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Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

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Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime. When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey. With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.


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Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime. When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey. With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.

30 review for Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    This is a Middle Grade fantasy. I picked this book up for the first time a couple of months ago, but I just was not in the mood for this type of book. I am so glad I did not give up on this book. I have to say I loved everything about this book, but I have to say it took me a little bit to get into this book. This book shows how strong loving someone is, and that love is more stronger then hate/angrier. I loved the characters in this book, and I loved how much Cece grow during this book. This bo This is a Middle Grade fantasy. I picked this book up for the first time a couple of months ago, but I just was not in the mood for this type of book. I am so glad I did not give up on this book. I have to say I loved everything about this book, but I have to say it took me a little bit to get into this book. This book shows how strong loving someone is, and that love is more stronger then hate/angrier. I loved the characters in this book, and I loved how much Cece grow during this book. This book is well written and the main point in this book is so great. I have to say that I did not love the ending because I felt it just stopped. There was no real ending. This book would be 5 stars if there was an ending. I have to say that I think this book would be good for 5th graders or 6st graders and up. I was kindly provided an e-copy of this book by the publisher (HarperCollins Children's Books) or author (Kaela Rivera) via NetGalley, so I can give honest review about how I feel about this book. I want to send a big Thank you to them for that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kaela Rivera

    I’ve hesitated to give my own book five stars, but ultimately I decided this: I put five stars worth of time into this book. I put five stars worth of love into it. I put five stars worth of effort, worth of my heart, worth of my hope and healing and desire to comfort people I may never see with the only gift I have—my words. So I hope that all five of those stars worth of time, work, love, and joy reach you through Cece’s adventure. And it’s even okay if it doesn’t because it’s not your thing. ; I’ve hesitated to give my own book five stars, but ultimately I decided this: I put five stars worth of time into this book. I put five stars worth of love into it. I put five stars worth of effort, worth of my heart, worth of my hope and healing and desire to comfort people I may never see with the only gift I have—my words. So I hope that all five of those stars worth of time, work, love, and joy reach you through Cece’s adventure. And it’s even okay if it doesn’t because it’s not your thing. ;) But either way, I’ll put this five-star review here as a statement and a reminder to myself and those who I wrote it for—the effort is seen, the time has come, and with joy I can say I’ve done my best, and I will celebrate it. 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

  3. 4 out of 5

    David

    SO MUCH FUN! Pokemon meets COCO in a spirited and moving adventure infused with Mexican American culture and Mesoamerican magic. Y'all are going to love this book. SO MUCH FUN! Pokemon meets COCO in a spirited and moving adventure infused with Mexican American culture and Mesoamerican magic. Y'all are going to love this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Zoraida

    Had the privilege of reading this early. Love the remix of Mexican-American folktales!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Toya (the reading chemist)

    Twelve year old Cece Rios must learn the forbidden bruja magic to rescue her sister Junana after she’s kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura. Cece’s parents do not approve of the brujeria, so she must secretly learn the magic. Lucky for her, she has the help of one of most infamous criatura, Coyote, but together they must race against time to save Juana. I absolutely loved how Rivera remixed so many Latinx folklore and mythology in this story. We got to some legends such as El Somb Twelve year old Cece Rios must learn the forbidden bruja magic to rescue her sister Junana after she’s kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura. Cece’s parents do not approve of the brujeria, so she must secretly learn the magic. Lucky for her, she has the help of one of most infamous criatura, Coyote, but together they must race against time to save Juana. I absolutely loved how Rivera remixed so many Latinx folklore and mythology in this story. We got to some legends such as El Sombrerón, El Cucuy, Tzitzimitl, La Chupacabra, and La Llorona! Cece is an incredible character. She’s intelligent, compassionate, brave, and persistent. Even though the odds are stacked against Cece in becoming a bruja, she outright refuses to give up on saving Juana. I really enjoyed the relationship between Coyote and Cece. The author does a great job of putting the bias and assumptions of brujeria front and center, and shows how Coyote and Cece work together to overcome it. They had such a great friendship and worked well as a team. Overall, this is a really great coming of age story filled with magic and mythology that can be enjoyed by all ages! Thank you to Harper Kids for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨

