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!

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky ARC Review

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: April 13, 2021

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Cover Designer: Rich Deas

Summary: New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

[Received a digital ARC through a giveaway]

My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts: The Mary Shelley Club is a superb YA Thriller that follows Rachel Chavez as she finds herself getting tangled up in a club obsessed with horror! Easily one of my new favorite books, this one-of-a-kind novel features scary movie references, horror tropes, and a gripping plot that will keep you captivated start to finish. Don’t miss this 2021 release!

The Mary Shelley Club is a brilliantly crafted piece of fiction that pays homage to the horror genre, while simultaneously interweaving a personal journey of a girl who’s finding a place to belong.

Moldavsky sinks readers into the story through a writing style that evokes a chilling, dark, suspenseful atmosphere which makes you feel as though you’ve transported yourself into a classic horror flick. This is made clear through the opening scene of a terrifying home break-in that leaves main character Rachel transferring to a school in Manhattan.

Rachel is the newest student at Manchester Prep and has a keen obsession with horror films. Although she’s struggling to find her place, she’s struck a solid friendship with Saundra, who knows all the latest gossip and hang outs. After attending a party at a supposed haunted house that featured a séance and a ghost story, Rachel learns its echoed the work of a mysterious school prankster.

Desperate to forge some sort of connection to her new school, she quickly pieces together the clues leading her to uncover an intriguing, secretive on-campus society called…The Mary Shelley Club.

Desperate to forge some sort of connection to her new school, she quickly pieces together the clues leading her to uncover an intriguing, secretive on-campus society called The Mary Shelley Club. Now among their ranks, she bonds over her love of horror flicks with film club aficionado Freddie Martinez, popular jock Bram Wilding, mysterious bookworm Felicity Chu, and comedian Thayer Turner. She swiftly learns why the group keeps such tight-knit and deliberate boundaries…they orchestrate “Fear Tests” meant to terrify their classmates through elaborate pranks based on classic horror tropes.

However, when an unknown prankster begins to infiltrate their tests and take things too far, the secrecy of this tight-knit group and her new-found friends may be exposed!

Rachel Chavez is a curious, perceptive fan of the horror genre who is ultimately figuring out where she fits in. Using horror movies as a coping mechanism, she hopes to desensitize herself to the scary, chilling frights of fiction in order to overcome her own trauma. I loved Rachel so much, she’s clever, sarcastic, but not afraid to tap into her own monstrous side in order to keep to the truths of her past coming to light. There are no words to describe what a fascinating main character she was.

There’s a comfort that she feels as she connects with the club with their regularly scheduled weekly nights of watching horror movies together, even the secretive thrill of pulling of elaborate pranks inspired by the category of film they love so much. There’s an unsaid bond that forms between them and Moldavsky makes that a highlight of Rachel’s journey. I liked Rachel’s relationship with Freddie a lot, being the only Latino students as well there’s an emphasis on that connection.

A rather big element of this novel involves masks, both literally and figuratively. The club is an unlikely one, each member from different social circles of the school, they are passionate about this group and are genuinely there for one another. There’s a deep bond that connects them, however there are unsaid secrets that Rachel learns show who they truly are when not confined to their circle and its interesting learning more about that through each of them, especially Bram. Loved seeing the friendship and deeper connections she creates with her group members who all become like a little family!

Moldavsky’s writing uniquely conjures a familiarity of the genre while at the same time intertwining the notes of dark academia, thriller, and horror all at once. It’s in her sharp, descriptive language that evokes the feeling of watching a scary thriller or horror movie. You get chills and are engrossed by the mystery, fear, and frights of TMC.

There’s a page-turning quality to these kinds of stories and Moldavsky keeps that momentum going throughout the entirety of the novel, up until the intense ending. Written in first-person POV, you get that chilling atmosphere and detailed note that paints this as a classic horror-thriller story, and the inclusion of specific chapters from the perspective of the “Fear Test” target further envelops you in that feeling.

Honestly there’s nothing I can personally say I disliked. While I knew this book would become a favorite, it surprised me, especially as someone whose never really been able to get into horror. If anything, I probably would have loved more scenes of Rachel connecting with the club. I truly hope this novel does not go under the radar, so if you love clever storytelling, dark academia vibes, and just a top-tier thriller PICK THIS BOOK UP!

The Mary Shelley Club is a captivating, page-turning YA Thriller/Horror novel that will immerse you from page 1! Fantastically chilling read with a well-developed cast of characters, frights, horror references galore, and a tightly-plotted story that engages you with each chapter. Moldavsky has presented a brilliant, masterfully crafted novel that is an homage to the horror genre!

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Katie O’Neill ARC Review {Graphic Novel}

The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Tea Dragon Society #3)

Publisher: Oni Press

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Pages: 128

Available Through The Book Depository: Tea Dragon Tapestry

Summary: Over a year since being entrusted with Ginseng’s care, Greta still can’t chase away the cloud of mourning that hangs over the timid Tea Dragon. As she struggles to create something spectacular enough to impress a master blacksmith in search of an apprentice, she questions the true meaning of crafting, and the true meaning of caring for someone in grief. Meanwhile, Minette receives a surprise package from the monastery where she was once training to be a prophetess. Thrown into confusion about her path in life, the shy and reserved Minette finds that the more she opens her heart to others, the more clearly she can see what was always inside.

[Received a digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher]

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a satisfying, heartwarming conclusion to the series! Reunited with Greta and her friends, this third installment tells a gentle, quiet story about embracing change! O’Neill’s art, storytelling, and color palette make this a perfect read for fall!

The second you open up the beautifully illustrated pages of a Tea Dragon novel, you’ll always know your in for a comforting and wholesome tale. Picking up the last novel feels like a goodbye and yet it also doesn’t. There’s a timeless quality to the world of tea dragons and its been an honor to follow it with each installment.

