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!

The Sprite And The Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt Review {Graphic Novel}

The Sprite And The Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt

Publisher: Oni Press

Release Date: May 11, 2021

Pages: 88

Artist & Writer: Rii Abrego & Joe Whitt (Writer)

Available through Bookshop

Summary: Long, long ago, sprites were the caretakers of gardens. Every flower was grown by their hand. But when humans appeared and began growing their own gardens, the sprites’ magical talents soon became a thing of the past. When Wisteria, an ambitious, kind-hearted sprite, starts to ask questions about the way things used to be, she’ll begin to unearth her long-lost talent of gardening. But her newly honed skills might not be the welcome surprise she intends them to be. 

[Requested a review copy via the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Sprite And The Gardener is a “gentle fantasy” graphic novel that follows a kind-hearted sprite named Wisteria who rediscovers gardening and befriends a young girl as she continues to pursue this long-lost art! The unique artwork carries this quiet, slower paced atmospheric story through its whimsy and its latter focus on community!

Every single page of this story is filled with detailed artwork that gives it a life-like, but also very whimsical quality. The gentleness is further implied through the lighter, pastel color palette of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and so on. Throughout this graphic novel you’ll notice how it utilizes floral imagery that’s aesthetically beautiful to look at, whether its a withering garden, a peach tree with petals, a small patch of flowers, grasses, or a garden that’s yet to bloom.

Wisteria is new to Sylvan Trace and like many who settle in a strange, unfamiliar place, is struggling to connect with her fellow sprites, feeling unsure how to form a connection. Then its through her curious nature that she discovers a withering garden belonging to a girl named Elena. Tapping into the lost art, she secretly helps by using her floral magic to let the garden grow & thrive. But will she find the confidence to share her secret with the laid-back sprites?

There’s quite a bit of lore that gets introduced early on, establishing how sprites were once responsible as the sole caretakers of all flora, but now that humans tend to their own gardens, the art slowly went away. However, the sprites still mange to inhabit towns and cities. I liked how the novel explores the idea that while sprites that secluded in their own little oasis, they still find interest in foraging or visiting places where humans live.

The gentle quality of the story allows the foundational message of teamwork to come through, slowly throughout the story as Wisteria helps Elena tend to her garden. Couple alongside the slow pace and use of minimal action, its also expressing the heartfelt importance of friendship and beauty of restoring lost art through teamwork!

While the artwork does carry the story, it can feel like the plot itself is filled with this air of mystery and not enough clarity to make it seem fully cohesive. There’s a lot of wonderful elements introduced here no doubt, but its not developed enough where for me, it felt satisfying by the end. Side characters, while beautifully illustrated to present the floral motifs, don’t feel fleshed out enough into Wisteria’s story and the lore of the sprites honestly left me with questions out of pure curiosity: If the sprites are no longer needed what do they do in a typical day & how do they utilize their “mysterious, wondrous magic”? Where did Wisteria come from previously and what led to her softspoken, curious nature?

The worldbuilding is expanded on in a few ways by establishing on the first few pages how the sprites became important to humans, the general atmosphere of the story, and seeing the different backgrounds + locations that the sprites visit. Another interesting piece of info that lends itself to speculate the future of the world, is hearing the Sprites dream jobs if they were to work with plants again! Overall, I do like the whimsical, charming quality to the world.

Artwork is just so beautiful from the style to the colors, I also enjoyed the paneling which makes the world feel really big. The paneling gives it a “manga-esque” quality to where the panel boxes aren’t all the same, there’s a good variety and I like how certain panels layer onto the background settings, making everything come to life more. However that shouldn’t be too surprising because artist Rii was inspired by her love of shojo manga.

I think the story absolutely offers lots of interesting elements here, but to me it felt like it lacked because it only ended up presenting a more “bigger picture” kind of story, instead of further developing all the different layers it introduced. That coupled with the fact that the book did feel quite short, there could have been just a bit more development.

But, I definitely recommend this if you enjoyed ‘The Tea Dragon Society’ and are looking for another quiet, slower paced fantasy story.

