Kate’s Review: “The Hacienda”

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Book: “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas

Publishing Info: Berkley, May 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in this debut supernatural suspense novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, about a remote house, a sinister haunting, and the woman pulled into their clutches

In the overthrow of the Mexican government, Beatriz’s father is executed and her home destroyed. When handsome Don Rodolfo Solórzano proposes, Beatriz ignores the rumors surrounding his first wife’s sudden demise, choosing instead to seize the security his estate in the countryside provides. She will have her own home again, no matter the cost. But Hacienda San Isidro is not the sanctuary she imagined.

When Rodolfo returns to work in the capital, visions and voices invade Beatriz’s sleep. The weight of invisible eyes follows her every move. Rodolfo’s sister, Juana, scoffs at Beatriz’s fears—but why does she refuse to enter the house at night? Why does the cook burn copal incense at the edge of the kitchen and mark its doorway with strange symbols? What really happened to the first Doña Solórzano?

Beatriz only knows two things for certain: Something is wrong with the hacienda. And no one there will help her. Desperate for help, she clings to the young priest, Padre Andrés, as an ally. No ordinary priest, Andrés will have to rely on his skills as a witch to fight off the malevolent presence haunting the hacienda and protect the woman for whom he feels a powerful, forbidden attraction. But even he might not be enough to battle the darkness. Far from a refuge, San Isidro may be Beatriz’s doom.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Isabel Cañas’s debut Gothic horror novel “The Hacienda” was just sitting on my Kindle for months. I requested it pretty early out from the release date, and I know that when I do that books do tend to just sit. By the time I deemed it right to pick up, the chiding ‘downloaded on ___’ indicator was staring at me and making me fidget. And then when I started it, I felt myself all the more annoyed because holy COW. This book was immediately awesome! With a description that has “Mexican Gothic” meets “Rebecca” I knew it was going to be a treat, but boy howdy was I not ready for the treat that it was. I absolutely LOVED “The Hacienda”.

It bears repeating. (source)

Right off the top I want to say that the ghost story and Gothic elements are ON POINT. Cañas knows how to set the scene and slowly build the dread, pretty much starting right from Beatríz’s arrival to Hacienda San Isidro when she sees gutted rodents strewn about the courtyard. Cats are the culprits, she is told, though there is tension in the air, and it slowly builds and consumes until the tension is unbearable. There are plenty of haunted house moments applied here, from cold spots to slamming doors, to glowing eyes seen in the darkness for a fleeting second, to skeletons found in hidden places. It soon becomes clear to Beatríz that there is something haunting this estate, and as she tries desperately to get someone to believe her, it’s the servants and the locals who have the most insight. When most Priests scoff at her, one, Padre Andrés, answers her call for an exorcism. I loved Beatríz as a tormented and determined protagonist, as she both fits the bill for a Gothic heroine while also pushing against stereotypes as she refuses to be gaslit over what is happening in the home. And I also really liked Andrés, whose Father Karas-esque test of faith hides the fact that he is, at his heart, a witch whose practices have been hidden and repressed by the colonial culture that has taken root (more on that soon). They make a great horror story team, as they are easy to root for a relate to and make you become very invested very quickly. Which makes the haunting they are dealing with all the scarier. And makes the forbidden attraction between them even more high stakes. And yes, SWOON WORTHY.

But there are also a lot of underpinning themes regarding classism, racism, colonialism, and political upheaval that make “The Hacidenda” all the richer when it comes to the story it aims to tell. The aforementioned priest/witch, Andrés, basically went into the priesthood to hide his witchcraft and folk healing that has been passed down through the generations, as the Inquisition came to Mexico and practicing such would make him a target. The previous mistress, Doña Catalina, was abusive and cruel to her servants, who are of lower social standing and are also mostly mestizo in their heritage, and she sees them as subhuman. Juana, the half sister of Don Rodolfo, is a child of a hacendado but as a woman with a mysterious family background has no social claim to his wealth. And even Beatríz has connections to these political themes, as her father was murdered by Don Rodolfo’s party, and as a woman has few options and sees marriage to him as a way to keep herself safe. It’s when these real life horrors and injustices are applied to the horror tale that it really stands out, bringing in a critique of colonized Mexico and the damage it has done to the people who live there. Cañas has a fantastic authors note at the back of this book that really puts it all into context, and she weaves it in perfectly.

