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Review: The Secret of the Moon Conch by David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall

The Secret of the Moon Conch by David Bowles and Guadalupe Garcia McCall

The Secret of the Moon Conch
David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall
Published June 6, 2023

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About The Secret of the Moon Conch

Award-winning authors David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall join forces to craft a sweeping fantasy romance about falling in love despite all odds.

In modern-day Mexico, Sitlali has no family left and has caught the attention of a dangerous gang leader. She has no choice but to make the perilous trip to the US border and track down her long-absent father. The night before her journey, she finds a beautiful conch shell detailed with ancient markings.

In 1521, Calizto is an Aztec young warrior in Tenochtitlan, fighting desperately to save his city from Spanish imperialists. With his family dead and the horrors of war surrounding him, Calizto asks a sacred moon conch for guidance.

Connected by the magical conch, Sitlali and Calizto can communicate across centuries, finding comfort in each other as they fight to survive. With each conversation, they fall deeper in love, but will they be able to find a way to each other?

My Review

I loved the romance in this story and the connection forged between Sitlali and Calizto. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Mexican history, so a lot of the details about Calizto’s timeline were unfamiliar to me. I knew the broad strokes of colonialism, but it was cool to get to see some (fictionalized) snapshots from history and think about how those moments affected the ordinary people living them.

The story shows firsthand the dangers that Sitlali faces, especially those which prompt her to flee her home in Mexico to the United States, where her only surviving relatives, her father, and godmother, live. It also paints a stark, terrible picture of what life in the US is like for the undocumented: few opportunities, wages below legal limits, and constant fear of discovery and deportation, all without any legal protection. We also encounter scenes of prisoners kept in inhumane conditions in ICE custody.

Pairing sixteenth-century Mexican history from the perspective of indigenous people with the experiences of a young undocumented immigrant to the United States was a powerful choice. I feel like I’m still processing some of my thoughts about it.

Above all, though, THE SECRET OF THE MOON CONCH is a spiritual story. It’s about the connection between two people whose love and humanity transcend time. It’s about their journey of discovering the power they have through the conch shell and through their love for one another and their people. And it’s about how to use that power to help others, even when they know some moments of history are already decided.

All in all, this was a truly unexpected story. I tend to really like faith-positive stories because I believe faith can be a positive, powerful part of our lives. So I enjoyed the ways in which both Sitlali and Calizto’s faith guided them and helped them along their paths. I think readers who enjoyed SKY BREAKER by Addie Thorley will enjoy this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Both Sitlali and Calizto are Mexican. She lives in 2019, and he lives in 1521.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
A gang member pursues Sitlali, determined to possess her. In one scene, he grabs her and forces a kiss on her. Later, consensual kissing between a boy and a girl. In one scene, he puts his hand under her shirt, and she stops the interaction from going further, fearing they’re moving too fast. She asks for privacy from him when changing or bathing and offers him the same.

In one scene, a married couple undress in front of one another, and the scene ends as we assume they consummate their love.

Spiritual Content
Sitlali and Calizto are connected by a conch shell that belonged to the Moon Goddess. As the phases of the moon progress toward a full moon, their connection to one another increases. They discuss the faith and spirituality of their people and how it has changed over the past 500 years. Sitlali prays to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Calizto prays to the Moon Goddess, whom his mother served.

Sitlali sees and interacts with the ghosts of her grandmother and her mother, as well as other ancestors.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Gang members surround Sitlali, and one tries to force her to agree to marry him. A coyote attacks a young woman. A man shoots another man. A young woman stabs someone and shoots them. Calizto fights in many battles. Several scenes describe combat and gruesome injuries.

Some scenes show inhumane conditions inside an ICE detention center. A mother begs for medical care for her young child. Guards perform an illegal body cavity search on a prisoner kept in isolation.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE SECRET OF THE MOON CONCH in exchange for my honest review.

Review: A Thousand Heartbeats by Kiera Cass

A Thousand Heartbeats
Kiera Cass
Published November 29, 2022

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About A Thousand Heartbeats

“Love has a sound. It sounds like a thousand heartbeats happening at the same time.”

