Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy of both books via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

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Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer

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“Regardless of whether you desire it, love is what sits at the core of the world. It is stronger than greed and hate and jealousy and pain. What brings us together will always be more powerful than what keeps us apart.” 

A poetry and prose collection that uses mythological goddesses to create a story of self-love and healing. I’m a not a massive fan of poetry collections anymore, but something about Aphrodite particularly caught my attention. Maybe, I’m just a sucker for mythological goddesses.

 The poetry collection begins with Aphrodite and the author conversing before weaving into different pieces that discussed topics such as body image, abuse and queerphobia. I think about stood out the most was how Mateer framed this collection and its narrative. The collection flows through Aphrodite’s life, while also mentioning other women such as Medusa and Pandora, intertwining their stories with her own experiences. 

I absolutely loved the illustrations and the designs of the tarot cards. I haven’t read anything previously by Mateer, so I don’t know if it’s a common thing, but I wasn’t expecting it. So it added such a nice touch to the entire collection. I would definitely consider buying a physical copy because of the art. 

“I belong to no one. They never wrote that part down.”


Mooncakes

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker (Author) Wendy Xu (Artist)

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Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Nova Huang either spends her time at her grandmothers’ bookstore or investigating supernatural events that occur in her small town. Nothing new rarely happens, until the appearance of a white wolf changes everything. Her childhood crush returns, fighting a horse demon, asking for Nova’s help.

Damn, this story is sweet as hell. Reading this was quite comforting. The autumn vibes were really up my alley. I love Wendy Xu’s style, and it’s what drew me to Mooncakes in the first place. Nova, a Chinese-American, is struggling to cope with the loss of her parents and her duties of being a witch. Tam Lang, a nonbinary werewolf, returns to their childhood home to bring down the demon the resides in the woods, and returning home can bring up some not so good memories. Despite having not seen each other in ages, they return to each other unconditionally, and their support for each other was so endearing and sweet. 

I’d hate to pit the writing and art style against each other since they’re two different things, but, personally, the art carried most of the book. I felt like the writing was more on the weaker side. I think the character development was great, Tam and Nova are adorable. Nova’s grandmothers were funny and great. However, the plot is a little underwhelming at first. I was very interested in the wolf magic and Tam’s past, and how it all connected together in the end. So it’s a shame that wasn’t fleshed out as much as you’d expect, along with the magic system. It felt a little rushed at the end, in my opinion. However, I wouldn’t hold it against the series though. There’s so much to love and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Roger Weathersby barely scrapes by making a living out of stealing corpses for medical schools, dreaming that one day, he’ll be a reputable doctor that saves lives. But when he’s framed for a murder of one of his steals, he is forced to reunite with an old friend to save the city and, hopefully, clear his name. The old friend in question is none of than Princess Sibylla, who returns to her childhood city on request of her Queen grandmother, who is keen to see she is married off to her cousin to further their magical bloodline. But when her own suspicions tie in with Roger’s situation, it’s up to them to save the country before it’s torn apart.

I’m not going to lie, this was quite a surprising read. The Resurrectionist of Caligo is quite intriguing. The royal family of Myrcnia rule by divine right due to their magical skills that comes from their bloodline. Everyone has a different ability, and due to it only being manifested in a person’s biology, the reigning Queen is quite hellbent on making sure it stays in the family. And that means killing off any illegitimate children and only allowing marriages within the family. And this has Sibylla on edge because her half-brother is hidden within the city and she is sure Queen is close to discovering his identity. Roger is in a strange position where in the town, the people are restless, and science is growing and questioning the supremacy of the magical users. A Resurrectionist is simply a cooler term for grave snatcher in the name of science. And Roger begins to notice a pattern in the corpses he has been collecting and the victims of a well-known strangler who has been terrorising the women of Caligo.

I loved the magical features and the development of the political intrigue of this universe. But, the world-building is a hit or miss situations where within Myrcnia, and its capital Caligo, it is quite packed with a lot of detail. I was quite impressed with the quasi-Victorian design that is set up. Trimboli and Zaloga draw on the challenges of the Victorian-era lifestyle, echoing a steampunk design, which creates the Myrcnia’s landscape. A pivot part of Sibylla’s arc is her interaction with the neighbouring country, but I was disappointed how bland they were in comparison. You get a lot of rich detail within the city, but they’ve resorted to merely being the outsiders, and it just didn’t sit well with me.  

I personally loved Sibylla and Roger as characters in their own right, but the story really hinges on their childhood connection and, personally, I never really caught on to what drew them together. And a lot of their communication is passed between Roger’s half-brother, who is also Sibylla’s warden.  They appear to despise each other, and there’s little given to understand their connection, aside from their forced situation.

