Snapshot (ARC) Review: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: September 1st 2020

TW: misgendering, transphobia, death of a parent, child abuse

      “Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
      When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
      However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”

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Yadriel – Yadriel is part of a brujx community, one that is often rigid in its practices. As a result, Yadiel, a trans teen, has never had his own quices ceremony in which he would pledge himself to Lady Death and serve her as a brujo. His mother was always supportive of him, but her passing left him feeling marooned. Yadriel, with the help of his cousin Maritza, defies his father, leader of the East LA brujx, and performs his own ceremony. Despite being acknowledged by Lady Death, Yadriel still isn’t sure it’s enough to prove to his father and the rest of the brujx community that he is a brujo. He’s the kind of character who sets up high expectations for himself in the name of proving others wrong when it’s his own inner doubts that he needs to overcome.

Julian – Most people’s first impression of Julian is that he’s a delinquent who is on a path to nowhere. When Yadriel accidentally summons Julian’s spirit, all he knows about him are the rumors. But it quickly becomes apparent that Julian is much more. He’s stubborn and obnoxious, but also perceptive and caring. He pushes Yadriel to see beyond the box he has put himself in. Julian’s first concern when learning he is dead are his friends, who are more like family to him. Many of whom are living on the streets because they do not have a safe place to go back to. The novel touches on houseless youth, the way they are perceived and the lack of concern shown by authorities when they go missing.

Trans character in a gender-based magical system – I love seeing more books with gender-based magical systems acknowledging those who are transgender and/or nonbinary. Cemetery Boys does such a wonderful job of centering a trans character and upholding their identity within the established system.

Latinx cultures mixed with magic – I am in love with the magical system in this book. Thomas incorporates a number of Latinx cultures in this brujx community which made me really happy to see. Yadriel himself is from a multicultural Latinx family. His mother’s family is Mexican and his father is Cuban. Yadriel is always surrounded by family, they are always in each other’s business and sometimes you just can’t escape them. There are always cousins, aunts, and uncles filling their house. I loved it.

The writing – It is so easy to fall in love with this book and one of the reasons is the writing. Thomas’s writing is so descriptive, I felt immediately transported to these places. There are no flat minor characters and appreciated that every detail we are given about them helped flesh them out.

The humor – One of my favorite things about Cemetery Boys is how much humor Thomas infuses into his characters. The unexpected snark from several of the characters had me laughing out loud throughout the novel. If it wasn’t Yadriel and Maritza snide remarks with one another then it was Julian and Yadriel’s snarky and often flirtatious exchanges, which I just ate up.

Nothing to note.

Aidan Thomas’s Cemetery Boys is a nearly flawless paranormal debut that celebrates Latinx cultures with characters who are an absolute delight. Crossing my fingers we get a sequel to this one sometime in the future.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

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)

Blog Tour: Lobizona by Romina Garber (ARC Review)

I am so excited to be a part of the Lobizona Blog Tour for Wednesday Books! I cannot wait for everyone to meet Manu and be introduced to Romina Garber’s newest universe. It’s just as dynamic and vibrant as the cover and can we just take a moment to appreciate how beautiful the cover is? I could stare at it forever. Enjoy my arc review of this one below!

Title: Lobizona
Author: Romina Garber
Series: Wolves of No World, #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: August 4th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

      “Some people ARE illegal.
      Lobizonas do NOT exist.
      Both of these statements are false.

      Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
      Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
      Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
      As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.”

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Romina Garber’s Lobizona is energetic, compulsory read that centers real-world issues in a fantasy setting that’s hard to put down. Manu has lived on the outskirts of society for as long as she can remember. As undocumented immigrants, Manu and her mother have had to build a life for themselves around the confines of their immigration status while also outrunning her father’s criminal family who doesn’t know Manu exists. Manu dreams of finding a place to belong, but that feels nearly impossible when she isn’t normal no matter how much she wants to be. Then Manu and her mother’s luck runs out and a series of events leads Manu to discover her mother has been keeping secrets. When ICE detains her mother, Manu is left on her own, trying to understand why her mother has been lying to her for years. Her questions lead her to a mysterious school and a world full of werewolves and witches. Here Manu discovers the truth of her origins and the truth about the father she thought was dead.

Manu has spent her entire life hiding a part of herself. She’s never felt the kind of freedom most citizens take for granted. Her guard is always up and she knows one mistake could mean deportation for her and her mother. Friends have never been an option for her, because beside her immigration status, she is also hiding the fact that she inherited her father’s eyes. Not unusal in itself, but considering they are yellow and her pupils are stars, definitely something that would be alarming to others. Manu knows she’s different, but she’s only been given half truths from her mother and unable to fully understand why every full moon she is struck with debilitating pain from her menstrual cycle, so severe that she must be sedated. When she discovers that werewolves and witches exist, her world opens up but she is still forced to hide parts of herself. Lobizona is very much about Manu claiming her identity, fully embracing herself, and declaring to the world that she exists and that she matters.

