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!

Cover Reveal: Melody Of Astronomical Dusk by Miri Castor

24hr.YABookBlog is delighted to share the cover for the third novel in Miri Castor’s Opal Charm Series. This self-published Young Adult Fantasy series follows a Black teen named Opal from New York who learns of an alternate world and her own magical abilities. As this discovery soon propels her to try and save both worlds, she faces many hardships along the way. However, at its core, the series is about family, friendship and strengthening those bonds!

When Miri reached out to me about revealing this cover, I was overjoyed in taking part! It’s no surprise that I’m always looking to discover new YA novels and especially indie books. After discovering Castor’s series just last year, I’ve been eager to start it and it’s exciting getting to share the forthcoming novel with all of you!


Opal Charm is in desperate need of a vacation. A trip to her grandmother’s place in the sunny town of Marisol offers tranquility and distance from recent chaotic events in Dewdrop. But Marisol brings a whole new set of mysteries about Opal’s family, including the original Twilight wielder Philomenos.  

Meanwhile, Samael Serkhan’s influence grows quickly across the alternate world of Athre. Lies, secrets, and heartache spread with Samael’s power, threatening to sever Opal’s ties with JAEL and family once and for all. With Twilight and family bonds, Opal must stop those trapped under Samael’s control from a self-destructing madness that can engulf both her worlds.

Opal Charm: Melody Of Astronomical Dusk by is set to be released April 2, 2021!

Cover Artist and Illustrator: Piere d’Arterie // Credits: Castor Press and Miri Castor

You can pre-order the novel through Amazon or add the series to your Goodreads!

Opal is a Black bi girl who is learning to grow alongside her family and friends over the course of the series. Set in the bustling suburb of Dewdrop, she meets a new friend named Hope Adaire and life slowly begins to change. She’s unveiling truths, finding her own path, and better understanding her own superpowers.

The Path To Dawn‘ is the first novel and was the launch of the series back in February of 2016. In addition to the two novels in the series thus far, there’s also a prequel novel which follows Opal’s brother Jermaine. Castor plans to conclude the Opal’s adventures with a fourth book in the series currently being written.

About Miri Castor: She spent many recesses in middle school writing fantasy stories, with Opal Charm being one of many. She has written for Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and was featured as a Spotlight New Author in 2016. After attending a university on the East Coast, she studied biochemistry and received her B.S. in 2016. A New York native, Miri enjoys playing video games, attending music concerts, and strolling through the city. 

Find Miri Castor on: WebsiteAmazonTwitterTumblrFacebook

Have you heard of the Opal Charm Series? What are your thoughts on this cover? 🔥✨

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!

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

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

Publisher: Seven Seas

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Pages: 176

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

Summary: A World of Magic and Mischief!

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

My Rating: ★★★★☆

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s All The Book-to-Video Game Adaptations? {Book Blog Discussion}

It’s no surprise that I’m eager to see book adaptations break the mold when it comes to the medium in which they are told (you can read my discussion on Animation, here). So when I read adult SFF author Alix E. Harrow’s Tweet wondering why more books aren’t being adapted into video games, there was a lot I had to say on the subject which led me to create today’s post.

In the years before I found my love for reading, video games were my go-to hobby. Similar to my TBR though, there’s many games I’ve neglected to return to over the past few years, I’m always keeping updated on new or interesting titles that catch my attention. It’s my firm belief that mediums such as animation and video games are very much sidelined when it comes to creating adaptations based on written source material. They are an innovative form of storytelling that can be done in an endless number of formats, yet is often left out of the adaptation conversation. Now I’m very aware of the budget (and technology) required to create projects of this scale…however, I find that I’m always left wondering the “what ifs” and the potential to create a more interactive, immersive experience through the video game format.

One that many are aware of such as The Witcher, which is now a hit Netflix series, was actually first adapted into a successful video game franchise, starting in 2007 as an action RPG. Even Sir Terry Pratchett’s expansive Discworld Series was adapted into a point-and-click adventure game in the 90’s.

Book adaptations in a way are occupying a unique space right now where they are going direct to consumers, for example through Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services [with Shadow And Bone, Always And Forever, Lara Jean (To All The Boys 3) slated to arrive early this year]. Now consider mobile games you can play directly on your phone, software like Steam to download games instantly, etc.

