Skip by Molly Mendoza Review {Graphic Novel}

Skip by Molly MendozaSkip by Molly Mendoza

Publisher: Nobrow Ltd.

Release Date: July 23, 2019

Pages: 168

Available Through The Book Depository: SKIP

Summary: A colorful, unpredictable postapocalyptic world comes alive in Skip, when two unlikely friends, Bloom and Gloopy, find themselves tossed from dimension to dimension. Gloopy is running toward adventure, and away from their home and friends who don’t understand their creative talent. Bloom is desperately trying to return home to their lake, and avoid the terrible violence of the city. Instead, both Bloom and Gloopy find what they need in each other, and bravely return home to challenge their fears and create beauty in their own worlds.

As Bloom and Gloopy skip through dimensions and encounter weeping giants, alligator islands, and a topsy turvy 2D world, they find comfort in each other and learn that sometimes, your greatest fear reveals where your strengths lie. 

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: Skip is an absolute gem and a graphic novel that should be on your to-read list! The art is enchanting, a captivating rainbow of color!  Its a deeply moving tale about 2 unlikely friends whose dimensions cross and now they must travel across countless dimensions to find their way home! Skip by Molly Mendoza is an absolute masterpiece!

I’d had this beautiful graphic novel on my TBR for months, ever since I first discovered it through LatinxInPublishing during its release day! I hadn’t yet read a graphic novel by a Latina illustrator/author and I’m absolutely thrilled that SKIP was the first!

In this mysterious, postapocalyptic world the journey starts with Bloom, a young kid who lives with their guardian Bee! The two always head out to lake to go fishing and go about their daily lives peacefully, however Bloom can’t help but be curious about the cities on the other side of the lake.

Through stunning art and beautifully crafted writing, you get instantly transported to a world that is wholly familiar, yet still unrecognizable.

The society (across the lake) seems to be teeming with tech-hounds, there’s even innocent people being chased by these technologically advanced creatures, and all other forms of communication (aside from radio) seems to have vanished.

Bee decides they’ll investigate and leaves Bloom in charge of looking after the lake. However, Bee leaves an important treasure for Bloom: a black stone necklace.

Bloom tends to things as best as possible, but there’s an emptiness where Bee’s presence should be. As Bloom skips some stones across the lake, they uncover a swirl of color that’s actually a portal–taking them to another dimension!

On this other side we meet Gloopy and their world seems to filled with unique creatures inspired by nature. Their the oddball in their world and no matter how they try, their creative spirit just doesn’t gel with other friends and townsfolk. This quickly leads to Gloopy messing some things up for The Great Harvest. As Gloopy tries to make time to reflect, Bloom appears in a field within Gloopy’s world.

The two investigate as to how Bloom got there and find themselves quickly sucked into a vibrant world of color, which leads across hundreds, possibly thousands of dimensions!

Friendship is an important layer to this story not only as Bloom & Gloopy learn more about each other, but also how it tests their connection to one another as they try to find their way back home. Gloopy is the optimistic and curious one of the group and I loved seeing their dynamic with Bloom change and grow throughout the novel! Their friendship is the sweetest ❤❤

There’s such a beauty in the portrayal of emotion from fear to sadness, joy, melancholy and through Mendoza’s surrealist-style art, its given such attention and gravity to the story! Its really brought into focus and as the plot progresses you see that its such an intrinsic part to our characters journey and the world itself.

There’s an important symbol of mirrors and reflection throughout this novel and it beautifully captures that journey through the emotional depth and story of our main characters, including those they meet. 2 sections highlighted that reflection very well, their introductions and later towards the end (If you’ve read it you know what I mean) 😭💖

What comes through in the art from very first page at Bloom & Bee’s lake (& in Gloopy’s nature-filled world) is a distinct sense of place and such a feeling of realness from the gusts of wind to a splash of water in a lake!

The art continues to capture you with each and every panel. It delivers weight, emotion, and perception, which you can see beautifully through the pauses and details, mainly through the hands and eyes.

Another brilliant element to the art that I only noticed upon writing my review, was the variety of colors used when we’re first introduced to our main characters, to later the distinct color palette we’re guided along as Bloom & Gloopy travel throughout the dimensions.

One that really stuck out to me was this distinct blue world that had a technological side to it and used a pastel, dark blue & green color palette. This world really focused on Gloopy’s internal reflection and the development was explored beautifully through the colors.

Each world though they may seem disconnected due to the distinct creativity of each, there’s a common thread that links them all. Its the tools they offer to Bloom & Gloopy to continue with the challenges they face ahead. Another important element is how they both manage to shape and inspire those they run into in each dimension.

“I have been so lonely…so afraid. I would have never left the tower if not for you…” (96).

I also wanted to mention the representation within this novel! There’s brown-skinned main characters, 3 characters (our main characters included) use They/Them pronouns: Bloom, Bee & Gloopy! Also, this was just from my personal interpretation, but I personally read the human characters to be Latinx as well!

Skip is not just a story of emotion and reflection, its also exploring what it means to find or reach home!

I could gush about this graphic novel all day! So, if my review hasn’t convinced you yet, then let me just say PLEASE read this gem! Its beautiful, heartwarming, moving and just captivated me in so many ways! If you love emotionally-driven and impactful storytelling, surrealist + vibrant art, and a journey of friendship this should be on your to-read list!

Skip is a captivating graphic novel! Beautiful in every way from its storytelling, art, characters, their journeys, and underlying themes, this is a wonderful tale not to miss! This fantastical story is a journey unlike any other, its emotionally-driven, deeply moving and enchanting! Molly Mendoza’s Skip is not a graphic novel to miss!