I loved the world building in Lobizona. Latinx fantasy is still something that feels novel. Garber builds a world rooted in Argentine folklore. Werewolves and witches exist and are called Septemis, but are limited to a system that upholds the gender binary and patriarchy. Manu’s very existence challenges these ideas. The Septimus have kept their world separate from humans and there is a tendency to look down on humanity as less than themselves. There’s an emphasis on procreation which doesn’t allow Septimus to have children with humans. There is also a side f/f relationship which challenged many of these ideas that wish we had a chance to explore more of, but I am looking forward to seeing this couple in the sequel.

Manu’s strongest relationship is with her mother. She’s been her guiding light, the one person who sees all of her and accepts her. When Manu discovers her mother has been lying to her for years, it shakes her to her core. She’s always had her mother to help her navigate the world and suddenly she doesn’t anymore. At El Laberinto, a hidden school for Septimus, Manu discovers that she is no longer alone. These teens are just like her and even though she is still trying to find her footing in this new world, just being a part of a group that accepts her is new and heartening. Manu develops a connection with the werewolf Tiago, but this is made complicated by his relationship with another student. I loved Manu’s friendship with the kind Saysa and the prickly Catalina. Saysa becomes the first person to accept her and though her relationship with Catalina is a bit more rocky, I loved how their relationship ended up feeling earned.

Romina Garber’s Lobizona is an action-packed fantasy that takes readers on a wild ride with a protagonist you can’t help but root for.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


What People Are Saying:

“With vivid characters that take on a life of their own, beautiful details that peel back the curtain on Romina’s Argentinian heritage, and cutting prose that shines a light on the difficulties of being the ‘other’ in America today, Romina Garber crafts a timely tale of identity and adventure that every teenager should read.”–Tomi Adeyemi New York Times bestselling author of Children of Blood and Bone

“Romina Garber has created an enthralling young adult fantasy led by an unforgettable Latinx character Manu. In Manu we find a young girl who not only must contend with the injustice of being undocumented she also discovers a hidden world that may explain her very existence. I fell in love with this world where wolves, witches and magic thrives, all in a rich Latinx setting!” –Lilliam Rivera, author of Dealing in Dreams and The Education of Margot Sanchez

ROMINA GARBER (pen name Romina Russell) is a New York Times and international bestselling author. Originally from Argentina, she landed her first writing gig as a teen—a weekly column for the Miami Herald that was later nationally syndicated—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her books include Lobizona. When she’s not working on a novel, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

Follow Romina: Twitter: @RominaRussell // Instagram: @RominaGarber

Click here to buy Lobizona now!

ARC August 2020: The TBR

I have tons of ARCs that I would really like to get to this month and thought, why not join ARC August to give myself a little motivation? ARC August was created and is hosted by Octavia and Shelly @ Read. Sleep. Repeat. This TBR contains more books than I have been getting to in a month, but I am crossing my fingers that some kind of reading god possesses me and I check off most of these as a result. You might notice that all these books are by Latinx authors and that’s because I just can’t help it, I get excited about so many. Covers are linked to Goodreads.

The TBR:

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1. Wayward Witch by Zoraida Córdova – I am reading this right now and love Rose’s voice and the world Zoraida has created.

2. Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera – A Orpheus and Eurydice retelling with Afro-Latinx characters? Yes please. I requested this one from NetGalley the moment it was available.

3. Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez – I am so excited to be a part of the blog tour for this one in September. This one is about an Argentinian soccer player.

4. Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro – I have to tell myself to be patient when it comes to this one because I am so excited and have come close to throwing my whole TBR out the window so I can get to this one already. We don’t get a lot of magical realism novels in YA and this also has horror elements **squeals in excitement**

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5. Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar – I am a huge fan of Aida’s debut The Moon Within and am really excited to read her second MG novel. She is also one of the kindest authors around and if you haven’t gotten a chance to read her stuff, I encourage you to do so.

6. Miss Meteor by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia – I kind of poured my heart out in an email and HarperTeen showed mercy on me and sent me on ARC of this one. You have not idea how excited I am for this collaboration.

7. Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz – I don’t think it’s likely that I will get to this one this month, but if I have time, I am tackling this dragon book.

Are you participating in ARC August? What’s an ARC that you are hoping to get to soon?