This is a bittersweet post to write. The more I think about it, however, the more right it feels. It’s time to say goodbye.
Years ago I closed my first blog because blogging became a chore, I would have to force myself to sit down and write and I would procrastinate to the last second. It was so hard to accept that I just didn’t want to keep blogging anymore.
I’m sad to say this but Latinx Magic doesn’t bring me joy anymore. I have been terrible with keeping up with comments, I have never been consistent and the more I try, the more dishearten I feel about creating new content. I feel drained, like I can’t give this blog anything anymore.
I’m exhausted and really, I’m just over a community that doesn’t appreciate bloggers. I’m tired of spending hours screaming to the void. I’m tired because the things I’m the loudest about, never change. Time and time again we have the same conversations because the reality is, white folks don’t care or won’t listen or whatever… I can’t do this anymore. It’s not worthy. I feel myself slowly drowning in despair. I’m tired of reading the same racist takes, I’m tired of people not being accountable and I’m SO tired of seeing folks still thriving because they move on. Well, I can’t move on.
I won’t say I didn’t feel welcome in this space because that’s not true. So many bloggers welcomed me with open arms and helped me shape Latinx Magic to what it’s today. But I can’t feel like I belong to a space that is slowly eating my soul. I know it’s an exaggeration, you may roll your eyes, but at this point, I can’t take the same five discourses with the same five opinions anymore.
I’m saying goodbye but I don’t truly know what it means. I’m not deleting Latinx Magic because I’m so proud of the things I did here. I don’t feel honest calling this a hiatus because I really don’t know when or if I’ll ever come back. You deserve my honesty, it’s the least I could do. This has been a long way coming, really. Like many things I do, opening this blog was a spontaneous decision. Although I had been thinking about blogging, I couldn’t make that last step until one day the site was up and that first blog post was being drafted. I let my passion and excitement make my spontaneous decisions and I have a great time. But sometimes it means I don’t think things through and when it catches up with me, I have lost that energy.
I was slowly reminded of all of the things that I didn’t enjoy about blogging: being consistent, spending hours on content, letting the numbers get to you, feeling like your work goes unnoticed… By the end of 2019, I felt exhausted and disconnected. I pushed through, however, thinking that what I needed was to go back to a routine. It was not.
With the pandemic, I hoped to catch up with reviews and blog ideas, it didn’t happen. All this to say, I knew the end was near and there was not going back.
I may come back, I really hope I will, but I feel like Latinx Magic is a stage of my life that I have to close now.
I’m sorry, part of me feels I’m letting you down. Your encouragement, love and support doesn’t go unnoticed, I promise. Thank you for being in this journey.
Please note that this a sequel, there will be major spoilers of book one, The Dragon Warrior. but I will keep it spoiler free for The Fallen Hero.
Faryn Liu thought she was the Heaven Breaker, a warrior destined to wield the all-powerful spear Fenghuang, command dragons, and defeat demons. But a conniving goddess was manipulating her all along…and her beloved younger brother, Alex, has betrayed her and taken over as the Heaven Breaker instead. Alex never forgave the people who treated him and Faryn like outcasts, and now he wants to wipe out both the demons and most of humanity.
Determined to prevent a war and bring Alex back to her side, Faryn and her half-dragon friend Ren join the New Order, a group of warriors based out of Manhattan’s Chinatown. She learns that one weapon can stand against Fenghuang–the Ruyi Jingu Bang. Only problem? It belongs to an infamous trickster, the Monkey King.
Faryn sets off on a daring quest to convince the Monkey King to join forces with her, one that will take her to new places–including Diyu, otherwise known as the Underworld–where she’ll run into new dangers and more than one familiar face. Can she complete her mission and save the brother she loves, no matter the cost?
The Fallen Hero follows Faryn and her friends in a quest to save the world (again). Along the way, she reunites with old friends, meets new deities (and demons), and grows so much. Once again, Katie Zhao delivers an action-packed story with the perfect heartwarming moments and best jokes. This is such a thoughtful and nuance series, at its core a story about family.
To say I was excited to read this series, it’s an understatement. So many twitter friends have loved it and it has some of my favorite elements; best friends turned rivals turned friends, messy sibling relationships, adventures, a sarcastic main character, and a world based on mythology. Book one was an exploration of the chosen one trope, Faryn making her way as a warrior with the help of her friends and family. So I was pleasantly surprised when Katie turned around the trope, making her protagonist not the great warrior anymore. It was such a great plot twist, with Alex betrayal right there, too.
What happens when you are not the chosen one anymore?
Although I appreciate and enjoy chosen one stories, I’m even more excited to see the journey of someone who’s ordinary, who has to work hard and needs help to accomplish their goals. See, this series is about family and relationships at its core, and Faryn was never alone like she thought. She may not be the Heaven Breaker, but she’s a warrior in her own.
I adore how this sequel developed more Faryn’s friendships, from her old and new friends. This one of my favorite things of the series, how complex and messy sometimes the relationships are. They tease and laugh, but also hold hands in hard times. Faryn’s love is so fierce and strong and it’s her relationships, her connection with her brother, father and ancestors that make her grow. I really liked the new siblings, Ashley and Jordan, and it was great to see REDACTED. Sorry not sorry, you will have to read book to scream with me about them.
