Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – A Dark, Twisting Gothic Horror of Decay, Decadence & Eerie Family Secrets

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Summary:

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Skye’s review:

This is the first true horror book I have ever read.

Growing up, I never truly understood why people consumed horror media. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to feel scared instead of entertained? What point is there to feeding the paranoia of being alone in the dark? (It certainly didn’t help that the brand of East-Southeast Asian horror I was raised on tended heavily towards ghosts and apparitions, and still disproportionately frightens me to this day!)

But in recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating towards weird stories with spookier elements, and ended up developing a particular fondness for gothic horror. There’s something absolutely alluring about the morbid, almost pleasurable terror of a gothic novel, wrapped underneath layers of decadence, aesthetics, and decay. After massively enjoying House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig last year, I began seeking out books and other media that could give me the same sense of dread and catharsis that Sorrows gave me a taste of. I eventually found solace in Emily Carroll’s horror comics and the podcast The Magnus Archives, which all built a foundation for my instant attraction to the premise of Mexican Gothic.

And friend, if you are also fascinated by haunted houses and the macabre, in a tension that builds and builds until the threads of the story come loose in a brilliant, repulsive reveal… Then this book was written for you too.

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The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar – A Soft Yet Powerful YA Contemporary Featuring an F/F Romance that Battles Discrimination and Celebrates the Art of Henna

The Henna Wars, by Adiba Jaigirdar. Reviewed by Joce, (at) The Quiet Pond.

Summary:

When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.

Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.

Joce’s review:

When CW told me that we were going to have Adiba Jaigirdar visiting the Pond, I was overjoyed because I am just so… moved by The Henna Wars. It is a young adult contemporary novel featuring an F/F romance, and also has its roots firmly planted in destroying homophobia, racism, bullying, and cultural appropriation. After I was done reading, I sat on the couch filled with warm, fuzzy feelings, but also feeling empowered to get this book in the hands of younger readers everywhere.

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Forbidden Promises by Synithia Williams – One of the Best Romances I’ve Ever Read

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Blurb:

What do you do when you want the one person you can never have?

Get in and get out. That was India Robidoux’s plan for this family visit. But when her brother needs her help with his high-profile political campaign, India has no choice but to stay and face the one man she’s been running from for years—Travis, her sister’s ex-husband. One hot summer night when Travis was still free, they celebrated her birthday with whiskey and an unforgettable kiss. The memory is as strong as ever—and so are the feelings she’s tried so hard to forget.

Travis Strickland owes everything to the Robidoux family. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them—his divorce could never change that. Still, he has one regret. Impulsive and passionate, India always understood him better than anyone else. And the longer they work together on the campaign, the more torn he is. Coming between her and her sister is out of the question. But how can he let love pass him by a second time?

Joce’s review:

It comes as no surprise that I love romance novels. However, one of the most difficult tropes to execute is the forbidden love trope, and I’m so happy to say that Forbidden Promises, the first novel in the Jackson Falls series, is a rare gem in Synithia Williams’s execution of this trope. The cover (and the people on it) is beautiful, which is indicative of the true beauty of the content inside, from the suspenseful plot points, to the complexity of the family relationships and each character’s coping with trauma, to the happily ever after which felt like the first gulp of cold Gatorade after a long marathon.

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The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu – A Genre-Blending Tale of Music, Magic, and Quiet, Defiant Feminism

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Summary:

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish—to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

Skye’s review:

My favorite kind of books are the ones that take you completely by surprise. The ones where you don’t realise you’re in too deep until you surface for air and it’s already somehow already the next day. The ones that make you, per the good old YA adage, exhale a breath you didn’t realise you were holding—and friends, the experience of reading this book was both the exhilaration of the dive and the clean, desperate breath of air that always follows after.

The Kingdom of Back returns us to the childhood of the Mozart siblings, both on the precipice of greatness in the world of music. We know one of these names, of course: history remembers and cherishes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But his elder sister, fondly nicknamed Nannerl, is an unknown figure, lost to obscurity. What if I told you that she too was a child prodigy on the harpsichord, that she also dreamt of greatness and legacies? What if, frustrated by a world that refuses to recognise her talent, she makes a dark deal with a faery princeling to realise her ambitions?

These are the questions that Marie Lu invites us to explore in this book, and the questions that kept me rapt until the final measure of the story concluded in a triumphant finale.

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The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams – Destroying the Patriarchy, One Romance Novel at a Time

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. Reviewed by Joce, The Quiet Pond.

Summary:

The first rule of book club: You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

Joce’s Review:

On the surface, The Bromance Book Club, with its hand-drawn cover and light-hearted title, seems like the perfect beach read, or so they say. But wait! It actually takes that entire notion and the sexist ideologies behind it and completely. Unpacks. Them.

Lyssa Kay Adams takes readers through the “pause” on Gavin, a professional MLB player, and Thea’s marriage, in which he tries to win her back after discovering she has been faking her orgasms in an already faltering relationship in which they have twin daughters. He does so with the guidance of a Regency romance novel that was introduced to him by his romance book club, made up of other men. It’s genius. Just hang on.

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