As Greta prepares for an upcoming blacksmith apprenticeship, while also trying to take care of her tea dragon Ginseng. Minette is grappling with the lost memories of her past, also struggling to gain a better understanding of her sense of identity and purpose. While there’s definitely a lot of sweet Greta & Minette moments, they each go on their own individual journeys too!

It’s wonderful to see all of the characters from Society again! Seeing Heskiel, Erik, Greta, Greta’s parents, Minette, also seeing the whole Tea Society crew together (they are such a wholesome found family 💕). We also get introduced to one of their old friends Klietos, who goes on a journey himself as he learns to find the spirit for blacksmithing again while staying to test Greta for her apprenticeship!

The world of Tea Dragon has always felt expansive, despite the very focused and central stories it tells. That’s something I will forever admire about this series because its quiet, intimate storytelling emphasizes such meaningful messages about family, friendship, self, identity, and the beauty of time.

The art, as with previous books, is absolutely lovely. There’s a lot of panels without dialogue that allow you to take the necessary moments to take in the soft art style and warm colors. The color palette is a rainbow of oranges, purples, yellows, and is a perfect read for getting you into the cozy fall spirit.

Next, I wanted to discuss a mini, personal gripe. I personally felt there were SO many circle panels and while its nice because they give you insight into a character’s deeper emotions, it did feel overused at points. You already know how a particular character is feeling (Minette for example when she’s reflecting on the tapestry and her lost memories) based on context, so it felt unnecessary to the overall story. The circle panels also interfered with the stunning full page artwork / panels at times.

Also, an interesting observation is that because the series takes on a very timeless feel to it, there’s never such a sense of urgency in the plot. However this one is obviously meant to wrap-up the series, so the conflict does feel straightforward. Yet, it captures such powerful messages of healing and finding your way despite the passion or motivation becoming lost somewhere through. Our tapestry is still being woven and this book reminds us that despite the challenges, we are still being

Having originally read this series while it was still being published as a webcomic, its no surprise Tea Dragon will forever be incredibly special to me! Was I also sobbing because this was the final book? Absolutely! What makes it such a beautiful ending is that it doesn’t really feel like one either. You know Greta, Minette, and the group have tons of long journeys, especially adventures, ahead of them! It never feels like a goodbye! 🧡

I just had a lot of fun returning to this world for one last adventure! This series is just so wholesome, comforting, and has the most beautiful storytelling, if you haven’t read this series, PLEASE do!! Its an absolute gem and I cannot recommend it enough. If you love diverse, inclusive, heartwarming stories, dragons, and meaningful, deeply moving messages set in a quiet, fantasy world, you have to read The Tea Dragon Society!

The Tea Dragon Tapestry is the highly anticipated and perfect conclusion to The Tea Dragon Society series! O’Neill navigates important themes and tells an equally beautiful story! Your heart will be filled with joy as you’re reunited with beloved characters again one one more journey! From its quiet, loving story to its vibrant colors, and immersive storytelling, this is a delightfully crafted installment to the series! Readers will not want to miss this fantastic conclusion!

For this review I’m also shouting out fellow bloggers: Tea Time Book Review, AnneMieke from A Dance With Books, & Local Bee Hunters Nook! If you prefer short, concise reviews I recommend checking these bloggers as they delve into important themes that O’Neill explores in Tapestry! ☕🐉💗

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon ARC Review

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De LeonDon’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From

Cover Design: Elena Garnu

Summary: Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.

There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.

There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.

And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.

So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.

But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.

*Received a review copy from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is an introspective debut that discusses many topics such as racism and immigration. Liliana is navigating family, friendships, and a new high school after getting accepted into the METCO program! She’s also learning more about her Latina identity. This is a YA Contemporary that you need on your TBR!

De Leon’s debut is about a first-generation Latina who transfers to a new (majority white) high school and is left to adjust on her own, witnessing microaggressions, racism, and more, all while her father has been deported.

Firstly, I can’t put into words what it meant to be reading about a Guatemalan teen just living her life, going to school, and figuring things out! I was literally sobbing, it’s a book that left me with a feeling of familiarity, comfort, and I’m so happy this debut is now out in the world for readers to see pieces of themselves in Liliana and her family. This is the kind of book I would have loved reading as a teen growing up, SO please pre-order or check out this debut, which is out today!

This novel at its core is about the struggle many marginalized people face, where they feel drifted between two different worlds. However, its an unflinching look at disparity in the education system, racism, and learning to use your voice.

Liliana is an aspiring writer, loves making miniature sets, and her voice just leaps off the page!  Its as though she’s speaking to us the reader. She’s funny, filled with so much energy, and was just a fantastic main character!

When Liliana is accepted into the METCO program, she quickly realizes it was her parents (especially father’s) wishes to thrive! So this means she’s leaving her Boston school (where she was in the majority), heading to Westburg to join other METCO students despite the nerves and anxiety she feels.

Liliana’s not only navigating this new environment, but also trying to make friends, stay connected with her best friend Jade, and is experiencing a bit of romance with a fellow student named Dustin. She’s also confronting microaggressions, holding onto all these feelings inside of her, and witnessing racism towards fellow METCO students. But she’s just left feeling adrift. Liliana is struggling to show her true self and is lost, unsure what to do.

However, she luckily connects with the METCO group, like Rayshawn, her senior buddy named Genesis, and host family friend named Holly. But also learns to look deep within herself about what it means to use her voice.

De Leon weaves in so many relatable and thought-provoking lines that many marginalized or non-white, and especially Latine readers will understand. It’s also the kind of novel that introduces so many topics and gives enough page-time to discuss each, while even weaving many together.