And on top of all that, I really loved Cañas’s writing style. She has the right flow, the most haunting and at times beautiful imagery, and paces everything just right. This is a fantastic debut.

“The Hacienda” is can’t miss horror fiction. Scary and thoughtful and a must read to be sure.

Rating 9: Gothic and creepy with ghosts, witchcraft, and commentary, “The Hacienda” is a great horror novel that can’t be missed!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hacienda” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latinix Horror/Fantasy”, and “2022 Gothic”.

Highlights: May 2022

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

According to the poets, May is the month that we can hold in contempt if it doesn’t not provide the necessary number of flowers to make up for all of the April showers. But, in the meantime, we’ll take the fact that the trees are showing signs of life as good enough for now. There have even been a few tempting days of sun that promise of days to come when reading outside will once again be an option. Until then, here are some books we’re looking forward to his month!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” by Claudia Gray

Publication Date: May 3, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I think most Jane Austen fans are probably one of the snobbier groups of readers when it comes to adaptations of their beloved original novels. But as “Death Comes to Pemberley” proves, miracles can happen and good book (even good mini series!) can come from continuations of these stories. Here, we have a murder mystery that takes place in the home of Emma and Mr. Knightley. The suspects? All of our beloved main couples from the other novels! And who better to solve the mystery than the oldest son of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Jonathan, and the young daughter of the Tilney’s, Juliet. I’m so nervous and hopeful for this book!

Book: “Wind Daughter” by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Why I’m Interested: After really enjoying “Echo North,” it was a no-brainer to jump immediately on to the sequel that was conveniently coming out this month! We even met the main character, the daughter of the North Wind himself, in the first book! Here, we follow the story of Satu as she travels the land trying to reign in her father’s magic that has gone wild after the death of the evil queen in the last book. But is she gone for good? Or is she controlling the actions of the mysterious Lord of Winter, a man who seems to pop up wherever Satu finds herself and clearly has plans of his own. I really enjoyed “Echo North,” and it’s always great to find a series of books that exist in the same world but are each stand-alones in their own right.

Book: “The Stardust Thief” by Chelsea Abdullah

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Will I ever get tired of reading books based on “The Arabian Nights” or reimagining the world of jinn? No, no I will not. So I was so excited when I received an ARC of this one in the mail. This is a three POV book featuring a thief, a merchant of magical goods, and a storyteller prince. Thrown together against all of their wills, they are sent on a perilous journey to recover a magical lamp said to house the most powerful jinn of them all. But in a land where jinn are hunted for their magic, there are more powerful figures scheming behind the scenes than any of them could imagine. The entire thing sounds super exciting and right up my alley. Can’t wait to dive in!

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas

Publication Date: May 3, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Gothic ghost stories always catch my attention, and when the comparisons to “Mexican Gothic” and “Rebecca” were added to the description as well, my attention was less caught and more snared. When Beatríz marries Don Rodolfo Solórzano she moves to his home of Hacidena San Isidro, with the hopes that this marriage will provide her with the security that she lost when her father was murdered by opposition forces. But when strange and terrifying things start to happen in her new home, she wonders if the rumors of his first wife’s demise are perhaps true, and turns to a young priest for help. I’m always looking for new Gothic stories, and when they go beyond the typical conventions with themes and characters it’s all the more interesting.

Book: “Hide” by Kiersten White

Publication Date: May 24, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Serena and I have reviewed Kiersten White on this blog a number of times, though admittedly she’s been more in Serena’s camp, genre wise. But we’re back to a suspenseful and/or horror story from her, and I am very excited about that! An old abandoned amusement park is the setting for a high stakes hide and seek game that goes on for a week. If you aren’t found, you will win lots of money. Mack has entered because she has had to hide from serious danger in the past, so she feels she could easily win. But when her competitors start to disappear, Mack starts to think that things are even more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. This all sounds supremely strange and creepy, so I’m very excited for this one.

Book: “The Last Comic Book on the Left” by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, Henry Zebrowski et al

Publication Date: May 10, 2022

Why I’m Interested: If the “Last Podcast” guys are involved, I’m going to be 100% on board. Given how much I loved their first book “The Last Book on the Left” (and how much I love their podcast), when I heard that Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski had pulled together a comic book with various odd tales from their show, I was amped. And you REALLY have me when you make promises of Mothman in any form, so this promised sexy Mothman has be vaguely nervous but also very interested. I’m also very curious to see who they all bring on board in terms of comics people, and what styles they are going to bring to these stories.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

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