    If you love mythology and fantasy adventures that sweep you off your feet and take you for a wild and imaginative ride, then this book will hit all the right spots. I loved this and had so much fun. - Follows Cece, a girl brought up to believe that criaturas, supernatural beings, are evil. When her sister is taken by one, Cece would do anything to save her - even if it means becoming a bruja, the only people who can control a criatura. - The beginning has a slightly shaky start, but once Cece gets If you love mythology and fantasy adventures that sweep you off your feet and take you for a wild and imaginative ride, then this book will hit all the right spots. I loved this and had so much fun. - Follows Cece, a girl brought up to believe that criaturas, supernatural beings, are evil. When her sister is taken by one, Cece would do anything to save her - even if it means becoming a bruja, the only people who can control a criatura. - The beginning has a slightly shaky start, but once Cece gets into her mission, the story just takes off and I was captivated. - I loved how we venture into Cece's vast world, filled with magic, mystery, darkness, and powers of fire and water. The story is rich with lore, and I enjoyed the Latine influences in the story and mythology. - It's a story about unlikely friendships - about a girl who is kind and genuine yet resolute to do the right thing, and makes unlikely friends along the way, and how there is strength and power in understanding one another and forging meaningful connections with others. - And it's also a story about family. It does depict parental abuse, which was challenging to read, but I also liked that Cece's strength, kindness, and goodness shine, and therefore challenging the ways how people have perceived and judged her. Trigger/content warning: child abuse, mentions of the death of a loved one, fantasy violence, physical violence

  7. 5 out of 5

    Loo

    One of the most grounding and insightful works I've read in a long time. It gives perspectives on love and kindness in the perspective of the real harshness many of us have encountered. This is a book I can fill heartedly recommend to any reader. One of the most grounding and insightful works I've read in a long time. It gives perspectives on love and kindness in the perspective of the real harshness many of us have encountered. This is a book I can fill heartedly recommend to any reader.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Belles Middle Grade Library

    Thank you so much Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review! I’m blown away at how AMAZING this book is. It’s now 1 of my top favorites of the year(& I’ve read 106 so far). This was such a nice change from reading retellings I know by heart, to read something inspired by Latinx folklore. I was FASCINATED this whole book. Living where Cece lives is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert & threaten humankind. To her family’s disapproval she has alw Thank you so much Harper Collins for sending me a copy to review! I’m blown away at how AMAZING this book is. It’s now 1 of my top favorites of the year(& I’ve read 106 so far). This was such a nice change from reading retellings I know by heart, to read something inspired by Latinx folklore. I was FASCINATED this whole book. Living where Cece lives is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert & threaten humankind. To her family’s disapproval she has always believed there was more to criaturas. Only brujas—humans who capture & control criaturas—consort w/the spirits, & brujeria is a terrible crime. Then her older sister(Juana) is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura. Determined to rescue her she sets off to become a bruja herself, which is the only way she can get into Devils Alley to rescue Juana-while hiding all of this from her parents, her town, & the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans & agrees to help her on her journey. Coyote has my heart & soul. SUCH an amazing character. Every character is amazing. She gets help from a few others along the way too, & I just loved it. The whole backstory of this town, her family, the Gods, Coyote, the bruja, & the criaturas was brilliantly told & so engrossing to read. Cece holds true to herself & her beliefs-even of going against would get her sister back guaranteed. I loved that. She’s always been made to feel like her soft heart & kindness were a weakness, but she realizes they’re her strength. She shows there’s more than 1 way to do something, & kindness always goes a long way. Importance on righting the wrongs of the past, & breaking viscous cycles. She always tries to do the right thing, & cares. She treats the criaturas like people , & w/respect-& seeing how they received that from her each time were parts I reread b/c they were so moving, brilliant, & beautiful. Giving power instead of taking it. Showing that love isn’t easy to bare, but it’s worth it all. She shows the truth & beauty of forgiveness-hate only hurts you, doesn’t affect the recipient at all. I had such an incredible time on this journey w/Cece, Coyote, & Little Lion. Can’t wait to see what this author does next. I need more! This has high stakes, suspense, action, adventure, danger, folklore, strength, family, friendship, loyalty, morality, hope, & a lot of heart. All which make for a very fast-paced read. I can’t express enough how fantastically brilliant this book is, & how much I love it! Read it! Lol Came out yesterday! Highly recommend! Stunning cover by Mirelle Ortega too!💜

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fanna

    August 21, 2020: Mexican folklore & ancient mythology? YES PLEASE

  10. 5 out of 5

    Taylor O

    *3.5/5 This was a fun time. Though there were some parts that felt clunky at times, I loved Cece as a protagonist and her journey throughout the story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

