Mexican Gothic Review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-García

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

After reading Gods of Jade and Shadow, I knew Silvia was an author I would keep loving in future books, and Mexican Gothic just settles that even more.

If you are interested, I did a live tweeting thread as I read it with all my opinions, and the memories it brought back as I read.

If you’re feeling lazy and your question is “is this a legit Mexican Gothic novel?” then the answer is ABSOLUTELY! As a Mexican with family from nearby the area that inspired the book and that lived for a third of my life or so near abandoned mining towns, this book struck deep in my memories of Mexico, of my childhood and teenage years and the stories my family would tell. Yes, there aren’t really any tacos, sombreros or anything that screams Mexican to a foreigner, but from a subtle mention of a Zote bar of soap to other elements in the story, it was as Mexican as can be and even better.

This is how you do great own voices representation, and how you write a POC book. You don’t need to go guns blazing stamp in your face that this is indeed about Mexico, you just subtly reveal the depth of Mexico by the small hints, by the story. The gentle hints at a life lived in a country both by someone of Mazatec origin (one of the many native people of Mexico) and by colonist (English) attempting to make money out of cheap labour and taking away our silver, are superb.

Now for the actual story, we start with Noemí having her socialite life disrupted by an odd letter from her cousin and she’s suddenly thrown into this gothic decript house where things are just a bit too odd and she can’t seem to understand fully well what’s going on.

We kow something is dodgy with the Doyle and the way they are treating her cousing and her too, and yet, what is wrong exactly because you can’t just say “they’re dodgy” as grounds for say a divorce or for sending your cousin to a psychiatrist.

If you need to compare to something this is like a wonderfully modern lavish Rebecca but 10 times better, with the horror part of it developing gently around you until suddenly you’re overcome by it and you need to read until the end because how can you not find out what is exactly going on.

Now, for sanity and to warn other readers, one trigger warning I HAVE to give is sexual assault, attempted many times, but the main attempt was quite intense (extremely well written) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Which it is absolutely meant to. And given the context and the way it was written, it had a powerful effect on me but not as badly as such scenes would have in other books. Other items to consider into your content/trigger warnings: gaslighting, manipulation, colonialims, heavy racism, eugenics.

So now I will take about the racism/eugenics and hard topics part. As I read Mexican Gothic I had moments of anger due to the view the Doyles have on race and the superior vs inferior being (this becomes a major plot point and it is done with a masterful weaving of threads to form a spectacularly spooky rebozo) but I also cheered for the intensity that Noemí mustered and how she had a way of speak her mind. She did not stay quiet. And I loved her for it.

I keep praising Silvia’s writing but you can see she has honed her craft. The writing is that of someone with experience and knowledge, she can weave that tale and have you deeply wrapped in it. And the story can be brutal, it can hurt you deeply and yet, you will love it because it does exactly what it needs to do and even more. It is a credit to her mastery of words that despite how much anger I mustered about the topics in the book, I came out of my reading it satisfied.

All I can say from here is that everyone should read this book. Even if you aren’t into Gothic books, or horror, or Mexico, honestly, you need to read this because it is absolutely a master book worth every word in it.

PS. that mouse in the picture came from Tequisquapan, México. It’s a nice little reminder of my country without it being too in your face.

The Enigma Game Blog Tour

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

A few disclaimers before I launch into my review of The Enigma Game. I was provided a free copy of the book for reviewing purposes, however this doesn’t influence my review at all.

The second disclaimer is that that I have most of Elizabeth’s books (including non fiction) and as you can guess from the picture, have a soft spot for World War II bombers and cryptography (yes, I was at those Turing events). So be aware that this makes this book a quick runner for a good review due to contents.

The Enigma Game is another winner by Elizabeth Wein. It depicts so many things about how life during World War II was back then and does so with her unique way that makes you want to know more of the world and how it came to be.

We get a few points of view from different characters as they each give us a little of their world to see. We start with James (Jamie, Scotty) who is the one in charge of a B-flight squadron of Blenheims in Scotland and he is feeling hit in all places by the disadvantages they have (starting with old bombers, and just not great decisions on tactics). He is technically a character that appears in some ways in other of the books so he was familiar (and it kept nagging at me why I felt like I knew who he was but couldn’t place him at the same time, obviously now I want to reread The Pearl Thief and Code Name Verity).

Then we have Louisa, who is mixed race and struggling to find a place in London as she is too young, alone and not the right skin colour. But she finds a job helping Aunt Jane in Scotland and makes the most of it. With her point of view we get Aunt Jane who is a character as is and I absolutely adored the old woman. She’s old but she’s so cunning and so full of ideas and fight, it was wonderful to read her and she reminded me of other old ladies I’ve known (none as mysterious and interesting as her but still).

And we have Ellen who is part of the WAAF as a driver for the RAF airfield but who is hiding the fact she is a traveller. Her point of view was a refreshing sight and a connection between two pieces of the story at first.

