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? ✨

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?

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!

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen Review

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

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: September 29, 2020

Pages: 256

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera Review

The Education Of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Simon Teen)

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Pages: 296

Available Through The Book Depository and Bookshop

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

Summary: THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

The Fox & Little Tanuki Vol. 1 by Mi Tagawa {Manga Review}

The Fox And The Little Tanuki Vol. 1 by Mi Tagawa (Fox & Tanuki #1)

Publisher: Tokyo Pop

Release Date: March 17, 2020

Pages: 158

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!

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Fox & The Little Tanuki is an entertaining manga debut filled with so much heart, following an evil fox spirit whose been awakened and given a second chance with one very important task, raising a tanuki cub to be a servant to the gods! From its fast pace, animated artwork, and compelling story steeped in Japanese mythology, this is a fantastic manga series worth checking out!

Within the space of this of this roughly 150-page manga, Tagawa delivers a clever narrative about redemption, identity, and family in a way all through the lens of a Japanese mythology and folklore.

Senzou is a black fox spirit whose been asleep for 300 years only to be awakened once more by the sun goddess and with wickedness still driving him, he plans on getting vengeance. However, he quickly learns that his current form as a regular fox has practically diminished all his powers and has been given a vital task: He must now take care of a little tanuki and raise it to be a servant of the gods.

To ensure he’s on track, a pearl necklace has been placed on him to inflict pain he caused in his past life whenever he neglects his duties (both emotionally or in a literal sense). Whether he’s too far from the tanuki, tries to avoid the goddess’s orders, or attempts to harm others, the pearls will bring pain.

With nature as a backdrop, the art presents lots of sprawling forests, plants, building a unique world where these creatures live. The series is set in a place between our world and the underworld too. Animals inhabit this world either as servants of the gods, free to roam where the choose, or even in the form of bakemono, those born with special powers.

While Senzou is adamant about caring for the tanuki, which he names Manpachi, he offers him the stark reality of loneliness, duty, and family with creatures like them. As it turns out Manpachi was originally from our world, but because of his abilities as a bakemono he could never create a real attachment to his family and was exiled. With his innocence, Senzou attempts to open his eyes at various moments in this volume, but it’s in Manpachi’s infectious joy that contradicts the possible accuracy of this advice … which also shows the reader, in some ways, they may be more alike than we first realize.

Once they are introduced to their new home, they learn that two wolves (Mikumo and Tachibana) are in charge of keeping an eye on them and giving them different tasks or problems to solve among the gods. The first involves a Zashiki-warishi, a spirit that’s in the form of a child protecting a house, who’s trying to reclaim his home from another god that took over.

Over the course of this first volume Senzou and Manpachi use their opposing natures to find a way to work together and teach each other more about the world. Senzou especially learns a bit more about what it means to care for someone other than himself, letting those sharp, jagged edges slowly diminish through what I hope will be the entirety of the series. That becomes abundantly clear when a mysterious badger known for causing trouble, confronts Senzou and even learns about Manpachi!

I’m loving the origins of the sort of found family that’s presented here! Not only is there Senzou and Manpachi, but there’s also the white fox spirit Koyuki, the bubbly one of the group who also gives them a place to stay. Despite the wolf Mikumo feeling uneasy and overly suspicious of Senzou’s motives, he and Tachibana act as his guide and I’m sure we’ll be seeing them all interact more throughout the various books. I loved the chaotic dynamic this squad has and I’m eager to read the next volume!

Steeped in Japanese folklore and myth, there’s lots of bakemono and spirits we’re introduced to and it’s interesting getting to see the hierarchy of spirits, animals and how they all interact within this world.

Senzou and Manpachi are the LITERAL definition of the grumpy x sunshine dynamic that is so much fun to read! Although there’s lots of mystery surrounding their pasts still, I can see lots of similarities and parallels, which makes their characters even more fascinating while seeing their companionship unfold slowly throughout the volume.

For this manga the artwork is very animated and reads like anime adaptation. It’s very immersive, fast-paced which makes for fun action scenes and presents a very expressive style when it comes to personifying the animal characters, especially in Koykui and Senzou. Also, the covers are done in such a beautiful watercolor style, which first drew me to this series.

There’s lots of messages and themes woven throughout such as family, attempting to learn from past mistakes, allowing the opportunity trust yourself while making room for redemption and second chances. Both Manpachi and Senzou are both getting used to their new roles and have much to learn about each other, but you can see the importance of these themes through their trials and triumphs!

While the pacing and story are fantastic, it can feel like there’s a lot of lore were introduced to a bit quickly because of how fast it is and at times it can feel overwhelming. However, there’s also moments where I just wanted to know more about this world and the hierarchy among the animals. But once you get reading, the story is an absolute delight start to finish!

The Fox & Tanuki Vol. 1 is fun manga series filled with mythology that features a grumpy fox spirit training a cheerful, curious tanuki and turning him into a servant for the gods! An absolute page-turner filled with adventure, humor, mystery, and meaningful messages. Great for those seeking the grumpy-sunshine pairing and looking for a story that’s equal parts fun and heartfelt, with a plot sure to leave you wanting to know more!

