The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl Review

The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl (TGG #1)

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: October 26, 2021

Pages: 387

Available through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Designer: Ray Shappell

Summary: Four troubled friends, One murdered girl… and a dark fate that may leave them all doomed.

After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled it a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.

When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose ―about themselves, their destinies and that Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl. They soon learn they’re all cursed to repeat the brutal and gruesome endings to their stories until they can break the cycle.

While investigating the murder of their best friend, they uncover connections to their ancient fairytale curses and attempt to forge their own fate before it’s too late.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Grimrose Girls skillfully takes classic fairytales to present a dark, fantastical mystery that doesn’t shy away from exploring grief or trauma, but at its core focuses on identity! For those who love reimaginings, Pohl’s contemporary spin showcases nuanced character arcs, a dark-academia murder mystery, and lots of underlying themes perfect for those interested in reading an empowering, inclusive take on traditional YA fairytales!

When I first read about Pohl’s upcoming book (which was originally titled A Beautiful Doom) and having read her debut The Last 8 earlier this year, this now novel contained everything that appealed to me about fantasy and academia: an elite school, ancient curses, fairytales, friendship and a mystery? Sign me up! Overall, I felt like Grimrose‘s strongest element was making flawed, well-rounded character arcs that weren’t afraid to linger in the internal conflicts of each of the girls, societal expectations and the underlying essence of grief they undergo in their own ways. I found myself relating to their struggles in various ways: Ella questions whether will she find her own happy ending. Yuki wonders what she longs for in life. Even Rory, striving to commit herself to her dreams.

The story follows Ella Ashworth, Yuki Miyashiro and Rory Derosiers who in the beginning, are grieving the loss of their best friend Ariane (or Ari) whose death at the school’s nearby lake is ruled a suicide. However, as the girls work through their own traumas and mourning, they also work together as little by little, they go on a quest to uncover the truth of what really happened. Then, when Nani Eszes arrives looking for her father and ends up being a couple of the girls roommates, she finds herself tangled up in the mystery also.

I had a great time delving more into each of Ella’s, Yuki’s, Rory’s, and Nani’s stories because you learn a lot about them, deeper themes of identity and a lot about their history that makes them come to life. Pohl wasn’t afraid to focus on the more emotional conflicts, family life and their own mental health as you delve further into the expectations they have on themselves: like Yuki being the headmaster’s step-daughter and Rory wanting to defy her parents.

When it comes to the inclusion of fairytales and the atmosphere, both were definitely a couple of my favorite elements of this story. There’s of course a more modern approach to these stories as its set in the Swiss Alps where the school is located, so there’s little details that Pohl weaves into the story to give it that contemporary spin that also is reminiscent of the more darker Grimm’s versions. Now the setting and atmosphere of Grimrose Girls definitely grows on you with each page, but wow I loved it! There’s an isolated, cozy feel to the Académie that makes it clear your in a fairytale retelling from the descriptions of the castle, the passageways but also the academia stuff making you feel so immersed in the school, but constantly aware of secrets lurking within.

Now I wanted to take time to discuss what not exactly disappointed me, but where the execution hadn’t gone in a way I had hoped. In my opinion, the most compelling aspect of the story the mystery wasn’t really actively explored or given any new details until maybe mid-way through and even then it felt like your just left with the same information for the most part until other murders are occurring and the magical stuff begins to take a bigger part of the mystery. Another piece of this story that (in my opinion) disappointed me, was the main concept of FRIENDSHIP. In the beginning you know Ella, Yuki and Rory are friends and can sense that, but because the novel is focused on their own individual journeys it felt like they didn’t have enough scenes together to where it felt more impactful (at least until the end). There’s multiple scenes where each girl has another friend or potential significant other that they talk to, which felt more intense than their actual scenes when the girls are together. Also, I feel like Nani wasn’t even part of their group unless they talked about the mystery, which to me made a particular quote in which she talked about them being the most important friends to her (cannot remember the exact line) make little sense to me. Overall, it felt like while Nani’s focused on finding her father, friendship isn’t exactly a priority for her and the whole idea of friendship fell apart with the lack of additional details from her POV.

Overall thought I will say that the ending does have quite a few surprises and I’m interested in seeing where the sequel goes because by the end I enjoyed the dynamic between Ella, Yuki, Rory and Nani even more.