The Sprite & The Gardener is a wonderfully illustrated graphic novel that tells a story of of friendship and teamwork! Despite selective exploration of this unique world, the well-utilized floral artwork, inspiring messages and charming storytelling, make this a pleasant slice of life fantasy read!

Donut Feed The Squirrels by Mika Song Review {Graphic Novel}

Donut Feed The Squirrels by Mika Song (Norma & Belly #1)

Publisher: Random House Graphic

Release Date: September 29, 2020

Pages: 112

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Summary: Norma and Belly plan to start the day with some pancakes, but when Norma accidentally burns them, these two best friends set out to find a new treat. Chestnuts might be nice . . . but what is that delicious smell in the distance? A new food truck has parked near their tree, and these two squirrels are going to figure out how to get their hands on these “donuts” that it seems to be selling.

Mika Song gives readers something to laugh at as these squirrels try their hardest to get some donuts while just about everything goes wrong. A fun “donut caper” graphic novel that focuses on madcap action, problem-solving, and the power of working together. 

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

Once finishing Donut Feed The Squirrels I knew this would be a kind of joyful comfort read I would absolutely love to revisit again in the future! Song’s graphic novel is an incredibly charming, cute, and hilarious read about two squirrels who plan a heist to get themselves some delicious donuts. This is probably one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while, its very sweet!

While what first drew me to this story originally was the watercolor artwork, little did I know that going into this with the least knowledge as possible, would make this such a delightful and special reading experience.

Norma and Belly are two squirrels who live together in the park going about their average day! But, when a pancake breakfast doesn’t go as planned they set their sights on some delicious donuts from a food truck instead. However, the problem is that a cranky donut seller is keeping them away. So the only option? Plan a HEIST of course! With the help of a couple of squirrels called Gramps and Little Bee they plan the donut heist of the century (with only 8 minutes).

From seeing their first interaction after the breakfast in ruins, to seeing the girls cook up a plan to try the delicious donuts (with teamwork of course), I knew each scene would be filled with mayhem and laughs from one page to the next. There’s not one moment where you won’t be left with a smile on your face reading about this squirrel duo planning an epic, delicious heist!

Well, the humor woven throughout this is really my kind of humor! Its situational, witty, also just written in a clever way that makes it incredibly fun to read (for example): When they turn into floofs after their first attempt at getting donuts, Norma thinking that Belly turned into a donut herself, and lots more little moments!

There’s a soft, graceful art style that shines through the natural color palette of greens, browns, etc. What adds another layer to the soft, comforting quality of this story is through the vivid ink, watercolor, and sumi brush tools used in the artwork. Visually and aesthetically its wonderful to look at.

Probably leaving this at 4.5 stars although the reading experience is an absolute 5! I think all I wanted was just a bit more from this first installment because its truly so much fun and also very CUTE? Loved the dynamics between the characters, the humor especially, and seeing the quirky story come to life through the art style. This book truly was EVERYTHING I needed right now, I adored it so much!

Random House Graphic is probably one of my new favorite graphic novel imprints right now, they’ve released such amazing titles that have become some memorable reads for me such as Séance Tea Party and Suncatcher, I’m beyond thrilled to have finally read this wacky, humorous squirrel tale too!

Donut Feed The Squirrels is an incredibly cute and hilarious graphic novel about squirrels planning a sweet donut heist! The artwork, humor, and storytelling all blend perfectly together, leaving readers eager to read the next Norma and Belly adventure!

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!

Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee Review {Graphic Novel}

Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

Publisher: Random House Graphic

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Pages: 272

Available Through The Book Depository or Bookshop

Summary: Lora doesn’t want to grow up! Afraid that she is the magic of her childhood, Lora will do anything to stop it . . . including befriending Alexa, the ghost who haunts her house. A middle-grade graphic novel that focuses growing up and what that means for you and all the relationships you have in your life. This book is perfect for fans of Ghosts and Making Friends.

