Mini-Reviews (ARC edition): The Charmed List + The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Alright, friends, this is my last post before officially announcing my hiatus. I stuck around longer than I planned just so I could post these reviews. I had two very different experiences with these books, but that’s perfectly okay, not every book is for every reader. I am actually really looking forward to returning to mood reading after picking these up. I love ARCs, but sometimes I’m just craving something else.

Title: The Charmed List Author: Julie Abe Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Wednesday Books Release Date: July 5th 2022

TW: parental death, cancer **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"After spending most of high school as the quiet girl, Ellie Kobata is ready to take some risks and have a life-changing summer, starting with her Anti-Wallflower List—thirteen items she’s going to check off one by one. She’s looking forward to riding rollercoasters, making her art Instagram public (maybe), and going on an epic road-trip with her best friend Lia. But when number four on Ellie’s list goes horribly wrong—revenge on Jack Yasuda—she’s certain her summer has gone from charmed to cursed. Instead of a road trip with Lia, Ellie finds herself stuck in a car with Jack driving to a magical convention. But as Ellie and Jack travel down the coast of California, number thirteen on her list—fall in love—may be happening without her realizing it. In The Charmed List, Julie Abe sweeps readers away to a secret magical world, complete with cupcakes and tea with added sparks of joy, and an enchanted cottage where you can dance under the stars."

Julie Abe builds an interesting magical world with The Charmed list that didn’t quite mesh with its main storyline, making the novel feel off-balance. Ellie Kobata has big plans for summer, including taking a road trip with her best friend, Lia, and checking off items from her “Anti-Wallflower List.” Ellie is determined to be more outgoing and less of a background character. When a prank on Jack, her mortal enemy and former best friend, goes wrong, all of Ellie’s plans go down the drain. As punishment, she is forced to go on the road trip for her family’s tea shop with Jack. Ellie is part of a small community of sorcerers who use their magic to put a little good into the world. On its surface this magical world had its charm, but I never felt like it really enhanced the plot. Take magic out of this story and unfortunately nothing would have been lost. Ellie is also a hard character to sympathize with. Ellie hates Jack and never misses an opportunity to say so. This began to get really repetitive and when given context, still didn’t feel justified. Ellie often comes across as very mean and while mild annoyance would make sense, her vitriol is grating. I was deeply disturbed by a particular scene in which Ellie decides to torment Jack with fake mice, knowing how scared he is of them. This felt particularly cruel when it’s further explained that the reason Jack is afraid of them is because of stories told to him by his great-grandmother about being imprisoned in an internment camp and being overrun by mice every night. So many characters in this one have these over-the-top reactions that only made sense in the shallowest of ways. For the most part, these reactions felt forced and a way to drive the plot forward without feeling like they actually made sense. Even when these characters did reach an understanding of each other, it felt compulsory rather than earned. Less to do with character development and more to do with steering these characters toward a desirable ending. Overall, Julie Abe’s The Charmed List didn’t have any real emotional payoff and felt very unsatisfying.

★ ★
(2/5)


Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: July 19th 2022

TW: racism, colorism, suicide, alcoholism, abuse **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico. Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman. Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers. The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities. All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite. THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey."

Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves science-fiction and historical fiction seamlessly with her newest novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Carlota Moreau has only known the world of Yaxaktun, a ranch deep in the forest of the Yucatán Peninsula. Her father has found a way to keep her childhood sickness at bay, but in order to do so, he has taken on an impossible feat. Dr. Moreau has dedicated himself to researching how the genetics of animals can help cure human illnesses. In exchange for funding, Moreau has learned how to create animal-human hybrids in order to provide workers for his patron, Hernando Lizalde. When an outsider arrives, the neatly cultivated world of Yaxaktun begins to crack. Carlota must confront the facade she’s been holding on to about her father, her home, and about herself. Carlota loves her home and can’t imagine living beyond its borders. She has been raised to show deference to her father, to always show respect and never to challenge him. At the beginning of the novel she is young and naive. She has very little understanding of how the outside world works and is unable to see that her father has essentially trapped her at Yaxaktun as he is the only one who is able to treat her illness. Slowly Carlota begins to recognize that her world is not as perfect as she once thought. Surrounded by men with power, Carlota must find the strength within herself and forge her own path forward or be someone else’s pawn for the rest of her life. Aside from Carlota, we are also provided with Montgomery’s POV. As Yaxaktun’s mayordomo, Montgomery is essentially in charge of running the ranch. Montgomery had been aimless for years, racking up debt and falling deeper into alcoholism before falling even deeper into debt to Lizalde, Yaxaktun’s patron. In order to work off his debt, he agrees to work for Dr. Moreau. Life has robbed Montgomery of hope and enthusiasm. He sees in Carlota the parts of himself that have been snuffed out. Self-pity and jealousy rage inside him, making him bitter. He is plagued by his own inaction and cowardice, but when Carlota and the hybrids are threatened, he begins to find something to fight for. Moreau rules over Yaxaktun with little empathy. He is more interested in perfecting his hybrids than recognizing their personhood. He has fashioned himself into a god, using religion to keep those under him in check. Unlike Dr. Moreau, both Carlota and Montgomery have spent more personal time with the hybrids. They have become friends and even family. They worry for their well-being, putting them in direct conflict with Moreau and those even more powerful than he. Though Yaxaktun feels like its own little world, a familiar place meant to be preserved, it is also a kind of prison to many of the characters and each must decide exactly how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to escape. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau tells an evocative and dangerous tale, with a vivid historical backdrop and fully-fleshed out characters.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Mini-Reviews: 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)