Mini-Reviews [ARC Edition]: Wayward Witch + Never Look Back

August really snuck up on me and didn’t realize just how many ARCs I needed to get to. So now my month is devoted to tackling all these books. As a result, I am doing a couple of mini-review ARC editions. It lifts a little bit of the pressure off of me as I try to get all these read and reviewed before their release dates.

Title: Wayward Witch
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas, #3
Pages: 384
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: September 1st 2020

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

      “Rose Mortiz has always been a fixer, but lately she’s been feeling lost. She has brand-new powers she doesn’t understand, and her family is still trying to figure out how to function in the wake of her amnesiac father’s return home. Then, on the night of her Deathday party, Rose discovers her father’s memory loss has been a lie.
      As she rushes to his side, the two are ambushed and pulled through a portal to the land of Adas, a fairy realm hidden in the Caribbean Sea. There, Rose is forced to work with a group of others to save Adas. Soon, she begins to discover the scope of her powers, the troubling truth about her father’s past, and the sacrifices he made to save her sisters.
      But if Rose wants to return home so she can repair her broken family, she must figure out how to heal Adas first.”

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Wayward Witch, the conclusion to Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas series, transports readers to a world that is equal parts beautiful and deadly as the youngest of the Mortiz sisters, Rose, must find a way to master her newly discovered power or find herself lost to her family forever. Rose’s Deathday party should be one of celebration, but she can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Her family has done its best to move on from their experiences with Los Lagos and the casimuertos, but Rose can’t let go of all the unanswered questions she has about her father and his missing years and her own new power. When Rose and her father are kidnapped and brought to the Kingdom of Adas, a fairy-land full of creatures both enchanting and cunning, she is ordered to help stop the Rot which has been spreading over its realm. On her journey, Rose grapples with her newly discovered power and the darkness within herself that’s getting harder and harder to deny. Rose’s love for her family and particularly her sisters, Alex and Lula, is apparent, but there is always that voice in the back of her head that says she isn’t as strong or resilient as they are. I loved that Córdova’s fairyland isn’t just a mythical place, but one that has ties to Rose’s realm as it was once an island in the Caribbean. I really enjoyed Rose’s relationship with Iris, the princess of Adas. She is everything Rose doesn’t believe she can ever be. There is a respect that builds between the two that is important to each of their arcs. The author also introduces a non-binary character who calls themselves a brujex and I would love to get another book with Lin at the helm. Wayward Witch is an imaginative and dynamic novel that gives fans of the series a satisfying ending but also a thirst for more books in this world.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Never Look Back
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Release Date: September 1st 2020

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

TW: mentions of PTSD, suicide, sexual assault

      “Featuring contemporary Afro-Latinx characters, acclaimed author Lilliam Rivera blends a touch of magical realism into a timely story about cultural identity, overcoming trauma, and the power of first love.
    Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .
      Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.”

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Lilliam Rivera gives the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice an updated and fresh look with her newest novel, Never Look Back. Pheus, an Afro-Dominican teen from Manhattan, is never without his guitar and this summer while visiting his father in the Bronx is no different. There is nothing like the feeling of casting a spell over his audience, leaving them mesmerized and asking for more. Eury is visiting her cousin for the summer in the Bronx as well. Eury’s mother is hoping a change of scenery for the summer will help her daughter outrun her demons, not realizing that Eury is in fact running from a demon. Since she was a little girl, Eury has been haunted by a spirit determined to take her to El Inframundo, the Underworld. At first Ato was a companion, someone who helped her with her father’s abandonment, but as the years passed, he became possessive, his jealousy manifesting as violence against others. Eury is also dealing with PTSD. Never Look Back takes place in the Bronx, but its heart is Eury’s connection to her home. Puerto Rico is an island that has been ravaged both by natural and man-made disasters. Eury’s past traumas inform who she is but she is also more than her history. This is an important distinction Rivera makes. Puerto Ricans, though they have been subjected to tragedies, they are not defined by their suffering. They deserve to flourish in spite of these tragedies. Religion plays a vital role in Never Look Back, as both Eury looks for a way to protect herself and Pheus is faced with realizing that there is more to this world than what is on the surface. Rivera also pays homage to Latin music, recognizes the importance of knowing the history of the places you walk, and infuses Taíno mythology in this empowering new YA fantasy novel.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Blog Tour: Lobizona by Romina Garber (ARC Review)