Growing up sounds terrible.

No one has time to do anything fun, or play outside, or use their imagination. Everything is suddenly so serious. People are more interested in their looks and what others think about them than having fun adventures. Who wants that?

Not Lora.

After watching her circle of friends seemingly fade away, Lora is determined to still have fun on her own. A tea party with a twist lease Lora to discovering Alex, the ghost that haunts her house — and Lora’s old imaginary friend! Lora and Alexa are thrilled to meet kindred spirits and they become best friends . . . but unfortunately, not everything can last forever.

My Rating:  ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Séance Tea Party is charming graphic novel debut that examines the fears and anxiety through a coming-of-age narrative that embraces the wonder of childhood nostalgia! When Lora meets a friendly ghost named Alexa, they both embark on their own introspective journeys that focus on friendship, growing up, and lots more! A heartwarming and cozy read for the spooky season!

Although this graphic novel is like a soft, comforting hug during the chilly autumn season, it still left me a sobbing mess. I’ve followed Yee’s art for years and am just so delighted to have finally read one of her books.

The story follows Lora Xi, a 12-year old middle schooler, who finds joy in using her imagination and is fascinated in all things related to the paranormal/supernatural, like Big Foot, ghost stories, etc. However, as the months pass she begins to feel like the classmates and friends she’d always hung out with, are leaving her behind.

Then after holding a séance, she summons a ghost named Alexa and they immediately become best friends! As she continues to find that joy and delight of imagination, she learns to embrace it and accept herself as she is, despite the fears she has of growing up.

Yee absolutely captured the intense and complicated feelings that comes with loneliness, pains of growing up, identity, and anxiety. There’s so much truth portrayed across the various themes that Yee presents and is summed up perfectly with this line when Lora (joined by Alexa) visits an old friend named Sunni: “Topics change so fast every day and…I fall behind. I stop talking…” and “I’m scared of growing up…I’m not ready to let go of all the things that make me happy…” (49, 100-101).

Their many adventures continue which include meaningful talks, visits to forest hillsides, bike rides, and more. Lora slowly begins to reconnect more with her peers and both girls begin to spend time apart. During that however, Alexa does some soul-searching of her own. As it turns out, Alexa lived in the same city of Oaksfield about 50 years prior and while she doesn’t remember much, she realizes its time for a change.

Alexa and Lora’s friendship is without a doubt, the cutest?! 🥰💞 I adored reading all of their adventures together and just the joy they share with the help f imagination and a bit of supernatural magic!

The artwork is absolutely charming! I’ve follows Yee’s work for a while now and am in awe of her unique style, so I’m happy to have finally read one of her books. The colors evoke the coziness of fall with the warm color palette, it’s especially more clear just how lush the artwork is with the full page spreads. Another unique addition is the border which throughout most pages, includes little magical creatures or designs that fit the scene. The little animals also interact with the panels which is also very cute, just adding to the charming and magical vibes.

Adding onto the art, the paneling is also fantastic, you never feel like the story is moving too fast, but while it does take time through the middle, I think that’s what also allows for the beautiful messages to come through even more. You also sense the important themes throughout both of Lora and Alexa’s stories.

As for my rating, although I whole-heartedly recommend this graphic novel if your looking for a beautiful moving tale, I think it currently sits at 4 stars. I suppose my only critique is that more page time with Alexa and Lora together would have been great. As Lora gains more confidence, you still want to see them hang out and everything, despite their unsaid agreement to find their own ways. Another plus of this story though, truly is the pacing, there’s a charm in the slowness to it, as though this magical story can go on forever, which I loved!

