Review: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cover of Cemetery Boys, featuring Yadriel at the front wearing a green shirt, Julian behind him facing the opposite direction, and Lady Death in the background facing straight at the viewer. A bright full moon is behind them all and marigold petals surround them.

Cemetery Boys delightfully surprised me! I was wary about how this book would treat Día de los Muertos since it is my favorite holiday, but I have to say that I am quite happy about how we got to see multiple latinx cultures represented in this celebration.

This book is set in East LA in a world where a group of people from Latinx cultures have acquired magical powers from Lady Death, La Santa Muerte. As time has gone on, they have slowly lost the intensity of their power, before it was said that they could bring people back to life, while now they do more basic healing and just help spirits pass to the afterlife. Their power is defined by their gender so women are healers while men help the spirits.

Our main character is Yadriel, a boy who is struggling to be recognized as a brujo because his family is having a hard time accepting his gender identity. He decides to go on a path to get that recognition with the help of his cousin and best friend, Maritza. Maritza is a bruja but she’s vegan and since to use magic they need to use animal blood, she refuses to actually use her powers. In the process of trying to prove himself a brujo, Yadriel summons the spirit of Julian Diaz and now he has to find a way to fix everything before things become dangerous for everyone (including Julian!)

I loved the use of Spanish throughout the book as well as all the references to food (omg I’m hungry thinking about pan de muerto and Gansitos ::drool::). Yadriel’s abuela reminded me a lot of my aunts who basically don’t let you out of their sight until they are satisfied that you’ve eaten properly. I thought that the traditional thoughts of gender were pretty spot on but I loved that Thomas was able to give it more empathy and compassion. While Yadriel is scared and disappointed about how his family is not getting it right 100% of the time, his dad and abuela obviously love him very much and are able to recognize their shortcomings when it counts.

I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something to read that includes the Día de los Muertos celebration as well as a book with trans representation. I now need to go plan out my ofrenda for this year!

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

Want To Read Cleanup #4

This is my monthly dive into my Want To Read List on Goodreads where I look at 10 random books on that list and decide which books stay and which ones go. Out of the ones that are left I will add the book that has been on that list the longest to my TBR for October. Let’s see what’s at play today!

  • Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson: This book sounds super interesting, it is about an Arab-Indian hacker who makes sure that his clients are shielded from being surveilled. Computer surveillance and hacking is very interesting and relevant. I will be keeping this one for sure.
  • Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed: This is a young adult contemporary romance featuring an Indian-American Muslim girl. I’d love to give this book a try since I’m always looking for romance books that don’t feature white characters. I’ll keep it for now.
  • Tres Vidas Chinas by Dai Sijie: I read Sijie’s other book “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” which was such a nice book. Sijie writes in French so this particular book is not translated to English but is available in Spanish. I’m super interested in reading this book and I hope that someday my French skills will be good enough to read the originals!
  • Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman: It’s Neil Gaiman! Not even a question that I’ll keep this book. I just read Smoke and Mirrors, another of his short story collections, and it was great so I feel good about this.
  • Company Town by Madeline Ashby: This is a science fiction novel about the last organic-based person left in her community, since everyone else has bio-engineered enhancements. There’s not much else about the plot that is interesting to me at the moment so I think I will remove this one.
  • Tracks by Louise Erdrich: I absolutely love Erdrich’s writing. This book is about a North Dakota tribe fighting for their land. It features a couple of character from her other books so I’m really looking forward to reading this one.
  • The Inhabited Woman by Gioconda Belli: Belli is a Nicaraguan author so I’d be looking to read the original book in Spanish. This book is about the resistance of an indigenous woman who seeks her own path. I’m definitely keeping it!
  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee: This is the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, set many years after the first book. We still follow Scout and I’m super interested to see where Lee takes these characters. I’ll be keeping it but I do want to wait for the paperback to come out.
  • The Hospital Ship by Martin Bax: No idea why I added this book! Even the synopsis is a bit confusing… it’s about a ship that’s picking up a bunch of random people? It says it’s science fiction but it sounds super philosophical. I’ll pass on this and remove it from my list.
  • Seven Days in June by Tia Williams: I just added this book this year! It’s a contemporary romance between two writers who fell in love fourteen years ago and find each other again and might be able to fall in love again. I need to read this book!

And that’s the 10 books! Out of 10 I removed 2 that I’m no longer interested in reading (the fewest I’ve removed so far!) Now, which of the 8 remaining is the one that has been on this list the longest? Alif The Unseen! So that will go into my October TBR.

