Snapshot Review: Illusionary by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Illusionary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Hollow Crown, #2
Pages: 368
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: mentions of alcoholism and self-harm

**Contains Incendiary spoilers**

      “In Zoraida Córdova’s thrilling sequel to Incendiary, Renata embarks on a dangerous journey to bring justice to the kingdom — perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas.
      Reeling from betrayal at the hands of the Whispers, Renata Convida is a girl on the run. With few options and fewer allies, she’s reluctantly joined forces with none other than Prince Castian, her most infuriating and intriguing enemy. They’re united by lofty goals: find the fabled Knife of Memory, kill the ruthless King Fernando, and bring peace to the nation. Together, Ren and Castian have a chance to save everything, if only they can set aside their complex and intense feelings for each other.
      With the king’s forces on their heels at every turn, their quest across Puerto Leones and beyond leaves little room for mistakes. But the greatest danger is within Ren. The Gray, her fortress of stolen memories, has begun to crumble, threatening her grip on reality. She’ll have to control her magics–and her mind–to unlock her power and protect the Moria people once and for all.
      For years, she was wielded as weapon. Now it’s her time to fight back.”

      “We were given the power of a goddess, but we are still breakable things.”

  • Renata – Renata has been used my others her whole life. She’s been taught that her Robári abilities are dangerous, and her only value is as a weapon. Much of her agency has been taken from her. When she was young Justice Méndez manipulated her and exploited her. When she became a Whisper, she hoped she had found a place where she belonged, but the Moria rebel group never truly accepted her. In Illusionary, Renataś journey is one of self-discovery, learning to reclaim and value herself. She is able to find people who accept her for who she is, who help her in accept herself, and who trust her unequivocally.
  • Castian – If there was one thing I wanted more of in Incendiary, it was more Castian. He is probably the most puzzling and intriguing character in the first book, so I was very pleased that we as readers got to pull back the curtain and find out exactly who the Prince of Puerto Leones really is.
  • Second-love – I don’t want to give too much away, but it felt really refreshing reading a YA where someone’s first love may not be their be all end all. Renata is a different person than who she was at the beginning of the first book and as a result who she wants to be with and what she needs in a relationship has changed.
  • World-building expansion – I loved exploring Córdova’s world more in this sequel, meeting new characters, and seeing the magical system itself expand.
  • Epilogue – I can only recall one other book whose epilogue goes so far into the future. There are books that end that leave you wondering what happens next for the characters and I loved that we got to see what happens years down the road. We don’t always get that kind of closure as readers.
  • Dez’s storyline – With the first book’s revelation about Dez, I expected to see more of him in this book and felt that he deserved more page-time. Also connected to this is my desire to see more Margo. She is partially responsible for what happens to Renata at the end of Incendiary, and their reunion is a little anticlimatic considering all animus.
  • Secondary charactersIncendiary and Illusionary have some great secondary characters like Nuria and Leo, but there were a few characters that I really wanted to get to know more about and we didn’t. At the top of my list is Queen Josephine, wife of King Fernando. I feel like she would have made a great ally or enemy. It’s hard to say as we learn so little about her.

Zoraida Córdova concludes her Hollow Crown duology with Illusionary, giving Renata the space to unlearn harmful beliefs about herself as well as the means to reclaim herself as her own.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Mini-Reviews: Velvet Was the Night + The Wolf and the Woodsman

I am back from my blogging hiatus which means I am back with some reviews I wrote while on a break. I’m late with my review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, but kept reminding myself while away that it was okay to be late. It’s funny because we as bloggers internalize so many expectations for ourselves and forget that this isn’t a job or school. No one is going to punish us if we are a little late posting a review. I’ve only been book blogging for seven years and it’s finally starting to sink in that the only person who is watching to make sure I review an ARC before publication is myself. Going to sit with that one for a while. Does anyone else have a similar relationship reviewing ARCs?

