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.”

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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)

ARC Review: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Gilded Wolves, #2
Pages: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: September 22nd 2020
**Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review**

TW: mentions of a stillbirth, suicide, child abuse

**Includes spoilers for The Gilded Wolves**

      “Returning to the dark and glamorous world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever.
      They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.
      Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
      Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.
      As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.
      A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.”

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The Silvered Serpents, sequel to The Gilded Wolves, improves on the first and once again proves that Roshani Chokshi is a master at creating unique worlds and characters you can’t help but root for. After the heart-stopping ending to the first book, Séverin and his team are no longer the tight-knit group they once were. Grief has reshaped each of them, throwing some of them together, but pushing most further apart. In his search for The Divine Lyrics, a relic rumored to give its wielder godlike power, Séverin has agreed to work with the Order. Laila has kept her reason for wanting to find the mysterious artifact a secret, but without it her life will become forfeit. The Fallen House is still on the loose, still hoping to find The Divine Lyrics themselves and they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Unbeknownst to his team, Séverin has his own motivations for locating this treasure before anyone else, one that threatens to sever their friendship for good.

Ensemble casts can be tricky, but Chokshi skillfully juggles her list of characters. Each one feels wholly formed with their own backgrounds, motivations, personalities, and flaws. While the first novel spent time introducing readers to each of these characters, the second novel encourages them to explore these characters on a deeper level. One of my favorite things about this group of characters is their emotional complexity. While the loss of one of their own has impacted them all, grief has manifested itself in different ways. For Séverin, the loss of his brother has him secluding himself from the others. He is driven by his fear of not being able to protect them, but the guilt that protecting one of them cost him his brother. He has become a shadow of the person he once was and without him, the team feels fractured. The novel explores the darker side of grief where the person you were before is at odds with the person you are now.

I loved seeing characters like Zofia shine in this one. On one hand she struggles to find her place because one of her greatest fears is to be a burden. But on the other, she discovers just how valuable she is and that other people need her, maybe even more than she needs them. I really wanted a little more Hypnos in this one, but loved seeing how Chokshi explores his evolving relationship with Séverin. Hypnos isn’t quite part of the group, but very much wants to be. Standing in his way is his past with Séverin, one once full of affection but now soured with betrayal and distrust. Laila is probably my favorite character in this cast. She’s incredibly kind and thoughtful; strong and willful. While she is Séverin’s love interest, Chokshi never let’s this define Laila entirely. She is her own person with her own agency and I love how Chokshi depicts her as a woman who refuses to let her or her pain be a catalyst for another person’s growth. Enrique undergoes a different journey in this one. Probably the one character whose trust in others hasn’t been shaken, he wears his heart on his sleeve, but learns that other people are not averse to wearing masks, to using others, even those they may love.

The Silvered Serpents has some of the most vivid and lush settings. Chokshi paints a scene like no other. Her prose deserves to be savored and nothing I say here will rightful capture all her brilliance. Her words bring every new location to life and it feels that as a reader you are right in on the action with the team. The Gilded Wolves series has one of the most unique premises and The Silvered Serpents grabs you from page one and never lets go. Fans of the first will be enthralled and critics will be won over.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Blog Tour: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (ARC Review)

I’ve got a really exciting blog tour post for you today. Janella Angeles’s Where Dreams Descend is one of the most mesmerizing debuts I’ve read this year. If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, this is a must read and anyone who loves dark fantasies, you’re going to love this one too. Thank you to Wednesday Books for inviting me to this tour. Where Dreams Descend is out August 25th!

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Series: Kingdom of Cards, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: August 25th 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
      As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
      The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
      The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
      The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide.
      Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.”

