Review: “The Faithless Hawk” by Margaret Owen

Title: The Faithless Hawk
Series: The Merciful Hawk #2
Author: Margaret Owen
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Court intrigue, secrets, and betrayal abound in this thrilling series ending.

As the new chieftain of the Crows, Fie knows better than to expect a royal to keep his word. Still, she’s hopeful that Prince Jasimir will fulfill his oath to protect her fellow Crows. But then black smoke fills the sky, signaling the death of King Surimir and the beginning of Queen Rhusana’s merciless bid for the throne.

With the witch queen using the deadly plague to unite the nation of Sabor against the Crows – and add numbers to her monstrous army – Fie and her band are forced to go into hiding, leaving the country to be ravaged by the plague. However, they’re all running out of time before the Crows starve in exile and Sabor is lost forever.

As desperate Fie calls on old allies to help take Rhusana down from within her own walls. But inside the royal palace. The only difference between a conqueror and thief is an army. To survive, Fie must unravel not only Rhusana’s plot, but ancient secrets of the Crows – secrets that could save her people, or set the world ablaze.

The Merciful Crow was one of my most favorite titles to come out last year. I loved its world, its story and characters; I loved the romance and the found family element of it but above all I loved Fie. She’s feisty and sharp and so, so, so righteously angry. I loved her every thorny bit and her hidden soft side. So when the chance to read its sequel early came up I grabbed it with both of my greedy, impatient hands. (I might have used my feet, too. That’s how much I wanted it!)

And, all the merciful gods and goddesses, this book was everything!

The Faithless Hawk solidified TMC‘s place as one of my forever favorite series. It tied the whole duology neatly, picking up the threads left over from the first book for a most satisfying ending.

But not without putting Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir through the grinder first.

The story hits the ground running, loaded with explosive revelations even from the very first chapters. Fie, now chief of her band of Crows, meets one of the old Crow gods and receives some very cryptic stuff about the Crows’ birthright, the oath she thought she’d already fulfilled, and, most important of all, about herself — who she was, is, and her possible future self. With the knowledge that more rides on her making good on her part of the bargain and with Queen Rhusana becoming bolder and more ruthless in her quest to grab power, Fie reunites with Tavin and Jasimir to save the Crows and, in turn, the whole of Sabor.

Switching up from TMC‘s quest-type adventure where she took us on a trip throughout Sabor, Margaret Owen seamlessly takes readers deeper into the more intricate parts of the world she has created, exploring the complexities of court politics and social class workings. It was an interesting change, one that I enjoyed very much as it made me understand Fie’s world better — how it worked from the inside, why things were the way they were. Coupled with what had been already laid out in the first book, the new insights TFH gave me made me appreciate Owen’s worldbuilding work and plotting even more. I was detailed, well-planned, and executed with careful precision.

Amazing worldbuilding and plotting aside, what I loved most about this whole series were its characters. Having been thrown together in book one and going through some really tough stuff, Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir formed a strong bond. That bond, however, was tested throughout TFH. I don’t want to go into details because I might accidentally spoil something, but the trio do come through it — bruised and battered, but also a little bit wiser and a whole lot tougher and stronger.

Looking back to the start of their stories, Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir have all grown so much, Fie most of all. While she’s pretty much the same Fie we’ve known and loved from the first book, she’s more vulnerable in this sequel, unsure of herself, and, behind the tough exterior, scared for everyone she loves. But she’s also more open, more in touch with her powers as a Crow witch, and still as relentless as ever in fighting against the injustices done against her people. Of course, though the trio often find themselves in some very dangerous situations in this book, everything is not all doom and gloom all the time. Owen generously injects much-needed levity and humor throughout TFH. Honestly, she got me cackling my head off a lot of times while I was reading this book.

The Faithless Hawk is a gem of a sequel and ending to an amazing series. It tackles issues that hit too close to home sometimes, especially given the state of our own world. Margaret Owen shines as a writer in this one. With her expert plotting and worldbuilding, and especially her characters — from the mains to the secondary ones — she breathes life to such a special story, one that I will be coming back to again and again.

m-owen-headshotBorn and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, MARGARET OWEN first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page, and negotiating a long-tern hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations, and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

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AUGUST 23

TBR and Beyond – Welcome Post
Lost Girl in Bookland – Review
Ideally Inspired Reviews – Review, Favourite Quotes & Playlist
Moonlight Rendezvous – Review & Favourite Quotes

AUGUST 24

Kait Plus Books – Promo Post
The Bookwyrm Den – Review
Jena Brown Writes – Review & Favourite Quotes

AUGUST 25

Confession of a YA Reader – Review
Metaphors and Miscellanea – Review & Favourite Quotes
Starlight Reads – Review & Moodboard

