Mini-Reviews (ARC edition): The Charmed List + The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Alright, friends, this is my last post before officially announcing my hiatus. I stuck around longer than I planned just so I could post these reviews. I had two very different experiences with these books, but that’s perfectly okay, not every book is for every reader. I am actually really looking forward to returning to mood reading after picking these up. I love ARCs, but sometimes I’m just craving something else.

Title: The Charmed List Author: Julie Abe Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Wednesday Books Release Date: July 5th 2022

TW: parental death, cancer **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"After spending most of high school as the quiet girl, Ellie Kobata is ready to take some risks and have a life-changing summer, starting with her Anti-Wallflower List—thirteen items she’s going to check off one by one. She’s looking forward to riding rollercoasters, making her art Instagram public (maybe), and going on an epic road-trip with her best friend Lia. But when number four on Ellie’s list goes horribly wrong—revenge on Jack Yasuda—she’s certain her summer has gone from charmed to cursed. Instead of a road trip with Lia, Ellie finds herself stuck in a car with Jack driving to a magical convention. But as Ellie and Jack travel down the coast of California, number thirteen on her list—fall in love—may be happening without her realizing it. In The Charmed List, Julie Abe sweeps readers away to a secret magical world, complete with cupcakes and tea with added sparks of joy, and an enchanted cottage where you can dance under the stars."

Julie Abe builds an interesting magical world with The Charmed list that didn’t quite mesh with its main storyline, making the novel feel off-balance. Ellie Kobata has big plans for summer, including taking a road trip with her best friend, Lia, and checking off items from her “Anti-Wallflower List.” Ellie is determined to be more outgoing and less of a background character. When a prank on Jack, her mortal enemy and former best friend, goes wrong, all of Ellie’s plans go down the drain. As punishment, she is forced to go on the road trip for her family’s tea shop with Jack. Ellie is part of a small community of sorcerers who use their magic to put a little good into the world. On its surface this magical world had its charm, but I never felt like it really enhanced the plot. Take magic out of this story and unfortunately nothing would have been lost. Ellie is also a hard character to sympathize with. Ellie hates Jack and never misses an opportunity to say so. This began to get really repetitive and when given context, still didn’t feel justified. Ellie often comes across as very mean and while mild annoyance would make sense, her vitriol is grating. I was deeply disturbed by a particular scene in which Ellie decides to torment Jack with fake mice, knowing how scared he is of them. This felt particularly cruel when it’s further explained that the reason Jack is afraid of them is because of stories told to him by his great-grandmother about being imprisoned in an internment camp and being overrun by mice every night. So many characters in this one have these over-the-top reactions that only made sense in the shallowest of ways. For the most part, these reactions felt forced and a way to drive the plot forward without feeling like they actually made sense. Even when these characters did reach an understanding of each other, it felt compulsory rather than earned. Less to do with character development and more to do with steering these characters toward a desirable ending. Overall, Julie Abe’s The Charmed List didn’t have any real emotional payoff and felt very unsatisfying.

★ ★
(2/5)


Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: July 19th 2022

TW: racism, colorism, suicide, alcoholism, abuse **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico. Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman. Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers. The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities. All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite. THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey."

Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves science-fiction and historical fiction seamlessly with her newest novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Carlota Moreau has only known the world of Yaxaktun, a ranch deep in the forest of the Yucatán Peninsula. Her father has found a way to keep her childhood sickness at bay, but in order to do so, he has taken on an impossible feat. Dr. Moreau has dedicated himself to researching how the genetics of animals can help cure human illnesses. In exchange for funding, Moreau has learned how to create animal-human hybrids in order to provide workers for his patron, Hernando Lizalde. When an outsider arrives, the neatly cultivated world of Yaxaktun begins to crack. Carlota must confront the facade she’s been holding on to about her father, her home, and about herself. Carlota loves her home and can’t imagine living beyond its borders. She has been raised to show deference to her father, to always show respect and never to challenge him. At the beginning of the novel she is young and naive. She has very little understanding of how the outside world works and is unable to see that her father has essentially trapped her at Yaxaktun as he is the only one who is able to treat her illness. Slowly Carlota begins to recognize that her world is not as perfect as she once thought. Surrounded by men with power, Carlota must find the strength within herself and forge her own path forward or be someone else’s pawn for the rest of her life. Aside from Carlota, we are also provided with Montgomery’s POV. As Yaxaktun’s mayordomo, Montgomery is essentially in charge of running the ranch. Montgomery had been aimless for years, racking up debt and falling deeper into alcoholism before falling even deeper into debt to Lizalde, Yaxaktun’s patron. In order to work off his debt, he agrees to work for Dr. Moreau. Life has robbed Montgomery of hope and enthusiasm. He sees in Carlota the parts of himself that have been snuffed out. Self-pity and jealousy rage inside him, making him bitter. He is plagued by his own inaction and cowardice, but when Carlota and the hybrids are threatened, he begins to find something to fight for. Moreau rules over Yaxaktun with little empathy. He is more interested in perfecting his hybrids than recognizing their personhood. He has fashioned himself into a god, using religion to keep those under him in check. Unlike Dr. Moreau, both Carlota and Montgomery have spent more personal time with the hybrids. They have become friends and even family. They worry for their well-being, putting them in direct conflict with Moreau and those even more powerful than he. Though Yaxaktun feels like its own little world, a familiar place meant to be preserved, it is also a kind of prison to many of the characters and each must decide exactly how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to escape. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau tells an evocative and dangerous tale, with a vivid historical backdrop and fully-fleshed out characters.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria

Title: Fire with Fire
Author: Destiny Soria
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: panic attacks and ableism

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

      “Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.
      Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.”

  • Dani – Dani was born into a family of dragon slayers, but dragon slaying is the last thing on her mind. While a natural when it comes to combat, she wants a life outside of the family business. She wants to spend time with her best friend Tomás and work a summer job instead of spending endless hours training with her sister. She’s driven by passion which often makes her impulsive, but it also makes her determined to do what’s right even if it means going against the people she loves.
  • Eden – Eden is determined to be the best dragon slayer she can be. More rigorous in her training, she often grows impatient with her sister’s cavalier attitude. She should be the superior fighter, but no matter how much work she puts into training, Dani always seems to outshine her. Something that doesn’t seem fair when Eden has dedicated so much time and has given up any semblance of a social life in pursuit of the family legacy.
  • Sisters – I love that Fire with Fire‘s main relationship is sisterhood. Dani and Eden are very different from one another. They don’t always see eye to eye and there is a lot of frustration between the two, but they also love one another fiercely and in time discover how much they can learn from the other.
  • Dragons and magical system – I don’t think we can ever get too many dragon books and this is only the second book I’ve read with Latinx protagonists in a dragon fantasy. In this story, dragons are the source of magic, it flows from them, but they are also dangerous creatures prone to violence against humans. Both dragon slayers and sorcerers have made it their mission to rid the world of dragons, but they often clash when it comes to the right methods.
  • Magic and mental health – Appreciated seeing the novel address magic and mental health. One really important storyline is that magic does not fix mental illness because having a mental illness doesn’t mean a person is broken.
  • Romance subplot – There is one romance subplot that plays out really quickly and that I couldn’t buy into. If the character had been introduced earlier, it would have made it more believable.

Destiny Soria once again delivers a unique fantasy with Fire with Fire, filled with heart-stopping action and the resilient love between sisters.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

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)