I also appreciated how The Fallen Hero expands Faryn’s family, she’s reunited with her father and meeting her ancestors, but she also realizes that her friends are part of that family too. Found family makes my heart happy.
This story has such beautiful gut-punching moments because this such an emotional charged book, from fierce love to frustration, The Fallen Hero had me in tears many times. I would never say this is a sad book but it does have a melancholic tone as what Faryn wishes for (and what we wish for her), her reconnection with Alex, feels so far away and impossible.
Her voice, the narration, is something I adore, too. This book is genuinely funny, very charming and it feels like talking with a friend. Faryn’s conflicted feelings go beyond the page, bringing me to tears, and the next page she will make smile with one of her sarcastic remarks. I think this is just one my favorite things from middle-grade novels; the way they can make a joke after making very honest and raw comments and it feels natural.
And Faryn is such a charming main character. I adore her in book 1 and even more in here. She’s so unapologetic in her beliefs, with a big heart and to see her grow more confident in herself and her own strengths is incredible. The more we see of her messiness, the more I adore her. She can have quiet the temper and she likes fighting with her friends, she gets angry at the Gods and just wants to be do what’s right, even when it’s hard. Seriously, all the love to her.
It was great to see here more about the world-building in here. The series is based on Chinese mythology, where the Gods move to the west as people immigrated. In different Chinatowns across the United States, warriors are trained to protect society from demons. In book one we saw San Francisco’s Chinatown, home of the Jade City society, but book two is set in Manhattan and these new warriors are nothing like the ones Faryn knows. Throughout the book we got to see new deities like the Monkey King and King Yama. I love stories where the magic is set in contemporary times, hiding from society. There are all these small details to cover up this whole world and they’re justified as quirks of cities.
I’m going to be honest, I thought this was a duology. I was getting closer to the last chapter, I realized we would need a third book because there was not time for all the things I needed to happen. So I’m very excited to see how the adventures end. And I hope Katie doesn’t make us cry too much, please let our children have the happy endings they deserve!
Katie Zhao is a 2017 graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and Political Science, and a 2018 Masters of Accounting at the same university. She is the author of Chinese #ownvoices middle grade fantasy THE DRAGON WARRIOR (Bloomsbury Kids, October 2019 & 2020), as well as a young adult author. She is a mentor for Author Mentor Match. She is currently open to freelance editorial services for young adult and middle grade manuscripts.
Disclaimer: eARC was provided by the publisher in exchange of an honest review. Please note that there will be spoilers from both books in the series and the story (and quotes) may change in the finished copies.
Written in Starlight is the sequel to Woven in Moonlight, described as “a lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history”. If I thought book one was bad, I had no idea how terrible book two would be.
Let me start by saying that Isabel Ibañez’s debut was one of my most anticipated releases, the book didn’t disappoint me, it crushed me. I was looking forward to more Latinx fantasy! Revolution! Stabby protagonists! I went to Woven in Moonlight with high expectations, but I went to its sequel with the clear intent of looking at its flaws. And friends, did I find them! I gave Isabel the benefit of the doubt in my first review, but I’m not holding back this time. Written in Starlight was bad, really bad.
I believe in DNFing books that do not spark joy, but I pushed through this book anyway. My friends can tell you how much I screamed, cried in anger, and laughed while reading it. I knew I have to finish and write this review, I knew that white reviewers would not pick any of the problems in this series. I did this on purpose, I know this very well, it does not mean this book wasn’t a painful journey.
I have divided this review into my three main problems:
Harmful portrayed of Indigenous communities
After the events of book one, Catalina finds herself sentenced to the jungle. She knows this means death, as the jungle is a mysterious and dangerous place, not kind to outsiders. Although the Llacsan soldiers leave her with food, shelter AND advice, she decides to promptly ignore everything and complain about her unfair life instead. Lucky for her, unlucky for us, Catalina is saved from a jaguar by her childhood crush slash bodyguard, Manuel. With a reluctant ally, she makes a new plan to bring glory and power to her people again; with Manuel’s knowledge and her diplomatic skills, they will travel to Paititi, the secret city of the Illari, to secure them as allies.
This sounds very colonizer-like, as Catalina refuses to engage with any of the things Ximena learned about their people in the last book, but somehow an interesting plot. This book is being described as a South American Tomb Raider after all, whatever that means. However, the story is so inconsistent that it turns pretty quickly in a ridiculous mess.
The jungle is not a place for outsiders but still, Manuel and Catalina pushed through with their little understanding of this place and of the Illari (you know the people they want as allies?), while also being chased by the Illari, because they don’t want them in their land… I’m just so confused by this point, why get lost looking for a secret city you don’t know when you’re being followed by the people you want to talk to? Why doesn’t Catalina use her diplomatic skills to establish a relationship as a leader instead? Don’t look too closely, it doesn’t make any sense.
After a long time of fighting with animals, complaining about Ximena and her treason, crying about how Manuel doesn’t love her back, making racist remarks about the Illari, and dreaming about her people’s power, Catalina does make it to the city of Paititi. And what she finds there, thanks to the kindness of this community that she has been the worst at for half of the book, changes her entire life.