    It’s easy to find contemporary retellings of the European fairy tales: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Finding an engaging book that builds on the stories handed down in Mexico and Central America is much more difficult—at least it was until Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls was written! Rivera has brought to life some great legendary figures in El Sombrerón, El Cucuy, Tzitzimitl, La Chupacabra, and La Llorona—and she does it in a way that makes them seem frighteningly fam It’s easy to find contemporary retellings of the European fairy tales: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Finding an engaging book that builds on the stories handed down in Mexico and Central America is much more difficult—at least it was until Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls was written! Rivera has brought to life some great legendary figures in El Sombrerón, El Cucuy, Tzitzimitl, La Chupacabra, and La Llorona—and she does it in a way that makes them seem frighteningly familiar! Cece is a spunky and loving young heroine who dares to become a bruja to rescue her kidnapped sister, Juana. On her journey to Devil’s Alley, Cece forges unlikely friendships with Coyote, Little Lion, and Kit Fox, powerful criaturas whose soul stones she holds on leather strings around her neck. The battles they face (and win) together are both breath-taking and terrifying. The strength of family shines brightly in this wonderful debut novel.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Peters

    If I were going to recommend only one MG debut novel from the past 12 months to a young reader, it very likely would be "Cece Rios and Desert of Souls.' A protagonist who starts out feeling "othered" and has to learn how to embrace their identity is a common theme for all genres of middle grade books, but this fantasy tale, steeped in Latinx desert lore just keeps upping the ante from the first chapter. Is Cece cursed or blessed by having a soul that will never burn? Is she on the path to being a If I were going to recommend only one MG debut novel from the past 12 months to a young reader, it very likely would be "Cece Rios and Desert of Souls.' A protagonist who starts out feeling "othered" and has to learn how to embrace their identity is a common theme for all genres of middle grade books, but this fantasy tale, steeped in Latinx desert lore just keeps upping the ante from the first chapter. Is Cece cursed or blessed by having a soul that will never burn? Is she on the path to being a powerful bruja like her aunt, or something even rarer? Is holding power over someone else really power, or does it pale in comparison to kindness and friendship? This book is for any kid (or adult who likes the genre) who is into Pokemon or who can't get enough of Disney/Pixar's "Coco" or who wants their world building flavored by Spanish language and Latin American culture. What a wonderful, audacious and entertaining debut!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    When I first heard what this book was about, I couldn't wait to read it. I was not disappointed! Cece Rios is a strong female character who faces down challenges with courage and heart. The fast paced adventure starts on page one and builds from there, I've no doubt it will hook young readers immediately. The rich world of the desert town Tierra del Sol is filled with fascinating aspects of Mexican mythology. I enjoyed reading about the different criaturas and the legends behind them. Cece is a When I first heard what this book was about, I couldn't wait to read it. I was not disappointed! Cece Rios is a strong female character who faces down challenges with courage and heart. The fast paced adventure starts on page one and builds from there, I've no doubt it will hook young readers immediately. The rich world of the desert town Tierra del Sol is filled with fascinating aspects of Mexican mythology. I enjoyed reading about the different criaturas and the legends behind them. Cece is a character that has a strong growth-mindset, learning her worth despite feeling like an outsider in her town. I look forward to purchasing this book for our school library when it officially releases!

  14. 4 out of 5

    The Smol Moth

    Please, future me, don't let me down! Remember to read this book!! Everything about the blurb sounds interesting and I'm praying I'll love it. Please, future me, don't let me down! Remember to read this book!! Everything about the blurb sounds interesting and I'm praying I'll love it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Adri

