That’s a wrap: 2020 stats & 2021 resolutions

Hello friends,

I know, I know, I promise I’m getting closer to shut up about 2020. But I’m super excited about today’s post because 2020 stats! Keeping track of my spreadsheet during the year brings immense joy (what a nerd, I know) and I couldn’t wait to share all the graphics and numbers with you. I’ll be also talking about my 2020 resolutions and how I did there, favorite blog posts and some of my 2021 resolutions.

For reference, 2019 wrap up and 2020 resolutions.


2020 Resolutions

Read 200 books. This was my minimum goal, as I wasn’t sure what the year would bring and I didn’t know what expectations I should have. I ended up moving the goal up to 300 books and then COVID happened, laughing at my face. I was so nervous and scared at the end of 2019, many of the things I was worried (personal stuff blah blah) turned out better than I was expecting. Which it was a relief but then the pandemic, losing friends, cancelling vacations, losing my job… I’m not complaining by any means, I know I was very lucky in many ways. But still, what a rough year it was, even if I accomplished so much reading wise.

Read more romance. As you will see with my stats, I read less romance than 2019. What a joke! I mean, I did read but maybe it was the year, I found myself super picky and putting a lot of stuff down. I was not in the mood for alpha heroes, or angsty stories. I guess it makes sense *gestures at the world* but still sad that so many 2020 romance releases were left unread.

Tackle unread tbr. More about this in my stats, but hands down my biggest accomplishment here. After reading 304 books, I guess.

Read more non-fiction. Read 25 books when my goal was 12, so yay me. Some of the best nonfiction books I read were Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, and All Boys Aren’t Blue.

Finish series. This I accomplished for the first time since ever, I’m very bad at finishing series. Did I finish all the ones I want to? No, of course not because I am me. BUT I managed to finally read some romance series like Forbidden Hearts by Alisha Rai, The Loyal League and Reluctant Royals by Alyssa Cole, London Celebrities by Lucy Parker. Read my two favorite middle-grade series, too: Sal and Gabi by Carlos Hernandez and Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano.

2020 releases. I’m usually very good at reading backlists, but I never keep up with my most anticipated releases. I did pretty well with this time, reading 129 new releases (42.9% of my reading) and 58 of my 144 anticipated releases (that’s 40%). So yeah, very good!

I had other resolutions like reading SFF (yes), listening to audiobooks (omg, yes), reading Latinx authors (stopped counting after LHM for a lot of reasons, but I guess yes), read sapphic books (didn’t really keep count so yes question mark), and read graphic novels and comics (yes).


2020 Stats

I read 304 books (ten less than 2019) and 79483 pages. I lost count of how many books I DNF, or paused indefinitely, back in October. At that point I had 66, but it’s not very accurate. The more I grow in my reading, the more I realize that I have not time, energy or space for the things I don’t enjoy, so I DNF often and sometimes quite early. Also pretty understandable because 2020 was so ugly.

My shortest book was Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi and Ashley Lukashevsky with 24 pages and my longest book was Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela with 656 pages. This was also one of the unread books that I’ve had the longest on my shelves, a gift from my dad from 2015. So feeling very good that I got to cross it from my list.

I found myself rereading quite a lot, looking for that comfort that past favorites brought me like Wild Beauty, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, Merci Suarez Changes Gears (reread this one twice in 2020 because I love pain), and Pie in the Sky.


In terms of books finished by month, my average was 25 books per month. I read the less in January (13) and the most in March (38). I spent two weeks of January travelling, so I wasn’t very into reading that month. March, well, we all know what happened in March and I found a lot of comfort in books. I was also reading a lot of middle-grade and I tend to read those faster. July was a month I was very burned out and exhausted, from reading and creating content. Still read, but I had some low ratings there, I wasn’t enjoying the books and I felt a reading slump coming… It was also when I started thinking about going on hiatus/closing the blog. Whole reason this time I’m trying to take things at my own pace and not pressure myself to reading and create content all these platforms at the same time, because not healthy and really overwhelming.

I find my star ratings so interesting. I had 56 five stars and 105 four stars (combined 4 and 4 and half), which makes very happy. That’s 52.96% of my reading! I mean, half of the books I read I very much enjoyed. But as you can see, my highest rating was 3 stars (80 books). I don’t think three stars are bad books, more like there were things missing in here for me. Sometimes that’s the kind of reading that puts me in a reading slump. And those books are also very forgettable, to be honest. I didn’t remember how many 3 stars I had…

I always get asked how I read so much and friends, it’s because I can’t do chucky books. I mean, I guess I can because I managed to 4 books with 500+ pages. But omg, why am I like this? For some reason my brain decides big tomes are a big nope and I never read them. It was one of my resolutions for the year and ended up reading one less than 2019. Embarrassing. Interesting enough, I lower the amount of novellas compared to 2019, reading 100 books between 301-400. So maybe I wasn’t that bad.

This is one of my favorite stats! I love how pretty balance it looks, 141 (one hundred and forty one!!!) audiobooks, 142 digital (both ebooks and earcs) and 109 physical books. If you’re like, Cande, that’s not how math works, they don’t add up? It’s because I usually switch between listening to the audio and reading digital/physical copy and I counted both instances. Anyway, this right there is big achievement of 2020, listening to 141 audiobooks, baby!!

This is so interesting because I was convinced that I haven’t read that much YA, apparently I was very wrong because that’s 97 books. We also have 119 adult and 83 middle-grade or children’s books. Compared to 2019, the percents are pretty close, kind of disappointing when I wanted to read more middle-grade and reduce my YA number. Not surprised by how high adult titles get as I read a lot of romance.

