August 26, 2022

REVIEW Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (Cece Rios Book 1) by Kaela Rivera

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (Cece Rios Book 1) by Kaela Rivera
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: April 13, 2021
Format: Audiobook (library)
Publisher: Harper Collins 

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Kaela Rivera’s Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is an entertaining middle-grade fantasy read. Filled with beautiful imagery, lovable characters, and important messages, this book is an easy-to-read page-turner. 

As a fan of mythology and folktales, it was so much fun to see Kaela Rivera’s interpretation of various legends like El Cucuy, Coyote, La Chupacabra, and La Llorona. Coyote has always been a mischievous figure in the other books I’ve read, and that trend holds true in this book. Ms. Rivera even introduced some legends I’d never heard of before, so it was exciting to have the opportunity to learn about new figures! You’ll have to read the book to find out which figures I didn’t mention. 

Sisterhood and family are a big part of this book. Cece’s mistake allowed her sister to be taken and she immediately regrets that. I appreciated how she also got the chance to save the day and right her wrongs (little sisters for the win!) The broader family aspect is very important to the story. Both Cece's birth family and her "found family" are important. Cece has always been ostracized for being different, and the first time she really finds acceptance is when she meets Coyote, Little Lion, and Kit Fox. I loved seeing their friendship and relationships blossom over the course of the story. They all help each other discover their own strengths and overcome some of the struggles in their past, and it was beautiful to see. 

In addition to the sisterhood and family aspects, there's also a big theme of being misunderstood in the book. The majority of the "criaturas" are very misunderstood - if those in the village took the time to understand them there would be a lot fewer conflicts. If you want to get an idea of what type of misunderstanding it is (without me risking a blatant spoiler) it's very similar to the story in the first How to Train Your Dragon movie. 

The audiobook was awesome! Almarie Guerra did a great job with her narration. If you’re an audiobook fan, I definitely recommend checking the audiobook for Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls out.  Altogether, Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is a super fun choice for fans of J.C. Cervantes' The Storm Runner or Roshani Chokshi's Aru Shah series. I would recommend it to fans of middle-grade mythology and folktales. I'm eager to see what's next for Cece when the sequel, Cece Rios and the King of Fears, comes out in September 2022.  

Trigger Warning: Kidnapping, Parent Hitting a Child (Ch. 24 - The Will of Cecilia Rios)

About the Book
When a powerful desert spirit kidnaps her sister, Cece Rios must learn forbidden magic to get her back, in this own voices middle grade fantasy perfect for fans of The Storm Runner and Aru Shah and the End of Time.

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 Sombreron, 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.

Connect with the Author Kaela Rivera

Kaela Rivera grew up believing in will-o’-the-wisps and el chupacabra, but even ghost stories couldn’t stop her from reading in the isolated treetops, caves, and creeks of Tennessee’s Appalachian forests.

She still believes in the folktales of her Mexican-American and British parents, but now she writes about them from the adventure-filled mountains of the Wild West. When she’s not crafting stories, she’s using her English degree from BYU-I as an editor for a marketing company (or secretly doodling her characters in the margins of her notebook). Her award-winning debut novel, Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls, came out April 13, 2021.

Her biggest hope is to highlight and explore the beauty of cultural differences—and how sharing those differences can bring us all closer.

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