ARC Review: Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova

Title: Bruja Born
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas, #2
Pages: 352
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: June 5th 2018
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

      “Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.
      Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.
      Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…”

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In Bruja Born, Zoraida Córdova reintroduces readers to the Mortiz sisters and her world of witches. When Alex Mortiz cast a spell to take away her power, she inadvertently sent her entire family to Los Lagos, a dangerous in-between realm. While Alex was able to save her family, she could never foresee just how much her world would change. In Bruja Born, Alex’s older sister Lula takes center stage. While Alex is learning to accept who she is as an encantrix, an all-powerful bruja, Lula is trying to find her way back to who she was before Los Lagos. When Maks, Lula’s boyfriend and the only person who makes her feel normal, is taken from her, Lula does everything she can to bring him back. Unfortunately for Lula, in her quest to save Maks, her actions will disrupt the very balance of life and death, and in the end, Lula will have to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to right her wrongs.

As much as I enjoyed Alex in Labyrinth Lost, I actually think I relate more to Lula. Before I had finished the first chapter, I was fully invested in Lula’s story. There is something incredibly fragile about her, but the strength and determination underneath is never sacrificed for this fragility. Lula was a character flawed from the very beginning. She makes rash decisions because she is a character driven by emotion. Though her journey has her meeting the Lady de la Muerta, the goddess of death, and facing off against zombie-like creatures, ultimately Lula’s story is internal. I don’t want to give too much away but there is one moment at the end where it felt that Lula had finally taken back control of her life and she was able to see how strong and valuable she was. It made me want to cheer out loud. Watching Lula struggle between being the girl she used to be and the one who emerged from Los Lagos is heartbreaking, but in the end, her story manages to be incredibly hopeful.

I want to touch on how much I enjoy the relationship between the Mortiz sisters. At the beginning of the novel, Lula harbors a lot of resentment toward Alex and Alex, who recognizes that Lula has changed, blames herself. Though tension and anger are always present, underneath it all is love. Alex and their younger sister Rose have done their best to take care of their older sister. While the Mortiz household has be disrupted by the return of their missing father, these three have always had each other. In the end, these sisters would do anything for each other and it’s this relationship that is at the heart of this series. I feel like we get to see this even more in this sequel and after getting to know Rose better, I am really looking forward to her novel.

In Bruja Born, the dead live and the living get their hearts carved out, both metaphorically and literally. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the Mortiz sisters and following them on their witchy journey, you’re missing out.

4/5

★★★★

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ARC Reviews: Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez

Title: Sweet Black Waves
Author: Kristina Pérez
Series: Sweet Black Waves, #1
Pages: 448
Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: June 5th 2018
**I received a free eARC of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Two proud kingdoms stand on opposite shores, with only a bloody history between them.
      As best friend and lady-in-waiting to the princess, Branwen is guided by two principles: devotion to her homeland and hatred for the raiders who killed her parents. When she unknowingly saves the life of her enemy, he awakens her ancient healing magic and opens her heart. Branwen begins to dream of peace, but the princess she serves is not so easily convinced. Fighting for what’s right, even as her powers grow beyond her control, will set Branwen against both her best friend and the only man she’s ever loved.
      Inspired by the star-crossed tale of Tristan and Eseult, this is the story of the legend’s true heroine: Branwen. For fans of Graceling and The Mists of Avalon, this is the first book of a lush fantasy trilogy about warring countries, family secrets, and forbidden romance.”

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Kristina Pérez’s Sweet Black Waves promised to combine a whirlwind romance and breathtaking magic in her novel inspired by Tristan and Eseult. Unfortunately, the romance was barely tolerable and the magical elements did not come into play until the latter part of the novel, but by this time, I had already lost interest in the characters. As a lady’s maid to the princess of Iveriu, Branwen knows all about duty to the crown and her kingdom. She’s grown up hating Kernyv, a rival kingdom, whose people are responsible for the death of Branwen’s parents. When Branwen saves the life of a mysterious stranger, she has no idea that her one act of kindness will change the course of her life and her kingdom’s.

There are a lot of elements of the novel that should have worked for me, but ultimately didn’t. At the heart of Sweet Black Waves is Branwen’s relationship with her cousin Essy, the princess of Iveriu. Though Branwen’s role is to serve Essy, they have grown up as close as sisters. These two characters could not be more different and while I wanted to appreciate each for their strengths and weakness, there were aspects to both of these characters that I could not stand. Essy has never fully embraced all the responsibilities that come with being the next queen on Iveriu. She is at times frivolous and selfish. I never felt that she fully appreciated Branwen and when it came to Branwen, it felt like she would let Essy get away with everything. For most of the novel, this relationship comes across as very one-sided where Branwen would give and give and Essy would take without a second thought. I really wanted to see these two build one another up and help one another grow because it’s these kind of female relationships that I like seeing.