The Girmrose Girls is a refreshing take on fairytales filled with impactful themes about grief, identity & lots more. The atmosphere, underlying mystery and character arcs come together to bring a unique contemporary fantasy that starts off with heroines you’ll root for as they uncover their fairytale origins! Fans of dark academia, inclusive fairytales and character-driven stories should not miss out on Pohl’s newest YA duology!

Have you read this book yet or are you planning to? Which YA retelling is your favorite or any your looking forward to reading?

If you’d also like to read a bit of a different, more in-depth review, I recently wrote a Grimrose review for The Booked Shelf too and I’m beyond thrilled to start posting more alongside book news over in that space, enjoy! 🌹📚

Play It Cool, Guys Vol. 1 by Kokone Nata {Manga Review}

Play It Cool, Guys Vol. 1 by Kokone Nata (Play It Cool Guys / Cool Doji Danshi #1)

Publisher: Yen Press

Release Date: March 9, 2021

Pages: 144

Available through The Book Depository

Translator: Amanda Haley / Lettering: Lys Blakeslee

Summary: Enter: a bunch of cool guys who look like they got that unapproachable swag. But let’s be real-that’s not the true them.

They’re just a bunch of dorks who’ve got the act down pat. So sit back, grab some popcorn and enjoy watching a bunch of goofy guys try to look cool all day every day.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Play It Cool, Guys tells a comedic, slice of life series of vignettes following 4 guys who present a calm, cool persona but in reality…are incredibly dorky and awkward! Showcasing full color artwork, this first volume is filled with wholesome, hilarious and interconnected stories that present relatable and heartwarming, clumsy characters!

I absolutely judged this book by its cover when the publisher first announced its acquisition of this series! Little known reader fact about me, but you set a slice of life story in front of me, then without a doubt I will have finished it cover to cover eager for more. There’s a quiet simplicity to stories such as these that feel relatable and also like escapism at the same time, which I love!

Kokone Nata introduces a mundane, yet equally silly story following 4 guys: Hayate Ichikura, Shun Futami, Takayuki Mima and Souma Shiki where each of them are perceived to have it all together, but the truth is they are constantly goofing up and making hilarious mistakes. Genuinely what makes this manga not only fun, but also quite brilliant is how the plot uses such average, typical day-to-day moments like paying for a snack, listening to music with headphones on a crowded bus to build the extreme, underlying awkwardness of the guys!

Each of the 4 characters are rather unaware of their clumsiness in the moment, but it’s through the differing situations where you learn more about how one is affected versus the other. Hayate, an introverted college student, is the one most embarrassed and tends to be left overthinking about his mistakes. Shun, a stoic high school student, is more willing to let his mistakes go on unaffecting him and reflects on it afterwards. Takayuki, an overworked businessman, goes unaware of his goofs and doesn’t let them bother him. Souma, an upbeat college student, tends to be more aware of his mistakes but looks at it in a more positive way and is the most optimistic of the group.

The budding friendship is subtle, but one of the strengths as well seeing how each of the guys unique personalities plays off the other or the rest of the characters in a fresh way. My favorite aspect of the characters was seeing how effortlessly they stand on their own despite and have their own quirks, despite a similar awkward situation befalling them each chapter. Across this first volume, every chapter ends with the guys crossing paths in some way which leads to a nice transition to the following vignette. Seeing their stories intertwine was a highlight and each story builds leaving you wondering what future adventure is headed their way next.

The plot however, comes to life through the brilliant, full-color artwork that evokes the style of old retro comics, which brings a vibrancy to the ambience, unique character designs and an added charm overall. The artwork has a minimalist look to it but the use of bright colors and geometric page layout makes everything stand out in a unique way!

While the concept surrounding this series is absolute genius, my only gripe is that it can feel like people’s reactions to the guys come off as the same or repetitive (seeing them as cute or silly, etc.). However, the exception I remember is for Souma when he helps out a fellow college classmate with her fashion photoshoot or when the guys interact with each other.

Also let me just share some of the *many awkward moments the guys go through: Standing at a crosswalk and forgetting to press the button, listening to music full blast without realizing the headphones aren’t even plugged in, or using a bendy straw backwards.

I enjoyed the immersive realism to the story and each setting comes to life on the page because of the fantastic artwork merging that with the relatability of the silly goof-ups, it made for a charming start to a manga series I’m eager to read more from!