Princess Annika has lived a life of comfort—but no amount of luxuries can change the fact that her life isn’t her own to control. The king, once her loving father, has gone cold, and Annika will soon be forced into a loveless marriage for political gain.

Miles away, small comforts are few and far between for Lennox. He has devoted his life to the Dahrainian army, hoping to one day help them reclaim the throne that was stolen from them. For Lennox, the idea of love is merely a distraction—nothing will stand in the way of fighting for his people.

But when love, against all odds, finds them both, they are bound by its call. They can’t possibly be together—but the irresistible thrum of a thousand heartbeats won’t let them stay apart.

Kiera Cass brings her signature sparkling romance to this beautiful story of star-crossed lovers and long-held secrets.

Geeking Out

It took me by surprise when the publisher offered me a review copy of this book– I was pretty over the moon, honestly.

It’s been a while since I read anything by Kiera Cass, but I’ve recommended her books to some teen readers. I remember good things about The Selection series, though I’ve only read the first three books in the series.

This book struck me as kind of having America/Aspen vibes– it’s a completely different story, nothing like The Selection series, but I guess the princess and soldier romance maybe triggered that thought?

Anyway. This is a LONG book at a little over 550 pages, which I found really intimidating at first. I tend to avoid long books because I try to read so many titles. I probably still would have agreed to review it even if I’d known it was so long. It’s Kiera Cass, y’all. How can I say no?

My Review

Okay, so the book. I liked Annika and found some things about her character really compelling. She’s all about justice and fairness. But there’s definitely kind of a weird self-sacrificial thing about her that kind of… made me sad? I don’t know. Like, I feel like she tended to divide things into two possible outcomes: either she could be happy and everyone else miserable, or everyone else could be happy while she was miserable.

There were definitely some conflicts that split themselves that way where those were legit her only options. But it felt like she tended to view all conflicts that way.

Lennox… That guy took me on a journey. At certain moments, I did not think I could like him. He serves his leader as a kind of enforcer, doing the dirty tasks that no one else wants, but have been decreed to be done. It takes him a long time to realize his own worth and even longer to really decide what to do about it.

I will say that early in the story, we learn that Lennox has done something Annika finds unforgivable. (And I agreed with her.) I wasn’t sure how the story was going to lead us around that fact and build a believable romance. In my opinion, Kiera Cass did a pretty good job at that, though.

Romance aside, I did struggle with some of the other story elements. For example, at one point, a hurricane descends on two battling forces. It’s described as basically a wall of rain approaching with winds so strong they rip trees from the ground. I was like, okay, is this a hurricane or a tornado? Because the thing about a hurricane is that it’s approach weather-wise is more gradual. Winds picking up. Periodic raining. Gaps in between where things slow a little bit. Then, like birth labor, the gaps get shorter and the wind and rain get stronger until the storm reaches its maximum.

Anyway, that’s my experience from the hurricanes I’ve weathered as a native Floridian. So the abrupt arrival of the hurricane kind of took me out of the story a bit. There’s also an earthquake in the middle of the hurricane, which was odd? But okay. The bigger thing was that both armies had arrived at the battle site via ships, and it appeared that the ships were okay after the hurricane forces so strong that trees were ripped from the ground.

In the grand scheme of the plot, those were minor details. But there were things kind of like that at different points throughout the book. Just little things that didn’t make sense.

The romance is absolutely the selling point of the story, so I think readers who pick up this book for a sweet, star-crossed love story will get exactly what they came for. I think fans of Kiera Cass’s earlier novels will enjoy getting carried away in another princess romance.

Content Notes

Content warning for references to torture and physical/emotional abuse.

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Major characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. A boy and girl spend the night together a couple of times. It’s hinted that they just sleep next to one another.

In one scene, a girl strips down to her underwear so she can escape from a prison cell.

Spiritual Content
Annika speaks to a portrait of her mother, keeping a connection to her mother who has been missing for years. Lennox speaks to someone in an unmarked grave.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Battle scenes. References to torture. References to physical and emotional abuse.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of A THOUSAND HEARTBEATS in exchange for my honest review.