    4.5 Stars CWs: References to and instances of child abuse, kidnapping, allusions to death of a grandparent, descriptions of graphic injury, scenes containing graphic violence This is an extraordinary Latinx fantasy-adventure that's perfect for fans of the Rick Riordan Presents line and other mythological inspired fantasy stories! Cece Rios is a story about family, community, and power, and the inherent connection between all of those things. Cece is a character who was raised to fear criaturas, 4.5 Stars CWs: References to and instances of child abuse, kidnapping, allusions to death of a grandparent, descriptions of graphic injury, scenes containing graphic violence This is an extraordinary Latinx fantasy-adventure that's perfect for fans of the Rick Riordan Presents line and other mythological inspired fantasy stories! Cece Rios is a story about family, community, and power, and the inherent connection between all of those things. Cece is a character who was raised to fear criaturas, powerful supernatural entities who seem to prey on humans, and also to resent brujas, the magical humans who are the only ones who can control the criaturas. But ever since she was young, Cece has known that criaturas are not something to fear, in fact she was saved by one when she was young—the same criatura who proclaimed Cece to have a soul of water despite living in a village that worships the Sun god. After her sister disappears, Cece embarks on a journey to become a bruja, which necessitates her capturing and controlling a criatura in hopes that she can prove her strength and fight her way into the criatura underworld where her sister was taken. As the story progresses, Cece continues to defy expectations and challenge those long-held beliefs about criaturas and magic. She has her own way of going about things, especially because she's a soft-hearted person who doesn't want to hurt anyone, whether they're human or criatura, and she will not compromise her principles no matter what's at stake. That is precisely what I loved most about this story. It explores how maybe we fear the things we fear simply because they're different from us and we haven't taken the time to understand them. The story also challenges how we understand "weakness," and speaks directly against the machismo that's rampant in many Latinx communities. There is often this idea that in order to be "tough" or "strong," we have to hide our emotions, and we have to put aside emotions like fear, sadness, and even empathy in order to earn other people's respect when that is not at all true. It is human to love, to care, to hope, and to help others, and when we pretend otherwise, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Our emotions are what make us human, and caring about others is in fact what makes us stronger, and that message is on full display in this book. As she gets closer and closer to figuring out how to save her sister, Cece is actually reforging the broken relationship between human and criatura, and making amends with her criatura friends for how they were mistreated in the past. She is able to see the dignity and wholeness they all inherently possess, and together they're learning how they can help each other and save each other. Their relationships become stronger because of that vulnerability, that willingness to reveal the parts of themselves that have been hurt, and that's what makes their relationship stronger. Ultimately, this is an incredible and unforgettable story that has adventure, action, magic, supernatural creatures, Latinx-based mythology, friendship, and above all else emotion. It's about being unafraid to write your own story and to be different than the person you were taught to be. It's how strength comes from vulnerability and change is only possible when we are brave enough to be different. I do wish we could've seen a little bit more of Cece's family, especially with her mysterious tía, and there definitely feels like there's room for a sequel if not an entire series, but I absolutely loved this all the same and I'd highly recommend it!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mariely

    Thanks to HarperCollins Children's Books for providing me an ARC in exchange of my honest review. If you are searching for a book with a strong female character, CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS is perfect for you. Honestly, this is one of the best books I've read this year! You get to follow the main character, Cece, through a wonderful adventure while she's trying to save her sister. She's such a strong girl! You get to see her development through the story; not only within herself, but also w Thanks to HarperCollins Children's Books for providing me an ARC in exchange of my honest review. If you are searching for a book with a strong female character, CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS is perfect for you. Honestly, this is one of the best books I've read this year! You get to follow the main character, Cece, through a wonderful adventure while she's trying to save her sister. She's such a strong girl! You get to see her development through the story; not only within herself, but also with her family and her community. I enjoyed the setting, the different relationships with Cece's family members, the folktales included, the desserts, and the criaturas! Although, I have to admit, I was a little bit scared at the beginning. Lol. Also, I have to say that I loved how the author incorporated the elements of fire and water to the story. It was easy for me to fall in love with this fantasy world full of magic! I can't wait to read more stories by Kaela Rivera. You can read my full review at wereadblog.com!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Yapha

    Cece Rios think she is weak because her soul is more water than fire, setting her apart from the other residents of Tierra del Sol. When her sister is kidnapped by a criatura, one of the mythological creatures who attacks the area during the winter months, Cece knows that she will do anything she can to bring her back. Following the clues left behind in her disgraced aunt's diary, she sets out on the dangerous task to capture the soul of a criatura and become a bruja. Nothing goes as Cece plans. Cece Rios think she is weak because her soul is more water than fire, setting her apart from the other residents of Tierra del Sol. When her sister is kidnapped by a criatura, one of the mythological creatures who attacks the area during the winter months, Cece knows that she will do anything she can to bring her back. Following the clues left behind in her disgraced aunt's diary, she sets out on the dangerous task to capture the soul of a criatura and become a bruja. Nothing goes as Cece plans. What she learns about herself and her family along the way will change her life and her town forever. This is a fantastic adventure for fans of Rick Riordan and other mythology based stories. Highly recommended for grades 4 & up. eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jo Parsons-Rivera

    I have read this amazing and exciting book as a pre-reader. I loved it! Full of thought provoking choices, exciting and scary adventure, heart wrenching panic, and determination to succeed. Cece (see-see) is a wonderful 12 almost 13 year old girl in a fantasy world based on early 20th century Mexico. She hasn’t as fiery a temperament as most of her people are expected to be and feels less because of it. But she eventually learns her own gifts as she ventures into uncharted waters as the novel p I have read this amazing and exciting book as a pre-reader. I loved it! Full of thought provoking choices, exciting and scary adventure, heart wrenching panic, and determination to succeed. Cece (see-see) is a wonderful 12 almost 13 year old girl in a fantasy world based on early 20th century Mexico. She hasn’t as fiery a temperament as most of her people are expected to be and feels less because of it. But she eventually learns her own gifts as she ventures into uncharted waters as the novel progresses. She has a good heart filled with kindness and compassion, but she also has strength, determination, and ability to face her adversities. Cece loves her fiery older sister, Juana although they are different in nature. One night, she is stolen by a dark “criatura” El Sombreron right in front of Cece—and it’s Cece’s fault. Determined to make right her wrongs, heal her family, and save her sister from a fate worse than death, Cece begins a plan to accomplish the seemingly impossible, to save Juana. But will she do it at any cost? You’ll have to read to find out!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alysa