Honestly, this graphic novel speaks to the edge between childhood and growing up, but also beautifully showcases the joy of this nostalgia, imagination, and embracing things that make you who you are, no matter your age. You’ll love how heartwarming it is however it may also make you SOB!! Like…Yee really didn’t have to make me cry at 10pm with that ending, but she did! I would absolutely love to see more stories with these characters and world if that’s ever a possibility!! 😭🧡

Séance Tea Party is a fantastic middle-grade tale you don’t want to miss! Yee’s cozy art style and masterful storytelling navigates growing up, the wonders of childhood, and the trials of finding your own path! Weaving together the magical and paranormal adds to the comforting and spooky charm that makes Lora and Alexa’s adventure so delightful. This wondrous graphic novel is a MUST READ! Highly recommend it! ❤🍂

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! ☕🐉💗

City Of Secrets by Victoria Ying Review {Graphic Novel}

City Of Secrets: Secret Of The Switchboard by Victoria Ying

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Release Date: July 28, 2020

Pages: 256

Available Through Bookshop and The Book Depository

Summary: Ever Barnes is a shy orphan guarding a secret in an amazing puzzle box of a building.

Most of the young women who work at the building’s Switchboard Operating Facility, which connects the whole city of Oskar, look the other way as Ever roams around in the shadows. But one of them, Lisa, keeps an eye on the boy. So does the head of the Switchboard, Madame Alexander . . . a rather sharp eye.

Enter Hannah, the spunky daughter of the building’s owner. She thinks Ever needs a friend, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Good thing she does!

Lisa and Madame Alexander are each clearly up to something.

Ever is beset by a menacing band of rogues looking to unlock the secret he holds–at any cost. And whatever is hidden deep in the Switchboard building will determine all of their futures.

On a journey that twists and turns as much as the mechanical building Ever Barnes calls home, he and his new friend Hannah have to – and out what’s really going on in this mysterious city of secrets . . . or else!

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: City Of Secrets is a wondrous graphic novel set in an immersive steampunk world! The story follows a shy orphan and upper-class girl who embark on an adventure to uncover the secrets of a notable facility! Colorful, cinematic artwork, alongside friendship, adventure, and a page-turning story bring this graphic novel to life!

What first drew me to City Of Secrets was the magnificent artwork! Ying’s unique style brings a depth and immersion to the steampunk city of Oskar that enthralls you with each panel. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the author expands on the world, story, and cast of characters after the amount explored in this first installment!

From the very first page, the artwork transports you to this fascinating steampunk world and more importantly, the renowned Switchboard Operating Facility where many young women work, run by the strict Madame Alexander. Ever Barnes, an orphan who lives in the shadows of this building, remains quite elusive to many, but a worker by the name of Lisa helps him out by leaving food.

Ever not only manages levers and mechanisms behind the scenes, but also protects a mysterious safe hidden within the buildings depths. Hannah Morgan, the daughter of the building’s owner, is prone to adventure! Right away she’s fascinated by the intriguing building and learning more about Ever!

Though Ever’s hesitant at first, the two slowly build a lovely friendship. One of my many favorite parts about this book was seeing how it develops over the course of the story.

When we uncover secrets about Ever’s past, including his father and what led him to look after the facility, the story introduces a mysterious guild of assassins who’re not only trying to get rid of Ever, but also uncover the building’s secrets!

What follows is a plot steeped in mystery, conspiracy, and your left shrouded in uncertainty as to what could possible be inside the facility’s safe!

The cast of characters in this graphic novel were all so great! You sense that pain and loneliness Ever feels after the death of his father, mixed with knowing he really has no other option, but to follow his father’s footsteps and protect the switchboard’s secrets at any cost, despite the danger he faces at countless moments.

Hannah’s spunky and curious nature inspires her to figure out who Ever is and learn more about the switchboard building! Despite her mother’s insistence she not ignore her lady-like responsibilities, Hannah never lets anything get in the way of her exploration and sense of adventure!

The world building in City Of Secrets feels expansive, entrenched in politics, intrigue and wonder! The city of Oskar is wavering on the edge of war with neighboring city of Edmonda. Although its very much an underlying plot point, the way Ying builds the layers to that particular storyline is very interesting and I’m interested in seeing more of what’ll happen with these cities and our main cast in the next book! The city is divided by levels all powered by mechanisms, gears, and all those little details really make the steampunk elements such a vital part of the world!

