ARC Review: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Gilded Wolves, #2
Pages: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: September 22nd 2020
**Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review**

TW: mentions of a stillbirth, suicide, child abuse

**Includes spoilers for The Gilded Wolves**

      “Returning to the dark and glamorous world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever.
      They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.
      Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
      Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.
      As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.
      A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.”

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The Silvered Serpents, sequel to The Gilded Wolves, improves on the first and once again proves that Roshani Chokshi is a master at creating unique worlds and characters you can’t help but root for. After the heart-stopping ending to the first book, Séverin and his team are no longer the tight-knit group they once were. Grief has reshaped each of them, throwing some of them together, but pushing most further apart. In his search for The Divine Lyrics, a relic rumored to give its wielder godlike power, Séverin has agreed to work with the Order. Laila has kept her reason for wanting to find the mysterious artifact a secret, but without it her life will become forfeit. The Fallen House is still on the loose, still hoping to find The Divine Lyrics themselves and they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Unbeknownst to his team, Séverin has his own motivations for locating this treasure before anyone else, one that threatens to sever their friendship for good.

Ensemble casts can be tricky, but Chokshi skillfully juggles her list of characters. Each one feels wholly formed with their own backgrounds, motivations, personalities, and flaws. While the first novel spent time introducing readers to each of these characters, the second novel encourages them to explore these characters on a deeper level. One of my favorite things about this group of characters is their emotional complexity. While the loss of one of their own has impacted them all, grief has manifested itself in different ways. For Séverin, the loss of his brother has him secluding himself from the others. He is driven by his fear of not being able to protect them, but the guilt that protecting one of them cost him his brother. He has become a shadow of the person he once was and without him, the team feels fractured. The novel explores the darker side of grief where the person you were before is at odds with the person you are now.

I loved seeing characters like Zofia shine in this one. On one hand she struggles to find her place because one of her greatest fears is to be a burden. But on the other, she discovers just how valuable she is and that other people need her, maybe even more than she needs them. I really wanted a little more Hypnos in this one, but loved seeing how Chokshi explores his evolving relationship with Séverin. Hypnos isn’t quite part of the group, but very much wants to be. Standing in his way is his past with Séverin, one once full of affection but now soured with betrayal and distrust. Laila is probably my favorite character in this cast. She’s incredibly kind and thoughtful; strong and willful. While she is Séverin’s love interest, Chokshi never let’s this define Laila entirely. She is her own person with her own agency and I love how Chokshi depicts her as a woman who refuses to let her or her pain be a catalyst for another person’s growth. Enrique undergoes a different journey in this one. Probably the one character whose trust in others hasn’t been shaken, he wears his heart on his sleeve, but learns that other people are not averse to wearing masks, to using others, even those they may love.

The Silvered Serpents has some of the most vivid and lush settings. Chokshi paints a scene like no other. Her prose deserves to be savored and nothing I say here will rightful capture all her brilliance. Her words bring every new location to life and it feels that as a reader you are right in on the action with the team. The Gilded Wolves series has one of the most unique premises and The Silvered Serpents grabs you from page one and never lets go. Fans of the first will be enthralled and critics will be won over.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: September 1st 2020

TW: misgendering, transphobia, death of a parent, child abuse

      “Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
      When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
      However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”

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Yadriel – Yadriel is part of a brujx community, one that is often rigid in its practices. As a result, Yadiel, a trans teen, has never had his own quices ceremony in which he would pledge himself to Lady Death and serve her as a brujo. His mother was always supportive of him, but her passing left him feeling marooned. Yadriel, with the help of his cousin Maritza, defies his father, leader of the East LA brujx, and performs his own ceremony. Despite being acknowledged by Lady Death, Yadriel still isn’t sure it’s enough to prove to his father and the rest of the brujx community that he is a brujo. He’s the kind of character who sets up high expectations for himself in the name of proving others wrong when it’s his own inner doubts that he needs to overcome.

Julian – Most people’s first impression of Julian is that he’s a delinquent who is on a path to nowhere. When Yadriel accidentally summons Julian’s spirit, all he knows about him are the rumors. But it quickly becomes apparent that Julian is much more. He’s stubborn and obnoxious, but also perceptive and caring. He pushes Yadriel to see beyond the box he has put himself in. Julian’s first concern when learning he is dead are his friends, who are more like family to him. Many of whom are living on the streets because they do not have a safe place to go back to. The novel touches on houseless youth, the way they are perceived and the lack of concern shown by authorities when they go missing.

Trans character in a gender-based magical system – I love seeing more books with gender-based magical systems acknowledging those who are transgender and/or nonbinary. Cemetery Boys does such a wonderful job of centering a trans character and upholding their identity within the established system.

Latinx cultures mixed with magic – I am in love with the magical system in this book. Thomas incorporates a number of Latinx cultures in this brujx community which made me really happy to see. Yadriel himself is from a multicultural Latinx family. His mother’s family is Mexican and his father is Cuban. Yadriel is always surrounded by family, they are always in each other’s business and sometimes you just can’t escape them. There are always cousins, aunts, and uncles filling their house. I loved it.

The writing – It is so easy to fall in love with this book and one of the reasons is the writing. Thomas’s writing is so descriptive, I felt immediately transported to these places. There are no flat minor characters and appreciated that every detail we are given about them helped flesh them out.

