ARC Review: Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Title: Lost in the Never Woods
Author: Aiden Thomas
Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ARC was provided from publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas is a dark Peter Pan retelling. Five years ago, Wendy and her brother disappeared in the woods and only Wendy came back. She has no recollection of what happened to her or her brothers, but she keeps dreaming about a strange boy. When kids start to go missing in her town, Wendy must found out what happened five years ago.

This is going to be a rant review. I had hopes, not exactly highs, because YA mysteries and I don’t get along, but I hoped still to enjoy. If you would prefer to read the book, instead of my rant… Well, go ahead. I would not exactly stop you, but I can’t in good conscience tell you that I recommend this book. Anyway, let’s get to my problems with Aiden Thomas’s actual debut.

Aiden has talked before about how this was the first book they wrote and sold, and it shows. The writing was not great. And this is coming from someone who often enough speeds through books, not caring about repetition or clunky dialogue. But it was so noticeable in here that it kept pulling me out of the story. It felt very unpolished, it didn’t flow nicely and there were so many info dumps and inconsistencies in the plot.

One thing I adored from Cemetery Boys is how well Aiden managed to make their characters sound. They were sarcastic and funny, their voices felt honest and fully-dimensional. I’m sad to say that didn’t happen with Wendy and Peter. Maybe because I didn’t like the writing, but I found the dialogue incredibly stagnant and flat. Or maybe it wasn’t good dialogue, I don’t know.

The characters are so underdeveloped. It was incredibly frustrating when so much of the book is based on Wendy’s relationship with Peter, her friend, her parents and her brothers. We really don’t get to know anyone, spending more time with Peter because of love interest, but nothing gave me the impression these characters have depth. It was very underwhelming and deeply disappointing after how much we all enjoyed Yadriel and Julian’s love story. Peter and Wendy have nothing going on. 

Who’s Wendy as a character? I would have a hard time describing her to you, to be honest, she was easily forgettable. Cemetery Boys had so much heart to the story and it was impossible for me not to feel sympathy for Yadriel. But in Lost in the Never Woods, I felt at distance from Wendy and her history, I never reached that gap that made me cared for her. I was frustrated by her choices and frustrated by the circumstances of the story. Her relationships are so weak and her growth is not really there. I don’t understand why would Aiden placed so much value in Wendy’s connection with the other characters when we didn’t really see that in the story. Her parents are absent figures that suddenly Wendy wants to reconnect with. Her friendship with Jordan is not as strong as it seems, but it’s also never addressed fully. I love complicated friendships that get to grow stronger, but Wendy barely talks with Jordan about anything else except boys. Her character was a reminder that Wendy was into boys and nursing.

The romance was… the romance was not great. Peter was very underdeveloped and he also has zero character growth. Aiden has said this is a second chance romance but it just didn’t work. We never quite see them falling for each other, or even, getting to know each other after five years. Everything happened quite fast but not in a sweet or charming way like in Cemetery Boys. Or maybe because I didn’t like Peter, I couldn’t care less about this romance. I was also frustrated by how they never addressed the problems in their relationship (like the lying) and then move on quite quickly. It felt so stagnant, the stakes so low and with zero chemistry.

I kept questioning myself what was the point of this book? To be a character-driven story, it lacked character and to be a plot-driven story, well, it lacked plot.

Wendy is trying to figure out what happened to her in the woods and find her brothers while dealing with absent parents and some very annoying cops. Kids are disappearing in the town and then a weird boy, a boy that looks eerily similar to Wendy’s dreams, shows up.

The plot was predictable, nothing that challenged me, or took my breath away. I’m not saying this because Peter Pan retelling and we sort of can guess what’s going on, but because I didn’t find Aiden’s take of the classic as innovative or charming as I was hoping. Interesting? Yes, it had so much potential, and then, it kind of went nowhere. As I said, YA mysteries and I don’t usually get along very well. I find them pretty predictable, boring and frustrating. And yes, that was the case here, too. I knew what happened early on and I was right. That’s fine, that’s an aspect that didn’t work for me, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I do think after all that built up about what happened in the woods, it wasn’t worth it and it didn’t pay off at all. Everything came down in a very expectable and disappointing ending that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt so anti-climactic? It was wrapped in such a nice and perfectly compactable way that felt wrong.