Flying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro Ishizuka {Manga Review}

Flying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro IshizukaFlying Witch Vol. 2 by Chihiro Ishizuka & Melissa Tanaka (Translator) (Flying Witch Series)

Publisher: Vertical Comics

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Pages: 160

Available Through The Book Depository: Flying Witch Volume 2

Summary: Makoto goes to a local cherry blossom festival and happens to encounter someone who has a bone to pick with her sister, Akane. When Akane happens to drop by, she teaches Makoto some new tricks for flying and some easy spellcraft. Their kid cousin Chinatsu is so charmed by the witches’ talents that she makes an unexpected request…

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Flying Witch is a slice of life/urban fantasy manga series! We follow Makoto who moves to Aomori to live with her cousins and aunt, as she continues her training to become a witch!

Its been 2 years since I read the first volume where we get introduced to Makoto, her family, and the delightful quiet magic of Flying Witch! I really missed this world and it was great to get back to this series again! Overall, this is a really sweet, quiet and engaging manga series that’s just a lot of fun!

If I could summarize this series it essentially follows Makoto (a witch in training) as she hangs out with her cousins Kei & Chinatsu, and new friend Nao all while their adventures are filled with the mundane and magical happenings of their daily lives!

Volume 2 is a lot more episodic than the first one. Where in Flying Witch Vol. 1, we were introduced to the magic system and little moments of being a witch through Makoto’s eyes.

There’s the tiniest of details woven into the dialogue that help build on the unique witchy/magical world that comes to life in this rural part of Aomori, Japan. From what it takes to fly, witches dreams, and peculiar spells.

Throughout this volume, Makoto cooks with her cousin Kei, we learn more about a friend of Akane’s (Makoto’s sister) who has a problem that needs solving, there’s walks through the forest, and Akane helps Makoto + her younger cousin Chinatsu learn more about spells, tricks, and witchcraft!

What I appreciate about this series is that there’s a nice focus on the bonds between the characters and details about the city that make it a quiet, unique place to live!

Though this series is a whole lot of fun, I did want to talk about some elements that dropped my rating to 4 stars:

One of my expectations was that the plot would be connected to an overarching conflict, but it very much sticks to the slice of life atmosphere, which includes the backdrop of an upcoming festival!

What I appreciated about Volume 1, was that although it had that distinct slice of life feel to it, we still learned a lot about the world and characters interwoven with unique plot points. However, Flying Witch Volume 2, definitely feels slow and less focused on that direct conflict.

I personally felt it would have been great to see this series establish more concrete plot points to root us into the world before continuing with the everyday/slice of life stuff.

When it comes to art its definitely got a unique style, but for me personally the paneling felt a bit rushed in this volume!

Aside from my issues with this volume, Flying Witch is incredibly easy to get immersed in from the setting to the magical world, characters, story etc. So if your looking for a new manga series and aren’t exactly sure where to start, this is one I definitely recommend!

Overall though, I’m really looking forward to seeing what new adventures the characters get mixed up in next!

Flying Witch is a quiet, slice of life story that follows Makoto, a witch in training! The characters and everyday life make this a fun series for anyone to get into and enjoy! This volume definitely builds on quieter character moments that come to life in the quiet city of Aomori!

Realm Of Ash by Tasha Suri Review

Realm Of Ash by Tasha SuriRealm Of Ash by Tasha Suri (The Books Of Ambha #2)

Publisher: Orbit Books

Release Date: November 12, 2019

Pages: 496

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Realm Of Ash

Summary: The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.

Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.

Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.

*Received a finished copy from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ 

My Thoughts: Realm Of Ash takes readers back to the Ambhan Empire, now following Arwa, Mehr’s younger sister! Filled with politics, intrigue, and rich world-building, Suri’s  novel delivers a tale that explores grief and identity following 2 protagonists who attempt to figure out who they are, as the world around them has established their identities! A journey of grief, self, and hope, Suri’s return to her epic fantasy inspired by Mughal India is not one to miss!

Empire Of Sand was easily one of my favorite SFF/Epic Fantasy debuts of last year! I fell in love with the deeply rooted themes, brilliantly crafted story, alongside her wondrous writing, interwoven with her fantastic world building/characters!

Even though I was SO looking forward to diving back into the world and following Arwa’s journey, I actually put off reading it for about a week because I just couldn’t believe the book was an actual thing I could hold in my hands!!

Once I did pick it up, I quickly immersed myself back in the Ambhan Empire! However, it wasn’t until I made it further through the book that I realized Suri creates such an introspective and quiet journey for her protagonists in a way that always manages to captivate me― even to the point where I could reflect on the important messages she weaves throughout her novel and found them inspiring for my own life (for Realm I’ll get back to that more in a bit).

Set 10 years after Empire Of Sand, we follow Mehr’s younger sister Arwa, who’s now in her 20’s and a widow, establishing her identity as she reconciles with her grief.

Though, its also a journey about Arwa learning to embrace the Amrithi heritage she’s had to keep hidden for most of her life. As we learn in EOS, the Amrithi are oppressed and pushed towards the fringes of society. Due to that, she has been raised to focus more on her Ambhan heritage, casting deep down this other half of her, which could be the key to saving the empire.

The overarching plot thread that develops of the course of Realm Of Ash involves the Empire and how it slowly crumbles after the Maha’s death (who Mehr met in EOS). Though what stood out to me, compared to Mehr’s journey, was how both sisters viewed the empire in slightly different ways as well. All Arwa remembers are moments here & there where her sister would attempt to tell her more about her Amrithi blood, yet wasn’t allowed to become familiar with that part of herself growing up.

