Tuesday, March 14, 2017

*SPOILERS* BOOK REVIEW: 'SANTA MUERTE' by Lucina Stone

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Summary

Lucina Stone blends Mexican folklore with modern technology and time travel in this seductive new series where the lines between right and wrong, protagonist and antagonist, truth and fiction, love and lust, and life and death have never been more blurred.

THE YEAR IS 2030. IN A DRAMATIC, final attempt to free her inner demons, twenty-year-old Daniela Delgado tempts fate and winds up on a strange farm in 1923. With an olive complexion due to her Mexican/Italian heritage and a fresh pixie cut, she is mistaken for a “boy of color.” Her only shot at survival now is to play it cool, pose as “Danny,” and figure out how to get back home to her two, loving moms.

And then she meets Daphne—an abused, motherless farm girl in desperate need of freedom and a friend. Having escaped Daphne’s father, the two of them are now roaming the streets of New York City disguised as a young aristocrat and her male servant. They’re running out of money, and ideas. And Daniela thought living in 2030 was tough.

But her solar powered smart phone works. And there’s someone within range. She pings them. A selfie of an attractive male comes in with the text: I’m Lain. Who the f--- are you? Even in that moment, Daniela knows this can’t be safe, but what are her choices? They meet Lain at a speakeasy on the Lower East Side. When Daniela reveals her last name, Lain says the only Delgado he knows is Anaya—the head of the Santa Muerte Coven of witches in Merida, Mexico. And then he hints that Daniela is a liar, even though she rocks a man’s three-piece suit like no woman he’s ever met. And as for her tattoos? Don’t get Lain started….

Despite the intrigue, Daniela adds Lain to the list of folks Daphne and she must outrun to stay alive. But as they plan their trip to Mexico, they soon discover that list is much longer than they thought. And they uncover a few other things, too, about Daniela’s true identity….


Book Review

I received an ARC and a signed copy of the book from Rich in Variety Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Note: Keep in mind the heavy, problematic issues within this book by reading C.T. Callahan's review on Goodreads. But I also know that many of my thoughts and opinions are my own, and I will discuss them further down below.

In a nutshell: This book was a whole lot to take in, both culturally and as a novel, overall. It wasn't a bad read at all, it was actually a really good first book in the series, but it still left me with more questions than answers.

The Good: I really liked how the main character, Daniela "Danny" Delgado, was of Mexican and Italian descent --- both of her mothers are of those two ethnicities --- so we have a touch of diversity in literature. I also liked how human her character was. When we first meet Daniela, she's on the brink of attempting suicide by hanging herself. This may be a TRIGGER WARNING for most readers, but there's really no warning preparing you for it. She tries to commit suicide, suffering from an abusive relationship the year before, but somehow, she survives it when the rope breaks off the tree, landing herself in 1923 New Jersey!! So on the inside, she's struggling to figure out her feelings about herself, while navigating around the city to find her way back to her own time. A father and his daughter, Daphne, find her and mistake her for a boy, for she has a short, pixie hair cut. They take her in, give her food and shelter for awhile, when Daniela finds out that Daphne's father has been sexually abusing her, so they escape into New York City. And then later on in the novel is where I get confused, because at one point, Daniela is so depressed and anxious over her past that she attempts suicide, but then when Daphne asks her if she wants to die, Daniela immediately says no....It just didn't make sense to me. Since when does depression/suicide turn on and off like that?

However, I'm still talking about the good parts that I did like, like the fact that Daniela has two loving mothers, Emma and Monica, who are worried sick about her when she disappears. Emma's backstory is also interesting; when we first meet her, she knows she is attracted to women, even has Monica whom she adores. But Emma had an arranged marriage to a man, set up by her traditionally ruthless mother, Anaya. To settle the score and assure her freedom to be with Monica, Emma had to sleep with her then-husband, and I think she liked it. So, does that make her bisexual, or sexually fluid? I'm not bisexual, so I can't speak on how proper the LGBT representation is, but as a plot device, it is a bit unclear as to what sexuality Emma labels as. But for now, throughout the story, she's still in love with Monica. I liked how both mothers would do anything to do to find and protect their daughter, even go so far as to call Detective Hicks of their local police station. Also, Emma flies down to Mexico to see Anaya for spiritual answers.

Speaking of Anaya, she is known as the Santa Muerte, a powerful witch leader "who ruled with an iron fist". She scared and infuriated me as a character. She's this no-nonsense, older lady who won't let anyone stand in her way, both in the real world and in the spiritual world. The best part was when Monica came down to Mexico to look for Emma, and she found Anaya instead, and they were literally thisclose to starting a fist fight!! But they didn't because Emma found Monica and told her to leave. She told Monica, who had been worried sick about both her wife and daughter, to leave because she suddenly believed in her mother's Mexican folklore and witchcraft. After running away from it and brushing it off for almost all of the book, she turns away her one true love for their daughter and so-called destiny as a witch.

I'm still talking about the good parts, right? OK, let me think lol. This book wasn't terrible, I swear it wasn't. Just both a lot and so, very little to take in, especially for the first book.

Beatriz, Daniela's spirit guide, is badass! She knows how to control her hosts's body and make them better than they would be on their own. But as a spirit, she still has her own identity and personality. She's like a combination of Emma, Daniela and Anaya (and definitely without the meanness of Anaya). She's the bridge between the human and spirit worlds, which I found interesting.

The Bad: As nice as this book was, in terms of Stone's writing, it didn't give me much to go on. I wanted to know more about the Mexican folklore and cultural history of the Santa Muerte coven. How was this coven created? Where did it come from? Surely, if it's the oldest coven in history, Anaya can't be the only witch in the family, right? There's just so many unanswered questions in this novel that Stone's writing didn't address. It would have been better if her writing was outstanding, but it's not. Not really. If anything, her writing is descriptive and draws you in to Daniela and Daphne's emotions, but at a lot of points, it's not enough. The good news is, the last 100 or so pages, during Monica and Emma's confrontation in Mexico, was really good. I really caught the despair and struggle through Stone's words.

Back to the unanswered questions, I actually wanted to know more about Emma's backstory growing up as a lesbian in a Mexican household. Even in the prologue when she had to sleep with her then-arranged-husband in order to be free from her mother, there's no preface to how that happened. Throughout the story, there are bits and pieces of Anaya and Emma's strained relationship. But how did Emma meet Monica? Did Monica know Emma's arranged/annulled marriage? Never fully explained.

And apparently there's this enemy coven, and their leader Lain is after Daniela. He even goes so far as to touch her inappropriately and hints at raping her while she's sleeping, after he captures her!! And there's no warning, it just happens!! Luckily, Beatriz takes over Daniela's body and kicks his ass before he can touch her, but still. All of these "surprises" and no warning isn't good for a book as emotionally heavy like this.

Improvements for Future Books: I hope Stone does more research on the LGBT community, particularly in bisexuality. I'm not bisexual, so while I can't speak on the representation, I would appreciate it if she did more to properly explain how these characters came to be. Because if I as a straight person can't see it, how is a person from the LGBT community supposed to?

I'd also hope to see more better world-building in future books. Where did people like Lain come from? Where did the other Santa Muerte spirits come from? How will Daniela learn from her mothers and grandmother about her new powers? Only time will tell.

Final Thoughts: This is my second diverse read that has been a disappointment this year, so I hope that with the next read, it'll be an improvement on both diversity and YA book culture as a whole.

Have you read 'Santa Muerte'? What were your thoughts on the novel? Leave comments below.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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