AUGUST 26

Books with Joy – Interview
In Between Book Pages – Review & Favourite Quotes
Bookablereads – Review

AUGUST 27

Tales Of Dreams And Nightmares – Promo post
Rambling Mads – Review
Paragraphs and Pages – Review

AUGUST 28

Stuck in the Stacks – Interview
Young at Heart Reader – Review & Moodboard
Kerri McBookNerd – Review & Favourite Quotes

AUGUST 29

Allisa White’s Book Blog – Review
Lore of the Books – Review & Favourite Quotes
Levicorpvs Blog – Review & Favourite Quotes

WIN FINISHED COPIES OF “THE MERCIFUL CROW” AND “THE FAITHLESS HAWK” BY MARGARET OWEN (US/CAN ONLY)

Giveaway ends August 29.

(DNF) Review: “Ever Cursed” by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Ever Cursed
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Content warning/s: Sexism, sexual abuse, eating disorder, classism
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

The Princesses of Ever are beloved by the kingdom and their father, the King. They are cherished, admired.

Cursed.

Jane, Alice, Nora, Grace, and Eden carry the burden of being punished for a crime they did not commit, or even know about. They are each cursed to be Without one essential thing – the ability to eat, sleep, love, remember, or hope. And their mother, the Queen, is imprisoned, frozen in time in an unbreakable glass box.

But when Eden’s curse sets on her thirteenth birthday, the princesses are given the opportunity to break the curse, preventing it from becoming a True Spell and dooming the princesses for life. To do this, they must confront the one who cast the spell – Reagan, a young witch who might not be the villain they thought – as well as the wickedness plaguing their own kingdom…and family.

DNF’d at 50%

I tried to finish this. I really, really did. But, alas, I can’t and I finally gave up on this book after spending two weeks slogging through its pages.

I was lured into this book first by its gorgeous book cover, then its delicious plot. Sadly, I found the execution wanting. The worldbuilding was two-dimensional:  hazy and boring. The magic system – witches cumbered by a new skirt after each spell they cast, the material of which varies in make and weight depending on the severity of the magic used – could have been something, but its impact was lost on me as the story continued its slow trudge.

The characters, much like the worldbuilding, was also lackluster. Aside from their respective curses of Without, I can barely separate the cursed princesses in my mind. Jane’s voice, although she was one of the two POV characters, was weak at most, nonbearing more often than not as I found her repeating the same thoughts over the 50% of the book that I managed to read.

What stood out, however, was Reagan. I love grey characters, especially righteously angry and vengeful characters. I thought Reagan was going to be one so, even when the story was slow to unfold, I stayed hoping to see what she would do with her anger. 

My hope was for naught.

Maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything from her character, but I was set up by the opening chapter. Instead of the righteous anger and revenge that I was waiting to see, I got pettiness and immaturity. Reagan only ever listened to herself, filtering what others tell her and only hearing and seeing whatever it was she wanted. Though she said, many times, that she did what she had done to avenge her wronged mother, she never listened to her, never considered what she wanted or not wanted Reagan to do. I couldn’t help but believe that Reagan casted her curse on the princesses to appease her own feelings. Guilt or anger, I’m not sure, but it was all incredibly selfish.

Also, for all of Reagan’s professions of rage against the king, she was never forthcoming with the exact reason. The precursor event was alluded to and hinted at numerous times throughout the first half of this book, but nary an essential tidbit about it was directly mentioned and it just got frustrating. If the big reveal was to be done in the last half, I could only imagine it will be heaped and crammed until the end, and I’m not in for that.

Ever Cursed could have been more. It tried to tackle serious issues such as sexism and classism, which was appreciated. All the book’s flaws, however, overshadowed this intent. Still, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from picking up any book. Tastes differ, and while this book didn’t work for me, it could be what sparks the heart of another reader.

COREY ANN HAYDU is the critically acclaimed author of several novels for young readers, including OCD Love Story, which earned her a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. Her books have been Junior Library Guild, Indie Next, and BCCB Blue Ribbon selections. Corey lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her daughter, her dog, Oscar, and a wide variety of cheese.

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Review: “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown

Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #1
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Content warning: Anxiety, chronic pain, child abuse (implied)
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Destiny, magic, trickster deities, and vengeful spirits bring two young people on a collision course that’ll upend both their lives and the world as they know it in this debut YA Fantasy inspired by West African folklore.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the cit, Malik strikes a fatal deal – kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has bee assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic… requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Some stories start on a breakneck pace, hitting the ground running and taking off immediately right from page one. There are others, still, that go the opposite direction, gathering its bearings and doling out its bits and pieces before finally coalescing into something more solid.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is firmly in the second category, something that both works for and against it.

