Review: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova

A hardcover copy stands on a bookshelf next to a tea tumbler and a candle.

Alexis:

If you’re looking for a magical realism story that blends an Ecuadorian version of Encanto with certain aspects of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, then this is the book for you!

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a family saga. It has two separate timelines. One timeline follows Orquídea, the grandmother and matriarch of the Montoya family, who immigrated to the United States. The other follows her grandchildren, specifically Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly. 

The first half is very slow moving, taking its time to introduce the setting, a small town called Four Rivers, and its characters. Córdova’s writing is beautiful and lush, and strange at times. Her voice is perfect for magical realism.

At its core, despite being a family saga, this book is a mystery. What happened to Orquídea when she was younger that made her so mysterious? Where did her magic come from? 

This is not a book to be binged. It’s a book to take in slowly. You have to take time to take everything in and appreciate the weird magical moments, like magical flowers growing from bodies, ghosts, a river monster, and an old zombie rooster named Gabo that keeps coming back to life. 

My main critique is that while I like slow-moving stories, it took me a while to get invested in the characters, and there was also a character death towards the end that I think could’ve been handled better.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is both hilarious and tragic, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Marimar and Rey. If you like family sagas and magical realism, then I think you’ll like this one. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 /5 

Review: Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

Alexis:

Synopsis: Ghost Wood Song follows Shady Grove, a teenage girl living in rural Florida. Like her father before her, Shady can call ghosts from the grave by playing her father’s fiddle. When her brother is accused of murder, Shady decides to play the fiddle to figure out what really happened, straight from the mouth of the dead.

I really enjoyed the overall Southern gothic vibes of this book. It’s creepy and haunted, dealing with ghosts, an evil figure that rises from the dark, a haunted house, and plenty of death. But in between the dark sections, Waters writes about a teenage girl trying to figure out her feelings for one of her best friends, Sarah, and a boy named Cedar. While I’m not one for love triangles, I found that this one didn’t bother me too much. 

I also enjoyed how Waters wrote about music. All of Shady’s friends play music, too, and I liked hearing about their playing styles; I felt like I learned a lot about bluegrass music. Waters’ love for music shone on the page and through Shady’s character.

My one main critique is that I feel like I didn’t get to know some of the secondary characters as much as I wanted to. We’re told that Orlando is Shady’s best friend, but I feel like he rarely shows up in any scenes. Near the beginning, we’re told what Shady is like from Sarah’s mouth, before I felt like I really knew Shady as a character. Throughout the book, a lot of the characters are kept at a surface level, which is a shame, because I enjoyed all of the characters and wanted to get to know them better.

Despite this, I like Water’s writing style. I enjoyed her imagery and descriptions, and the way she writes about the setting really allows it to come alive on the page. 

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with themes of family, grief, love, and music, with LGBTQ representation, then pick this up!

VERDICT: 👻👻👻👻/5

Review: Mexican Goth by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Alexis:

This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read in a while. It reads like a gothic, psychedelic nightmare. Moreno-Garcia’s gross, creepy descriptions shine. High Place is dripping in mold, villainous characters, and ghost-like visions.

What I enjoyed:

The gothic feel of this novel. I love the homage to books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I love the fairly upfront references to The Yellow Wallpaper.

Moreno-Garcia’s descriptions are wonderful (but in a horror type of way). And she describes everything in masterfully drawn descriptions with high amounts of detail. You’ll have no trouble visualizing High Place or its contents. The descriptions of the mold alone made my allergies want to flare up.

This book touches on a lot of the ideas of the 1950’s, even the unfavorable ones…like eugenics. But I enjoyed the discussions of anthropology and botany.

Francis’ character was definitely my favorite; he grew on me more as the book went along.

What I wasn’t a fan of:

The beginning of this book is so slow. The entire first chapter feels almost unnecessary. The first entire half of the book basically has no plot; it’s just Noemí trying to figure out what the heck is going on at High Place while also trying to comfort her cousin, Catalina. For that reason, I don’t think you can call this book “suspenseful.”

As for Catalina, there are reasons that pop up later as to why we don’t get to know her character that well, but at the same time, I don’t feel like I know her at all. We get Noemí’s perspective on her cousin, but I didn’t even get the notion that she even knows Catalina that well to begin with.

Overall, I wish the plot had been more solidified.

All in all, this book is split pretty much down the middle for me. The first half is slow moving and has a gothic atmosphere, while the second half is faster moving and leans more on horror.

If you want a lushly written, atmospheric, bizarre gothic story with a twist of horror, then this might be the book for you. Just be aware that it unravels slowly, but the descriptions and the twists at the end will stick with you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Trigger warnings: Rape/sexual assault, violence, murder/death. Mentions of suicide, cannibalism, eugenics, incest, and miscarriage.

Review: The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

Alexis: Read 3/7/19

This book had an interesting premise, so why not check it out? After a cardiac arrest episode that leaves him legally dead, Jim Byrd lives with a device called the HeartNet. The HeartNet will continue to pump his heart if another cardiac arrest occurs. But now Jim is faced with his own mortality, and can’t help thinking about the afterlife. He and his new wife, Annie, try to figure out the afterlife by attending a new church called the Church of Search, by ghost hunting, and by tracking down a woman who claims she has a machine that will allow you to talk to the dead.

The story is in first person, told by Jim himself. But snippets of the past intersect his story. These snippets are in third person, following a cast of characters who lived in an old house, which is now a haunted restaurant. Jim and Annie aren’t sure why the house is haunted, though one of the house’s former owners, Clara, had a dog who died in a fire. I really liked these snippets into the past and thought it was an interesting choice to include them in the story.

I also really enjoyed Pierce’s writing style. His writing is conversational, and his sentences all have a pleasing cadence. Every character is a round character, with their own idiosyncrasies and passions and opinions on the afterlife.

The book has a small frame that mimics stage directions of a play. I found this fitting, as Annie is a playwright:

“Exit heartbeat. / Exit breath. / Exit every mood, every memory. / Exit you. / To where” (3)?

I enjoyed the sections about the ghost hunt, the machine, and Jim’s musings on life and death, which includes heart worries and panic attacks. There wasn’t much of a plot, and a lot of the middle section was spent on interactions with minor characters and minor plot points. Most of the book almost felt like a memoir or character study of Jim’s life. I enjoyed the beginning and the end, but I felt like 100 pages could’ve been cut out of this book and it would’ve made it more impactful.

The book also takes on a sci-fi edge, with the machine and the inclusion of holograms becoming a part of normal life. The book stretches over decades of Jim’s life, including decades into the future, but I found the holograms an odd choice for the book. Maybe they’re supposed to be symbols, like ghosts, in between life and death?

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books