Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce Review

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Jacqueline Li and Chris Kwon (designer)

Summary: After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

When Ellie meets Will, a gorgeous and charming Brit, she vows to avoid making the same mistakes as she did with the last guy she liked. Which is why she strikes up a bargain with Dev, an overachieving classmate who she’s never clicked with, but who does seem to know a lot about the things Will is interested in—if he helps her win over her crush, then she’ll help him win over his.

But even as Ellie embarks on a whirlwind romance, one that takes her on adventures to some of England’s most beautiful places, she still needs to figure out if this is actually the answer to all her problems…and whether the perfect boyfriend is actually the perfect boy for her.

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: Hot British Boyfriend is a fun, entertaining YA romcom filled with adventure, academia, and friendship! Ellie joins a study abroad program in England after a humiliating video goes viral. But, along the way she learns to boost her self-confidence and discovers what she’s truly passionate about. A light-hearted, fluffy debut!

Before going into my review I will say that despite my 3-star rating, I liked this debut a lot because I could see what the author was trying to do in terms of Ellie’s development throughout the book and it surprised me by putting a focus on friendship for about 50% of the story!

So, Ellie has recently moved to Washington DC with her mother and is anxious of what the new year will bring now that her friend Crystal is joining a study abroad program. However, she’s convinced her crush Andy is going to ask her to be his girlfriend at a party. After misreading the situation and humiliating herself, she can no longer face her classmates. Then, when a spot opens up for Waterford’s study abroad program at Emberton Manor in England, Ellie takes the opportunity to step away for a bit and also gain some self-confidence along the way.

As she adjusts to her new surroundings for the semester, higher-level classes, and her studious roommate Sage, Ellie quickly finds herself hatching a plan sure to give her the confidence she’s looking for, by finding a British boyfriend!

After meeting Will and his best friend Hank at a flea market, she believes in order to reinvent herself during her time there, the only thing she can do is slowly lie to her boyfriend, which in turn leads her to not be fully honest with him about her interests like unicorns and fairy gardens. There’s this underlying anxiety she feels that he may not embrace the real her, which propels her emotional arc. There’s an authenticity to this as Boyce portrayed both Ellie’s anxiety and lack of confidence consistently to emphasize her development throughout the story.

However as Ellie begins to hang out with Will more, she can’t help but feel a pull towards the new friends she’s made. Even with the help of her classmate Dev, they team up to help each other win over their crushes/loves which adds a fun layer to their dynamic. But as Ellie begins to realize Dev is really the one she can be honest with, will she make the right choice and follow her heart?

This is a nice YA Contemporary. Boyce builds in the wanderlust / adventure and academic atmospheres very well through Ellie’s perspective. From the descriptions of the locations they visit, classes, and lots more, the setting becomes such an integral part of how the character dynamics are explored. While the summary doesn’t hint at this too much either, there is a lot of focus + development on friendship and Ellie’s new friend group. Established early on, Ellie only had one friend (now ex) and has moved a lot in the past, so she’s never really had many.

Seeing how Ellie connects more and grows in ways she never realized because of her friends like Sage who inspires her to be more studious and appreciate the uniqueness of her hobbies, Dev for how they can be so honest with each other, even Huan for just being a supportive friend…these dynamics were such strong layers and I appreciated how Boyce gave this theme such an important role in Ellie’s story.

Now in England, she’s given the opportunity to meet new people and classmates she never really bonded with before. Also I know friendship is a big part of the story here, but her moments with Dev were very adorable and the slow development of their relationship kept me wondering what would happen next.

A relatable element and also interesting observation of this novel was how everyone around Ellie seems to have some sort of life plan heading into senior year, but she is still learning to accept her hobbies (gardening, building fairy houses, etc.) and learning to embrace them, while at the same time figuring out what her own academic future holds.

There’s a relatability to that feeling that consistently builds Ellie’s character as well while she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do after high school. Not many will know, but I appreciated how Boyce normalized that idea and showcased the importance of using your passions and hobbies to guide you.

Another observation I had was my personal interpretation into some “privilege” that certain characters had. Where Ellie’s classmates like Dev, Sage, and Huan are there to prepare themselves for college/uni, there’s many scenes that remind her they are there to focus on their studies. While Ellie struggles and does improve along the way, little by little, she does mostly spend that time to think more about her love life, while leaving her studies at the back of her mind. Then with Will, he comes from a rather privileged family and he is eager to break away from his family’s business to start his own, however he doesn’t have much of a solid plan and does have advantages of not needing to worry about schooling (or finances) for the time being. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing but an interesting observation that stuck with me as I read.

Overall I think what left my rating is left at 3.75 stars despite how much I liked it, was the more I realized seeing Ellie’s relationship progress with Will throughout the book not only felt too fast, but also rather hollow? Whenever she would meet up with him, I would think ‘what is even the point?’ He’s nice and all, but there’s literally nothing interesting about his character the more I read. He was also at points being unintentionally self-centered and was always focused on his own issues not really listening to Ellie that much anyways (in my opinion). Then coupled with the fact that Ellie and Dev has a WAY better dynamic, there was this superficial/pointless feeling to her relationship with Will. Then it was only about waiting about 100 pages left in the book where Ellie could finally realize that too.

However, above all I personally loved seeing the focus on Ellie’s growth as a character in figuring out what she wants to do with school and her life after high school was a nice arc to explore. Despite being the point of the book, I still think her romance with Will, surprisingly, bogged it all down. While this novel was just an okay, fun read for me personally, wouldn’t mind checking out the author’s 2nd book in this “series” (which she recently announced in March). Despite my overall feelings on it, what will stick with me was the personal journey that Ellie took and the focus on friendship!

Hot British Boyfriend is a fluffy, light YA romcom that despite some flaws, puts a focus on friendship, boosting self-confidence, and discovering ones passions!

Beyond The Clouds Vol. 1 by Nicke {Manga Review}

Beyond The Clouds Vol. 1 by Nicke (BTC #1)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Pages: 212

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Summary: Living beneath the haze of Yellow Town, young Theo has never seen the stars. He works as a mechanic and spends his off hours digging through the town’s trash heap for abandoned treasures. He’s always had the soul of a dreamer, but he’s given up on living the kind of fantastical life he’s read about in books.

Then, one day, he finds an amnesiac, injured girl with wings, and everything changes. Theo’s talents help fix her wing, and their quest will take them beyond the clouds, farther than either could have imagined.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Beyond The Clouds is a fantastical, steampunk manga following Theo, a young mechanic, yearning for adventure, as he embarks on a journey after finding an amnesiac girl with wings. Through artwork that evokes the style of watercolor and delightful storytelling, this is truly a magical start to a new series!