I understand how Aiden’s trying to deal with grief, mental health and trauma in this story but I don’t think they were quite successful. Maybe it was how underwhelming the characters’ relationships felt for me, or my problems with the plot, but I don’t think these themes were discussed in a thoughtful or smart way at all. Very hand-wavy world-building led to barely any direct mention of Wendy’s mental health. And even at the end, after the anti-climatic revelations, the book never truly mentions things by name. But to be quite honest, I can’t say Aiden said anything insightful about mental health. The ending was so intense and abrupt that it almost felt like cheating. I don’t know, maybe this is on me and my expectations, waiting for a clean-cut resolution that was never going to happen because I just don’t understand the point of this story.

I know, I’m sad to say that Lost in the Never Woods failed for me in every single aspect. Was it unfair of me to compare it to Cemetery Boys? Maybe, it also doesn’t stand on its own.

+40 2021 Middle-Grade Releases On My Radar

Hello friends,

Coming late to the party as always, I finally bring you my most anticipated 2021 middle-grade releases. We’re getting so many wonderful books from hard hitting contemporaries about grief to magical adventures. Last year I realized how much I truly enjoy middle-grade and it’s my new passion to put some of these titles on your radar. You’re welcome.

There’s something about this age group, the way it can make you cry in one page and laugh aloud in the next, that just fills me with absolute joy. These books explore difficult topics with hope and honesty, while still allowing kids to be messy with their feelings and save the world. The duality of middle-grade will never stop astonishing me and I’m so impressed with these authors and their wonderful words.

Anyway, here are 40 books I CAN’T WAIT TO READ. Divided in contemporary books about middle-school, fantasy, magical realism, mischievous adventures, hard-hitting contemporaries and science-fiction. Let me know what are some of yours!

Friendship, crushes and middle-school

Meow or Never: A Wish Novel by Jazz Taylor. 01/05/2021. Pets and secret crushes? AND a saphhic main character? Yes, yes, yes! When Avery’s crush convinces her to sign up for the school musical, Avery finds herself in the middle of some adventures. She loves singing but not in front of people. Luckily, her secret cat, Phantom, helps her when she’s stress. Friendship, romance and a lot of mischief.

Amina’s Song by Hena Khan. 03/09/2021. I read Amina’s Voice and More to the Story last year and I enjoyed very much. I was in tears, for sure, but I also laughed so much. All to say, I’m excited to meet Amina once more in what promises to be equally delightful and heartfelt.

Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Fahmida Azim. 03/16/2021. This is a novel in verse about Samira finding friendship and strength in a surf club when her family flees Myanmar for Bangladesh. This promises to be hard hitting book while still being about Samira’s new adventures. Exactly the type of books I love.

The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family by Sarah Kapit. 03/23/2021. I have heard so many good things about Sarah’s debut, Get a grip, Vivy Cohen! and this looks it will be equally fantastic. Two autistic sisters, one mystery agency and a lot of adventures. Although I’m not a mystery fan, in middle-grade I absolutely love it. Probably reminds me to Harriet the Spy and my long childhood dream of being a spy… ANYWAY, super excited about Sara and Caroline’s cases!

More titles:

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen. 01/19/2021 Competition, rivalry and learning about love and support
Squad Goals by Erika J. Kendrick. 04/06/2021 Cheerleading + coming of age
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz. 04/13/2021 (birthday release!!) Love letter to theater featuring a disabled MC.
That Thing About Bollywood by Supriya Kelkar. 05/18/2021 Sonali must figure out what’s happening when her friends and family start unexpectedly breaking out into Bollywood songs.
Generation Misfits by Akemi Dawn Bowman. 6/29/2021. Band + school’s talent show

Magic and Adventures

Root Magic by Eden Royce. 01/05/2021. This sounds perfect for me; ghosts, magic and a story about friendship. Set in 1963, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, start learning about root magic and their family legacy.

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera. 04/13/2021. This debut novel promises to be tender and delightful story about family and coming to your power. Following Cece Rios, as she embarks in a dangerous adventure to save her older sister. In a world of magical wonders and terrible creatures, Cece must become what everyone despises: a bruja.