Play It Cool Guys is a comedic, wholesome and slice of life manga perfect for anyone looking to read about average guys who in reality are always clumsy and bit dorky! Through a series of anthology-style vignettes that connect across each chapter, alongside the retro full-color artwork and quiet comedic story, Play It Cool Guys Vol. 1 is a fantastic start to a new manga series!

A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea And Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey Review

A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea & Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon Teen)

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Pages: 320

Available Through Bookshop

Cover Illustrator: Andrea Porretta

Summary: For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea And Tomorrow is a cozy, foodie YA romance that at its core is about overcoming grief and discovering one’s self. Lila’s summer in England is filled with friendship, love, and lots of baking! This was a sweet standalone story about healing and the power of delicious pastries!

Firstly, let me just say I know its been quite a bit since I’ve been blogging and interacting with you all, I’ve missed it honestly. However, its been important for me to take time time for my mental health, but having read this book back in September I just could not leave this review in the drafts and taking time to reflect on this book made it more impactful for me the more I thought about a major theme and idea surrounding Lila’s story: healing.

I knew going into this book that I would enjoy it and I’d been meaning to read Namey’s books for quite a while, but ultimately what stuck with me was seeing Lila Reyes journey (notably called the trifecta) from her beloved abuela passing, her best friend leaving to losing her boyfriend, the Reyes family felt it was best to send her to England during the summer not only to figure things out, but also for her mental health. In the beginning you can understand her frustrations in being forced to leave her Miami life and her cherished family bakery. However, as Lila starts finding her footing in the England atmosphere and using her impressive baking skills to keep herself busy, she soon realizes that she may not want to leave as soon as she thought.

Through the power of baking and delicious Cuban cooking, this story made it especially clear at how food can help one heal, but also bring people together. I loved that through Lila’s love of Cuban cuisine and pastries, I saw my own Latine culture shine through in the smallest of details: the important role of family in one’s life and all those little moments that just felt recognizable.

Baking is a big part of who Lila is which definitely leaves you craving delicious desserts, pastries and treats. From her expertise to the details that make their way into the writing, the baking and foodie elements deliver a cozy feel to the story as well.

Namey made Lila’s England summer feel so fleshed out, taking time to focus on all the personal, emotional layers to her story where your left understanding all of her hopes, desires, fears and goals for the future. Lila takes time to develop some new friendships and you see how her blossoming relationship with local tea-shop owner and designated guide Orion Maxwell, helps her see things from a new perspective. This was also a rather random detail, but I appreciated that Lila’s relatives and new friends have established loves outside of the main story making it feel that much more real: the band, Orion’s family business and his mother’s story, the tea shop, the Owl & Crow Inn, etc.

Lila and Orion’s relationship was also the most adorable? I loved that there was so much care put into developing each of them and their own stories, but you also see how well they fit together. Lila finds her place in the Owl & Crow Inn kitchen baking and bringing her own influences to the food, but along the way it was fun to see her adapt to the English cuisine to bring both of these perspectives together. Orion is quite knowledgeable about tea and a very cute moment was him trying to figure out Lila’s perfect tea flavor.

While there’s a lot I loved about this book I would have enjoyed just a bit more scenes of baking (they were some of my favorite scenes) and more Lila/Orion adventures because they were cute together and were just fun to read. I also found that Orion’s friends felt just a tad underdeveloped *for me personally and would have preferred more scenes between Orion and Lila. But overall, what makes this novel such a thoughtful read is how its a story about overcoming grief and figuring out the next step.

This was a YA both equally sweet and emotional that truly shows Lila grow throughout the story! Was not expecting the book to make me even more emotional as I neared the end and tbh I WISH this had a sequel because reflecting on the entire story as a whole just left me smiling a whole lot ❤

A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea And Tomorrow delivers a heartfelt story about overcoming grief, figuring out where you want to be and the power of good food! Filled with friendship, a cute romance, and lots of meaningful messages, this is a sweet YA Contemporary that left my heart overflowing with many emotions and I had the best time reading this!

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

Eighty Days by A.C. Esguerra

Publisher: Archaia (Imprint of Boom Studios)

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository

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

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

[Received a digital galley via the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl Review

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl (TL8 #1)

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Pages: 357

Cover Artist / Illustrator: Luke Lucas

Available Through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Summary: A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Last 8 is a YA Sci-Fi post-apocalyptic novel that follows a pilot named Clover Martinez and her journey when an alien attack brings about the end of the world. Pohl delves into profound themes of survival, trauma, even mental health as a ragtag group of teens learn to fight back, knowing they are the last humans on Earth! Through mysteries, twist, and a plot spurred by unique concepts, this novel cleverly examines the idea of humanity by way of science fiction!