Title: Velvet Was the Night Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: August 17th 2021

TW: contains a gay slur and slur for Romani people **Disclaimer: I received a copy of this ARC from the publisher which does not influence my review**

"From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a 'delicious, twisted treat for lovers of noir' about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman they’re both desperate to find.. 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger. Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents. Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart. Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint. Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest, Velvet Was the Night, is a mystery-driven noir that made me want to smoke a cigarette while reading and I don’t even smoke. Set against the backdrop of student protests in Mexico City in the 1970s, Velvet Was the Night unfolds at a leisurely pace shifting between two different POVs as characters converge on the truth behind a missing art student. Maite Jaramillo, a bored secretary whose biggest thrill is her weekly consumption of a tawdry romance comic, finds herself swept into her neighbor’s seductive world. El Elvis is nothing better than a hired thug, a member of an unofficial government-ran group tasked with quelling student activists. It’s a way to survive and nothing more. Both characters are playing parts, keeping reality at bay as best they can, but neither can hold on to their distorted and often naive view of the world. Velvet Was the Night will be enjoyed by those fond of the noir genre and those looking for sharp dialogue and antiheroes.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: The Wolf and the Woodsman Author: Ava Reid Series: N/A Pages: 448 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: racism, antisemitism, self-harm, domestic abuse

"In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered. But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother. As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all. In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant."

Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman is a stunning and dynamic fantasy with rich world-building. Évike is an outsider in her own village, without family or magic. When the Woodsmen come to take another girl as a sacrifice to their king, magicless Évike is turned over as a ruse. But the scheme is short-lived as Évike and the Woodsmen are attacked. Now Évike and the Woodsman, Bárány Gáspár, must put aside their mutual contempt if they are to survive. Reid does a phenomenal job of painting a complex world of human prejudice and the negative side of religious fervor. There is a lot of juxtaposition between different religions and cultures. We see this play out in the relationship between Évike and Gáspár, whose world-views often clash. However, as they begin to rely on one another, they also begin to see each other as more than the enemy. They have both been defined as interlopers in their own societies, but despite the cruelties they’ve endured, still have a sense of loyalty to their people. With a mercurial lead, The Wolf and the Woodsman, takes off at a swift pace and is entertaining at every turn.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Blog Tour – Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth by Chantel Acevedo

Thank you to Paola @ Love, Paola for organizing this tour for Chantel Acevedo’s Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth. Check out the tour schedule for more Muse Squad content from fellow readers here. You can also check out my review of the first book in this duology, Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, here.

Title: Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth
Author: Chantel Acevedo
Series: Muse Squad, #2
Pages: 352
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: July 6th 2021

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this tour which does not influence my review**

      “The finale of an action-packed middle grade fantasy duology about a young Cuban American girl who discovers that she’s one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Perfect for fans of The Serpent’s Secret, the Aru Shah series, and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
      Callie Martinez-Silva is finally getting the hang of this whole goddess within thing. Six months after learning she was one of the nine muses of ancient myth, she and the other junior muses are ready for new adventures. Except first Callie has to go to New York City for the summer to visit her dad, stepmom, and new baby brother.
      Then the muses get startling news: an unprecedented tenth muse has been awakened somewhere in Queens, putting Callie in the perfect position to help find her. And she’ll have help—thanks to a runaway mold problem in London, Muse Headquarters is moving to the New York Hall of Science.
      But balancing missions and family-mandated arts camp proves difficult for Callie, especially once mysterious messages from spiders (yikes!) begin to weave a tale of ancient injustice involving Callie’s campmate Ari.
      Now Callie and her friends have to make a choice: follow orders and find the tenth muse or trust that sometimes fate has other plans.”

Chantel Acevedo delivers a heartfelt sequel with Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth, the final book in her middle grade duology inspired by Greek mythology. Callie Martinez-Silva’s life changed when she discovered she is one of the nine muses, tasked with inspiring humankind. While visiting her father over the summer in NYC, Callie finds herself caught between her responsibilities as a muse and helping a new friend. Like its characters, this sequel feels a little more grown up. Callie struggles with being a good leader and whether it’s ethical to use her gift on people without their consent. Callie and her friends face even more difficult challenges in this sequel as their journey pits them against dangerous mythical creatures and cunning gods. If that wasn’t enough, Callie must adjust to being a big sister for the first time and finding where she belongs in her father’s new family. Being a muse has never been more complicated, especially when it starts affecting her relationships. Callie has to figure out how to balance and navigate two very different parts of her life. Callie also finds herself clashing with her dad more and more. Growing up to her means being given more freedom, but to her father it also means being true to your word and understanding how your actions impact those around you, lessons Callie still needs to learn. Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth captures the perils of growing up, including making difficult decisions, but also the undeniable joys of finding friends who truly understand you and discovering who you want to be.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth is available for purchase now:

