Eighty Days by A.C. Esguerra ARC Review {Graphic Novel}

Eighty Days by A.C. Esguerra

Publisher: Archaia (Imprint of Boom Studios)

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository

Summary: A pilot wants nothing more than to fly. Or so he thought, until he crosses paths with a mysterious thief whose tricks draw him into unchartered territory and new adventure. In a life where the truth changes as quickly as clouds in the sky, the pilot must decide for himself what freedom really means.

Award-winning cartoonist A.C. Esguerra presents an unforgettable love letter to flight, the quest for freedom and the greatest adventure of all – love.

[Received a digital galley via the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Eighty Days presents a haunting, poetic tale of freedom and resistance when a jaded pilot and mysterious thief cross paths amid a brewing revolution! Esguerra’s knack for layered storytelling comes to life through the vivid, detailed grayscale artwork. This is a fascinating, beautiful graphic novel with profound themes and deeply complex character journeys at its core!

Jay Corvidae is a jaded, but skilled pilot working for AVO, an industrial conglomerate of sorts that’s taken over much of the world. Then one day Jay gets an assignment to transport Fix, a no-class thief looking to find work and despite his peppy, talkative nature he’s also carrying secrets of his own. But, allegiances change, truths are revealed and over the span of 300+ pages our trio feat. Jay, his best friend Sable, and thief Fix are given so much personality, history among the threads of story that make each of their journeys impactful. I fell in love with grand epicness of this story and the poignant character arcs that are explored!

The narrative structure of this graphic novel is truly one of a kind, yet also uniquely crafted to perfectly suit this story alone! Told through an epistolary-like style, the narrative expands through diary entries, thoughts, brief notes, reports, messages and communications which although initially can leave lots for the reader to figure out on their own, speaks to the grand atmosphere and scale of the 20th century-inspired world. In addition, I like how through each of the 4 parts of the novel, you follow the main characters and go deep inside their heads, but also continue to get a great understanding of Jay, Fix and Sable!

Esguerra’s succinct writing voice, alongside their masterful artwork which isn’t afraid to present the reader with lots of metaphorical imagery, uses practically all of the panel space in daring ways, in addition to incorporating a variety of artistic techniques to dive deeper into the characters heads, making this single volume story span over the course of 80 days (hence the title), making it read like a historical fable filled with tragedy, but also boundless threads of hope.

Another main part of this story is the Queer romance that propels the two love interests (Jay and Fix), its heartbreaking at times, but at its core very sweet and magnificent! Its got a slowburn kind of development to it, that is so clearly deep without the need for words.

As the story develops you learn more about Jay and Sable’s friendship, how they grew among Avo’s ranks, betrayals that ensue, but also the mistakes and lengths they go to repair the wrongs of the world. The dynamics between this trio is genuine, complicated, but also you sense each of their ambitions the clearer it becomes that AVO’s militarized, industrial power seeks to take control and silence opposition.

The story is quite grand, complex, and can feel a bit dense at times as the worldbuilding and characters truly take center stage, however that is definitely the extraordinary beauty as well. If you enjoy slower-paced, character-driven geopolitical kinds of stories this will be your cup of tea (the depth to the character arcs is superb). At times you see the plot setting up so much for being only a single volume that it takes you in many different directions, yet you can also picture this potentially being a longer series with all the little details being introduced. Why? Because the story is wonderfully immersive and the author trusts the reader to uncover the deeper meaning and once that final page is reached, the world feels rich and lived in.

I think before going into though, readers should be aware that the use of a brief writing voice with short diary entries and the like is intentional, according to Esguerra who mentioned in an LA Times Preview in Feb. of 2021 that this particular writing voice gives “a great deal up to the art to reveal…” among the greater conflict and a beautiful Queer romance.

Without giving too much away, the world and its characters are revealed little by little, but it cultivates into a daring, wonderful story about love, friendship, rebellion amid war, and much much more hidden within each stroke of the artwork, it really blew me away. I genuinely feel like its best to go into this book with minimal background that way it can surprise you just as much as it did for me!

Eighty Days is an engrossing, intricate, haunting and beautiful story. The fragmentary storytelling, fully realized characters and compelling themes make this a marvelous graphic novel!

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean ARC Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (TEA #1)

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: John Ed De Vera

Summary: Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

My Rating: ★★★

[Received an ARC through a giveaway]

Tokyo Ever After is an incredibly fun, heartwarming tale about an ordinary girl named Izumi who learns she’s actually a PRINCESS, yes that’s right! Through a witty, charming voice, great storytelling, a bit of romance and pivotal themes of self-discovery plus family to name a few, Izzy figures out who she wants to be in this charming YA Contemporary!

Izumi Tanaka lives her daily life with her single, very supportive mother in a small northern California town, loves being with her friends and is ready to finish up her final year of high school in Mount Shasta. But when her friends help her uncover clues as to who her father is, she’s soon thrust into the spotlight and given the opportunity to discover more about her royal lineage with a trip to Japan when she learns that her father is in fact – a crown prince!

I think what stayed with me the most about Jean’s novel was Izzy herself. There’s an “ordinary-ness” to her, which is part of the charm about her character! She’s always grown up comfortably with her mom and now realizes there’s this other side to her family that she never knew. Through a first-person POV, Izzy feels so incredibly real. She has insecurities about whether she has the potential to live up to thousands of years of tradition, be “enough,” and ultimately discover who she wants to be along the way.

Getting accustomed to the bustle of being a royal for her two-week stay she’s introduced to her cousins, handmaiden, assistants, etc. and Izzy is learning where she fits in as she’s attending events, keeping up appearances for the press, even doing visits to surrounding areas. As she’s trying to understand more about her heritage, there’s an underlying humor that stays throughout the book making her journey so very endearing and relatable.

Family and friendship (the AGG’s were so supportive) are such important parts of Izzy’s life and Jean does a fantastic job at merging these two that help steady Izzy whenever she’s feeling unsure about taking up her role as princess. Her parents just want her to be happy and although each dynamic is different (her father is just as nervous as she is), there’s important moments where she feels like she can finally embrace who she is. I think one of my FAVORITE scenes is when she was readying to leave her visit to Kyoto and she learns that the town has welcomed her. After a series of mistakes, missteps and blunders, this one moment makes her realize her significance and strength as a ruler.