Curse of the Forgotten City by Alex Aster. 06/08/2021. Book 1, Curse of the Night Witch, was such a pleasant surprise from last year. This series is doesn’t shy away from darkness, while still being a middle-grade book about friendship, magic and coming of age. Alex really brought Latin American stories to life and I just can’t wait to see what will happen in this next installment.

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia. 08/03/2021. Another sequel that I can’t wait for. And also spooky Latinx. Really, we’re getting so many wonderful books this year. Part of the Rick Riordan Presents series, Paola Santiago follows Paola and her terrifying meeting with La Llorona. After everything that happened in book 1, I’m so excited (and scared) to see what awaits Paola and her friends. Hopefully a nice happy ending? Right, Tehlor? No more tears, please?

More titles:

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. 01/19/2021. Middle grade urban fantasy HELLO?!
The Last Fallen Star by Grace Kim. 05/04/2021. Korean mythology, story about family, magic and belonging.
The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity. 05/04/2021 Perfect for Percy Jackson fans is all I need to know.
The Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young. 05/11/2021. Navajo mythology + family
Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi. 06/01/2021. Perfect for fans of Aru Shah and Chronicles of Narnia, uh, yes?
Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne. 07/06/2021. A mischievous girl with a big heart and world inspired by Caribbean mythology!!
The Devouring Wolf by Natalie C. Parker. Werewolves, queer rep and a dark secret that could change everything.
The Magic Paintbrush by Kat Zhang. Intergenerational fantasy adventure, doesn’t it sound wonderful?
Speculation by Nisi Shawl. Ghosts, family curse and historical fantasy.

Magical Realism

Loteria by Karla Arenas Valenti. 09/07/2021. This book sounds absolutely fantastic and maybe you should add it just because that cover illustrated by Dana Sanmar is breathtaking. A story about fate, legends and life-and-death.

The Insiders by Mark Oshiro. 09/21/2021. Mark’s middle-grade debut about friendship and identity. This sounds like a hard-hitting book, like you know, only Mark can give us. But also an incredible novel about queerness, found family and love.

Mischievous Kids With Big Hearts

Shaking Up the House by Yamile Saied Mendez. 01/05/2021. I’ve loved everything that I have read by Yamile so far and I’m so excited for her newest middle-grade release. This promises to be mischievous, fun and sweet and that’s all I want.

Goldie Vance: Hocus Pocus Hoax by Lilliam Rivera. 01/05/2021. Detective adventures, sapphic dates, and a little bit of magic. Already read this one and it was a delighted. Check out my January wrap up for more thoughts.

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina. 04/06/2021. I still can’t quite believe we’re getting a sequel to one of my all time favorite books. Merci Suarez is such a powerful, honest and bittersweet story about family, friendship and growing up. Merci gets a lot of trouble usually, with her mischievous nature and big heart, and I’m sure this one will bring a lot of laugher and tears. I AM READY FOR THE PAIN.

Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva. 04/20/2021. I have heard the greatest things about Gail’s books and this one sounds so good, I can’t even. Fighting bullies with magic potions may sound like a good idea at first, but it quickly turns a lot more complicated for Jolina.

Much Ado About Baseball by Rajani LaRocca. 06/01/2021. I adored Midsummer’s Mayheam last year, which it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream retelling. I don’t really know much about Shakespeare but if it’s a Rajani’s retelling I must read. Much Ado About Baseball is about rivals to friends (best trope in the planet!), magic , food and baseball. Can’t get any better, honestly.

Hard Hitting Contemporaries

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day. 01/05/2021. A story about mental health, community and family. I have heard so many good things about the author’s debut, I Can Make This Promise, I’m sure this one will be equally good.

Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh. 05/04/2021. I love reading stories about family, grandparents and family’s history. Reading the synopsis I was already in tears, to be honest. Ellen Oh promises a story about hope, survival and finding your voice. And I just can’t wait for it.

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga. 05/11/2021. Friendship, time-travel, grief and trauma, this book is the definition of hard-hitting contemporary. I don’t usually cry while reading synopsis, but this is the second book in this list that made me openly sob. So, now I need this in my life. I have not read Jasmine Warga’s books, so while I wait, I’ll finally get to Other Words For Home.