Liliana herself is half-Guatemalan and Salvadorian. However, throughout the novel she mainly learns more about her Guatemalan culture. As an #OwnVoices reader (a Guatemalan-American), there’s just so many little details that I related too 100% and it felt surreal to see my family’s culture woven into the pages. From pepian to relative visits, and just seeing her connect more to the family’s roots was wonderful to see.

While I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about my Guatemalan culture from a bit of an earlier age (and even now), it was interesting seeing Liliana whose a teen navigate that with her own set of questions and gain her own understanding about her father’s Guatemalan roots.

That leads me into a major theme and highlight of this novel that presents itself in different ways, that’s the concept of LEARNING. Liliana realizes she doesn’t have much knowledge of her Guatemalan side, so she reads up, asks questions, and does her own research. Not just about her culture, but also when it comes to better understanding Latinx culture (like one scene that stuck out was when she learns about “Spanish” vs. “Latinx”), and navigating racism in general. De Leon masterfully presents the importance of asking questions when you don’t have all the answers and I just love how she explored that throughout the book! As mentioned in our interview, De Leon said something that I feel resonated about why this theme is important and stated she hopes her debut “inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.”

The plot itself is very slice-of-life as Liliana goes to school, her home life with twin brothers and her mother (whose struggling to work while trying to do everything she can to help her husband get home), being with friends, and just her daily life at Westburg!

Both her mother and Liliana herself rightfully so, deal with moments of depression and anxiety, fearful of what’s happening to Liliana’s dad! She reminisces a lot throughout the novel about her childhood with him and how he helped shape her passions as a writer (one of my favorite scenes was a memory about a book fair he took her to when she was little).

Themes are the foundation of this novel from family, coming of age, friendship, even discussing racism, immigration, and privilege. As a whole, the book does a fantastic job at delving into all of these contemporary topics through the lens of a Latina living in Boston.

Some moments that stuck out to me that brilliantly showed the way De Leon wanted to navigate these themes was through the school! For example, the clear contrast between her former high school vs. Westburg (even how she feels out of place being in that neighborhood), hearing the conversations in her history class from students about Latin-American immigration, Dustin’s racist friend Steve, and the METCO presentation they do near the end.

Another moment that really stayed with me was how Liliana felt in her Westburg creative writing class vs. the (obviously) more diverse writing center course she learned about from her local library. Those scenes symbolized how she’s always felt caught between two worlds, but she finds solace in the place that makes her feel welcome.

The use of a 1st person POV, brilliantly allows you to see who Lil is and understand her fully as a character. She’s someone who feels the need to hide and not fully be herself, she’s also witty, observant, and if your looking for an introspective narrative, this book is perfect.

Overall, the plotting, how real the story feels, the cast of characters, and the wonderful writing voice make this a great YA Contemporary / debut you should not miss!

Although I absolutely loved this book and is one of my new favorites, my only minor critique is that I did find the writing reads very much like a “stream of consciousness,” where the story moves very quickly at points and scenes transition as your reading Liliana’s internal thoughts. But it does make her voice feel so real and come to life.

I will say that this book reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, maybe because of how it delved into themes in such a realistic way, the poignant narrative voice, and main heroine that stands out…either way if you loved Acevedo’s debut, I think De Leon’s would be perfect too!

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is a fantastic debut you don’t want to miss! Liliana is confronting microaggressions, racism, and learns to find her voice in order to take a stand! Character-driven, thought-provoking, and wonderfully written, its a great debut perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo! Jennifer De Leon’s YA Contemporary debut is a must read for 2020!

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi ARC Review

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

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Pages: 416

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Design: Kerri Resnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Map To The Sun by Sloane Leong ARC Review {Graphic Novel}

A Map To The Sun by Sloane LeongA Map To The Sun by Sloane Leong

Publisher: First Second (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: August 4, 2020

Pages: 368

Available Through: Bookshop and The Book Depository

Summary: One summer day, Ren meets Luna at a beachside basketball court and a friendship is born. But when Luna moves to back to Oahu, Ren’s messages to her friend go unanswered.

Years go by. Then Luna returns, hoping to rekindle their friendship. Ren is hesitant. She’s dealing with a lot, including family troubles, dropping grades, and the newly formed women’s basketball team at their highschool. With Ren’s new friends and Luna all on the basketball team, the lines between their lives on and off the court begin to blur. During their first season, this diverse and endearing group of teens are challenged in ways that make them reevaluate just who and how they trust.

*Received a digital review copy via the author*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: A Map To The Sun is a YA graphic novel all about navigating friendship, basketball, and life off the court! A newly formed all-girls basketball team allows Ren and Luna, who were once inseparable friends over the course of a summer, to find their way back to each other again. Colorful, vibrant, and detailed artwork blends perfectly with the gritty, slice of life story across its pages and is sure to captivate!

One specific category of graphic novels that I’m really starting to get back into and make me automatically add it to my tbr is anything related to sports! I’d really been looking forward to this graphic novel and Leong delivers a quiet slice-of-life tale, which layers in deep introspection to its characters and their journeys.

I think readers much like myself who may have been expecting a more fast-paced story (like that of The Avant-Guards) will be pleasantly surprised at the lingering depth of the slice-of-life narrative, grittiness, and metaphorical depth that this graphic novel carries!

Ren and Luna meet one day during a typical summer at the beach and instantly become great friends. Their days quickly blend together, in an almost dream-like way, where they learn deeper parts about each other as they surf, play basketball, and enjoy adventures on the beach. The dialogue emphasizes the little details we learn about people and how they influence us. Suddenly, as Ren & Luna’s summer friendship continues to blossom, it ends as quickly as it begun.

Luna has to leave for Oahu to see her ill mother and Ren, who tries to reach out before their time is up, is left hanging. As 2 years pass, Ren never forgets the loneliness and pain of being ignored after Luna’s quick departure.