Some hangs heavy over the dream-like city in Beyond The Clouds and young Theo grew up learning that there was a particular kind of magic in books, filled with fantastical stories that could allow him to go anywhere — and within him, that yearning for adventure is still there. As a mechanic at Chikuwa’s repair shop, he always makes time to inspect the junkyard and discover treasures. However, what he isn’t expecting is to find a girl with wings who has no memory of who she is and where she’s from, thus the adventure begins.

As Theo and Mia begin their delightful friendship, he always makes it a point to mention that Mia’s sorrow and loneliness is something he knows all too well. So he takes in upon himself to help erase her fears with the power of a good story. Their friendship was an absolute highlight of this first installment and although there is more to the dynamic I hope gets explored, Theo’s kind heart helps both him and Mia in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Through its slice-of-life atmosphere Nicke pulls you into Theo’s daily routine as a mechanic, running errands, digging for lost treasures, and his adept skills to help Mia adjust to having lost a wing and her memory. Mia and Theo’s friendship is the foundation for intense scenes woven throughout volume 1 from the explanation of Mia’s unique shadow powers and Theo’s quest to find a special medicine for her later on. I think those emotions propel the story in ways so unexpected, but much appreciated.

When I first discovered this manga through the GORGEOUS cover, it’s natural to assume the story within will be equally whimsical, with an imaginative, dream-like quality to it, but what I got was something much more. While this volume is a really broad stroke introducing an intricate, steampunk world it also leaves you with a sense of nostalgia for stories that’ve left you feeling that any fantastical world is possible.

Nicke’s artwork is presented with a light, sketchy quality to it leaving readers enchanted at the scope of the world we’ve barely scratched the surface of. No matter what page you turn to, there’s a feeling of wonder that just never leaves you, the more you follow the adorable duo. The detailed panel frames and artwork that exist outside the confines of the panel boxing was also reminiscent of Kamome Shirahama’s style, which is one of my favorites. The cover also reflects the sheer beauty of the watercolor style in a rainbow of colors.

Mixing the soft, sketch-like art and underlying whimsy of the plot conjures the feeling of reading a beloved fairytale, or reminiscing on a childhood story. The way Nicke wondrously succeeds in leaving readers with this indescribable feeling of nostalgia and wonder is in one word, magical.

The world is established with much detailed about the creatures (anthros and hybrids), but also an even more magical forest outside of Yellow Town filled with fairies and unique plants. The backgrounds really cement you into the steampunk/fairytale setting as well.

While all these elements work so incredibly well to establish a rich world, it felt like there wasn’t enough time to explore or take it in. We are sort of thrust into the setting which is a beautiful backdrop for sure that I would have loved to learn more about from the customs, locations, and world as a whole. Driven by its plot, I do hope to discover more about the world and all the minute details established here, in future volumes.

Beyond The Clouds is a quiet, magical story filled with stunning artwork, unique characters, while also establishing a compelling, spellbinding world through a plot that will leave readers with a sense of nostalgia, whimsy, and adventure!

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 by Kamome Shirahama {Manga Review}

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 by Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier #7)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 176

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Summary: As the new trial comes to an end, one of Coco’s rewards from Beldaruit the Wise is the story of Qifrey’s past and how he came to desire the mysteries of magic. Feeling a connection with her own desire to save her mother, Coco departs for the source of all answers: the Tower Of Tomes. But it is a perilous journey to make on her own, and the secrets held within could sway even the most virtuous of witches…

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Witch Hat Atelier is a profound masterpiece in the making and each volume is proof of it! With breathtaking artwork, thoughtful messages, and a compelling story delving deeper into my favorite character Qifrey, Shirahama has crafted something truly special! Volume 7 reveals that the true magic lies not just within the epic fantasy world, but it’s deeply profound cast of characters. This series captivates with every installment!

Shirahama’s Witch Hat has swiftly cemented itself as a beloved series in my eyes, no matter what adventure befalls Coco, her fellow apprentices, alongside master’s Qifrey and Olruggio. Witch Hat Atelier reads like a love letter to good fantasy stories― the whimsy, and magic continue within each volume.

Volume 7 is everything you want from a sequel or continuation, the poetic exploration of characters pasts, heroes facing trials, plus a myriad of twists and secrets that leave you unable to put the book down for a second.

It opens up on a deeply metaphorical backstory to who could probably be best described as my “comfort character” Qifrey and his best friend Olruggio when they were young apprentice magicians discussing opposing elements: fire and water. Olruggio teaches him there is power in embracing what scares you and knowing those fears can help you to rest easier.

Now back in the present at the Great Hall after Qifrey has healed, the two childhood friends delve more into Qifrey’s mysterious past involving his memories, his (missing) eye, and much more. While elsewhere, Coco learns more about master Qifrey from Beldaruit, leaving her fearful of the future if her current magic can’t provide the answers she’s looking for.

Filled with nothing but dread and uneasiness, Coco is convinced she can find what she needs to save her mother in the Tower Of Tomes and runs away. However, at the same time Olruggio continues his much needed chat which reveals more to Qifrey’s obsession with locating the Brimmed Caps and how it relates to Coco.

As the group reunites and a monster close by, Qifrey reminds her how far she’s come and there is always a solution. Being the true teacher he is, he offers his young apprentice a choice…allowing her to choose whether to pursue the cryptic tower or return home, instead she chooses a different way leading her straight towards Qifrey. That was easily one of the most heartfelt moments in this surprisingly dark installment because, Coco is eager to learn more about magic and this scene is a reminder of how she wants Qifrey at her side, every step of the way, enthusiastic to keep on improving her skills no matter how long it takes. What she’s learned, the friends she’s made, and the adventures still ahead keep her anchored, allowing her to shake off any temptation to use dark magic, even if seems like the quicker solution.

With Beldaruit being Qifrey’s former master, he also learns how much he’s grown into a teacher and wonders whether he will be wise to not tear down the home he’s built for himself and his apprentices.

The last chapter though, WOW it kept me on edge. Never has Shirahama delved so deeply into the intricate past of a character like Qifrey in previous volumes. It was filled with so much pain, tension, surprise…I still cannot believe what I just read. Although I adore all of the characters in this series, Qifrey has a special place in my heart. Learning more about the lengths he’s willing to go to to protect his past and defend his future (both for himself, friends, and students) you feel for him, but also left so shaken.

Reading Qifrey’s past, being buried alive by certain magicians, losing his memories, and his former role in the rise of dark magic, Shirahama handles his story with so much care, but isn’t afraid to show us the sinister thread he still faithfully clings to making him one intriguing character I cannot wait to learn more about.

At its core though, this volume reflected on such profound themes like that of family, home, and where home truly is. As the Great Witch Beldaruit mentioned, “the mighty Silverwood, it is said, it only takes root in places it knows it will find true comfort…” (105). Much like Qifrey, the atelier is his home and despite his insistence on finding the Brimmed Caps, Beldaruit hopes he will make the wise choice in not tearing it all down.