Where we see Mehr’s Amrithi roots guide her, we see with Arwa she’s grown up to feel like its a curse for her. Early on it ROA we see these two different paths converge as Arwa learns to embrace the Amrithi side of her as it plays an influential part in saving the empire.

At the start of the novel, Arwa takes time to reflect in the hermitage after the loss of her husband Kamran, who was also a commander at Darez Fort. Slowly the story unravels more about her personal emotional journey, but also that to unlock her Amrithi heritage. Much to her dismay, she befriends one of the widows there who offers her a chance on a new path, in the heart of the royal palace of the empire.

Arwa soon finds herself at the royal palace quickly immersing herself in the court politics and meets Zahir the studious illegitimate prince who’s invisible to the eyes of his other royal siblings (though not Princess Jihan).

Arwa is told to assist Zahir and he teaches her all about the mysterious realm of ash. As the story progresses, the two find ways to root themselves in this place (with the help of Arwa’s Amrithi blood) to find a way to cure the ills of the Empire’s curse, which has brought famine and uncertainty to the people.

The realm of ash is this metaphysical/literal realm where people can walk and dive deep into a world that roots them to their past and history (both familial and cultural). This realm is where Arwa and Zahir attempt to traverse to find the Maha’s ash and use it to bring balance back to their world.

Before going more into my review let me just say when I read about the curse inflicting the Empire I was internally fangirling so much because, it reminded of the conflict in one of my favorite comics Sera And The Royal Stars– it also features a fierce female lead who’s on a journey as her kingdom crumbles around her! (Highly recommend it, its amazing & is getting released as a graphic novel next year)  I really need more people to talk about this comic, but back to the review 😂✨:

What Suri captures beautifully, are the incredibly important themes throughout the novel: Grief and Identity.

Through Arwa’s perspective we are taken on a journey not only of grief, but also healing. Suri brings up many questions in regards to how Arwa processes these complex emotions, rolled up with the fact that her Amrithi heritage is coming to light around her.

The process of grief and mourning, what happens after? What do we owe others in regards to our grief? Including the healing process both for ones self and the world around them…Arwa’s perspective captures all of these layered ideas, emotional responses, and reactions masterfully as we follow Arwa on her journey to set her own path.

One of my favorite scenes was between Arwa and Gulshera, one of the widows, who reminds her of the “noblewoman’s art” and history through archery. However, it’s not just about learning to use a bow and arrow, Suri cleverly uses this scene as a metaphor to showcase how Arwa can use her grief and direct it towards a new path! I kept that scene close to heart throughout the entirety of this book and long after I finished it. It represents a turning point for Arwa as she learns to channel her grief and not let it take control of her! 

Additionally, as Arwa (and us as readers) learn more about soft prince Zahir, we then begin to see this is really his story too. Their journey both as they develop their relationship and head to the realm of ash, allows them to question/better understand who they are in a world that has established their identities.

The further along I got into the story, the more I appreciated how central the theme of identity was! How we define ourselves and how the world around us influences that, these were the thoughts turning in my mind as I read…in one of my university classes we actually delved into this topic of identity and how the world shapes it. Additionally, its something I’ve personally been giving more thought as I continue to learn more in school, etc. and it felt so validating to have that theme explored in many different layers and just–be something that really resonated with me at this moment in my life!

Arwa believes her only role after her husband’s death is to be a mourning widow, Zahir feels he is meant to always remain in shadow.

However, its also about how the 2 of them grapple with the identities they are assigned, but how they also use them to their advantage!

Similar to EoS, the world-building in Realm Of Ash is fantastic! There’s so much traveling in this book, so if you love journey stories, I recommend it!

In addition, I absolutely ADORED the layered politics of this novel. Often times it can seem like they slow the pacing of fantasy world, because they can influence and encompass many different facets of a society. However, Suri masterfully examines court politics, their influence on the world, and the layered castes of society that are each trying to find their footing as the world crumbles around them.

That’s also explored through the layered background as to how the Maha’s death influenced the balance of the world and how it impacts so many groups of people within the world.

Now onto the plot! There are many different layers to the story that are explored and I don’t want to spoil them all, but its a slow/steady progress from the hermitage, palace, realm of ash, and additional threads that force Arwa & Zahir to journey together to hopefully save their empire.

Now onto the cast of characters which were..fantastic!?! I loved the cast so much even the characters you aren’t supposed to love they are written with so much depth, emotion, and impact, you sense their presence long after they’ve left a scene. As Arwa & Zahir continue their journeys it was great to get so much background to a lot of characters throughout the story : Gulshera, princes Akhtar, Nasir, Parviz, princess Jihan, the widows, the commander, & many more!

I felt there was so much background given to Zahir, the royal family, and those connected to it, especially when it comes to how they are influenced by their world. For example, Jihan and Gulshera are determined a certain role in society (Jihan has to rely on her cunning politics to ensure her pick for the throne & Gulshera not only has her role as Arwa’s confidant of sorts, but is also still loyal to Jihan). When it comes to Zahir, he has such an influential place in the palace but is left to be hidden in its depths.

Now I wanted to discuss some minor critiques that lowered my rating (though I absolutely loved this book with all my heart) 😭💖!!  (*honestly, ratings just make things complicated 😂✨)

As Arwa and Zahir work together in the tomb enclosure reading and learning more about the Realm Of Ash, while also attending political meetings, I found that I really wanted more from the royal/court politics. Again, Suri weaves them in such a way where they not only influence that particular scene, but the characters and world and its just masterfully done!