When Luna returns, she seems to fit in quickly being invited to parties and meeting lots of new people, but there’s still a rift between them. While Ren has moved on and found other friends, Luna’s absence wasn’t forgotten.

When Ren’s friends Nell and Jetta are given cleaning duties in the gym and a new teacher is looking to form a new basketball team, slowly but surely a team is formed. Over the course of the story this team symbolizes many things for the girls: home, support, and a chance to strengthen their friendships!

Although Ren and Luna struggle to find their footing with each other, they find ways to rekindle what they thought was long forgotten.

Throughout the novel, Leong emphasizes and navigates the girls lives off the court and what goes on in the day-to-day. What resonated with me about this major beat of the story was how REAL it felt…the characters, different topics that are discussed, and especially the realism explored through each of the girls perspectives. They each grapple with something in their lives that gives a deep weight and meaning to their journey.

Some of what’s explored is estranged family, body image, family loss, especially navigating relationships (mainly friendship) when people find their way back into your life. While that last theme is explored mainly through Ren’s POV, you see this navigated through the other girls POVs too.

The writing navigates general dialogue with Ren’s POV and not only is it poetic, but there’s lots of beautiful imagery that captures the intense emotions that Ren feels about her friendship with Luna. The loneliness, comfort, and growth to not only their friendship, but also to Ren’s family life as she’s dealing with her estranged sister.

What elevates all the wonderful elements about the plot in A Map To The Sun, is the masterful art and style. It has a soft, rough and stylized hand-drawn quality to it that makes the story feel so real. Honestly, each page looked like a beautiful painting.

While vibrant, the color palette also featured dark, muted colors that are visually stunning! The aesthetics of the art embodies summer and makes it a perfect read for this season.

The paneling of this graphic novel is perfect in every way! No matter what page, you see the story flows so well. Some of my favorite pages included backgrounds or settings that beautifully transitioned into the following scene: for example on page 6 when Ren shoots a basket, it beautifully transforms into a rising wave that we see Luna riding on her board, with a stunning golden yellow, pink, and deep reddish-pink colors.

What also makes the art stand out is the gradient of color you see as you continue to read. There’s a rainbow of varying colors that make there way throughout each page that alter to present a different mood, weather, energy/emotion of the characters, or a particular scene. There’s also an emphasis on the quiet silence or lack of dialogue that lets the art speak for the cast in moments that really move you to see the underlying emotion or introspection. Overall, the art is an absolute highlight of this graphic novel!

As the team grows together, we see Leong discuss and navigate different topics from body image, difficult family life, smoking, even moments of misogyny (mainly from the other basketball coach). Each girl is tackling something, either internally or externally in their lives, and while some plot threads may feel incomplete, the story doesn’t shy away from talking about them (tw// for panel depicting self-harm).

A Map To The Sun also features such a diverse cast of characters, with our main character Ren being Black, Luna is 1/2 Hawaiian and Chinese, Jetta is half-Native and Latine, Nell is Jamaican, and So-Young is Korean.

The only reason I’m giving this 4 stars (though I adored this book a lot) is because while the story balances the girl’s school/team and life outside of that very well, it feels like overall it stuck more with the slice-of-life storyline. While I absolutely love those kinds of stories, here it felt like the plot really wandered and the story, while unpredictable, had storylines either left incomplete or briefly wrapped up (like in the end when Ren & Luna talk about their friendship or when we learn more about Ren’s estranged sister Vida).

Despite that, this is a wonderful read I highly recommend picking up! I’m not sure whether Leong will continue the team’s stories in future volumes, but I loved that the ending does leave possible threads for it to explore more of the girls team/friendship.

The characters feel so incredibly real in this early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, friendship, and just navigating life!

A Map To The Sun is a delight graphic novel filled with so much depth and heart! The characters feel incredibly real and the art is striking as it is colorful, metaphorical, and vibrant! Leong’s tale of friendship is set in the early 2000’s scene filled with sports, surfing, and teens just navigating life! Perfect for those who love sports stories, looking for more slice-of-life stories not only about friendship, but also self!

I’ll also be linking Black Lives Matter resources: A list from NPR (featuring books, films & podcasts) and this Twitter thread &Tumblr Post linking carrds for BLM among others to inform on what’s happening in other parts of the world. Also this thread of Journalism pieces about BLM.

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez ARC Review

We Are Not From Here Jenny Torres SanchezWe Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Teen)

Release Date: May 19, 2020

Pages: 368 

Available Through The Book Depository: We Are Not From Here

Cover Illustration: Hazylle Cadungog

Summary: Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: We Are Not From Here is a must-read for 2020! Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña embark on perilous journey to the U.S./Mexico border. Told through an emotionally-gripping, poetic and character-driven narrative, Sanchez delivers a tale all too real that will stay with you long after the final page!

I’ll admit, it was when I finally reached the end of We Are Not From Here where I realized, moving and impactful books such as this one are incredibly difficult for me to review. How does one put into words how powerful a story is, especially when it reflects a reality for so many reaching the United States?

If you take away one thing from this review, aside from reading this novel it’s that this journey is happening every single day and this book while fictional, it details the truth for many seeking opportunity when journeying to the US (alongside the hardships that continue when they arrive).

Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have lived in Puerto Barrios and have known each other practically their whole lives. However, they are aware of the possible dangers they can face when their paths cross with certain people in their community, like gang leader Rey.

Seventeen-year-old Pequeña at the start of the novel is having a child she doesn’t want and we soon learn it’s the child of Rey. While she has the support of her community (such as her mother and tias), when she learns of Rey’s proposal to marriage and starting a new life elsewhere, she realizes she’s trapped and there is no other option but to run.

The murder of local store owner Don Felicio spurs Pulga and Chico (both 15) into running as well when Rey coerces them into joining his group.

