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!

Beyond The Clouds Vol. 1 by Nicke {Manga Review}

Beyond The Clouds Vol. 1 by Nicke (BTC #1)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Pages: 212

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

Summary: Living beneath the haze of Yellow Town, young Theo has never seen the stars. He works as a mechanic and spends his off hours digging through the town’s trash heap for abandoned treasures. He’s always had the soul of a dreamer, but he’s given up on living the kind of fantastical life he’s read about in books.

Then, one day, he finds an amnesiac, injured girl with wings, and everything changes. Theo’s talents help fix her wing, and their quest will take them beyond the clouds, farther than either could have imagined.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Beyond The Clouds is a fantastical, steampunk manga following Theo, a young mechanic, yearning for adventure, as he embarks on a journey after finding an amnesiac girl with wings. Through artwork that evokes the style of watercolor and delightful storytelling, this is truly a magical start to a new series!

Some hangs heavy over the dream-like city in Beyond The Clouds and young Theo grew up learning that there was a particular kind of magic in books, filled with fantastical stories that could allow him to go anywhere — and within him, that yearning for adventure is still there. As a mechanic at Chikuwa’s repair shop, he always makes time to inspect the junkyard and discover treasures. However, what he isn’t expecting is to find a girl with wings who has no memory of who she is and where she’s from, thus the adventure begins.

As Theo and Mia begin their delightful friendship, he always makes it a point to mention that Mia’s sorrow and loneliness is something he knows all too well. So he takes in upon himself to help erase her fears with the power of a good story. Their friendship was an absolute highlight of this first installment and although there is more to the dynamic I hope gets explored, Theo’s kind heart helps both him and Mia in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Through its slice-of-life atmosphere Nicke pulls you into Theo’s daily routine as a mechanic, running errands, digging for lost treasures, and his adept skills to help Mia adjust to having lost a wing and her memory. Mia and Theo’s friendship is the foundation for intense scenes woven throughout volume 1 from the explanation of Mia’s unique shadow powers and Theo’s quest to find a special medicine for her later on. I think those emotions propel the story in ways so unexpected, but much appreciated.

When I first discovered this manga through the GORGEOUS cover, it’s natural to assume the story within will be equally whimsical, with an imaginative, dream-like quality to it, but what I got was something much more. While this volume is a really broad stroke introducing an intricate, steampunk world it also leaves you with a sense of nostalgia for stories that’ve left you feeling that any fantastical world is possible.

Nicke’s artwork is presented with a light, sketchy quality to it leaving readers enchanted at the scope of the world we’ve barely scratched the surface of. No matter what page you turn to, there’s a feeling of wonder that just never leaves you, the more you follow the adorable duo. The detailed panel frames and artwork that exist outside the confines of the panel boxing was also reminiscent of Kamome Shirahama’s style, which is one of my favorites. The cover also reflects the sheer beauty of the watercolor style in a rainbow of colors.

Mixing the soft, sketch-like art and underlying whimsy of the plot conjures the feeling of reading a beloved fairytale, or reminiscing on a childhood story. The way Nicke wondrously succeeds in leaving readers with this indescribable feeling of nostalgia and wonder is in one word, magical.

The world is established with much detailed about the creatures (anthros and hybrids), but also an even more magical forest outside of Yellow Town filled with fairies and unique plants. The backgrounds really cement you into the steampunk/fairytale setting as well.

While all these elements work so incredibly well to establish a rich world, it felt like there wasn’t enough time to explore or take it in. We are sort of thrust into the setting which is a beautiful backdrop for sure that I would have loved to learn more about from the customs, locations, and world as a whole. Driven by its plot, I do hope to discover more about the world and all the minute details established here, in future volumes.

Beyond The Clouds is a quiet, magical story filled with stunning artwork, unique characters, while also establishing a compelling, spellbinding world through a plot that will leave readers with a sense of nostalgia, whimsy, and adventure!

Manga Starter Kit: Recommendations For Book Bloggers

With the amount of manga reviews on the blog, frankly this post shouldn’t have surprised me! Over the past few weeks, I decided it was finally time to share my own personalized list of manga series for book bloggers who are new to the space or those who just want to learn about more series. When I found it such a struggle to pick up prose novels in 2020, manga really helped save my reading for the year! There’s thousands of series out there that even I feel overwhelmed at times. From the distinct artwork to engaging story that builds across each volume, I’ve found so much joy in rediscovering my love of manga again, so my hope is to share that with you through today’s post!