Once again, my most read genre was SFF (science-fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction) with 123 books. Follow by 65 romances (20 less than 2019), 57 contemporaries, 25 nonfiction, 11 mysteries slash thrillers, 8 historicals, 6 horrors and 8 other because I was too lazy to fix my spreadsheet. Overall… I don’t know to be honest, I very much enjoy SFF above anything else, I wished I had read more romance and I’m very proud that I achieved my nonfiction goal.

Another of my biggest achievements was finally tackling my own TBR. I read 70 books that I already owned (be ebooks or physical) and 51 books purchased in 2020, that’s a lot better than I did any other year. In part thanks to the pandemic (what am I even saying right now, omg), my library was closed so I started reading my own books. Also thanks to CW’s Start On Your Shelfathon challenge (did you see my update shelf? that’s one of my biggest flex). I also read 67 review copies, 9 gifts and 8 borrows.


Favorite Blog Posts

Reviews:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Mendez

Lobizona by Romina Garber

We Set the Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

The Fallen Hero by Katie Zhao


2021 Resolutions

2020 allowed me a lot of time to think about reading, goals and books. I’ve realized how much I enjoy middle-grade, the ways these stories fill me with joy. And how much I enjoy adult SFF. I’m slowly making my way out of YA, I’ve been getting super picky about YA contemporary in the past years. Although YA surprised me in wonderful ways, I’m glad that I’m letting it go. Not because I don’t think it’s good quality, or good enough for me, not at all! But my reading taste has changed with time and I want to keep exploring and branching out.

I also did a lot of changes to my spreadsheets, like not keeping track of my dnfs anymore and stop counting the number of ownvoices books I’m reading. It wasn’t working for me, calling it ownvoices didn’t tell me what marginalization the author shares with the character, which it was just pointless to keep track of. I know I could have fixed it, but by then it was a label that I had some complicated feelings about. There’s such a huge misinformation and misuse. I feel like many people think ownvoices means not criticism allow. Maybe all started after my review of Woven in Moonlight, how it has been praised as ownvoices Bolivian inspired fantasy and it’s not. The author may be Bolivian-American, but she’s not Indigenous. There were also so many conversations about the label in the year that it just showed me that many reviewers don’t get it. Since then I have been cautiously using it.

Fadwa wrote this amazing blog post and she articulated so well my thoughts, so you should definitely read it. And since then I had stopped tracking the label on my reading. Of course, these are all personal feelings and thoughts and I’m not trying to start a whole discourse about it. Personally, I don’t want to have the label on my spreadsheet, doesn’t mean I won’t use it ever again. Anyway, MOVING ON NOW.

Eventually, I also dropped my stats for AOC and queer authors as I felt like I was keeping authors’ marginalization like a number to check and it made me very uncomfortable. When I started reading diverse, I had to be conscious of the books I was reading. I had to check myself constantly in the stories I was supporting, but I don’t have to do that anymore. I know that I’m reading authors of colors, QBIPOC, disabled and Latinx authors. So that’s why I don’t have any of these graphics.

So what are some of my 2021 resolutions?

I take my reading as constant work that can be improved. I like challenging myself to try new things, like diving more into adult SFF. I want to keep reading middle-grade novels and romance books. Maybe finish six more series? Too ambitious? I beg future me to stop giving the white gays more chances when they disappointed me again and again in 2020.

I’m hopeful this will be a better year for all of us. Yes, there’s still work to be done to fight white supremacy, to hold our governments accountable, to support and boost our global south friends. But we can do it.

Happy reading,

Cande

Best Books I Read in 2020

Hello friends,

2020 is over but apparently I’m not done with it yet because I still have so many posts about the year to post. I’m a little sorry. I have been so excited about blogging since I came back and there’s so many things to catch you up about. And I’m trying my best here, but I’m the slowest blogger in the planet.

Today we’re doing my best books of 2020! You can read my top ten worst and most disappointing books here. I’m cheater so I don’t exactly have a top ten, but a top fifteen. Listen, this was hard enough to narrow down and I did have an amazing reading year. I read 304 books and rated 56 books five stars, that’s 18.4% of my reading and quite a big number, I know! This was also a year where I reread a lot and many of these rereads were five stars, because well *gestures to the world* I was trying to find some comfort in worlds that I already knew and love. I didn’t count any of my rereads in this list because these are all books that I consider all time favorites. Maybe I’ll write a whole different post about that…

From the 15 titles, I have 2 YA contemporaries, 1 thriller, 3 middle grades, 2 romances, and 6 SFF. It’s so nice to see the genres and age groups that I love (romance, SFF, middle grade) so well represented in the list. For example, my most read genre of the year was SFF and I read more middle-grades in 2020 than in 2019. I’m little bit surprised by the cotemporaries because I don’t usually gravitates towards them. Although I read much less than past years, the ones I read I enjoyed very much. And yes, one thriller from my whole trying thrillers goal. I don’t think you will be surprised to see why.

Let’s talk about my favorite reads!


Book covers link to Goodreads page

15. Running by Natalia Sylvester

What a read! We had so many great YA contemporaries in 2020 and this one captured me from the first chapter. I read it one sitting and the way my heart ache. I adore Mari’s voice, the discussions about politics and standing up against your family. While also understanding how much teens can do, never minimalizing the change and respecting the boundaries they can’t cross. Running is a thought-provoking novel that closely examines racism, xenophobia, sexism and hemophobia in the Latinx community, while still keeping a hopeful tone that leaves you feeling unstoppable and powerful.

“My anger is too powerful to waste on hurting him. My anger is powerful enough for change.”

Running by Natalia Sylvester
14. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

This read blew my mind away a little bit. I tried really hard (not really, but leave me alone) to read outside my genres and explore thrillers. I didn’t have much luck until I read this one. I mean, I knew I would probably enjoy because I love Alyssa Cole but this book just SCREAM FOREVER. The tension, the characters, the mood, the way it explores racism, abuse and gentrification while having a little bit of romance and being about community. I couldn’t put it down, I was so scared and I enjoyed every single page.

