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!

Snapshot Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Series: The Green Bone Saga, #1
Pages: 498
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 7th 2017

      “Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.
      Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.
      When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
      Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.”

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      “Politics moved slowly and blades moved fast.”

  • World Building – Lee’s world is unique and intricate, combining magical elements in a more modern setting. The Janloon city is at the heart of the island of Kekon, where generations have mined for Jade which gives Kekonese people enhanced abilities. Clans have waged war, thrived during peaceful times, and endured many political coups. The Kaul family has ruled the No Peak Clan for generations.
  • Lan – As the eldest, Lan always knew he would be Pillar. The Kaul legacy weighs heavy on his shoulders. He knows that as a political leader, he cannot please everyone. There are those who think he is too soft and those who think his loyalty to his more reckless brother will cost the clan their standing in Kekon.
  • Hilo – Hilo is not an easy character to like. His actions are often impetuous, reactive to the situation in front of him rather than taking into account what the long-term consequences. Still, he is incredibly loyal, and not bogged down by his family’s personal prejudices.
  • Shae – At one time, Shae wanted to be an intricate player in No Peak clan, but she never felt that the men in power recognized everything she was capable of. She spent years away from Kekon, seeing what the world has to offer outside of her home country and while she loves her family, she doesn’t want to be pulled into their world again.
  • Anden – I have such a soft spot for this teen. He’s been training for years to join the clan, but every step of the way he’s had to deal with people whispering about his heritage. Even within the Kaul family, there are those who pity him and no matter how promising he is, who he was born to has greatly affected how he sees himself.
  • Siblings dynamics  – The novel focuses on the Kaul family. The eldest son, Lan is currently Pillar, their leader, his brother Hilo is Horn, the head of armed forces, Shae, their sister, who chose a different path than being an active figure in the family. There is also Anden, who was adopted into the family years ago. I could talk hours about the different dynamics between the Kaul siblings and their young cousin Anden. I loved how complicated these relationships were because it also functioned to flush out who they were individually. Lan and Hilo are very different but have been running the clan for years, they have each other’s backs, but know they will never be what the other is. While Lan and Shae have a more amicable relationship due to Lan’s caring nature, Shae and Hilo grew up more like rivals. I loved that their interactions are just as much a result of who they were as children as much as who they are as adults. Siblings sometimes they bring out the worst parts of you and adulthood doesn’t necessarily resolve conflicts you had as children.

Nothing to note.

Fonda Lee’s Jade City strikes that perfect balance of being both an action-packed and politically charged fantasy. Her characters are dynamic, the plot is fast-moving and gripping with gut-punching twists that will have you racing toward to end.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Title: Storm of Locusts
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Series: The Sixth World, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: April 23rd 2019

      “It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.
      Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.
      Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

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“I draw my Böker and her eyes go from hate to fear. I’ve decided to let her live, but she doesn’t know that. For a moment I savor the terror I elicit, the control I have over her. It’s a dark emotion, something I’m not proud of, but it’s there nonetheless.”

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts, sequel to Trial of Lightning, is a tension-filled thrill ride from start to finish. Maggie has slowly been picking up the pieces of her life. But her decision to pull the trigger on one important person to her life and bury another still occupies a great deal of space in her head. She’s been content waiting for Kai’s return, wanting to give him space, but also a little afraid of their reunion. When the Goodacre Twins show up on her doorstep with news that Kai and their little brother Caleb have gone missing, Maggie doesn’t hesitate to join them. But a new foe has risen in Dinétah, the White Locust is spreading the word of another impending apocalypse, and he has taken Kai and Caleb. Maggie and her crew journey across Dinétah and outside the Wall in search of this White Locust. When they discover what the White Locust has in store, it becomes a race to stop him before everything they love comes crumbling down.

Trail of Lightning introduced readers to Maggie Hoskie, whose clan powers made her an unstoppable force. A monsterslayer, destined to be defined by bloodshed. Faced with an impossible decision, Maggie was forced to say goodbye to the one person who was able to get past her walls. Kai helped Maggie learn how to trust and rely on someone else. In Storm of Locusts our protagonist is pushed even further out of her comfort zone. New characters like the young Ben are thrust into her path. This young teen girl has her own traumas she’s working through and Maggie becomes the one person she can count on. For Maggie this is a completely terrifying and unprecedented situation. She’s not used to being someone’s rock. She’s still learning what it means to not be a killer and now she has this girl on her hands who very much believes her purpose is to kill. Ben is a reflection of Maggie’s past self and Maggie isn’t sure she is capable of not being a killer, let alone helping someone else see there’s another way.

As much as I missed Kai’s presence for the majority of this one, I loved seeing Maggie grow and forge new and significant relationships with other people. With Ben she gains someone she can protect and teach. With Rissa Goodacre she gains a peer and a friend. Their relationship is strained from the beginning as Rissa isn’t convinced of Kai’s innocence, but with each obstacle put in their path, they begin to rely on one another more and more. There are a lot earth-shattering action scenes in this one, but the tête-à-tête between Maggie and Rissa near the end might be the most satisfying scene in this series so far. I also love that each person the crew comes across on their journey feels significant in their own way and there’s a subtle humor in so many of these scenes that made me chuckle but never distracted from the tension-filled story.

Roanhorse is masterful in the execution of both build-up and payoff. Maggie’s separation from Kai is like a lump in the throat. His absence is palpable in every scene and Roanhorse kept me turning page after page, desperate for their reunion. I particularly loved the tension leading up to Maggie’s meeting with the White Locust. From the unnatural and unrelenting swarms chasing Maggie and her crew, to his trademark crucifixions, the antagonist is a terrifying villain even before we meet him. I do wish we had a chance to meet some of his followers because to me there is nothing scarier than a charismatic and manipulative leader able to persuade a group of people into feeling grateful to give up full control of themselves.

Storm of Locusts keeps readers on their toes with a new villain, new characters, and action scenes that are as harrowing and crisp as they were in the first.

★★★★★

(5/5)