Before diving into the post, I often get asked where to find some of these manga or where to read them, so I’ll also be listing resources for sites to read digitally, etc., with that said onto the list!

The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe

Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Release Date:
January 27, 2017
Translator:
Adrienne Beck

Summary: Once upon a time…In a land far away, there were two kingdoms: the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace. The girl and the beast should never have met, but when they do, a quiet fairytale begins. This is a story of two people–one human, one inhuman–who linger in the hazy twilight that separates night from day.

Despite having only read two volumes of The Girl From The Other Side now over 3 years ago, the artwork alone makes this series quite memorable. I definitely remember when it was a booktube favorite some time back, but with the quiet simplicity to the story, it definitely feels like a perfect starting point for bloggers new to manga! What keeps me tethered to this world is not only the threads of mystery, but the endearing characters of Shiva (a human girl) and her monster/demon-human hybrid guardian named Teacher. The almost cross-hatched, fairytale-esque artwork is also equally haunting and captivating. I do hope to continue this series soon and believe it’s worth the read.

Current # of Volumes out: 10Bookshop The Book Depository

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama

Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Release Date: April 2, 2019
Translator: Stephen Kohler

Summary: In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch…until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, traveling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem…

The Witch Hat Atelier series is PHENOMENAL, truly has solidified itself as one of my favorite fantasy manga series of all time! Shirahama’s artwork is presented to almost tell its own story alongside the main plot, with influences from European or old-style fairytale artwork. Through her attention to detail when it comes to the unique paneling, overlapping her artwork on the panels, creating a 3-dimensional environment, and how she stylizes her frames to interact and blend alongside the characters is nothing short of brilliant. Coco is a girl whose grown up loving magic, but has no magic of her own. It’s only when her path crosses with that of a traveling witch named Qifrey, that her adventure in the world of magic begins! Witch Hat also has some of the best character designs I’ve ever seen with a story that’s equally captivating! There’s great worldbuilding, a unique magic system twists, mystery, friendship, and adventure! Highly recommend this as a series beginner, it’s breathtaking and a true masterpiece in the making.

– Current # Of Volumes: 7 – BookshopThe Book Depository

Spy X Family by Tatsuya Endo

Publisher: Viz Media
Release Date: June 2, 2020
Translator: Casey Loe

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! Not one to depend on others, Twilight has his work cut out for him procuring both a wife and a child for his mission to infiltrate an elite private school. What he doesn’t know is that the wife he’s chosen is an assassin and the child he’s adopted is a telepath!

If your kind of story can best be summed up as an amalgamation of top-tier tropes and found family, then you must pick up Spy X Family! This action-packed, espionage comedy follows a master spy whose next mission involves going undercover to keep the peace between two neighboring countries. His mission your wondering: It’s to create a FAKE FAMILY. With an assassin as a wife and a telepath for a daughter, the Forger’s must present themselves as the “perfect family” and still keep their own secrets underwraps. Humor and hijinks ensue with each volume and you won’t be able to put it down. Pick up this series, you will NOT be disappointed!

TROPES include: Found family, marriage of convenience, secret-keeping, and every volume is pure CHAOS!

– Current # Of Volumes: 4 – BookshopFree Preview of Vol. 1 on Viz Media

I Hear The Sunspot by Yuki Fumino

Publisher: One Peace Books
Release Date:
November 3, 2017

Summary: Because of a hearing disability, Kohei is often misunderstood and has trouble integrating into life on campus, so he learns to keep his distance. That is until he meets the outspoken and cheerful Taichi. He tells Kohei that his hearing loss is not his fault. Taichi’s words cut through Kohei’s usual defense mechanisms and open his heart. More than friends, less than lovers, their relationship changes Kohei forever.

I Hear The Sunspot holds a special place in my heart being one of the first mangas I’d read after not picking one up for years! Focused heavily on its characters, this series will capture your heart from page 1. Following college students, Kohei has a hearing disability, struggles connecting with others and making friends, feeling quite lonely. Then one day he meets outgoing Taichi, so the two become friends and maybe more? Their friendship and relationship is a fundamental layer to this story that is present across each volume that I’ve read so far! The deeply personal, emotional journeys of Kohei and Taichi are what keep you anchored to this quiet, moving series till the very end. Fumino’s series also takes time to thoroughly discuss and explore different layers to Kohei’s hearing disability. Definitely a more quiet, sweet, slow-burn kind of contemporary, but so worth the read!