Ophiuchus by Ali Leriger De La Plante and Natasha Tara Petrović Review {Graphic Novel}

Ophiuchus by Alexis Leriger de la Plante and Natasha Tara Petrović

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: August 27, 2019

Pages: 144

Available Through The Book Depository: Ophiuchus

Summary: OPHIUCHUS follows the story of the lone sentry of an ancient, inactive gate, until one day, a strange being breaks through and infects her with a virus.

Shortly after, she is approached by two machines, who implore her to follow them to the center of the universe to put an end to the virus, a malevolent being which rots all worlds.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Ophiuchus is a stunningly illustrated graphic novel following a lonely sentry who joins two machines in brining an end to a strange virus infecting the worlds! Presenting a unique color palette and art style, among a page-turning story, this standalone blew me away!

On those rare occasions do you ever find yourself stumbling upon a sf/f read both unique and one-of-a-kind, you find yourself whisked away becoming familiar with this fascinating world only to wonder how it connects with you on some deep level you were never expecting? That’s what it felt like reading Ophiuchus with it’s vibrant colors of pinks, purples, and blues which at it’s heart is about friendship and fighting for a better world.

A lonely sentry guards her Gate among the Mountain Folk keeping it safe from all trespassers. However, when she gets infected with a virus that’s found it’s way through, she meets two other machines who are eager to stop this serpent-like creature that’s attacking and infecting worlds, plus those within them. Hesitant at first, she feels it’s rather reckless to leave her post, but after being convinced by Saggita, one of the machines, she doesn’t hesitate to learn more about what’s beyond.

It takes a leisurely pace despite how fast the story actually goes, but it gives much opportunity to examine the world in peculiar way that actually says quite a lot about the expansive universe as a whole. There’s an array of sub-units and models of machines, tradition, and culture that we barely scratch the surface of due to the virus known as Serpentis that’s infecting the galaxy and taking it away.

Though Saggita and Pyx are close friends at the start of the story, it isn’t until they meet Sentry that we see the distinct personality to each of them shine through as they travel to contain the virus. They build this beautiful friendship and although the story is contained within this single volume, I would not hesitate to buy 100’s more with even more of their adventures. Sentry is very much the awkward misfit in the beginning, but learns to take risks for her friends, especially as she learns she is inherently unaffected by the virus. Saggita is the serious, focused leader of the group whose life has really been impacted because of the serpent. Then there’s Pyx, he’s the quiet, loving, comedic one of the group who you can’t help but love. But all together, these 3 make a phenomenal team and you see their personality shine through even more during the tight-knit moments and even the dynamic action scenes, which are so well done!

What also makes this such a charming read is despite the dark undertones of the story, there’s a humor woven throughout that just adds more depth to who these characters are, I loved them! There’s a scene in particular that’s so memorable because it’s a surprisingly funny moment early on in the story where Sentry is getting ready to leave, says goodbye, and her fellow Mountain Folk never knew she could talk! It’s in those quiet moments that added even more depth to the story.

There’s even motifs that delve into Greek mythology if I’m not mistaken and seeing how it melds with this futuristic space setting was fascinating to see. After revisiting the book again on a reread, I can see how the mythological elements present this story as a sort of Epic, which so clever and made for an even more unique layer to the adventure.

Now the artwork which is utterly stunning, get ready to be wowed! I honestly feel like I could write an entire essay about the art alone. The color palette is composed of subtle pastels such as pink, purples, blues, but as you read further along you notice how they darken or lose saturation, which hints at the more serious moments of the story. There’s a clear focus on geometry throughout the various shapes of the architecture, characters, and scenery that give a gritty sci-fi look despite the mix of warm and cool colors. Where the geometric design stuck out to me, was when I noticed it especially as Saggita talked about the tradition involving a unique square-shaped flower with a neon color to it.

Overall it’s just done in such a unique style making it such a joy to see across each page! Visually stunning in every way. The paneling also varies across every moment of the story, bringing your attention to all these different parts that never fail to stand out.

If anything, I just wish there were more to this story! It ends on a mysterious, but hopeful note and I just was not ready to say goodbye to this delightful trio I was just getting to know. It feels like there a lot more that can be explored about this fascinating space-opera esque/fantasy world. I would literally read an entire series about the many adventures that Saggita, Pyx, and Sentry have (who does in fact have a name). They captured my entire heart even though I’ve met them in this single volume.

This is very much a distinct kind of story that may not meld with everyone, but I utterly adored it from the artwork to the journey and how everything came together, there’s a mysterious quality to this compact story, and with each page it captivated me.

Ophiuchus is a fast-paced science fiction graphic novel that’s about friendship and saving the world! Filled with mystery, a great cast of characters, and gorgeous artwork, it’s a wholly unique story. With humor, action, adventure, and much more, this is a fantastic read!