There’s even a deeply explored concept that’s made evidently clear in this volume, that magic can be seen as both a kind of hope and despair. Coco is naïve and enthusiastic to learn everything there is to know, where Qifrey has experienced the more hostile sides of magic, both ideas co-exist and are fundamental to the superb magic system that’s been introduced thus far.

As with each volume, the story is elevated by the expert artwork. The varying shapes of panels guide the pace of the action scenes so perfectly. The specific focus to backgrounds and set details, heighten the focus of scenes as well. For example on page 21, when Beldaruit reflects on finding a younger Qifrey being buried, the page specifically splits him from the magicians with the lid of a casket acting as a divide between the scenes. Or another one of my favorite types of paneling involves Shirahama’s use of a scene as she breaks it out of a traditional panel square, it adds dimension and focus to the specific elements, which is always fantastic.

Despite Volume 7 most likely tied with 1 as my favorite in the series thus far, I did have an interesting critique once I reread this in preparation of my review. Olruggio’s side chapter in the Hall as he’s tasked with helping a royal in preparation for a banquet, in my opinion, would have fit much better in a different volume. Although it delves into a lot of great elements like introducing me to Heihart and Jujy, history surrounding the pairing of monarchs and witches, plus details into the dynamic of masters and apprentices, I believe this chapter ultimately broke up the pacing of the Qifrey-focused story.

Above all though, I truly enjoyed how there was such a character-focus to this volume, intriguing backstory, new characters as well. However, while there are quite a few dark moments in this volume, it left on a hopeful note hinting at a fun new adventure awaiting the witches of the atelier.

Witch Hat Atelier Vol. 7 is a stellar installment in Shirahama’s brilliant series! From the detailed artwork, charming cast of characters, and compelling story that gets even more interesting, this series is something truly special. This series slowly unravels the deep mysteries of a phenomenal character. Each volume, as always, leaves you eager to see what happens next!

Spy X Family Vol. 3 by Tatsuya Endo {Manga Review}

Spy X Family Vol. 3 by Tatsuya Endo (Spy X Family #3)

Publisher: Viz Media

Release Date: December 1, 2020

Pages: 200

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Summary: Master spy Twilight is the best at what he does when it comes to going undercover on dangerous missions in the name of a better world. But when he receives the ultimate impossible assignment—get married and have a kid—he may finally be in over his head!

Twilight has overcome many challenges in putting together the Forger family, but now all his hard work might come undone when Yor’s older brother Yuri pops in for a surprise visit! Can Twilight outsmart Yuri when he finds out Yuri is actually a mortal enemy of his intelligence agency—an Ostanian Secret Service officer?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Spy X Family continues to be one of the most comedic and brilliant manga series out there! This precious found family is balancing their own secret identities while trying to contribute their very best. Dark, thrilling, and comedic, Endo’s series gets better with each volume!

If you have yet to pick up Spy X Family, you are definitely missing out! Essentially this series is set in a fictional country reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s following a master spy named Twilight who, in order to complete his mission and maintain peace between neighboring Westalis and Ostania, needs to create…a family! What happens is a spy, telepath, and assassin now live together, while to trying to keep their true identities a secret.

What I truly enjoyed about this volume is how it took time to follow the mother/daughter duo of the series Yor and Anya. Both of them are equally ruthless and so down to earth. There’s a phenomenal blend of comedy and introspective character moments that made this volume just as clever as the previous ones. Please pick up this series if you love these TROPES especially: found family, marriage of convenience, and very chaotic misfits who work well together!

When the Forger’s get a surprise visitor, Yuri (Yor’s brother), Loid (Twilight) and Yor have to keep up appearances. This leads to probably one of the most stressful and tension-filled, yet hilarious dinner’s you will probably ever read! As it turns out Yuri is a secret officer who interrogates and is on the hunt for spies, like Twilight! So as one might expect, Loid Forger is not going to let his plan fall apart. What ensues is a blend of over-the-top action scenes, lying, romantic tension, and yes comedy!

Over the next chapter in response to the dinner and morning rush, Yor begins to doubt her role as a mother and wife, after Loid goes undercover and spies on her to ensure she isn’t aware of her brother’s true identity or trying to deceive him, he ensures Yor she’s doing amazing by being herself.

Our clever telepath Anya throughout her chapters attempts to win a serious game of dodgeball and do community service for the future of the mission! 😂 I liked that there’s a little bit more we learn about Yuri and Damian, Anya’s arrogant classmate, who in reality may be hiding his crush on her!

As with every volume in this series, there’s an effortless balance between over-the-top hijinks, perfect comedic timing, and of course action. No matter what I’m always left surprised at how HILARIOUS this series is and Volume 3 doesn’t disappoint, Anya’s meme-worthy faces make a return, the light romantic tension/funny moments between Loid and Yor just leave you smiling.

The plot is filled with various threads that leave you turning the page, you truly cannot put this book down until you’ve read it cover to cover. As for artwork, the striking detail and exaggeration to the characters and action-packed moment highlight the intensity within each scene. There’s a fast, gripping pace to this series no matter which character you follow, even amid the introspective moments too.

Twilight, Anya, and Yor have captured my heart with each volume, the way they have my entire heart!! I can also see a new fluffy addition to the family in the very near future and I can’ wait. The only question that’s still left behind once the last page is turned is…where is that ANIME adaptation already?? There’s rumors that something may be happening, but the wait is excruciating.

Spy X Family continues to be a phenomenal series with each new addition! The characters, story, and comedy brilliantly blend together to present the best fake family in fiction right now! It’s chaotic, heartwarming, and entertaining at every turn. You’ll reach the very end wanting Volume 4 ASAP. This series is going places, do not miss it!

The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent Vol. 1 by Yuka Tachibana {Manga Review}

The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent Vol. 1 by Yuka Tachibana, Fujiazuki (artist), and Yasuyuki Syuri (character design)

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: December 8, 2020

Pages: 180

Available: The Book Depository & Bookshop

Summary: Unlimited Power and Infinite Mercy

Living the workaholic life in her mid-20s, Sei never expected she’d be summoned to another world, let alone obtain the power of a living Saint. And she especially didn’t expect to be totally ignored by the locals! While the kingdom desperately needs a hero, it turns out Sei was just the backup option.

Left alone, she explores her newfound powers at the royal Research Institute, unraveling the mysteries of magic potions. As she helps the sick and the dying, her talents reveal themselves. Might Sei be the Saint this world needs after all?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent is an isekai series that follows Sei Nakanashi, a workaholic in her 20’s who gets transported to a fantasy kingdom during a saint summoning ritual, only to be left as the back-up option! She decides to make use of her time crafting potions and improving her talents along the way. Propelled by a charming cast of characters, this is a quiet fantasy manga worth reading!

From the moment I’d read the summary, I knew this isekai would captivate me!! I’m starting to fall in love with these kinds of stories where the mc’s are transported to other worlds, so the fact that this follows someone who possibly gains the abilities of a saint?? How could I not read this!