“The dozens and dozens of plant clippings I’ve been ignoring out here have mostly managed to survive, at least. Some things do that without always needing help.”

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
13.Headliners by Lucy Parker

Oh, this book! I read quite number of romance in 2020 and even though I read this one back in March (oof, March), I’m still think about it all the time. I have been enjoying Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series a lot, the books are funny and charming and I just love Lucy’s writing. But this one is my favorite, from the rivals to working together to friends to lovers to the whole snarky comments with flirt. The couple dynamic worked so well for me, I adored both of them and their romance so much. Read my goodreads review.

“He also felt every bloody cell in his body become alert when she came into a room, as if something inside him woke up and went into a state of intense high frequency. It was that sharp pull and equally hard push.”

Headliners by Lucy Parker
12. On these magic shores by Yamile Saied Mendez

I read this book at the beginning of 2020 and it’s still a story that I’m thinking about. Peter Pan retelling that explores growing up, sibling relationships and being the oldest in a family of immigrants. It’s such an honest story, with messy characters and so much love. It was also quite special reading this as I was travelling to Argentina for the first time in five years (and probably, the last trip ever thanks to COVID). I was sitting in the plane, reading about Minerva’s Argentine identity while I was landing at home. So many emotions! I have reviewed and done a character interview for this one, if you want to check out more about my feelings.

“The tooth wasn’t there. I searched frantically but instead of a tooth, I found a golden coin that sparkled, gleaming with magic and impossibility. Or was it possibility?”

On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Mendez
11. Sal and Gabi fix the universe by Carlos Hernandez

Another phenomenal middle-grade, I was really blessed by them. Sal and Gabi needed to be in this list, I knew from rereading book 1 that I would love the finale and I was not wrong. But still, I was surprised by how these books choose kindness and forgiveness every single time, the ways they discuss love and found family, about owning to your mistakes and learning to do better. The story is so funny and heartwarming, the characters well-developed and rounded, so charming and the story was absolutely fantastic. As a sequel, incredible. As a finale to the duology, a masterpiece. Questions were answered, plots resolved, discussions were had and everything came to the most hopeful (and cliffhanger!!!) ending ever. Eternally grateful for this series diabetic rep that feels so honest and messy as I felt when I was a tween. Sal tries his best to manage his health, sometimes he forgets, sometimes he doesn’t want to remember. This book had me a ridiculous amount of times in tears, it was emotional in the best way possible. It’s a series that has so much heart and I love it, love it so much.

“I reached my hand out to FixGabi. When she took it, I could feel the whole universe relax around us and become an easier place to live in.”

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
10. Clap when you land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Of course that Elizabeth Acevedo would make it to my list because Clap When You Land landed (i’m so funny) in every way. The book was tender, hopeful and gut-punching in all the perfect ways. I truly love Elizabeth’s voice, both her verses and her narration, and I was once again blown away by the power of this book. I love stories about grief and sisterhood and Camino and Yahaira are characters I’m still thinking about. The sapphic relationship was gorgeous and this messy sibling relationship was done so well. I loved everything about it and the way I teared up at the end, truly stunning novel.

“This must be a plane of Dominicans returning home; when you touch down on this soil, you must clap when you land. Para dar gracias a Dios. Regrezamos.”

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
9. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This was such a phenomenal start to a series. Inspired by Pre-Columbian civilizations, the book follows a ship captain, a priestess and a mysterious man destined for great things. Their stories are interconnected and slowly the plot unrevealed. But I never felt like this was slow-paced, the audiobook was so good that I would keep listening nonstop. From the characterization to the explanations of the world, everything was well-balanced. By that I mean, this didn’t feel like a lot of description or a lot of action, the stakes were high and the pacing was perfect. The narration is deeply captivating, the voices of the three characters so distinct. There was tension, a little bit of romance, so much intrigued and a lot of tears (from my part). Incredible, thoughtful world-building, messy and charming characters, and one hell of an ending. Super excited to keep reading this trilogy.

“The sea herself,” she said. “I am her daughter, and when I’m with my mother”–she exhaled gustily–“nobody fucks with her children.”

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
8. Nocturna by Maya Motayne

You may know I have been bullied (friendly bully, please) a lot by my friends about taking ONE YEAR to read it. In my defense, this is an incredible book that made my heart hurt and I don’t like pain. Follows a prince and a thief reluctantly teaming up to fight an evil force before it destroys the kingdom. Nocturna has all my favorite tropes in fantasy; reluctant allies turned friends, snarky character with a heart of gold, and culture being part of the magic of the world. Inspired by Dominican culture, the book explores colonization in such thoughtful and smart ways. Even when the story is about power, trauma and grief, colonization is constantly presented. From the way it has shaped the characters, the plot and even the world-building. Besides the fast paced and captivating plot, the characters were wonderful. Alfie and Finn were so funny, messy and sympathetic. I adore their relationship, the dialogue was one of my favorite things of the book. I love how the book allowed Finn to be soft and vulnerable and also fierce, snarky and ruthless at the same time. She’s allowed a complexity and nuance that we don’t usually get to see about Afro-Latinx girls. Everyone was right and this was book exactly what I needed and we have to wait for the sequel and cry forever. But chef’s kiss, my friends!

“She’d spent so much time drowning in her past that she hadn’t been able to swim to the surface and see a future for herself that wasn’t stained with blood and fear”

Nocturna by Maya Motayne
7. Land of the cranes by Aida Salazar

The way middle-grade made me cry this year! Beautiful, tender story about family separation and immigration with a powerful voice and stunning illustrations. I felt this story deep to my soul and it just broke me so much, the way it doesn’t shy about the horrors of detention centers while still being the voice of a child. In spite of the difficult themes it deals with, the book manages to highlight community, love, poetry and hope. Seriously, the best middle-grade novel that I read in 2020.

