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.

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft Review

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Pages: 388

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist (Jacket Design): Olga Grlic

Summary: He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

My Rating: ★★★

My Thoughts: Down Comes The Night is an atmospheric gothic YA debut that melds fantasy with a bit of horror and suspense! Through an intriguing world, science-based magic system, including an intriguing romance at its center, Saft delivers a solid standalone filled with twists, mystery, and an immersive world that comes to life!

While I’m not one to often gush about anticipated releases on the blog, DCTN was absolutely one of them! I luckily got an ARC early in the year and was captivated by the setting. The aesthetics of this novel build such a distinct atmosphere, world, and I just had to learn more about this intriguing cast of characters.

Wren Southerland is a healer of the Queen’s guard and from the very beginning of the story it’s made clear that her strength lies in her emotional, empathetic nature, which makes her journey as a protagonist not only relatable to me, but also quite interesting. She’s not on the best terms with her aunt, Queen Isabel and is on very thin ice after letting a possible suspect go early on in the novel, which could have been a clue to the whereabouts of her missing friend Jacob Byers.

After her dismissal, she receives a mysterious letter from a noble by the name of Alistair Lowry who’s in need of her skills to heal an ill servant of his. In exchange, he’ll offer Wren assistance in brokering peace between the warring kingdoms of Danu and Vesria, while also restoring her reputation. What Wren isn’t expecting is the servant “Henry” to be none other than, Hal Cavendish, “Reaper Of Vesria” and her kingdom’s sworn enemy.

As she stays in the eerie Colwick Hall to complete her work, she learns along the way that Hal is not all he appears to be and there’s something sinister about the desolate mansion. They are both eager to find comrades who’ve gone missing and perhaps together, they can find answers?

The worldbuilding has a unique set-up which is established in such a way where the setting feels lived in, expansive, and left me wanting to know more. Danu and Vesria are countries that rely heavily on magic, compared to the neutral region of Cernos which relies more heavily on technology-based innovations. There’s a clear dichotomy Saft explored through the magic system and politics, which add yet another interesting layer to the world. With a science-based magic system, the introduction to the fola, or the special vein that allows people such as Wren to tap into their magical abilities, is an integral part of the world that’s explored through both Wren and Hal.

In a world with magic, I appreciated how Saft also delved into this distinction between countries that either rely heavily on magic or 19th century technology. Through a 3rd person perspective the writing creates an atmospheric, dark. ominous tone with an equally cozy ambience. The imagery and Saft’s writing style deliver the aesthetic so well. In addition, the medical terminology adds even more to the atmosphere of the story, especially as it’s reflective of Wren’s skill as a healer.

As Wren makes herself at home within Colwick for the time being, she learns that the Reaper isn’t all he appears to be. The dynamic and chemistry between these two was my FAVORITE, despite being from opposing sides they are left on even ground with the crumbling mansion and wintery atmosphere, isolating them. This leads them to uncover more about each other, realizing there’s a lot they never really knew about one another or their countries. Wren / Hal each have their own goals, ambitions, and motivations, that propel them to grow throughout the novel.

Each character comes to life on the page and they have their own distinct personalities giving you a clear sense as to who they are. Una is Wren’s commanding officer, but also her friend and former love, there’s so much history, story, etc. between them that despite spending quite some time apart, their relationship really stood out to me. However at times certain characters can feel a bit static (in my opinion I felt this way with Queen Isabel), especially when their motivations don’t feel too fleshed out…but as a whole this is pretty well-developed cast. Wren’s dynamics with the cast overall were given enough interactions to the point where I knew them and enjoyed their arcs: Una, the Queen, Lowry, Sister Heloise, etc.

Throughout the novel, Wren is led to believe her emotions are what make her weaker, she is driven by them at every turn. However, I appreciate how Saft built this as her own personal strength. I’d say I’m a pretty emotional and the way Saft explored this as a constant through Wren’s character, presenting it as a core spirit to her character was satisfying to read about, especially in fantasy. Wren’s character arc to me felt incredibly well developed and satisfying, she grows along the way, but also stays true to her self, especially when it comes to her emotions. Una is driven by her loyalty to the kingdom, but underneath you can also tell she still worries for Wren, despite the obstacles along the way.

Interestingly despite being pitched as an enemies-to-lovers romance, I felt the execution didn’t work. Both Wren and Hal are given preconceptions about one another, their countries, etc. to the point where once they actually meet in person, there’s more of a hesitancy to their conversations than any solid antagonistic feelings between them. They do have meaningful conversations, challenge one another, and find that their love inspires growth within them, so with that said, I personally felt the enemies-to-lovers element wasn’t the best descriptor here, in my opinion.