The humor – One of my favorite things about Cemetery Boys is how much humor Thomas infuses into his characters. The unexpected snark from several of the characters had me laughing out loud throughout the novel. If it wasn’t Yadriel and Maritza snide remarks with one another then it was Julian and Yadriel’s snarky and often flirtatious exchanges, which I just ate up.

Nothing to note.

Aidan Thomas’s Cemetery Boys is a nearly flawless paranormal debut that celebrates Latinx cultures with characters who are an absolute delight. Crossing my fingers we get a sequel to this one sometime in the future.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

Blog Tour: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (ARC Review)

I’ve got a really exciting blog tour post for you today. Janella Angeles’s Where Dreams Descend is one of the most mesmerizing debuts I’ve read this year. If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, this is a must read and anyone who loves dark fantasies, you’re going to love this one too. Thank you to Wednesday Books for inviting me to this tour. Where Dreams Descend is out August 25th!

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Series: Kingdom of Cards, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: August 25th 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
      As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
      The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
      The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
      The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide.
      Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.”

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Janella Angeles enchants with her Phantom of the Opera-inspired fantasy debut Where Dreams Descend. Hellfire House is known for two things, it’s enigmatic master, Jack, and it’s beguiling showgirl, Kallia, who casts a spell nightly on her audience. But despite Kallia’s stardom, she feels stifled at Hellfire House. She wants more than applause, she wants esteem and freedom. When Kallia discover Jack has been keeping secrets from her, she runs away to the mysterious town of Glorian, where a competition for magicians is being held. Kallia knows that women are discouraged from pursuing the spotlight, but she is determined to prove that she has no equal when it comes to magic. Kallia immediately butts head with Demarco, the youngest judge who has his own reasons for coming to Glorian. When competitors begin vanishing, it becomes clear that there is a dark force in this town determined to upend the competition and no one knows who will be left standing in the end.

Kallia was born with magical abilities, has spent her life at Hellfire House under the patronage of Jack’s father before his death, then taken under Jack’s wing. Though she has spent years mastering magic, she has always felt caged. Jack’s enigmatic warnings of the outside world have discouraged her from striking out on her own. Glorian is not prepared for a magician like Kallia. She is unapologetically ambitious, not just scoffing at the rules that would prevent a woman from competing, but actively stomping on tradition at every turn. There is no challenge she is not up for, not person she is too afraid to stand up to, but this often results in a recklessness that she has not yet learned to tame. Vulnerablity does not come easy to her and neither does trust. In the course of the novel, Kallia slowly learns that forming connections is not just a liability, but that making a name for herself means little when she has no one to share it with.

Kallia relationship with Jack has always been fraught with tension. He has been the only one who has been able to challenge her magically, but so much of who he is is hidden away. There is an undeniable pull between them, but as Kallia learns, she doesn’t know if she could ever trust him. I really enjoyed Kallia’s relationship with Demarco. They both get under each other’s skin from the very beginning of their acquaintance. Demarco was once a renown magician but left the stage after a personal tragedy he likes to keep tight-lipped about. I loved the chapters from his POV and feel like we learned far more about him and his motivations compared to Jack. Like Kallia, he does not easily trust, but he can’t deny that there is something about Kallia’s unshakable confidence that draws him to her. Slowly Kallia and Demarco grow closer, but both have pasts that ultimately threaten to tear them apart.

There are so many colors and sights in Where Dreams Descend. Angeles transports readers to various settings which really capture the dark and enchanting elements of the novel. Hellfire House is mysterious and shadowy. A place of intrigue but also confining. The Conquering Circus has made its way to Glorian with its lively performers and often dangerous acts. Glorian itself feels like a shadow of what it once was. Its historical houses speak of a glorious past, perhaps waiting for someone to reclaim it. Fans of Phantom of the Opera will appreciate the various references from the chandelier and mirror imagery to the namesakes and lines from the musical.

Where Dreams Descend excels at creating an intriguing world with seductive characters and an ending that will leave readers demanding its sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

What People Are Saying:

“Janella Angeles steals the 2020 show with her fiercely imagined debut starring larger than life characters, a dangerous world alive with magic, and a dizzying dose of grab-a-fainting-couch-and-swoon-away romance!” – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Wolves

“Where Dreams Descend is a glamorous dark gem of a tale, sparkling with romance, magic, and intrigue. Readers will be captivated by prima donna Kallia as the mystery is slowly unmasked. Bravissima!” – Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

“Lavish and opulent in a way that feels warmly familiar yet demands your attention. There are secrets upon secrets, a girl who’s boldly ambitious, and truly riveting stage magic. I didn’t want the show to stop.” – Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

“Vibrant imagery, jaw-dropping set pieces, sizzling romantic tension, and unstoppable heroine Kallia bring this ambitious debut novel to spectacular life. Fans of Caraval and The Night Circus will be delighted!” – Claire Legrand, New York Times bestselling author of Furyborn

“[A] spellbinding melody of a book, and the true magic is how Angeles puts all the best parts of an enrapturing theatrical performance onto paper and ink. From the gripping twists in the first pages all the way to the final, heartbreaking crescendo, Where Dreams Descend will surge you to your feet in a standing ovation.” – Sara Raasch, New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ashes trilogy

About the Author:

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Follow Janella: Twitter – @Janella_Angeles; Instagram – @Janella_Angeles

Click here to preorder Where Dreams Descend now!

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)