Mini-Reviews (ARC Edition): The Last Cuentista + Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Today I have a couple of mini-reviews for ARCs I recently finished. It feels kind of odd to pair these two together as they could not be more different. One is a middle-grade sci-fi and the other is an adult horror novella. But both were amazing reads and if either of these are your genre, I highly recommend them.

Title: The Last Cuentista Author: Donna Barba Higuera Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Levine Querido Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: death of a parent, eugenics

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

"Había una vez . . . There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita. But Petra's world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race. Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity's past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether. Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again? Pura Belpré Honor-winning author Donna Barba Higuera presents us with a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human."

Donna Barba Higuera’s second middle grade novel, The Last Cuentista, is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Petra Peña and her family are part of the few who have been selected to board a space ship bound for the distant planet of Sagan. With Halley’s Comet on a collision course with Earth, humanity’s only hope is to find a new home. While Petra and those like are incubated for the 380-year journey, the Monitors are tasked with watching over them. When Petra eventually wakes, she quickly discovers that something has gone terribly awry. The Collective, descendants of the Monitors, is now in control and are bent on eradicating conflict by any means necessary. In their quest to save humanity, they have become inhumane. Differences in appearance or opinion have been eliminated. Every person must serve the Collective. Petra is a strong girl with strong opinions. Molded by her grandmother’s stories, all she’s ever wanted is to be a great storyteller. It is these stories that provide her comfort as she faces off against a foe far more powerful than herself. And it is ultimately the tales she shapes herself that help lead her and others toward a better future. The Last Cuentista is a unique sci-fi, spellbinding and unforgettable. A must read for any middle grade fan.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Nothing But Blackened Teeth Author: Cassandra Khaw Series: N/A Pages: 128 Publisher: Nightfire Release Date: October 19th 2021

TW: gore, panic attacks **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

"Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists. A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends. But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart. And she gets lonely down there in the dirt."

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth simmers with tension on multiple levels beginning with its cast of characters. Cat and her friends have known each other since they were teens and have made a game out of chasing ghosts. As years have passed, however, and relationships have evolved, there is both spoken and unspoken tension between them. The ghost of relationships past is always there, along with resentment and hate, boiling just below the surface. When things begin to go awry, all bets are off and polite facades disappear, giving way to anger and chaos. The mansion the characters find themselves in is steeped in horrid tales of women buried alive year after year. Their bones have become a different kind of foundation for this mansion. The residence sits empty, waiting and wanting. As trepidation builds, the mansion feels almost sentient. It relishes the animosity building between these friends. Khaw’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, raw and haunting. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a deliciously unnerving novella infused with Japanese folklore, in which its characters and house slowly begin to unravel, revealing the enmity underneath.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Blog Tour – Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth by Chantel Acevedo

Thank you to Paola @ Love, Paola for organizing this tour for Chantel Acevedo’s Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth. Check out the tour schedule for more Muse Squad content from fellow readers here. You can also check out my review of the first book in this duology, Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, here.

Title: Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth
Author: Chantel Acevedo
Series: Muse Squad, #2
Pages: 352
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: July 6th 2021

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this tour which does not influence my review**

      “The finale of an action-packed middle grade fantasy duology about a young Cuban American girl who discovers that she’s one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Perfect for fans of The Serpent’s Secret, the Aru Shah series, and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
      Callie Martinez-Silva is finally getting the hang of this whole goddess within thing. Six months after learning she was one of the nine muses of ancient myth, she and the other junior muses are ready for new adventures. Except first Callie has to go to New York City for the summer to visit her dad, stepmom, and new baby brother.
      Then the muses get startling news: an unprecedented tenth muse has been awakened somewhere in Queens, putting Callie in the perfect position to help find her. And she’ll have help—thanks to a runaway mold problem in London, Muse Headquarters is moving to the New York Hall of Science.
      But balancing missions and family-mandated arts camp proves difficult for Callie, especially once mysterious messages from spiders (yikes!) begin to weave a tale of ancient injustice involving Callie’s campmate Ari.
      Now Callie and her friends have to make a choice: follow orders and find the tenth muse or trust that sometimes fate has other plans.”

Chantel Acevedo delivers a heartfelt sequel with Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth, the final book in her middle grade duology inspired by Greek mythology. Callie Martinez-Silva’s life changed when she discovered she is one of the nine muses, tasked with inspiring humankind. While visiting her father over the summer in NYC, Callie finds herself caught between her responsibilities as a muse and helping a new friend. Like its characters, this sequel feels a little more grown up. Callie struggles with being a good leader and whether it’s ethical to use her gift on people without their consent. Callie and her friends face even more difficult challenges in this sequel as their journey pits them against dangerous mythical creatures and cunning gods. If that wasn’t enough, Callie must adjust to being a big sister for the first time and finding where she belongs in her father’s new family. Being a muse has never been more complicated, especially when it starts affecting her relationships. Callie has to figure out how to balance and navigate two very different parts of her life. Callie also finds herself clashing with her dad more and more. Growing up to her means being given more freedom, but to her father it also means being true to your word and understanding how your actions impact those around you, lessons Callie still needs to learn. Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth captures the perils of growing up, including making difficult decisions, but also the undeniable joys of finding friends who truly understand you and discovering who you want to be.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth is available for purchase now:

