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)

Mini-Reviews: Blazewrath Games [ARC review] + Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

I have been reading so much over the last couple of months that I have only had time to write snapshot and mini-reviews. I miss writing full reviews, so I am hoping this month I can get back to doing so. Today, I have two reviews of books by Latinx authors, one of which comes out tomorrow!

Title: Blazewrath Games
Author: Amparo Ortiz
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Page Street Books
Release Date: October 6th 2020

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

TW: violence, mention of domestic violence

      “How to Train Your Dragon meets Quidditch through the Ages in this debut fantasy, set in an alternate contemporary world, in which dragons and their riders compete in an international sports tournament.
      Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
      But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.”

swirl (2)Amparo Ortiz’s YA debut, Blazewrath Games, is an utter delight, a captivating fantasy from start to finish. Lana Torres has one dream, to become the Runner for the Puerto Rican team in the Blazewrath World Cup, a game played with dragons and their riders. After a dangerous brush with death in which Lana confronts a follower of the notorious Sire, a man who was once a dragon, Lana misses her chance at tryouts. But when the president of the International Blazewrath Federation takes notice, Lana is given another chance to join the Puerto Rican team. As Lana and her new team train together, news of the Sire conducting raids on dragon sanctuaries begins to circulate. Soon Lana finds herself caught in another game as the Sire threatens violence if the Cup is not canceled; meanwhile, the people Lana is supposed to trust the most are calling for the Cup to go on as planned. Ortiz’s has built such a complex world with Blazewrath Games. I enjoyed every time we as readers got to see another layer and loved how each new fact built on the last. Dragons aren’t the only magical beings, there are also witches and wizards. One of my favorite side characters was Lana’s best friend, Samira, who is a copper-wand witch and what she lacks in magical skill she makes up for in drive. It was really interesting to explore different polarizing views in this world and how they  influenced both the heroes and villains of the story. Blazewrath Games is a celebration of camaraderie and belonging, with enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

 

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: Paola Santiago, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: August 4th 2020

TW: mentions of deportation

      “Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.
    Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
      Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.”

swirl (2)

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Middle Grade debut, Paola Santiago and the Rivers of Tears, takes inspiration from Mexican-American folklore as the young Paola Santiago discovers that all the fantastic stories her mom has been telling her about since she was small are in fact real. Pao knows the world is best explained through science, which is why her mother’s stories about supernatural beings like La Llorona seem so unbelievable. That is until Emma, one of her best friends goes missing. Pao begins to have strange dreams and when she discovers the world is not what she thought it was, she sets out on a quest with her friend Dante to save Emma. Pao is an easy character to like, she is ruled by her head but has to reevaluate everything she believes when the supernatural becomes impossible to deny. She is also trying to figure out all the new and messy feelings of her first crush. The most compelling relationship in the novel is Pao’s relationship with her mother. There is a divide between the two, not just because of their differing beliefs, but because Pao feels that she has to be the adult, the one who worries about things like rent while her mom is stuck in a make-believe world. I really wish we explored the latter part of this relationship more. Pao has some very strong feelings that I don’t think were addressed enough. While I enjoyed this debut overall, I do think it had issues with pacing and considering that it dragged in places, could have been shorter. Still, I will be checking out the sequel to find out what other adventures Paola finds herself in.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)