feeling a little resentful that he will be attending college in another state at the beginning of fall. She feels left behind by two of the strongest figures in her life and sometimes struggles to find the words to express her hurt.

It was very bittersweet to see Zoey reconnect to her heritage through her grandfather. On one hand, she is learning more about the Cuban part of herself, the one that ties her to her mother who passes away several years earlier; but on the other, these parts of her culture should never have been lost. Her father found it too painful to keep her mother’s things around, but they would have been invaluable to Zoey and her brother growing up without their mother. Poppy becomes her main link to both her mother and her abuela. Both were caring and a force to be reckoned with. Zoey doesn’t know just how much she is like both of them, but I loved seeing her finding that assertive part of herself; the part that tells her not to give up and the part that tells her she doesn’t just deserve to have dreams, but deserves to see them come true.

Besides family, The Dream Weaver also has an emphasis on friendship. Zoey isn’t always great at making friends because she moves so much, but she very much would like to feel like she belongs. She crosses paths with a middle school bowling team and while she doesn’t hit it off with everyone in the group right away, she does find her place among these peers. Isa is the first person to make her feel welcome and for Zoey, having a female presence in her life is both refreshing and a little intimidating. I loved that Zoey discovers that sometimes the first people to be in your corner are your friends and that they can be your biggest cheerleaders even if you are all very different from one another.

Reina Luz Alegre’s The Dream Weaver is perfect for readers looking for a middle grade that shows the power of determination and that being a sensitive and caring person can be your greatest strength.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Incendiary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Hollow Crown, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: April 28th 2020

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

      “I am Renata Convida.
      I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
      Now I live my own.
      Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.
      Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.
      When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.
      But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.”

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  • Renata – I really enjoyed how unconventional a lead character Renata was. She isn’t the strongest, she isn’t the leader, and she isn’t even the bravest. Renata’s existence is a constant point of contention. The Whispers may have claimed her, but there is a lot of distrust, even amongst those closest to her. They have never forgotten the time she spent in the company of one of their greatest enemies, the Justice Méndez. For most of her life, Renata’s been used by others and never truly accepted. This is one of the reasons she is so drawn to characters like Dez, who believe in her when much of the time she doesn’t believe in herself.  Her wounds are often openly displayed, even when she wants to hide, she simply can’t. Renata’s magic has never been neat and she’s never been confident in her abilities. She learned early that her magic was dangerous and hasn’t had very many people tell her otherwise. She’s constantly been told who she is and has never been allowed to choose who she wants to be. I loved the beginning of her journey to discovering the answer.
  • World-Building – Córdova’s world is loosely based on the Spanish Inquisition. King Fernando is determined to rid his kingdom of the Moria, a people born with what he deems as unnaturally magic abilities. He and his predecessors have all but driven the Moria out of the land. Not only that, but they are determined to wiped out every trace of their cultural and religion. The Moria have done their best to maintain their ways, but they are slowly dwindling in number.
  • Magical System – The Moria are gifted with different magical abilties. Some are able to create illusions, while others are able to manipulate emotions. Renata is one of very few Robári, whose magic is tied to memory. As a child, she was manipulated into working with Justice Mendez, the right hand of the king, draining prisoners of their memories and turning them into Hollows.
  • Unpredictability – One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel is how multilayered so many of characters were which made the story incredibly unpredictable at times. Renata struggles to find who she is, especially when so many of her memories are distorted. This makes her point of view somewhat unreliable. She very much wants to believe certain people are just evil, but learns that isn’t always the case. Many of her preconceived ideas about people are proven false or incomplete and I am really looking forward to seeing where the story goes after some shocking revelations.

  • Pacing – The novel sometimes felt uneven. The first third of the novel could have been its own separate novel because of how much happened. Things then come to an abrupt halt and I spent so much time wishing the story could capture the excitement of the beginning portion. But then suddenly we are thrust into the latter part of the novel, going full speed and ironically, this is where I wanted things to slow down. Particularly because there is a lot of buildup to meeting a certain character who I wish we could have spent more time with.

With surprises at every turn, Zoraida Córdova’s Incendiary is a great introductory novel to a new fantasy series that will sweep readers away and whose ending will leave you begging for more.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Title: Ghost Squad
Author: Claribel A. Ortega
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: April 7th 2020
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.
      For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.
      Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.
      With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.”

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Claribel A. Ortega’s debut novel, Ghost Squad, is a delightful middle grade with lots of heart and a cast of character that is sure to charm readers of every age. Lucely Luna is just like any twelve-year girl, she likes hanging out with her best friend, Syd, and spending time with her family. Only most of her family are ghosts and she’s the only one who can see them. When Lucely discovers that her dad may not have the money to keep their house and something odd begins happening to her ghost family, she’s determined to help on both fronts. But her plans take a frightening turn when Lucely, along with her best friend Syd, stumble upon an evil plan by the mayor himself to take over St. Augustine and steal the townspeople’s souls! Now Lucely and Syd, along with a suspiciously shrewd cat named Chunk, must figure out a way to stop him before it’s too late.

Ghost Squad is a great reminder that middle grade novels are some of the most engaging and heartfelt reads you will ever pick up. The most important thing to Lucely is her family and it is this bond that drives the story. Her father is a single parent who works hard to provide a good home life for her. His ghost tours haven’t had the kind of buzz he was hoping for, but the last thing he wants is for Lucely to worry about their finances. The rest of Lucely’s family is a different kind of special. Inspired by Dominican folklore, family members who’ve passed appear as firelies, called cocuyos, and are tied to the magical willow tree on Lucely’s family property. They also appear as ghosts, but only to Lucely’s young eyes. From her grandmother, Mamá Teresa to her long line of cousins, Lucely’s family is unconventional but fierce and loving. When Lucely discovers that something is amiss and she may lose the connection she has with her family for good, she will stop at nothing to make sure they are safe. She’s brave and little reckless, but her heart is always in the right place. Syd is Lucely’s best friend and I immediately took a liking to her. Not only is she sassy, she is also willing to do anything for her friend. Her vast knowledge of all things paranormal ends up being a big help in their quest to defeat the nefarious spirits who plan to take over their town. It was hard not to love these two girls. I was delighted with their saucy conversations and inability to avoid getting into trouble.

My favorite character by far is Syd’s grandmother, Babette, who steals the show every moment she’s on the page. Owner of an eccentric occult shop, there have always been whispers about whether or not she could be a witch. Though the girls believe they can sneak out and wander cemeteries without any of the adults in their life noticing, Babette is much smarter than either of them realize. I love that she takes the girls under her wing and shows them you should never underestimate a grandmother. And, of course, one must not forget Chunk, one of Babette’s cats, who has some strong opinions even for a cat. She made the best reluctant animal companion.

With playful dialogue and fun characters, Claribel A. Ortega’s Ghost Squad is an unforgettable debut that will thrill and bewitch readers.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)