I will be done with Todos Los Cuentos this month and maybe even Emma! Next I’ve got All The Light I Cannot See, which I’ll hopefully start this month as well.

So, any books you were surprised about? Any that you think I should have removed but didn’t? Let me know!

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

Review: In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

In The Wild Light was my most anticipated book of the year. So far Zentner has written 4 books, including this one, and I have loved all of them! However, this is my absolute favorite of his books so far.

Zentner writes books featuring teenagers and their journeys through some very difficult transitions in their lives.

In this book we follow Cash Pruitt and Delaney Doyle, two kids from Sawyer, Tennessee, who are now faced with the very real possibility of going to a private boarding school via a full ride scholarship and completely changing the course of their lives. Cash absolutely loves his hometown, his grandparents, and the simplicity of his life as it is. His grandparents have raised him since the death of his mom and his grandfather is ill so Cash does not feel confident enough to leave and go to the boarding school even though it would be a great opportunity. Delaney, on the other hand, can’t afford to stay. Her mom is an addict and so she tends to basically provide for herself without her mom’s support. Delaney also does not want to go to the school without Cash, who has become her only friend and lifeline.

All of the characters in this book are so well written, they are very smart and complex, they have very real problems like having to budget and the culture clash of going from a poor background to being surrounded by heirs to big fortunes, etc. There are also other wonderful characters in this book, like Alex Pak. Alex is Korean-American, from Texas, and is also at the boarding school on scholarship so Cash is able to connect with him and their friendship is heartwarming and beautiful. We see two boys being vulnerable with each other, supporting each other, and lifting each other up, I just love them!

Another beautiful relationship is that of Cash and his grandfather, Pep. Pep is such a wonderful man, he’s been a great role model for Cash and now that he’s ill all he wants is to make sure that Cash goes to the boarding school so that he achieves things that he has never even imagined. I just love Pep so much! T_T

I could go on and on about all the reasons why this book is just so wonderful but let me just put here one of the many beautiful passages you can find throughout the novel:

We think of language as this tame thing that lives in neat garden beds, bound by rules and fences. Then someone shows it to you growing wild and beautiful, flowering vines consuming cities, erasing pavement and lines. Breaking through any fence that would try to contain it. Reclaiming. Reshaping. Reforming.

In The Wild Light by Jeff Zentner (pg.263)

The love of writing and poetry is found throughout the novel. There’s even one of the most wonderful teachers ever: Dr. Britney Rae Adkins! I love that our main characters are not alone, they have a good support system and they have people who believe in them and want them to succeed. It’s just a positive book that made me feel good and happy in the end.

This book is perfect for autumn, Zentner is known for his beautiful writing as he describes the change of nature during autumn so if you want something to get you into that cozy fall mood, this is it! I highly recommend this book if you like beautiful writing, complex characters, beautiful relationships, and realistic fiction. Read this book! I promise you’ll love it! So far it is my favorite book of the year so…. read this book! XD

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

Review: Wordslut by Amanda Montell

The September book pick for the Feminist Book Club was Wordslut: a feminist guide to taking back the english language by Amanda Montell. I’ve always been curious about language, both in English and Spanish so I was very excited to read this book. Specifically, this book deconstructs various aspects of language that relates to women and other marginalized genders.

Also, Montell gives very good tips for dealing with people who tend to correct grammar (viciously) or those who refuse to learn pronouns, or even how to see beyond how some politicians are portrayed in the media.

At one point in my life I was very involved in editing Wikipedia and bridging the gender gap that exists in biographies about women. At one of the annual conferences there was an editor and researcher who had looked at all the times that the words “she” and “her” were used in the site and it turned out that the majority were referring to ships (boats, cruises, warships, etc) so it wasn’t a surprise to learn that language is not exactly feminist as it stands right now (specifically the English language).

I really enjoyed Montell’s writing style, she talks about linguistics and society while also adding footnotes that made me chuckle while reading. It is clear that she loved researching and writing the book so it was not hard work to read and understand.

