Pahua and the Soul Stealer
by Lori M. Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this via Netgalley which in no way influenced my review. I am thrilled by Rick Riordan's line bringing all these diverse authors and their stories to the forefront. These are voices that need to be heard (representation matters).
Pahua is a young Hmong girl in Wisconsin (this made me wish I were still living there) She's been cut off from her Hmong community after a move when her father abandoned the family (I still think there's more to this) and she's lonely. Her mother is working far too much to keep the family afloat and unsurprisingly Pahua is bullied and ignored at school thanks to prejudice. Thinking she has made a new friend she follows the girls to the 'haunted bridge.'
Unlike other kids, Pahua can see spirits and knows the bridge spirit is real. This fateful decision ends up with her accidentally releasing the titular soul stealer who gets hold of her kid brother's soul and brings Pahua into the path of Zhong, a young shaman-warrior in training. Pahua's aunt is a shaman but her mother has no time for such talk so Pahua knows very little.
Here you have the typical MG/YA conundrum, where are the adults? Pahua's mother is in the hospital with Pahua's stricken brother, Matt and Zhong was sent by the shaman school on a quest to find out what happened at the bridge. She is desperate to impress her mentors there so she insists that they can handle this alone vs going to get her mentor. Which okay when you're 11 that probably makes sense to you.
Zhong is a bit of a rude know it all. Pahua is uncertain and feels she isn't brave but has a heck of an imagination. Together they roam Wisconsin and the spirit realms hounded by demons, dragons and all manner of spirit creatures with the only help being Zhong's imperfect knowledge, Pahua's hidden talents and Miv, the cat spirit who is Pahua's best friend.
This story is steeped in Hmong mythology and it absolutely wonderful. The action is unflagging and the girls are great. The storyline is believable and it wraps up nicely. The story is complete but definitely open for more down the road. I can't wait to see more. Pahua's world is filled with fantastical things and highly nuanced. It sucks me right in and I didn't want to put it down. One of the most fun books I've read all year.View all my reviewsCertain Dark Things
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received this from Netgalley which did not influence my review. This was such a fun, dark vampire story. Two things really breathed life into the vampire genre (no pun intended), Mexico City as a setting and moving beyond the European Dracula sort of vampire. I'm a huge vampire fan but even I want something a little different from time to time and we have it here.
For one, the vampires here aren't necessarily good or evil, they just are
. One of them describes vampires as 'their hunger,' so that means they don't play well with their food. In this world there are many types of vampires, most of them incapable of getting along. Mexico City, like many places has banned vampires for all that's worth.
Domingo is a homeless teen, a garbage picker who crosses path with Atl whose vampiric lineage traces back to Mexico's indigenous people. Domingo is intelligent (so you do feel sympathy for his terrible circumstances) and a huge vampire fan. He is constantly comparing Atl to the vampires he knows from stories and comic books. He wants to be with her, to help her. He has a good heart.
Atl is on the run from the Necros, the youngest in the evolution of vampires (they all have different strengths and weaknesses and feeding types/appearances it's very well done) and the most vicious. Her family has run afoul of them. At best Atl is slated to be killed by them or imprisoned/raped/tortured and then killed for his amusement when Nick catches her. All she has is her enhanced Doberman Pinscher and Domingo. Her only plan is to stay alive long enough to get forged papers that will get her to South America where she can hide and thrive.
The action unfolds over a few days as Domingo tries to help Atl escape, hoping to go with her while dodging some of the young gangs he has to deal with, one of which he has ended up on the bad side of. Atl is trying not to feel drawn to Domingo, he is only human after all, not really worth her time. We have Ana, a detective who is trying to stay uncorrupted, who has vampire killing experience and is slammed by misogyny at all sides at work and we have the drug dealers who want Ana to help get rid of the vampires as they're bad for business.
There are several threads in this, many points of view and characters you really want to see have a happy ending but then you remember this is horror (the author calls it neo-noir) and that happy endings are not guaranteed. Whether or not it has one is up to you to find out. I thought this was a fun ride and it resolved in a very believable way. I enjoyed the dark world Domingo and Atl exist in and was glad of the glimpse into it.View all my reviews