Once again, the story relies on the emotional labor of the Indigenous group to teach the colonizer girl about prejudice and ignorance. But Catalina does not ask for forgiveness or cares about learning by herself, everything has to be served to her. When she’s called out, we are supposed to believe in her change, even when it’s more telling than showing. She does not deserve redemption, she did not earn it in my eyes. She quickly debates herself about colonization and war, resolving in a couple of paragraphs the entire internal conflict of the book. It’s not just a rushed ending, it’s anticlimactic and frustrating.
It does not help that Isabel Ibañez adds a new element to the world-building at the last moment, another rushed and anti climatic point in the story that goes nowhere.
Underdeveloped characters (and romance)
You see, Written in Starlight is not more than a new version of Woven in Moonlight. Catalina is in many ways very similar to Ximena: she’s whinny, ignorant, mean for no reason, doesn’t have a fiber of instinct in her body. She’s also kind with a good heart, a lost girl that doesn’t know who she’s outside her title, we are told. We are supposed to care, I guess. I did not.
Ximena was infuriating, she did not want to see beyond her worldview and when she did, it was too little too late. As an audience, we saw from the beginning that Ximena was wrong. With Catalina, it was worse. We knew about the Illustrian’s violence and racism, and Catalina purposely refuses to engage with the events of the past book. She complains and cries about Ximena betraying her, but she doesn’t want to let the readers know why she was betrayed. The way this story tries really hard to make us sympathize with her struggle with identity and confidence when she wants to murder and imprisoned Indigenous people. I can’t even finish that sentence.
I’m sure it’s clear, I did not like Catalina. She is not a character I wanted to know more about, her self discovery journey, once again, comes from the emotional labor of the brown people. Her growth, as I noted before, was rushed and unbelievable. You can’t make me think that after all the complaining this girl did about her power, she would gladly accept a new destiny after one conversation about her misconceptions.
Manuel was not charming, either. He was closed-off and mean for no reason, he would make the most eye-rolling excuses and backtracked ten times in the same chapter. He is supposed to be this guarded and hurt bodyguard that Catalina sparks with life (manic pixie girl?), but instead, he just read as a very annoying and underdeveloped character.
Their romance, sadly, is a huge driven force of this story. One of the most mediocre romances I have ever had the displeasure of reading. And I’m saying this as a romance reader, you know, I love romance! I do not care for the childhood crush/bodyguard/forbidden tropes, these are usually tropes I don’t particularly look for. Combined with how frustrating these characters are, their romance was a pain to get through. There was so much unnecessary angst! So much miscommunication! So many fights!
I shouldn’t be surprised, all the characters are very underdeveloped. We barely know the rest of the Illari and once again, the villain is a caricature that does nothing.
I’ve been pushing this last section because it’s the one I’m not looking forward to; I can laugh at the romance and plot holes, but the way Indigenous folks were portrayed in this book was terrible.
To recap, there are three main groups;
Illari. Originally people of Inkasisa, they were conquered by the Llacsans and forced to leave, moving to the jungle.
Llacsans. They had a big kingdom in Inkasisa until they were defeated by the Illustrians and exiled to the mountains. In book 1, they have taken over their land, killing the Illustrian royalty. By Isabel Ibañez’s words, they are based on the Inca empire.
Illustrians. They came from ?? and built a wealthy kingdom by forcing Llacsans to the mines. When Llacsans rebelled and killed them, the survivors ran away and kept hidden in a fortress, waiting for revenge. Again, by Isabel’s words, they are based on the Spanish colonizers.
Written in Starlight may be a fantasy book inspired by Bolivian history, but it’s not just fiction. I’m quite frankly, disgusted that someone would think that this story was a great idea. From the way Catalina sees the jungle to the way she talks about her people’s past, this book plays on stereotypes, misconceptions, and plain ignorance to create one hell of a racist story.
Place sets the tone of books and in here, the jungle is mysterious and dangerous, not kind to outsiders and the magic that exists here is terrifying. You can’t think of the jungle in South American without thinking of the Amazon rainforest and the way Europeans were terrified by it; monsters live in there and outsiders don’t survive, they believed. The rainforest has been burned, bought, cut down to the likes of colonizers, destroying the life of Indigenous communities.
Even when Catalina and Manuel learn about this land, there’s an amount of surprise to the wonders that feels insincere and ugly. The magic of the Amazon rainforest is not a story for white Latines to tell, and you can feel that view of the outsider in these pages.
Catalina’s fear for the unknown, for the monsters of the stories, for even the Illari that she desperately needs but still is condensing to, keeps the pace of the novel. This book is not just set in the jungle but it is about the jungle, and that distinction frustrated me a lot. You see, for all Manuel talks about respecting the land, they both barge in there like the place is theirs, like they deserve that space and its secrets. When white latines are destroying sacred places of Indigenous communities in South America, Manuel and Catalina’s attitude doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s not only the way they see the jungle but the way they see the Illari. I talked in my review of Woven in Moonlight how uncomfortable the representation of the Incas made me feel, and it’s clear the Illari are also based on Indigenous people. They are mysterious and dangerous, they have become monsters themselves to survive in a place like this, speaking the old language and worshipping Inti, Pachamama, and Mama Killa. Catalina does not speak their language (Quechua), forcing them all to speak Castellano (spanish) for her, peak colonizer For all the comments she makes about them (and she has a lot to say about them), it’s the way she reacts to their deities that infuriated me the most.