– Current # Of Volumes: 4 – BookshopThe Book Depository

The Fox & Little Tanuki by Mi Tagawa

Publisher: Tokyo Pop
Release Date: March 17, 2020
Translator: Katie Kimura

Summary: Long ago, the gods granted a few special animals great powers… but not all those animals used their magical abilities for good! Senzou the Fox Spirit in particular grew too brash and arrogant, abusing his strength until the gods imprisoned him for his bad behavior. Three hundred years later, he’s finally been released, but only on one condition– he can’t have his any of his abilities back until he successfully helps a tanuki cub named Manpachi become an assistant to the gods. Unfortunately for Senzou, there’s no cheating when it comes to completing his task! The magic beads around his neck make sure he can’t wander too far from his charge or shirk his duties, and so… Senzou the once-great Fox Spirit must now figure out how to be an actually-great babysitter to a mischievous little tanuki or risk being stuck without his powers forever!

This manga is equal parts sweet and entertaining, while also tugging at the heart strings! Senzou is an evil fox spirit whose been freed after 300 years and his task (in order to regain his powers), is to train a tanuki cub, turning it into a servant of the gods. Have I also mentioned this features the GRUMPY x SUNSHINE trope? The evil, nefarious fox slowly begins to care for the tanuki while also maintaining his cold exterior (top tier execution of this trope!). I can definitely see this as a great starter manga because the story is quite straightforward, but also layered with mystery to the main characters and filled with lots of Japanese mythology. It’s such a page-turner!

– Current # of Volumes: 3 – BookshopThe Book Depository

Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa

Publisher: Yen Press
Release Date:
February 27, 2018
Translator: Amanda Haley

Summary: Time for a change of pace. Yuugo Hachiken flees the hustle and bustle of city life to enroll at Oezo Agricultural High School. At first he’s just trying to outrun his problems, but instead he finds a place for himself in this quaint rural community. Having always been at the top of his class, Yuugo assumes a rural school will be a breeze, but mucking out stables, gathering eggs, and chasing errant calves takes a lot out of him-and fills him with something he’s never experienced before. Surrounded by endless fields and fresh air, Yuugo discovers a new connection to the land and to life…Springtime begins at Ezo AG! Between the classrooms and cowpatties, the boy becomes a man.

Out of all the series in this list, Silver Spoon is one I haven’t read but from the summary alone it looks to be a nice introduction to a slice-of-life series, which I think bloggers would really enjoy. As a book blogger who is still trying to find new manga series this one appealed to me because it seems like a very wholesome, slower paced story. Also, interesting fact, if the author’s name looks familiar its because she also wrote Full-Metal Alchemist! [Unread]

Current # of Volumes: – BookshopThe Book Depository

Love In Focus by Yoko Nogiri

Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Release Date: March 19, 2019
Translator: Althea and Aldena Haley

From the creator of New York Times bestselling manga That Wolf-Boy Is Mine! comes a feel-good romance about a teenage girl whose passion for photography leads her to a new school, a new dorm, and a new love triangle! Mako’s always had a passion for photography. When she loses someone dear to her, she clings to her art as a relic of the close relationship she once had…Luckily, her childhood best friend Kei encourages her to come to his high school and join their prestigious photo club. With nothing to lose, Mako grabs her camera and moves into the dorm where Kei and his classmates live. Soon, a fresh take on life, along with a mysterious new muse, begin to come into focus!

As someone who struggles to get into shojo titles, I think Love In Focus is a great place to start for book bloggers. It follows Mako a passionate photographer who moves into a boarding house and attends a new school after joining a photo club with her childhood friend Kei. However, she soon finds a new subject for her photos, one of the boys who lives at the boarding house too. While it can seem like an obvious love triangle situation here, the way the characters backstories unfold and their dynamic with Mako felt very well developed. I personally loved the art-style and how it portrayed lovely backgrounds, character designs, and if you want to read a series for the interesting romance, friendship, etc. this is a WONDERFUL series that I recommend. At only 3 volumes, this is also a great pick if you are interested in checking out short, completed series!