I am so excited to be a part of the Lobizona Blog Tour for Wednesday Books! I cannot wait for everyone to meet Manu and be introduced to Romina Garber’s newest universe. It’s just as dynamic and vibrant as the cover and can we just take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the cover is? I could stare at it forever. Enjoy my arc review of this one below!

Title: Lobizona
Author: Romina Garber
Series: Wolves of No World, #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: August 4th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

      “Some people ARE illegal.
      Lobizonas do NOT exist.
      Both of these statements are false.

      Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
      Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
      Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
      As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.”

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Romina Garber’s Lobizona is energetic, compulsory read that centers real-world issues in a fantasy setting that’s hard to put down. Manu has lived on the outskirts of society for as long as she can remember. As undocumented immigrants, Manu and her mother have had to build a life for themselves around the confines of their immigration status while also outrunning her father’s criminal family who doesn’t know Manu exists. Manu dreams of finding a place to belong, but that feels nearly impossible when she isn’t normal no matter how much she wants to be. Then Manu and her mother’s luck runs out and a series of events leads Manu to discover her mother has been keeping secrets. When ICE detains her mother, Manu is left on her own, trying to understand why her mother has been lying to her for years. Her questions lead her to a mysterious school and a world full of werewolves and witches. Here Manu discovers the truth of her origins and the truth about the father she thought was dead.

Manu has spent her entire life hiding a part of herself. She’s never felt the kind of freedom most citizens take for granted. Her guard is always up and she knows one mistake could mean deportation for her and her mother. Friends have never been an option for her, because beside her immigration status, she is also hiding the fact that she inherited her father’s eyes. Not unusal in itself, but considering they are yellow and her pupils are stars, definitely something that would be alarming to others. Manu knows she’s different, but she’s only been given half truths from her mother and unable to fully understand why every full moon she is struck with debilitating pain from her menstrual cycle, so severe that she must be sedated. When she discovers that werewolves and witches exist, her world opens up but she is still forced to hide parts of herself. Lobizona is very much about Manu claiming her identity, fully embracing herself, and declaring to the world that she exists and that she matters.

I loved the world building in Lobizona. Latinx fantasy is still something that feels novel. Garber builds a world rooted in Argentine folklore. Werewolves and witches exist and are called Septemis, but are limited to a system that upholds the gender binary and patriarchy. Manu’s very existence challenges these ideas. The Septimus have kept their world separate from humans and there is a tendency to look down on humanity as less than themselves. There’s an emphasis on procreation which doesn’t allow Septimus to have children with humans. There is also a side f/f relationship which challenged many of these ideas that wish we had a chance to explore more of, but I am looking forward to seeing this couple in the sequel.

Manu’s strongest relationship is with her mother. She’s been her guiding light, the one person who sees all of her and accepts her. When Manu discovers her mother has been lying to her for years, it shakes her to her core. She’s always had her mother to help her navigate the world and suddenly she doesn’t anymore. At El Laberinto, a hidden school for Septimus, Manu discovers that she is no longer alone. These teens are just like her and even though she is still trying to find her footing in this new world, just being a part of a group that accepts her is new and heartening. Manu develops a connection with the werewolf Tiago, but this is made complicated by his relationship with another student. I loved Manu’s friendship with the kind Saysa and the prickly Catalina. Saysa becomes the first person to accept her and though her relationship with Catalina is a bit more rocky, I loved how their relationship ended up feeling earned.