As I mentioned, her mission is to secure an army to conquer her city again. She’s pretty set on this, although side characters keep questioning her. She doesn’t care about what her people did, or where her power comes from, she doesn’t even care what kind of sovereign she will be. Until she finds out that her dear Luna goddess is related to the Llacsan’s (and Illari’s) gods. Why she’s surprised they all believe in the same deities, when her people colonized the kingdom, appropriating the Indigenous people’s beliefs, well, there’s no explanation.
She’s furious at first! How can her goddess, who only blesses the Illustrians, be the family of Pachamama and Inti? The idea of all of them worshipping the same pantheon disgusts her, what terrible thought! She eventually changes her mind, realizing how the earth, sun and moon are all in balance. But you see, she only cares about it because it helps her to understand her power. This is such a huge thing for her, accepting Pachamama and Inti, that in a couple of pages she’s a new character. I did mention that I found the changed pretty rush and eye-rolling, but it’s also insulting.
She only changes for her own self-interest, but we’re supposed to see her as a pure heart girl. And although I could potentially ignore her questionable intentions, it’s the way she has talked about the gods that makes me want to scream.
Inti, Pachamama, and Mama Killa are not fictional gods, invented by Isabel, they are a very big part of many Andino cultures. It almost feels like a perversion; Pachamama and Inti are painted as bloody and violent gods, looking for sacrifice and granting dangerous power to the humans. Pachamama, mother earth, supporting death and war? I’m just baffled by the disrespect. These are not imaginary deities to laugh about, they’re part of many Indigenous cultures in real life. It’s not just how ignorant the book is about them, but how it never truly takes them seriously, even in the context of the story, until Catalina needs them. I’m just furious, they are not more than plot points to help Catalina’s arc.
Once again, just thinking of the connotation of a colonizer girl making fun of these powerful gods. Combined with the way the Illustrians talk about their history, I realize how conscious Isabel Ibañez has been all this time about her portrayal of Indigenous people in Bolivia.
As Catalina has her moment of revelation, she thinks about her people’s role in the kingdom. The Llacsans initially conquered the land, forcing the Illari to leave, and then the Illustrians came and took over everything. “No one is blameless‘, she says with conviction, justifying her people’s bloody history. But you see, this is not just fiction talking right there, there’s a big purpose behind this. For being based on the Spanish colonization, the Illustrians are a watered down version. In this universe, they have not murdered, assaulted, tortured, enslaved, burned down cities and history, forced assimilation for hundreds of years. Sure, Catalina agrees, they did commit crimes but so did the Llacsans! But you can’t, you can’t compare the genocide of Indigenous communities in the Americans with the wars of the Inca empire. You can’t compare these two different things to get your point across, Isabel, you can’t rewrite history to fit your narrative.
My hands shake as I write this because of the audacity! The audacity of calling this series is based on Bolivian history when as an author you refuse to engage with the real history. You can’t be inspired by the Spanish, making them the protagonists, and then try to make me care. The more I think of these books, the angrier I get. The disrespect!
I said in my Woven in Moonlight’s review that I wasn’t dissuading anyone from reading it. But I can’t in good conscience say the same thing again. Narratives like this, centering the oppressor with stereotypes and harmful ideas, are incredibly dangerous. Please, consider supporting another author.
Latinx Heritage Month is almost here!! The closer it gets, the more I have been thinking about the word Latinx. A couple of weeks ago, a study published in Pew Research Center analyzing data from 2019 National Survey of Latinos sparked some misleading information. In the survey, 3,030 Hispanics (I’m going with the term of the research, but please note Hispanic is not my favorite term at all) were asked about the term Latinx and their views about it. It was concluded then, like it always happens on twitter, by randoms, that the term Latinx is a tool of white Americans to take over our language? our minds? I have not idea, it’s a pretty ridiculous point.
You see, this is not new, every once in a while someone tries to come at David Bowles, Mexican-American scholar and writer, to cry how asking for a gender-neutral language is the gringos agenda and we shouldn’t conform. David is very unspoken about the use of Latinx and I highly recommended follow him. You can also check out his article for Medium.
It’s not lost to me that majority of latinos being so loud about the whole thing are… white latinos. The joke tells itself, really.
The thing is, the more I think about LHM, a dread grows at the pit of my stomach. I’m thinking of the bigots who always find our content to complain how IT IS NOT A REAL WORD. But I’m also thinking about the white allies who ask, time and time again, why do we use Latinx and could we explain to them? pretty please? one more time?
That’s not fair, I understand folks are curious and many outsiders of the community really don’t know. But also, god, this country is just so evil and the way we’re dehumanized and I’m just tired. So I’ll do this once, just for this time that I feel vulnerable, I will talk why I use Latinx for myself and about some of the lies that are being spread.
Latinx in the community
Latinx community has strict gender roles, I’ll be the first one to admit it and scream about it. Adding to the racism, colorism, anti-Indigenous, ableism and classicism. But please note I’m talking form my place, as a biracial Argentinian immigrant.