    Life in the desert town of Tierra del Sol is marred by the season the the criatura, when spirit creatures come to threaten the humans of the town. But Cece has a different view of the criatura after one helped her find her way home when she was younger. Marked by the town as an outsider because of her interaction with a criatura, Cece has grown up thinking of herself as weak and all too different But when her sister is kidnapped by a dark and powerful criatura, CeCe knows she’s the only one to s Life in the desert town of Tierra del Sol is marred by the season the the criatura, when spirit creatures come to threaten the humans of the town. But Cece has a different view of the criatura after one helped her find her way home when she was younger. Marked by the town as an outsider because of her interaction with a criatura, Cece has grown up thinking of herself as weak and all too different But when her sister is kidnapped by a dark and powerful criatura, CeCe knows she’s the only one to save her beloved sibling. What follows is a fast paced adventure as Cece gathers unexpected allies to defeat both the shadow enemies and her own self doubts. With rich world building woven through with Mexican mythology, this book is a wonderful and exciting read. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the e-arc.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Payal Doshi

    CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS was such an enjoyable read! I was immediately drawn into the landscape of Tierra del Sol and Cece Rios and her family who are threatened by criaturas who have begun to roam the desert. This book is a wonderful blend of a classic adventure story of a girl in search of her kidnapped sister and the vibrance of Mexican legend and folklore. There’s magic, brujas, and a Devil’s Alley! But at the center, this story is full of heart, courage, and kindness. I found mysel CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS was such an enjoyable read! I was immediately drawn into the landscape of Tierra del Sol and Cece Rios and her family who are threatened by criaturas who have begun to roam the desert. This book is a wonderful blend of a classic adventure story of a girl in search of her kidnapped sister and the vibrance of Mexican legend and folklore. There’s magic, brujas, and a Devil’s Alley! But at the center, this story is full of heart, courage, and kindness. I found myself rooting for Cece in the bruja fights as though I was an actual bystander, empathizing with the tough decisions she had to make along the way, and celebrating her when she truly comes into her own. I don't want to give anything away but can I just say there are some criaturas who have my heart! Definitely give this incredible book a read! Thank you to Kaela Rivera and HarperCollins for the eARC!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS is an action/adventure story with a soul. I loved the messages in Cece's story: the importance of finding your own strength, of unexpected friendships, of kindness, of family. I loved the girl power! And the beautiful legends that are central to the story made me want to learn more about Mexican folklore. I wish I could quote from this uncorrected proof, because the prose often reads like poetry. Highly recommend for middle grade readers who like action stories CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS is an action/adventure story with a soul. I loved the messages in Cece's story: the importance of finding your own strength, of unexpected friendships, of kindness, of family. I loved the girl power! And the beautiful legends that are central to the story made me want to learn more about Mexican folklore. I wish I could quote from this uncorrected proof, because the prose often reads like poetry. Highly recommend for middle grade readers who like action stories with heart. Thank you so much to Kaela Rivera and to Harper Collins Children's for the eARC of this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Netgalley Cece lives in the small town of Tierra del Sol with her parents and older sister Juana. When she is young, she wanders off into the desert when she is watching a sunset with other children, and is approached by a criatura. Luckily, it is Tzitzimitl, who is a protector of human children, but she curses Cece, who is considered a bit suspicious by her family, who worry that she will become a bruja like her aunt. When her sister Juana dances in the Amenazante celebration, E ARC provided by Netgalley Cece lives in the small town of Tierra del Sol with her parents and older sister Juana. When she is young, she wanders off into the desert when she is watching a sunset with other children, and is approached by a criatura. Luckily, it is Tzitzimitl, who is a protector of human children, but she curses Cece, who is considered a bit suspicious by her family, who worry that she will become a bruja like her aunt. When her sister Juana dances in the Amenazante celebration, she is stolen away by el Sombreron, the Bride Stealer. Cece is unable to save her sister, but tries to figure out a way that she can get her back. She is aided by a criatura she saved from starving, Coyote, who agrees to work with her so that she can join the battle of the brujas and be able to go through the Devil's Alley and win her sister back. Cece doesn't want to be a bruja-- they are considered evil because they capture the souls of criaturas and keep them in their power. Cece has the ancestry, as well as the ability, to do well against the other brujas, but she doesn't want to join them. Luckily, her kindness wins her help from other criaturas, including Little Lion and Ocelot, and she manages to keep up the quest for her sister without her family knowing that she is running with creatures they consider evil. Will she be able to build her powers, get her sister back, and keep the peace with the family she loves? Strengths: This was a great action adventure novel with deep underlying philosophical themes of love, family, and personal identity. Cece's secret mission to save her sister with skills that were present in other family members in the past is a great way to show agency in a tween without killing the parents. (Although there is a grandmother who has passed away.) The southwest setting is one that hasn't been used quite as much in fantasy novels, and is much more interesting than yet another Anglo-Germanic medieval fantasy! This appears to be Ms. Rivera's debut novel, and is a great start. Weaknesses: While the glossary is really helpful, I could have used a few more notes on the cultural and folklore details so that I could understand more about brujas, cueranderos, and the criaturas. I looked up a lot of information, which was fine. A lot of authors don't want to marginalize their own cultures by italicizing words in languages other than English, and I understand the philosophy behind that. Still, if I am a bit confused, my students may be as well. Scaffolding some of the background information would be very helpful. What I really think: This is a good addition to fantasy books with a cultural basis in MesoAmerican culture, like Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, Salazar's Land of the Cranes and The Moon Within, Cuevas' The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, Meriano's and Love, Sugar Magic series.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ben Gartner