Another one of my favorite parts about this novel was just how incredibly funny it was. Izumi is quite silly and her blunt, comedic honesty makes her journey feel relatable being introduced to all these royal protocols while finding her footing little by little. In addition another relatable part to her character was when she mentioned feeling like she’s always in the background and now as someone who is in the spotlight 24/7, it made following her journey feel familiar. A line from the book that also stuck with me and reminded me of Izzy’s clever humor was when she says something like: did parents really have lives before their children? Not sure why, but I still think about that quote and it was just overly silly, but very witty too.

Now onto the romance! When Izzy first heads to Japan, she’s assigned a royal bodyguard named Akio. While it definitely starts off as a kind of disliking-to-understanding then lovers kind of dynamic, it slowly becomes a bigger part of Izzy’s story which while it is incredibly sweet, I do wish there was more of a focus on her connecting with her relatives. She has this whole other side to her family that she’s LITERALLY just learned about and I’m sad there wasn’t more page-time given to her trying (or Yoshi and the twins) to reach out just a bit more. I think focusing more on her building those connections with her family would have added another great layer to her story to build that bridge with her Japanese heritage.

Naturally though, a story this delightful couldn’t possibly end after just one book right? So after a bit of research I learned from a Publisher’s Weekly interview that Emiko is in fact writing a SEQUEL coming in 2022 titled ‘Tokyo Dreaming.’ I’m so incredibly happy about this because the ending of course leaves in a very hopeful place for Izzy and her future. Overall this was so delightful, filled with charm, humor, and just awesome storytelling, had so much fun reading this!

Tokyo Ever After is a sweet, comedic, and heartwarming YA Contemporary about an ordinary girl turned princess, whose trying to figure out her place in the world! Delivering a funny, witty protagonist, immersive story and inspiring messages, you’ll be left wanting to know more about what’s next for Izzy!

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky ARC Review

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: April 13, 2021

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Cover Designer: Rich Deas

Summary: New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

[Received a digital ARC through a giveaway]

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: The Mary Shelley Club is a superb YA Thriller that follows Rachel Chavez as she finds herself getting tangled up in a club obsessed with horror! Easily one of my new favorite books, this one-of-a-kind novel features scary movie references, horror tropes, and a gripping plot that will keep you captivated start to finish. Don’t miss this 2021 release!

The Mary Shelley Club is a brilliantly crafted piece of fiction that pays homage to the horror genre, while simultaneously interweaving a personal journey of a girl who’s finding a place to belong.

Moldavsky sinks readers into the story through a writing style that evokes a chilling, dark, suspenseful atmosphere which makes you feel as though you’ve transported yourself into a classic horror flick. This is made clear through the opening scene of a terrifying home break-in that leaves main character Rachel transferring to a school in Manhattan.

Rachel is the newest student at Manchester Prep and has a keen obsession with horror films. Although she’s struggling to find her place, she’s struck a solid friendship with Saundra, who knows all the latest gossip and hang outs. After attending a party at a supposed haunted house that featured a séance and a ghost story, Rachel learns its echoed the work of a mysterious school prankster.

Desperate to forge some sort of connection to her new school, she quickly pieces together the clues leading her to uncover an intriguing, secretive on-campus society called…The Mary Shelley Club.

Desperate to forge some sort of connection to her new school, she quickly pieces together the clues leading her to uncover an intriguing, secretive on-campus society called The Mary Shelley Club. Now among their ranks, she bonds over her love of horror flicks with film club aficionado Freddie Martinez, popular jock Bram Wilding, mysterious bookworm Felicity Chu, and comedian Thayer Turner. She swiftly learns why the group keeps such tight-knit and deliberate boundaries…they orchestrate “Fear Tests” meant to terrify their classmates through elaborate pranks based on classic horror tropes.

However, when an unknown prankster begins to infiltrate their tests and take things too far, the secrecy of this tight-knit group and her new-found friends may be exposed!

Rachel Chavez is a curious, perceptive fan of the horror genre who is ultimately figuring out where she fits in. Using horror movies as a coping mechanism, she hopes to desensitize herself to the scary, chilling frights of fiction in order to overcome her own trauma. I loved Rachel so much, she’s clever, sarcastic, but not afraid to tap into her own monstrous side in order to keep to the truths of her past coming to light. There are no words to describe what a fascinating main character she was.

There’s a comfort that she feels as she connects with the club with their regularly scheduled weekly nights of watching horror movies together, even the secretive thrill of pulling of elaborate pranks inspired by the category of film they love so much. There’s an unsaid bond that forms between them and Moldavsky makes that a highlight of Rachel’s journey. I liked Rachel’s relationship with Freddie a lot, being the only Latino students as well there’s an emphasis on that connection.

A rather big element of this novel involves masks, both literally and figuratively. The club is an unlikely one, each member from different social circles of the school, they are passionate about this group and are genuinely there for one another. There’s a deep bond that connects them, however there are unsaid secrets that Rachel learns show who they truly are when not confined to their circle and its interesting learning more about that through each of them, especially Bram. Loved seeing the friendship and deeper connections she creates with her group members who all become like a little family!

Moldavsky’s writing uniquely conjures a familiarity of the genre while at the same time intertwining the notes of dark academia, thriller, and horror all at once. It’s in her sharp, descriptive language that evokes the feeling of watching a scary thriller or horror movie. You get chills and are engrossed by the mystery, fear, and frights of TMC.

There’s a page-turning quality to these kinds of stories and Moldavsky keeps that momentum going throughout the entirety of the novel, up until the intense ending. Written in first-person POV, you get that chilling atmosphere and detailed note that paints this as a classic horror-thriller story, and the inclusion of specific chapters from the perspective of the “Fear Test” target further envelops you in that feeling.

Honestly there’s nothing I can personally say I disliked. While I knew this book would become a favorite, it surprised me, especially as someone whose never really been able to get into horror. If anything, I probably would have loved more scenes of Rachel connecting with the club. I truly hope this novel does not go under the radar, so if you love clever storytelling, dark academia vibes, and just a top-tier thriller PICK THIS BOOK UP!

The Mary Shelley Club is a captivating, page-turning YA Thriller/Horror novel that will immerse you from page 1! Fantastically chilling read with a well-developed cast of characters, frights, horror references galore, and a tightly-plotted story that engages you with each chapter. Moldavsky has presented a brilliant, masterfully crafted novel that is an homage to the horror genre!

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells_Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells (Shatter The Sky #2)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: October 13, 2020

Pages: 368

Available through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Cover Artist: Chloë Foglia (Designer) and Olivier Ponsonnet (illustrator)

Summary: Let them burn.