Pulga, carrying his walkman, that links to memories of his father, and years of information on how to reach the U.S. by riding a real life network of trains known as La Bestia, motivates Chico and Pequeña into understanding that that’s the only way they can start new.

The journey they undergo is brutal, not without hardship, it even changes their perception on their personal hopes, dreams, and visions of the future they seek. It’s an emotionally and physically enduring journey not only on the trains, but also as they cross, the thoughts of fear and uncertainty run through their mind as they take each step.

From the dangers of not securing themselves on the trains, to being robbed, running out of food/water, etc. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are met with struggles along the way, but also moments of kindness. It’s from fellow passengers, even shelter owners and members of local churches who provide them support along their journey. The power of kindness, compassion, and much more are beautifully highlighted into darkest moments of this novel.

Told through dual POV’s from Pulga and Pequeña, there’s just so much life, soul and history woven into our main cast that make them incredibly real. Sanchez’s writing is especially poetic and through Pequeña’s perspective, there’s even hints of magical realism that illustrate her want to escape the darkest and unhappiest of situations.

Their friendship, family dynamic and just reading about the deep connection they share with each other on this journey was just another one of the many highlights of the story.

Pulga is very much someone who is aware of the dangers the journey can bring and carries this evolving nature of solitude, mentioning its best that the 3 of them just focus on themselves. It brings moments of pain for each of them and seeing this evolve over the course of the story was painful to read.

While Chico is more of the hesitant one of the group, never letting go of the deep emotional parts of himself as he reminds Pulga of the connection and similar feelings other migrants such as themselves are surely facing too. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are the stars of this novel and its in their depth and core as characters that bring so much emotion, intensity, and so much more to this book.

This novel broke my heart in many ways, especially nearing the end, but underlying is such a prevalent theme of hope. The hope of dreams, the act of hoping itself, carries a lot of power that is not forgotten with each chapter. The storytelling is gripping and packed with so much emotion.

While this novel in no way reflects my family’s personal immigration story, it still connected to me in such a deep way as the main characters (and my family) are Guatemalan also. Novels such as We Are Not From Here highlight a truth which is that there’s numerous countries in Latin America with people immigrating to the United States, but its often only generalized to a few countries. That’s another vital part of what makes this novel so impactful.

This novel also reminded of a non-fiction book I read for one of my classes not too long ago called Enrique’s Journey. Its definitely a journalistic piece written more into a prose style, but a lot of what happens in that novel, alongside facts/figures are subtly woven into Sanchez’s novel as well.

The plot while mainly following their journey among each train and heading north, changes them little by little and your heart can’t help but hurt. However, at each turn they do their best to keep going. Its also a story as much internal as it is external.

While my 4 star rating is more reflected at how much this book got to me on such a deep level and the pain I felt while reading, its very much a YA book that deserves all the hype and recognition (its a 5-star reading experience). While I won’t spoil what happens at the end, it really hits you emotionally (after I finished I was just left so speechless).

We Are Not From Here is an unforgettable, powerful YA Contemporary that follows 3 Guatemalan teens on their journey to reach the U.S. Sanchez’s prose is moving and captivating! This is novel is masterfully crafted, emotional, and gripping story make this a must-read for 2020! 


🌿✨ Have you read We Are Not From Here? Are you planning on reading this novel? 🌿✨

Heavy Vinyl: Y2K-O! by Carly Usdin ARC Review

Heavy Vinyl Y2Ko by Carly Usdin and Nina VakuevaHeavy Vinyl: Y2K-O! by Carly Usdin, Nina Vakueva (Pencil), Irene Flores (Ink), Natalia Nesterenko (Colorer), & Jim Campbell (Letterer)

Publisher: BOOM! Box (Boom Studios)

Release Date: March 25, 2020

Pages: 112

Available Through The Book Depository: Heavy Vinyl Y2KO!

Cover Design: Nina Vakueva

Summary: SAVE THE INTERNET, SAVE THE WORLD (OF MUSIC)!

It’s 1999 and Chris is living her dream: working at Vinyl Destination by day and fighting for (musical) justice by night (okay, maybe during the day too) in the world’s coolest teen girl vigilante fight club. But when the girls of Vinyl Destination enter a Battle of The Bands – to investigate and, of course, win – they learn that the shadowy corporate masters of the music industry plan to destroy the fledgling world of digital music and blame it on Y2K. Now it’s time for Chris and the gang to dial up 56k (or more, pretty please) of justice so they can save the day once again!

*Received a digital galley for review from the publisher*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Heavy Vinyl Y2K-O! is is a stellar continuation to the Heavy Vinyl series centering around a group of girls in the 90’s who not only work in a record store, but also are part of an undercover vigilante fight club! The fast-paced plot is immersive, while also focusing on friendships, relationships, and a digital music mystery! You don’t want to miss this sequel!

Back in 2018 I read this fun graphic novel called Heavy Vinyl, for years I’d always hoped there would be more adventures from the Vinyl Destination crew. Luckily, there was a surprise announcement last summer that there would be more to this spectacular world that was introduced to us with the first volume & now, its finally here!

As with Vol.1, you can expect another musical mystery, this time focused on the rise in a digital music website, female friendships, Queer rep. & of course 90’s references!

From the very beginning, you could sense the growth in the bonds & dynamic of friendship between Chris, Dolores, Kennedy & Maggie! There’s a much more laid back vibe to their friendship as they’ve really gotten to know each other, alongside the love & support they have for each other that’s grown even stronger!

This time their latest mystery reunites them with Rosie (of Stegosour) as they attempt to go undercover in a Battle Of The Bands to investigate mega-producer Rick Blaze, whose plan was foiled in the previous volume. They aren’t exactly sure what he’s up to, but they have to be prepared!