Current # Of Volumes (Completed): 3 – BookshopThe Book Depository

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki

Publisher: Yen Press
Release Date: November 17, 2015
Translator: Leighann Harvey

To the eyes of classmate Chiyo Sakura, high school student Umetarou Nozaki–brawny of build and brusque of tongue–is a dreamboat! When Chiyo finally works up the courage to tell Nozaki how she feels about him, she knows rejection is on the table…but getting recruited as a mangaka’s assistant?! Never in a million years! As Chiyo quickly discovers, Nozaki-kun, the boy of Chiyo’s dreams, is a manga artist…a hugely popular shoujo manga artist, that is! But for someone who makes a living drawing sweet girly romances, Nozaki-kun is a little slow on the uptake when it comes to matters of the heart in reality. And so Chiyo’s daily life of manga making and heartache begins!

Nozaki is truly the single greatest piece of romantic comedy fiction [emphasis on COMEDY] I’ve ever read (and watched). The plot itself starts on a rather hilarious note and sets the tone for all future shenanigans that follow throughout this series. Chiyo is a high school student who has a crush on her classmate Nozaki, but when she finally gathers up the courage to tell him how she feels, he 100% misunderstands her, leading Chiyo to become his manga assistant. From that point on, Chiyo’s connecting with more of her classmates and Nozaki, building some awesome friendships, but seeing them grow together across their various wacky adventures is a highlight of Tsubaki’s series. What follows is great comedic timing and an utterly clever subversions of typical romance/shojo tropes! Presented in the 4-panel style, the reason this series would appeal to book bloggers is because its very episodic so you can enjoy it at your own pace and the author’s fun spin on tropes you might not have seen before. This is a fantastic series I picked up early on as I was getting back into manga in 2016 and it truly holds up year after year! Tsubaki’s brilliant take on tropes makes this series a memorable one, still going strong at 11 volumes!

Current # Of Volumes: 11 – BookshopThe Book Depository

Additional Recommendations // UNREAD

Here’s a few more mangas that I’ve been planning on reading and based on the summary they definitely sound like they would appeal to book bloggers who are searching for more series!

Natsume’s Book Of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa

Takashi Natsume has always been aware of the supernatural world, but after he inherits a magical book from his grandmother, the supernatural world is aware of him! Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he’s a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko. When Reiko was Takashi’s age, she bound the names of demons and spirits in her Book of Friends, enslaving them to her capricious whim. Now Takashi is the owner of the book, and the creatures will do anything to get their names back.

I don’t often reach for older manga series, but the way mythology blends in a contemporary setting sounds like a lot of fun it also seems like a quiet series, focused on the characters and the world. I’m looking forward to checking this one out!

The Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga

After breaking a “curse” on the imperial heirs, a palace servant with training in herbal medicine is promoted up the ranks to food taster…and right into the thick of palace intrigue in this lushly illustrated period mystery series! Maomao, a young woman trained in the art of herbal medicine, is forced to work as a lowly servant in the inner palace. Though she yearns for life outside its perfumed halls, she isn’t long for a life of drudgery! Using her wits to break a “curse” afflicting the imperial heirs, Maomao attracts the attentions of the handsome eunuch Jinshi and is promoted to attendant food taster. But Jinshi has other plans for the erstwhile apothecary, and soon Maomao is back to brewing potions and…solving mysteries?!

What’s drawn me to this series is the story which sounds so fascinating, a historical series following a food taster who gets tangled up in palace intrigue, court politics, and mysteries?! Sign me up! The cover itself is also gorgeous and this one sounds like it’ll be a very page-turning read!

Restaurant From Another World by Junpei Inuzuka

In Tokyo lies a small restaurant called “Western Cuisine Nekoya,” ordinary in every way–save one. Every Saturday, its door connects to another world! Follow along as a cavalcade of curious guests from half-elves to samurai, dragons, halflings and vampires enter its premises, all with the same goal in mind: to fill their stomachs with the most mouth-watering of foods.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you would know I’ve been trying to finish this series, especially book 1, for YEARS (hopefully putting it on yet another list will motivate me). It’s genuinely such a cozy, feel-good series that more people should read. If quiet, fantasy stories are your thing, you should check this out! Its about a seemingly typical restaurant called “Western Cuisine Nekoya.” However, on Saturdays it opens up a portal where all kinds of people and magical creatures sit and enjoy some delicious food. Technically I’ve only started the light novel, but I love how each visitor and food is talked about in-depth. Such a unique series!

Resources:
If you are looking for more accessible ways to read manga here are a couple apps/websites for you to check out if you’d like to read a few chapters (or entire series) of select manga titles:

*Bookwalker is an online digital manga store that offers previews, however it doesn’t include Viz Media titles

Hope you enjoyed my manga starter recommendations, this is hopefully only just PART 1 of a new series on the blog! Thanks for reading! If you are new to these titles, I do hope you’ll check them out!