    Holy sunset, this book surprised me! It was great! I guess I wasn't ready for this Fight Club for Criaturas, but since I love action and adventure I was pleasantly surprised. The fierce mythology of Mexican and Nahuatl culture comes alive with this story of Cece Rios and her altruistic quest to save her sister. And along the way, she learns more about herself than she thought possible. I loved all the Spanish immersion and phrases. I mean, I could practically taste the cinnamon sugar on the buñu Holy sunset, this book surprised me! It was great! I guess I wasn't ready for this Fight Club for Criaturas, but since I love action and adventure I was pleasantly surprised. The fierce mythology of Mexican and Nahuatl culture comes alive with this story of Cece Rios and her altruistic quest to save her sister. And along the way, she learns more about herself than she thought possible. I loved all the Spanish immersion and phrases. I mean, I could practically taste the cinnamon sugar on the buñuelos. After reading the back of the book, I know that some of this story is re-purposed mythology, but I think it deserves its own place in the canon, as a story grandmothers pass down to their grandchildren next to the raging fireplace. I also liked the details such as how color is used to denote emotion in the criaturas to Cece. One trigger warning to note (I'll avoid it being a spoiler): A drunk adult slaps a child hard enough to leave a bruise. I didn't like that part, but I know no one else will either and that's the point. Being a writer, I appreciated this quote: “Ideas become more powerful when you give them words.” A high-stakes adventure story of dark versus light (or fire and water!) with Cece, Coyote, Lion, Kit, and even Ocelot as a team of fantastical avengers. Freaky scenes sure to make young readers squirm with delight (that scene with the shadowy El Sombrerón and Cece's sister, Juana!), but not overly scary such that it's not appropriate. A surprise hit!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Heather-Lin

    Here's a quick and dirty review: I highly recommend this. Much darker than I was expecting, based on this cover art and the classification of middle-grade. It looks like it's gonna have the same vibe as Sal and Gabi. Like Dora the explorer. That animated movie, Coco. Not at all! This is more like Harry Potter in that it is deadly serious and the stakes are very high. There's virtually no humor here, but there is intense emotion. And there are strong themes of alienation, the importance of family Here's a quick and dirty review: I highly recommend this. Much darker than I was expecting, based on this cover art and the classification of middle-grade. It looks like it's gonna have the same vibe as Sal and Gabi. Like Dora the explorer. That animated movie, Coco. Not at all! This is more like Harry Potter in that it is deadly serious and the stakes are very high. There's virtually no humor here, but there is intense emotion. And there are strong themes of alienation, the importance of family and community approval, a father who drinks, parents who worry about maintaining appearances and push conformity on their kids. Against creatures there's prejudice and exploitation. Yeah, heavy. Misleading cover for sure. There's a fascinating origin story, the cosmology and creation of the world. I loved that there was drift in the beliefs even over there last couple hundred years. I really like that our heroine is scared and choosing little micro braveries, and I love that she's not instantly successful and proficient at everything. Her biggest strength is her soft heart and her willingness to be honest. Every character in our merry little band is preteen, but they could have been 17 to 19 and it still would read true. I'm glad that she's only 12 (almost 13) because we didn't have to deal with hormones/romantic interest being a thing. I hope this book becomes huge. Even though I don't love it when middle grade books are so relentlessly dark and heavy, this had so many quality things to say. I also cannot overstate how thrilling it was to be in a magical world based on Latinx mythology and culture. I desperately want more of this. The audiobook narration is wonderful! Those GORGEOUSLY pronounced Spanish words made my heart sing 🖤🖤🖤