My least favorite aspect of the novel was the romance. If you hate insta-love, stay far away from this novel. Branwen jumps from hating the mysterious man she rescues because he’s from Kernyv to wondering if he will notice her in a pretty dress after a single encounter. Still, I might have been able to get past this if we as readers had gotten the chance to see these two get to know one another. There is, however, a time jump of “weeks” that prevents this. I really wish I could have gotten to know both characters through these off-the-page interactions and I’m sure I would have been more invested in their relationship as well. Later when the novel hinges on Branwen’s feelings for a Kernyvmen and how she struggles to reconcile this with her duty to her kingdom, it was hard for me to empathize with her sense of longing and anxiousness.

It took far too long for magic to make a concrete appearance in the novel. There is a really interesting religious element to this world that is present throughout. Branwen talks of the Old Ones and the Otherworld; the queen herself has a tie to this other realm that influences how the kingdom interacts with outsiders. I found this really interesting and wished the novel had delved in deeper and sooner. By the time Branwen discovers that she may have abilities that far exceed the healing skills her aunt has taught her, I had already lost interest in the novel. In the end, not even the twist could elicit any kind of emotional response from me, save vague amusement.

1/5

Mini Reviews: The Fifth Season + The Poet X

MiniThis week’s set of mini-reviews are two of the most impressive reads I’ve picked up this year. N.K. Jemisin astounds me with her world-building and Elizabeth Acevedo punched me in the gut with her poetry. If you have not picked up either of these authors, you must do so immediately. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth, #1
Pages: 468
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 4th 2015 

      “THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.
      Three terrible things happen in a single day.
      Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
      But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.
      She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.”

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“You aren’t just inflicting death on your fellow villagers, of course. A bird perched on a nearby fence falls over frozen, too. The grass crisps, the ground grows hard, and the air hisses and howls as moisture and density is snatched from its substance…but no one has ever mourned earthworms.”

N.K. Jemisin’s first novel, The Fifth Season, in The Broken Earth series is an example of masterful and innovative storytelling that spellbinds readers from start to finish. This is the first time that I’ve read a book where a substantial portion of the novel is written in second person. While I wasn’t sure this would work, especially considering the other two perspectives included in the novel are told in third person, I quickly fell in step with this point of view. Jemisin has a way of weaving all three perspectives into one cohestive story that had me wanting to turn back to the beginning and experience the whole thing over again. Jemisin’s world is complex and I’m in awe of how much information she is able to provide the reader in this first book without it feeling overwhelming. Essun is the first character we are introduced to and we’re immediately put in her shoes as a mother who has just discovered her child has been killed. The young Damaya offers a more naive perspective and through her chapters, her and readers’ disillusionment about the world is shattered. Syenite puts readers right in the middle of a powerful, but troubling institution and it is here where readers learn the full scope of terror for people living in this world. I loved how there are different types of people and beings (for lack of a better term) in this world that all have distinct functions and whose relationships with one another help shape this world. The Fifth Season launches readers into a world that is both fascinating and frightening with characters that are impossible to forget. Special shout out to Annemieke @ A Dance With Books for the great buddy read.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
      Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
      But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
      So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
       Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.”

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“Late into the night I write and
the pages of my notebook swell
from all the words I’ve pressed onto them.
It almost feels like
the more I bruise the page
the quicker something inside me heals.”

Elizabeth Acevedo stuns with her debut novel The Poet X. Xiomara is easily one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. For fifteen-year old Xiomara, having strangers and most especially men, draw conclusions about her based on her body is nothing new. She’s developed a thick skin because she knows the only one who will fight for her is herself. Hardly one to express herself openly, Xiomara is just beginning to find her voice in the poetry she writes. Her relationship with her parents is complicated. There is unspoken resentment and anger. Xiomara is trying to discover who she is and what she believes while also trying to please her devout mother. Her father is physically present, but emotionally distant. Her twin, Xavier, whom she’s always been closed to, is slowly pulling away, dealing with his own battles. Acedvedo’s writing is honest and poignant. With each page turned, I grew more and more invested in Xiomara’s story. Her journey to find her voice in a world that wishes to suppress it is both beautiful and devastating. Acevedo’s novel in verse put me through a range of emotions from happiness to heartbreak and in the end left me feeling deeply moved.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Title: To Kill a Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Series: N/A
Pages: 342
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
      The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?”