✨Do you read a lot of manga? What are some starter series you recommend or have any particular favorites? Have you read any from this list? ✨

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!

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado ARC Review

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Publisher: Holiday House

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Ericka Lugo

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Pages: 176

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Book Blogger Resources: Crafting Book Reviews

In the world of book blogging, book reviews are a staple of the community. Our thoughts, emotions, and musings on a particular book can surprisingly be compiled into a single post. However, this task is not always easy and crafting a review takes time.

Once you close the final page, your mind is probably reeling with endless thoughts on how the world, characters, and story made you feel (whether positively or not).

Regardless, it takes time and there’s many story elements to consider when writing reviews and in reality, us bloggers put ourselves under such pressure to accomplish this seemingly impossible task time and time again.

Book reviews are a way for us to sort of unveil our own experiences when reading a particular book and if we absolutely love it, reviews have the special sort of magic in making us feel like we are pushing the book into readers hands right then and there.

That’s why in my second Book Blogger Resources post, I’ll be sharing a broad list of resources filled with articles (and blog posts) that can help guide you in your own reviews. In addition, I will also highlight some of my own tips and offer any advice I can.

📚☕ BLOGS & ARTICLES 📚☕

The Quiet Pond: CW crafted a list featuring 63 prompts to help you when you are stuck on writing a book review. Featuring categories such as writing, plot, characters, worldbuilding, etc. this post highlights different angles you can examine these elements from with the variety of questions. There’s also questions focusing on positives / negatives for more clarity too.

This post offers a lot of distinct elements to think about when trying to write a review. I enjoy looking back at this post when I’m unsure of other topics to cover in an occasional review.

Purdue Owl (Online Writing Lab): As a university student, this site has been a life-saver when it comes to citations, however I recently discovered this wonderful article on “Writing A Book Review” and believe it has a lot of phenomenal key concepts to think about as you’re reading.

It mentions 5 broad elements that can make up the structure of your review such as Characters, Themes, Argument, Key Ideas, and Quotes. There’s great descriptions for each of these and overall I love how this post was structured.

Grammarly: Through a very easy to read How-To, Grammarly’s blog post features some tips on what to include when writing, such as a hook to capture reader’s attention and how to describe your praises or critiques. It also features examples which can be really helpful.

📚☕ 24hr.YABookBlog Reviewing Tips 📚☕

Figuring out what sticks
Once I finish a book there’s always a particular element that stayed with me long after I finish reading. It can truly end up being anything from the arc of a character to the atmosphere, writing, or a combination. Focus on a particular element that stuck with you about the book, to help anchor your review.

Whether I loved the book or thought it was okay, there’s always something I got out of reading it and recognizing that has helped me to gather my thoughts more clearly over the years.

Short Reviews
Despite my preference for writing long reviews, there’s a lot of value in short reviews. They don’t have to be 1,000 word essays if you don’t want them too. Remember that your opinion is what matters and as long as you get that across, don’t worry about the length. As the old saying goes, sometimes “less is more!”

Figuring out your structure
Sometimes this can change even for me depending on the book, but as general rule I always like to include at least 1-3 core elements of a book to discuss. This helps me create a beginning, middle, and end when explaining my thoughts.

For example: I recently read A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen which is a prequel/origin story to an antagonist in her podcast The Bright Sessions. Something that helped me figure out these core elements was using Tip #1 [Figuring out what sticks], which ended up being how she humanized the villain who is also our protagonist. This then led me to find my other elements to discuss such as the canon of the original podcast and the character’s emotional journey.

“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…”24hryabookblog, Excerpt from my review of A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen

Don’t Ignore Worldbuilding Details
Whether it’s a fantasy, sci-fi or even contemporary, authors always take time to build a world for the story they tell. As you read, take note as to what those details are. Often times the world can give a lot of insight into the plot, society as a whole, atmosphere, how the protagonist(s) interpret it or how the world influences the characters themselves. Noticing these details can help you to explain the worldbuilding in your reviews, or perhaps the character’s place within it.

Worldbuilding can appear in a variety of ways such as the magic system, the setting, writing style, and even the development or expansion of specific details as the story progresses.

Brief BONUS tip on reviewing comics (or graphic novels) insp. by StoriedShelves response to my post asking for topic suggestions in this post:

This is something I’ve learned over the years and I’m always practicing with each review, but I think it’s important to also look at the art style. Think about how the art style adds to the story and describe what you like about it. While the story can be more fast-paced than a typical prose novel, I’d say take time to look and appreciate the art too.