Maren’s world was shattered when her girlfriend, Kaia, was abducted by the Aurati. After a daring rescue, they’ve finally been reunited, but Maren’s life is still in pieces: Kaia seems more like a stranger than the lover Maren knew back home; Naava, the mother of all dragons, has retreated into seclusion to recover from her wounds, leaving Maren at a loss on how to set the rest of the dragons free; and worst of all, her friend Sev has been captured by the emperor’s Talons.

As a prisoner of Zefed, Sev finds himself entangled in a treacherous game of court politics. With more people joining the rebellion, whispers of a rogue dragon mistress spreading, and escape seeming less likely with each passing day, Sev knows that it won’t be long before the emperor decides to make an example of him. If he’s to survive, he’ll have to strike first—or hope Maren reaches him in time.

With the final battle for Zefed looming, Maren must set aside her fears, draw upon all she’s learned about her dragon-touched abilities, and face her destiny once and for all. But when the fighting is over and the smoke clears, who will be left standing?

[Read an ARC: which I received unsolicited from the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Storm The Earth is a character-driven conclusion to the Shatter The Sky duology! When Maren is eager to free the dragons of her nation, she also embarks on a journey to rescue a friend whose been taken prisoner. With political intrigue, additional layers to the world building, and well-rounded character arcs, this is a quiet YA fantasy adventure worth reading!

Early last year, I read a surprising debut that I personally feel went under the radar. Although I truly don’t talk about this series enough, Shatter The Sky easily became one of my new favorite books. If you have yet to read Wells’ book it can essentially be pitched as an “angry bisexual/dragon” novel.

The first novel follows Maren, a girl who lives in the quiet mountain nation of Ilvera and whose girlfriend gets taken by Aurati, seers of the empire. So, as she devises a plan to rescue Kaia, she believes the only thing she can do is steal the emperor’s beloved dragons and search for her. When her journey takes her to a stronghold, she goes undercover as an aromatory apprentice, learning more about dragons, her nation’s deeply rooted link to them, and perhaps her own special connection.

Now that Maren and Kaia are reunited with the great dragon Naava by their side, she’s hoping to uncover a lot more about her unique abilities of being able to communicate with dragons and her mysterious Dragon dreams. With Sev (who is actually a prince leading an undercover rebellion) having become prisoner by the emperor, Maren is unsure of where he could possibly be. So, while the Emperor is devising a plan to destroy the brewing rebellion, take control of the dragons, and bring an end to Maren’s plans, Sev hopes she won’t be too late. Then to make matters even more interesting, Naava decides to leave and recover, leaving Maren to discover how she’ll free the dragons on her own and determine what the dragons’ fates will be when she breaks their hold from the Emperor’s Talons’…to join her or be free.

The worldbuilding in this sequel for me, was excellent, which is where STS faltered just slightly. However what this sequel does exceedingly well is delving more into those different layers from the various nations, political ties, and how both the lore and history of dragons fit into all of it! While taking place across the Zefedi empire from Maren’s POV, her travels detail more of the location, neighboring towns, and the world feels even more grounded. While from Sev’s POV there is a much clearer picture to the tyrannical rule of Rafael and his empire.

What both Maren and Sev’s POVs offer to expand on this rich world that Wells has established are elements of economic class division, hierarchy of the court, even the Emperor’s Talons and the dragon’s forced to work for them.

I felt that telling this story from a dual perspective truly was a brilliant move on Wells’s part because at its core, this story is propelled by its compelling cast of characters, especially our main protagonists. They are each learning more about themselves and how the world is shaping them at every step. Maren and Sev both had equally strong arcs and I genuinely loved following them in this finale, seeing how their stories intertwine added a new layer to this already phenomenal series.

An interesting twist is how Maren has taken up the role as the “Chosen One” / Hero, where Kaia has become much more reluctant like Maren was at the beginning of her own journey. While it can seem like “miscommunication” is a big factor in their surprisingly uneasy dynamic, Well’s naturally explored a relationship that is shifting, changing, and left adrift. It felt quite realistic and with the focus on characters, it made perfect sense with how Maren’s journey develops by the end.

As Maren continues on her journey she also learns whether she can take up the role of “Dragon Empress” the world so desperately needs. Sev is the last remaining royal of his family after they were murdered some years ago. With Rafael knowing more about Sev’s work with the Dragon’s, his rebel group, he knows he won’t let him escape so easily. While under the Emperor’s control and influence, Sev becomes forced to face trials that make him rethink his own power as a leader while it slowly crumbles away through torture and being coerced into making innocent people suffer for Rafael’s own image.

My only complaint is that I felt there could have been a couple more plot threads, mainly across Sev’s POV because he is essentially just stuck waiting for a way to escape. There’s his Aurati watcher named Faris and Neve also makes a return, which was very exciting as she was another one of my favorite characters, plus Sev’s childhood crush Piera. I enjoyed their character arcs a lot, but again I just wish they had a bit more page-time because they were so interesting [Especially Neve, who is on the verge of demotion after what happened with Maren in Book 1!]. The pacing can feel a bit slow, but with how the building conflict adds more tension to the story, I didn’t mind so much the further I read.

Again, the new characters we’re introduced to were so well developed and despite only just meeting them in the finale, their arcs really felt complete by the end of the book. Also, the intense action scenes (especially near the end) were SO GOOD! Actually, those scenes in particular were probably some of the best I’ve read in fantasy in quite a bit. Well’s detail to movement whether it was a confrontation with a Talon, dragon, etc., were described in a neat way where I never really felt lost while reading them.

Shatter The Sky and especially this sequel also is focused on presenting Queer rep. in this fantasy world. I love how Well’s navigated Queer relationships in her world. It’s nice to see typical romantic tropes or established relationships through the lens of a normalized queer fantasy setting. In addition to the bisexual rep. there’s a character who uses they/them pronouns, and there’s also a sapphic relationship.

Once I reached the end, I was overjoyed at where the main characters journeys had ended and truthfully I’m still feeling a bit sad at saying goodbye to this amazing world. If anything Storm The Earth left me wanting to know so much more. Maren, Sev, Kaia, the little dragon Tasia, Tovin, Efren, Neve, Faris, etc. were such intriguing characters and really captured my heart throughout the story, leading up to the end!