Sei is very much upset when she is one of two people summoned, only to be completely ignored by the prince with Aria (the other girl) being accepted as the saint. However why was the ritual performed to begin with? Well it turns out that Saints have special abilities to defeat monsters created by miasma, an almost odor or air that makes them form. So, it seems the kingdom is in desperate need of help.

However instead of letting time pass her by, Sei meets Jude in the royal gardens and with her fascination of medicinal herbs, he teaches her more about plants within the kingdom of Salutania and invites her to the Medicinal Flora Research Institute! She decides to stay there for the time being, learning to make potions and even practice magic! As the months pass also she realizes her unique abilities in crafting potions makes them 50x’s more powerful!

Throughout the manga she uses the knowledge gains in potion-making, applying it other areas of her life from cooking to creating beauty products, and even gets a chance to showcase how powerful they are when the kingdom’s knights are attacked. When her special potion even miraculously saves the commander, Albert Hawke, she finds purpose in seeing her work help other people.

The cast of characters truly make this story shine, the dynamics are exactly what you would expect, but its just done in a way where there’s an unexplainable charm. Jude is the supportive best friend teaching Sei everything about potions and Institute, then there’s Director Johan who is there to help when necessary, but also has a *somewhat of a secrecy to him as he’s asked to report anything regarding Sei’s powerful magic to the prime minister. Jude, Johan, the knights, Commander Albert, and her new library friend Liz all recognize her unique talents. There’s just such a nice camaraderie between everyone and it’s wonderful getting to follow Sei’s journey in carving out a space for herself in this new place.

Despite being set in a high-stakes fantasy world, its a very quiet slice of life type of fantasy, which I really appreciate. There’s something about these kinds of stories that just captivate me every time.

Sei is a wonderful protagonist! Although she doesn’t have much experience when it comes to romance and was always focused on work back in Japan, she uses that drive to pursue a new hobby and make friends! By the end however, she realizes she’s still focused on working, so it’s nice to see lots of reflection on why focusing on yourself is so important. Overall it’s fantastic seeing an isekai heroine in her 20’s, with the spotlight on learning more about her own interests. She really is such a relatable main character!

This manga strikes a splendid balance between the great pacing, focus on the magical research, sincerity to the characters, briefly hinting at larger themes many can relate to (putting work or business obligations over oneself), and presenting a delightful story / world you just want to stay immersed in. Such a great escapist fantasy!

There’s also little hints sprinkled in throughout the story that never explicitly state whether she is the true hero or not, however once you reach the end you begin to wonder: Could she be the real saint after all?

I’m so interested in seeing what Sei’s adventure is next and especially as her abilities continue to improve, also the subtle romance with Commander Hawke…the cutest!! Although I love the friendship dynamic with Jude too??

The art style presented such a distinct choice of paneling that highlighted the characters, pacing, and backgrounds really well. Also the FASHION? Seriously Sei’s dress is so pretty. There’s such a unique presentation of the outfits the characters wear, I just want their fancy jackets and dresses in my wardrobe now! But overall, the art’s strength was definitely shown through the character dynamics and expressions.

Overall, there’s nothing I particularly disliked, I guess this just sits at a 4-star rating for me. If anything, perhaps just more details about the world because it’s quite brief in the beginning, although I love the inclusion of research and apothecary in this fantasy setting. Maybe there could have also been a bit more background on the elements of potion-making and potions in general because it was just a lot of fun to learn about!

There’s also an anime adaptation coming later this year and I am just so excited!! 2021 is really the year I’m trying to get back into anime and the wait is getting tough for me…This story is so full of mystery, charm, magic, and that quiet slice-of-life atmosphere that is a very specific niche love of mine, so its no surprise I’m eagerly awaiting the adaptation, add in the magical cooking, potion making, and subtle hints at romance?? The excitement is real

The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent is fantastic introduction to a new isekai series! Featuring a slice of life atmosphere, potions, and great character dynamics, the story hints at more magical adventures to come!

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen Review

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions #2)

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: September 29, 2020

Pages: 256

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Cover Artist: Victo Ngai and Esther S. Kim (Jacket Design)

Summary: Los Angeles, 2006. Eighteen-year-old Robert Gorham arrives in L.A. amid the desert heat and the soft buzz of neon. He came alone with one goal: he wants to see the ocean. And Robert always gets what he wants.

At a very young age, Robert discovered he had the unusual ability to make those close to him want whatever he wants. He wanted dessert instead of dinner? His mother served it. He wanted his Frisbee back? His father walked off the roof to bring it to him faster. He wanted to be alone? They both disappeared. Forever.

But things will be different in L.A. He meets a group of strange friends who could help him. Friends who can do things like produce flames without flint, conduct electricity with their hands, and see visions of the past. They call themselves Unusuals and finally, finally, Robert belongs.

When a tall figure, immune to their powers, discovers them, the first family that Robert has ever wanted is at risk of being destroyed. The only way to keep them all together is to get his powers under control.

But control is a sacrifice he might not be willing to make.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: A Neon Darkness is a prequel and origin story to one of the main antagonists of The Bright Sessions podcast, taking place before the events of the show! Set in LA during the early 2000’s this is an introspective novel that explores themes of loneliness, humanity, and consequence through the lens of a character who doesn’t even realize they are turning into a villain. A great addition to The Bright Sessions universe that answers the question: What if the villain of your story is you?

As a long-time listener of TBS, I couldn’t wait to read this book because the main character Robert Gorham (or Damien) is easily one of my favorite villains ever! In this world, there are those with special powers called Atypicals and Damien’s rare ability is that he can impose his want onto others, much so that they essentially do whatever he wants. Over the course of the early seasons within the show he becomes quite a powerful character, interested mainly in furthering his knowledge about other Atpyicals and his own ability. Before diving into my review, I will say this book does mess with the canon of the original podcast a bit, but overall I thought it gave Shippen an interesting way to explore more of this fascinating universe she’s created.

At the age of 13 Robert left his quiet, small town life in Nebraska in search of something more. Over the course of the novel there’s small paragraphs or pages of flashbacks interspersed within the story that slowly begin to fill in the gaps of a situation that caused him to leave, mainly involving his unique powers and his parents, which he refers to as “Them.” At 18, he finds his way to Los Angeles he has a very idealistic view of the city, planning to start over once again in any way he can.

I truly had no worries about how Lauren Shippen would navigate a villain’s POV because within the podcast you know how much care and attention she’s put into these characters. She does a fantastic job at humanizing even the most morally questionable characters, if anything it made me realize why creators are hesitant at crafting stories from villains perspectives. It can be uncomfortable and also frustrating because, as Neon Darkness has shown, everyone is capable of change but not many will choose to act on it.