For years, the homophobia made me feel like I was suffocating in Argentina. I never felt like I could explore my sexuality or gender because every breath felt an act of survival. The first time I heard the word Latinx, it felt liberating. It felt right.
I left Argentina in 2015 and not long after that, I could see a shift in the country. The idea of an inclusive language, as it’s called gender-neutral language in many parts of Latin American, is not new. Folks have pushed for a reconstruction of our whole systems for decades, language included. But after some viral videos, the use of “e” in Argentina was a discussion everyone was having. All this is to say, I find ridiculous the notion that white Americans came with the idea of Latinx. It’s quite disrespectful to all the activists in Latin American that tirelessly work for a better world.
To clarify, many Latin Americans use Latine instead because it’s easier for the tongue, you see, that X sound in Spanish doesn’t work so well. Latinx means exactly the same thing, but it’s preferred for many English-speakers. Be mindful that some folks would like instead to be called Latine.
It’s not a coincidence that the push back against a gender-inclusive language is so loud and persistent, it comes back to twitter like clockwork. The Latinx community doesn’t take kindly to acts of rebellions, to highlighting the broken system, to making space to queer folks. When we are asking for a language that recognizes and respects our entire community, the push back comes with violent force. How dare you, cis white latinx men say to scream, how dare you to try destroy our power.
Don’t get it wrong, this is about power and the fear of having to confront the homophobia that lives in the community. Language grows and changes and adapts, but some macho dinosaurs refuse to let of their space.
When the tweets about the research and graphics were shared, I saw well-intention allies confused about it, should you use latino instead? I’m glad you’re listening to the community, but you have to pay attention where criticism is coming from. And what are your marginalized Latinx friends saying.
There are so many misconceptions about Latinx, where it came from, who coined it, who can use it. But at the end of the day, it’s clear who hates it, who despises it with so much fervor that refuse to see beyond their lies.
Latinx in my life
As I said, I didn’t understand right in that moment why Latinx felt so right. I would soon realize, in a new space that let me see beyond the homophobia and misogyny of my family, that I was queer and that I wasn’t cis. And I wasn’t Hispanic (never Hispanic), and I was not Latina. I’m Latinx, period. A full sentence right there.
I use Latinx to reclaim my space in a community that doesn’t want me. I use Latinx so my voice carries loud. I use Latinx for my trans and non-binary siblings. I use Latinx because I am here.
I don’t need to explain beyond that, I actually I don’t care if you completely grasp it. Every time someone uses Latinx I feel like we’re breaking our rigid society apart piece by piece to build something better. I know, this is the dreamer on me, I hope for a better world, but I see it changing. Not only here in the United States, I see the change in my own country, in all over Latin American, and it fills me with love. This is how it starts, right? We take that first step to take our space.
So I am Latinx. Period, full sentence right there.
I haven’t done one of these Mini-Romance Reviews in a while and now I have a lot of books to catch up with. I mean, you’re getting a lot of romance posts in the future, so it isn’t too bad? Today I’m talking about five books, three were rereads and all of them were fantastic. So let’s talk about these books!
Undone by the Ex Con by Talia Hibbert
PLOT: She is supposed to seduce him to save her brother, not slowly fall for him. He didn’t stand a chance, she broke his world in pieces.
TROPES: Dislike to lovers
WHAT I LIKED: This book has strong characters, beautiful writing, compelling plot, and a swoony romance. If someone were to ask me what I love from romance novels, this, this book right here.
Undone by the Ex-Con was this perfect combo of angst and we-can’t-be-together with sweet and funny moments. I laughed aloud a lot and this series gets pretty intense sometimes. I know comedy is very personal, but there’s something of Talia’s puns and banter that always brings a smile to my face.
I was in tears with the Type I diabetic rep, this is literally the second time I read about a diabetic character and there’s something about Lizzie’s own story that feels very close to mine and it’s impossible not to cry a little. The whole discussion of coming to terms with the change of your body and the anger and frustration of having to accept this is something for the rest of your life. Lizzie has all this space to explore her complicated feelings and it was so cathartic but also deeply heartbreaking to read.
There were a lot of heavy topics discussed in the book, please be aware of the trigger warnings: homophobic comments, sexual harassment, internalized ableism.
That Kind Of Guy by Talia Hibbert
PLOT: Two friends pretend to be dating in a book convention, what could it go wrong?
TROPES: fake dating, friends to lovers
WHAT I LIKE: Yep, another Talia Hibbert’s novel. As you may notice by now, she’s one of my favorite romance authors. I don’t remember exactly how I came to reread That Kind of Guy, but it was such a good decision. This series is just the perfect comfort spot for me. It has some of my favorite characters, with these very cinnamon roll heroes, and although the book discusses heavy topics, the happy endings are always so freaking satisfying.
I adore how we see Rae and Zach’s friendship, their fun dialogue and easiness and how that slowly grows to something different. I adore that this book has a demi hero and the way the story talks about romantic and platonic relationships. I just freaking love Rae and Zach so much.
Final note: Just read Talia Hibbert, I beg you.
Trigger warnings: discussions about emotional abuse and controlling behavior.