Debut author Roseanne A. Brown took care to lay down her story’s world. Taking inspiration from West African folklore, she transports readers to a world of elemental gods and goddesses, powerful beings, and ancient magic. Ziran, the desert city where the story takes place, is a vast place teeming with peoples from different Zirani territories and allied kingdoms. It was an intriguing and complex world brought to life by meticulous detail work. However, with the hefty amounts of information needed to be unloaded, worldbuilding took up most of the book’s first half and slowed down the pace significantly.

Unnecessary exposition, of which there were many, also didn’t help even out this story’s pace. It did more telling than showing, explaining ideas and situations rather than dramatizing them through effective use of dialogue and the characters’ unvoiced thoughts. Reading these bits felt a lot like going around in endless circles. It was pretty frustrating.

Its faulty pacing aside, this book gives readers interesting characters who are each other’s polar opposites. Karina, the reluctant crown princess of Ziran, is brash, reckless, impulsive, and a bit arrogant and self-centered. But she’s also insecure, and hurting from all her losses. Malik, an Eshran refugee, has only known hardship most of his life. He is meek, filled with so much self-doubt, and suffering from debilitating panic attacks brought about by his anxiety. But he also has the biggest heart, his love for his family becoming both a strength and weakness. It was interesting watching them together and seeing them learn from each other. Karina shows Malik that he can be someone strong, while Malik softens Karina’s edges.

The politics inside Ksar Alahari and Ziran was also one of the things that kept me reading. The oppression and discrimination the Eshrans experience depicted in the book could open discussions about race and equality, topics that are forever relevant but even more so in our world today.

Though it starts slow, the story finds its footing and hits its stride in its last quarter. The explosive ending is sure to make readers come back for the last half of this planned duology once it comes out next year.

Overall, even with its wonky pacing and info dump in its first half, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a satisfying read. YA fantasy readers, especially those who loved Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone will enjoy this book. Roseanne A. Brown is a promising author, and I’m definitely coming back for the sequel if only to know how Malik and Karina’s stories end.

ROSEANNE “ROSIE” A. BROWN was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. Writing was her first love, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to use the power of writing – creative and otherwise – to connect the different cultures she called home. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets.

On the publishing side of thing, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Never content to stay in any one place for too long, Rosie currently teaches in Japan, where in her free time she can usually be found exploring the local mountains, explaining memes to her students, or thinking about Star Wars.

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Review: “Incendiary” by Zoraida Córdova

Title: IncendiaryIncendiary - book cover
Series:
Hollow Crown #1
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Genocide, torture
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Taking inspiration from Spanish Inquisition Spain, Zoraida Córdova’s duology starter is an ambitious work with love and war at its core.

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a memory thief, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred – or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she drained during he time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit – and the boy she’s grown to love – is taken captive by the notorious Príncipe Dorado, Renata must return to Andalucia and complete Dez’s top secret mission herself. Can she keep her cover, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the fate of the entire kingdom – and end the war that has cost her everything.

There are those rare stories that grip you, latch on to you from the first page until the last – those stories that make you stay up all night just so you could finish it. Incendiary is one of those rare stories.

Action-packed and so full of twists and turns from start to end, Incendiary sank its claws on me and dragged me on a trip to a volatile and dangerous world. I enjoyed this book so much. It has everything I ever wanted in a fantasy – magic, court intrigue, spycraft, and revenge – I ate it all up.

The story follows Renata Convida, a róbari – a memory thief – the rarest of the magic-wielding Moria. Kidnapped when she was a child and manipulated into being an instrument to hunt and persecute her own people by the cruel King Fernando and Justice Méndez, the leader of the King’s Justice, she was rescued by the Whispers. Now a young woman and a member of the rebel Moria group, Ren is dead set on destroying her former captors’ rule and to take back Memoria from her conquerors. But when Dez, her friend and love, is captured and executed by the Bloody Prince, Prince Castian, Renata is forced to go back the palace, to her enemies, to finish Dez’s last mission.

Incendiary Q4

Córdova takes on an ambitious work with this book, and it pays off.

Inspired by Spanish Inquisition Spain, this story’s world feels real and familiar in its brutality and its workings. The degradation of the subjugated peoples and the erasure of their way of life – their culture, traditions, religion – felt uncomfortably close especially to someone who is from a country with a long history of being colonized. I couldn’t help but see my own people in the Moria.

Incendiary is intricately plotted and heavily driven by this same element. At any given time, there are about two or three plot threads being explored in the same chapter. But, amazingly, it doesn’t overwhelm, coalescing and adding up instead to form a solid, formidable base for this whole series to stand on. It was fun trying to piece together stuff and try to figure out how things will go down, try being the operative word in that statement. It was, I think, the most enjoyable bit of this book for me.

