Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado ARC Review

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Publisher: Holiday House

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Ericka Lugo

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 176

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Vol. 2 by Makoto Hagino {Manga Review}

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow by Matoko Hagino (Tropical Fish #2)

Publisher: Viz Media

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Pages: 192

Available Through The Book Depository: A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Vol. 2

Summary: From the moment they met at the Aquarium Club’s open house, Konatsu has admired Koyuki and treated her like she wasn’t a distant figure on a pedestal. In turn, Koyuki has been open and welcoming to the new girl who stirs her heart.

When the time comes to pick a club, Konatsu chooses the Aquarium Club with Koyuki. And even though it’s just the two of them, they manage to host a successful open house. What’s next for Koyuki and Konatsu, now that the shared experience has deepened the bond between them?

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Vol. 2 follows Konatsu and Koyuki as the story builds on their wholesome friendship and navigates their introspective feelings as they continue to deepen their bond! This character-driven, page-turning story is propelled by the girls start to summer vacation with much on their minds. A quiet, slice-of-life manga sure to captivate!

Without a doubt after falling completely in love with Tropical Fish Vol. 1 I had to continue this series! There’s a poetic beauty to it as new girl in town Konatsu and aquarium club leader Koyuki find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other, like a wave upon a shore. They both are navigating this underlying loneliness, their feelings for one another and in this volume, keep each other in their thoughts.

As the aquarium open house comes to a close, Konatsu worries about her well-being as Koyuki, in reality, is trying to keep her feelings hidden. Konatsu, in her pursuit to help during the open house, is told from Koyuki’s father that the best she can do is just be there for her (the frog/salamander bread scene was too wholesome).

Unsure of how to communicate her complex feelings about Konatsu, Koyuki seems to struggle to further strengthen their friendship in the beginning, which leads to some moments of miscommunication between them. However, Koyuki takes the chance to invite Konatsu during their summer break to Aoshima (aka Nekojima / Cat Island) for a club trip, with much anxiety about asking for her number too! That led to this very funny line that I just have to share from Konatsu: “I’d call her anytime…but I don’t actually know her number!!!” (52).

During the trip, they go fishing, get caught in the rain, have some longing glances, and run into lots of cats! It was a very sweet chapter seeing them together and it just warmed my heart. I was very much just along for the ride in this volume and loved how every moment they have together (or apart), carries so much depth to each scene.

As the Summer Festival approaches, Koyuki struggles with the guilt of trying to ask Konatsu while not wanting to be unfair to those she turned down before. This leads to her assuming that because Konatsu and Kaede hung out, she’s no longer available. Although this volume leaned towards some miscommunication, this series adds more to it by navigating their girls reflections or inner dialogue as their feelings drive a particular scene.

Kaede is another character who gets a little more development too which I loved! In fact, I adore this main girl squad and can’t wait to see their friendship continue to grow. She’s very bubbly, outgoing, a bit blunt at times, however she’s always there to lend an ear. When Konatsu can’t stop thinking about Koyuki during their afternoon together, Kaede steps in to offer advice as Konatsu expresses she feels like she’s annoying Koyuki with her texts. Kaede is incredibly supportive, taking her right to Koykui’s house to solve it.

Once everything is cleared up, Koykui and Konatsu agree to go together (with both their dads joining too). But one scene that further presented the loneliness the girls are navigating throughout the series was when Koyuki shares that she admires Konatsu’s strength. However, Konatsu begins to sink back into that quiet, empty space thinking their isn’t anything particularly special about herself. As the two of them get split up because of an upcoming fireworks display, Konatsu can’t get a certain question off her mind: Why did Koyuki speak to Konatsu randomly at the open house the day they met? [More context is given early on in this volume, but seeing that come full circle finally in the end was nice and I’m hoping Koyuki will finally say (or even hint) at how she feels].

Hagino’s quiet, slice of life atmosphere really gives a calm, simplicity to the series that’s also very thought-provoking too. It’s seen especially in the personal moments that Koyuki or Konatsu reflect on their feelings or internal loneliness.

As with the first volume, I just love the artwork and how it really allows those quiet moments to stay with the reader through every page. The frog/salamander symbolism makes a return, but it’s definitely a little more in the background as the metaphorical elements are more hinted at throughout this volume. Honestly, every close scene they have together is very emotional, moving, and I just can’t wait to see their relationship develop throughout the series (though I’ve seen that it is *very slowburn).