“Soon, we will bring in our wings and touch the earth of another home.”

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
6. Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

This was one my most recent favorites so I haven’t talked much about it, which it’s a shame because it deserves a lot more love. It’s an incredible smart and thoughtful retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice that deals with Hurricane Maria. A story about young love, trauma, mental health and abusive relationships. The narration was almost lyrical, so emotional and heartfelt. This is both about Eury and Pheus’s love and their own personal journeys. I adore how romantic the novel was, hopeful in the middle of so much pain. To be honest, I don’t think I’m ready to review this book just yet. But listen, this is a love letter to Puerto Rican and Dominican kids with an amazing Greek retelling spin. And why is not in everyone’s TBR?

“What I’m trying to say is parts of Puerto Rico may have been destroyed, but beauty always finds a way of making a comeback.”

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera
5. Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

One of the best things I did in 2020 was listened to Fadwa (Word Wonders) and read Mirage. I was blown away! Lush writing, complex characters, so well-lived world-building, and a story about colonization, identity and resistance. It was so good but the sequel? Court of Lions was even better. Maybe because we get to see more of the sisters relationship, maybe because the characters are so nuance and well-developed, maybe because there’s one of my favorite sapphic relationships here, I absolutely loved Court of Lions. It was my favorite sequel that I read, hands down. Read my full review here.

“Maram couldn’t fix that—she couldn’t fix the world. But she could do this, she could instill a little space and beauty in these twenty square miles.”

Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud
4, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Have I mentioned what a blessing adult fantasy was for me in 2020? GOJAS was incredible, from the characters to the writing. Silvia has a way with words and making messy characters still charming and lovely. I adore this trope of nonhuman creature learning to be human and the reluctant allies to friends. Casiopea Tun is still a character I’m thinking about. What a book! It also made me realize what exactly I love from SMG work, you can read more about it here.

“Some people are born under a lucky star while others have their misfortunes telegraphed by the position of the planets.” 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
3. Lobizona by Romina Garber

Do I need to add anything? I think I was pretty loud about my love for Manu, Lobizona and Romina Garber in 2020. But in case you miss my posts, this YA urban fantasy was daring, smart and thoughtful. It used fantasy tropes to talk about immigration and identity with nuance, respect and emotion. I was in love with the Argentine folklore, every small aspect of the world-building screamed Argentina from the food to the love for futbol. It’s also a story that deeply examines Argentina’s homophobia and misogyny, and gender roles. Manu’s voice was so strong and honest, I love her and I will protect her forever. Adorable romance, amazing friendship and THAT ENDING. It had been a while since a book surprised so much like this. It was powerful, it was hopeful and it’s exactly what I want to see from YA fantasy. Read my review here for more intense screaming.

“Sometimes reality strays so far from what’s rational that we can only explain it through fantasy.”

Lobizona by Romina Garber
2. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

I read many SFF books in 2020 but nothing like this masterpiece. I knew I would probably enjoy the newest N.K. Jemisin’s book, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it blew my mind away. From the writing, the characters, the fast-paced and multilayered plot to the world-building, every single detail has been thought-out and everything comes together at end in such exquisite way. The concept of cities having avatars, fighting this powerful evil and using art in all these different ways (music, painting, even math) to defend their boroughs is incredible. City quirks, like traffic jams that appear out of nowhere, have an explanation in this expansive world. You can breath the city, the energy and the vibe. Every character represents a different part of NYC, their voices so distinct and strong. I haven’t been there, but I have lived in one of the biggest cities of Argentina and so much about Jemisin’s depiction of city life feels like home. And with this book I realized how much I need adult fantasy in my life, because the way these books just left me breathless… Can’t wait for the sequel!

“This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.”

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
1. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

We made it, friends. My favorite book. I’m feeling a little bit emotional because Take A Hint, Dani Brown is without a doubt my all time favorite romance. I love Talia Hibbert, I have gushed about her books countess of times in here. But Dani Brown took it another level. Both Dani and Zaf are incredible characters, their relationship was amazing to watch. Best friends plus fake dating with a slow burn that was so painful but the right amount of angsty. The story manages to both be vulnerable, emotional and funny. It deals with mental health and grief in a thoughtful way. This romance was so domestic and wholesome and it gave me all the happy feelings. We all know that Talia Hibbert is my favorite romance author, right? I see myself rereading this book again and again for that shot of serotine.

“The evidence was warm against his chest right now: she believed in this gem stuff, and she’d given him one, like sharing a slice of faith. That mattered. It mattered so much his bones ached.”

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

And that concludes this ridiculous long list.

What were your best books of 2020?

Review: Sia Martinez and the Power of Genre-Bending Stories

Title: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
Author: Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Pub Date: August 11th, 2020

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Trigger WarningS

Sexual assault, PTSD, physical abuse, parental death, racist violence, xenophobic and racist slurs, grief, discussions of deportation and crossing the border.

Synopsis

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe meets Roswell by way of Laurie Halse Anderson in this astonishing, genre-bending novel about a Mexican American teen who discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe. 


Review

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything was one of my most anticipated 2020 releases and still it took me by surprised. The story follows Sia, Mexican-American teen, grieving her mother after she was deported and tried to cross back, dying in the desert. The first half of the book explores Sia’s anger, sadness and pain, and also love when she starts falling for the new boy in town. The later half offers a genre-bended, when Sia stumbles onto a spaceship in the middle of the desert, forcing her in a race against time to save her loved ones.

Raquel wrote such a beautiful and honest story, quite daring and with some of the best characters that I have read. I finished this book and I had to sit down to grief and hope for a whole minute.

There is a tenderness and rawness in the discussions about grief, xenophobia, friendship and love. With the short chapters and the lyrical voice of Sia, this book feels like a conversation with a friend. There’s messiness and heartbreak, but also so much vulnerability that hits so hard and straight to my heart. I adore Sia and her voice, she’s fierce and honest, and she cares about her family with passion.