I just really wanted a bit more of it explored because in some fantasy books I’ve read with court politics they often showcase them as incredibly cunning or deceptive…but they don’t always have to be! Suri portrays the politics in a realistic and impactful way when the world itself is crumbling, it still shows all these different facets and layers to it!

Though I absolutely loved the introspective journey of Arwa, I would have loved more plot threads here & there because again, I just love this world and these characters SO much!

Also more Arwa + Zahir moments because I just adore them! I also felt there could have been more expansion and plot threads on the royals  because they were wonderfully introduced and developed that I wanted more page time with them!

I don’t want to spoil, but I will say that there is 1 character though they were a lot of fun to read about, I personally didn’t feel too impacted by them in the story and felt they could have had less page time. Aside from those however:

Once I reached the final page of Realm Of Ash I’m literally in tears right now because Arwa, Zahir, their journeys they will forever remain a part of my heart!
I am definitely looking forward to Suri’s next adventure in the Ambhan Empire! ♥♥*・✧゚*

Realm Of Ash is a deeply character-driven journey that delves even more into the immersive world established in Empire Of Sand! A tale of grief, embracing ones identity, and the journeys one seeks to find the truth to better understand themselves & their world! A phenomenal sequel that unlocks more to the Ambhan Empire than ever before!

Blog Tour: Songs From The Deep by Kelly Powell {ARC Review}

Songs From The Deep by Kelly PowellSongs From The Deep by Kelly Powell

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon Teen)

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 304

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Songs From The Deep

Summary: The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

*Received ARC from the publisher as part of the blog tour*

My Rating:★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Songs From The Deep is an atmospheric murder-mystery debut, set on an island town surrounded by sirens! When everyone is convinced a murder was the work of sirens, violin-player Moira and lighthouse keeper Jude work together to solve the case! Moira’s atmospheric narrative voice delves deeply into the characters and lore of the town! Powell delivers a story about friendship and self-growth that will captivate you, as she weaves together a quiet, character-driven mystery led by a dynamic duo!

Songs From The Deep is a novel that just from the basics of the story alone, just had me incredibly excited to check it out! There’s an island town surrounded by sirens, a childhood friend duo teaming up to solve a murder mystery, and one is a violin player and the other a lighthouse keeper? I mean how cool does that sound?

Overall I had such a fun time reading this book because from the main characters, to the setting and intrigue of the mystery, it all leaves you wanting to know more! Moira and Jude  I felt I learned so much about them and their history, and there’s just such a unique energy to them that just made me so happy every time they were on-page together solving the case! I’ll tell you, I was heartbroken when I reached the end because, Moira and Jude were just wonderful characters to get to know and they really come to life in ways its difficult to explain.

The way Powell laid out the town of Twillengyle, you can sense the deep fog, hear the crash of beach waves, the eerie and overall, atmospheric feel of a town that’s filled with life through Moira’s elegantly constructed and first person POV!

According to her bio, Powell is interested in maritime history and nautical folklore. From the very first chapter, you can sense how those interests built into the world and the atmosphere, creating a setting so vivid and unique: from the element of sirens and their lore and overall just the way the town is described with the small details.

I’d definitely say this is a quiet YA Mystery, which makes it very character-driven, slow building, and incredibly introspective through 17-year old Moira Alexander’s POV. Because of that, you are left with a certain sense and perception of the town that creates a unique image in your mind. You are able to connect to characters very quickly as well, which makes the mystery such a fun ride as you gather more pieces with each turn of the page!

Moira plays the violin for the sirens that surround her island town, because she’s grown up, both learning and understanding them through her father, who was a well-known researcher of these mystical creatures (even according to the detective, he laid the foundation for a lot of the knowledge of sirens the town is now aware of). She knows these sirens are dangerous, but seems to understand them in ways that no one else does (not even her mother).

That’s something that really shines through her POV as well, just all the knowledge she has about the sirens and her town makes the mystery a lot of fun trying to piece together!

Later that same night she runs into her childhood friend, who she hasn’t spoken to in years, 19-year old Jude Osric. He warns Moira that there’s been a murder at the beach near his lighthouse and that it could be the work of sirens.

She is not convinced that her former violin student Connor Shehan, was killed by sirens. Moira’s grown up around them to learn the details about them only she can really notice, and is determined to prove it. When the local detectives Dale and Thackery. This leads her to journey’s across town piecing together clues and speaking with her local townsfolk, to gather as much as she can to build her case!

What I loved about Songs From The Deep so much was the fact that the rekindling friendship between Moira + Jude, even the ups and downs of navigating it, are such vital parts of the story!

We learn that Jude’s family (mother, father, & older sister) were taken by sirens when he was younger. He was left alone to look over the local lighthouse!

Slowly, Moira and Jude began to drift away and I loved how layered their history was as you uncover more about their deep friendship.

Powell’s debut is not just a murder mystery, it’s also about the characters (especially our main duo), the town and how siren’s are so deeply woven into its folklore, history, alongside the past of Moira and Jude’s families.

I fell in love with both Moira and Jude so much! Their dynamic is built on friendship and you see that although they grew up being the best of friends, it’s this murder-mystery that really brings them back together! Throughout the entirety of the book,  there’s a big emphasis on friendship and although there are some developing romantic moments, it progresses perfectly as they slowly build of their relationship.