Additionally, together the politics, magic system, mystery, character arcs, worldbuilding, and more combine so incredibly well, however looking back on each element on its own separately, it felt like more detail or development could have made them a bit stronger.

Overall there’s lots of elements woven throughout this book that I enjoyed and perhaps at a later date I hope to dive into them a bit more.

Down Comes The Night is a promising gothic fantasy debut that’s immersive, atmospheric, and packed with many different layers sure to keep you intrigued! Saft’s YA Fantasy is perfect for those who love a good fantasy with romance, and are looking for a solid standalone!

I’m shouting out fellow book blogger Cossette from Tea Time Lit and her review of this intriguing debut! In the short time I’ve known Cossette, I can tell you she is passionate about this novel, from the lush writing to Wren’s fantastic character arc, all of it! She loved this world, its characters and her review constantly reminds me of the stand out elements that Saft has weaved together. If you have yet to read this and need a motivator to pick it up, READ Cossette’s post!

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells_Review

Storm The Earth by Rebecca Kim Wells (Shatter The Sky #2)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: October 13, 2020

Pages: 368

Available through Bookshop & The Book Depository

Cover Artist: Chloë Foglia (Designer) and Olivier Ponsonnet (illustrator)

Summary: Let them burn.

Maren’s world was shattered when her girlfriend, Kaia, was abducted by the Aurati. After a daring rescue, they’ve finally been reunited, but Maren’s life is still in pieces: Kaia seems more like a stranger than the lover Maren knew back home; Naava, the mother of all dragons, has retreated into seclusion to recover from her wounds, leaving Maren at a loss on how to set the rest of the dragons free; and worst of all, her friend Sev has been captured by the emperor’s Talons.

As a prisoner of Zefed, Sev finds himself entangled in a treacherous game of court politics. With more people joining the rebellion, whispers of a rogue dragon mistress spreading, and escape seeming less likely with each passing day, Sev knows that it won’t be long before the emperor decides to make an example of him. If he’s to survive, he’ll have to strike first—or hope Maren reaches him in time.

With the final battle for Zefed looming, Maren must set aside her fears, draw upon all she’s learned about her dragon-touched abilities, and face her destiny once and for all. But when the fighting is over and the smoke clears, who will be left standing?

[Read an ARC: which I received unsolicited from the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Storm The Earth is a character-driven conclusion to the Shatter The Sky duology! When Maren is eager to free the dragons of her nation, she also embarks on a journey to rescue a friend whose been taken prisoner. With political intrigue, additional layers to the world building, and well-rounded character arcs, this is a quiet YA fantasy adventure worth reading!

Early last year, I read a surprising debut that I personally feel went under the radar. Although I truly don’t talk about this series enough, Shatter The Sky easily became one of my new favorite books. If you have yet to read Wells’ book it can essentially be pitched as an “angry bisexual/dragon” novel.

The first novel follows Maren, a girl who lives in the quiet mountain nation of Ilvera and whose girlfriend gets taken by Aurati, seers of the empire. So, as she devises a plan to rescue Kaia, she believes the only thing she can do is steal the emperor’s beloved dragons and search for her. When her journey takes her to a stronghold, she goes undercover as an aromatory apprentice, learning more about dragons, her nation’s deeply rooted link to them, and perhaps her own special connection.

Now that Maren and Kaia are reunited with the great dragon Naava by their side, she’s hoping to uncover a lot more about her unique abilities of being able to communicate with dragons and her mysterious Dragon dreams. With Sev (who is actually a prince leading an undercover rebellion) having become prisoner by the emperor, Maren is unsure of where he could possibly be. So, while the Emperor is devising a plan to destroy the brewing rebellion, take control of the dragons, and bring an end to Maren’s plans, Sev hopes she won’t be too late. Then to make matters even more interesting, Naava decides to leave and recover, leaving Maren to discover how she’ll free the dragons on her own and determine what the dragons’ fates will be when she breaks their hold from the Emperor’s Talons’…to join her or be free.

The worldbuilding in this sequel for me, was excellent, which is where STS faltered just slightly. However what this sequel does exceedingly well is delving more into those different layers from the various nations, political ties, and how both the lore and history of dragons fit into all of it! While taking place across the Zefedi empire from Maren’s POV, her travels detail more of the location, neighboring towns, and the world feels even more grounded. While from Sev’s POV there is a much clearer picture to the tyrannical rule of Rafael and his empire.