The biggest space where I can see already published books being developed into video games is most definitely in the SFF, science fiction and fantasy genres. With a variety of publishers from Tor to Harper, Orbit, etc., there’s lots of potential to bring epic sci-fi/fantasy series, novellas, you name it to the unique market of gaming too.

The reason video games carry such a particular and notable weight in terms of adaptations is the immersive quality to them. When you enter the world of a video game, you become the main character (or characters) in a way you can’t do when watching the finished product of a television series or film. Sure you experience both in very distinct ways, but video games offer the exclusive opportunity for you to experience the world, connect with the cast, and carry on the story at your own pace as the MC yourself.

Similar for book-to-screen adaptations, video games can embed the story elements of our favorite books (especially fantasy or science fiction) through a plethora of ways, such as the expansive world or setting, character design, outfits, the environmental storytelling, architecture, npc dialogue, even the soundtrack.

Video games at their core are comprised of challenges or quests, engaging mechanics, and a fundamental goal for it’s story. The reason that books can make such an impact in this already wide-ranging market with genres, animation, and narratives of all kinds is that they carry all the these key ingredients that can carry over into a fun, dynamic video game space.

However, aside from storytelling another vital piece of the video game recipe is the gameplay (or combat) itself. From puzzle games, to open-world settings, RPG’s, strategy, visual novels, VR, action-adventure, and so on…the narrative within books themselves can allow for an endless of possibility of gameplay mechanics in order to tell the story.

The story and game design (or mechanics) in my opinion, work best when they are interconnected and benefit or even build each other to tell plot in the best way possible. The activity of reading a book and playing a video game, require very different muscles. For one, in video games it’s all about interaction, strategy, in order to actively progress through. However, that’s exactly why they would make such a great medium for adapting books, for those who are familiar with the story, now you become a part of it. Speaking to the other characters, voyaging across the setting, or something as simple as interacting with environment.

There’s also infinite possibilities when choosing core elements of the book’s plot, character, dialogue and world to create specific tasks, goals, or quests, even cutscenes that dictate how the in-world setting and story of a video game would operate. Thus, this creates an incredibly narrative-driven experience.

Now for the rest of the post I’m going to list a few books that I think would make great video games and delve into what I think the best gameplay/mechanic and narrative that would fit best with a particular book! Now there’s tons of books I’ve read that would make amazing video games, but these are just some I think I could explain with the most clarity…however, of course PLEASE recommend your own and share your dream book-to-game adaptations with me in the comments as well!

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash Of Trouble by Anna Meriano: Because I’m currently reading the sequel as I draft this post, there was a spark of an idea I just couldn’t let go of!

This game I can perfectly picture (with cover artist, Mirelle Ortega’s beautiful artwork) as a very cute point-and-click, narrative game where the player can create delicious and magical treats from the Amor y Azúcar Panadería as the main character Leo.

Not only is the storytelling of this series incredibly wholesome, but Meriano develops a unique magic system surrounded by baking and brujeria skills of the Logroño family.

The backgrounds of the bakery, even the specific baking ingredients, and magical items the Logroño family uses would all be at the center of this quiet contemporary fantasy game.

Scavenge The Stars by Tara Sim: From the moment I stepped into the lavish, tropical, rich and detailed setting of Moray, a thought that stuck with me throughout the entirety of the novel was…”WOW, this needs to be an video game tbh.” This Monte Cristo retelling is filled with revenge, corruption, but at its heart a tale of legacy and identity that would be perfectly executed as action role-playing game.

I can clearly picture this novel as an adventure RPG filled with quests, treasures, sea faring, intrigue, and above all an open world where you can be both Cayo and Amaya as they uncover more secrets about the dual-sided city of Moray.

The setting and atmosphere that Sim weaves throughout the novel would perfectly transition to a format for players to explore the world themselves as they journey either Cayo or Amaya’s stories.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi: This idea did not even cross my mind until I saw fellow booktwt friends mention that TGW would make an amazing puzzle game, and I agree!