Also, just as friends, they have such great chemistry and work together as such an incredible team! While there is a hint at romance, I appreciated that a good 98% of this book focuses on them as friends and their growth! The romance is really sweet too and I  never felt it took away from the story, it was developed so perfectly!

They have their ups and downs in the friendship for sure, where they have to confront truths about themselves in order to better understand just how much their friendship means to the both of them. Its through the little moments where they show their vulnerable sides, forgive, or ensure each other’s safety where you see how much they care!

A majority of this novel though, really focuses on Moira not only as she gathers clues, but also how us as readers learn more about her town and the people within it. For example, as she gathers more evidence she decides to talk to her former teacher Ms. Nell Bracken, who was Connor’s teacher too! There’s also local kids who knew her and Jude growing up, and the local detectives who work on the case!

I appreciated how there many interwoven details that influenced different layers of the story and our main characters. Such as Moira’s reasoning for keeping to herself until the mystery begins,  which was due to the passing of her father and the grief that came with that. There’s also a secret she kept from Jude, where in time she found it much easier for them to just drift apart, even how her grief played a part in her leaving the local music hall for years where she was a rising star.

Next I wanted to talk more about the setting! A main location of the story is Jude’s lighthouse, its where they meet up and hangout for a majority of the book. There’s so much history within it, how it ties into Jude’s family and Moira’s past when they used to hear legends and tales, and explore the beach together, its a place with a lot of history for them both. I loved how this was a place they could just feel comfortable and rekindle their friendship!

This is an interesting tidbit, but before going into the book and well within the first few chapters I was picturing a modern-day setting just with sirens. But, I learn very quickly when they mentioned telegraphs, this is NOT set in modern day. Its more of a historical urban fantasy-esque world and that was something that really surprised me 😂😅✨

When it comes to the town and sirens themselves, again there were just all these little details and the way the prose just captures the setting so well! For example, there’s a brief line about sea pink flowers that represent good luck or the legends that surrounded different things around town like a small well or the lighthouse! Even reading from Moira’s POV that shows the complexity to the sirens and how sympathetic she is towards them, compared to others that live in Twillengyle.

There were a couple critiques I did want to dive into that lowered my rating. First, I felt the build-up to the mystery was so fantastic and that’s what kept you reading however, when the reveal is finally introduced, I felt it concluded very briefly and while it did surprise me, I felt it could had further explanation as to the motives. Also, very minor but there were a couple more characters I felt could have had more page time to be developed!

I also really wish there could have been more plot points added to get more of Jude/Moira together and just getting more perspective of the town from Moira’s eyes, because I loved Powell’s writing so much!

Again, this is more of a personal preference, but the writing does deliver a slow, atmospheric pace to the story, but I think it worked well because your left knowing so much about the characters and world! I loved that a lot!

I’m also just left a mess of emotions because I felt the ending wrapped up really nicely and again, just emphasized that strong bond Moira and Jude have together! I would love to read more books with them together solving more mysteries or just delving more into the town itself!! I loved these 2 so much!! 💖💖 (keeping my fingers crossed 😭💖💙)

Songs From The Deep is a YA debut that delivers a quiet murder-mystery tale through an incredibly detailed and immersive writing-style! If your looking for a character-driven mystery, atmospheric writing, and a dynamic detective duo, this is a great book to pick up! Enchanting, immersive, and filled with mystery!!

Sera And The Royal Stars #2 by Jon Tsuei Comic Review

Sera And The Royal Stars Issue 2 by Jon TsueiSera And The Royal Stars #2 by Jon Tsuei, Audrey Mok (Artist), Raúl Angulo (Colorist), Jim Campbell (Letterer), & Tim Daniel (Design)

Publisher: Vault Comics

Release Date: August 28, 2019

Pages: 28

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Sera And The Royal Stars Vol. 1

Summary: After rescuing the Eye of the Bull, Sera returns to Parsa, only to discover it is no longer her home. Just when it seems war has stripped Sera of everything she holds dear, a surprising ally emerges. Together they set out to turn the tables on her uncle Shaheen’s invading forces. 

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Sera continues her quest to restore the Royal Stars in the page-turning Issue #2! Delving into even more of the politics, mythology, and familial ties of this series, Sera’s adventure takes her back home with a new ally!

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you’d know that Sera And The Royal Stars is the main comic series right now that has literally taken over my life!

Words can’t describe how this story just sweeps me away with each issue from its detailed artwork, expansive world (inspired by Ancient Persia), gripping story and phenomenal cast of characters! Sera is inspiring and wonderful― though I’m only 2 issues in, I feel I already know so much about her! I’m incredibly excited to see where her journey takes her next.

As we learn in Issue #1, Sera has been tasked with breaking “the bonds that bind the Royal Stars…” Which means she must find the deities of her country’s past and awaken them to allow the seasons to turn once again. Only then, will the Empire Of Parsa and its people no longer suffer, even as they undergo a civil war. The first deity she’s tasked with finding, is the Bull and makes her way to an old temple, where a mysterious old man can’t seem to remember who he is!

Issue #2 picks up right where it leaves off with us figuring out the old man is in fact the Bull! Starting off with an action scene that pulls you in, Sera and the Bull are in the middle of fighting of hordes of lizard monsters in the temple.

Once the battle is done, the Bull (also known as Aldebaran) tells her that the temple has been “lost to time” and at one point “all people worshiped” the Royal Stars!

Delving further into the mythology of the world, Sera gets more insight into the other Royal Stars she’s meant to find and awaken (scorpion, fish, and lion so far). Also if they don’t act fast, they may lose the chance at getting the seasons turning again.