Amazon

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

About the Author:
Called “a master storyteller” by Kirkus Reviews, Chantel Acevedo is the author of the novels Love and Ghost Letters, A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and The Living Infinite hailed by Booklist as a “vivid and enthralling tale of love and redemption.” Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, Acevedo’s new middle grade duology (called “Riveting and suspenseful” by School Library Journal) was published by Balzer + Bray in 2020. The sequel, MUSE SQUAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TENTH, will be published in July of 2021. She is Professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program.

Follow Chantel Acevedo: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Mini-Reviews: Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse + Witchmark

I have been a terrible blogger as of late and I apologize. I am planning on taking a formal break, but that won’t be until early next month. Today I am happy to share a couple of mini reviews for some recent reads. I am actually really behind on posting reviews and have quite a few in my drafts waiting to be edited. I wanted to make sure I posted this one first though as I will be reviewing the sequel to Muse Squad in a couple of weeks.

Title: Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse Author: Chantel Acevedo Series: Muse Squad, #1 Pages: 368 Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: July 7th 2020

TW: death of a family member, fatphobia

"The first in a middle grade fantasy duology about a Cuban American girl who discovers that she’s one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology.. Callie Martinez-Silva didn’t mean to turn her best friend into a pop star. But when a simple pep talk leads to miraculous results, Callie learns she’s the newest muse of epic poetry, one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology tasked with protecting humanity’s fate in secret. Whisked away to Muse Headquarters, she joins three recruits her age, who call themselves the Muse Squad. Together, the junior muses are tasked with using their magic to inspire and empower—not an easy feat when you’re eleven and still figuring out the goddess within. When their first assignment turns out to be Callie’s exceptionally nerdy classmate, Maya Rivero, the squad comes to Miami to stay with Callie and her Cuban family. There, they discover that Maya doesn’t just need inspiration, she needs saving from vicious Sirens out to unleash a curse that will corrupt her destiny. As chaos erupts, will the Muse Squad be able to master their newfound powers in time to thwart the Cassandra Curse . . . or will it undo them all?

Chantel Acevedo’s Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse centers love and friendship in the first novel in her middle grade fantasy duology. Callie Martinez-Silva is like any other eleven year old, just trying to survive 6th grade and deal with her ever changing family dynamics. When her best friend Raquel suffers another bout of stage-fright, Callie takes it upon herself to cheer her on. But then something strange happens, Raquel undergoes a sudden metamorphoses. She doesn’t just dazzle her peers, soon her performance goes viral. Callie can’t shake the feeling that something she did might have something to do with her best friend’s sudden fame and her suspicions are confirmed when she discovers she is one of the nine Muses, tasked with inspiring and protecting humankind. It’s a lot of responsibility, especially when she learns one of her classmates, whose future might reshape the world, is in danger and she, along with a group of young Muses must protect her. One of my favorite things about this middle grade book is how much emphasis there is on friendship. Callie’s relationship with her best friend Raquel goes through some ups and downs. It’s hard on both when it feels like they are growing apart and the jealousy they can’t quite admit makes it hard to reconcile. At the same time, Callie is making new friends like those in the Muse Squad, a group of new muses her own age, who are also learning about their new-found abilities. Their friendship doesn’t quite fill the hole left by Raquel, but it makes learning how to be a Muse a lot easier. I really enjoyed Callie’s relationship with Maya Rivero, whom she is tasked to protect. Maya is smart, but awkward and doesn’t have very many people in her corner. Through this friendship and throughout her journey, Callie becomes more conscientious as a person. She learns that it’s far too easy to be dismissive of other people and she has to work on learning how to relate to others. Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse is perfect for those who love fun middle grade novels with a mythological spin.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Witchmark Author: C.L. Polk Series: The Kingston Cycle, #1 Pages: 318 Publisher: Tor.com Release Date: June 19th 2019

TW: PTSD, homophobia, suicide, domestic homicide

"C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.... In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own. Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is. When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

C.L. Polk’s Witchmark is an expertly-paced fantasy, enrapturing readers with its magical system and swoon-worthy romance. Miles Singer is a seemingly ordinary doctor tending to veterans returning from the Aeland war against Laneer. As a veteran himself, Miles knows the true horrors of war. There isn’t just a physical cost, but a mental cost as well. But when a stranger arrives with a dying man in his arms who claims to know Miles’s true name, his carefully crafted life is turned upside down. Witchmark‘ has one of the most interesting magical systems whose layers make for complicated dynamics between characters. Most notably is Mile’s relationship with his sister Grace. As a Secondary, Miles’s was destined to be bound to a Storm-Singer, to exist to strengthen his sister’s magic rather than be free to find his own place in the world. But Miles has always wanted more and has been the only person in his own corner for so long. The freedom he has attained isn’t something he is ready to let go of, not even for his sister and her own ambitions. Miles’s relationship with the enigmatic Tristan is deliciously slow-burn, full of tension and just the right amount of longing. If there is one thing I wish the book had spent more time on its more of a look into Tristan’s world. I don’t want to give anything away, but the small glimpses we get has me really curious about his people’s history in this world. Witchmark mixes magic and politics effortlessly with a likable protagonist and swoony romance that is sure to keep readers glued to its pages.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Mini-Reviews: Hide and Seeker + The Midnight Bargain