Robert soon meets a crew of misfits called “Unusuals,” this is a turning point because he’s never met who have abilities like him. Throughout the story he learns more about his own powers, the underlying motivators that compel him to use these abilities, even how the pain and loneliness he feels becomes a pillar for his own selfish behavior.

Damien, we realize, is someone who just wants a family, to be loved, and no longer wander through life alone. So the main story essentially follows him as he hops from place to place around LA, realizes that this rag tag crew could be the new found family he’s been looking for, and how his role in the group is put into jeopardy when a missing friend returns home.

The “Unusuals” comprised of Indah whose a bartender (who can sense the abilities of others though she has no powers of her own), Neon whose a mechanic (she can control electricity), and Marley, a veteran, (who can see into the past) let Damien in and allow him to join in their group over the course of about a year. However, Damien has struggled understanding the dynamics of family, friendship, and he doesn’t realize how the unintentional selfish use his powers to keep this misfit crew together, will be his downfall.

As the Unusuals worry about their friend Blaze, intertwined within the story of Damien’s new LA life, we learn a bit more about a mysterious figure called Isaiah, whose keeping tabs on this group.

While the groups powers are vastly different from his own, Robert/Damien learns more about the potential he has by staying with them and being their friend. Though he genuinely cares about their acceptance and care for him, it’s interesting that despite him wanting a deeper connection with others, he manages to still keep everyone at arms length and still be such a vulnerable character. He’s given quite a few times to see things from a new perspective and reconsider his egotistical attitude, but then the question becomes: Does he really want to change? The further he gets lost in his own head, it makes for an interesting character study into a exploring a villain/antihero who is so deeply human. Shippen has mentioned time after time that she doesn’t describe Damien as a “villain” specifically and through her attention to the craft of character, you see her focus on creating someone who at their core just feels so real.

The plot (while from the outside seeming repetitive) actually presented a normalcy for Robert in ways he hadn’t experienced in a long time, I think that alongside the interactions he has with Indah, Neon, Marley, and later on Blaze, let us readers begin to pinpoint how he there’s a slow, but steady build as he begins to learn about others as a means to have control over any situation he’s in.

This prequel answered questions I had never even considered when listening to the podcast: How does his ability work or feel from his perspective? Where did the name Damien come from? Why did he choose to give into this manipulative/selfish behavior when he has limitless protentional to use his powers for a better purpose?

As a reader you really empathize and sympathize for Robert/Damien, I know I definitely did because I felt like there was finally this understanding as to how his power works from his point-of-view. Additionally, with how Shippen developed his personal journey, it’s joined by the fact that his wants and desires slowly begin to meld within his general consciousness so unintentionally to the point where he can’t even draw the line between what he truly wants vs. what he wants others to want on his behalf. That was one of the most intriguing parts of Robert’s character that no doubt podcast listeners will have a lot of fun learning more about too.

Some interesting scenes that caught my attention which gave me more of a different understanding about his powers was when I began to notice that while he is attempting to connect and be more vulnerable with the people around him, he instead uses his powers to get people to give him the answers he wants to hear as well. So its not just about realizing he can get people to do what he wants, but also he’s in a sense reaffirm or establish his perspective on a situation (if that makes sense)? That was a new side of his ability I’d never even considered which was interesting to learn more about, especially from his perspective.

One of the strongest storylines within this novel is seeing how Robert learns his place in the group as dynamics change, while seeing his reaction/emotional arc become an anchor for his morally questionable behavior. It shows how his power became much stronger and how listeners can learn more about it from his own perspective, but the question remains “what if you are the villain in this story?” Shippen navigates that with such humanity and very specific lens that makes it an interesting read for sure, especially as Damien is such a unique character!

Now to discuss a bit more how the book deviates from the canon of the show: I did notice that some lines feel like they were directly lifted from the podcast (which takes place during 2015-) which I think was a great inclusion because it helped to present some of the bigger questions and themes that we encounter with Damien from the series once he’s in his late 20’s. I also thought it was surprising (maybe disappointing?) that Damien drinks quite a lot in this book. The reason I’m on the fence about that decision is because, the reasoning behind that in the podcast felt like a somewhat important detail that was part of Damien’s character for a reason. There’s a mysterious aura about him in the show and using the canon for a completely original story, gives lots of context. Overall though I think the deviation from canon is both a pro and con. A pro for how it lets fans learn a bit more about TBS universe while not completely following Damien utterly alone for the entirety of the story, giving him an emotional character arc. Yet, a con for how it disregards the little details of his character from the podcast I personally thought were very interesting or important.

There’s also a couple Easter eggs that I fans will really enjoy: A precursor to “Atypicals” being “Unusuals”, the mysterious figure who I think was in reference to The AM (?), even learning about Robert/Damien’s experience with therapy before meeting Dr. Bright. These were just some really fun tidbits that were intriguing to see on page!

The audiobook by the way is fantastic! As you may (or may not know) sometimes an audiobook can be a hit or miss for me, but this easily makes it onto the list of the best as it’s done by the voice actor from the show, Charlie Ian. There’s also a Q&A at the end that gives even more background on how this book interestingly connects with the podcast through an interview with the author.

As for the representation, there’s characters identified as Black (Neon), Muslim and Indonesian background (Indah), and Blaze (Asian). Neon and Indah are also a sapphic couple.

I think if anything my main con is that while Robert’s journey is interesting, it can feel a bit aimless (lots of back and forth between new homes and talks with the Unusuals), it felt like there could have been just a couple more plot threads added in. While this book is very much focused on Damien’s descent into “villainy” as he learns more about himself and his ability, it very much feels like there’s such a specific route for his arc we’re not really left to explore elsewhere within the story either (if that makes sense?). It felt like there could have been more opportunity to explore different layers being presented in the story. The writing is also very character-focused, so the worldbuilding can feel a bit sparse at times. There’s also small paragraphs or pages from the past of Damien/The Unusuals that could have been formatted differently so it doesn’t blend too much with the present storyline.

Surprisingly while reading this book, I came to an interesting realization. Now this is my personal opinion, but I truly believe if you have not listened to the podcast or sepcifically Damien’s episodes, this book and it’s plot will probably not impact you as much. The story and emotional moments of his character arc will be more enjoyable if you learn more about Damien’s character from the show first. So if you are looking to dive into this series [which I highly recommend] I’d say please listen to the wonderful Bright Sessions podcast before doing so and check out these books!

Each of these books follow a different character from the show and I’m interested in seeing what will be the focus for the last book featuring a dreamwalker named Rose. I also recently learned that spin-off series like The AM Archives and College Tapes will be available for free starting this year and I’m just so excited to dive back into this world again (especially as I started relistening to the show again while reading Neon).

A Neon Darkness is the newest addition to the Bright Sessions world, perfect for long-time fans looking to get more background on the series antagonist! Through an exploration of privilege, power, and the nature of connections, this is a book that will make you question the human nature of villains. Shippen has crafted a unique story about the descent into villainy by exploring the past of a beloved character from her podcast. This is a character-driven novel that sheds light on an antagonist shrouded in mystery!