To conclude, these are just some of my tips for including particular elements within a book to your review if you’re struggling or stumped on how to approach certain parts of the process. Sometimes it can feel like quite the challenge and as Marie from Drizzle And Hurricane Books said so graciously in her 2018 blog post which captured my thoughts exactly, “Reviewing a book starts the moment you are reading…” Your thoughts, opinions, and emotions are a part of the reading experience from beginning to end, so be sure to consider that if you need extra guidance in your posts.

Hope my post has offered some value to all of you bookish reviewers and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

✨ What do you enjoy about writing reviews? ✨ How do you decide what you want to write about in your book review? ✨ Will you use any of the resources or my personal tips in your own reviews?

*Note: If you do end up using my personal tips and were influenced by reading my post, PLEASE let me know & link this post (credit me) it would mean a lot to me knowing my resources helped other reviewers or bloggers out there with their own posts!

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!

Recommending Books From Authors Of Color Inspired by Dark Academia

Dark Academia is an aesthetic I’m utterly fascinated by. I first discovered it through Tumblr, though in recent years it’s increased in popularity due to Instagram and more recently, TikTok. It’s an aesthetic that at its core promotes the pursuit of learning, literature (oftentimes classics), the arts, and feels almost timeless. Although its origins are unknown, it can be defined by this NYT article as a niche subculture where there’s a “heavy emphasis on reading, writing, learning — and a look best described as traditional-academic-with-a-gothic-edge” (New York Times, Bateman 2020).

After re-watching ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ atleast 3 times in the past month, my love for dark academia returned which quickly led me reading up on articles, watching videos, and getting lost in those tumblr aesthetics again. However, it’s also an aesthetic that has rightfully received criticism for traditionally ignoring POC or other marginalized communities. That’s why today I wanted to share a list of books written by authors of color that either are pitched as OR remind me of the Dark Academia aesthetic featuring YA, Manga, and SFF!

Young Adult

1. Nocturna by Maya Motayne (A Forgery Of Magic #1)

Summary: To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

Why: Easily one of my favorite fantasy novels, what stuck with me about Nocturna was Motayne’s focus on culture, history and the Spanish language that weaves its way throughout the entirety of its story. They can be seen so vibrantly through it’s setting, the country of Castallan. These elements fit that academic idea that are a foundation of this aesthetic. [This YA Fantasy is also #ownvoices as its inspired by Maya’s Dominican heritage].

2. Ace Of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Release Date:
June 1, 2021

Summary: Gossip Girl meets Get Out in this YA Contemporary Thriller about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

Why: Àbíké-Íyímídé has pitched the novel as featuring the DA aesthetic and is set at an elite private school.

3. How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao (HWFA #1)
Release Date: August 3, 2021

Summary: In a YA thriller that is Crazy Rich Asians meets One of Us is Lying, students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too. 

Why: Similar to the novel mentioned above, Zhao has also pitched the novel as featuring this particular aesthetic as well.

Science Fiction Fantasy / Epic Fantasy

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

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

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

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

Why: In this spin off to Suri’s Books Of Ambha it features a young grief-stricken woman with magic in her blood and a scholarly prince who work together to save a crumbling empire. Have I mentioned that Arwa alongside studious prince Zahir literally spend chapters reading, studying, analyzing poetry and discussing tea together?! That is such a Dark Academia mood!

Manga

5. Spy X Family Vol. 1 by Tatsuya Endo

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!

Not one to depend on others, Twilight has his work cut out for him procuring both a wife and a child for his mission to infiltrate an elite private school. What he doesn’t know is that the wife he’s chosen is an assassin and the child he’s adopted is a telepath!

Why: Dark Academia is also known for it’s focus on the mystery or thriller atmosphere and this manga perfectly captures that…with a twist! A spy, telepath, and assassin become a fake family and are attempting to infiltrate an elite private school for the master spy Twilight to complete his mission. There’s also the element of pursuing knowledge that becomes apparent as you are intertwined with the unique role of each member of the Forger family. But of course, many secrets are kept in this dark, thrilling, and entertaining series.

Hope you enjoyed my intro to my Dark Academia book recommendations, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these in the comments below! Planning on making more posts like this again soon, thanks for reading!

Is this an aesthetic you enjoy or any elements in particular you enjoy about DARK ACADEMIA? What are your thoughts on the books recommended in this list?