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this volume honestly, it’s more about the plot and it just feels like a 4.5 rating! Although, this series has truly captured my heart and made a mess of my life only two volumes in, Koyuki and Konatsu are just very much in need of some hugs!! ❤

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow is a fantastic, but also underrated manga series with lots of depth, two very complex protagonists, and a slow-burn romance that will keep you reading! As Koyuki and Konatsu spend more time together, they continue to navigate their feelings for each other! An absolute gem of a manga series!

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Vol. 1 by Makoto Hagino {Manga Review}

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Vol. 1 by Makoto Hagino

Publisher: Viz Media

Release Date: November 12, 2019

Pages: 192

Available Through The Book Depository: A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow Volume 1

Summary: When her dad gets a job overseas, Konatsu Amano has to leave the Tokyo life she’s always known and relocate to a small seaside town to stay with her aunt. The move also means starting a new school surrounded by complete strangers, and it’s a lot to handle for a girl who has trouble with change. But on her first day in her new town, Konatsu is instantly drawn to Koyuki, an older girl who is the sole member of the Aquarium Club. Konatsu’s introverted tendencies are hard for her to overcome, but maybe she’s found something worth coming out of her shell for?

Konatsu is doing her best to adapt to her new school, but being required to join a club has introduced additional pressures. Her friendly classmate Kaede invites her to join the Home Ec Club, but Konatsu hasn’t even had time to consider which club she’s interested in. Meanwhile, Koyuki is like a ray of sunshine in Konatsu’s cloudy world. Will Konatsu join the Aquarium Club?

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow is a charming, slice-of-life manga debut that follows the bond between two girls who go to the same school in a seaside town! Their instant connection makes for a wholesome, sweet story as the relationship grows with each page! Featuring much SLOWBURN and YEARNING, this is a fantastic start to a new series!

A quiet, seaside town, a chance encounter at a school aquarium, and two girls who are in their own ways…lonely. This is the beginning of A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow, easily one of my new favorite manga series!!

Konatsu Amano moves to Nagahama to live with her aunt after her father gets a job overseas. However, Konatsu can’t let go of this loneliness that’s buried within her. But, when she sees her new high school with an open house for its aquarium, she finds herself instantly drawn to Koyuki Honatsu, the club’s leader and only member.

There’s a comforting, almost delicate, gentle bond that forms between these two girls and that exact feeling unfurls throughout the various layers of this story from its art style, character dynamics, themes, and underlying romance. It’s beautiful & although it seems like a very simple story, Hagino’s masterful execution is anything but that.

As Konatsu tries to drift among the current of her new life at school, she can’t help but feel those tides shift whenever she sees or hears about Koyuki! There’s such intense emotion that’s woven throughout the entirety of this first volume and it’s in a way, poetic?

The reader is left with a sense of melancholy, but also bountiful feeling of joy seeing these two girls continue to bond and navigate the emotions they feel for each other.

As each student is required to join a club, Konatsu wonders whether joining Koyuki’s Aquarium Club is a good idea (with her feelings for Koyuki only continuing to build) as her other classmate Hirose, recommends the Home Ec. club. The author brilliantly delves into the inner complexities of our heroines, the complicated emotions they have for one another, and the underlying sense of loneliness.

Konatsu instantly finds a friend in Hirose, the bubbly, extroverted classmate who gets her to see the aquarium in the first place! She’s just a really fun character and seeing Konatsu’s inner conflict with wondering whether to accept or decline her offer to join Hirose in the Home Ec club turned out to be very funny. I can’t wait to see all 3 of these girls bond even more over the next volumes!

Hagino builds such a fascinating, unique slice-of-life school atmosphere through Nanahama High School, not only through its minimal details, but also by emphasizing the importance of clubs! The inclusion of having club involvement be mandatory for students just added to the distinct atmosphere of Nanahama.

Now the ROMANCE is very slowburn, but also achingly soft and sweet. The tiniest moments really capture an entire scene whether its small hand holds, sharing food, or just the longing gazes. This SAPPHIC romance has really gone under the radar and hopefully my review inspires you to pick up this series!