What both Maren and Sev’s POVs offer to expand on this rich world that Wells has established are elements of economic class division, hierarchy of the court, even the Emperor’s Talons and the dragon’s forced to work for them.

I felt that telling this story from a dual perspective truly was a brilliant move on Wells’s part because at its core, this story is propelled by its compelling cast of characters, especially our main protagonists. They are each learning more about themselves and how the world is shaping them at every step. Maren and Sev both had equally strong arcs and I genuinely loved following them in this finale, seeing how their stories intertwine added a new layer to this already phenomenal series.

An interesting twist is how Maren has taken up the role as the “Chosen One” / Hero, where Kaia has become much more reluctant like Maren was at the beginning of her own journey. While it can seem like “miscommunication” is a big factor in their surprisingly uneasy dynamic, Well’s naturally explored a relationship that is shifting, changing, and left adrift. It felt quite realistic and with the focus on characters, it made perfect sense with how Maren’s journey develops by the end.

As Maren continues on her journey she also learns whether she can take up the role of “Dragon Empress” the world so desperately needs. Sev is the last remaining royal of his family after they were murdered some years ago. With Rafael knowing more about Sev’s work with the Dragon’s, his rebel group, he knows he won’t let him escape so easily. While under the Emperor’s control and influence, Sev becomes forced to face trials that make him rethink his own power as a leader while it slowly crumbles away through torture and being coerced into making innocent people suffer for Rafael’s own image.

My only complaint is that I felt there could have been a couple more plot threads, mainly across Sev’s POV because he is essentially just stuck waiting for a way to escape. There’s his Aurati watcher named Faris and Neve also makes a return, which was very exciting as she was another one of my favorite characters, plus Sev’s childhood crush Piera. I enjoyed their character arcs a lot, but again I just wish they had a bit more page-time because they were so interesting [Especially Neve, who is on the verge of demotion after what happened with Maren in Book 1!]. The pacing can feel a bit slow, but with how the building conflict adds more tension to the story, I didn’t mind so much the further I read.

Again, the new characters we’re introduced to were so well developed and despite only just meeting them in the finale, their arcs really felt complete by the end of the book. Also, the intense action scenes (especially near the end) were SO GOOD! Actually, those scenes in particular were probably some of the best I’ve read in fantasy in quite a bit. Well’s detail to movement whether it was a confrontation with a Talon, dragon, etc., were described in a neat way where I never really felt lost while reading them.

Shatter The Sky and especially this sequel also is focused on presenting Queer rep. in this fantasy world. I love how Well’s navigated Queer relationships in her world. It’s nice to see typical romantic tropes or established relationships through the lens of a normalized queer fantasy setting. In addition to the bisexual rep. there’s a character who uses they/them pronouns, and there’s also a sapphic relationship.

Once I reached the end, I was overjoyed at where the main characters journeys had ended and truthfully I’m still feeling a bit sad at saying goodbye to this amazing world. If anything Storm The Earth left me wanting to know so much more. Maren, Sev, Kaia, the little dragon Tasia, Tovin, Efren, Neve, Faris, etc. were such intriguing characters and really captured my heart throughout the story, leading up to the end!

Shatter The Sky was definitely a unique reading experience and this surprisingly quick duology, really took me on a journey. These books are in my eyes truly under the radar. Its such a great series worth checking out, highly recommend them if you are looking for Queer fantasy, more YA duologies, dragons, or just eager to read a story set in a distinct world!

Storm The Earth closes the chapter on the Shatter The Sky duology following a reluctant hero who learns to lead a rebellion. From a layered world that gets explored even more, stunning cast of characters, dragon lore, politics, and much more, this is truly a YA Fantasy duology worth the read!

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

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

Publisher: Viz Media

Release Date: December 1, 2020

Pages: 200

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: December 8, 2020

Pages: 180

Available: The Book Depository & Bookshop

Summary: Unlimited Power and Infinite Mercy

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen Review

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

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: September 29, 2020

Pages: 256

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera Review

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Simon Teen)

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Pages: 296

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

Summary: THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Walden Pond Press

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Pages: 309

Available Through The Book Depository: A Sprinkle Of Spirits

Cover Artist / Illustrator: Mirelle Ortega

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 176

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

Summary: A World of Magic and Mischief!

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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