Where this issue really shines is in its fantastic characters and their separate arcs! Chris is navigating her wonderful relationship with Maggie. D. becomes friends with Carmen, a local radio host who visits the shop to deliver a concert prize pack to her in-person and the two bond over studios, zines, and music! Then there’s Kennedy who’s feeling down when her boyfriend Logan has to leave early for university!

There’s lots of funny and more relatable moments as each of the girls navigates relationships in such a personal, introspective way. Chris is trying to feel more comfortable with romance as she’s never been with another girl before, even trying to feel more comfortable around quiet nights with Maggie at her house. Reading Chris’s arc delivered a lot of internal conflict, emotion, and was one of the stronger romantic arcs of this volume, alongside Dolores & Carmen’s which I’ll get to in a bit.

Also a super random point, but there’s a scene where Dolores goes to see Carmen at the Transister Radio studio, which is actually set up in a local bookstore. From there as they continue to grow closer, Carmen introduces her to zines that she’s been working on alongside the radio show. From there, I kind of went into researching more about zines because I’ve always been fascinated with them, but mainly because of the way Carmen described them: “Kel was really the one who encouraged me to make my own stuff. ‘Self-publishing is the tool of the oppressed’…”

Considering this series takes place in the 90’s I found this fascinating article from Mental Floss titled ‘A Brief History Of Zines’ which was a super fun read and delved into quite a bit of background of how influential they were/are. This particular quote stood out to me, especially as it connects to Heavy Vinyl and I recommend checking it out if it interests you:

“In the 1990s, zines flourished again thanks to the riot grrrl scene. As an alternative to the male-driven punk world of the past, riot grrrl encouraged young girls and women to start their own band, make their own zine, and get their voices heard….”

One of my new favorite characters was definitely Carmen! Her dynamic with D was super fun and hopefully if  volume 3 is in the works, Carmen makes a return! As for returning characters, it was wonderful because it just felt like there was a lot more page time left for our main cast to undergo their own personal stories. It was nice getting to delve into each of their arcs!

The navigation of relationships was a surprising, yet phenomenal plot thread of this volume. As with the first, its also present in this one of the diverse & Queer relationships: featuring f/f couples (Chris & Maggie / Irene & Simone), interracial couples (Kennedy & Logan / Irene & Simon).

Next I wanted to talk about the phenomenal art style, which I loved! The art looks to be a more softer style compared to Volume 1, which definitely had a more realistic look to it (if that’s how it can be described?). There’s clean, minimal backgrounds but, it definitely spotlights the important details. As for characters, there’s such a great attention to detail and the rainbow of colors used delivers a mix of a cool and warm palette. The action scenes definitely take up space on the page when necessary and overall the art is detailed, while taking on a certain “vintage style” to it!

As I mentioned already, Y2K-O also features such an inclusive & diverse cast! Featuring a mostly female cast there’s also a main character who identifies as trans (Carmen) & f/f relationships!

My only gripe is that the mystery had a lot of build-up and you’ll definitely be satisfied with how the team solves it, but for me personally I was just expecting a bit more. Its interesting to see how Snapster weaves its way into the story and its nice that the overarching conflict doesn’t interfere with the wonderful character arcs/development for sure. However, the end does feel a little bit rushed, but I will say it REALLY leaves you wanting more to the Heavy Vinyl series and concludes nicely! (*I hope there’ll be more volumes <3)

Heavy Vinyl: Y2K-O is a much needed continuation to a series set in the 90’s following a group of friends working in a record store, who also happen to be part of a secret vigilante group as they solve a mystery on the brink of Y2k! The plot is immersive, fast-paced, and features great character arcs, and the art is wonderfully detailed! This volume will leave readers wanting more from the Heavy Vinyl world!

Anna K. by Jenny Lee ARC Review

Anna K. by Jenny LeeAnna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee (Anna K. #1)

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Pages: 400

Available For Preorder Through The Book Depository: Anna K.

Cover Design: Erin Fitzsimmons

Summary: Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

*Received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher* *CW: drug use *

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Anna K. is a YA Contemporary debut that puts a dazzling spin on Anna Karenina! This modern-day retelling, follows a group of wealthy teens as they navigate relationships and the drama that encompasses their lives. Lee builds a realistic and diverse cast of characters, while also layering deeper themes and issues! 

From the very beginning, your introduced to a cast list of over 10 characters and although for me it seemed a bit intimidating at first, once you delve into the world of Anna K., you’ll see why this story just works so well being told from multiple POVs.

Let me tell you I was NOT expecting an ARC of this in the mail (so thanks so much to the publisher)! I’d been really looking forward to reading Anna K. after I’d seen its cover reveal last summer. There was just something about the glamour and intrigue of this modern look at Manhattan society that just had me wondering what was in-store for Anna K. and the rest of the crew!

Another thing, this is a modern-day of Anna Karenina and while I personally have never read it, I felt from what I do know about the story Lee did a fantastic job at really taking influences from the original, while making it completely her own. With the moments I felt aligned closely with Anna Karenina, I never felt taken out of the story either. (*I also recommend reading Jenny Lee’s beautiful author’s note at the end too!).

While Anna K. is our main character, the novel starts off with Lolly S. (17) and Steven K., Anna’s 18-year-old brother. With their anniversary shortly arriving, Lolly is thrilled! But, when she quickly learns Steven had been cheating on her, she’s rightfully furious.

Steven knows the only person who can attempt to reach Lolly is Anna K., but until she arrives we learn about Dustin L., Steven’s tutor, who’s an anxious, bookish kind of guy.

What made his character a nice contrast to others in our main cast, is that he’s not from the upper part of Manhattan society. He kind of acts as the level-headed one who helps out Steven, while also undergoing his own journey when he falls for Kimmie S., Lolly’s younger sister who’s going through some depression after getting injured and having to take a break from her professional ice skating.