There’s such wonderful imagery and metaphors woven throughout Vol. 1, especially when it comes to salamanders, which becomes the foundation for the girls’ dynamic! Masuji Ibuse’s “Salamander” to a salamander in the aquarium club from the very first pages, even to Konatsu calling it by Koyuki’s name, represents the desire for these two to escape the cold, loneliness they feel.

At its heart, its such a beautiful message about the two allowing each other to escape when they feel trapped and isolated. Though Koyuki feels more of a weight from expectations from those around her and in turn, she never really feels understood. All the details about marine life are beautifully woven in as well, very much looking forward to see how the author develops it!

One of my favorite moments between them was on page 36 when the aquatic background takes over the scene as they hold hands at the beach! We see how much Konatsu and Koyuki mean to each other with every moment their on page together (or even just thinking about one another), its very cute!! ❤

The budding relationship between Konatsu and Koyuki is not only delicate and gentle, but also brilliantly captivating in how it navigates emotion, yearning, just…all those layered feelings!

Story-wise although its definitely slower-paced, its very character-driven, which in turn draws you into all these other captivating elements of the story because of how wonderfully developed they are. The writing is also very good and I can count many beautiful lines that show the deep, inner feelings the girls had for each other.

The artwork is wonderful, allowing for a slow, introspective view of the story. Its in the detail of the characters, expressions, alongside the backgrounds, that bring so much to each scene. The inclusion of the aquatic elements like the ocean, marine animals, etc., all add to that special world that these two have carved for themselves and its really beautiful. I’d even say through moments where the animals around them seem more animated or a salamander appears on their shoulders/near by, uses an element of magical realism/fabulism to convey the importance of their inner voices.

If you take anything away from this review, its that you should definitely pick up this series and get carried away by its remarkable story! Tropical Fish has easily become one of my new favorite manga series, Konatsu and Koyuki have captured my heart!!

Despite the 4.5 star rating, this is a 5-star series ABSOLUTELY!! I think its just wanting a bit more to our characters in this first volume, but despite that I adored it so much!

A Tropical Fish Yearns For Snow is a fantastic yuri manga series filled with a slow-burn, heartwarming romance, wonderful main heroines, unique school setting, gorgeous symbolism, and an immersive story you won’t be able to put down!

Satoko And Nada Vol. 3 by Yupechika {Manga Review}

Satoko And Nada Vol. 3 by Yupechika (Satoko & Nada #3)

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: June 16, 2020

Pages: 128

Available Through The Book Depository: Satoko And Nada Vol. 3

Summary: Abdullah, the mysterious young man who might marry Nada one day, is suddenly in America?! Satoko and her friends (not to mention Nada’s broter are in a panic, unsure if they should tell Nada or just stall the guy until he leaves. When it comes to Nada’s future, the people who love her will do whatever it takes to make her happy!

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Satoko And Nada continues to be one of the best contemporary manga series out there! Following the adventures of 2 women who continue their university studies in the US, this series is told through 4-panel pages that delve into the daily lives of two best friends and as they learn more about each other’s cultures! Satoko And Nada is a must-read series!

I think Satoko And Nada is one of those manga’s that’s gone under the radar and more people should be reading it! Where this series absolutely excels is how it delves deep into the topic of friendship and balancing the character relationships/dynamics. If you have yet to read these fantastic books, my recent tweet sums up why its so great!

For those who haven’t had the chance to read this series it follows two university students (Satoko who’s Japanese and Nada who’s Saudi Arabian) as they study abroad in the US and after becoming roommates, they instantly click and become the best of friends. Every volume explores new adventures and features wholesome moments as they learn more about not only American culture, but each others!

As with previous volumes, this series continues its 4-panel style storytelling that presents tons of slice of life moments that happen in Satoko and Nada’s day to day schedules. The main plot for this volume follows Nada’s husband-to-be, Abdullah, who comes for a visit as Satoko attempts to stall and protect Nada, unsure of how to bring up the conversation while knowing how focused she is on her studies.

What made this story arc one of the best was seeing how it not only delves into discussing how Nada and Abdullah have their own busy schedules outside of their arrangement, getting both of their perspectives on it. Also how they are respectful of each other’s personal goals and despite being distant, still find ways to stay in touch. In addition, this really highlights the deep bond both ladies have for each other when Nada learns Satoko was only trying to protect her and respect her space before introducing her to her fiance Abdullah.