Overall, I found The Resurrectionist of Caligo quite entertaining. It was quick, easy to read. The characters are great, I enjoyed the mix of comedy and mystery, and it was quite heart-warming in most scenes. The magic system is by far the most exciting aspect of this novel, but not as utilised as you would expect. But I would definitely be interested in checking out in any future sequels.


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Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

 A small American town finds themselves back in the limelight after a murderer remerges to terrorise its citizens. Twins Ellery and Ezra move into town to live with their grandmother when their mother is admitted into rehab and find themselves in the centre of the murder mystery. As they settle into their new home, they discover that Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and the new drama brings up old wounds of their missing aunt and creates new ones when people begin to wonder if they have a copycat or the original killer on their hands.

The main problem with the story is that there’s too much, and not much being done with it. Too many characters, too many side plots, and not enough focus on the original mystery that there is a lack of depth to everything. Ellery and Ezra’s aunt went missing before they were born, and her disappearance doesn’t seem to impact or intertwined with the current mystery like it’s suggested to be until the end. McManus relies on clichés without working on them further. Rich, snobby girls and all-American jocks. And their voices weren’t distinct enough to be remotely memorable.

What I appreciated the most about Two Can Keep A Secret was the little things. I really enjoyed the theme of family, and while this book does go on a tangent at some points, the family was a key motivation in all the characters. There’s also some discussion by the side character about being a minority in a heavily white population and how you are forced to be perfect in fear of lash back.

Like McManus’s debut, Two Can Keep A Secret followed through with that intriguing and suspense building flair. It certainly keeps you guessing and enjoyed how this small town both mixed and clashed with each other. The chapters alternate between Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was accused of killing the first girl five years ago. Malcolm, I think, had the most substantial chapters. He has to struggle with everyone pointing the finger at him and no one willing to listen to him. Ellery is a true crime fanatic which was born out of never knowing what happened to her aunt. She’s rather exciting, and I liked how she thinks. But I found it a little inappropriate at times for her to be digging into an actual crime and treating it as her own plaything. Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but I could never take her seriously because she never did.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret much more than I did with One of Us is Lying. Both books have their strengths and flaws, but I think TCKAS was a stronger and more enticing read. It was a satisfying read about a small town with big secrets. I was super invested quite quickly, but I found my interesting waning towards the end. But it was still a satisfying read, and a quite quick read I might add, I would recommend reading if you have an afternoon to kill.


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Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)

In a strictly divided society, where high ranking men each marry two women, a Primera and a Segunda, Daniela has risen to the very top of her class despite her forged identity.

Medio is an island nation divided by a wall and aligned by class. The mythos of the world reveals it was born after two sibling gods fought over a woman. Those who sided with the salt god were cursed to live in barren and ruined lands. The descendants of the sun god who reside in the capital are wealthy and refused to change their disproportionate way of living. The role of Primera and Segunda comes from the sun god and his two wives: one who is responsible for running the household and one who must bear their husband’s children. And the Medio School for Girls is accountable for raising girls suitable for marriage.

Daniela is days away from graduating and getting married into one of Medio’s high-ranking families. When an agent of La Voz, a group of rebels within the city who protest the violence and disparity of the divide between the island, calls out her fraudulent papers and supplies her with new ones. Soon, she is blackmailed into spying on her new family. As she settles into her role as Primera, she must make some unexpected choices if she wants to survive.

We Set the Dark on Fire is certainly engaging, a story not so far removed from our reality. It’s a part thriller, part forbidden (sapphic) romance, and full on drama. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely, but it has that old school dystopian flair. And Mejia brings her own Latinx twist to YA dystopia which I really enjoyed.  

Mejia has crafted quite a world. I found it quite sparse at first, especially with no map, I couldn’t really picture anything that wasn’t the space that Daniela occupied and her descriptions of the border. Which is such a shame because it really weakens the rebellion when you almost nothing about it. Other than visual, there is a lot of detail in different ways. Mejia takes on immigration, class disparity, corruption and oppression. And I really enjoy the use of the salt and sun god’s actions which led to the way their current society was formed.

I’m still a little wary over how the romance between Dani and Carmen developed. I do like “enemies to lovers”, but this felt more like bullies to lovers, and I really couldn’t put aside the fact that Carmen tormented Dani for over five years. The romance is good, I would say it’s one of the books strongest points, but how we got there was the issue. Other than these two little titbits, I would still say this is quite a good read.

Overall, We Set the Dark on Fire was a refreshing read where my high expectations were surprisingly met. An action-packed narrative that discusses privilege and immigration, mirroring our own headlines. The plot twist at the very end actually threw me off completely. I am definitely excited to see where the story will go further in the next instalment.     


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