Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft Review

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Pages: 388

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist (Jacket Design): Olga Grlic

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce Review

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Jacqueline Li and Chris Kwon (designer)

Summary: After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

When Ellie meets Will, a gorgeous and charming Brit, she vows to avoid making the same mistakes as she did with the last guy she liked. Which is why she strikes up a bargain with Dev, an overachieving classmate who she’s never clicked with, but who does seem to know a lot about the things Will is interested in—if he helps her win over her crush, then she’ll help him win over his.

But even as Ellie embarks on a whirlwind romance, one that takes her on adventures to some of England’s most beautiful places, she still needs to figure out if this is actually the answer to all her problems…and whether the perfect boyfriend is actually the perfect boy for her.

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: Hot British Boyfriend is a fun, entertaining YA romcom filled with adventure, academia, and friendship! Ellie joins a study abroad program in England after a humiliating video goes viral. But, along the way she learns to boost her self-confidence and discovers what she’s truly passionate about. A light-hearted, fluffy debut!

Before going into my review I will say that despite my 3-star rating, I liked this debut a lot because I could see what the author was trying to do in terms of Ellie’s development throughout the book and it surprised me by putting a focus on friendship for about 50% of the story!

So, Ellie has recently moved to Washington DC with her mother and is anxious of what the new year will bring now that her friend Crystal is joining a study abroad program. However, she’s convinced her crush Andy is going to ask her to be his girlfriend at a party. After misreading the situation and humiliating herself, she can no longer face her classmates. Then, when a spot opens up for Waterford’s study abroad program at Emberton Manor in England, Ellie takes the opportunity to step away for a bit and also gain some self-confidence along the way.

As she adjusts to her new surroundings for the semester, higher-level classes, and her studious roommate Sage, Ellie quickly finds herself hatching a plan sure to give her the confidence she’s looking for, by finding a British boyfriend!

After meeting Will and his best friend Hank at a flea market, she believes in order to reinvent herself during her time there, the only thing she can do is slowly lie to her boyfriend, which in turn leads her to not be fully honest with him about her interests like unicorns and fairy gardens. There’s this underlying anxiety she feels that he may not embrace the real her, which propels her emotional arc. There’s an authenticity to this as Boyce portrayed both Ellie’s anxiety and lack of confidence consistently to emphasize her development throughout the story.

However as Ellie begins to hang out with Will more, she can’t help but feel a pull towards the new friends she’s made. Even with the help of her classmate Dev, they team up to help each other win over their crushes/loves which adds a fun layer to their dynamic. But as Ellie begins to realize Dev is really the one she can be honest with, will she make the right choice and follow her heart?

This is a nice YA Contemporary. Boyce builds in the wanderlust / adventure and academic atmospheres very well through Ellie’s perspective. From the descriptions of the locations they visit, classes, and lots more, the setting becomes such an integral part of how the character dynamics are explored. While the summary doesn’t hint at this too much either, there is a lot of focus + development on friendship and Ellie’s new friend group. Established early on, Ellie only had one friend (now ex) and has moved a lot in the past, so she’s never really had many.

Seeing how Ellie connects more and grows in ways she never realized because of her friends like Sage who inspires her to be more studious and appreciate the uniqueness of her hobbies, Dev for how they can be so honest with each other, even Huan for just being a supportive friend…these dynamics were such strong layers and I appreciated how Boyce gave this theme such an important role in Ellie’s story.

Now in England, she’s given the opportunity to meet new people and classmates she never really bonded with before. Also I know friendship is a big part of the story here, but her moments with Dev were very adorable and the slow development of their relationship kept me wondering what would happen next.

A relatable element and also interesting observation of this novel was how everyone around Ellie seems to have some sort of life plan heading into senior year, but she is still learning to accept her hobbies (gardening, building fairy houses, etc.) and learning to embrace them, while at the same time figuring out what her own academic future holds.

There’s a relatability to that feeling that consistently builds Ellie’s character as well while she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do after high school. Not many will know, but I appreciated how Boyce normalized that idea and showcased the importance of using your passions and hobbies to guide you.

Another observation I had was my personal interpretation into some “privilege” that certain characters had. Where Ellie’s classmates like Dev, Sage, and Huan are there to prepare themselves for college/uni, there’s many scenes that remind her they are there to focus on their studies. While Ellie struggles and does improve along the way, little by little, she does mostly spend that time to think more about her love life, while leaving her studies at the back of her mind. Then with Will, he comes from a rather privileged family and he is eager to break away from his family’s business to start his own, however he doesn’t have much of a solid plan and does have advantages of not needing to worry about schooling (or finances) for the time being. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing but an interesting observation that stuck with me as I read.

Overall I think what left my rating is left at 3.75 stars despite how much I liked it, was the more I realized seeing Ellie’s relationship progress with Will throughout the book not only felt too fast, but also rather hollow? Whenever she would meet up with him, I would think ‘what is even the point?’ He’s nice and all, but there’s literally nothing interesting about his character the more I read. He was also at points being unintentionally self-centered and was always focused on his own issues not really listening to Ellie that much anyways (in my opinion). Then coupled with the fact that Ellie and Dev has a WAY better dynamic, there was this superficial/pointless feeling to her relationship with Will. Then it was only about waiting about 100 pages left in the book where Ellie could finally realize that too.