Shatter The Sky was definitely a unique reading experience and this surprisingly quick duology, really took me on a journey. These books are in my eyes truly under the radar. Its such a great series worth checking out, highly recommend them if you are looking for Queer fantasy, more YA duologies, dragons, or just eager to read a story set in a distinct world!

Storm The Earth closes the chapter on the Shatter The Sky duology following a reluctant hero who learns to lead a rebellion. From a layered world that gets explored even more, stunning cast of characters, dragon lore, politics, and much more, this is truly a YA Fantasy duology worth the read!

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado ARC Review

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Publisher: Holiday House

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Ericka Lugo

Summary: Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.

People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.

But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is everything I could’ve asked for in a YA rom-com, charming, inspiring, funny, and a true delight! One of my favorite debuts of 2021, do not miss this book, you will love Charlie. Maldonado is a new favorite author, her debut captured me from page 1!

In my absolute MESS of a reading schedule I’ve sadly not been able to read all the arcs on time, however once I started reading Charlie’s story, it was clear from the authenticity and spirit to Charlie’s voice, it would be a shame to rush through. Filled with much heart, inspiring messages, and just great storytelling, Maldonado’s book is a gem! This has become a new favorite!!

Charlie Vega is a 16-year-old living in a small Connecticut town, she’s a fat, biracial Puerto Rican girl who is learning to form better relationships in her life: with her mother, herself, and her body. Always feeling second to her best friend Amelia, she wonders whether anyone can truly see her, so when her long-time crush Cal asks her to prom she it beyond thrilled. However, when she soon learns he just wanted to have a chance at dating her bff, she’s tired of not being truly seen.

Throughout the novel she gets closer to her co-worker Brian, who also happens to be in her art class. When she slowly begins to realize Brian Park genuinely likes her for who she is, while also being supportive (unlike her mother), Charlie quickly starts to embark on and enjoy so many firsts when it comes to relationships. However, along the way she has to confront her own insecurities and self-doubts.

There’s so many layers and discussions Maldonado weaves into the story and its done with so much care, thought, and reflection. Charlie is navigating the dynamic with her mom, herself especially and loving who she is as a fat girl. Themes of self-love, confidence, and above all body positivity, weave their way throughout this delightful story.

Each dynamic Charlie has whether its with her mom, Amelia, Brian, or just her relationship to society, is given the perfect amount of page-time. All of these vital threads to her life are such deep, fundamental pieces of her world and developed so wonderfully.

Charlie’s personality leaps off the page! She has a very funny, reflective voice where I truly felt like she came to life with each chapter. She is learning and its through these relationships in her life where she can reflect on where they can be strengthened.

Her relationship with Brian was just the CUTEST, all their dates (bookstore, museum, dinner) and talks…you can feel Charlie’s happiness as she’s experiencing all the firsts of a relationship! Brian is an artist and she’s a writer, so their banter was always fun to read! Every chapter they had together was so sweet. I liked how their relationship was also a way for Charlie to see from the outside just how unfair and complicated her mom was being. Their relationship also allows her the space to step away when she needed to. Maldonado truly has a gift for allowing the cute romantic moments to just overtake the entire scene. (I’m sorry, but Cal who?? I truly forgot he was in this book once Charlie found happiness with Brian). I think one of the most complicated relationships was with her mom, it can be difficult to read as she’s obsessed with Charlie losing weight and Charlie can’t escape the feeling that her mother isn’t proud of her. You feel Charlie’s sadness, frustration, but you also see the growth there over the course of the story.

Along the way there is something that happens where Charlie feels hurt and needs some time away, but those moments showed the journey of growth over the course of the story, which was a very deeply explored arc to her character.

The writing, through a 1st person POV makes Charlie’s fabulous voice come to life, you can sense her pain, anxieties as a girl who is tackling societal expectations, but also pursuing her and dreams as a writer. There’s also the connection Charlie has to her late father, who also inspired her love of stories and seeing that relationship juxtaposed with her mother, which she does improve throughout the story just added even more layers to the incredible cast of characters. The small-town feel was written in such a realistic way, the little details about the used bookstore, high school life, Jake’s coffee shop, and Charlie’s narrative voice made the setting of the story even more authentic!

If anything, I would have just loved more (?). Charlie, the cast, and her world felt too real I just was not ready to say goodbye when those last few chapters came. Perhaps also a couple more details about the town and page-time with her and other characters, because the setting Maldonado crafted was just a joy to explore. Also that ending, I LOVED it but it came too quick and then honestly I was feeling sad that this delightful story was over.

Truly I am filled with so many emotions about this book, its everything I wanted from a YA Contemporary and can’t wait to read what Maldonado writes next.

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is a phenomenal YA Contemporary debut filled with heart, inspiring messages, and a delightful protagonist who will capture your heart! Charlie’s journey to find love and the confidence within herself is the foundation of this charming book. Navigating family, self-love, friendship, romance, and body positivity, Maldonado’s debut is a MUST READ!

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell ARC Review

Magic Dark And Strange by Kelly Powell

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 240

Available Through The Book Depository: Magic Dark & Strange

Cover Design: Sonia Chaghatzbanian and Greg Stadnyk

Summary: Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Magic Dark And Strange is Powell’s latest standalone set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with magic and murder! A necromancer and watchmaker’s son team up to solve a mystery when a boy is brought back to life. This is an atmospheric, immersive novel, that delivers a more quiet, character-driven story! Perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson!

Set in the Victorian-esque city of Invercarn, Powell crafts a story built around a distinct, equally quirky magic system, propelled by an almost slice-of-life narrative following a trio who band together to solve a town mystery!

Having read Powell’s debut, I’ve realized her unique, leisurely-paced historical fantasy novels can potentially be hit or miss with some readers who prefer more immediate storylines with a swiftness to their plot, but don’t let that deter you from this fun, gothic fantasy with friendship at its core!

Catherine Daly has worked at the Invercarn Chronicle for two years to support her family and tries to write them often. She seems to have a rather mundane job as an obituary writer, but to sustain the business her boss (as many other businesses do) have side operations that run solely on providing magical services.

Opening at a graveyard no less, Catherine uses skills of necromancy to help clients reunite with loved ones who’ve died. But with magic at a cost to the user, Catherine herself loses hours of her life in exchange.

When her boss is eager to find a magical timepiece or risk losing her job, Catherine teams up with Guy Nolan, son of Nolan’s Watch & Clock Repair to dig up some leads. This leads them to the grave of a boy (given the name Owen) whose mysteriously brought back to life! But the watch isn’t with him and he has no memories of who he was or his past. Now the three of them are working together to figure out where the mysterious timepiece is and when rumors surface, why it’s leading to a thread of murders.