Overall, this book made me think about my own use of language. English is not my first language, it is Spanish, and as an immigrant it was very important that my accent, my grammar, everything really was as perfect as it could be. I’m often told that I don’t have an accent, people have remarked how good my English is, and well, yep, that’s the point! Of course, there is something lost there too, a part of my own identity is wrapped into how I speak and use both English and Spanish. A different personality comes out when I’m speaking Spanish with my family or friends, and same with English! If anything, Montell validated a lot of my feelings about how the English language is quite unfair towards women of color like me, and other marginalized groups. That in itself felt really good, to see the reasons why I don’t use curse words generally and why I triple check spellings and grammar even while texting with a random friend.

I think this book also gave me the confidence to use language (all of it) and explore it fully without fear of being “wrong”. The biggest lesson for me was that people like me have the power to change language for the better. We don’t have to keep trying to stay within the “rules” because at the end of the day those rules are always changing. And, if these changes to language will empower women and other marginalized genders, why wouldn’t we make those changes?

If you’re at all interested in language, feminism, and just a book that is interesting and so so fun to read, definitely check this out!

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

PS. This was the second book for the Magical – Orilium Readathon!

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

My first book of the month was Six of Crows! This also fulfilled the prompt of Book with a Map for the Novice Path in the Magical – Orilium Readathon.

This book was everything that I needed right now. Some of my favorite types of entertainment tend to have heists at the center of the plot (Money Heist, Ocean’s 8, The Italian Job, Breaking Bad, Baby Driver, etc etc etc) and somehow I’d never read a book about a heist!

While Six of Crows followed The Shadow and Bone Trilogy and it takes place in the same universe, I was able to read it and fully enjoy it without having read the previous trilogy. If there were references to the trilogy I didn’t know but that’s totally okay by me since this book had a lot to offer on its own.

This universe has two types of people: Grisha, people who have magical powers to be able to manipulate life, death, water, materials, etc., and then people who don’t have any powers. There are people in this world who believe that the Grisha are witches and demons who are less than human. Now there is something that is threatening the existence of the Grisha and the current order of the world (dramatic I know!). And so, we are following six very interesting characters:

  • Kaz is the leader of the group, he’s super smart and able to see the strengths and weaknesses of those around him to use them to his advantage. He uses a cane and is in constant pain due to a leg injury he sustained a while back (this does not hinder him in the slightest!) His past is very mysterious and his motives slowly become clear to the reader.
  • Inej is skilled in stealth and climbing, she grew up learning to be an acrobat and somehow ended up in the city of Ketterdam as part of Kaz’ group of thieves. While she is very skilled she does not seem to have a purpose of her own, she simply does the jobs that Kaz assigns her and survives on a day-to-day basis.
  • Jesper is a sharpshooter, he loves the life as part of Kaz’ team. He is also very much addicted to gambling and the only way to keep that urge away is to be in the rush of fighting for his life. He’s loyal to Kaz and is constantly seeking his approval, which is problematic since Kaz doesn’t tend to give approval… to anyone XD
  • Nina is a woman who has the ability to control the human body (from slowing breathing to stopping hearts) and at the beginning of this book she is working at a pleasure house. Nina had some training as a soldier from her home country but somehow also ended up in Ketterdam even though she very much could use her skills to leave.
  • Matthias is a soldier who ended up in jail because he was accused to be a slaver. He has a lot of knowledge of where Kaz pretends to take his team to commit the heist but convincing him to cooperate will prove to be a real challenge. Matthias
  • Wylan is new to the crime world but he’s very good at figuring out complex mechanisms and explosives. He also has a mysterious past and no one really knows why he ended up with Kaz and company. He changes a lot throughout the book too!

There are some really complex relationships between all the characters, all rooted on what their motivations are for going through with this heist. They all have to learn to trust each other to some extent, even if it is because they fear the repercussions of not going through it.

As much as I’d like to pick one favorite character it’s pretty difficult. I loved Nina and her confidence and I loved Inej and the trust she has in herself the most. They have such inner strength that I was inspired to be a little bit more like them. I did enjoy the bit of tension, flirtation, and ache that existed between the potential romances. I liked that they were not the main focus but that they did influence some of the motivations of some of the characters (but also some characters were so emotionally mature!)

Overall, this book is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to read Crooked Kingdom! I’m not super convinced that I’ll go read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, I kind of feel like it will not be on par with Six of Crows so that might be disappointing. If you’ve read the trilogy and disagree, do let me know!

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

September Reading Plans + Magical Readathon: Orilium – The Novice Path

The background features a map of the novice path (Described further in the blog). On the left is a look at all the book spines from the books mentioned in the book standing upright and at the top it says "September Reading Plans"

September is here! August was a great reading month, you can read all about it in my wrap up. For September I have planned the new books around the Magical Readathon: Orilium – The Novice Path (art in header and in journal by Lisa and Logan).

