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.

Beneath the Rising Review

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

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

I don’t usually read books that cross into “scary” land because I am not big on horror. But I like Premee and her twitter, and the fact that Johnny (one of the main characters) is a young female “genius” sold me to it.

One of the strengths of the book is setting the mood and the progression of the story. We start with a very “normal” (or as normal as having a genius world saving best friend can be) part of the story and Nick trying his best to figure out what comes next as Johnny goes further away and is less and less around due to all the amazing discoveries and inventions she is making, while he is the one working a bakery job to help his family.

Almost immediately I had a lot of things I wanted to quote as Johnny talks about how it is to be female, young and a scientist and have to compete against the established older male scientists. I don’t talk a lot about what I used to do for work and what I do now, but I used to be very similar to Johnny (sans the Ancient Ones). I was the one everyone expected great things. Had a big research career before I even graduated university. Doing big things, and everyone expecting great things… in Johnny’s words “everything”. So it was easy for me to engage with this book and to feel it to heart. Which made the scary a little less scary and more like “oh, that is scary but kinda interesting”.

Another strength is the relationship between Johnny and Nick. They are friends, but could they be more, and how can you keep a relationship (of whatever kind, friends or more) when the people in it are so different and understand each other’s challenges so little? Nick struggles to understand how despite Johnny being white and a genius, she still has barriers men wouldn’t have. And at the same time, Johnny fails to see what being brown and not being rich does to Nick. There are moments were they are as close as close can be and then you realise that at the same time ther eis this big chasm between them. It was masterfully done and it is proof of the craft that Premee can write an apocalypse/end of the world horror and at the same time have this intense view of a relationship as it moves and tries to define itself into adulthood.

Gosh, the Ancient Ones in themselves and the whole part of the plot that goes around it kept getting more and more interesting. The connections between cataclysms and ends of civilizations was also a bonus point for my history focused heart and just seeing all the little hints about geeky or nerdy stuff kept me smiling despite also being scared and worrying about the fate of the world and about Johnny and Nick.

And those last few chapters, well, that was magnificent and sad and intense and a big relief. A lot of emotions to be felt throughout it, and I couldn’t help but side a little with both of them and not be sure what exactly I wanted to happen because it was so hard to think what would be the best outcome for everyone involved.

Also, Ben and the genetically modified dung beetles that wouldn’t roll dung but might steal satsumas or other round objects made me giggle. The sarcams levels are great too, if you need a serving of that.

If you like history, science, geniuses and friendships put to the test with an end of the world, this is definitely your book. It gets my scarydorsement and my full endorsement as a read worth reading.

Wilder Girls Review

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

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

I had seen very varying reviews of the book, but the premise had caught my eye a couple of years ago so I got it. I don’t regret it.

The book straddles the line of horror slightly and makes for a difficult one to place in a neat category. We meet Hetty, who is doing her best to survive in Raxter and to not succumb to despair. And she only really has two friends, Byatt and Reese.

Even before Byatt disappears, the panorama of how the girls are “infected” by the Tox and have this odd changes in their bodies, and they get ill and some die (and some have already died). Plus, it is hard to know who to trust out of the limited adults left taking care of them. As much as they still live in a school, there’s little of the school as a system left and it is all about survival.

There are a lot of secrets, a lot to learn about the Tox and as Hetty ends up being able to see odd things ahppening that are harder and harder to explain each day and to make sense fo them given their cirucmstances, tough choices have to be made.

And then Byatt disappears. This opens the point of view of Byatt, who shows us where she has been taken and what is going on in her world.

I found there was a lot left as secret but if you look back it slowly makes sense as you discover the truth. The idea is to make you feel as lost as Hetty and Byatt do when they’re going through. Which I did.

I did not like the ending being a bit open and not really getting much anywhere, it felt at first like it had ended and then suddenyl not sure. Are there more books to come? I don’t like having books play the “maybe a next book at some point” game.

But still, it was a good read and interesting concept.

Through the Woods Review

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.
These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.
Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

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

This book is gorgeous and creepy. Probably the best way to describe it in a single sentence.

The artwork sticks to a very red, white, black and sepia palette (with a few pops of colour) but still manages to convey very well the stories and sometimes the phrase “an image is worth a 1000 words” applies perfectly here.

One of the reasons this hasn’t got more stars is that most of the stories are left open ended or rather, in a confusing ending where you keep second guessing what exactly happened and why. I know that the attempt is to scare you and be creepy, but it also left me very unsatisified at the end of each story. I think if I had known this would be a very “just a tidbit of story, without a proper ending” kind of book, I wouldn’t have minded as much, but from the blurb it seemed to have proper short stories.

My favourite is probably the first one which at least seems to have a start and potential end, but it is still very much in the air with lots of maybe, and what if.

I’d probably say that if you like horror and creepy stuff, this is a nice illustrated book to have around. But if open endings aren’t really your thing, avoid this. Or go at it with caution. The art is still super gorgeous and the stories are different and “refreshing” in their own way.