Chilling Effect Review

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure.

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.

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Full disclosure, I finished this book last year but because Orbit was publishing in the UK this month, I delayed my review to make it coincide with its birthday week! (Also, I bought my own copy, because seriously, psychic cats in space).

What I had kinda forgotten, was how much Latinx rep this book has which had me in sittches at all the nuance. If you read it not being Latinx, it will be a fun space opera, but knowing the meaning behidn the title chapters and the little phrases Eva keeps throwing when she’s angry or in a pickle, it was really fun.

Basically this book is bonkers and it is exactly the kind of crazy space opera that I haven’t seen or read in a long time and had been missing. It is the throw everything and the kitchen sink in just for good measure but instead of being a complaint about the fact there is so much going on, it is one of the strengths of the book.

Because the thing is that Eva is having so much happening and so many things going on that it is a bit hard to keep moving forward and she’s trying real hard to keep everything a bit sane rather than just unravelling into chaos (which does happen, because life and yeah, poor Eva). There is a lot of crazy, a lot of aliens, not a crazy amount of explaining the world to you (think how you go to Star Wars in a pub and there’s all the species and you have no clue about it but they’re there and you accept it at face value, that’s what it is like in this book). Things are and you just go along, and suddenly as you move through the book you go “oh wait, this thing, previously it was there and it was like part of it, but now it means something, I understand better”.

And there are the psychic cats, with the “boss” cat being called Mala which basically means Bad so it was real fun to have them in the mix (I want one).

All in all, if you like space opera with a lot of crazy, lot of drama and one thing after the other so you’re left with a “what now?” then definitely give this a go!

Five Midnights Review

Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.

If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping though Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?

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This book was provided to me for free from the publisher, and the hopes I’d review it. And of course I did because it is a book about Puerto Rico and el Cuco (I know it as el Coco).

The story has many points of view due to telling us the story from each of the five friends, plus Lupe’s view and a few others that add to the whole what is going on.

We start with a murder and even though you’re reading about it, you’re not entirely sure who did it. I kinda knew but was more interested in the why that person, why there and then, and everything.

After that we meet Lupe who has been acting as her own keeper and is a big too full on (I never really got on with her, she had too much of a white saviour complex at the same time as having a “but I am from here too, therefore I must find my place”). Lupe knows how to get her way and is angry at her dad but happy she has some extra freedom and takes her chances to try to come to the crime scene and meet her uncle who is part of the police force in the area.

We also meet Javier, who is a friend of the victim and who is finding this confusing. Lupe puts her detective hat on immediately as she has watched it all in TV and of course has to solve the mystery (thankfully she gets a bit of reality slapping her in the face and that it is never like the TV shows say).

All throughout the book Lupe manages to clash or endear herself with people (which causes more clashes) but somehow everything ties up relatively nicely in the end. On the other hand Javier is on a race against time to find out why someone or something is murdering his friends and wondering if he will be next.

The book not only deals with the theme of identity (for all characters there is a lot of “how do I fit here” and “this is/isn’t my place”, as well as trying to coem to terms with choices made in the past), but with drugs and becoming part of that world (the good, the bad, the ugly) and how it affects those around you. And mostly it is about consequences and retribution on what you have done, on being responsible or paying for the things done.

The pacing was a mix of fast and good and sometimes a bit too slow and sometimes a bit too fast that you felt like you had lost part of the story in it. And this isn’t a “the murders were fast” but more of a “we take ages for 24 hours” and then bam everything happens in the next 2-3 hours and it’s weird. Which is why this didn’t make it to four foxes.

As for world setting, this was well done and very rich (or as rich as can be without going too far into detail).

TL;DR A spooky paranormal Puerto Rican story about friendship, identity, retribution, choices and consequences. Worth reading.

The Grief Keeper Review

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi are detainees of the United States government. They were caught crossing the U.S. border, to escape the gang violence in their country after their brother was murdered. When Marisol learns that the old family friend who had offered them refuge in America has died and they are going to be sent home, they flee. Seventeen-year-old Marisol Morales and her little sister Gabi are detainees of the United States government. They were caught crossing the U.S. border, to escape the gang violence in their country after their brother was murdered. When Marisol learns that the old family friend who had offered them refuge in America has died and they are going to be sent home, they flee.

They hitchhike, snagging a ride with an unassuming woman who agrees to drive them to New Jersey, but when Marisol wakes up in D.C. she learns the woman is actually a government agent. Indranie Patel has a proposal for Marisol: she wants Marisol to be a Grief Keeper, someone who will take another’s grief into their body. It’s a dangerous experimental study, but if Marisol agrees she and Gabi will be allowed to stay in the United States. If the experiment fails the girls will be sent home, which is a death sentence. Things become more complicated when Marisol meets Rey, the wealthy daughter of a D.C. Senator, and the girl she’s helping to heal. Marisol likes Rey’s short hair and sarcastic attitude. But she didn’t expect the connection from their shared grief to erupt into a powerful love.