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“I fall to the floor and claw the sand so deeply that my fingers stab a rock and it cleaves my nail clean off. I am breathless, heaving in great gasps of water and then choking it back up moments later. I think I might be drowning, and I laugh at the thought.”

Alexandra Christo’s debut To Kill a Kingdom delights with its sharp dialogue and ever-expanding world. Admired throughout the ocean kingdom of Keto and feared throughout the human kingdoms above, Lira has made a reputation for herself as the most ferocious siren, stealing the hearts of human princes and striking fear into their subjects. The only one not impressed is Lira’s mother, the Sea Queen herself. When Lira’s disobedience goes too far, the Sea Queen punishes Lira by making her human and ordering her to take the heart of the prince who has spent years trying to hunt down the infamous Princes’ Bane, Lira herself. Prince Elian is more pirate than prince. Seeking adventure over power, Elian captains his own ship in search of the deadly creatures known as sirens in hopes of safeguarding the human world. When Lira meets Elian face-to-face, she discovers they have more in common than she ever thought possible.

The novel introduces sirens as unfeeling and driven by their need for power. No one personifies this more than the Sea Queen. Her interactions with Lira show just how callous she can be. Lira has been raised to hunt humans, to live up to the expectations of her mother, and to one day take over as Sea Queen. The novel is slow in revealing what is underneath the surface with Lira, but I actually ended up appreciating this. Seeing Lira as both a ferocious hunter and a marooned siren desperate to change the fate of her people gave me a more complete picture of who she is and an appreciation of every facet. I really liked that author doesn’t allow Lira to be both deadly as a siren and a human, but the character must learn to lean on different strengths. I don’t think Lira’s greatest fear is being human, but rather being powerless. Though it takes her time to fully understand her mother’s abuse of power, it is Lira’s lack of strength as a human that helps her see how she’s been manipulated and coerced into becoming something she is not.

Elian is an easier character to understand, but I don’t believe this makes him any less complex. He is heir to a rich kingdom and has want of nothing, but is far too anxious and adventurous for such a calling. As captain of the Saad, Elian has been granted freedom from the confines of princehood and proven that the respect his crew shows has been earned and is not just a result of his title. Smart and sometimes underhanded when necessary, Elian and his crew have made a name for themselves as siren hunters. In order to rid the world of the Sea Queen’s army of deadly sirens, Elian puts all his hope in a mythical weapon said to make its wielder just as powerful as the Sea Witch. His journey brings him in contact with the mysterious Lira. Reason says he cannot trust her, but she may be the key to finding the weapon he so desperately needs.

One of the highlights of the novel is this journey Elian and his crew make. Readers are introduced to various kingdoms with their own personalities. It’s here that Christo’s writing shines brightest. Her descriptions are vivid and beautiful and made me as a reader want to explore this world more. That being said, we see Lira’s kingdom the least which left me a little disappointed. I would be remiss not mention the chemistry between the two leads. Their biting remarks to one other were entertaining and fun, and the rapport between the two was probably my favorite part about the novel.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Title: Undead Girl Gang
Author: Lily Anderson
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: May 8th 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through Penguin’s First to Read program which does not influence my review*

      “Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
      So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
      Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.”

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In Undead Girl Gang, Lily Anderson takes four very different female characters and has them challenge one another, coalescing in an unlikely and bittersweet friendship. Mila Flores is used to being the outsider. She’s one of only two practicing Wiccan witches at her school and one of the few POC students in the very small and very white town of Cross Creek. Things couldn’t possibly get anymore isolating, that is until her best friend’s body is found in a creek. Everyone but Mila is convinced Riley died by suicide. Wracked by grief, Mila does the only thing that makes sense to her, she casts a spell to bring her dead best friend back. The spell doesn’t exactly go as planned and Mila suddenly finds herself the caregiver of not one, but three dead girls. When Mila discovers their deaths may all be linked, the four girls set off on a mission to solve their murders while also hiding their resurrection from the rest of town. Easier said than done.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is how Anderson handles her female character. Mila, Riley, June, and Dayton are deeply flawed characters. Mila has never been the most friendly and she likes it that way. It’s a way to protect herself, but she doesn’t bother to make an effort even with people who could be her friend. Riley is in many ways selfish and needs to know she is more capable than her friend Mila. This becomes apparent when she comes back to life only to discover that Mila managed to work magic when she never could. June and Dayton can only be described as mean girls. They never missed on opportunity to make Mila and Riley feel like outsiders. Though Dayton is more clueless in her cruelty, this doesn’t excuse her. June’s sense of entitlement is without parallel, her wrath like no other. Despite these shortcomings, Anderson still manages to make these characters sympathetic. They are more than their ugly aspects and by the end of the novel, I felt the need to gather them all in my arms and protect them.