Our story centers around them coming unto an Enigma machine (the only one) and due to circumstances, they are able to decode messages and give Jamie’s squadron a secret advantage, but with doing so, they put themselves at risk and potentially everyone.

I adored the story, the characters were so unique and the ambience and setting of the world is done beautifully with tiny details that help put you right there and then with them. It is not just a story about courage but about perceptions, about wanting to be brave and how rules soemtimes are meant to be broken, or in most of the case in the book, just bent rather than broken. I am actually having a hard time writing a very coherent review due to this book hooking me in and making me feel so much and be so invested into the characters and what happened.

As for historical accuracy, at the end you get a note regarding what it is based on and what is “real” and not which it still feels wonderfully well painted and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the author’s gift for writing fiction and making it feel like it is non-fiction.

If you enjoy historical fantasy, are an aircraft nerd or just curious about cryptography or the Enigma, this is a wonderful read. Or if you just want a good story about World War II and friendship, then this is also for you.

Witch for a Week Review

Witch for a Week by Kaye Umansky and Illustrated by Ashley King

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More #Februwitchy books, and this oen was definitely one I saw Asha talk about and bought the first two, forgot about them in my middle grade shelf and dug them out for the readathon.

What a great gem they are! Once I finished Witch for a Week, I ordered books 3 and 4 so I could keep reading them, because I needed more. That good was it.

Elsie Pickles lives a “boring” simple life helping her dad in their shop and living by Customer Service rules. I have done customer service and I loved the rules. They were just so eprfectly encompasisng of the whole how to deal with customers. It made this book dearer to me. But then she gets to “house sit” for the local witch.

The house is actually a tower with a personality, and it comes with a snarky obnoxious raven, and some fun visitors who befriend Elsie. And then there is the fact that part of the offer meant more books for Elsie to read, and maybe some magic may happen. Even if Elsie isn’t too sure about it.

It was just very fun to read the story, meet the characters who come to the door and do some shenanigans. It was great to just escape to the tower (I want a tower that gives me cake or whatever I want when I knock on the larder/cupboard). The perfect mixture of cute and fun and magical in a book.

Realm of Ash Review

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.

Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.

Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px

How do you write a review for a book like this? Realm of Ash is the follow up (not exactly a sequel, but it does happen after) of Empire of Sand which I loved so much that it got me to draw again and do some fan art, into which I have spent countless hours because it needs to be as good as what I felt reading the book.

In Realm we follow Arwa as she joins a house for widows who do not want or can’t be a burden to their families. She is young and has survived a massacre. But she is also smart, conflicted and full of anger.

This book starts with strong women making the most in a society that doesn’t alway realise their value. And despite them having a limited way of doing things, the resourcefulness is amazing.

However, the main thing for me was how much Arwa fights against her Amithri blood and heritage, because she has been brought up to think it is tainted and foul. And the deeper she delves into this secret heritage and uses it as she attempts to help Zahir and the “heir” side they are meant to be helping, the more she realises that it was just convenient lies to trap her, and limit her, to rob her of who she is and could be.

That was a stunning thing to read as she moves through her anger and then fear and everything that comes as they desperately want to save the Empire (and how much she is conflicted internally as she finds that what the Imperial family wants isn’t the same as what is best for the Empire).

It is also a book full of court (empire in this case) politics, the complexity of families and relationships in general, and the power of hope. It is about identity, and about loss and grief (we already established books with grief in them are kinda my thing). And it is incredibly powerful.

As such, the book is hard to review without spoilers because it is so good but also to explain it in detail would be to rob those of the discovery and delight of it. All I can do is let you know that I loved it, and I will read anything Tasha writes because I need to, she has my readership through and through.

Making Faces Review

I can’t remember why I decided to preorder this book, but I did (I definitely like supporting authors and preordering as many books as tempt me and can be afforded), and trust me, past me who preordered gets all the kudos from present me.

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Making Faces by Amy Harmon

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

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I started this book not expecting too much, for some reason I thought it was set in WWII times (don’t ask me why, well, somehow I put it close to the WWII books so yeah, past me had her moments). Thinking it wouldn’t hook me too much, I started as I went to bed.

Oh boy! I stayed up until 2 am just to finish it. I seriously could not put it down, my boyfriend came to bed and I barely acknowledged him, this had to be read. I needed to know what was going to happen.

There were a couple of interesting things in the book beyond the “B&B” retelling. It spoke of feeling ugly/not interesting/attractive and never really realising you’ve grown out of it, not in a crazy ugly duckling to swan but more of a “people will like you and some won’t, but it’s okay”. Then it also has a character that is in a wheelchair and that is amazing to read and I was so invested in the character. Family isn’t totally absent in this book, which was refreshing. Parents and family exist and aren’t there just to drive the plot. It also touches on guilt, beliefs, and a lot of things that I was not expecting here.

I thought this was a historic romance kinda book, and it was so much more than that.

Moon recommends

If you’re feeling up to preorders and love Beauty and the Beast, try A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Obviously Making Faces has to be recommmended. One of my other favourite B&B retellings is Hunted and Beauty.