Romina Garber’s Lobizona is an action-packed fantasy that takes readers on a wild ride with a protagonist you can’t help but root for.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


What People Are Saying:

“With vivid characters that take on a life of their own, beautiful details that peel back the curtain on Romina’s Argentinian heritage, and cutting prose that shines a light on the difficulties of being the ‘other’ in America today, Romina Garber crafts a timely tale of identity and adventure that every teenager should read.”–Tomi Adeyemi New York Times bestselling author of Children of Blood and Bone

“Romina Garber has created an enthralling young adult fantasy led by an unforgettable Latinx character Manu. In Manu we find a young girl who not only must contend with the injustice of being undocumented she also discovers a hidden world that may explain her very existence. I fell in love with this world where wolves, witches and magic thrives, all in a rich Latinx setting!” –Lilliam Rivera, author of Dealing in Dreams and The Education of Margot Sanchez

ROMINA GARBER (pen name Romina Russell) is a New York Times and international bestselling author. Originally from Argentina, she landed her first writing gig as a teen—a weekly column for the Miami Herald that was later nationally syndicated—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her books include Lobizona. When she’s not working on a novel, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

Follow Romina: Twitter: @RominaRussell // Instagram: @RominaGarber

Click here to buy Lobizona now!

Mini Reviews: The Only Good Indians (ARC Review) & Wilder Girls

Hello, friends, I am returning to blogging only on a very tentative basis. This week I have a set of two horror novel reviews to share. After picking up Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, I really wanted more horror in my life. I tend to watch horror movies/shows, but haven’t really explored the literary genre in a significant way. As a result, these two horror novels will not be the only ones you see me review this year.

Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Release Date: July 14th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.
      Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.”

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Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians is a harrowing horror novel about retribution and the consequences of running from your past. Ricky, Gabe, Cass, and Lewis grew up together on the Blackfeet reservation. After a hunting incident that gets them banned from taking part ever again, the friend group slowly drifts apart. But no matter how much time has passed from that fateful night, none of them can outrun what happened and what their actions gave birth to. Jones takes each of his characters and pushes them to the brink, where they begin to question reality and then slowly pulls the loose thread, unraveling their sanity. Though The Only Good Indians has a slow start, once it reaches its climax, Jones slams on the gas and takes readers on one of the most unrelenting, brutal endings I’ve ever read. Just when you think the story could not get any wilder, Jones guts you and leaves you in a state of shock. The Only Good Indians takes no prisoners and is a must read for horror fans everywhere.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Wilder Girls
Author: Rory Power
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 9th 2019

      “It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
    It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
      But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.”

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      “I expected it to be different. I watch the trees attack the fence, the dark between them thick and reaching. I know what the Tox does. But I thought something of my old life would still be here. I thought something of us would have survived.”

Rory Power’s Wilder Girls had such an interesting premise revolving around an all-girls boarding school being overrun by a mysterious illness; however, this one failed to hold my attention even with the shock of body horror woven throughout. Wilder Girls revolves around three friends, Hetty, Byatt, and Reese, who, along with their classmates, have been kept in quarantine for the last year and a half at their school. The Tox, which first killed off most of the students and teachers, has ravaged the bodies of those at Raxter School for Girls. My first issue with this one was the set up, I found it hard to believe that these privileged girls’ families would somehow stand by while they were kept in quarantine for so long. Even with more explanation later on, I just could not wrap my brain around the fact that no one from the outside had ever tried to make contact with them outside of the CDC and Navy. I enjoyed how complicated the relationships in the novel were (there are friendships and also an f/f romance), but also how these relationships were always strain because of their environment. However, I never felt a real connection to any of the girls. I also am puzzled over the fact that we got chapters in Hetty and Byatt’s POV, but never for Reese. Reese, who had a strong connection to someone outside the boarding school, would have given the novel a wider scope. The action is very limited to this island the school is located on and instead of making me as a reader feel the claustrophobia of their situation, it left me wanting more context to their world. The ending was also really unsatisfying, not because I expected everything to be tied up neatly, but because it felt like the story just sort of drops off and we are left with more questions and very little concrete answers.