As mentioned above, this is very much a slice-of-life story because the characters go about their daily lives while also trying to find the watch! I think that makes for a very interesting setting in YA Fantasy because it shows how lived in the world is, plus how our characters interact with it. Magic itself is established in the world as a norm and isn’t used to extremes or for very heightened stakes, so it’s delved into in a very quiet way.

As Catherine continues her quest while also writing for the paper, Guy is working alongside his father to fix watches, plus they even help Owen try to find work and establish a new life for himself as he’s now alive again.

Throughout the novel, friendship and the bond between the trio is such an important, underlying theme that Powell makes so clear through Catherine and Guy’s dynamic, Catherine and her support for Owen, even Guy using his connections to help Owen learn more about who he was. There is an element of romance between Catherine and Guy, whose shows a vulnerability around her, but the two of them establish a friendship first. The way Powell makes those friendship dynamics such a central force of the story, allows it to be such a refreshing read too! Their support for one another is so nice to read and once you reach the end your also left feeling kind of sad because there’s only one book!! I could imagine tons more adventures with the three of them together and tbh think they should open up their own magic side business or something!

Powell’s novel reads like a comforting, familiar fantasy where you can easily picture the story and immerse yourself in it. You really sink into the city and it almost envelops the reader as their along for the adventure sweeping our main cast across town. The Victorian setting is brought to life through the weather, stone architecture, locations (university, cemetery, shops, etc.), period styles of clothing, even how the characters speak, allows you to picture a very specific kind of location. The mystery is also compelling and interesting because it asks so many questions about who is risking so much to obtain this magic, where is the watch now, and what’s at stake?

Powell’s novels carry a unique whimsy to them that’s made her one of my favorite underrated authors over the past couple years. This book just takes you on an adventure woven with mystery, friendship, and brings up such fascinating ideas about who we are and where we can go next. This wonderful underlying messages delved into through each character in their own way, which is present a lot with Owen for example, who is confronting his own fears of not being able to know his true identity and also trying to establish something completely new for himself. Same with Catherine & Guy who seem to be pretty comfortable with where they are at, but working together to solve the mystery and building that friendship allows them to question what’s next. In addition, there’s a brief, underlying moment where Powell presents this idea of the price of magic for those we care about. All are very interesting questions, however I just wish they were delved into even more. Same for the magic system and the world itself: What other magical jobs are there, different layers to the magic system and how others use magic that’s such common place? I feel like we never really get those answers.

Now onto why I personally rated it 4 stars, although I whole-heartedly recommend this fun read: The build-up to the mystery is fascinating as we’re wondering who Owen was in his previous life and who was responsible for his death? Also, where is that timepiece? But, because they go back and forth a lot between the shops and various characters as well who may have leads, it feels like the mystery never really picks up until halfway through. The urgency felt like it wasn’t completely there, but again as someone who enjoys the quiet fantasy stories, I didn’t mind too much, however with the fascinating story Powell presented it felt like the pacing could have been a bit faster.

With the writing itself too, it felt like there was more to learn about Invercarn! Again, Powell really delves into a specific atmosphere and setting, so I just wanted to know even more about the magic and world itself.

Aside from that though, I will absolutely be reading Powell’s next book! She crafts such inventive, creative YA Fantasy tales that no matter what, always leave me feeling like I’ve gone on some grand adventure. And seriously, if you enjoy Rogerson’s Sorcery Of Thorns, I think you’d have a lot of fun with this book too! Highly recommend reading it.

Magic Dark And Strange is an inventive, fantasy standalone with necromancy, murder mystery, with a Victorian-gothic setting! Although quiet, the story delivers a compelling plot and mystery, alongside a delightful main cast of characters you want to learn more about. A unique world, intriguing layer of questions, and atmospheric storytelling make this an underrated YA Fantasy worth checking out!

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O’Neill ARC Review {Graphic Novel}

The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Tea Dragon Society #3)

Publisher: Oni Press

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 128

Available Through The Book Depository: Tea Dragon Tapestry

Summary: Over a year since being entrusted with Ginseng’s care, Greta still can’t chase away the cloud of mourning that hangs over the timid Tea Dragon. As she struggles to create something spectacular enough to impress a master blacksmith in search of an apprentice, she questions the true meaning of crafting, and the true meaning of caring for someone in grief. Meanwhile, Minette receives a surprise package from the monastery where she was once training to be a prophetess. Thrown into confusion about her path in life, the shy and reserved Minette finds that the more she opens her heart to others, the more clearly she can see what was always inside.

[Received a digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a satisfying, heartwarming conclusion to the series! Reunited with Greta and her friends, this third installment tells a gentle, quiet story about embracing change! O’Neill’s art, storytelling, and color palette make this a perfect read for fall!

The second you open up the beautifully illustrated pages of a Tea Dragon novel, you’ll always know your in for a comforting and wholesome tale. Picking up the last novel feels like a goodbye and yet it also doesn’t. There’s a timeless quality to the world of tea dragons and its been an honor to follow it with each installment.

As Greta prepares for an upcoming blacksmith apprenticeship, while also trying to take care of her tea dragon Ginseng. Minette is grappling with the lost memories of her past, also struggling to gain a better understanding of her sense of identity and purpose. While there’s definitely a lot of sweet Greta & Minette moments, they each go on their own individual journeys too!

It’s wonderful to see all of the characters from Society again! Seeing Heskiel, Erik, Greta, Greta’s parents, Minette, also seeing the whole Tea Society crew together (they are such a wholesome found family 💕). We also get introduced to one of their old friends Klietos, who goes on a journey himself as he learns to find the spirit for blacksmithing again while staying to test Greta for her apprenticeship!

The world of Tea Dragon has always felt expansive, despite the very focused and central stories it tells. That’s something I will forever admire about this series because its quiet, intimate storytelling emphasizes such meaningful messages about family, friendship, self, identity, and the beauty of time.

The art, as with previous books, is absolutely lovely. There’s a lot of panels without dialogue that allow you to take the necessary moments to take in the soft art style and warm colors. The color palette is a rainbow of oranges, purples, yellows, and is a perfect read for getting you into the cozy fall spirit.