Without a doubt, this book has incredible characters. There are all in their way messy and complicated, they’re all trying their best and trying again. It doesn’t mean they don’t hurt each other and so much about Sia Martinez is about her relationship with other characters, be her dad, her love interest, her mom or her best friend. The relationships are strong because every characters feels real and I was so invested in them.

I adore the discussions about relationship, consent and love. I adore Sia and her best friend slowly drifting apart and the physical pain that brings to Sia. Her dad is hilarious and the funny and fierce love he has for his daughter, the way he trust her and listens always, it kind of brought tears to my ideas. SO much of YA books, especially contemporaries, is about parents that don’t respect their children and yes, I just love supportive parents.

But the best thing is, all these relationships are allowed to grow as the characters change. Nothing is stagnant in this book. And the plot, that starts with soft and slow-paced, suddenly picks up with the addiction of an science-fiction element.

2020 was the year I got more into Science-fiction and the year that Latinx authors showed me a daring reinvention of genre to discuss immigration. I talked about it a little bit on my review of Lobizona, how Romina Garber used the trope of coming of age and secret identity to talk about undocumented Argentine immigrants. In Sia Martinez, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland brings aliens, spaceships and secret government officials. When I heard about this book, I was so impressed by the subversion of the word alien. When immigrants are called aliens is with the purpose of alienating, of labeling something almost out of this world, unknown and dangerous, unwanted. It feels, at least to me as an immigrant, like a slap in the face. And then Sia finds real aliens in the desert that took her mother, aliens that have been hunted down and hurt and for a moment, I couldn’t quite breath.

The author explored with such a nuance immigration but also xenophobic governments, talking about the imaginable horrors that immigrants experience crossing the border and the ones created by systems that need us but treat us as a commodity. The almost fascination to immigrant culture because it feels so foreign, so out of this word. So much of our love for aliens and UFO is about that fascination for something that doesn’t belong here and the secrets to a new culture that we don’t understand. Even our media can’t phantom the idea of giving us aliens that are not labeled dangerous, that need to be investigated and battled against. And how many people can sympathize with fictional creatures, but won’t offer the same for undocumented immigrants.

And all of this, it’s violence, from the physical one retaining aliens against their will to learn about them to the empty promises given to immigrants that take advantage of how little society cares. The book looks straight to the eye to governments that perpetuated this violence, to the systems that benefit of it. So much of this violence is to make immigrants (and aliens) powerless, invisible, to make us feel like the world won’t care and there’s nowhere to turn. Because the world doesn’t care and we may not be dealing with spaceships in real life, but we’re dealing with immigrants incarcerated, separated from their families and abused in the hands of the government.

Sia Martinez is a layered and masterfully done storytelling that took me quite by surprised, as I said. Because this is also a story about hope, the borders that breaks up apart and the miracles that brings us together. I’m always seeking stories about grief because it’s very personal but also universal and my heart aches for that recognition of sorrow. Sia misses her mom but she’s also angry, angry at the system, angry at the xenophobic and racist people of town, angry at her mom for taking the decision of crossing the border. That intersection of anger and sadness because you have lost someone so essential in your life and now everything has shifted and you’re not quite sure where you stand was done so well. All these complicated and ugly feelings that Sia has are a full spectrum and she’s allowed to hold them close, to let them out and to heal at her own pace and her own way. The care and tenderness that there’s for Sia’s trauma, be her mom’s deportation and death or her sexual assault, brought tears to my eyes. There’s so much respect for her mental health and that’s so powerful to see.

I can say without a doubt this is one of the most thoughtful and gut-punching books that I have read, a story to keep close and to share with friends, deeply emotional but always so hopeful. Highly recommended, my friends.


Worst Books I Read in 2020

Hello friends,

This is actually my first time writing this kind of post. I have always struggled with these kind of best and worst lists. I read so much in the year that it’s very hard for me to keep track of all the things I liked or hated. The only reason I’m here today is because of my reading journal. On December 28th, I did an IG journal with me live for my end of the year spread. It was so fun and a little bit scary, I have never done something like that. If you want to watch it, here is the link to my post. But it did push me to look back at my spreadsheets (thank god for spreadsheets) and to try to narrow down my thoughts.

I read 304 books and rated fifteen books 1 star and twenty nine books 2 stars, that’s 14.7% of my reading. There were some containers for this list, but overall, 2020 was an incredible successful reading year for me. I had lows, sure, and two books that I absolutely despised, but so many incredible reads too! I tried to venture into more genres this year, like thrillers and historical fiction, with various degrees of success. But the biggest disappointment was without a doubt white gays. I guess I have come to a point where I need more than queer characters to care about the story, especially when the queerness is quite white and doesn’t engage with QPOC experience at all. A lot of wasteful world-building and mediocre characters development in my fantasy reads. And some romance novels that just frustrated me to not end. I think you won’t be surprised about my worst reads of the year, however.

So let’s get into it!


Book covers link to Googreads page

10. Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

This was just so underwhelming, mediocre and bland. I was trying to give YA horror a fair chance but it just keeps letting me down. For its most part this story is all about mothers and daughters’ relationship and emotional abuse and I’m into that but the ending was so anti-climatic and rushed. And sure, upsetting, but I didn’t care for the characters one bit so there was not tension for me here. Anyway, I just don’t think Rory Power’s writing works for me at all. I did review this one, if you want to see more about my thoughts about it. Here.

11. We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

Now we’re moving from annoyance and disappointment to the really irritated me territory because this book, friends, THIS BOOK. As a concept, I love the idea of a story that explores friendship breakups but it didn’t work at all. Really disliked the characters, the writing was a mess and there was literally not plot here??? Because the story is told in dual point of view of both girls and jumping between past and present, there was a lot of repetition and I don’t get it. There was not character development and why keep reviving the same fucking moment twice? Truly hate it here.