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Janella Angeles enchants with her Phantom of the Opera-inspired fantasy debut Where Dreams Descend. Hellfire House is known for two things, it’s enigmatic master, Jack, and it’s beguiling showgirl, Kallia, who casts a spell nightly on her audience. But despite Kallia’s stardom, she feels stifled at Hellfire House. She wants more than applause, she wants esteem and freedom. When Kallia discover Jack has been keeping secrets from her, she runs away to the mysterious town of Glorian, where a competition for magicians is being held. Kallia knows that women are discouraged from pursuing the spotlight, but she is determined to prove that she has no equal when it comes to magic. Kallia immediately butts head with Demarco, the youngest judge who has his own reasons for coming to Glorian. When competitors begin vanishing, it becomes clear that there is a dark force in this town determined to upend the competition and no one knows who will be left standing in the end.

Kallia was born with magical abilities, has spent her life at Hellfire House under the patronage of Jack’s father before his death, then taken under Jack’s wing. Though she has spent years mastering magic, she has always felt caged. Jack’s enigmatic warnings of the outside world have discouraged her from striking out on her own. Glorian is not prepared for a magician like Kallia. She is unapologetically ambitious, not just scoffing at the rules that would prevent a woman from competing, but actively stomping on tradition at every turn. There is no challenge she is not up for, not person she is too afraid to stand up to, but this often results in a recklessness that she has not yet learned to tame. Vulnerablity does not come easy to her and neither does trust. In the course of the novel, Kallia slowly learns that forming connections is not just a liability, but that making a name for herself means little when she has no one to share it with.

Kallia relationship with Jack has always been fraught with tension. He has been the only one who has been able to challenge her magically, but so much of who he is is hidden away. There is an undeniable pull between them, but as Kallia learns, she doesn’t know if she could ever trust him. I really enjoyed Kallia’s relationship with Demarco. They both get under each other’s skin from the very beginning of their acquaintance. Demarco was once a renown magician but left the stage after a personal tragedy he likes to keep tight-lipped about. I loved the chapters from his POV and feel like we learned far more about him and his motivations compared to Jack. Like Kallia, he does not easily trust, but he can’t deny that there is something about Kallia’s unshakable confidence that draws him to her. Slowly Kallia and Demarco grow closer, but both have pasts that ultimately threaten to tear them apart.

There are so many colors and sights in Where Dreams Descend. Angeles transports readers to various settings which really capture the dark and enchanting elements of the novel. Hellfire House is mysterious and shadowy. A place of intrigue but also confining. The Conquering Circus has made its way to Glorian with its lively performers and often dangerous acts. Glorian itself feels like a shadow of what it once was. Its historical houses speak of a glorious past, perhaps waiting for someone to reclaim it. Fans of Phantom of the Opera will appreciate the various references from the chandelier and mirror imagery to the namesakes and lines from the musical.

Where Dreams Descend excels at creating an intriguing world with seductive characters and an ending that will leave readers demanding its sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

What People Are Saying:

“Janella Angeles steals the 2020 show with her fiercely imagined debut starring larger than life characters, a dangerous world alive with magic, and a dizzying dose of grab-a-fainting-couch-and-swoon-away romance!” – Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Wolves

“Where Dreams Descend is a glamorous dark gem of a tale, sparkling with romance, magic, and intrigue. Readers will be captivated by prima donna Kallia as the mystery is slowly unmasked. Bravissima!” – Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

“Lavish and opulent in a way that feels warmly familiar yet demands your attention. There are secrets upon secrets, a girl who’s boldly ambitious, and truly riveting stage magic. I didn’t want the show to stop.” – Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

“Vibrant imagery, jaw-dropping set pieces, sizzling romantic tension, and unstoppable heroine Kallia bring this ambitious debut novel to spectacular life. Fans of Caraval and The Night Circus will be delighted!” – Claire Legrand, New York Times bestselling author of Furyborn

“[A] spellbinding melody of a book, and the true magic is how Angeles puts all the best parts of an enrapturing theatrical performance onto paper and ink. From the gripping twists in the first pages all the way to the final, heartbreaking crescendo, Where Dreams Descend will surge you to your feet in a standing ovation.” – Sara Raasch, New York Times bestselling author of the Snow Like Ashes trilogy

About the Author:

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Follow Janella: Twitter – @Janella_Angeles; Instagram – @Janella_Angeles

Click here to preorder Where Dreams Descend now!

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)