American Sweethearts by Adriana Herrera
PLOT: Friends turn to lovers, Juan Pablo and Priscilla can’t seem to find common ground in the last sixteen years. But in their friend’s wedding they come to realize maybe their romance does deserve a second chance.
TROPES: Second chance, childhood best friends to lovers
WHAT I LIKE: This was such a phenomenal note to finish the Dreamers series. These books have been sexy, adorable, and unapologetic Latinx. Adriana has shown me time and time again that she can tackle difficult topics, power dynamics and consent while delivering the perfect romantic bits with satisfying happy endings.
What I mean is, I was incredibly excited for Juanpa and Pris’s story, their second chance romance, and yes, the happiness they both deserve. I was not disappointed. Actually, I was surprised by how close I felt Pris’s journey, her relationship with her parents as an immigrant and the way she puts her dreams aside because she feels like she has to. Her conversation with her mom was one of the most emotional moments of this series and I cried so much with her.
I appreciated so much all the discussions about sex positive, especially when talking about the Latinx community. And the pegging! I knew but OH MY GOD YES! All of this to say, the chemistry of these two was so good but they still have work to do. American Sweethearts shows that therapy, growing and open communication is so important for a relationship and we have to stan.
I mean, all the exclamations points. That’s what I mean, you know. I just had the greatest time reading about these two dummies, cried a lot because because pure emotions and damn it was hot! Like I said, perfect way to finish this series, what a blessing.
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
PLOT: He needs a wife, she needs the money, they agree to a marriage of convenience that slowly grows to friendship and love.
TROPES: Marriage of convenience, grumpy/sunshine dynamic
WHAT I LIKE: I truly like Tessa Dare’s writing. I know it doesn’t work for everyone because it’s pretty modern in historical terms, but it’s charming, witty and gives me the greatest time. This was a reread for me and I greatly enjoy going back to Emma and Ash’s relationship. Their banter and fights, the way they slowly grow comfortable and start trusting each other, how they slowly fall in love. Emma is such a delightful heroine, very Tessa Dare, and I adore her. Ash is harder to love but he still grows on me, that grumpy duke.
I’m still troubled by the internalized ableism and the language of this book. The way everyone talks about Ash’s disfigurement is quite frankly, pretty awful, and it’s never really called out.
Trigger warnings: emotional abuse, internalized ableism, talk of a past war
A Prince in Paper by Alyssa Cole
PLOT: Ledi struggles to keep up with work and school, plus she’s getting these weird emails about being engaged to a prince??? Thabiso is looking for his bride, he was not expecting Ledi at all.
TROPES: Royalty, fake identity,
WHAT DID I LIKE: This was another reread that I enjoyed way more this time. Don’t get me wrong, I adored A Princess in Theory when I read it the first time, but the fake identity trope made it hard for me to love it. This is a trope that I don’t exactly like and I kept expecting for that moment that everything would be ruined… That’s why I think this reread was such a different experience, I came with the knowledge of everything happening before and after and I understood Thabiso’s decision better. All that to say, this reread was a fantastic experience.
I adored falling in love with these two, the way Ledi slowly opens up, her relationship with her cousin. There were so many great conversations, a lot of great banter and some good adorable moments. I just love these characters at this point, they’re so dear to my heart and coming back to Reluctant Royals feels like a perfect comfort.
This marks my 100th blog post, I thought it would be fitting that it would be my Latinx Heritage Month TBR. I started this space to talk about books, especially Latinx books, after having a great time for LHM. During that month I realized how these books filled me with joy and I needed them all year around, which I wasn’t consistently reading back then. That year I also got to meet so many incredible Latinx bloggers and creators that have definitely inspired me to make Latinx Magic what it is today.
Anyway, this is a lot of feelings so let’s talk about my TBR.
In case you don’t know, Latinx Heritage Month is a monthly celebration of, you guess it, Latinx heritage. It starts September 15th and ends October 15th, and during the month there are many cool events and readathons happening.
I struggle with TBRs, I have said this before, but I have also found that I like having an idea at least of books that fit prompts of readathons. So let’s say this is more of a tentative TBR where I can look back in case I’m missing a challenge or I’m anxiously staring at my shelves trying to find my next read, instead of… reading.
Runs from September 15th to September 24th, cohosted by Jocelyn, Priscilla, Yvette, Andrea, Tash and Kathleen. They have four challenges plus Latinx Lit Takeover, a conjunct project with Latinx Book Club and Latinx Book Bingo, where we will be reading a together the same group book. Check out their twitter for more info about the readathon.
Voices: Read a book written by an Indigenous and/or Black Latinx author
Roots: Read a translated book or a book prominently featuring more than one language (i.e. with a bilingual MC)
Nocturna by Maya Motayne. I know, I’ll see myself out. I have been saying I will read this for over a year now, I AM SORRY. I’m also not super sure this book fits this prompt? But from what I remember language was part of the magic so I’m counting, oops.
Heritage: Read a book written by an author from a non-Spanish speaking Latin American country/heritage (i.e. Brazil or Haiti)
Color Me In by Natasha Diaz. I have been meaning this book for some time now, too. It’s a story that tackles privilege, colorism and standing up for your community written by a Jewish, biracial Brazilian author.
Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.
If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.
With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.