Next, I wanted to discuss a mini, personal gripe. I personally felt there were SO many circle panels and while its nice because they give you insight into a character’s deeper emotions, it did feel overused at points. You already know how a particular character is feeling (Minette for example when she’s reflecting on the tapestry and her lost memories) based on context, so it felt unnecessary to the overall story. The circle panels also interfered with the stunning full page artwork / panels at times.

Also, an interesting observation is that because the series takes on a very timeless feel to it, there’s never such a sense of urgency in the plot. However this one is obviously meant to wrap-up the series, so the conflict does feel straightforward. Yet, it captures such powerful messages of healing and finding your way despite the passion or motivation becoming lost somewhere through. Our tapestry is still being woven and this book reminds us that despite the challenges, we are still being

Having originally read this series while it was still being published as a webcomic, its no surprise Tea Dragon will forever be incredibly special to me! Was I also sobbing because this was the final book? Absolutely! What makes it such a beautiful ending is that it doesn’t really feel like one either. You know Greta, Minette, and the group have tons of long journeys, especially adventures, ahead of them! It never feels like a goodbye! 🧡

I just had a lot of fun returning to this world for one last adventure! This series is just so wholesome, comforting, and has the most beautiful storytelling, if you haven’t read this series, PLEASE do!! Its an absolute gem and I cannot recommend it enough. If you love diverse, inclusive, heartwarming stories, dragons, and meaningful, deeply moving messages set in a quiet, fantasy world, you have to read The Tea Dragon Society!

The Tea Dragon Tapestry is the highly anticipated and perfect conclusion to The Tea Dragon Society series! O’Neill navigates important themes and tells an equally beautiful story! Your heart will be filled with joy as you’re reunited with beloved characters again one one more journey! From its quiet, loving story to its vibrant colors, and immersive storytelling, this is a delightfully crafted installment to the series! Readers will not want to miss this fantastic conclusion!

For this review I’m also shouting out fellow bloggers: Tea Time Book Review, AnneMieke from A Dance With Books, & Local Bee Hunters Nook! If you prefer short, concise reviews I recommend checking these bloggers as they delve into important themes that O’Neill explores in Tapestry! ☕🐉💗

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon ARC Review

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De LeonDon’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

Cover Design: Elena Garnu

Summary: Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.

There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.

There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.

And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.

So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.

But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.

*Received a review copy from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is an introspective debut that discusses many topics such as racism and immigration. Liliana is navigating family, friendships, and a new high school after getting accepted into the METCO program! She’s also learning more about her Latina identity. This is a YA Contemporary that you need on your TBR!

De Leon’s debut is about a first-generation Latina who transfers to a new (majority white) high school and is left to adjust on her own, witnessing microaggressions, racism, and more, all while her father has been deported.

Firstly, I can’t put into words what it meant to be reading about a Guatemalan teen just living her life, going to school, and figuring things out! I was literally sobbing, it’s a book that left me with a feeling of familiarity, comfort, and I’m so happy this debut is now out in the world for readers to see pieces of themselves in Liliana and her family. This is the kind of book I would have loved reading as a teen growing up, SO please pre-order or check out this debut, which is out today!

This novel at its core is about the struggle many marginalized people face, where they feel drifted between two different worlds. However, its an unflinching look at disparity in the education system, racism, and learning to use your voice.

Liliana is an aspiring writer, loves making miniature sets, and her voice just leaps off the page!  Its as though she’s speaking to us the reader. She’s funny, filled with so much energy, and was just a fantastic main character!

When Liliana is accepted into the METCO program, she quickly realizes it was her parents (especially father’s) wishes to thrive! So this means she’s leaving her Boston school (where she was in the majority), heading to Westburg to join other METCO students despite the nerves and anxiety she feels.

Liliana’s not only navigating this new environment, but also trying to make friends, stay connected with her best friend Jade, and is experiencing a bit of romance with a fellow student named Dustin. She’s also confronting microaggressions, holding onto all these feelings inside of her, and witnessing racism towards fellow METCO students. But she’s just left feeling adrift. Liliana is struggling to show her true self and is lost, unsure what to do.

However, she luckily connects with the METCO group, like Rayshawn, her senior buddy named Genesis, and host family friend named Holly. But also learns to look deep within herself about what it means to use her voice.

De Leon weaves in so many relatable and thought-provoking lines that many marginalized or non-white, and especially Latine readers will understand. It’s also the kind of novel that introduces so many topics and gives enough page-time to discuss each, while even weaving many together.

Liliana herself is half-Guatemalan and Salvadorian. However, throughout the novel she mainly learns more about her Guatemalan culture. As an #OwnVoices reader (a Guatemalan-American), there’s just so many little details that I related too 100% and it felt surreal to see my family’s culture woven into the pages. From pepian to relative visits, and just seeing her connect more to the family’s roots was wonderful to see.

While I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about my Guatemalan culture from a bit of an earlier age (and even now), it was interesting seeing Liliana whose a teen navigate that with her own set of questions and gain her own understanding about her father’s Guatemalan roots.

That leads me into a major theme and highlight of this novel that presents itself in different ways, that’s the concept of LEARNING. Liliana realizes she doesn’t have much knowledge of her Guatemalan side, so she reads up, asks questions, and does her own research. Not just about her culture, but also when it comes to better understanding Latinx culture (like one scene that stuck out was when she learns about “Spanish” vs. “Latinx”), and navigating racism in general. De Leon masterfully presents the importance of asking questions when you don’t have all the answers and I just love how she explored that throughout the book! As mentioned in our interview, De Leon said something that I feel resonated about why this theme is important and stated she hopes her debut “inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.”

The plot itself is very slice-of-life as Liliana goes to school, her home life with twin brothers and her mother (whose struggling to work while trying to do everything she can to help her husband get home), being with friends, and just her daily life at Westburg!

Both her mother and Liliana herself rightfully so, deal with moments of depression and anxiety, fearful of what’s happening to Liliana’s dad! She reminisces a lot throughout the novel about her childhood with him and how he helped shape her passions as a writer (one of my favorite scenes was a memory about a book fair he took her to when she was little).

Themes are the foundation of this novel from family, coming of age, friendship, even discussing racism, immigration, and privilege. As a whole, the book does a fantastic job at delving into all of these contemporary topics through the lens of a Latina living in Boston.

Some moments that stuck out to me that brilliantly showed the way De Leon wanted to navigate these themes was through the school! For example, the clear contrast between her former high school vs. Westburg (even how she feels out of place being in that neighborhood), hearing the conversations in her history class from students about Latin-American immigration, Dustin’s racist friend Steve, and the METCO presentation they do near the end.