As Sera heads home, she realizes the aftermath of her uncle’s surprise attack on the kingdom! He’s taken over and her brother Jahar is nowhere to be found!

Family is an intricate and important element of this series and those ties are explored a bit more in Issue #2. From confronting her cousin (now prince) Nima, her uncle, and reuniting with her father and sister Roya. Even getting more background to Sera’s mother (who we already know was given the same task of restoring the Stars). I really appreciate the layers and complex ties of family that are being explored so far in this series! I’m looking forward to seeing how these threads continue to evolve over the future issues.

The scope of the world does seem to be more centralized in this particular issue and that’s mainly because of its focus on the royal family and Sera’s quest.

Luckily, as Sera finds herself reaching home and getting to continue her quest, she and Aldebaran are not alone! It turns out, the Scorpion is finally awoken!

The full page of Scorpion (Antares) being transformed/awoken in the palace’s throne room was one of my favorite pages! Her outfit is detailed and she is such a fierce deity I can’t wait to learn more about (also you have to definitely appreciate her friendly banter w/ Aldebaran)!

The setting immerses you from the very beginning and as with the previous issue, where your swept away into the hidden temple, tension of the throne room, and outskirts of the empire! I’m really looking forward to seeing what else there is to explore in this vast world that’s being set-up! Sera And The Royal Stars as single issues really balances the world-building, plot, and character-development in a fantastic way where it always leaves you wanting more after the last page!

As with Issue #1, Audrey Mok’s artwork continues to be an absolute highlight of this series! Similar to my thoughts with the first issue, its colorful, detailed, especially when it comes to character introductions, clothing, and landscapes. Again, probably one of my favorite pages was Scorpion’s intro (the detail on her spear, her long white braid, and her epic outfit!), also the trail of red smoke that symbolized her entrance just added a whole other layer to the issue!

I think my only minor critique is that was a slower-paced issue, where its focused on more on a couple of the core themes already established. It delves more into the complex familial ties/politics, and mythology, which puts the plot on a bit of a slower pace. But, I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in Issue #3 as Sera’s journey with the Royal Stars continues!

Sera And The Royal Stars is an epic fantasy adventure that follows an arrow-wielding princess whose sent on a quest that could turn the tides of her country’s civil war! Issue #2 takes time to develop on the politics, lore and mythology, alongside the familial ties that were introduced in Issue #1! If your looking for a fantasy tale filled with ancient prophecies, great cast of characters, set in an immersive world as shown through the great artwork, then you should definitely pick up this series!

 

A Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai ARC Review

A Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini BajpaiA Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

Publisher: Little Brown Books For Young Readers (The NOVL)

Release Date: September 10, 2019

Pages: 320

Available Through The Book Depository: A Match Made In Mehendi

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Simran “Simi” Sangha comes from a long line of Indian vichole-matchmakers-with a rich history for helping parents find good matches for their grown children. When Simi accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.”

But Simi is an artist, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with relationships, helicopter parents, and family drama. That is, until she realizes this might be just the thing to improve her and her best friend Noah’s social status. Armed with her family’s ancient guide to finding love, Simi starts a matchmaking service-via an app, of course.

But when she helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the boys’ soccer team, she turns the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy, soon making herself public enemy number one.

*Received ARC from Yallwest*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: A Match Made In Mehendi is a fantastic debut and one you definitely want to add to your Fall TBR! When Simi develops an app to match couples at her school, things get pretty interesting! Its a fun, delightful YA debut that also focuses on pursuing your dreams, friendship, and love! 

Simi Sangha aspires to continue developing and pursuing her passion as an artist, she also happens to come from a long line of female matchmakers! When she’s able to successfully match her cousin Preet with the son of a local furniture store, Jolly, her mother and aunt are certain she has the “gift.” Her mother insists she continue the family legacy, but Simi doesn’t have much interest and would rather focus on her art (primarily sketching and mehendi) as sophomore year looms closer!

When her best friend Noah Siegal insist they try to improve their popularity in the coming year, Simi’s older brother Navdeep also happens to be working on an app inspired by their family’s matchmaking business!

She see’s this as the perfect opportunity to try out her “gift” while also using her artistic skills! Simi knows this’ll not only help her best friend, but also allow her to use her family’s matchmaking knowledge in getting classmates of Mayfield High, to find their match!

I’d been looking forward to reading this lovely book for over a year and it was so good, easily on my list of all-time favorite YA Contemporary books!

(ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ💖💖*:・゚✧

Hopefully my review inspires you to look more into this debut because its just so much fun! + If your looking for a unique contemporary story that also explores many themes, while at its heart, is a story about pursuing your dreams, then please check it out! I feel this a YA Contemporary many have not read or heard of and I think everyone should read it! 💖🌸✨

A Match Made In Mehendi also shines through its first-person POV! Following Simi’s perspective brings such an energy to the story and everything else that you want to keep reading! The way the plot, character development, and journey Simi undergoes allow you to feel incredibly connected to the story― you feel your right there alongside Simi the entirety of the novel! She was an incredibly fun character to follow― she’s awkward, funny, confident in her artistic skills, and much more!

Simi is one of the more relatable YA Contemporary characters I’ve read in a while. Though I’m no longer in high school I really resonated with her on her journey of friendship, love, and the expectations we set upon ourselves + our futures: I feel people at any age are still navigating these situations, so I really appreciated Bajpai’s exploration of them and how they really connected with me!