I distinctly remember hearing about this book through the initial book deal and felt so much joy in hearing about a novel with a Latina teen featured in YA Sci-fi. Because of that I knew I had to read this, but sadly when a tbr continues to grow, its inevitable that some books get pushed to the side, but being a mood reader there finally reached a perfect time to pick it back up (about 2 years later). Now that I’ve finally finished reading, I’d definitely say its changed how I view and hopefully will view science fiction books in the future. It all starts with this first line that will forever stick with me: “My abuelo says that there are people who belong to the earth, and others, like us Martinezes, belong to the sky” (1).

Pohl’s debut does what I wished was more present in Sci-Fi: examining mental health and the aftermath of traumatic events through the protagonist. She made this such a present part of Clover’s story and I think that’s what made this story so impactful for me.

Clover is living a simple life in her small town, living with her caring grandparents and pursing her dreams of studying aerospace engineering at MIT. She doesn’t have many friends other than her ex Noah and is ready to present her science fair project when out of nowhere, an alien apocalypse descends. Within a short amount of time, her loved ones soon disappear and are obliterated, until she is all alone left to travel across the country, no destination in sight but her one goal is to survive. But months later, she hears a radio signal leading her to Area 51 where she meets other teen survivors. Keeping her at a distance upon her arrival plus Clover’s independent nature, we are left wanting to know more about this found family who seem comfortable with their day-to-day lives, unconcerned with avenging the planet.

At its core, this story is not only about survival, but fighting back as Clover tries to inspire the crew in her help to take down the aliens. As she struggles to convince them, she also tries to uncover the mysteries she finds at the base, now that she’s decided to stay with them. This can at times make it feel like there isn’t much for Clover to do as she’s figuring out her next step, making the plot feel aimless at times, but as the mysteries begin to build and clues are uncovered, the ordinary-ness made more sense to me the further I read.

Pohl’s novel features a bi-aro Mexican-American lead, a side f/f relationship, Black and Brown characters as well as having an almost all-queer cast.

I adored how Pohl tackled so many real and human themes through an intergalactic, post-apocalyptic lens. In addition, being told from Clover’s POV it makes themes elements come through her as a character and realistic layers to her story. However, it also becomes a very personal kind of sci-fi tale unlike any I’ve ever read before as it takes time to carefully delve into and discuss themes such as depression, ptsd, and mental health in general (TW for suicidal thoughts / attempt).

However, throughout the novel there was just this sense of lots of ambiguity to this story which came across through the text, which leads to the discussion about my least favorite part of this novel was the writing style. While I did love it because of the distinct connection you get through Clover’s voice, there could have been just a bit more detailed and descriptive qualities to add more to the immediacy of how her thoughts come across. It felt like members of the group: leader Violet, Flint, Avani, Adam, Andy, Brooklyn, and Rayen despite having their own distinct roles in the story (which is awesome), there’s still this lingering thought that even once I turned the final page, I sadly never really connected with them too much.

The novel is filled with surprises when it comes to the action, intrigue, and mystery that left me with many questions just waiting to be answered. Though the ending is a bit abrupt and rushed, I am super curious to see what happens with Clover and the crew. However, at the same time I think it also genuinely enjoyed the emotions the ending make you feel, so I’m conflicted on when I should pick up the sequel. As a whole though, I truly enjoyed how inventive Pohl was with this concept in making it such a human, thematic tale of survival.

I think as far as dystopian and science fiction go I thought I was over them, but Pohl’s creativity with this concept has reminded me why they are such exceptional stories no matter passing of trends. I think this is what has me even more excited to read her upcoming book Grimrose Girls, to immerse myself into yet another of her inventive concepts.

The Last 8 is the best kind of Sci-fi, character-driven and not afraid to tackle many different themes! The mystery, intrigue and unique story will keep you on the edge of your seat. Pohl’s layers Clover’s story will leave you rooting for her amidst an alien apocalypse!!

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

The Sprite And The Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt

Publisher: Oni Press

Release Date: May 11, 2021

Pages: 88

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

Available through Bookshop

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

[Requested a review copy via the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo Review

Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse by Chantal Acevedo (Muse Squad #1)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Pages: 357

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Jonathan Stroh

Summary: Callie Martinez-Silva didn’t mean to turn her best friend into a pop star. But when a simple pep talk leads to miraculous results, Callie learns she’s the newest muse of epic poetry, one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology tasked with protecting humanity’s fate in secret.