8. The Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwell

Now, for this one I had high hopes so to dislike it like this just makes it even worst. It’s set in the world from the Mechanica series, which I really enjoyed, but here it made not sense at all. Suddenly the society is super homophobic because it was convenient to the plot, the villain was just laughable and the writing. Oh, the writing friends. Also told in dual POV with one of the sisters (this is about sisters, by the way) being told in verse but it added absolutely nothing to the plot in general and it was so bad, like SO bad. There was nothing here that I enjoyed, everything felt disconnected and I just why? what’s the point of this book? Read my review here, in case you want more ranting.

7. Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

This was another great concept that quickly lost me. I love stories about grief and sisterhood with an element of the supernatural, but the characters were so underdeveloped. Also, the author has a past of writing garbage Latinx rep and here there was not substance to the characters Latinidad. They have a Spanish last name but there is not connection to culture in any way, so it just feels like the publisher trying to sell this as Latinx voice and that pisses me off a lot. I talked more about it on my Goodreads review if you want to check it out.

6. Reverie by Ryan La Sala

I know this is a very well loved in the community and I get that, but I didn’t like the story, writing or characters. This is truly one of the worst characters I read about this year, hands down. I understand Kane is dealing with trauma but he’s so insufferable with everyone, he hurts his sister and friends and doesn’t give a shit, never apologizes and barely gets called out. Also, he keeps talking about how hard being gay in this town is but we never see that? Like we never see the homophobia he keeps hinting at, instead we see how supportive his parents, sister and friends are but oh no, forget about that so he can be the Worst. AND it doesn’t sit well with me that the love interest is coded as a Latino gay boy but his identity is unknown and his experience as a gay brown teen are completely ignored. For me, the discussions about identity felt very white and quite simplistic.

5. Collision Point by Lora Leigh

I just want to rant about this one because it’s one of the worst romance that I have read (plus the next two in the list, oops). I had super low expectations but I was curious because romantic suspense and second chance romance. In reality, the mystery/suspense element was super bland, the characters so annoying and the romance terrible. Hero is an asshole for the majority of the novel and the heroine keeps throwing temper tantrums ??? There was not reason to root for me, I never saw why they fell in love in the first place or why they would do it again. Just pointless. Not even entertaining because the mystery thing was so boring.

4. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Omg, this is was a personal attack, to be honest. Another well-loved book and I just want to say this is a very personal criticism. I just didn’t find it funny, like at all. It’s a rom-com but the jokes just felt very flat to me, I didn’t really care about the characters and there were some weird comments that left me uneasy. But mostly, the romance was just not there for me. Miscommunications, break-ups and then the most anticlimactic resolution because apparently a lot of things can be solved in two pages? Personally, I didn’t find it funny and that would have been okay if the ending hadn’t frustrated me so much. Please enjoy the book, friends. Just not for me at all.

3. Spellbound by Allie Therin

Oh boy, buckle up my friends, because this was the Worst romance novel I read in 2020. Pointless, boring, made zero sense and the whole relationship made me SO uncomfortable. Besides that, completely laughable how the author tried to push so hard about Italian-Americans discrimination in the 1920s ????? It could have been handled better for sure, starting by acknowledging the racism and anti-Blackness in New York. But no!!! The struggle and pains of being a seasonal white!!! The world-building was a wasted and overall, I just didn’t vibe with the story at all. Read my full rant review over here.

2. Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez

I mean, we all knew this was coming. And I have nothing left to say. Review.

1. Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibanez

Again, nothing really new to add. If Woven in Moonlight was terrible, Written in Starlight was even worst. It really showed me what Isabel thinks of Indigenous people, Bolivia and South American history. Her series is just a glorification of colonizers to fit an anti-Indigenous agenda. And I’ll leave it at that, I’m moving on from this mess now. Review.


I’ll be back with my Best reads of 2020 soon. And with many more lists, to be honest. I’m a cheater and I couldn’t narrow down my favorite reads without doing ten more special mentions. So I’m making a different post about some amazing SFF, romance and middle grade I read.

What were your worst books of 2020?

Let me know in the comments,

Cande

How I Use My Bullet Journal To Keep Track Of My Reading

Hello friends,

I’m SO excited to be talking about journaling today. When relaunching the blog, I wanted to add more than reading, as we have more than one hobby and all that. I have been journaling for three years now !!!! but it was in 2020 when I focused on keeping it up to day. I use my bullet journal to keep track of my reading mostly, including spreads for TV shows, movies or anything that it’s my current adoration. I consider my bullet journal as a space for all my hobbies, so it’s a nice mixed bag that may not have a rhyme or reason for others but works perfectly for me. It’s such an incredible tool that you can design at your taste and aesthetic, and it’s a very satisfying feeling to be able to look back later.

Since I took journaling more seriously this past year, I have found a huge bullet journal community. I even started my own bujogram account, so maybe you should follow me there *wink, wink* But I know it can also be a little bit overwhelming for newbies. There’s SO much info that you don’t know where to start. So today I want to talk about my 2021 reading journal set up, all the spreads that I find helpful or fun for me, all the new ones I’m trying this year and hopefully, inspire you to join this community. As they say, all you need for journaling is a notebook (any notebook) and something to write with. There’s not need for stationery, doodles or even an aesthetic.

So let’s journal together!


Supplies

I will try to link as many supplies as I can, most of the stuff I get I buy from art stores like JoAnn or Michaels. Sadly, some of the items are not available anymore, like cardstock paper and washi tapes. If I find them somewhere, I’ll be sure to update this list.