Friendship is one of the many important themes of this novel and I loved how it was explored! Not only through Simi and Noah, but also through the camaraderie between Simi and her classmates (especially when trouble occurs). I also appreciated the focus on m/f friendships (which Simi has quite a few of), I don’t often see that explored in YA so that was really great to read about!

With a book about matchmaking, of course there’s also lots of exploration of romance! Simi finds herself learning more about the app and how it works, when her school begins using it and we see perfect matches being made!

Simi navigates some romance herself when we learn about the boy she’s had a crush on since they were little (Aiden) and how their common interest in art brings them closer together! There’s also Suraj (Jolly’s cousin) who recently transfers to Simi’s school and is good friends with her brother Navdeep! I loved their dynamic so much and this was a really cute romance as you learn more about both of the guys and Simi’s exploration with love herself! There’s some unpredictability to the romance which was really fun to read!

The Matched! app was easily one of the most clever and creative catalysts that drove many important themes, elements, and layers to this fantastic story! From its incorporation of Navdeep’s tech skills (and love of robotics) alongside Simi’s passion for art, I loved how Bajpai combined technology and family tradition that also represents Simi taking her family’s legacy and making it her own! It involves a variety of school-related and hobby questions that all come together into their algorithm, which also assigns people a unique animal (created by Simi), to see how the app changed and developed with each few chapters was incredibly fun to read about & I appreciated how it was such an important element to a lot of the growth throughout this novel.

As the story develops, while the app starts as a fun experiment for their high school, it soon causes drama when one of the matches upsets one of the popular girls in Simi’s class, Amanda! Now, Simi and Noah are navigating their newly developed popularity and the drama they get sucked into when Amanda doesn’t approve of one of the matches (which involves her ex-boyfriend)!

As I mentioned above, I really loved how Simi used her family legacy of matchmaking and turned into something completely her own! It also allows for such a big element of family to shine throughout the novel! With this legacy following the Sangha women, we see how her mother (who runs a matchmaking service for Desi families w/ her sister (Simi’s aunt)), expects so much from her in regards to the business she finds it difficult to explain how art is such a big part of her identity! It was great to see that element explored so much into the story (though I wish there could have been a bit more page time to develop their mother/daughter dynamic).

The writing is also wonderful! It not only allows for the story to progress in such a fantastic way, but it also allows for elements of humor, mystery, and overall brings everything to life off the page! Tying into the writing itself, is the atmosphere of this novel. Simi is confident in herself, skills as an artist, and as you see the expectations put upon her (both internal & external), you see that above all she is incredibly loyal to those she cares about and herself!

Simi is an incredibly inspiring protagonist and her narrative voice just leave you smiling throughout this entire book!

Next I want to talk about the characters, who are all fantastic (even the ones your not supposed to like): Navdeep, Noah, Suraj, Teá & Ethan, Aiden, Amanda, Simi’s cousins Preet & Geet, and her other friends at school. Through Simi’s narrative they all really come to life!

Overall, there was just a great cast of characters who are all given depth and developed from beginning to end regardless of how little page time they have!

I will say that, although Simi’s grandmother was a great character introduced near the last few quarters of the book, I wish her character was just a bit more developed! Because she’s part of the matchmaker legacy, it would have been great to get a little more from her!

It was such a delight to read excerpts of The Shagun Matchmaking Guide with each chapter! Not only was it an important Sangha heirloom, but I also appreciated how it wove its way into the story more near the end! Its an incredibly vital tool for her family’s matchmaking service and I loved how it was woven into the story to provide Simi with a feeling of luck and guide her as she navigated matchmaking in her school!

As for the representation of A Match Made In Mehendi, it features a mainly Indian and Indian-American cast, Gay rep (Noah), and though its not specifically stated its hinted at that Simi’s school is diverse!

A Match Made In Mehendi is an incredibly fun, heartwarming debut that explores a variety of themes, that will have you turning the page from family, legacy, love, friendship, and pursuing one’s dreams! Bajpai’s YA Contemporary debut has such great writing, a wonderful cast of characters, humor, mystery, romance, and much more! I’m looking forward to reading what Bajpai publishes next!

I was also a part of the blog tour for A Match Made In Mehendi and if you’d like to check out a Q & A where Nandini goes into more detail about her inspiration and other fun elements, you can read it Here! 🌸✨📚

The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin Review {Graphic Novel}

The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly UsdinThe Avant Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin (writer), Noah Hayes (artist), Rebecca Nalty (colorist), & Ed Dukeshrire (Letterer)

Publisher: BOOM Box! (Boom Studios)

Release Date: September 3, 2019

Pages: 112

Available Through The Book Depository: The Avant-Guards Vol. 1

Summary: When Charlie transfers to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she struggles to find her feet, but winds up exactly where she belongs…in the school’s (terrible) basketball team.

As a transfer student to the Georgia O’Keeffe College for Arts and Subtle Dramatics, former sports star Charlie is struggling to find her classes, her dorm, and her place amongst a student body full of artists who seem to know exactly where they’re going. When the school’s barely-a-basketball-team unexpectedly attempts to recruit her, Charlie’s adamant that she’s left that life behind…until she’s won over by the charming team captain, Liv, and the ragtag crew she’s managed to assemble. And while Charlie may have left cut-throat competition in in the dust, sinking these hoops may be exactly what she needs to see the person she truly wants to be.

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: The Avant-Guards is a fantastic series from Boom Studios! This female-led series is about friendship and discovering who you are! The colorful art, alongside the great cast of characters, and much more, deliver a page-turning story you won’t be able to put down! With a fresh start at a new college, Charlie learns more about herself and finds where she belongs when her new friends convince her to join their basketball team!