Another moment that really stayed with me was how Liliana felt in her Westburg creative writing class vs. the (obviously) more diverse writing center course she learned about from her local library. Those scenes symbolized how she’s always felt caught between two worlds, but she finds solace in the place that makes her feel welcome.

The use of a 1st person POV, brilliantly allows you to see who Lil is and understand her fully as a character. She’s someone who feels the need to hide and not fully be herself, she’s also witty, observant, and if your looking for an introspective narrative, this book is perfect.

Overall, the plotting, how real the story feels, the cast of characters, and the wonderful writing voice make this a great YA Contemporary / debut you should not miss!

Although I absolutely loved this book and is one of my new favorites, my only minor critique is that I did find the writing reads very much like a “stream of consciousness,” where the story moves very quickly at points and scenes transition as your reading Liliana’s internal thoughts. But it does make her voice feel so real and come to life.

I will say that this book reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, maybe because of how it delved into themes in such a realistic way, the poignant narrative voice, and main heroine that stands out…either way if you loved Acevedo’s debut, I think De Leon’s would be perfect too!

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a fantastic debut you don’t want to miss! Liliana is confronting microaggressions, racism, and learns to find her voice in order to take a stand! Character-driven, thought-provoking, and wonderfully written, its a great debut perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo! Jennifer De Leon’s YA Contemporary debut is a must read for 2020!

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi ARC Review

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani ChokshiThe Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (The Gilded Wolves #2)

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Pages: 416

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Design: Kerri Resnick

Summary: They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumoured to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.

*Minor spoilers, but overall a spoiler-free review*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Silvered Serpents is an enthralling follow-up to The Gilded Wolves! An enchanting alchemy of mythology, clever puzzles, history, and gripping storytelling deliver new dimensions to the phenomenal cast! The stakes are more heightened than before to preserve the group’s friendship and intense love for one another. This sequel is darker, more mysterious, dazzling, leaving you wanting the next book right away! 

The Silvered Serpents is set months following the travesty that left the crew haunted. While each member is attempting to lay down their own roots, persisting despite the trauma of Tristan’s death, the Order pulls the team together again for one more job.

Brought to the heart of a long-secluded palace in the depths of Russian winter, The Sleeping Palace and search for a legendary tome called ‘The Divine Lyrics’ promises a radiant future for each of them, especially for the crew’s enigmatic leader Séverin Montagnet-Alarie.

“He was doing this for them.For his friends…so he endeavored to feel nothing at all…” (21, The Silvered Serpents, Roshani Chokshi).

My lovable crew of 19th-century puzzle solvers were just suffering so much in this book, but it was all in the name of love okay? The relationships, both romantic and platonic, allow us to see the inner desires each of them seek and the fears they must face to get there. Its great to see how the group dynamics evolved as each of them were undergoing their own change too (+ the banter of course continues)!

During the crew’s time spent apart, Zofia was back in Poland looking after her ill sister Hela, Enrique continued to build his reputation to meet with the Illustrados, and Laila, burying the truth of the limited time she has left, continued her job as L’Engime. While Séverin is rooted with a deep fear that he will be left behind as the crew carries on.

What made this sequel so captivating was how Chokshi masterfully fleshes out the characters vulnerable, intimate sides, even the depths to their souls in ways we now realize, we’d just barley scratched the surface of in TGW. I’m not entirely sure how much I want to talk about in this review (because spoilers), but my hope is that I get across just how brilliant Chokshi is at the navigating the character development in this sequel!

Séverin quickly learns there’s a price to pay for the inclination of power, even in his pursuit to become a god. Laila is coming to terms with her existence and mortality as the race to find ‘The Divine Lyrics’ can change everything for her, even confronting the love she has for Séverin. Zofia, doesn’t want to be seen as a burden, but she’s coming to better understand the energy, emotions, and banter of the group. Enrique is trying to continue proving himself as a historian along the way and is reminiscing on what motivates him to stay with the group, even navigating his feelings for Hypnos and Zofia. And then poor Hypnos, just wants to find his place in the group and stumbles a bit along the way.

As the crew reaches the palace, via a well-hidden pair of spectacles, you see that each acquisition along the way allows for the crew to evaluate their own skills and test the relationships they have with each other. Zofia and Enrique as we know, didn’t always get along in book 1, but let me just say that changes a lot throughout Silvered Serpents (every moment they had together warmed my heart 💖).

What fans of the first can appreciate is how Chokshi really dives deep into each of the characters heads to examine more of their past, their desires, and how their handling grief, among other feelings. Their seclusion in the palace makes for lots of intrigue and forces the cast to confront different layers of themselves.

If you loved the lore and mythology of The Gilded Wolves, this sequel builds on that in a very interesting way, as always with lots of fascinating puzzles and history!

Chokshi’s writing as always is descriptive, poetic, lush, giving this sequel almost a fairytale-like quality. You feel like your right there alongside them and everything from the wintry setting, atmosphere, and our cast just comes to life. The tension, intrigue, mystery, and captivating aura of the story make the pages just fly by. I also loved how metaphorical the description and storytelling was for each member of the group’s story arc, it was brilliantly done!

Also a very minor spoiler here, but its just something I really wanted to talk about, the more I realized how it was such a big part of Séverin’s journey and its the idea of forgiveness. Without spoiling, he continuously reflects on what happened to Tristan, but what always lingers is the knowledge that what he’s doing will be for the good of the crew. Similarly when someone from Séverin’s past tags along, they have to come to terms with the significance of their past decisions and what it takes to make amends.

My only minor critique is that there are a couple new characters introduced and they add lots of dimensions to the story, our cast, etc. but I just wanted more background to them nearing the end.

As with Gilded Wolves, I smiled, laughed, even cried during this book! I fell in love with this crew even more and have a newfound appreciation for each of these books as a standalone in the series, because they each bring new dimensions to the crew we just adore so much! While each chapter is a page-turner, as the pieces slowly start coming together, you just cannot put this book down!

Now as for the ending all I will say is, it will possibly leave you screaming, at a lost for words (maybe both)? Also wanting the third book ASAP!! This sequel really blew me away and I’m psyched to see where the series is leading.