This is my first post trying to use the new block editor for my reviews and I hate it so much. It was so much easier to copy and paste html code from previous posts, but now when I try to do so, the html is just a mess to navigate. Why have you done this to us, WordPress? I need my classic editor back. I can’t even do something as simple as put a border around the synopsis because every time I do, I get an error message. This is the worst, ugh! I am beyond frustrated, but today I am bringing you two mini-reviews of recent reads. Overall, I enjoyed both, but I definitely preferred one over the other.

Title: Hide and Seeker
Author: Daka Hermon
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 15th 2020

TW: death of a parent

“One of our most iconic childhood games receives a creepy twist as it becomes the gateway to a nightmare world.

I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?

Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend. Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee’s welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.

One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker.”

swirl (2)

My tongue skims across my dry lips as my numb fingers release the dead bolts. Click. Click. Click. With a slight push, the door glides open with a loud whine. Cold air whooshes from the room and chills my skin.”

Daka Hermon delivers a gut-punching horror novel with her middle grade debut, Hide and Seeker. Justin knows his life will never be the same after his mother’s passing. With bills piling up and his sister struggling to support them, Justin knows that they are barely getting by. One of his best friends just returned after going missing and what should be a celebratory birthday party for him, ends up being the beginning of another nightmare. After a game of Hide and Seek, Justin’s friends begin disappearing. Justin and those who still remain must piece together what is happening before they too are taken. The antagonist of Hide and Seeker taps into children’s fears, holding them captive by bringing their nightmares to life in a place called Nowhere. Middle grade horror always hits a little differently than YA or adult horror. Maybe it’s because the characters are so young or maybe it’s because their fear feels so much more palatable, but reading the horror these kids go through was intense. Justin makes a great lead character and I enjoyed seeing his arc come full circle. In the beginning of the novel, Justin knows he’s never going to be the same person he was before his mother died. His friends have always relied on him to keep them together, but he is unsure if he can be that person anymore. Justin’s fears are tied to his mother. He is forced to deal with this loss while also trying to survive in this world of fear and keep his friends from losing hope. Daka Hermon’s Hide and Seeker is sure to provide enough thrills and chills to make you reconsider ever playing Hide and Seek again.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


themidnightbargainTitle: The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Erewhon
Release Date: October 13th 2020

“Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?”

swirl (2)

She breathed in magic, shaped it with her need, and charged the circle closed. She was between. Her body felt bigger than it was. Her awareness had expanded to to the skin of her aetheric form, the body that spirits and magicians could see, glowing softly within the circle spun of her mortal life.

C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain had all the elements needed to be a sweeping, romantic fantasy but faltered with its protagonist constantly being outshined by a minor character. Beatrice Clayborn is entering her first bargaining season in which she is declared eligible for marriage. But marriage is the furthest thing from her mind. She wants to pursue magic, to become a mage and help her family financially. But in this world women with magical abilities are only prized for their ability to produce male children with magic. When Beatrice meets someone who makes her think marriage may not be the worst fate, she’s torn between two impossibilities. Give up her dream or her only chance at finding someone who understands and respects her for who she is and wants to be. Beatrice is up against a patriarchal society that devalues womanhood. They’ve adopted harmful methods to keep pregnant women safe from evil spirits by collaring married women, cutting them off from their own magical abilities. Only widows and spinsters are allowed to study magic further. Beatrice has very strong opinions that run counter to these ideas and though this should have endeared her to me immediately, I grew frustrated with how passive she was. Though she wanted something different for herself beside marriage, she didn’t seem willing to give up her relationships with the men in her life who were essentially holding her back. This was never more apparent than when Ysbeta entered the picture. Ysbeta, like Beatrice, wishes to expand her knowledge of magic and does not wish to marry. She enlists Beatrice’s help in teaching her magic that has been beyond her reach and is prepared to do anything to take control of her own life. I could not help but wish the novel had cast Ysbeta as its lead on multiple occasions. Ysbeta did not wait for the approval of those around her, but dove head first into her ambitions. I did enjoy the development of Beatrice’s relationship with her younger sister Harriet. The latter does not understand why her older sister is so interested in magic and all its dangers. They have very opposing views but both their fears are valid and no fault of their own but of the misogynist society they have been raised in. The Midnight Bargain provided an interesting exploration of female autonomy in a world where marriage is a type of prison, but failed to hook me with its lead character.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)