Now for the artwork– where to begin? Its magnificent and almost cinematic with how quickly the pages fly by! The use of warm, almost a cozy fall color palette bring a sense of wonder as you immerse yourself in this elaborate steampunk setting! The backgrounds, character designs, facial expressions, and overall atmosphere make it feel like your reading an animated film! Although for me at points it did feel like the paneling cut a bit too quickly between scenes (because there’s a lot of action), each page was a work of art. Ying’s style brings a lively and captivating energy to the story and it will not disappoint!

This is just such a fun story that layers in the theme of friendship, conspiracy, and above all ADVENTURE! If you like ensemble casts, this is a perfect read because there’s always something new your learning about these characters. There’s a nice mix of political intrigue, some dark moments, but overall it has such a light-hearted feel to it that you will sense that uplifting, comforting, adventurous spirit!

My only issues which made me lean towards 4 stars, although this graphic novel is easily one of my new favorites, was the rushed pacing of this story despite it being over 200 pages. Particular scenes or panels would transition swiftly and there were moments I had to reread it to double check what had happened. But again, that’s also its strength because at every moment you just want to keep reading to know where the story’s headed. I also feel like for me personally, the ending kind of caught me off guard because it was rather rushed. While I definitely love the unique way Ying builds towards it and wraps everything up, it felt like it was just a very sudden twist!

However, I will say the more I let the wonder of this book simmer, I really do appreciate the surprises at the end. While the ending is kind of abrupt and rushes with those last 30-ish pages, overall I’m happy with how nicely plot threads wrap up! (I also feel like the more I reflect on this book, my rating will probably increase in the future).

The sequel is definitely going onto my TBR because this book was just so magical and whimsical! The story really connected with me and I adored the sense of adventure + very wholesome friendship between Ever and Hannah! I loved their dynamic a lot and can’t wait to see where their next adventure is headed! 💖🗝✨

City Of Secrets is an absolutely charming graphic novel set in an immersive steampunk world! As Ever and Hannah team up to solve a conspiracy, they embark on an adventure of epic proportions! The enchanting art and story, fuses with intrigue, even mystery to deliver a delightful read start to finish! You’ll adore Ying’s cast of characters, unique story, and world, eager to see what’s next!

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.

Suncatcher by José Pimienta Review {Graphic Novel}

Suncatcher by José PimientaSuncatcher by José Pimienta

Publisher: Random House Graphic

Release Date: May 19, 2020

Pages: 224

Available Through The Book Depository: Suncatcher

Summary: Beatriz must create the perfect song in order to free her grandfather’s soul . . . but what will be the cost?

If life wasn’t already hard enough for Beatriz — being a teenager, trying to start a band, and going to school — then she discovers that her grandfather’s soul has been trapped in an old guitar, and that the only way to free him is to play the perfect song . . . his perfect song, a song that he never actually wrote down. She’s determined to save her grandfather, but as music slowly takes over her life, she soon finds herself growing obsessed with his song, and making it absolutely flawless, at the expense of her friendships, her band, and her health.

Beatriz won’t let anything stop her, not even her own limitations. Creating a magical song is already a lot of pressure, but Beatriz will have to make some hard choices before it’s too late for her grandfather . . . and for herself.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Suncatcher is a standalone graphic novel about music, family, and striving for perfection! Set during the 90’s and early 2000’s in Mexicali, Beatriz makes a promise to her grandfather to complete his perfect song! 

Though I have yet to read more Random House Graphic books, their lineup has looked fantastic and I’m glad to have finally picked my first book from their imprint. This graphic novel not only features great artwork, but explores beautiful themes from music to family.

Beatriz’s love for music came from her grandfather, Tata Mario. They had a powerful bond and Tata Mario allowed her to discover her passion. However, when he passes some of his final words still haunt her: “That melody is a killer.”

As she’s still processing her grief and his loss, it felt like a piece of her heart had been taken, replaced with a feeling of emptiness.