Whisked away to Muse Headquarters, she joins three recruits her age, who call themselves the Muse Squad. Together, the junior muses are tasked with using their magic to inspire and empower—not an easy feat when you’re eleven and still figuring out the goddess within.

When their first assignment turns out to be Callie’s exceptionally nerdy classmate, Maya Rivero, the squad comes to Miami to stay with Callie and her Cuban family. There, they discover that Maya doesn’t just need inspiration, she needs saving from vicious Sirens out to unleash a curse that will corrupt her destiny.

As chaos erupts, will the Muse Squad be able to master their newfound powers in time to thwart the Cassandra Curse . . . or will it undo them all?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Review: Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse weaves together mythology, humor, adventure and much more to tell the story of Callie Martinez-Silva whose whisked away into the world of myths, legend, even magic after learning she’s one of the Greek Muses! Acevedo presents such a wonderful start to a fun middle grade duology!

Callie is an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl who is just going about her average life like enjoying concerts with her best friend, going to school, and trying to survive sixth grade, when lots of weird things start happening to her ― from a freak “almost” metro accident to turning her best friend Raquel into a new pop sensation, Callie’s life quickly takes some surprising turns.

But what she slowly begins to realize is in moments of peril or worry for those close by, Callie can inspire confidence in those around her. These events introduce her to the world of Greek Myths when she learns she’s one of the new Muses (Muse of Epic Poetry). After confirming this huge discovery, she learns that alongside her fellow muses, they are tasked with protecting a Fated One, a person destined to change the world, which turns out to be none other than her studious, “nerdy” classmate Maya Rivero. Befriending Maya and connecting more with the Muse Squad becomes a central part of Callie’s mission as she and the Squad attempt to stop the Cassandra Curse before its too late!

This book is an absolute whirlwind filled with tons of fun moments, but also never falters in presenting an important message about the hero within. Muse Squad was truly a joy to read because it not only delves into tons of themes and ideas, but seeing how the characters bounce off each other, even discovering more about how this world of myths blends into modern day, is so intriguing! What I loved the most was seeing how the story balanced the mythology with the average, everyday life stuff: highs and lows of friendship, family dynamics, school projects, and the hardships of growing up!

Told from a first person POV, Callie’s voice is what makes this story shine! Not only following her journey as a character, but also seeing how the writing successfully blends the magic, myths, humor, and adventure as the plot jumps across Miami, the world of Greek mythology, and the Muse Headquarters (the V&A Museum in London).

The story balances the magical elements alongside friendship and family incredibly well. Callie lives with her mom and twin brothers (Fernando and Mario), their dynamic is so strong and really a foundation for Callie who is also learning more about her family’s history when she learns that her aunt was a former Muse. Seeing this important thread help Callie to cope and also learn where she fits into the Muse world was a subtle but ever-present layer in her story. But on the other hand, Callie is also grappling with her own jealousy and insecurities as she’s unsure how to patch things up with her best friend Raquel who seems to be consumed by the life of fame after Callie’s Muse powers make her a dazzling pop star, who slowly changes throughout the story. There’s a sense of gloom for Callie who is unsure of how to reconnect with Raquel, but it also delves into all the emotions and how they take time to overcome. However, befriending Maya and the Muse Squad remind her she isn’t alone, plus also an ever-present idea that friendship is a process.

The characters all had their own unique quality to them and if you like stories with big casts, this book is definitely for you! Callie and Maya’s friendship was incredibly sweet, but seeing Callie learn to forge to new friendships even when she was still feeling down about reconnecting with Raquel was a highlight because the other Muse Squad girls were so fun: Thalia is the outgoing, funny one, Nia is a lover of science, and Mela is the more realistic one. What I loved the most was seeing all of them with Callie, their dynamic is truly something else when their all hanging out together and I adored that!

The magic system was interesting also, Acevedo establishes the mythological elements so well that for someone like me who just knows the basics, it still feels like something incredibly new. The magic is very unique to each character and seeing how that works in tons of different scenarios was great, but at its core the element of TEAMWORK truly shined! There’s also lots of great action scenes, mystery, and seeing how the Greek myths slowly blend their way into the story even more was always a surprise.