Another highlight of this series is that each volume continuously shows that each of them are still learning about each other’s cultures and having fun doing so. Focusing more on Nada’s culture we learn more about abaya care, hijabs, agals, henna, and much more!

I also enjoyed that this volume had a variety of different adventures that they get into: shopping together, being part of Miracle’s volunteer fair, having a snow day, however nearing the end Satoko has her own page time for solo adventures too.

Friendship is a core piece of this series that makes for such heartfelt and memorable moments in this volume specifically, especially as its leading up to the final volume (*sob 😭💞). I had tons of favorite pages from Volume 3: ‘Someone To Rely On’ was one the most impactful and wholesome pages, ‘Did I Pray?,’ ‘Snow,’ ‘Luck,’ and ‘Second Home.’ These were just some of the pages that showcased their lovely dynamic and the wonderful friendship that they share.

What definitely stood out to me was because its also prepping for the finale, I just found myself remembering more of these pages and appreciating the heartfelt moments where they specifically state how much their friendship means to each of them. Despite being from different countries, they’ve really made a new home for themselves in the US and cherish their relationship so much. Page 82 summed it up perfectly: “You know this is our second homeland. If you couldn’t go back to Japan for some reason, I would come here to get you…”

The 4-panel manga gives the story a unique opportunity to place our main characters in tons of different situations and moments that make for really well-timed humor. Because we get to know Satoko, Nada, Miracle, Kevin, Rahman, and Abdullah fairly quickly, it allows this novel to focus more on the plot and various 1-page acts. The dialogue is great and the distinct art-style really sets the series apart.

There’s definitely more cohesive story arcs that build over Volume 3 and its more impactful, which is why I rated this one a 4.5 compared to the last volume. However, I did want even more Satoko and Nada page time together, especially with their friends Kevin and Miracle (because these two did feel a bit distant).

This series could go on for 100 volumes and I wouldn’t mind. I’m still emotionally preparing myself for the last volume because, you know that feeling when a book just connects with you on a deep level and you can’t really explain why? That’s what reading this series is like! I’m right there with Satoko and Nada on all their adventures and every volume just leaves you smiling and full of joy!!

If I were to pitch this series and explain why it needs more attention, I’d say it follows the fantastic adventures of Japanese and Saudi Arabian hijabi Muslim exchange students who become the best of friends! It feels like the book community is also usually on the lookout for more college-set YA stories that focus on FRIENDSHIP and I definitely believe this series deserves so much love and support (PLEASE read it if you get the chance, its so wonderful) ❤❤

Satoko And Nada Vol. 3 focuses more on the slice-of-life moments as it balances humor, deeply interwoven theme of friendship, and features many vignette-style plot points that keep you reading! Delving into the beauty of deep friendship bonds and exploration of culture, Satoko And Nada is an utterly brilliant manga series that will capture your heart from page 1!

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi ARC Review

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

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Pages: 416

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Design: Kerri Resnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Storm From The East by Joanna Hathaway Review

Storm From The East by Joanna HathawayStorm From The East by Joanna Hathaway (Glass Alliance #2)

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Pages: 496

Available Through The Book Depository: Storm From The East

Cover Design: Marisa Aragón Ware

Summary: War has begun, and the days of Athan’s and Aurelia’s secret, summer romance feel a world away. Led by Athan’s father, the revolutionary Safire have launched a secret assault upon the last royal kingdom in the South, hoping to depose the king and seize a powerful foothold on the continent. Athan proves a star pilot among their ranks, struggling to justify the violence his family has unleashed as he fights his way to the capital—where, unbeknownst to him, Aurelia has lived since the war’s onset. Determined to save the kingdom Athan has been ordered to destroy, she partners with a local journalist to inflame anti-Safire sentiment, all while learning this conflict might be far darker and more complex than she ever imagined.

When the two reunite at last, Athan longing to shake the nightmare of combat and Aurelia reeling from the discovery of a long-buried family truth come to light, they’ll find the shadow of war stretches well beyond the battlefield. Each of them longs to rekindle the love they once shared . . . but each has a secret they’re desperate to hide.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Storm From The East is a phenomenal sequel that expands on the layered politics and deeply complex cast of characters, as Athan and Aurelia attempt to establish their identities while facing the realities of war! Exquisitely written, this historical fantasy, WW-infused tale continues to be as thought-provoking as it is enthralling! Storm From The East is haunting, beautiful and Hathaway establishes herself as a master in geopolitical storytelling!