One day she finds an old guitar in her family’s attic and realizes her dear grandfather’s returned in an unlikely way, his soul is trapped inside. The only way to set him free is for Beatriz to finish his “perfect song.”

Determined to help her grandfather in any way she can, Beatriz decides to join a band that’ll be a good fit for her and her music. As she finds her perfect band, filled with classmates and mutual friends: Ed, Diana, and Fausto, she’s sure that the melody won’t be too far.

But, as Beatriz becomes consumed with finishing and perfecting the song at any moment inspiration strikes, she doesn’t realize how far she’s sinking in order to help her grandfather. At the expense of her health, even missing the day-to-day right in front of her, we see how Beatriz’s goal is impacting her friends and the band.

The plot is packed with so much to explore, from Beatriz’s obsession with the song, the band’s origins to their many gigs, exploring the different group dynamics, and learning more about Tata Mario’s past.

While brief, I loved the pages that gave us background into Tata Mario’s past to learn more about how music impacted his life and the legacy Beatriz can carry on. I also loved the exploration of friendship with Beatriz, Diana, and Ed ― their friendship was pretty instantaneous and their dynamic was fun to read about. Which juxtaposed her dynamic with newcomer Abel, as she was trying to play her grandfather’s perfect song with the band, trying not to include his lyrics.

Throughout the entirety of this graphic novel, you get the unwavering strength of family and how powerful that bond is through Beatriz and her grandfather. Its such an important part of Latine/Latinx culture and Pimienta made it a vital and underlying theme of the story. The Mexicali culture is also woven into the story as seen through the colorful backgrounds, architecture, and Mexicali music scene/references.

When it comes to the plot, there are occasional time jumps and flashbacks, but they are all woven together with such care that unlock new layers to the intriguing contemporary-paranormal story with each page!

I’m no expert on art styles, but it appears to have detailed and unique fine tip linework on every panel. Character designs are all varied and diverse, as are the backgrounds which are layered with a unique range of muted colors from purple, yellow, and orange to name a few. The colors and artwork offer such striking visuals to further emphasize the magic of music.

My only critique is that because the narrative really is about Beatriz and her goal, some plot points of her with the band seem more slow-paced and at moments it was difficult to fully immerse myself in those parts of the story, but overall I loved how the band evolved with each new session. I also appreciated how the 2 stories really weave together near the end.

Sunctcatcher is a detailed graphic novel that captures the spirit of music and the sacrifices artists make for their work! From its rich color palette, art style, introspective storytelling, and impactful themes, this is a fantastic graphic novel debut. Suncatcher is a musically-fueled tale about the sacrifices we make for family!

The Avant Guards Vol. 2 by Carly Usdin Review {Graphic Novel}

The Avant Guards Vol. 2The Avant-Guards Vol. 2 by Carly Usdin (writer), Noah Hayes (artist), Rebecca Nalty (colorist) & Ed Dukeshrire (Letterer)

Publisher: Boom! Box (Boom Studios)

Release Date: February 18, 2020

Pages: 112

Available Through The Book Depository: The Avant-Guards Vol. 2

Summary: The Avant-Guards have been on a roll when it come to their newly-formed basketball league and Charlie has been getting more comfortable with her new teammates, but when they hit the end of their winning-streak, will these new friendships survive? As the Avant-Guards struggle to move forward, they’ll soon learn just what it means to truly be a team― on the court, and most importantly, off the court too.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Avant-Guards Vol. 2 is phenomenal continuation to a female-led sports series that at its core, is about friendship! This volume delves more into the team and their lives off the court as the season continues! The series art is colorful, features a great cast of characters and a page-turning story!

Although I don’t talk about it much on my blog, The Avant-Guards is easily one of my favorite graphic novel series (tied up there with Sera and Tea Dragon Society). I fell completely in love with Vol. 1 last year and there was no surprise I’d be continuing with the series.

As Charlie has become more comfortable with the team, found her loyal group of friends, also navigating her relationship with Liv, this volume very much focuses on the rest of the team and what they’re up to when not on the court.