However, I did find it take a bit of time for me to understand the magic system better. The magical elements were somewhat confusing for me at first (due to it being from Callie’s POV while she herself was unsure what was happening), so slowly but surely I got adjusted to the rules of Muse world, but it quickly became the center of what made this story so lively! Genuinely loved seeing Callie embark on her own journey growing into her Muse powers, learning more about her Tia, and growing alongside her friends Thalia, Nia, Mela, and Maya.

Acevedo’s novel is without a doubt, the kind of story that will leave you feeling hopeful, while immersing you in the magical tale of myths and heroism. This is one of those books that left me with so much wonder, curious as to how much more of this world there is left to explore. The fun characters, voice, the heart of the story, messages, friendship, and sense of adventure came together in such an awesome way that leave the reader with just an introduction to this Muse Squad world.

Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, is a fun, middle grade adventure that explores greek myths, carries inspirational messages throughout, and introduces readers to new group of heroes to root for! Inspirational and delightful, this is a fantastic duology opener that’s a refreshing, entertaining spin on classic myths!

Satoko And Nada Vol. 4 by Yupechika {Manga Review}

Satoko And Nada Vol. 4 by Yupechika (Satoko & Nada #4)

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: December 29, 2020

Pages: 128

Available Through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Summary: THE LAST DAYS ARE THE SWEETEST

It’s almost time for Satoko to head back to Japan! After everything she’s learned and all the beautiful friends she’s made, it’s hard to leave her new home-away-from-home. But with Nada at her side, her last days in the States are sure to be some of her best yet!

The final volume!

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Satoko And Nada is truly unlike any series I’ve ever read before! Both radiant and heartfelt in its storytelling, this finale continues to establish, till the very end, a true and authentic message in valuing the importance of friendship. This wholesome manga is genuinely heartwarming across each installment as the bittersweet finale wraps up the exchange trip of two Japanese and Saudi-Arabian women who become the best of friends while studying abroad!

If you’re new to my blog then you probably are not aware that this manga series quickly became an ALL-TIME FAVORITE when I read the first volume back in 2018 (wow that felt like a lifetime ago!)…reading each volume has truly made me feel like I’ve been a part of this journey alongside Satoko, Nada, and the rest of the crew during their studies in America. This is a series I will probably cherish forever because it’s a rare kind of story that makes it abundantly clear how impactful friendship can be no matter the distance or borders between people.

From its opening page where they welcoming the reader back, there was also this lingering sadness with the fact that their wholesome adventures would be wrapping up (YES there was quite a bit of sobbing as I reached the final chapter & WOW, the bonus chapter at the end really got me ). Satoko And Nada are truly such an iconic and inspiring duo I aspire to be, no matter the situation they are always there to support one another and this last installment is also a satisfying reminder at how the study abroad program has truly been life-changing for the both of them, despite their fears in the beginning.

As the final few days in the States are quickly approaching, Nada prepares to officially see her fiancé Abdullah in a formal family meeting (Shawfa) to make their engagement official (with Satoko by Nada’s side of course), while on the other hand, Satoko is readying herself to fly back home to Japan.

While there’s numerous 4-koma pages that could be talked about, I think what lingered with me that most was the feeling of closure on the horizon, yet seeing everyone (Kevin, Miracle, Rahman, Abdullah, and Pakeezah) interact throughout each act of the story. Though one of the best and probably stand-out moments of this ending was definitely seeing Satoko and Nada go one last major adventure together traveling to New York, Manhattan, and Canada, only for Satoko to mention on their way back to their apartment, being with Nada has left her wondering why she was even worried about studying abroad to begin with!

Despite the tear-shedding moments across this volume as the ladies are trying to say their goodbyes, the author cleverly uses the 4-koma style to input small humorous moments at the end. For example in “Change,” Satoko gives Nada her American coins that she won’t need anymore to where Nada says “I’ll be sure to think of you…as I buy this soda!” I just adored that scene so much because it was a continuous reminder to the reader that their friendship will always be filled with tons of joy and laughs despite the more emotional moments in between.

I’ll be honest, I was avoiding this volume for the longest time because there was just this crushing feeling at knowing it was coming to an end. However, what made the experience so joyful was how Volume 4 reflected on the previous ones in the smallest of ways making the reader realize just how much these two had grown during their studies: Satoko gained more confidence and in general both women pondered on the myriad of moments from the mundane to routine things like buying groceries or watching tv together, that made the experience meaningful! It was the smallest moments that reflected the power of their friendship. The epilogue in which we see Satoko and Nada once again, there’s a feeling of closure and utter joy in knowing their bond will never falter!!