Storm From The East is many things: it’s character-driven, a deep dive into the impacts of war, legacy and pride, it’s dark and hopeful, rooted in multi-layered politics, a tale of star-crossed love, but above all…it’s a book that’s daring!

Set about 3 months after Dark Of The West, Athan and Aurelia’s families are recuperating from the attempted coup of the Etanian throne. There’s a war headed to the South (Resya) and both of them are tangled up in it, with little means of escape. Athan becomes promoted to a squadron leader, while Aurelia attempts to follow her cousin Lark’s advice to get more evidence about the photographs from Beraya and learn more about whatever secrets her family tree is hiding.

It’s been so long since a sequel captivated me in such a way as this one did and I loved every moment. Hathway’s writing continues to be poetic, necessary even as we get a deeper look into how Aurelia and Athan’s perspectives create such distinct views of the world.

If you love plot-heavy/driven books, this sequel will leave you pleasantly surprised. From Aurelia leaving with Havis to uncover more secrets in Resya, taking up the role of a journalist. Then there’s Athan who is stuck fighting yet can’t seem to escape, he’s slowly realizing that he can’t seem to make his own choices anymore–even to the point where he’s unintentionally standing in his father and older brother’s shadows. All the while, Athan and Ali are still linked to each other, unsent letters and longing for reunion keep them grounded.

As Hathaway cemented even more of the evolving politics and devastation of Resya, it painted a distinct picture of both the consequences and realities of war.

Athan and Aurelia are faced with this stark truth, they have important choices to make if they’re to see each other again once this war is over. However, they also face the political shroud built by decades of history that obscures their chances at seeing the truth― the world around them can change for the better, but they must work together.

As established in book 1, Hathaway clearly draws inspiration from her love of history and through the increasing power of Savient, we see influences from early 20th Century political, militaristic, and geopolitical ties of Europe. In this book especially there’s a heavy influence through the planes and strides of journalistic reporting of that era!

Dark Of The West won me over for many reasons, one of those being these characters! One of my favorite dynamics in the sequel involved the increased layers to the Dakar family. There’s the General, cunning, manipulative, and Athan’s older brother Arrin, an equal yet unpredictable mirror. What surprised me too, was seeing Kalt who is unlike them and the more down-to-earth of them all, even more so than their sister Leannya.

One of the dynamics I find the most fascinating is Athan and Arrin, there’s an unsaid rivalry between them! I’m interested in seeing where Arrin’s journey is headed (will he pay for his crimes?) , if this book was any indication, I think Hathaway will leave readers surprised!

As Athan finds himself bound to the Resya conflict, we see how Hathaway digs deep to present our deeply flawed characters, while showing the cracks in their armor. As Athan attempts to undo his mistake and get in his family’s good graces again, he surprisingly begins to take up the roles he desperately wanted to avoid. Arrin gets him to attack innocents and his father, the ruthless General, begins incorporating him to more vital positions of war. General Dakar clearly knows more than is revealed and it’s surprising to see him brew this competition between his sons. In doing so, Athan’s forced to assume an identity that’s causing him internal dilemmas, pain, and possibly even early signs of PTSD. The truths as to who his family really is (especially in times of war) painted a clear picture not only in Athan, but Ali’s POV of the false perfection that certain sides are upholding. Because of that, their compassion and humanity is explored in such a thought-provoking way.

As Aurelia teams up with journalist Triza, we see her shed her role as princess to seek out the truth and publish propaganda that goes against the Dakar/Safire mission. As she goes undercover it’s all with the hope to inspire people to realize that Resyans shouldn’t be forced to suffer because of a vain plot for conquest.

What Hathaway brilliantly does in this book is continue to portray this idea of opposing mirrors. Athan and Aurelia are essentially the mirrors of those around them, yet it’s through Hathaway’s complex politics and intriguing storytelling that they learn whether they are ready to face or shatter that mirror.

There were many different layers to these characters (some that surprised me like Havis & Kalt)– I found myself seeing how well-developed and deeply flawed they were. But again, that just shows how strong Hathaway’s characterization and writing is. No matter what I already know about these characters, seeing them change through Ali & Athan’s perspective showed how much they themselves grew too!

