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 Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War, #2
Pages: 654
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 6th 2019

TW: mentions of self-harm, suicide, drug use, rape, graphic violence

      “In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.
    With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.
      But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.
      The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.”

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      “People will seek to use you or destroy you. If you want to live, you must pick a side So do not shirk from war, child. Do not flinch from suffering. When you hear screaming, run toward it.”

  • Rin – Rin is a character who is hard not to root for even when she makes mistakes. She is a child of war whether she chooses to be or not. As the last living Speerly there is a heavy weight on her shoulders. She is constantly torn between grieving for the people she never knew and fighting for the very people who had a hand in their genocide. She is a character continually othered because of colorism, because of prejudice, and because of her power. In the first novel, Rin was just discovering her ability to harness the power of the gods. In this second novel, Rin’s personal journey is more about her understanding who she is apart from this power and reclaiming herself from those who would turn her into a weapon.
  • Heavy Issues – From war to PTSD to drug addiction, Kuang’s series does not shy away from tough topics. War isn’t just about victory but about the people who end up suffering because of it. Rin’s addiction to opium, once a way to help her connect to the gods, becomes a way for her to escape her grief and her guilt. She isn’t the only character who experiences PTSD, and it is sobering to see characters like Kitay, who had such a light in them lose this.
  • Kitay – If there is a characters who has undergone just as many changes as Rin, it is her once-schoolmate, Kitay. Seeing him deal with the loss of a loved one and how this alters who he is is heartbreaking. He was once the softest character in the series, but is driven by vengeance and pain. Those soft edges have hardened and I’m not sure there is a rewind button for him or anyone in this series.
  • Rin and Nezha – I am going to be honest and say I live for their interactions. I love how far they have come from being school rivals to being friends. Their relationship is constantly evolving and I cannot wait to see what happens next between them.
  • Morally grey characters – Kuang does not paint her characters black and white. Much of the time as a reader you can only guess at the true motives of the characters in power. I love both the uncertainty and the layers to every character because of this.

  • Minor characters – As much as I’ve enjoyed Rin’s journey, I do think a bit more time could be spent on a few key minor characters. After the death of their leader, Rin was put in charge of the Cike. This presents a lot of interesting dynamics; however, I don’t think as readers we spend enough time with any of them to feel a real emotional impact when they are put in danger.


If I could describe R.F. Kuang’s series, The Poppy War, in one word it would be epic. The Dragon Republic is just as gut-wretching as its predecessor and sets up what promises to be an explosive finale.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

Title: The Kingdom of Copper
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #2
Pages: 621
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: January 22nd 2019

**Contains spoilers for The City of Brass!**

      “S. A. Chakraborty continues the sweeping adventure begun in The City of Brass conjuring a world where djinn summon flames with the snap of a finger and waters run deep with old magic; where blood can be dangerous as any spell, and a clever con artist from Cairo will alter the fate of a kingdom.
    Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.
      Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe…
      Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.
      And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.”

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“And then he took off, sprinting toward the cliff edge. He ran as fast as he could and when the cliff gave way to air, he kept going, hurling himself into empty space. For one petrifying moment, he was falling, the distant, rock-strewn ground he was about to be dashed upon rushing up…”

S.A. Chakraborty’s delivers another imaginative and extraordinary story with The Kingdom of Copper, the second novel in the Daevabad Trilogy. Following the events of the first book, Nahri, once a street thief, is fully immersed in Daevabad’s royal court. As the last surviving Nahid, Nahri has been named the Banu Nahid, healer and leader to her people. Ali, prince of Daevabad, has been exiled, but circumstances force him to return to his home, a place he is no longer welcome. Nahri and Ali both must navigate the moods of a tyrannical king while trying to protect the most vulnerable in the city. But they must do so alone as their friendship was severed the moment Ali cut down Nahri’s Afshin, Dara. Five years have past, but the hurt still remains. Daevabad is already on the brink of a civil war as tensions between the tribes and the shafit inhabitants comes to a head, but it is an unexpected player from outside that threatens to bring the city to its knees.

Chakraborty writes some of the most mesmerizing characters I’ve ever come across in a fantasy. Nahri’s very existence challenges many of the preconceived ideas the people of Daevabad have. She grew up without family and without ties to her heritage. Accidentally summoning a daeva led her to another world where djinn rule and while this knowledge led to Nahri gaining power, the most important discovery for her has been learning more about her family. Still, there are a lot of secrets in this city, and no secret is benign. Despite being at odds with people with enormous amounts of power, Nahri isn’t afraid to challenge them. Though her allies are few, she’s always thinking ahead and is willing to take the path less traveled if it means keeping power out of the hands of those who would readily abuse it.

I had issues with Ali in the first novel like his need to always play the hero, which got him into all kinds of trouble, and his naivete, which led him astray on many occasions. Ali, five years older, is more mature and maybe a little humbler. He is returning to the father that cast him aside and a brother who is less than welcoming. Still, he hasn’t lost his moral code and in a place where shafit, offspring of humans and djinn, are mistreated, Ali is one of the few djinn who will stand up for them. Unfortunately this often pits him against his father the king and more recently the heir and Ali’s brother, Muntadhir. This latter relationship has shifted from the first book and although Mundahir has been loyal to the family name, it is clear that Ali exhibits characteristics that would make him the better leader, something that does not go unnoticed by their father and which sows even more animosity between the brothers.

Dara has always been my favorite in this series. His life has been devoted to service, both voluntarily and compulsory. His connection with Nahri was completely unexpected and ultimately led to him being severed from her. Dara’s greatest strength is his loyalty but it’s also his greatest weakness. He’s been used over and over again as someone else’s weapon and though he may want to escape from the endless battles, he’s still willing to sacrifice freedom for someone else’s cause. As complex as these leads are, Chakraborty still infuses just as much intricacy into her secondary characters. I can’t think of a single flat character and continually marvel at how well Chakraborty juggles all of these different personalities in a consistent and compelling way.

The Kingdom of Copper is full of political machinations, dangerous secrets, and flawed characters whose foolhardy beliefs may spell doom for them all. This sequel is can’t-miss and I am counting down the days until we get the finale.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)