My only wish is that there were more Satoko & Nada-focused scenes coupled with their storylines. I just wanted a few more adventures with them together, but it was great to see all the main characters together again. It was emotional seeing them wrap up their journey and there was this lingering part of me that truly wanted them to enjoy countless moments with one another. While someone like me could honestly read a million more volumes of their friendship together, it was also such as satisfying conclusion that also showed readers that till the very end, they continued to learn and embrace each other’s cultures.

Yupechika has truly crafted a series both phenomenal and worth your time. While being a comedic, slice of life manga about the day-to-day, its hilarious, uplifting and ultimately about FRIENDSHIP!

Satoko And Nada concludes with a terrific final volume! This series follows two Saudi-Arabian and Japanese women who become the best of friends and in a way, for the reader too! Heartwarming, humorous, and sweet, this is a genuinely fantastic manga that shows how truly impactful friendship can be!

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean ARC Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (TEA #1)

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: John Ed De Vera

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★

[Received an ARC through a giveaway]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri {Manga Review}

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri (TNSSB #1)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 16, 2021

Pages: 208

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Summary: A DEBT OWED

Midori drops her wallet on her first day of high school, but her new classmate Ichijo swoops in to help. She wants to thank him, but he’s part of a tight-knit trio and none of them are ever in class! Rumor has it that they all got expelled for acting up, and studious Midori’s actually at risk of expulsion, too… In order to help support her family, she has a part-time job, which is against the school rules. When the chairman of the school board catches her leaving work, he says he’ll let it go—but only if she’s up to the task of bringing the three boys back to school. Well, why not? It’ll be a piece of cake…right?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Having recently finished Yoko Nogiri’s previous series Love In Focus, I was incredibly eager to see what her new series would be about! As someone who doesn’t read a whole lot of shojo titles, Nogiri makes unique stories that are perfect for a beginner like me.

So, Those Not-So-Sweet Boys is the newest series from Nogiri that follows high school student Midori who after dropping her wallet, befriends a tight-knit group of guys who never show up to class and end up getting into trouble. But when the school’s chairman figures out she has a job outside of school, he makes her a deal…get them back to class for upcoming exams and activities and he’ll help her get an alternative job approved by the school.

The only question is can she figure out why Rei Ichijo, Chihiro Goshima, & Yuki Nojo-Ieiri are so determined to stay away from school to figure out a solution in time?

There’s a lot of page-time given to developing Midori and the boys backstories which not only builds their character, but also makes it easy to see that they are not who they appear to be, which adds an element of mystery to the story as you learn more about them and learn why they feel so disconnected from school.

I like how the manga establishes the family ties / dynamics when it comes to the guys lives outside of school, especially since they come from wealthy families. Midori realizes she has to rebuild their reputation and to her surprise, she realizes how happy she is hanging out with Rei, Chihiro, Yuki and their adorable corgi! Since they were closed off to her in the beginning, its nice to see them build a solid friendship and offer Midori an unexpected hand along the way when she needs help.

While the romance can seem quite obvious as its building with Midori and Rei, the way the plot is unfolding is what’s really keeping me interested. This first volume really builds the relationships / friendship between the characters that makes Nogiri’s shojo manga stand out to me every time.

The artwork has a unique style to it, especially when it comes out through character designs. The paneling on each page never feels repetitive or under-utilized either which is a plus.

I think my biggest issue is that although the story has an interesting concept and the wonder behind where the cast’s stories will go is what’s keeping me invested, YET there’s no actual strong connection I feel for the cast in general. There was nothing too memorable (for me at least) that specifically stands out about their characters. There were times that the writing could be a bit repetitive at points and plain. So for me, it came across as a bit bland in the execution.

But I found this to be a lot of fun and am very interested to see where Midori and the boys next adventure will take them! Also, in true Yoko Nogiri fashion despite how cliche it may be, the ending always leaves on a surprising note!

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 is an engaging, unique shojo, being the newest series from Yoko Nogiri! The artwork and plot especially will hold your interest, with the story giving lots of focus to the characters. Although the characters feel rather plain, it’s the page-turning story that will leave you wondering where the story is headed!

I’m also shouting a fellow book blogger review! I recommend reading Joanna at The Geekish Brunette‘s Review if you’re looking for a post that dives right into the characters and what to expect from them.