Maximiliano Córdova belongs in my messy kids with big hearts club. You see, Max wishes to be a fútbol (soccer) star, it runs in his family. But new rules about the team makes Max’s plans for the summer go awry. He is disappointed and frustrated, sad that his friendship is changing. When the opportunity to follow his Buelo’s stories to find Mañanaland come knocking at this door, he takes it. He doesn’t understand that this journey is not an adventure. And he quickly learns that his family’s legacy is much more than athletic stars.
My heart was filled with joy for Max, for his ambitious dreams and bravery, for his fierce love. He’s so compassionate and caring, and he makes such honest connections with the other characters. It’s impossible not to admire him when as a child, he understands better than adults to respect other’s people’s choices. Even when these choices hurt him.
He’s making a dangerous journey, following his Buelo’s story, because he doesn’t fully grasp what it means to be afraid for your own life, to wish for a better future, to risk everything for that chance. He learns so much, in such a short period of time (this book is quite short), but it didn’t feel rush or underdeveloped. Pam Muñoz Ryan clearly understands her characters, understands the way children are forced to grow up and she shows it in such an endearing way.
In the end, Max comes to realize that his family true legacy is their love for the community.
This is something I love from Mañanaland, the way it depicts refugees, immigration, and community. Without losing sight of her audience, the author gives us such an honest look at the dangers of crossing borders, the personal stories of these refugees and the value of a community that stands up to care for the most vulnerable. There’s a moment where the book talks about the stories lost forever and the way people try to leave their mark, in any way they can, so their memories stay, that just broke my heart. It says so much about the loss of so many lives at the hands of cruel governments and made-up borders.
This book never names countries or communities, the only town we know is Santa Maria, but of course it’s not hard to draw parallels to the stories of immigration to the US. This is why I believe this is one of the most powerful books that I have read: it takes such care to humanized these stories of immigrants and gives us a beautiful message of hope that makes the darkest days in real life bearable.
Mañanaland is a tender exploration of everyday heroes, friendship and family, and the journeys we make for our futures. A beautiful story that I will treasure forever.
“He hoped it all came to pass-sunshine, blue skies, flowers and fruit trees, waterfalls and rainbows. A different tomorrow, one without fear and filled with kindness, safety, and hope.”
This is going to be rambling but short post, I just want to talk about this incredible idea Shealea from Shut Up, Shealea came out with. She’s organizing #GoodReadance2020 this September, a challenge to clean up, reorganize and work on our Goodreads shelves. Check out her post for a better explanation.
As Shealea, I find tasks smoothing and I feel like this is the perfect thing for me right now. I will try to keep you all updated, if you’re interested. I did start a sort of thread on twitter if you want to check out that.
So let’s talk about goals!
Catching up with reviews
At the beginning of the year I did pretty well with keeping out with reviews. I do not review all the books I read anymore. I mean, I’m reading 20+ books at month, I don’t have the time, the words or the even the energy to review so much (I applaud folks who can do it, you’re a superhero). But I try to review all my ARCs and my highlighted reads, you know, favorites and disappointments. Sadly, with the pandemic I kind of lost any interest with writing reviews and now I have books from April that I have to finish writing. Yes, April. I haven’t counted but I’m sure the number is higher than 30 reviews. BUT I’M HOLDING MYSELF ACCOUNTABLE NOW. At least I want to catch up from April to July, I will take a break after that. I will deserve it, right?
Cleaning my tbr
Image reads: all books (2053), read (1439), currently reading (4), want to read (495), dnf (67), maybe (22), pausados (20)
I cleaned my tbr back in March when the pandemic started and although I lowered my to be read to less than 500 books, I want that number to be lower. I’ll be soon adding all the 2021 releases and my tbr will grow quickly, I know myself. So my goal is to get my current 495 books tbr to 450 or less.
I also have a shelf called maybe, where I add books that I’m not 100% sure I will want to read. There are 22 books right now. I want to decide if I want to move these books to my TBR and keep them, or just delete them and forget of their existence (not hate, just there are books I don’t care about).
Fixing my Shelves
I regularly changed my Goodreads shelves. I use them as categories and they help me track better my reading. So as my reading goals change, so does my shelves. I have been keeping track of things as LGBTQ+ mc/BIPOC mc/Latinx mc for two years now, before that I shelved books as ‘diverse’ for example, but that I found that label to big and misleading. The thing is, I don’t find these shelves helpful anymore. Maybe because I know I’m not reading a majority of white books, I don’t really need to know how many books with Latinx characters I’m reading. As time passes, I find these categories are just not working for the books I’m reading, or for myself. I don’t know. I’m not sure what I want from my shelves now, however. So I want to figure this out this month.
Please let me know how you use your Goodreads shelves, I would love some input!
So I guess I’ll see you in a couple of weeks with an update. Hopefully my Goodreads is looking better my them.
Since last year I have shared a couple of times at year my Latinx shelf because it fills me with joy how much they have grown. With Latinx Heritage Month so close (starting September 15th), I want to scream about my love again.
The last time I did, friends commented how they used my photo as a point of reference for recommendations and that is SO exciting! But having to zooming in to catch titles? A pain and a very inaccessible. So here we are now, I’m sharing a list of all my Latinx books with links to goodreads, just click the title. I have added mini descriptions and my review when applicable.