  25. 5 out of 5

    Celia McMahon

    ONE MILLION STARS! I was gifted a copy of this book by HarperCollins and I cannot tell you how happy I was to get it in the mail. I've already heard some early reviews from friends on Instagram so, I knew I was getting into something good. Cece once saved a criatura from capture, and because of it the town of Tierra del Sol gives her a wide berth. When her sister is kidnapped by one of the strongest criaturas, Cece is determined to prove her worth to the town and get her back. But entering Devil' ONE MILLION STARS! I was gifted a copy of this book by HarperCollins and I cannot tell you how happy I was to get it in the mail. I've already heard some early reviews from friends on Instagram so, I knew I was getting into something good. Cece once saved a criatura from capture, and because of it the town of Tierra del Sol gives her a wide berth. When her sister is kidnapped by one of the strongest criaturas, Cece is determined to prove her worth to the town and get her back. But entering Devil's Alley is easier said than done. She enlists the help of a criatura named Coyote and with him, enter in a deadly set of games in order for Cece to become a bruja and enter Devil's Alley to rescue her sister. She only pretends to be a bruja, but as time goes, she discovers things about herself she never knew possible. And with the help of some unlikely allies, steps into a dangerous world of monsters. Cece is a fierce little girl with a fire in her heart (although Tierra del Sol will tell you differently). The Mexican folklore is what drew me in, but Cece and her love for her sister and friends is what kept me around.I loved watching her grow into her own and keep kindness in her heart when it's so easy to let hate take over. She is strong, yet compassionate, angry yet empathetic. By the end of the book, it's these qualities that make her stand out, and rue the day. This is one of the best middle-grade books I've ever read. I am so excited to see what else Kaela Rivera has to offer the book world.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathie

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book. Cece and her family live in the small desert community of Tierra de Sol. She hasn't fit in since her encounter with the criatura, Tzitzimitl, who many believe cursed her when she was seven. Now that her older sister, Juana, has been invited to do the Amenazante dance on Noche de Muerte to scare away the powerful spirits who threaten her community during the criatura months, Cece doesn't think she'll ever be able to prove herself a Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book. Cece and her family live in the small desert community of Tierra de Sol. She hasn't fit in since her encounter with the criatura, Tzitzimitl, who many believe cursed her when she was seven. Now that her older sister, Juana, has been invited to do the Amenazante dance on Noche de Muerte to scare away the powerful spirits who threaten her community during the criatura months, Cece doesn't think she'll ever be able to prove herself and live up to the example of her sister. But when Juana is kidnapped by El Sombreron, Cece is determined to find a way to get her back. To gain entry into Devil's Alley, she will have prove that she is a bruja, a witch, and find a criatura to control who will make it to the final round of the Bruja Fights. Cece doesn't want to become a bruja, but she doesn't know another way to save her sister. She manages to enlist the help of Coyote, and although he wins the first round, there is a major setback. Cece must discover how she can stay true to herself while developing trust with others to help her, especially once there is suspicion about her true motives and the stakes are raised. I really enjoyed this book based on the stories of Mexican folklore that the author's abuelo told her when she was young. I love learning about cultures different from my own, and the stories that are told as part of it. I loved that Cece was committed to rescuing her sister on her own terms, and used her kindness to succeed rather than succumbing to darker emotions. I also liked watching her discover what she was capable of, and connecting to her soul. We watched her grow into her power with the support of her criaturas, and demonstrate her bravery by being scared by persevering against the odds. The setting of the desert was unique, and I love how the preparations for Noche de Muerte helped us understand Cece's culture and some of their beliefs. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy fantasy stories based on mythology, with courageous female protagonists determined to prove good can triumph over evil. Recommended: Gr. 5-7

  27. 4 out of 5

    Annamarie Carlson (she, her)

    I'm not returning to writing regular reviews just yet, but this book needs to be at the top of your TBR pile! A perfect mix of mythology, fantasy, magic, and girl power. Cece is a fantastic, strong lead coming into her own power. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel that has to be coming (too much left unanswered!). I need to see this book in more places--a must read and a definite book talk title. I'm not returning to writing regular reviews just yet, but this book needs to be at the top of your TBR pile! A perfect mix of mythology, fantasy, magic, and girl power. Cece is a fantastic, strong lead coming into her own power. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel that has to be coming (too much left unanswered!). I need to see this book in more places--a must read and a definite book talk title.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Sullivan