Amazon

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

About the Author:
Called “a master storyteller” by Kirkus Reviews, Chantel Acevedo is the author of the novels Love and Ghost Letters, A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and The Living Infinite hailed by Booklist as a “vivid and enthralling tale of love and redemption.” Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, Acevedo’s new middle grade duology (called “Riveting and suspenseful” by School Library Journal) was published by Balzer + Bray in 2020. The sequel, MUSE SQUAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TENTH, will be published in July of 2021. She is Professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program.

Follow Chantel Acevedo: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Snapshot Review: Oculta by Maya Motayne

Title: Oculta
Author: Maya Motayne
Series: A Forgery of Magic, #2
Pages: 544
Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Release Date: April 6th 2021

TW: abuse, racism, suicide

      “After joining forces to save Castallan from an ancient magical evil, Alfie and Finn haven’t seen each other in months. Alfie is finally stepping up to his role as heir and preparing for an International Peace Summit, while Finn is traveling and reveling in her newfound freedom from Ignacio.
      That is, until she’s unexpectedly installed as the new leader of one of Castallan’s powerful crime syndicates.
      Just when Finn finds herself back in San Cristobal, Alfie’s plans are also derailed. The mysterious organization responsible for his brother’s murder has resurfaced—and their newest target is the summit. And when these events converge, Finn and Alfie are once again forced to work together to follow the assassins’ trail and preserve Castallan’s hopes for peace with Englass.
      But will they be able to stop these sinister foes before a new war threatens their kingdom?”

      “He could feel goose bumps rising on the wall, pressing against the back of his neck. It was excited to have him so close, eager for another addition to this repulsive room.”

  • Alfie – One of my favorite things about this series is the lead characters. Alfie remains one of my favorite male characters in a fantasy series. He’s softhearted, idealistic, willing to do anything for his kingdom and the people he loves. Despite the loss of his brother and his struggle to take on the responsibilities of leading a kingdom, Alfie doesn’t lose his desire to do better for his people. He sometimes falters, but he still presses on.
  • Finn – Finn thought she was free from Ignacio, the man who raised and molder her, but in Oculta she must come to terms with her inner demons that take on a familiar form. Finn is also thrust into an unfamiliar position, becoming a thief lord and in charge of one of the underground gangs. Finn is used to working by herself; her motto has always been to look after herself first. Her relationship with Alfie continues to challenge her preconceived ideas about herself and her tendency to go it alone.
  • Luka – Every scene with Luka is pure gold. Luka once again adds a bit of humor to the story. He is less diplomatic and more cheeky in how he deals with others compared to his cousin. But I love that Luka got to be more than the comedic relief in this one. He is dealing with survivor’s guilt and his new found abilities. How he deals with this adds tension between Alfie and him and it was really interesting to see their roles kind of reversed in this one.
  • ColonizationOculta brings Castallan face-to-face with its former colonizers, the Englassens. A peace summit between the two countries is meant to broker a truce, but instead has caused strife within Castallan. The people have not forgotten how Englass enslaved their ancestors, stole their language, and cut them off from magic. Alfie and his parents have sought out a dialogue in hopes of eradicating Englass’s magical caste system which currently prevents the lower class from practicing magic. Not an easy feat when Englassen royals worldview is so rooted in privileged and power.
  • Rushed ending – So much happens in the last couple of chapters of the book that at times it felt a little rushed. As a reader, I wanted a little more time to process certain revelations.
  • More Finn and la Familia – I really enjoyed Finn’s storyline with la Familia, but thought the novel could have delved deeper into this organization. Aside from one person, we don’t get to know la Familia and I think it would have served Finn’s character to see her interact with the children that Kol once employed in particular.

With Oculta, Maya Motyane explores colonization, politics, and civil unrest in a sequel that is sure to make readers scream for more with its unpredictable ending.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)