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.

★ ★

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.

★ ★ ★ ★

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

Title: Gearbreakers
Author: Zoe Hana Mikuta
Series: Gearbreakers, #1
Pages: 416
Publisher: Simon & Feiwel Friends
Release Date: June 29th 2021

TW: torture, grief

      “Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.
      We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead…
      The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
      Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.       As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…”

      “Despite myself, my heart skips a beat, and in the wake of it, a laugh nearly unfurls from my thoat. We are small. We are mortal. And I am being asked if I am ready to become a God.”

Zoe Hana Mikuta’s Gearbreakers is an adrenaline rush of a novel. The world altered forever when humanity fell into war and raised up mechas to fight their battles. Under Gondolia rule, these mechas are now used to squash any whiff of rebellion. The only thing that stands between Gondolia and totalitarian control are Gearbreakers, a group of rebels trained to take down these metal gods. Sona, a young mecha Pilot and victim of Gondolia’s cruelty, has been bidding her time, waiting for the opportunity to take down Gondolia from the inside. Eris, impetuous leader of a misfit Gearbreakers unit, has built a reputation for herself and her crew. They may be young and reckless, but they get the job done. Two worlds collide when Eris ends up captured and her only hope turns out to be a young mecha pilot who is more than meets the eye. With Sona on their side, the Gearbreakers might just have found their secret weapon for taking down the mechas once and for all if they can learn to trust the enemy.

Mikuta’s Gearbreakers is an ode to the found family trope. Eris is an incredibly driven character, but is often a thorn in the side of those in charge. When Eris is put in charge of a group of outsiders, she makes the most of it. Incredibly gifted, but often unpredictable, this crew has become more than a team to her, she has built a family with them. They’ve developed an unbreakable bond and their loyalty to one another is unshakable. When Sona is introduced to Eris’s crew, her presence puts a strain upon these bonds. Not everyone is willing to trust her and Eris’s choice to bring her into the fold tests her own leadership ability. Eris’s hotheadedness is due in part due to her older sister Jenny. After their parents passed, it was Jenny who had to raise Eris. Jenny is even more driven than Eris and her need to end Gondolia’s rule shaped the lessons she drilled into her younger sister. Jenny is a natural born leader, but brash and uncompromising. Affection between these sisters is not something that comes easy. They are too much alike not to clash, but they love one another fiercely.

Sona is introduced to Eris as the enemy and at first, this is the only way she can see her. But there is a fire in Sona that Eris recognizes, a hatred for Gondolia that burns bright. Eris becomes the first person in Sona’s corner. As their relationship progresses, Eris begins to see Sona for who she really is. Sona is a broken girl, she’s been taken apart and put back together, stripped of parts of herself. She is angry, but she is also very afraid that in the end, not matter how much good she does, she will still be the monster they created. For Sona, the only home she’s ever known was destroyed by mechas. She understands what Gondolia represents and the destruction they have wrought. She also understands that she is a weapon and her value depends on how much destruction she can cause. Sona unexpectedly finds a place in the Gearbreaker’s ranks and as inconceivable as it may be, the acceptance they show her makes her believe she can be more than just a weapon.

Gearbreakers is a heart-stopping, action-packed sci-fi novel with a cast of loveable characters who are equal parts impulsive as they are passionate. Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut is a must read for those looking for a slowburn sapphic romance and an edge-of-your-seat brawl.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★