But first, let’s take a look at what I’m currently reading:

  • The Stand by Stephen King: Yep, still buddy reading this, nearing 75% now and I’m so ready to see how this all wraps up!
  • Todos los Cuentos by Gabriel García Márquez: I am nearing the end of this book and I just love how Márquez manages to envelop me in beautiful writing and just all the atmosphere of his stories.
  • Emma by Jane Austen: I was not expecting this one to be so funny! I absolutely love Emma’s dad, he’s ridiculous in the most endearing way ever.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I barely started this one and it will unfortunately go into the backburner for a bit since I’ll be putting other books as priority for the first half of September. However, I’m super enjoying the writing so far, I need to know what is going to happen!
  • Temporada de Huracanes by Fernanda Melchor: This is the new pick for the book club with my friends and wow it’s so good! It is about brujas in a town in Veracruz, Mexico. A woman, known to be a witch in her town, is found murdered and so far we see how her origin is full of rumors, mythology, and violence. Excellent writing, absolutely love it.

And now, let’s look at what I will read for the Novice path for the Magical Readathon that I mentioned above!

Character Development (in progress)

For my character I’ve chosen to create Anukis Atali who lives in the urban center of Kerador and who is of Skaimorn heritage. She is a reader who has always been super curious about the magic that might be within her but which she has never been able to harness except in moments of intense pressure. She was raised by her great-uncle who is all about searching for the origins of his ancestors, genealogy is his passion. As such, Anukis knows that she comes from a line of powerful magic, which makes her inability to harness her own quite frustrating. The three books seen (Fight Club, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, and Club Dumas) will be read before April 2022 so I will talk about them in future TBRs.

TBR Spread in my Readathon Journal

So the idea for September is that my character will be embarking on the journey to Orilium Academy in order to learn how to harness her magical abilities. As such she must travel through various landmarks, each marking a trial that she must endure and pass in order to make it to the Academy. She’s not alone but she’s also super shy so hopefully she’ll be able to overcome that shyness in order to get to her goal.

  • The Novice Path Entrance — Read a book with a map: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: No, I haven’t read the Shadow and Bone series but I absolutely love heist movies and I’ve never read a heist book so I really wanted to check this out. I don’t know much more about this book other than the heist element and I am pretty sure that’s all I need!
  • Ashtorn Tree — A book on top of your TBR: Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language by Amanda Montell: This is the pick for this month’s Feminist Book club so of course it’s at the top of my TBR! This book takes a look at words that have often been used against women, labeling women as less than, and tracks their origins in order to take away that negative connotation and allow the reader to take back the word into a different kind of use.
  • The Mist of Solitude — Read a Standalone: In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner: I am SO excited to read this book. I’ve loved all of Zentner’s books so far and I don’t expect this one to be any different. I don’t even know what this book is about!
  • Ruin of the Skye — Read a book featuring ghosts/supernatural elements: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: This book follows Yadriel, a Latinx brujx, who has managed to summon the ghost of the school’s resident bad boy, Julian Diaz. Now they are forced to work together in order to set things right for both of them. Ghosts, romance, LGBTQ+ and Latinx representation, can’t wait!
  • Obsidian Falls — Read a thriller or mystery book: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix: I am a big fan of horror movies and one of the tropes in many of them is that final girl who manages to survive. So this book follows a group of final girls who have survived their respective serial killers and who now come together to help each other deal with the aftermath. But apparently their horror story is not over….
  • Tower of Rumination — Read a five star prediction: Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: This is a series of short stories centered around Latinas of indigenous ancestry. There’s friendship, motherhood, sisterhood, and heritage. I’m pretty sure I’ll love this.
  • Orilium Academy Arc — Book with a school setting: A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer: A middle-grade book about Brystal, a 14-year-old girl who is whisked away to a magical school where she’ll learn that maybe her life is not as boring as she thought! I loved The Land of Stories series so I expect that this will be no different.

And that’s it for the Novice Path TBR! IF there’s time at all, I will also be starting All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which came up in my last Want To Read List Cleanup post. As it stands, it might be pushed into October but that’s quite alright since there’s no hurry. Who knows, I might be in the mood and start it even while working on the books for the Orilium journey, we’ll see!

What will you be reading this September?

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.