Notebook:
Notebooktherapy Tsuki ‘Failing Star’

Pens, Markers and Midliners:
Artist’s Loft Illustration Pen 0.1, 0.3 and 0.5
Tombow Dual Brush Pens: 027, 062, 243, 451, 620, 723, 761, 850, 991
Soft Touch Felt Tip Pens, Rose Gold (one of my favorite pens, super smooth and doesn’t bleed at all)
Sakura White Gelly Roll Pens, 10 and 08 thickness

Paper:
DCWV Autumn Stroll cardstock
DCWV Journaling cardstock

Stickers:
Floral paper stickers

Stamps:
Wheat wooden stamp
Vintage letter wooden stamps


General Spreads

Cover page. I’m sure you’re not surprise to know that I love everything floral, I couldn’t let the opportunity to try this style that I saw on Amanda Rach Lee’s channel. You draw doodles (flowers in my case) to fill out the text. I then colored 2021 with some of the colors I will be using in the later spreads: light blue, green, lilac and pink. I wanted this spread to be big and bold, to fill me with inspiration for the new year. I will probably not look back that much, so that’s why it doesn’t have any important info, but I feel like it’s the perfect start for 2021. I added my wheat wooden stamp on both sides to fill out the empty space and a floral pastel washi tape (perfect for this theme, right?) at the bottom.

Future Log. If you are new to the bujo community, you may not know about future log. It’s a spread with monthly calendars where people write down future events, birthdays or to-dos for a yearly overview. I already have an academic planner for school and personal life, so I thought I would try a future log to keep track all the ARCs that I have to read. This way I can see what’s coming next and how much time I have and I can plan and organize better, which is something I definitely need more of in my life. I also think you can use this spread to keep track of bookish events like author’s events, friend’s liveshows, book club deadlines or maybe your anticipated releases of the year. I tried to keep the spread simple then, with just a little bit of color for each month and some washi tape at the top and bottom to add a little bit more.

Resolutions. This is a very common spread in the community where people divide it by different categories to set different resolutions. And I tried something similar with my categories being: things to try, personal (being school, work, health or anything you know, personal), bookish, and things to practice. I use this wonderful watercolor floral stickers because the colors went perfect with my markers. I’m huge fun of craft/brown paper and the use of white gelly roll pens. You will see I use it A LOT in my spreads. And for the first time, I’m also giving myself a word of the year: bold. I want to take the risks that I have always been afraid of, I want 2021 to be a year of change and progress and getting closer to my goals. So I’m manifesting! I will be bold.

2021 Bucket List. Well yes, I told you I love using brown paper. It’s so simple but adds something to the page, plus more of the watercolor floral stickers that I adore. Very self-explanatory spread, in part with me being bold this year, I want to try new things or accomplish things that I have dreaming for some time. Of course, with safety about the virus always, I want this list to be attainable but also sort of challenging. Like I know one of the items will be getting a tattoo (hopefully, yes, cross your fingers!) but I still haven’t figured out what I want. It’ll be fun filling it out!

Brain Dump. Another famous bujo spread, to just write down everything you have on your mind, any ideas or thoughts you don’t want to forget. Perfect space to plan your 2021 content, for example. Again, going over a simple set up to leave space to fill out. But I couldn’t help myself I had to add some flowers, I printed these from Unsplash, and added some pink washi tape.


Bookish Spreads

Goals. This is for me a two different things but I know many use resolutions/goals interchangeable. For me resolutions is something that is not exactly concrete and measurable like Practice lettering because how do you know you have practiced enough? Instead goals means something I can quantify like Read two nonfiction books at month. My goals are monthly, so I can make sure that I’m getting where I want with my reading. Anyway, this is the way I think about it but of course, it’s not THE way. I kept the spread simple, a green title with laurels at the side. I will be sharing my reading goals soon in a blog post, so look up for that.

21 books to read in 2021. I know this is a very common bookish content: X books to read in the year and I have always wanted to do it. Very simple spread, with floral paper for the header and a nice border. I played a little bit more with the lettering this time, love how different styles pop out better like this big and filled out number with a cursive, elegant style. These will be backlist titles, as I already have a space for anticipated releases, mostly titles that I have been saying for a while (like, a WHILE), I will read. Maybe this spread will be the encouragement I need to actually do it, you know. Blog post coming soon with all the books!

Waiting on. I pretty sure I saw this spread on Journal with Chloe channel. Basically, you keep track all the packages coming your way and I know we bookworms need it for our book mail. I got to use this beautiful, just beautiful, green paper with golden leaves that I got from a cardstock booklet (I buy these from art stores and I use them A LOT). I recently got the golden tombow brush pen so it was perfect to add that little drop shadow to the border.

2021 Favorite Prediction. This was one my favorite spreads for 2020, so I had to bring it back. I will eventually fill it all out with all the backlist and new releases that I think I will love. As I read them, I will check them off and add a short comment about how much I enjoy it, or not. More brown paper in this spread with this pink floral that goes so well with my theme. I kind of messed up with the boxes so I decided to fix it my making that whole column black . I’m not sure I like it? But maybe what it needs is some doodles at the top to add more. Sometimes it takes me some time to figure out how I want my spreads to look like, but I will get there.

Series to finish in 2021. I’m terrible finishing series, TERRIBLE, it’s kind of funny at this point. So for 2021 I’m concentrating in 11 series that conclude this year, maybe the sequel is coming out, or I just need to get my life together and finish it already. I used my letter wooden stamps here for the header and numbers, it’s a very messy spread, I didn’t realize how messy the stamps would be. But still, I quite enjoy the look. I kept a spread like this last year and it was perfect to remember which series I want to read. I’ll be adding my star ratings and once a series is finished, I will write down which book was my favorite. Call me out if I’m not reading these books!


TV Shows + Movies + Music Spreads

Movies and TV Shows to Watch. Well, another self-explanatory spread. I usually keep running lists of movies and tv shows to check out everywhere, on my phone’s notes, on notion, on notebooks and on my monthly spreads. But the back and forth and looking at all the places is just very frustrating so this time I will have the space in the beginning of my journal! In this one I tried some floral paper for the header and a doodle of a jar with wild flowers, this a doodle that I love doing so you’ll see A LOT. So if you have recommendations, please leave them down in the comments!