The backstory is built mainly in the beginning of the story but there’s a lot of mystery to how it plays an important part in the novel. However, the further you read you better understand the history that all of these characters have and what ties them all together.

With so many POV’s, it was assumed that I might get kind of lost. But let me just say that the more pages that flew by, I absolutely fell in love with this flawed and very real cast! So much appreciation for Lee telling an expansive story through such distinct characters! The 3rd person perspective allowed for many layers/differing sides of these characters to be explored which added a unique depth to the world crafted in Anna K.!

As for other characters we also have Anna K.’s boyfriend Alexander W. & his sister Eleanor, Alexia Vronsky, known in their circle as a player and heartbreaker, and Beatrice D., Vronsky’s cousin.

Anna K. is the one in society who everyone sees as the perfect, flawless socialite of Greenwhich and Manhattan. She’s a skilled equestrian, has her college boyfriend Alexander, and has been fortunate enough to keep out of the internal drama that seems to plague much of her circle…however that’s about to change.

She meets Vronsky on her way to see Lolly and Steven at Grand Central and yet, the two seem to be instantly attracted to each other.

From there you see how threads of these characters connect, revealing their relationships, dynamics and secrets that they keep from each other. Lee really built the setting of upper society into a world of her own through its characters, their status, and the way they navigate their lives.

To me it felt like your not really supposed to agree with a lot of the drama, personalities and societal norms that goes on in their circle. So, I felt that’s what made me really immerse myself into characters worlds and their heads a lot more, because (at least from my perspective) your not really supposed to agree with a lot of what they get tangled up in. I loved that I didn’t always agree with these characters decisions, such as the status and enormous amount of privilege that they carry, seemingly unaware. Not always “liking” some of these characters made me connect to them on a much deeper level when you see how much baggage they carry and their attempts to change over the course of the story!

I won’t spoil what happens, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about Kimmie & Dustin in the beginning (Kimmie’s character, took a bit to get used to). I was surprised at how much their dynamic grew on me and I loved following both of their journeys!

The setting of this novel shows a world of opulence and privilege, where there’s this dual side filled with parties, drugs, and sex as the norm. When looking at it closer, I felt this story was essentially about wealthy teens, given little adult supervision, as they are left to grapple with complicated issues on their own.

From Anna’s perspective, hers is a journey to better understand what she wants out of life and figure out who she wants to become, as she navigates her relationship being with Vronsky, while not feeling ready to tell her distant boyfriend Alexander.

With the fact that Anna has never really involved herself in drama or gossip, there’s this urgency to her story that makes you understand her struggle to come to terms with her complicated love life. Through the worry of gossip, heightened expectations of her in society, and facing truths she isn’t even sure she’s ready to face…your rooting for Anna not only to figure it out, but learn what she’s looking for during this process. You also see how Vronsky changes as he realizes his feelings for Anna (though he has a lot to work on, you can still appreciate his growth).

I felt like Kimmie & Dustin’s relationship had a clear story arc that carries throughout the book which was so beautiful! Their story was one of healing, love, and friendship that gets developed through both perspectives.

There’s so many themes that I felt Lee layered through each of these characters from family to to privilege, love, loneliness, mental health/seeking therapy (beautifully explored through Kimmie’s POV!), and much more! It also challenges racism and double standards.

In regards to family you see these different sister and brother dynamics explored from Anna & Steven, including Kimmie & Lolly, also Dustin & Nicholas! Anna and Steven’s, in my opinion, was the more realistic and heartfelt. Through the obstacles they face, they are both there to uplift, help each other and have so much respect for one another― I can’t wait to see how their strong brother-sister dynamic is explored in future books!

I also felt that Dustin and Nicholas’s brother dynamic was explored so well and throughout the course of the story you see in the little moments they bond or remember when they were younger is what shows their love/care for each other. Throughout the novel, there’s a lot of flashbacks from their POVs that I felt their relationship had so much history to it. There was just something about how Lee layered their stories that made it really come to life.

I also loved how diverse this cast was: It mainly features Korean-American & biracial representation (Anna + her older brother Steven), Dustin, who’s Black, adopted & Jewish, and there’s there’s interracial couples! Anna K. also takes time to explore the Korean culture of the K. family from Anna’s perspective, Steven’s, and their parents.

Now onto more of the specifics that lowered my rating, though this book really left me feeling sad to say goodbye to these characters (& YES, I can’t wait for the sequel): First is the pacing! At first it was moving pretty quickly, but with so many detailed POVs it can’t help but be drawn out at points. I also wished there wasn’t *too much lingering on certain couples and their conflict, because it would have been much stronger to portray more personal, heartfelt development between them. For me personally, I felt the ending was a bit rushed, though I loved how it focused on Anna!

Anna K. is a modern-day retelling that at its core is about a group of teens trying to find happiness in their privileged, drama-filled lives! Featuring a diverse cast of characters, a variety of themes, this is a debut with a lot of hidden depth that subtly weaves itself into its pages! Lee’s retelling of Anna Karenina that hints at more to come!

The Mystwick School Of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury ARC Review

The Mystwick School Of Musicraft by Jessica KhouryThe Mystwick School Of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: January 21, 2020

Pages: 368

Available Through The Book Depository: The Mystwick School Of Musicraft

Cover Design: Federica Frenna

Summary: Amelia Jones always dreamed of attending the Mystwick School of Musicraft, where the world’s most promising musicians learn to create magic. So when Amelia botches her audition, she thinks her dream has met an abrupt and humiliating end—until the school agrees to give her a trial period.

Amelia is determined to prove herself, vowing to do whatever it takes to become the perfect musician. Even if it means pretending to be someone she isn’t. Meanwhile, a mysterious storm is brewing that no one, not even the maestros at Mystwick, is prepared to contain. Can Amelia find the courage to be true to herself in time to save her beloved school from certain destruction?