Solving these girls’ murders is easier said than done. Riley, June, and Dayton may have risen from their graves, but they aren’t exactly all intact. For one, if they are too far away from Mila, their rotting corpses become impossible to hide. For another, their memories are all a bit fuzzy. None of them remember what led to their deaths. I found myself guessing pretty early on who I believed was responsible and I’m actually happy to say that I was wrong. The reveal ended up being surprising and really impactful to me as a reader.

Undead Girl Gang is just as much a comedy as it is a mystery. Anderson once again shines with her wry humor, her characters feel real even when they’re dead, and the unabashed openness of her protagonist makes you root for Mila from beginning to end.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: A Dash of Trouble + Pitch Dark

MiniToday I have two immensely different mini-reviews for you, but both are by Latina authors, so it kind of makes sense that I’ve paired them together? Yeah, let’s go with that. Anna Meriano’s A Dash of Trouble was so charming that I already have plans to purchase it for my niece come Christmas and I enjoyed Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark so much, I might have to buy for myself soon. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: A Dash of Trouble
Author: Anna Meriano
Series: Love Sugar Magic, #1
Pages: 320
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Release Date: January 2nd 2018 

      “Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.
      Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

      Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.
      And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?”

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“They all had sticky smiles on their faces. Leo licked cinnamon sugar off her fingers and smiled too, but her thoughts kept wandering to the recipe book under her bed. She didn’t know what was worse, the guilty feeling of a secret or the impatience of wanting to try her next spell.”

Anna Meriano’s debut middle grade novel A Dash of Trouble is sweet, magical, and an utter delight. Eleven-year-old Leonora “Leo” Lograño just wants to be treated like her older sisters. But as the youngest of five daughters, Leo is often kept out of the loop. She also struggles to feel included when she grew up without speaking Spanish and everyone else in her family is either fluent or learning. As this year’s Día de Muertos celebration is approaching, Leo is determined more than ever to not be left out, but her curiosity leads her to a family secret that changes everything. The women on her mother’s side of the family are all brujas, witches with individual gifts from conjuring objects out of thin air to communicating with the dead. Leo is ecstatic, but she must keep her new knowledge a secret because like everything else, her family thinks she’s too young to learn about magic. In secret, Leo begins working spells to help her best friend Caroline, but it all starts to fall apart when her spells don’t go quite as planned. Now Leo must figure out how to fix her out of control magic without anyone in her family finding out. Leo is such an earnest character who I could not help but love. She wants more than anything to not be treated as a child and while her decisions aren’t always wise, her motivation comes from a good place. I loved all the different dynamics between Leo and her sisters and could picture each so clearly. Meriano includes real recipes in her novel (minus the magic) that are perfect for young readers to follow (with adult supervision) and hopefully helps bring this heartfelt and funny novel to life.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Pitch Dark
Author: Courtney Alameda
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “Tuck has been in stasis on the USS John Muir, a ship that houses Earth’s most valued artifacts—its natural resources. Parks and mountains are preserved in space.
      Laura belongs to a shipraiding family, who are funded by a group used to getting what they want. And they want what’s on the Muir.
      Tuck and Laura didn’t bargain on working together, or battling mutant aliens who use sound to kill. But their plan is the only hope for their crews, their families, and themselves.
      In space, nobody can hear you scream . . . but on the John Muir, the screams are the last thing you’ll hear.”

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“He groans, and the weight of his voice hits my temple, physical as a fist. Pain explodes from the crown of my head to my cheekbone. My nose cracks. Blood faucets from my left nostril, splattering over my mouth and chin.”

Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark takes the intricacies of science-fiction and combines it with all the thrills of a horror story in a novel that grabs readers from page one and doesn’t let go. Alameda’s two leads, Laura Cruz and Tuck Morgan, are both capable characters on their own, but they also make an excellent team and I loved the fact that they both had room to shine despite this fact. I was really impressed by the amount of detail that went into this novel from the descriptions of spaceships like the John Muir to the world-building. One of the novel’s drawbacks, however, is the time-frame. The events of the novel occur very quickly making the development of a connection between characters feel a little hasty. Still, it was hard not to fall in love with Pitch Dark‘s characters and feel the excitement of the story. I also loved the fact that Pitch Dark is a multi-layered novel that also addresses humane nature, racism, and the politics of written history. I also want to say that if you get a chance, read Alameda’s Author’s Note at the end as it really resonated with me.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★