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)

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.”

swirl (2)

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)

Snapshot Review: Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Escaping from Houdini
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3
Pages: 437
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 18th 2018

      “Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.
      But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea.
      It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?”

swirl (2)

      “Next time the victim will be revealed in a grander fashion, one that cannot simply be thought of as a performance. Wherever he is now, he’s seething. Enraged that more people weren’t afraid of his opening act. When he strikes again, every passenger aboard this ship will be imprisoned by their fear. I guarantee he means to turn this cruise into a fantastical nightmare.

  • Audrey Rose – I’ve really enjoyed this MCs journey throughout these first three books. As she works under the direction of her uncle, a forensic scientist, she’s had to deal with sexism from her classmates and society’s stifling expectations of her as a woman. One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose as a character is she never loses her vulnerable and soft side. She’s seen a lot of violence and come face to face with murderers and though a part of her thinks it might be easier to numb herself, she never gives in.
  • The setting – I immediately fell in love with the setting for this third installment. The Moonlight Carnival is shrouded in mystery. It’s showy and shocking and its illusions make for an interesting backdrop for characters like Audrey Rose, who have so much faith in science. I also loved that this takes place on a ship, where there is no escape, further adding to the isolation and fear passengers begin to feel with each murder.
  • Thomas – One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose’s partner in crime, her equal in many ways, is how respectful he is of her. Thomas is very much in love with her but never wants to make her feel like she is obligated to be with him. I’ve enjoyed his quick wit and playfulness so much throughout the series.

  • The love triangle – My major issue with this third installment is how odd it felt for Maniscalco to introduce another love interest so late in the game. This isn’t because I think Audrey Rose shouldn’t have options should she wish it, but because it all happens so fast. Literally a week before she meets this other potential suitor, she was saying yes to marriage with Thomas. It felt like this cheapened the bond they had already developed over the course of the first two books.
  • Mephistopheles – I didn’t not like the ringmaster of the traveling carnival. My issue with his character is that personality wise if you told me all his lines were said by Thomas, I would have believed you. Their personalities were far too similar.
  • The epilogue – This is slightly spoilery, but I will avoid specifics. I did not like the epilogue because it felt like it erased everything that happened for the past 400 other pages. It patched together relationships far too easily and makes me wonder how certain dynamics will play out in the fourth. If none of the issues that arose in this third book are addressed in the fourth, I really don’t understand the direction this one took at all.


While Escaping from Houdini is my least favorite in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, it still offers an enjoyable and entertaining read.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

ARC Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: January 14th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

TW: contains a slur for Romani people

      “Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
      Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
      With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.”

swirl (2)

Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest novel, Dark and Deepest Red, is equal parts magical and horrifying as the novel shifts between two timelines where young women are caught in a never-ending dance, unable to stop. In 1518 Strasbourg, France, a fever takes hold of the residents. First it is a small group of women, fallen under a spell that compels them to dance. As the frenzy continues, some of these women begin to dance themselves to death. With each passing day, more are brought under the spell, losing themselves while their families become desperate for a cure. Lala and her aunt have done their best to blend into this small town, have hoped they have hidden their Romani heritage deep enough in order to escape persecution. But as the townspeople grow more desperate to put a stop to the sickness and find someone to blame, suspicions turn to those who’ve never quite fit in.

Five centuries later, “the glimmer” has once again fallen over the town of Briar Meadows. This strange phenomenon overcomes the town every year, bringing about both innocuous and life-changing magic. This year pairs of red shoes begin turning up, casting a kind of love magic on their wearers. For Rosella Oliva, donning these red shoes has unforeseen consequences. They take hold of her, refusing to let go, forcing her dance and putting her life in danger. The only person who might help is Emil, a boy who has done his best to tuck away the parts of himself that others in his town once whispered about. He’s closed himself off from his own history, like the story of his ancestors once being blamed for a dancing plague. But in order to help Rosella, Emil will have to reach across centuries to find the truth of what happen to those before him.

Dark and Deepest Red explores various marginalized identities and how these have influence the way characters move about the world. McLemore’s stories are always unapologetically brown and queer and this one is no exception. McLemore has a knack for forcing their characters to see beyond the surface, to splay themselves open and prod all those little things they keep hidden from the world. Much like the dancing plague, these characters have been forced into a kind of dance where they must deny a part of themselves. I loved how McLemore uses these biases and turns them on their head, allowing their characters to turn powerlessness into a moments of cunning and strength. The story is a reminder than even one small act of defiance can have a ripple effect, how one small act may not be small at all, but may have ramifications that transcend time.

Plenty of parallels can be drawn from the two timelines in Dark and Deepest Red. Lala has learned to make herself more gadjo, non-Romani, tucking parts of herself away and folding herself into the circle of young women in town who are looked upon with envy rather than suspicion. Her aunt and her have explained away their brown skin with rumors of Italian nobility. Their proximity to whiteness has become their only defense against the prejudice shown to their people throughout the region. But there is always danger in their very existence, as it is for the trans boy they took in years ago. Alifair’s almost mysterious appearance from the woods has never been fully explained, but Lala and her aunt made him family when he had none. Lala knows that while loving Alifair may always have been inevitable, her love for him might also be his downfall. Scenes between these two range from beautiful to heartbreaking and I’m always in awe of McLemore’s ability to write love stories that both devastate and uplift.

Rosella, like Lala, has discovered that in order to keep the people of Briar Meadows from treating her family as less than (at least more than they already do), she has to make herself more like the girls around her. She may not be able to hide her brown skin, but she can dress like them and talk like them. The only other person who ever understood what it was like to be othered in this town was Emil, but that was years ago when they were both children and understood their place in the world a little less. For Emil, keeping himself from his people’s history has been a way for him to protect himself. Rosella has always been a reminder of the things he was only beginning to realize as a child, that the town he called home was only ever going to look down at his family and their culture if he shared too much. I loved that their story isn’t just about each other, but about who they are individually in relation to their ethnic identities.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red fused magic and terror into an enthralling tale that will leave you breathless with its piercing truths.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)