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera Review

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Simon Teen)

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Pages: 296

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Cover Artist / Illustrator: Myokard and Lizzy Bromley (Designer)

Summary: THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

My Thoughts: The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a phenomenal YA Contemporary novel that touches on a lot of important topics, while at its core being a compelling coming-of-age story! Margot is stuck working at her family’s supermarket, but learns some much needed life lessons along the way. Lilliam Rivera has become one of my new favorite authors!

I know I just stated it above, but it’s worth repeating: Lilliam Rivera is truly a new favorite author! Despite the myriad of Young Adult Contemporary novels out there, Margot’s story is a unique one of reflection, growth, and with a focus on family. This novel captured my heart in many ways (much anticipated), but has also left me continuing to think (close to a month after reading). I knew from the summary alone she would be a new favorite author, but wow the themes and realistic character growth exhibited in this novel makes me want to read the rest of her books asap!

After using her father’s credit card, Margot is grounded for the summer and has to work at her family’s supermarket, Sanchez & Sons, to pay off her debts. However, she’d rather be somewhere else, like the sunny Hamptons with her closest friends from Somerset Prep, Serena and Camille, but also her crush Nick. From page 1, you can sympathize with Margot, her annoyance and frustration at her break being taken from her. She powers through the tedious jobs her father assigns (like stacking shelves, slicing deli meats) and yet her friends, despite being a phone call away, feel further than ever.

Trying to adjust to the 10 weeks of work she’ll have to endure, she soon meets Moises, a community activist who sets up a stand near the market and despite not being sure how she feels about him, they spend more time together, and soon she realizes she now has to navigate her complex feelings for him too. But there’s an underlying thread between him and Margot’s older brother Junior that slowly develops throughout the story.

Margot and Moises’s dynamic was so wholesome? Despite him being obvious that he’s interested, Moises is kind and offers Margot a much needed break from her family, but also time when she needs to figure things out for herself. I loved that he also showed her the importance of being there for your community and his work to support the local apartment complex being impacted by gentrification.

From the very beginning I loved reading from Margot’s perspective, there’s such a genuine voice to her despite her flaws the story presents, she’s a compulsive liar and has trouble being both honest and vulnerable. However, she’s truly just a teen trying to figure out who she is and her place in the world. Throughout the novel she learns lots of lessons about life, the world outside her personal bubble, and connecting more with her family’s business.

Margot finds herself confronting many varying situations regarding her friends and herself, where she slowly begins to realize it means she’ll have to own up to her mistakes and learn to do better. She is such an amazing main character, yes she is flawed in her thinking and perception, but she is growing and realizing what it takes to become the person she wants to be. Her friend Elizabeth, who she’s known for years, is attending an art school and Margot doesn’t have the words to say how distant she feels from her. But throughout the novel Margot begins to see how her new persona at Somerset has changed her in many ways, keeping her from seeing her friends, family, and community from a different perspective. Also delving into the theme of friendship, she learns who truly has her best interests at heart and the people she needs in her life to help her be her best self.

Despite having no interest in the family business, Margot realizes how important it is to her family’s livelihood, the slowly gentrifying community, and ultimately herself. She even learns more about the employees like Jasmine, her passion for music, and many others.

Family is a core element of this story and Rivera navigates through a realistic and complicated lens. There’s lots of love, but also a lack of communication which is delved into as the book progresses. Throughout the story Margot learns more about her father, mother, older brother Junior, but through it all she’s also tackling the machismo/sexist culture displayed by the men in her family. It unknowingly dictates many of their actions towards Margot and rightfully you feel frustrated alongside her seeing the many double-standards and attitudes displayed. Junior and her father are two characters who have much growing to do themselves and despite doing what they believe is in the best interest for Margot, this presents another brilliantly multi-faceted layer of the novel. But, overall it also played an important part in having Margot wonder whether she can be any different. Despite their mistakes, the Sanchez family is struggling to cope with their problems, but there’s hope for solutions if they work together.

The novel delves into core themes that remain present throughout the entire book such as gentrification, family, and especially identity. Margot realizes more about herself and the people around her that allow her to truly open her eyes, which ultimately leads to her accepting herself as she truly is and not hide behind other people’s expectations or her own insecurities. Its such meaningful message that plays an important part for her growth with each page, yet as many of us are, she is still navigating her flaws and accepting them. Gentrification is a major impact on the supermarket as a college is close by and a competing market is close to opening, Margot realizes the impacts this has on the community she’s come to appreciate. I liked seeing her use her pr/social media skills to help the place later on in the novel not only for the market, but also for her friends. Being from Latine background, family is navigated with such nuance and depth in ways that I could really see and understand. Its such a foundational theme that is present in many characters through their actions and reflections.

Being from the Bronx herself, I loved how Rivera made the setting come to life through the atmosphere and descriptions. Additionally as an #ownvoices novel, it features Puerto-Rican rep., following a Puerto-Rican/American main character, and also features an Afro-Latino love interest (Moises).

If anything it did feel like the ending wrapped up a bit quickly, and just as everything is working out for Margot and I just wanted a little bit more. But honestly, that’s because with each page I fell in love with this wonderful story Rivera was telling about a girl who is learning to be herself, do better, and figure everything out. I truly adored this book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Lilliam’s fantastic books. It’s my goal to continue reading backlist books on my physical tbr and it was an absolute joy to have finally picked up this gem.

The Education Of Margot Sanchez is a marvelous contemporary about family, identity, friendship, learning from mistakes, and figuring out where you fit in! Set in the Bronx, Rivera navigates a variety of multi-layered themes and delivers a compelling story about new beginnings featuring a cast of realistic characters who bring the story to life! Margot’s compelling character and the plot filled with meaningful messages makes this a YA Contemporary worth checking out if you have yet to read Lilliam Rivera’s books!

Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle Of Spirits by Anna Meriano Review

Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle Of Spirits by Anna Meriano (LSM #2)

Publisher: Walden Pond Press

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Pages: 309

Available Through The Book Depository: A Sprinkle Of Spirits

Cover Artist / Illustrator: Mirelle Ortega

Summary: Leonora Logroño has finally been introduced to her family’s bakery bruja magic—but that doesn’t mean everything is all sugar and spice. Her special power hasn’t shown up yet, her family still won’t let her perform her own spells, and they now act rude every time Caroline comes by to help Leo with her magic training.

She knows that the family magic should be kept secret, but Caroline is her best friend, and she’s been feeling lonely ever since her mom passed away. Why should Leo have to choose between being a good bruja and a good friend?

In the midst of her confusion, Leo wakes up one morning to a startling sight: her dead grandmother, standing in her room, looking as alive as she ever was. Both Leo and her abuela realize this might mean trouble—especially once they discover that Abuela isn’t the only person in town who has been pulled back to life from the other side.