However, above all I personally loved seeing the focus on Ellie’s growth as a character in figuring out what she wants to do with school and her life after high school was a nice arc to explore. Despite being the point of the book, I still think her romance with Will, surprisingly, bogged it all down. While this novel was just an okay, fun read for me personally, wouldn’t mind checking out the author’s 2nd book in this “series” (which she recently announced in March). Despite my overall feelings on it, what will stick with me was the personal journey that Ellie took and the focus on friendship!

Hot British Boyfriend is a fluffy, light YA romcom that despite some flaws, puts a focus on friendship, boosting self-confidence, and discovering ones passions!

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!

March TBR: Prioritizing ARCs and Backlist Books

Hello everyone, it’s been quite a while since I’ve shared any kind of TBR list on this blog, but I’ve been feeling inspired to chat more about the books that’ve interested me and that I’m been eager to read.

I struggle with creating TBRs because I’ve realized over the past year, I would definitely say that my reading habits have transformed me into more of a “mood reader.” I’ve also been feeling a lot more motivated to create content on the blog besides reviews and hopefully these kinds of posts will help me stick to some kind of monthly schedule.

I’d love to chat about all the books I’m hoping to get to this month and would love to hear about what your reading plans are too! So here’s my ambitious TBR over the next couple weeks:

March TBR (Current Reads)

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

Debut #OwnVoices Puerto-Rican rep.YA ContemporaryReleased: Feb. 2, 2021
I first received this book as an ARC, but of course with my reading schedule being all over the place, I haven’t gotten to finishing this one quite yet. But I’ll be honest…2021 has made me reflect on the importance of taking time to read a book and not just rushing through, which is exactly why it’s taken me a bit longer to finish up Maldonado’s book.

Overall, I’m loving Charlie’s journey in this as she learns to have a better relationship with her body, navigate love, and improve her relationship with her mom. Maldonado has written Charlie in such a realistic way, her narrative voice is interwoven with humor and heart, plus there’s such a great cast of characters! If you have yet to add this phenomenal debut to your To-read list, I highly recommend it!

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Debut Bisexual rep. YA Fantasy Released: March 2, 2021

In addition to my current interest in dark academia, perhaps I should also add gothic literature to the list? Following a healer named Wren, she takes a job at a crumbling manor where she learns she’ll have to heal her kingdom’s sworn enemy! The writing is so atmospheric, I’m also just so intrigued by the setting and characters. This is another book I’m taking my time with because not only am I reading way too many things at once, but also really want to immerse myself in the magical world.

Hoping to finish this one soon, I also made an aesthetic which was lots of fun!

March TBR (Unread)

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

Sequel Bisexual & Sapphic rep.YA FantasyReleased: Oct. 13, 2020

Last year around early 2020 I finally read Well’s Shatter The Sky and fell in love with it. Maren is on a quest to rescue her girlfriend Kaia whose taken by prophetic seers of their empire. When Maren comes up with a plan to find a dragon to go look for her, she gets tangled up in the politics and intrigue, even makes new friends when she enters undercover in the empire’s stronghold. There’s a lot of dragon lore, interesting characters, and a unique world I’m eager to learn more about in the sequel.

I’m eager to see how Maren’s journey wraps-up especially as there’s a few plot threads that surprised me near the end. Originally I got an arc of this one, so I’m debating whether to read my arc or just borrow a library copy.

Satoko And Nada Vol. 4 by Yupechika

FinaleJapanese & Saudi-Arabian rep.ContemporaryReleased: Dec. 29, 2020

I’ve gotten quite into the habit of starting a lot of manga series, but never finishing them. However, with only 4 volumes, Satoko & Nada captured my heart each and every time. This series follows exchange students Satoko (Japanese) and Nada (Saudi-Arabian) who become roommates and the best of friends! Across each volume, you follow their daily adventures, featuring a very slice-of-life atmosphere that’s just too wholesome!

I’m literally sobbing because this will be the last volume, but trust the author to deliver a wonderful conclusion to their adventures in America. I might be putting this one to the side for a bit, because I’m so not ready to say goodbye to these characters just yet.

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

Debut#Ownvoices Black Rep.YA ContemporaryReleased: Jan. 5, 2021

After getting through Charlie Vega so far, I realized I’m also in such a contemporary romance/rom-com mood! Tessa, a dedicated writer, gets into a creative writing program, but along the way loses that spark. So with her friend Caroline, they create a romance novel-inspired list of steps to help Tessa get inspiration through a real-life love story of her own.

This just sounds like a super fun read and I’m interested in seeing what Tessa learns along the way.

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore

StandalonePan & Latinx rep. (#OwnVoices)YA Magical Realism & Fairytale retellingReleases: March 16, 2021

If you didn’t know, Anna-Marie is one of my all-time favorite authors!! They write the most beautiful Latinx fairytales and of course it’s no surprise I’d be reading their newest novel. It looks like this novel will deeply explore healing and as always, McLemore delivers such a wonderfully developed cast of characters, delves into many themes, and much more!

Also got an arc of this one, so hopefully I can get to reading it during March and share my review!

Content warning: PTSD and SA

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (Magic Of The Lost #1)

DebutSapphic rep Epic FantasyReleases: March 23, 2021

Earlier this month I got a copy of The Unbroken! 2021 is the year I’m looking to read and catchup on adult sff/ epic fantasy, so I’m adding Clark’s debut to the list to hopefully motivate me to get through the newer releases.

The story sounds great as its set in a North-African inspired desert colony/empire. There’s even a grumpy soldier / princess dynamic and I’m so fascinated in immersing myself in this epic world.

What have you read during the month of March? Any recommendations or new releases you’re looking forward to?

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!