My Rating: ★★★★☆ 

*Received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher* 

My Thoughts: The Mystwick School Of Musicraft is a charming middle grade that follows Amelia Jones when she attends her dream school of Mystwick to continue learning about creating magic through music! Khoury’s novel layers an intriguing magic system, delightful cast of characters, adventure, mystery, and ultimately delivers a vibrant character-driven tale!

I was not expecting to get an ARC of this in the mail, so when I did I was thrilled! I adore Khoury’s writing and the way she creates such unique worlds and memorable characters (such as those in The Forbidden Wish). Hers were some of the earlier YA Books I’d read before becoming a blogger and I was excited to have a chance to read Mystwick, her middle grade debut!

Allowing the story to be told from Amelia’s 1st person POV, you could sense with each page her unique voice/energy that presented a wonder, comedic tone, and fun delivery to such a fascinating story! Her vibrancy as a character shines through, bringing the story to life and you can’t help but want to keep turning the page (I mean not only does the book have such amazing chapter titles, but it also starts with her trying to charm a chicken!!).

On the day of her exam to get into Mystwick (a school for students who want to continue learning how to create magic through music), Amelia knows she still needs a bit of practice, but she quickly makes a new friend at auditions, Jai Kapoor! Loved how their friendship was really developed throughout the book.

Amelia’s audition doesn’t go as planned and her dreams to attend the magical school, start to feel further away! However, due to a mix up she’s given a trial period allowing her to stay. What I really appreciated about the story was how Khoury delivered a tale of growth as we see Amelia overcome this internal conflict, giving it her all to prove that she does belong! Even as she struggles to catch up with the more advanced students, while also keeping her “trial period” situation a secret, she still can’t help but feel even more distant.

Knowing that her (now deceased) mother attended many years ago, she continues to pursue her dream and it gives her the inspiration/motivation to continue to try and boost both her courage and confidence. It also was very interesting to explore the dynamic between Amelia, her grandmother (who’s now her guardian) and why Mystwick is such a tough topic between the 2 of them!

Also one of the even more intriguing parts of this novel was the element of mystery and how it seamlessly wove into the story as a whole.

If you love magical boarding school books, I recommend checking this one out. There’s always something fun to learn about or explore on the Mystwick campus. It also allowed for a lot of time to be spent with the world-building, character development, friendship, and overall magical atmosphere that beautifully weaves itself into our world.

For a standalone, there’s such a deep connection that I felt with the setting (maybe it was because I took my time to read it), but either way it feels incredibly expansive and tied to our world where there’s so much care and development put into it! If you love detailed magic systems, the world of Mystwick is great, there’s lots of explanation as to the different types of magic and instruments, musicians around the world, how the rules of Mystwick make the magic system feel so grand and much more!

Here were a couple of additional details that I wanted to highlight: Novices vs. Maestros, the colors that symbolize different types of magic, Spellstones (a store for magical music sheets), and how magicians can use magic for all sorts of things: Weather, nature, and almost anything else you can think of! *There’s also a sense of limitations to the magic which was explored as well. Also there’s some left unsaid when it comes to some of the magic, which leaves a lot to the imagination which I really appreciated.

A big focus of the plot not only follows Amelia’s daily school life at Mystwick (classes, practicing, trying to fit in with the students, including her roommate Hamako Bradshaw aka Darby), but also her attempts to solve a mystery as to who could be trying to sabotage her chances at staying! The different pockets of mystery become such big parts of the story that unravel throughout the book. It offers a lot to not only the story, but also the characters and their development.

The Mystwick school had a sense of legacy to it that was indescribable. Maybe it was the knowledge of the instructors, the structure to the rules that were laid out, the campus traditions and well-established buildings or perhaps it was the bits and pieces of knowledge we learn through Amelia over the course of the story. There’s an internal skill and strength that Amelia discovers is essential to her growth as a musician and I appreciated the slow progress of that journey.

There’s also a friend trio (what I thought was originally going to be a duo) which really grew on me throughout the book: Amelia, Jai, & Darby! Their dynamic and wacky adventures were so much fun to follow! There was also a good amount of page-time given for Amelia to interact more with other students of the campus–it was those kinds of moments that made Mystwick come to life.

However one of my personal gripes is that Amelia, Jai, & Darby’s friendship felt like it could have been a bigger part of the story too–it breaks off for a little, when a bit of drama/conflict happens throughout the book. I felt it would have shined much better if their friendship was given more page time to develop! But I also appreciated how this is a story about personal growth, hence a lot of internal page time/development with Amelia.

Family (legacy even), friendship, and personal growth were all big themes of this story and really shined through. Khoury really cemented those themes into the story and alongside the plot, were such shining moments of the book.

There’s also such a diverse cast (characters from around the world that attend Mystwick), even a side character mentioned to have a wheelchair. Overall you sense how inclusive the world is, with characters from different backgrounds, ages–even getting small glimpses as to how magic operates outside the US which was great!

There’s even illustrated pages throughout the novel, done by Federica Frenna (who also designed the cover) and it just adds a little something special to the already magical story!

Again while it seems that the story wraps up in a great way for a standalone with all the major plot threads tied up, there’s somethings left unsaid and some new threads included for a possible sequel? I’m not sure if that’s a plan, but I would ABSOLUTELY love another book set in this magical world! It really comes to life and once I reached that last page, I was sad to be leaving the wonderful world of Mystwick!

Also, I’ve heard the audiobook is fantastic! I’ve read that it even includes original compositions and orchestral music throughout the audio! I’m hoping to give it a listen!

The Mystwick School Of Musicraft is a charming middle grade fantasy which blends a character-driven tale with mystery, humor, and a delightful magic system sure to captivate! There’s a lot of depth to the world, its characters, alongside a tale about finding the confidence within yourself. This is a middle grade you don’t want to miss!