    4-1/2 stars! This is a great middle-grade fantasy-adventure novel loosely based on several Latinx/indigenous mythologies from Central and South American cultures, similar to the novels in the "Rick Riordan presents" series that are loosely based on mythologies from various cultures and written by own voices. Cecelia Rios has always been a little different from the rest of her community. She does not have their same fear and hatred of the Criaturas of the desert, and has no desire to see them hunt 4-1/2 stars! This is a great middle-grade fantasy-adventure novel loosely based on several Latinx/indigenous mythologies from Central and South American cultures, similar to the novels in the "Rick Riordan presents" series that are loosely based on mythologies from various cultures and written by own voices. Cecelia Rios has always been a little different from the rest of her community. She does not have their same fear and hatred of the Criaturas of the desert, and has no desire to see them hunted and killed simply for existing. She does not have the burning fierceness from the sun god like the rest of her people, having been blessed by the goddess of the waters instead, which her people see as a curse rather than a blessing. Her father is ashamed of her, her mother worries over her, but she is very close to her big sister Juana, who loves and protects her. When Juana is kidnapped by a Dark Criatura to be his bride, Cece vows to do whatever it takes to rescue her. I love that this presents a female protagonist, who must learn that her strength is the very thing that people have shunned her for and treated as a flaw, that she should not feel weak because of her love for her family, empathy for others, and great capacity for kindness and compassion, but rather embrace those things that make her different. In the end she becomes a strong warrior by staying true to her kind and compassionate nature, and makes four new friends along the way. I love the inclusion of many different Central and South American mythologies and folklore, and the inclusion of many Spanish and indigenous words/names. Though creative liberties are taken with these stories, such is the nature of folklore and mythology; the stories get changed a little as they are retold over and over. The author includes information about the folklore behind the various characters and the regions they are from, and pronunciation guides and definitions for the Spanish and indigenous words in the endpapers. This book feels like it could be the beginning of a series, and I hope that it is. The one thing I didn't like was the ambiguity of the setting. Based on the cover art, I was expecting it to have a modern setting in a real place, and was very confused after I started reading it, as the setting seemed very unclear. It seems that it is rather a fictitious time and place, with a confusing mix of modern and past. There is no mention of modern technology or transportation, but there is mention of oil fields and refineries. I came to the conclusion it was set in a fictitious place and time, but that felt like somewhere in Mexico/Texas during the early 1900's. I do wish the setting had been made more clear, but other than that, a great read with a positive message that I would recommend to readers aged 8-13 who like mythology, adventure, and fantasy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Lesperance

    This book has one of the most unique fantasy settings I've ever read. Cece's family lives in a magical town where the inhabitants must fend off strange and dangerous criaturas from the desert with their fire magic. But Cece has a water soul and is somewhat of an outcast as a result. When her sister is kidnapped, Cece must work together with the criaturas to rescue her, and along the way she is constantly tested, given the choice to do a brutal thing or somehow figure out how to do a kind thing i This book has one of the most unique fantasy settings I've ever read. Cece's family lives in a magical town where the inhabitants must fend off strange and dangerous criaturas from the desert with their fire magic. But Cece has a water soul and is somewhat of an outcast as a result. When her sister is kidnapped, Cece must work together with the criaturas to rescue her, and along the way she is constantly tested, given the choice to do a brutal thing or somehow figure out how to do a kind thing instead. Every time, it seems impossible to make the right choice, but she eventually manages to do so, never losing her deep empathy and strong heart. This is such an important message for kids, and it's done in such a way that it's not prescriptive or patronizing. I especially loved all of the creaturas, each with its own unique characteristics and folklore. The bride-stealing El Sombreron was downright chilling, while others like Coyote were a fascinating mix of sweetness and sharp claws. It was all incredibly well developed and crafted, and I'm highly recommending this for anybody who loves MG fantasy!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate Foster

    Wowzer! Just wowzer! This book could now be one of my top ten MG reads ever. It's the perfect blend of smart, creepy, exciting and emotional. I was immersed from the opening pages and more and more invested with every turn of the page. Pure brilliance! Loved it! Wowzer! Just wowzer! This book could now be one of my top ten MG reads ever. It's the perfect blend of smart, creepy, exciting and emotional. I was immersed from the opening pages and more and more invested with every turn of the page. Pure brilliance! Loved it!

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