While there are many things I love about this series, it’s very clear how much care is given to our delightful cast from Jay to Ashley, Nicole, Tiffany, Liv, and Charlie. No matter how much page time they have, their personalities shine through in every moment.

As the team continues their season at away games, you learn even more about their hobbies and them as a whole while they aren’t practicing. Jay has their art, Ashley has been recovering from an injury and we see its keeping her from playing a game she loves. There’s a joy she feels from coaching the team despite missing the game and her budding relationship with her physical therapist.

We learn there’s more to “cynic” Nicole and resident witch Tiffany too!

What makes this such a fantastic sequel is because not only are the girls loyal and passionate about what they love, but the series itself realizes this too! With each page you see the love and appreciation for these phenomenal characters! Each of these women have their own quirks, personalities, and energy that shines whenever their on the page.

There’s specific plot points/arcs in this volume that allow the cast to shine: Jay’s art exhibit, Ashley’s birthday, the film fest night for Liv, even when we learn more about Tiffany and her family! Even though Charlie is more in the background during this volume, I adored getting the cute moments between her and Liv!

But what stands out the most across both volumes so far is how Charlie, Liv, Jay, Ashley, Tiffany, and Nicole are there for each other, to lift each other up always! Their dedication to friendship and teamwork always fills me with so much joy and is just inspiring! I cannot pick a favorite character, I LOVE them all ♥♥

I can’t wait to see how the team dynamic/friendship develops across the rest of The Avant-Guards series! Some of my favorite moments include their practice and when their hanging out together, like at Jay’s art exhibit.

This second volume also delves into an underlying and subtle conflict, where their league is struggling financially. While it weaves into the story in a quiet sort of way, I liked how this obstacle further emphasized their dedication towards teamwork and finding a way to solve the issue!

The writing is really good, it delivers great dialogue and helps to build the development of our main cast! With this installment focusing more on the other teammates, one detail that just adds more to the already wonderful cast is the internal 1st -person dialogue bubbles that tells us a bit more about how the ladies are feeling at a particular moment. Although its brief, it shows us how these characters perceive themselves in ways we probably didn’t expect.

As with Volume 1 also, the panel and art continue to be a highlight of the series! The colors are bright and eye-catching, making the series an absolute visual delight! Paneling is also metaphorical in a way, limiting the use of full or large panels for impactful moments or action-packed scenes during the games, another example of this would be the final panel during Jay’s art exhibit with their partner Tyler.

The bright colors and dynamic art style showcase the fun, lighthearted ton of the series.

The emphasis on small, overlapping, tighter-fitting panels also leaves tons of room for seeing more of the characters, setting, and visuals! The paneling also emphasizes the action, movement, and expressiveness of both characters + scenes.

One example of this where it was cleverly drawn was: When Jay & Ashley are passing out flyers, even the full page spread of Jay and Tyler looking at a painting together. There was also a moment in Ch.6 where the paneling brilliantly was presented in the shape of a basket to emphasize the action! (It mirrored a similar scene in Vol. 1 where there were panels shaped in the form of a basketball). Overall, the way the panels are presented in this series is phenomenal!

Friendship continues to be a hallmark of the series and no matter what, the Avant-Guards always come together to support each other in different ways! The series also continues to feature characters of color and Queer women, and just continues to be a diverse/inclusive series! For ex. we get introduced to Jay’s partner Tyler (who also goes by they/them).

My only issue with this volume is that I wanted more page & plot time with these characters, because the last page does leave the ending somewhat abrupt leading into Vol. 3. It just felt like there needed to be MORE whether it was more Liv/Charlie moments, Tiffany/Nicole bonding, or just the team hanging out. The story is just so wholesome and they deserve the world!!

The Avant-Guards Vol. 2 is a fantastic sequel to a series that can only continue to get better and better! Its a series dedicated to its characters and focuses on friendship, centering around a college basketball team! The colorful artwork, wonderfully diverse cast, and immersive story makes The Avant-Guards one of the best sports series out there!