This first volume of The Avant-Guards completely captured my heart and I can’t wait to see where the series is headed next! 💞

I’d already been familiar with Usdin’s graphic novels, already having read Heavy Vinyl (which is getting a sequel next year & recommend checking it out! 🎉 — it basically follows a group of girls in the 90’s who work in a record store and follows the newest employee, Chris as she discovers her co-workers are actually part of an all-female vigilante group!).

Going into The Avant-Guards, I knew I’d love it! But, I didn’t just love it, I adored it so much! I can definitely say―that THE AVANT-GUARDS IS MY NEW FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES, I love it with all my heart!! 😭 

Charlene (Charlie) Bravo is a recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College For Art & Subtle Dramatics (amazing title for a school tbh) and she’s still figuring out where she fits in, that is until she meets the all-girls basketball team!!

Olivia is the energetic and optimistic one that really wants Charlie to join and sees her potential, then there’s the other wonderful teammates who I loved too: Jay, Nicole, Tiffany & Ashley, who are all incredibly welcoming to her!

This first volume chronicles the team getting together and introducing us to the wonderful team of The Avant-Guards! From beginning to end I felt I knew the team so well and I’m excited to learn even more about them. The Avant-Guards is the kind of story where the characters just pull you into the story and throughout it, they feel like your best friends too! 💞💞

Stories like that connect with me on such a deep and personal level because friendship is incredibly important to me and to see it highlighted and be such a focus of this series, just warms my heart!

Alongside that, this story is just filled to the brim with supportive and positive energy and you can’t help but smile while reading. As Charlie attempts to find where she belongs on this new campus, she seems to be pretty nonchalant about her environment. That is until she meets The Avant-Guards at their table during the campus’s activities fair!

With the team only needing one more player to make it official, Liv makes it her mission to convince Charlie to at least think it over. But after they all immediately click with Charlie, Liv comes up with a plan for all of them to get her to join!

As the story progresses, you learn so much about each of the girls (Liv is the captain of the team & got them all together, Nicole is the “resident cynic,” Ashley who “sings like Beyonce, [parties] like Rhianna & balls like Lebron,” Tiffany, whose interested in crystals & the like, & Jay, they are pretty quiet but an incredibly loyal friend).

The Charlie & Liv dynamic was so beautifully written! Having been a former basketball player, Charlie isn’t too interested in returning anytime soon, but its through Liv and the other girl’s she realizes its not just about the game, but also the connections she’s made with them!

We learn that they both had girlfriends in the past and its so obvious Liv has a crush on her, so seeing their friendship and romance develop was just so beautiful and I just loved seeing them together! 😭💞 There’s 3 moments throughout this volume that stuck out to me: Liv telling Charlie she wouldn’t give up on getting her to join, Liv explaining that the other girls genuinely want her to join b/c they’d love to be her friend, & their talk on the bus about Charlie’s anxiety!

All of the girls have their own quirks and personalities that shine throughout this entire first volume and I’m really looking forward to more of their interactions and dynamic as both friends/teammates in future issues! Every one of these girls resonated with me so much because their confidence and loyalty to each other was just incredibly inspiring to me!

The writing and pacing of the story allow for their characters to get the perfect amount of development, page-time, and still leave some mystery about them for future issues/volumes!

I also appreciated this intersection between sports and art! An underlying message (at least that I found) was the empowerment one can find through art! I mean anywhere you go I believe your surrounded by art in some way and I’m not really sure how to describe it, but I feel The Avant-Guards gets that? 😄

Throughout Volume 1, I found the art and paneling was done so wonderfully! The colors are bright and bring even more to the already brilliant story! As does the art! Its expressive, detailed, and feels incredibly cinematic & animated! The paneling is also something I was paying close attention to and it never felt like space was wasted. Alongside that, I felt the art and dialogue together complemented each other and came together to tell a fantastic story!

From the character expressions, pacing, action scenes, and even backgrounds, they all come to life through the vibrant colors and great art-style!

Overall, I felt The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 story was complete and well explored!

Honestly, if you were to ask me to pick a favorite character of the Avant-Guards, I honestly couldn’t do it, I adore each of the them with all my heart!! ❤ ❤

Considering this is a sports comic series, I did want to quickly talk about another series I’ve read which is Fence! Looking back, I can see why I enjoyed it when I first read it (its one the first sports comics I read & had a unique cast of characters like Avant-Guards). But if I’m being honest, I feel like my love for Fence has faded and The Avant-Guards has found that special place in my heart! Not saying they should be compared (because they are completely different stories) but if your stuck between both series and not sure which one to pick up, I’d say read The Avant-Guards!

Based on this first volume alone, I found the art, characters, pacing, and much more to be better developed and explored!

The Avant-Guards is diverse, colorful, the characters are all full of life, and the wonderful themes of the story weave their way through each page! I HIGHLY recommend this wonderful graphic novel!

Featuring characters of color, queer women, and just overall being incredibly inclusive, I just love the care and attention to diversity that the team behind this series has represented!  From the characters of different backgrounds (mainly featuring Brown/Black women), characters identifying as Queer and Jay (who uses They/Them), this is just such a beautifully inclusive series and I hope more people will pick it up!

The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 is must-read graphic novel series from Boom Studios! This series is all about friendship, self-discovery, and is beautifully inclusive + diverse! Charlie learns more about friendship and overcomes obstacles from her past when she joins the all-women’s basketball team! From the lovely artwork and colors to inspiring themes throughout this first volume, The Avant-Guards is a new series you don’t want to miss!