We get underlying family history uncovered about Sinora and how Aurelia’s ties to the south are much bigger than she first realized. I also loved exploring the possibility that these characters have much more to gain than we first realize such as Havis, General Dakar, Arrin, Trigg and many more.

Athan and Aurelia also carry with them, a quiet strength that I relate to so much.

Along the way we get introduced to a couple new characters who I’m positive we’ll see again in book 3! Triza & Trigg are new friends that allow Athan & Aurelia to think more about their allegiances and their own roles in the world! They are so much fun to follow and although Athan does find himself at odds with Cyar at some points, I loved the trio dynamics between them so much and I can’t wait to see where their friendship is headed!

The romance was even more beautiful! Subtle and yet it envelops such critical emotional parts of Athan and Aurelia’s perspectives. Though they’re separated for much of the book, it’s in the letters, memories, and hopes for the future that we see how their innocent love is also an escape from the cruelties of their world! They grew so much during their journey and when they were together, their scenes were my absolute favorite! & YES there were moments I cried! ♥♥

I just want to give Ali, Athan, Cyar, Trigg, and Triza a hug, they’ve been through so much and I’m nervous for what’ll happen to them next ♥♥ I also hope to see more Violet & Reni too~

The ties between politics, world building, and how family legacy bridges these POV’s together were essential to this story, explored through stark truths and obscure motives. The first-person perspective allows us to see unique angles to these characters that they themselves never really see and I loved how that’s used so brilliantly in Storm From The East!

Some of my favorite themes included identity, legacy, sacrifice, and the flawed, conflicted loyalties of humanity!

Family itself continues to drive much of the internal conflict and the way Hathaway cleverly ties political divisions, underlying intrigue, history even, showed why it’s such an important layer woven throughout the characters past, presents, and possibly even futures for the Dakars & Isendares!

My only minor critiques, which didn’t take away from my absolute enjoyment of this book was wanting a little more intrigue between the Dakar family and a bit more clarity to the ties that Ali has in the South (mainly towards the end), because the development of that did feel a bit rushed at points.

I’ll be honest I was scared because of that haunting prologue from Dark Of The West, but if anything I was left feeling both hopeful and intrigued as to how the South and North will hopefully find peace in Book 3!

Storm From The East is a sequel that delves deep into its characters, politics, and realities of war established in Dark Of The West! From its riveting storytelling, immersive world, layered politics, and complex development of Athan and Ali, makes this a stellar sequel! This is a truly underrated YA Historical-inspired fantasy series that explores legacy, geopolitical conflict, and at its heart follows characters longing for a place to call home! You’ll want the 3rd Glass Alliance book right away when you turn that last page!

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave Review

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood HargraveThe Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books (Bellatrix)

Release Date: September 19, 2019

Pages: 304

Available Through The Book Depository: The Deathless Girls

Summary: On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Deathless Girls is  a dark, gothic, atmospheric & feminist retelling of the brides of Dracula! With traces that evoke the feel of a historical fantasy, Millwood Hargrave delivers a character-driven tale of love, loss, and the bonds between sisters! This YA Fantasy features beautiful and descriptive writing that reads like a fairy tale! An impactful read that will keep you hooked!

I’ve been a fan of Kiran’s books for years, ever since I read her debut, The Girl Of Ink & Stars and later, The Island At The End Of Everything! She’s continuously delivered on personal 1st person narratives that follow young women’s journeys encompassing friendship, family, and independence.

Though there’s a couple more books from her I still have to catch up on, there was something that just compelled me to pick up her YA debut, The Deathless Girls and I loved it SO much! This is a dark and intense YA fantasy that I feel has NOT gotten enough hype, do yourself a favor and add this book to your to-read list: It features representation of Romani culture, f/f romance, powerful bonds of sisterhood, underlying vampire lore, and fairytale-esque storytelling!

It follows Lillai (or Lil) and Kizzy, twin sisters who are part of the Travellers and live with their fellow Traveller community that journey through the forests of Romania. The twins & their younger brother Kem, come from a family of Ursar, or bear dancers. Lil, the oldest twin, has always dreamed of being a singer or an Ursar and yet, she believes she will never match the potential of her twin sister.