★ ★
(2/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Title: Into the Tall, Tall Grass
Author: Loriel Ryon
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: April 7th 2020

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

      “A girl journeys across her family’s land to save her grandmother’s life in this captivating and magical debut that’s perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish.
      Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a secret. All the members of her family have a magical gift—all, that is, except for Yolanda. Still, it’s something she can never talk about, or the townsfolk will call her family brujas—witches. When her grandmother, Wela, falls into an unexplained sleep, Yolanda is scared. Her father is off fighting in a faraway war, her mother died long ago, and Yolanda has isolated herself from her best friend and twin sister. If she loses her grandmother, who will she have left?
      When a strange grass emerges in the desert behind their house, Wela miraculously wakes, begging Yolanda to take her to the lone pecan tree left on their land. Determined not to lose her, Yolanda sets out on this journey with her sister, her ex-best friend, and a boy who has a crush on her. But what is the mysterious box that her grandmother needs to find? And how will going to the pecan tree make everything all right? Along the way, Yolanda discovers long-buried secrets that have made their family gift a family curse. But she also finds the healing power of the magic all around her, which just might promise a new beginning.”

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  • Yolanda – I found so many things about Into the Tall, Tall Grass‘s MC relatable. This twelve year old is bright, opinionated, and struggles to express her feelings. Life hasn’t felt right ever since Yolanda’s grandfather past away. Her grandmother has fallen ill, her best friend dumped her for her twin sister, Sonja, and she’s still waiting for her family gift to appear. Yolanda is prone to jealousy, is desperate for someone to truly understand her, and just wants everything to go back to the way it was before.
  • Friendships tested – Yolanda and her best friend, Ghita, had a falling out and the former isn’t sure she wants to be mend this friendship. There is so much heartache on both sides of this relationship. I loved that both girls are allowed to feel resentful and angry, but also must learn where the other person is coming from before their friendship can be restored.
  • Grandparent-grandchild relationships – These were my favorite relationships in the novel to read about. From Yolanda’s special bond with her grandfather, who has been the only one to truly understand her, to Sonja’s relationship with her grandmother that has taken on a mentor-mentee dynamic, these bonds run so deep and have so many different layers.
  • Sister relationship – Yolanda and Sonja are at odds for much of the story, but it was so touching to see them find each other again. Much like Yolanda’s relationship with Ghita, this bond has been severed for all the wrong reasons, but at the end of the day, these two sisters will need each other going forward.
  • First crushes – Yolanda has an incredibly sweet first crush on Ghita’s brother Hasik. He’s very sweet and sees Yolanda as remarkable even when she doesn’t always see it herself. I was so happy to see a sapphic first crush explored in this middle grade. Sonja and Ghita have become more than friends, but there are still plenty of issues they have to work though.
  • Discussions on grief – This middle grade novel is hard hitting in the grief department. Yolanda is still grieving over her grandfather’s death and now her grandmother’s illness.
  • Multi-generational story – I really appreciated that this wasn’t just Yolanda’s story, but hers was just one piece of a very long, wearsome and yet hopeful story of the entire Rodríguez clan. Also appreciated that the adult characters were not perfect and that the author did not shy away from revealing their flaws to the younger characters.
  • The writing – The story felt magical from the very beginning. Not only does Ryon capture the tumulteous feelings of adolescence, but her descriptions of the pecan orchard of the past and the mysterious grassland that springs forth and which Yolander and her friends must journey through were so well illustrated that it was easy to fall both into the story.

  • Nothing to note.

Weaving together stories of the past and the present, Loriel Ryon’s Into the Tall, Tall Grass is an unforgettable tale of a young girl faced with the reality of loss and grief; bittersweet at its center but written with honesty and compassion.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)