The Silvered Serpents is a fantastic sequel to The Gilded Wolves filled with heists, history, mythology, and much more! Chokshi dives deep into the crew’s heads adding lots of new layers to their characters! Love, friendship, intrigue, and grief weave their way throughout this book that takes the crew to the heart of a Russian palace! Chokshi has delivered an enchanting, captivating follow-up that will leave readers wishing for the 3rd book! The Silvered Serpents is not a sequel to miss!

Also want to give my biggest thanks to the wonderful Alicia  @AKernelOfNonsense for letting me borrow an ARC! You are the best Alicia! 😍💗

A Map To The Sun by Sloane Leong ARC Review {Graphic Novel}

A Map To The Sun by Sloane LeongA Map To The Sun by Sloane Leong

Publisher: First Second (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: August 4, 2020

Pages: 368

Available Through: Bookshop and The Book Depository

Summary: One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.

Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.

*Received a digital review copy via the author*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: A Map To The Sun is a YA graphic novel all about navigating friendship, basketball, and life off the court! A newly formed all-girls basketball team allows Ren and Luna, who were once inseparable friends over the course of a summer, to find their way back to each other again. Colorful, vibrant, and detailed artwork blends perfectly with the gritty, slice of life story across its pages and is sure to captivate!

One specific category of graphic novels that I’m really starting to get back into and make me automatically add it to my tbr is anything related to sports! I’d really been looking forward to this graphic novel and Leong delivers a quiet slice-of-life tale, which layers in deep introspection to its characters and their journeys.

I think readers much like myself who may have been expecting a more fast-paced story (like that of The Avant-Guards) will be pleasantly surprised at the lingering depth of the slice-of-life narrative, grittiness, and metaphorical depth that this graphic novel carries!

Ren and Luna meet one day during a typical summer at the beach and instantly become great friends. Their days quickly blend together, in an almost dream-like way, where they learn deeper parts about each other as they surf, play basketball, and enjoy adventures on the beach. The dialogue emphasizes the little details we learn about people and how they influence us. Suddenly, as Ren & Luna’s summer friendship continues to blossom, it ends as quickly as it begun.

Luna has to leave for Oahu to see her ill mother and Ren, who tries to reach out before their time is up, is left hanging. As 2 years pass, Ren never forgets the loneliness and pain of being ignored after Luna’s quick departure.

When Luna returns, she seems to fit in quickly being invited to parties and meeting lots of new people, but there’s still a rift between them. While Ren has moved on and found other friends, Luna’s absence wasn’t forgotten.

When Ren’s friends Nell and Jetta are given cleaning duties in the gym and a new teacher is looking to form a new basketball team, slowly but surely a team is formed. Over the course of the story this team symbolizes many things for the girls: home, support, and a chance to strengthen their friendships!

Although Ren and Luna struggle to find their footing with each other, they find ways to rekindle what they thought was long forgotten.

Throughout the novel, Leong emphasizes and navigates the girls lives off the court and what goes on in the day-to-day. What resonated with me about this major beat of the story was how REAL it felt…the characters, different topics that are discussed, and especially the realism explored through each of the girls perspectives. They each grapple with something in their lives that gives a deep weight and meaning to their journey.

Some of what’s explored is estranged family, body image, family loss, especially navigating relationships (mainly friendship) when people find their way back into your life. While that last theme is explored mainly through Ren’s POV, you see this navigated through the other girls POVs too.

The writing navigates general dialogue with Ren’s POV and not only is it poetic, but there’s lots of beautiful imagery that captures the intense emotions that Ren feels about her friendship with Luna. The loneliness, comfort, and growth to not only their friendship, but also to Ren’s family life as she’s dealing with her estranged sister.

What elevates all the wonderful elements about the plot in A Map To The Sun, is the masterful art and style. It has a soft, rough and stylized hand-drawn quality to it that makes the story feel so real. Honestly, each page looked like a beautiful painting.

While vibrant, the color palette also featured dark, muted colors that are visually stunning! The aesthetics of the art embodies summer and makes it a perfect read for this season.

The paneling of this graphic novel is perfect in every way! No matter what page, you see the story flows so well. Some of my favorite pages included backgrounds or settings that beautifully transitioned into the following scene: for example on page 6 when Ren shoots a basket, it beautifully transforms into a rising wave that we see Luna riding on her board, with a stunning golden yellow, pink, and deep reddish-pink colors.

What also makes the art stand out is the gradient of color you see as you continue to read. There’s a rainbow of varying colors that make there way throughout each page that alter to present a different mood, weather, energy/emotion of the characters, or a particular scene. There’s also an emphasis on the quiet silence or lack of dialogue that lets the art speak for the cast in moments that really move you to see the underlying emotion or introspection. Overall, the art is an absolute highlight of this graphic novel!

As the team grows together, we see Leong discuss and navigate different topics from body image, difficult family life, smoking, even moments of misogyny (mainly from the other basketball coach). Each girl is tackling something, either internally or externally in their lives, and while some plot threads may feel incomplete, the story doesn’t shy away from talking about them (tw// for panel depicting self-harm).

A Map To The Sun also features such a diverse cast of characters, with our main character Ren being Black, Luna is 1/2 Hawaiian and Chinese, Jetta is half-Native and Latine, Nell is Jamaican, and So-Young is Korean.

The only reason I’m giving this 4 stars (though I adored this book a lot) is because while the story balances the girl’s school/team and life outside of that very well, it feels like overall it stuck more with the slice-of-life storyline. While I absolutely love those kinds of stories, here it felt like the plot really wandered and the story, while unpredictable, had storylines either left incomplete or briefly wrapped up (like in the end when Ren & Luna talk about their friendship or when we learn more about Ren’s estranged sister Vida).

Despite that, this is a wonderful read I highly recommend picking up! I’m not sure whether Leong will continue the team’s stories in future volumes, but I loved that the ending does leave possible threads for it to explore more of the girls team/friendship.

The characters feel so incredibly real in this early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, friendship, and just navigating life!

A Map To The Sun is a delight graphic novel filled with so much depth and heart! The characters feel incredibly real and the art is striking as it is colorful, metaphorical, and vibrant! Leong’s tale of friendship is set in the early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, and teens just navigating life! Perfect for those who love sports stories, looking for more slice-of-life stories not only about friendship, but also self!

I’ll also be linking Black Lives Matter resources: A list from NPR (featuring books, films & podcasts) and this Twitter thread &Tumblr Post linking carrds for BLM among others to inform on what’s happening in other parts of the world. Also this thread of Journalism pieces about BLM.