Incendiary Q5

The magic system, while it could use some more elaboration, was another thing I loved about this book. The use of metals – gold for the illusionári, silver for the ventári, copper for persúari, and platinum for róbari – to amplify the magics of the Moria was an interesting detail and makes me wonder if alchemy will play a bigger role in the next book.

Córdova also did an awesome job creating intriguing characters you’d want to get to know and root for. Though, with this story being heavily plot-driven, the exploration these characters – Sayida, Margo, and Esteban, Lady Nuria and Leo, even the main trio of Ren, Dez, and Prince Castian – suffers a bit. It’s one of the things I wish will be remedied in the next book.

Incendiary Q2

Still, even with its flaws, Incendiary is a riveting story full of nail-biting action and intriguing politics. The conclusion of this first installment leaves a lot open for the next one to explore, and I, for one, am excited about it.about the author

author

ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA is the author of nine fantasy novels for kids and teens, most recently the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of ViewCome on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

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Review: “The Seventh Sun” by Lani Forbes

Title: The Seventh Sun48088682
Series:
The Age of the Seventh Sun #1
Author: Lani Forbes
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Blood rituals, animal sacrifice, parental death
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Lani Forbes explores the complexities of faith, religion, and tradition in the first book of her series inspired by Aztec mythology The Seventh Sun.

Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading – and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those whose are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what this book was about when I first saw it on Edelweiss. I think my mind just zeroed in on Aztec mythology and, having not read many books inspired by Mesoamerican cultures, I requested it and luckily got approved for a review copy.

Well, folks, ya girl is super glad she took a chance.

The Seventh Sun was the nicest of surprises. Thrilling and romantic in equal parts, Lani Forbes weaved together a story about faith and tradition, and of two young people who must challenge everything they’ve ever known and believed in if they are to have hope of saving their people and the world.

There is much to love in this story. From the characters to the intricate plot, to the surprising and unexpected twist revealed near the end of this installment, The Seventh Sun is an engrossing and intriguing read.

The story follows Ahkin, heir to the Chicome empire, and Mayana, the only daughter of the noble family of Atl. With the sudden death of the emperor, both Ahkin’s and Mayana’s lives are altered: the former forced into leadership while the latter is sent to either be the new empress to rule by the prince’s side or as a sacrifice to the gods.

Ahkin and Mayana were a great match. Alike and different at the same time, their personalities and their beliefs complement one another’s. Introspective, untested, and still grieving the deaths of his parents Ahkin was unready and ill-prepared to be emperor but, with another apocalypse looming, he doesn’t have much of a choice. Curious, compassionate, and kind to a fault, Mayana is born into a world whose practices goes against the very core of her. She stands alone and without an ally in her corner of the empire, weighed down by guilt over her mother’s accidental death. Still, wanting to earn her father’s approval, she abides by the ancient rules and rites set upon her even as she starts to question them.

It took me a while but I grew to like both Ahkin and Mayana. These two were put through the grinder, and I just couldn’t help but feel for them. Despite the vast difference between our world and theirs, I was still able to relate to Ahkin and Mayana. They grappled with similar questions I’ve often asked myself – questions about faith, religion, and tradition, and about staying true to yourself and doing what your feel is right.

As good as Ahkin and Mayana were as main characters though, it is this story’s world that really shone the brightest.

Built upon various Mesoamerican cultures & mythology, The Seventh Sun featured a unique world, rich and lush from the very first page. Forbes mainly takes inspiration from Aztec mythology – the ancient gods and a great part of rituals and the religion depicted in the story – but she has also taken creative liberties where it is necessary, threading in inspiration from ancient Mayan and even Egyptian cultures. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t encountered a lot of books featuring the ancient cultures that this book did, but the world of this story was the part that I enjoyed the most. It just drew me in and into the pages, so intrigued by everything described – the food, the way of life of the Chicome – that I became even more engrossed reading and following Ahkin and Mayana’s stories.

While there are still a few things I wished were better – secondary characters lacked depth, a few action sequences felt like filler- I absolutely loved this book. It explored ancient myths and cultures that haven’t been featured on a lot of stories. I’m definitely coming back to this series next year once the sequel is out. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think I’d want to miss it not with the way this installment ended. Readers of YA fantasy and the romance genre will definitely find something to love in this book.

P.S. The author has a pronunciation guide on her website. You can check it out if you’re curious (and tongue-tied) as I was. And in that same vein, I highly encourage you to read more about ancient Mesoamerican cultures and myths. about the author

Lani ForbesLANI FORBES is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science, and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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