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea by Ashley Herring Blake. 05/25/2021. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World was a book I loved with all my heart, talked about it in my last post. So I knew after reading that one that I must get every single middle-grade book by Ashley Herring Blake. And Hazel Bly? Sounds just perfect for me; a story about grief, friendship, family and mermaids.

More titles:

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li. 01/12/2021. A story about loss, grief and unlikely friendships.
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold. 02/02/2021. Magical realism, immigration and belonging.
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi. 05/11/2021. Immigration, belonging, written in verse. Front Desk meets Other Words for Home.

Science Fiction hijinks

Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela. 01/01/2021. Contemporary meets science-fiction. Anamaria is a 13 years old girl living in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in the 90s, one day finding this weird lady that tells her she’s Anamaria from the future, here to help her out. Written in verse, the novel tackles depression and mental health. I’ve been loving these novels that mash different genres coming together in a new and thought-provoking way so this sounds like a new favorite.

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera. 09/07/2021. Listen to this book, I beg you; relocating to a new planet, all the adults mysteriously disappear, making Petra the new cuentista of the forbidden stories. Mexican folklore, space hijinks, a mystery to solve and a celebration for storytelling. I talked about Donna’s debut, Lupe Wong Won’t Dance in my last post, so of course I cannot wait for my new favorite middle-grade author.

Last Gamer Standing by Katie Zhao. 09/21/2021. Katie’s The Dragon Warrior was incredibly fun, I adored the two books already out in the series (will we ever get a third one? hopefully). I’m so excited to meet this sports anime meets gaming culture, as described by Katie. Seriously? It can’t get better than a Chinese-American girl fighting racism and sexism on a VR battle.

2020 Highlights: Books I Adored

Hello friends,

Today I’m talking about books that I adored in 2020. I read so much (304, remember?) that it was very hard for me to make a list of my favorites. Especially when I had an overwhelming number of high ratings. I’m not complaining, of course! I’m so happy that I had such a phenomenal reading year and that’s why I want to highlight more of the books that I enjoyed in the year.

So here you go, 10 highly recommended books from YA romance to spooky middle-grade plus some extras because I CAN’T HELP MYSELF. I’m not sorry!

And check out my favorite reads of 2020 for more books. And this thread with my bujo spreads with more recommendations. I swear after this post, I’m letting 2020 go (just kidding).

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. This was one of my most anticipated releases and the love I have for it? Truly unparalleled. I listened to it in one sitting, which I hadn’t done in so long but I need to know what would happen next and I was sobbing in my car and I had so many feelings and AAAAH. It’s such an emotional but also deeply romantic read. There were tears, smiles and some screams, to be honest. A story about Liz running for prom queen to win money for college and kind of falling in love with the competition along the way. Yes, so much about the book is the sapphic romance (that I love so so much), but also Liz’s relationship with her chronic ill brother. If there’s one thing that I love more than sapphics is wholesome sibling content in my books. It was exactly what I needed to read at the moment, the right amount of heartbreak, hopefulness and sweetness. I’m ready to read anything by Leah Johnson.

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali. Intense scream forever about this book. Talking about wholesome, romantic and the right amount of heartbreak, Love from A to Z gave me so much comfort in the year of hell. Another audiobook that I devoured, finding more reasons to keep listening chapter after chapter. It follows Adam and Zayneb, two Muslim teens meeting in Dohar, Qatar and their growing feelings. Both have such distinct voices and so powerful. Adam is dealing with grief after losing his mom and his recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Zayneb is on vacation after getting in trouble at school for confronting her Islamophobic teacher. I adore Zayneb, so much of her storyline is about her anger and the ways she’s not allowed to express it or feel it. I felt that deeply. I also really appreciate the way this book talked about grief and disability/chronic illness. Don’t get me wrong, this book has some very hard hitting moments but it just gave me all the happy feelings with how amazing the characters, their romance and families are.

I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn. This book was so adorable and heartfelt. Following Kimi, visiting her grandparents in Japan for the first time, while trying to figure out what she wants to study in college. And maybe falling in love with this cute boy that she keeps bumping into. This is a story heavily focused on Kimi’s relationships, be with her mom, her grandparents or Akira. I adore stories about grandparents and in here all the scenes were so wholesome. She doesn’t really know them so they are all slowly learning about each other and it is so beautiful!! Kimi’s mom has so many ideas about her daughter’s future and through the book, they have to learn to see each other for who they are. And Akira! This was clearly written by a romance author. It was such a wholesome romance, slow and swoony and with the perfect bits, ending in such a hopeful note. Thinking about this book makes me smile, it felt like a warm hug. And how I needed a warm hug in 2020.