Song of the month. Inspired by Amanda Rach Lee’s 2021 set up, I wanted to give this a try, too. This is a spread that I quite love now but it took TOO many tries, as I messed up a lot. This is something I love from journaling, you can always fix your mistakes. Be with a doodle, paper, white pen, or maybe even just taping the whole page, you can always fix it. I’m always thinking about how to fix things because like I said, I mess up constantly. Maybe it doesn’t look like it when these finished spreads but I brainstorm, plan and sketch on pencil and still, sometimes I had to get creative to cover up the problem. Hence this music spread. From the brown paper covering a header problem (ran out of space) to the floral arrangement on a jar covering a huge miscalculation, this took me so time but we got there! I got to use my newly letter wooden stamps to write down the months, so each month I can write my favorite song. I only did six months because after all the covered ups, I was quite exhausted of this spread plus they wouldn’t all fix in this one page. I finally decided that if I like this idea I will make a new spread in the second half of the year, hopefully improved.

TV Shows and Movies Watched. Self-explanatory, but to be honest, I’m thinking more in terms of things that I loved and enjoyed watching, so later I can look back at one single spread and see what things brought me joy in the year. I’m not sure how I will fill it out, maybe like Books with Chloe printing out the poster, or maybe just writing down the title. I guess it depends how many things I’m loving. But excited to fill this one out!


Fun Spreads, or Spreads for the Aesthetic

And to conclude my reading journal set up, I want to show you one of my favorite things of journaling: I adore working on spreads with quotes, photos and doodles. I love try new different things and coming up with something that inspire me to keep learning. For 2021 I decided I wanted to see my bookshelf from the beginning of the year, to see how I rearrange it throughout the year, so I print one of my bookstagram photos and then I used that green paper with golden leaves again to create a nice border. Once again used my stamps to write down a Jorge Luis Borges quote: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.” Which you know, as someone who has their bookshelf in their room, yep, that sounds correct. Super simple and it looks so good.


I hope you find these spreads helpful, inspiring or maybe just interesting. I know I learn a lot from watching others, be just recreating what they did or giving it my own personal spin. Here are some of my favorite bullet journaling accounts:

Let me know if you like keeping a reading journal, or you’ll be try for the first time this year, and what spreads you find helpful and fun.

Happy reading (and journaling),

Cande.

Here We Go Again

Hello friends,

It has been a while. To be honest, I hoped I would eventually make my way back here, but I wasn’t sure if I could/I would. It has been a tough year, tougher for bloggers. All the reasons for why I left in the first place, well yes, they are still there; bloggers are underappreciated and the community refuses to do better. But I miss blogging, I miss writing and talking about books and I miss all of you. I have tried to keep up my bookstagram and I may need to accept that it doesn’t bring the same joy that blogging does.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about what I want for 2021 and what I want for my space to be. I want to come back to blogging but I want to do it my way. And by that I mean, I want something low-key, something that feels honest and authentic to me (you know, talking more than books, for example) and I don’t want to stress about schedules and deadlines. Although I’m very thankful for ARCs and working with publishers, it definitely has taken a toll on me. And then I realized that I can just don’t do it? You know, I can not review ARCs or do blog tours and post at my own pace. I know this is a huge privilege, too, I can afford to do this because I can read from the library when many international friends cannot.

You may noticed the blog changed, this another thing that I have been thinking about for a long time. When I named this space Latinx Magic was with the idea of promoting Latinx voices, but I’m not sure I can do this anymore. Of course this no one’s fault, but I have felt this pressure of always talking about Latinx releases, Latinx problematic books, Latinx problems… And it’s not fair, it takes so much of my mental health having to scream about how problematic Woven in Moonlight is, or how frustrating American Dirt’s successes is to see. I know, no one actually asked me to do this, but I feel like I have to discuss and share and boost because I’m part of this community. And in part, I feel like it has become my brand and I don’t feel super comfortable about that. So hence, the blog renamed.

Of course, I will keep promoting and reading and loving Latinx authors, of course. But I’m so much more than my Latinx identity (and that’s a whole different subject to talk about, my Latinx identity) and I feel like Cande Reads, which it’s quite simple, reflects all of me.

So here I am again! All I have promised you has been not consistency, more random content (??) and a new image but what does it really mean? I’m not quite sure myself. I’m taking this slow and I’ll figure it out as I go, that’s my 2021 plan. For now, I’m just happy to be back in the blogging community.

Catch me on bookstagram and my new (!!!) bujogram, too.

Happy reading and happy New Year,

Cande

Goodbye, Latinx Magic

Hey friends,

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.

Happy reading.

Cande

Blog Tour: The Fallen Hero by Katie Zhao

Title: The Fallen Hero
Author: Katie Zhao
Pub Date: October 13th, 2020
Series: Dragon Warrior #2

Add on goodreads. Preorder your own copy on amazon.

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.


Synopsis

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!


Thank you so much to Shealea and Caffeine Book Tours for having me. Please check out my fellow hosts’s posts today, Between Printed Pages & Lyrical Reads. Full schedule on CBT website.


About the author

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.

Let’s Talk About Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez

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.

That said, check out review of Woven in Moonlight.

Title: Written in Starlight
Author: Isabel Ibañez
Pub Date: January, 26th 2021
Series: Woven in Moonlight #2

Goodreads


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:

  1. Mediocre plot
  2. Underdeveloped characters
  3. Harmful portrayed of Indigenous communities

Mediocre Plot

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.

Anti-Indigenous

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.

Why I use Latinx

Hello friends,

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.


If you wish to, you can buy me a ko-fi.