Spirits are popping up all over town, causing all sorts of trouble! Is this Leo’s fault? And can she reverse the spell before it’s too late?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: A Sprinkle Of Spirits is the magical, utterly charming sequel in the Love Sugar Magic Series! When spirits begin showing up around town, Leo, her family, and friends work together to solve the mystery. Filled with sweetness, adventure, and inspiring messages, this is a heartfelt sequel!

It’s a new year and Leo’s been training more with her family now that the Logroño legacy of bruja magic is no longer kept secret. However, amidst her best friend Caroline’s return from Costa Rica, she’s now finding herself pulled in so many different directions. From her training, family’s expectations, experimenting with magic, and all while feeling like her sisters don’t trust her enough in her bruja skills, Leo is also given these rules about the importance magic and family. This leaves Leo struggling to choose between her family and friends, but also fulfilling her expectations as a bruja.

But at the end of the day, she doesn’t wanna have to pick between family and friends. However, another added pressure arrives when her abuela returns as a spirit and Leo thinks she’s the cause! Luckily with the help of family and friends, she gathers more clues leading her to learn more about the other spirits that crossed over and the consequences if they don’t find their way back!

It was so wonderful being able to return to the Amor y Azucar Panaderia in this sequel! I adore this magical world of Meriano’s series and I couldn’t wait to join Leo on another adventure. You can sense this stress and uncertainty Leo faces in having to make choices, but also with the help of her abuela she learns some solutions in balancing all these different parts of bruja life. Over the course of the story, Leo also further strengthens the dynamic with her sisters, who can be quite secretive and convinced that separating family from friends is what’s best for their magic.

At its core, this series is about family, friendship, and the magic of those relationships. Despite getting caught up in another magical mishap, Leo never falters to get help from those around her when it’s necessary. With Caroline also having lost her mother, this story is also about processing grief and healing as both Leo and Caroline are mending their friendship.

Leo is joined by her older sister Isabel and her Tia Paloma in their quest to not only find all the spirits that crossed over, but also learn how exactly it happened so they can be sent home.

I could literally sense all that pressure of all these different sides of Leo’s life as she’s trying to help the spirits, but despite that there’s this unwavering hope that everything will work out in the end.

The magic system is developed even more throughout this novel as we’re introduced to a new baking spell, Leo’s own magic, the magic of spirits, and all those different layers separating our world from the spirit world. As with the first novel, A Dash Of Trouble, I love how it emphasized the idea of opposites in creating a portal to send the spirits home, sort of like solving a puzzle. There’s also a focus on emotion and how they play a huge part in accessing magic.

Learning about El Otro Lado in relation to our world was developed in such an interesting way. This gave Leo the opportunity to ask questions, talk with her abuela, and learn more about what’s keeping the spirits wandering around Rose Hill. There’s also lots of traveling which makes for a fun adventure and along the way, Leo is learning more about finding that balance in her life.

Messages woven throughout this sequel are such a vital part of the narrative and were developed beautifully with each chapter: The importance of prioritizing all the different relationships in life and finding that balance, relying on those around to help when you need it, learning to accept & let go even when it’s difficult, and much more!

Something that I completely forgot was just how funny this series is? There’s lot lots of humor sprinkled among the cast and that just makes this equal parts magical and humorous. Many moments either from Leo or the other characters just left me smiling. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the series with A Mixture Of Mischief very soon.

A Sprinkle Of Spirits brings readers back to the magic of the Logroño family and a new spooky mystery that needs solving! With friendship, family, alongside humor and deep, meaningful messages of this novel make this such a great sequel!

My fellow book blogger shout out for today is Caro’s review for this delightful sequel! They focus on the impact of Leo’s journey throughout the story and delve into how that adds a new layer to the conversations being explored here, and overall I just love how this review was written. 🍪🕯

Ophiuchus by Ali Leriger De La Plante and Natasha Tara Petrović Review {Graphic Novel}

Ophiuchus by Alexis Leriger de la Plante and Natasha Tara Petrović

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: August 27, 2019

Pages: 144

Available Through The Book Depository: Ophiuchus

Summary: OPHIUCHUS follows the story of the lone sentry of an ancient, inactive gate, until one day, a strange being breaks through and infects her with a virus.

Shortly after, she is approached by two machines, who implore her to follow them to the center of the universe to put an end to the virus, a malevolent being which rots all worlds.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Ophiuchus is a stunningly illustrated graphic novel following a lonely sentry who joins two machines in brining an end to a strange virus infecting the worlds! Presenting a unique color palette and art style, among a page-turning story, this standalone blew me away!

On those rare occasions do you ever find yourself stumbling upon a sf/f read both unique and one-of-a-kind, you find yourself whisked away becoming familiar with this fascinating world only to wonder how it connects with you on some deep level you were never expecting? That’s what it felt like reading Ophiuchus with it’s vibrant colors of pinks, purples, and blues which at it’s heart is about friendship and fighting for a better world.

A lonely sentry guards her Gate among the Mountain Folk keeping it safe from all trespassers. However, when she gets infected with a virus that’s found it’s way through, she meets two other machines who are eager to stop this serpent-like creature that’s attacking and infecting worlds, plus those within them. Hesitant at first, she feels it’s rather reckless to leave her post, but after being convinced by Saggita, one of the machines, she doesn’t hesitate to learn more about what’s beyond.

It takes a leisurely pace despite how fast the story actually goes, but it gives much opportunity to examine the world in peculiar way that actually says quite a lot about the expansive universe as a whole. There’s an array of sub-units and models of machines, tradition, and culture that we barely scratch the surface of due to the virus known as Serpentis that’s infecting the galaxy and taking it away.

Though Saggita and Pyx are close friends at the start of the story, it isn’t until they meet Sentry that we see the distinct personality to each of them shine through as they travel to contain the virus. They build this beautiful friendship and although the story is contained within this single volume, I would not hesitate to buy 100’s more with even more of their adventures. Sentry is very much the awkward misfit in the beginning, but learns to take risks for her friends, especially as she learns she is inherently unaffected by the virus. Saggita is the serious, focused leader of the group whose life has really been impacted because of the serpent. Then there’s Pyx, he’s the quiet, loving, comedic one of the group who you can’t help but love. But all together, these 3 make a phenomenal team and you see their personality shine through even more during the tight-knit moments and even the dynamic action scenes, which are so well done!

What also makes this such a charming read is despite the dark undertones of the story, there’s a humor woven throughout that just adds more depth to who these characters are, I loved them! There’s a scene in particular that’s so memorable because it’s a surprisingly funny moment early on in the story where Sentry is getting ready to leave, says goodbye, and her fellow Mountain Folk never knew she could talk! It’s in those quiet moments that added even more depth to the story.