ALSO if you wish to participate, please do and tag me so I can see your posts or photos. Use #LatinxShelf!
Let me know how many of these books you have read!
Following the events of Mirage, Court of Lions follows two identical girls with very different lives. Maram is a princess, the heir to a powerful empire. Amani is a rebel, the daughter of farmers, kidnapped to be Maram’s body double.
I read Mirage just a couple of months ago and I was hooked from the first chapter. The introduction to this world, a well-lived and complex world set in space inspired by Moroccan culture, kept me reading. But it was Amani who settled this book as a favorite. From that first chapter we see her bravery and strength, she’s a survivor, and there’s nothing that she wouldn’t do for her people and family. That’s the kind of character that I love with all my heart.
Court of Lions is a story of resistance and power sprinkled with sapphic longing and beautiful writing. Hands down, one my favorite conclusions.
Like I have said, something I keep coming back to Mirage is the writing. This series talks a lot about poetry and the power of words, and the writing almost feels poetic. It’s lyrical and beautiful, it flows so well.
There’s almost a sad tone to the story; we feel Amani’s fear for her family and herself, her pain for everything lost by the hands of the colonizers. And we feel Maram and her grief, for her mother and her culture. These themes of colonization, resistance, grief, identity are complex and painful, but Somaiya always gives us hope.
This series is not exactly character-driven, we have an entire revolution plot going around, but it is character focus. We have such a great insight into Amani’s, and now Maram’s, mind, about their personal stakes and thoughts. Revolutions are for the community, the greater good, but rebellions happen with individuals and they have their own personal fears and dreams. That’s something I deeply adore with books that deal with resistance; looking at the whole picture and then all the little pieces that make it. I love when we are reminded that revolutions are more than ideas.
We follow these two girls, sisters, and their everyday resistance. I love it.
But don’t worry, the action was great and the pacing is just perfect in the story. Every chapter would leave me at the edge of my seat, turning the next page to make sure everyone was safe.
The plot, the writing, the world-building, I adore everything but for me the characters and their relationship are what makes this book shine.
In Court of Lions we get dual points of view, both Amani and Maram get to tell their own story. I adore the insight to Maram’s character. In the first book, I could see her personal conflict, but just glimpses between her relationship with Amani. Here, hearing her feelings, hopes and pain, was incredible.
I loved Amani from that first chapter: she’s resilient, loyal and fierce. She’s more powerful that she realizes and in this book she grows so much. But it’s also very painful for her, realizing she’s not the farmer girl from the beginning, that she’s almost unrecognizable to herself. I felt that. We do what we have to survive, but we also grief for our past selves, for our past lives. As an immigrant, I felt Amani’s heartbreak in my soul.
Now Maram, Maram is my queen, I loved her too. Sure, when we meet her it is hard to know if she would be an ally or an enemy. She’s so much more than that. There’s a lot of growth and healing she has to do. It was incredible to see Maram slowly opening up to relationships, to love, to vulnerability. To survive, she had to lock her emotions, her grief for her mother, turn her back from her heritage. To see her in this book embracing her feelings, falling in love, reconnecting with her culture, it was my favorite part of the book.
I mentioned the characters’ relationships before and I thought I would dedicate a separate space for the sisterhood and romance, as there’s a LOT to talk about and I have a LOT of love for these familial and platonic relationships.
The sisterhood, for sure, is one of the most important things of this series. Siblings can change your life. They make you grow, they push you to be the best version of yourself, they get into your nerves, they fiercely love you, they stand by your side. This is the kind of relationship I have with my brothers, I know not everyone is privileged as me to have supportive siblings, please know I see you ❤
Amani and Maram’s relationship is complicated for sure: Amani’s a slave in Maram’s household and their lives couldn’t be any different. But unlikable friendships are my favorite thing, and unlikable friendships that keep growing to sisterhood? YES YES YES.
It’s through their relationship that they both grow and the plot moves along. They push each other to confront their ideas, to fight for their dreams, to do the impossible to protect the other. And yes, I refuse to think of their relationship like nothing less than sisterhood.
The romance, oh the romance! All the screaming I did when I found out this book would be sapphic. I did a lot of screaming for sure. A lot. Like I mentioned, I love Maram and here she gets a girlfriend! Aghraas is wonderful: a warrior, who is not afraid of being honest or vulnerable. The longing! The slowly falling for each other! Chef’s kiss all around. If you think here it’s where I lost my mind, you would be corrected. The 2020 sapphics not only saved the year, but also fixed my soul and cleared my skin. Thank you.
Mirage by Somaiya Daud is, hands down, one of the best YA SFF series that I have ever read. I mean, you may have guessed it after all the rambling I did. Stories about resistance, revolution and hope are so important and powerful. Combined with a beautiful f/f romance and one of the best sibling relationships, it makes this series a perfect read.
Somaiya Daud is the author of Mirage and holds a PhD from the University of Washington in English literature. A former bookseller in the children’s department at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., now she writes and teaches full time.
Thank you so much Caffeine Book Tours, I was honored to be part of this tour. Please take a moment to check out my follow hosts blog posts in this thread!