But on their 17th birthday, Charani (a seer) will finally tell them their fates.

However, an unexpected attack on their community, leads them to be captured and enslaved. Now, Lil, Kizzy, Morsh, Girtie, Fen, among other kids are taken and brought to Boyar Valcar’s castle to work.

They’re all split apart and though Lil and Kizzy are still together, there’s this aching pain you feel for the other Travellers knowing they’ve been taken away from their home, family, and community.

The sister dynamic between Lil and Kizzy was beautiful, heartbreaking, and overall intricately explored. I adored these 2 brave ladies so much! You can sense how much love they have for each other and though they both carry their differences, its the quiet strengths that you see shine within them, each and every page! This also chronicles their journey to discover their own fates and take charge of a future that’s been taken from them.

Lil has grown up learning about the mysterious figure known as The Dragon, who drinks blood and is apparently immortal —however, she quickly learns from other girls working there that he takes girls from Boyar Valcar’s castle.

Though Lil’s entire world has been taken from her, she quickly realizes she finds friendship among other girls who work in the kitchen: Szilvie, Dot, and an ally with the strict head of the kitchen, Cook who also may be a Traveller like them!

She also finds herself drawn to one of the other workers there, the quiet Mira! Who we quickly learn, lost a former love to the Dragon. Their relationship is a slow-burn and takes time to develop throughout the book.

Told through an introspective and descriptive 1st person POV, it allows us to get a rich, captivating look into the Traveller culture that Lil’s grown up in. You understand the deep connection her community has with nature and how its such a distinct shift to her new life indoors of the castle.

The elements from the Iele (forest spirits), to the Boyars (lords) and princes across the land, and how the underlying tale of the Dragon ties much of the world together, these elements all weave seamlessly as the novel progresses, throughout what is set to be alluded to be the historical regions Transylvania or Wallachia.

Overall, the writing is just really beautiful, whimsical and weaves in atmosphere, world-building, history, folklore, culture, and fantastic character development all in such a way where this novel reads like a classic fairy tale.

Also, let me just say that the cover is not only absolutely stunning, but offers a lot of symbolic meaning the further you delve into the story!

The Deathless Girls, while a retelling of Dracula’s wives, is not entirely about vampires. The folklore of the the Strigoi is very much built up over the course of the novel and the foundation is rooted in the aura surrounding the Dragon. Though, nearing the later half of the book is where you get to see more folklore surrounding vampires, etc.

As for the representation, you see our main characters Lil, Kizzy and their Traveller community to be portrayed as those from the Romani culture, where you mostly see women in positions of power, such as Lil & Kizzy’s mother and the seer Chirani (who all are stated to have brown skin). There’s also f/f rep. & romance (Lil & Mira)!

The story tackles a lot of dark topics such as slavery, death, and discrimination that may not be for everyone (Cw for those topics and attempted assault). But at its heart you see that this slow, atmospheric story is also an incredibly moving tale! It delves deep into the bonds between sisters, love, and forging your own path when you find its been taken from you!

Also due to the nature of how character-driven and slow/atmospheric the story is, I personally don’t think its a book for everyone, but I feel those are its strengths that make it such a compelling book!

There’s also a deep sense of melancholy that I personally felt throughout the book, because you can’t help just sadness for Lil and her community as they’ve essentially been forced to leave their homes and have little to no way of escaping. Also, the theme of sisterhood is incredibly powerful as a plot point later leads Lil to save her younger sister!

I suppose my only minor critique is that the ending is a little bit rushed nearing the end as the story wraps up and with certain choices that our main characters make, I just couldn’t help but be heartbroken. This story is a lot darker than I anticipated, but truly at its heart its a very moving YA retelling!

The Deathless Girls is a dark YA Historical Fantasy retelling that re-imagines the backstory to the brides of Dracula! Millwood-Hargrave’s storytelling just captivates you with the elegant, introspective writing, and deeply-explored themes! If you love character-driven stories with lush prose, this is definitely a captivating book to add to your TBR!

I’m also shouting-out a fellow blogger review:

Megan from YABookers highlights why the slow pace of the novel really brings to life other important themes/elements of the story! Also, we had similar thoughts on the importance of sister bonds and how character-driven the story was!

I highly recommend checking out her review! ❤📚