There’s even motifs that delve into Greek mythology if I’m not mistaken and seeing how it melds with this futuristic space setting was fascinating to see. After revisiting the book again on a reread, I can see how the mythological elements present this story as a sort of Epic, which so clever and made for an even more unique layer to the adventure.

Now the artwork which is utterly stunning, get ready to be wowed! I honestly feel like I could write an entire essay about the art alone. The color palette is composed of subtle pastels such as pink, purples, blues, but as you read further along you notice how they darken or lose saturation, which hints at the more serious moments of the story. There’s a clear focus on geometry throughout the various shapes of the architecture, characters, and scenery that give a gritty sci-fi look despite the mix of warm and cool colors. Where the geometric design stuck out to me, was when I noticed it especially as Saggita talked about the tradition involving a unique square-shaped flower with a neon color to it.

Overall it’s just done in such a unique style making it such a joy to see across each page! Visually stunning in every way. The paneling also varies across every moment of the story, bringing your attention to all these different parts that never fail to stand out.

If anything, I just wish there were more to this story! It ends on a mysterious, but hopeful note and I just was not ready to say goodbye to this delightful trio I was just getting to know. It feels like there a lot more that can be explored about this fascinating space-opera esque/fantasy world. I would literally read an entire series about the many adventures that Saggita, Pyx, and Sentry have (who does in fact have a name). They captured my entire heart even though I’ve met them in this single volume.

This is very much a distinct kind of story that may not meld with everyone, but I utterly adored it from the artwork to the journey and how everything came together, there’s a mysterious quality to this compact story, and with each page it captivated me.

Ophiuchus is a fast-paced science fiction graphic novel that’s about friendship and saving the world! Filled with mystery, a great cast of characters, and gorgeous artwork, it’s a wholly unique story. With humor, action, adventure, and much more, this is a fantastic read!

Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World Vol. 1 by Asaya Miyanaga {Manga Review}

Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World Volume 1 by Asaya Miyanaga (Nicola Traveling #1)

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 176

Available Through Book Depository & Bookshop: Nicola Traveling Around The Demons World Vol. 1

Summary: A World of Magic and Mischief!

Nicola never really felt like she fit in around other humans…so she came to the demons’ world instead! Together with her demon friend Simon, Nicola travels far and wide, meeting many monsters along the way. With Nicola, every day on the road is a new adventure!

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Nicola Traveling Around The Demons’ World is a charming, whimsical manga series that evokes the feeling of delightful fairytale. Nicola is a young girl who’s embarking on adventures throughout a strange magical world alongside her demon friend and guide. Miyanaga’s series delivers fun adventures, a magical world with so much heart, clever humor, and is entertaining start to finish!

With an expanse of cities and locations across the Demon World, little Nicola travels with her demon friend Simon where they meet new creatures, find adventure wherever they go, and try to avoid trouble if they can help it!

From it’s opening pages, I knew Nicola would be a fantastic start to my reading year of 2021! Told through a series of episodic chapters, each one takes the reader across various locales of the Demon world. From the threads of humor, varying cast of characters, fairytale-esque art style, and underlying yearn for adventure, this title pitched as one for all ages, is a manga that not only younger readers, but also adults will find absolute whimsy in.

The story begins in the bustling city of Klimburg, where human girl Nicola is accompanied by her demon friend / traveling merchant named Simon. While evading guards for discovering Nicola’s “other-worldly”-ness as a human, they race towards another part of town, leading them to the welcoming Black Bazaar (an underground shopping district) to wait out the guards. During their stay, we learn more about the banter and comedic dynamic the two have, which makes this series a true comedic gem!

From the situational humor, fast-paced jokes, and just underlying threads of comedy that reminds me very much of Spy X Family in a way, the wacky situations Simon and Nicola get into make for an utterly entertaining read.

The episodic nature of this series, especially as a fantasy, allows for the expansive world to build in chunks that the reader can connect to previous chapters and yet also not feel bogged down by a longer running plot. The result is a harmonious blend of magic, whimsy, and humor that transports you. Along the way, this first volumes complies messages of friendship, facing the unknown with a laugh or two, and allowing yourself to find whimsy in the world!

In regards to worldbuilding, there’s various cities and locales that show how expansive the Demon world really is. There’s a tavern, a Count’s mansion, whimsical mushroom forest, mysterious hotel, and a bustling district! A sense of wonder follows you through each chapter as Nicola and Simon encounter magic, new creatures, and get lost in whatever adventure they embark on next.

The demon world upon first hearing can sound like a scary place, but Nicola creates a heartfelt, cozy atmosphere where our young protagonist is making herself more at home with each new chapter.

We also get glimpses into Nicola’s past, her grandmother, and the magic her family had as witches in our world. Although I’m very interested in knowing more, the author gives you just enough to see how it plays an important part in this first volume to establish Nicola’s own magical abilities.

One of my favorite chapters because of how it delved into worldbuilding while not feeling too info-dumpy was chapter two: “Hanging Out At The Tavern.” The Poisson Tavern, an oasis for travelers, becomes the setting for a fun competition between Simon and Nicola when he tells her more about the different species of demons. It not only gave a lot of detail about the different kinds of demons, offering more background, but it also served as another comedic look into their dynamic.

Another chapter that presented more of the particular folklore of the setting was chapter four when the duo treks to a quiet forest in search of a rare mushroom. There’s also “After The Visit” chapters giving nice insight into the characters that Nicola and Simon meet once they’ve moved on to a new place.

What also makes this series a stand-out in the fantasy space are the creative monsters and species it’s established, I loved that attention to detail making the world feel much more unique. There’s the gaboorian, fluff monster, and popay species, they each have their own distinct looks as some of the humanoid creatures of the demon world.

As for artwork, to start the use of brown ink instead of the traditional black just further elevates the whimsical and magical quality of this series. Paying more attention to the paneling, the compact and tight use of the panels gives a personal feel to the setting and cast. There’s a rough inky, scratched line detail to the art allowing it to evoke the idea of having that beloved fairytale quality.

Although very brief, the only reason I’m giving this 4 stars is that I personally felt there could have been just a tiny bit more detail for the setting. There’s lots of information introduced here and although that’s mainly due to it’s episodic nature, I would have loved to get more insight into the surrounding areas or particular section of the demon world to get a better scope of how expansive it is. However despite that, this was a such a great start to a new series.

With the variety of mangas out there, I believe this one is pretty underrated. It’s the kind of series that leaves you with a sense of wonder the moment your thrust into the very page! The clever blend of humor and fantasy makes this a series worth checking out, I’m eager to continue and see where our comedic duo heads to next.

Nicola Traveling Around The Demon’s World Vol. 1 spins a delightful comedic, fantasy adventure following the adventures of girl and a demon merchant, who happens to be her friend and guide! An utterly immersive start to magical series. For those who enjoy magical adventures packed with humor and whimsy, don’t miss this series!