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha. This was so fun, I really enjoyed the writing and the characters. Post-apocalyptic world, three librarians team up with a mercenary team on the run for a dangerous job. Tension, action and great romance, the emotional bits were so well-done. The characters are fully developed and they’re messy and complicated, they all have dark pasts and a lot of growing to do. I appreciate the conversations about community, hope and trauma. And the story managed to be pretty wholesome between killings. It has a wonderful found family aspect and the perfect cliffhanger ending for the sequel. Deal with the Devil was exactly what I was hoping for.

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole. Funny enough, all the books of this list are kind of out of my comfort zone. This one especially, as I barely read SF and nothing with robots (sorry, AIs). Trinity lives a quiet live in her apartment complex recuperating after an accident. Sure, some things seem a little bit off but nothing is alarming until she meets her mysterious neighbor’s nephew. When she realizes he’s actually an AI and not human, Trinity decides to help him out. Things get complicated as their feelings grow and they uncover a sinister plot. This was SO good, I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. It’s a novella, so the world-building is pretty concise, but still managed to feel lived in. Tension, a little bit of a creepy vibe, and some incredible character development. The romance was chef’s kiss and the audiobook was truly amazing. Apparently we’re getting another novella set in this world and I can’t wait to meet my favorite AIs again.

Hidden Legacy by Ilona Andrews. This series quickly became a new favorite for me last year. I was excited to dive into something a little bit different by Ilona Andrews and to be quite honest, Hidden Legacy worked better for me than Kate Daniels series. Action packed, dynamic world-building, family, slow burn romance, sarcastic main character, political intrigue and crime investigation. I truly adore the Baylor family, adore how fierce and supporting they all are, I adore how much about this series is about love, both romantic and familial. We have seen Nevada and Catalina grow so much in the past five books and I’m not sure I’m ready to see this series go. My favorite so far have been the novella Diamond Fire and Wildfire, most satisfying ending so far.

More romance books that I adored: Undone by the Ex-Con by Talia Hibbert and A Prince On Paper by Alyssa Cole.

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz. This book was mind-blowing, so exciting, fun and wonderful. Contemporary fantasy with sports, a story about identity, found family and magic. Lana’s biggest dream has always been playing in the Blazewrath World Cup with Team Puerto Rico. When she gets a spot as the team’s Runner, she couldn’t be more excited to represent her country. But as Sire, a mysterious dragon cursed to human form, makes an appearance, Lana finds herself in a big conspiracy that could jeopardize the cup, and her team’s lives. One of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and I was not disappointed. Blazewrath Games have so many elements I enjoy; dragons, friendship, and celebration of identity. With a fascinating world-building and great cast of characters, this book won me over in the first chapter. Lana’s mother is white and her father Puerto Rican and throughout the book, Amparo explores her complicated feelings about identity, as she doesn’t feel Puerto Rican enough. And what does it mean? and why it’s so wrong to think about identity in terms of performing or accomplishing something? This book was so smart, fun and such a delighted. The friendship and found family aspect was one my favorite things, my favorite being the dragons, of course. Lana makes such deep connections with her team and my heart feels so happy for her. Plus rivals to friends? Best trope in the planet. Amparo doesn’t shy away from throwing some punches, tho, and that ending me cried a little. Why am I lying? I cried okay! I can’t wait to come back to this wonderful world and for more Amparo’s stories.

More YA fantasies that I adored: We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria.

Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano. 2020 saw this wonderful middle-grade series to an end. Following Leo, a mischievous and lovely Mexican-American bruja. The youngest of five sisters, Leo always feels left out and invisible. When she finds out her family’s secrets she can’t wait to get her hands into magic and baking. This trilogy is such a delighted, dealing with grief, jealousy, family, and friendship. I have laughed, cried and smiled with the Logroño’s family and I’m sad to see them go. I reread the first two and then read the last one in 2020 for the serotonin and it was a good choice. When people ask for cozy stories that feel like a warm hug, these are the books I think about. Great characterization, wonderful relationships and the perfect ending. We got to see an expansion of the world-building that was fascinating. I really appreciate how this book lets its characters to have conflicted emotions, make bad choices but always with the biggest of the hearts. Seeing Leo coming to her powers, growing confident in the love her family and friends have for her, and feeling so proud of her heritage was amazing.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake. Read this book in a sitting because I couldn’t put it down. A hard-hitting contemporary that also deals with feeling invisible in your family, identity and trauma. This was such an emotional and also delightful read. I love how Ivy explores her growing feelings about her new friend, so important for middle-grade stories. But this is not exactly a coming out story, which I also appreciate because Ivy is allowed to explore what feels right for her at her own pace. And although she feels unwanted in her family, she is loved and appreciated and seen. Writing this is making me cry all over again. Ashley portrayed family and friendship with a lot of complexity and it was so well done. There were discussions about being honest and brave, but also listening and your relationships changing and adjusting, learning to be confident in yourself and love. SO MANY FEELINGS, that’s what I mean. This book was a gut-punched after gut-punched but also so delightful and sweet and I love Ivy with all my heart.

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. This book was incredible. An exploration of grief, family and friendship with a dark spin. One day a pelesit, a ghost, shows up in Suraya’s house claiming her witch grandmother has died and now it belongs to her. Suraya names the pelesit, Pink, and they become friends. But Pink starts to get jealous when Suraya makes a new friend at school and they have to set in an adventure to find out about Pink’s past. This book was dark, sad and very bittersweet. It has messy characters and a lot of emotion. I appreciate the conversations about grief, loneliness and toxic relationships. It also has a complicated mother-daughter relationship that was explored with nuance. They are not black or white situations in this book, which perfectly shows how well middle-grade can deal with difficult topics. A chilling and bittersweet story that stole my heart away.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera. If by now you don’t know how much I adore my messy middle-grade protagonists, I have been doing this blogging thing all wrong. Lupe dreams with meeting her baseball icon and for that she needs straight As at school, all good until she has to square dance. You see, Lupe can do anything, except dancing. The story deals with racism, identity, grief, and friendship. Lupe is Chinese-Mexican American and sometimes she doesn’t feel enough. Her family loves her fiercely and she loves as equally as fierce. She can be a little bit mischievous and makes some mistakes along the way, but she truly has a big heart. Lupe is an incredible character with so much passion for justice and a very strong sense of right and wrong. The book also explores how friendships change with time and the history of square dancing (racist, as many things in America). This novel has so much heart and it’s a celebration of family, friendship and identity in all the best ways. Truly fantastic.

More middle grade novels that I adored: Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster, Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega, Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

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.


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. 


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.

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,


Open Now: Latinx Magic

Hello, dear friends

I finally took the courage to create my own blog. To be honest, I’m very afraid and excited about this new experience. It’s not my first blog, but it’s the first time I’m writing all in English.

I missed this, the writing and sharing, the support and love, the friendship. My blog was not big but I was part of an amazing community that made me feel so welcomed.

It feels strange to come back, especially in this foreign language. But since I joined the book community on Twitter, I have met amazing folks and I feel so inspired by their work, constant support and love.

Latinx Magic

Last year I participated in the LatinxBookBingo (follow Paola, Sofia and Allie) and it opened my eyes. After an entire month of Latinx books, I realized that was exactly what I was looking for; the feeling of validation and community that I grew up with. I felt seen in these pages, I felt heard and loved. And then I realized, why should I do this only for a month? Why don’t do it all year? One of my 2019 resolutions is read more books by Latinx authors and here I am.

Twitter is great and I have so much fun with bookstagram, but I feel like I have so many things to say and not enough space. Here it comes my new baby, Latinx Magic.

Why Latinx Magic?

Because we are magic; this community is wonderful, supportive and so diverse and beautiful. And I don’t only want to belong here, I want to open all the doors of this casa and invite everyone in. I want to scream to the top of my lungs about these amazing books. I want to spread my love for these authors.

I don’t only read books by Latinx authors, but I do want to be more conscious this year in the authors that I’m supporting. I feel like this can be my granito de arena.

Please take a seat, there’s room in the table for everyone and I’m so happy about what it’s to come (reviews, tons of lists and I hope, so much fun for everyone).