Suddenly being forced from the United States isn’t just a matter of life and death, but a matter of the heart.

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The title of the book was what caught my eye first, then it was the plot and I just had to preorder it and read it. And boy, this book packed its punches and hit close to home (I was going to put a disclaimer to clarify which parts did and didn’t, but then realised I was saying way more than I felt comfortable with and therefore I just want to say I haven’t experienced everything in the book, but it isn’t something far removed in some areas for me).

Being bilingual, I usually do not like much books that throw words in a different language just for the sake of (I don’t mean calling a particular item of clothing or a dish by their name in that language, we call a taco a taco. I mean the adding foreign words for the sake of making it feel exotic, and it really peeves me off when it is a story including Spanish words), so I was wary about that happening here. It also breaks the continuity for me since the switch between Spanish/English breaks as I read sometimes if there’s that gap. However, as I read this, the way it uses Spanish was right. It was the perfect way of how my brain fills in gaps of language, how it processes, it didn’t disrupt or break continuity or annoy me. Instead it just reminded me how much I still have preference for some words in Spanish or how certain words don’t really translate well one way or the other.

As for the characters and the plot, I am the older sister and have a younger sister who did some of the things Gabi did (some almost to the T. *sigh*), and Marisol felt raw, protective, real. It was also like discovering myself as I read this. Because a lot of how Marisol copes with the world and her not breaking and not falling whereas Rey does, it was exactly how I work, how you’re brought up. And the contrast I feel in the UK, Marisol was feeling in her own experience in the US. I felt seen in this book, and as if it was revealing deeper parts of what it is to be Latinx.

The concept of Grief Keeper was mesmerising in itself and Rey’s story was also very nteresting, the dynamics, the way it all worked out was delightful to read. Slow burn, slow build up, intense feelings, “translation” and cultural differences making it more interesting.

Yes, I know Marisol isn’t from Mexico, but a lot of what she experienced was familiar and I could easily fill in gaps. The book wasn’t a shock to my system or a surprise, it was just “the truth” (a sad one sometimes) but it did so in a good way. I didn’t feel like the truth was just for plot or entretainment, it felt raw, it felt like it was being written from the heart, or close to it.

Beautiful melancholic book, with good Latinx representation, a lot of pondering on grief (yes, apparently I like books that touch on grief, sorry, I do, it has always been something that interests me, something that pulls me close) and working out that grief. Great use of language and wording and all the elements that make the characters. Highly recommended.

Gods of Jade and Shadow Review

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-García

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

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I am going to do my best to not be a blubbering mess while writing this review. I received a review copy from Jo Fletcher books because I begged to be able to read before publication, but I have the Goldsboro edition ordered (hopefully it will arrive soon) and had preordered a finished copy too (nope, I wasn’t dying to read it, I promise).

So why did I want to read this book so much? Because it is a) own voices, b) México, c) Mayan gods. And it is set in the 1920’s, which is just after the Revolution so it is a country beaming with change and opportunities but also aching in some ways.

There are Latinx books showing more and more, but there are very few fantasy books like this one out there (or the ones I know of are in Spanish and for me, expensive to get unless I go to México).

From the very beginning, Casiopeia’s México is in a way my México, a slightly older and more frayed around the edges, but it is very much the one my greatgrandmother lived in (who was alive during the Revolution and told stories about living through it). Where it stops is that in this story, the Mayan gods are more than just words, they take flesh (I mean I have never seen this happen so I will leave this to fantasy but there are stories of different gods becoming human for a while).

It was an utter delight to read this, the way the mythology becomes reality blends with how México is in general, into the beautiful parts of it and also sometimes into the not so pretty ones too. I’ve been to most of the places Casiopeia goes (except her home town) so it was like taking a trip myself and reliving that, but almost at the same time as time travel.

One of the things this book does perfectly is to display Mexican culture in the way the characters interact. Casiopeia is 100% the real deal, and not a make believe of a Mexican. For example, in the quote above, she’s saying a “sorry” that doesn’t exist in English. In Spanish it is “lo siento mucho”, which is literally “I feel this so much” and it is to convey empathy to say “I am sad for you, I hurt with and for you”. Because at the core, we care. Family, friends, caring, food, they are central to who we are. And you can see that through the whole book.

And this book made me cry. I don’t cry much with books, but I was bawling my eyes out near the end, because it had just dug in deep into me.

I think if you are intrigued by Mayan mythology/gods, México and its culture, and fantastical stories, you should definitely read this. All the characters show different aspects of life in such a country and this is a wonderful representation of it.

I literally want everyone to read this book and then re-read it, and then talk about it and go visit México and each place Casiopeia and Kun-Kamé visit.