Set in Paris 1889 and on the verge of the Exposition Universelle, Chokshi’s magic system and adorable crew of misfits would be perfect as a visual novel melded with the strategy of a puzzle game to tell the story of the crew on a mission to hunt down an ancient artifact.

What would be at the core of this fictional game, in my opinion, would be the atmospheric soundtrack, detailed characters/text boxes and backgrounds making for fun interactive puzzles across Paris, even the focus on narrative to uncover the secrets, but also delve into the various themes Chokshi centers into her novel.

Skip by Molly Mendoza: One of my favorite graphic novels of 2019, this graphic novel that blew me away with its beautiful storytelling and surrealist, colorful artwork (Seriously if you haven’t read this graphic novel please read my REVIEW if you need more convincing).

This is set in a post-apocalyptic world where protagonists Bloom and Gloopy are from different dimensions and become best friends, while also trying to find their way back home. When I think of this as a video game, I picture it with a Journey-esque quality (if you know what game I’m talking about) where there’s no health bar/status and is just about exploring the open world setting and interacting with the world or characters.

Basically no overly serious quests, just traveling in a marvelously illustrated world and immersing yourself in the aesthetics of it all. I also picture the cutscenes done in the style of Mendoza’s artwork from the graphic novel.

Perhaps for a future post I can share more of these ideas for book-to-game, but to conclude I had a lot of fun writing + crafting this post, and sure hope you enjoyed reading it. Perhaps one day studios will experiment more in animation and video game adaptations when it comes to books!

Do you have an dream books-to-videogame adaptations? What kind of game format do you imagine and thoughts on the ones I mentioned above? 📚🎮💖

Book Blogger Resources: Creating Graphics For Posts and Organizing Your Reading

In 2021 a goal of mine is to bring bookish posts that helps other book bloggers and creators by sharing lists of various resources to alleviate the stress when your unsure of how to create your next graphic, organize your reading, making posts, etc. Book Bloggers put in numerous hours into crafting content and I’d love for this series to help either new or long-term creators utilize these tools to elevate your amazing work.

When I first began my blog in 2015, I never knew about these resources for creating graphics and when you think about it, visuals are such an important part of how we interact with content.

Over the years I’ve gotten a better hang of making banners for my posts and want to share what I’ve learned with all of you! I’ve created a broad resource for book bloggers looking to make graphics for their posts, blog and social media. I’ll be splitting it up by graphic design platforms, places where you can find images, and chat about places where you can keep your reading organized (aside from Goodreads).

📚☕ GRAPHICS 📚☕

Canva: This FREE graphic design platform is filled with numerous templates and layouts making it incredibly easy to create banners and featured images for your blog posts /content. There’s even specific templates for platforms such as Instagram and Twitter providing you with the perfect sized image.

There’s various tools that provide free backgrounds or images, text, and design elements so you can customize your graphic in any way you’d like. I use this a lot for my own blog and highly recommend using it if you haven’t already!

FhotoJet: Another website perfect for creating graphics, there’s a lot of premade templates, images, and text available to use. I tried this one out without needing to create an account, so if you want to make something super quick, this is a nice website! Recently discovered it and I think it’s worth checking out.

📚☕ Free Stock Images 📚☕

Unsplash: This website is full of thousands of free stock photos and the layout of the website makes it very simple to scroll, search, even find photos based on locations or tags. I’ve honestly spent hours scrolling on this site and am always left pleasantly surprised by the range of photos available. I’m pretty sure sites like ‘Book Riot use it for their posts, so I recommend checking out their Twitter to see how some of the photos look.

Additional sites that have free vectors, images, or illustrations: FREEPIKPIXABYPEXELS

Museums and access to images in the public domain: This is a unique resource I’ve only learned more about over the past couple years and I don’t utilize it much, but it’s a fantastic way to incorporate artwork into your graphics if you’re interested. According to Creative Law Center, this post contains various galleries of museum artwork you can access for free (just as long as you select “public domain” or similar wording under the filters when browsing). They are free to download and offer a large variety of work to view.

(Or whenever you want to use artwork/photographs provided by museums, just make sure it has the Creative Commons License)

📚☕ Organizing Your Reading 📚☕

With many readers actively searching for Goodreads alternatives that offer more features and customization, here’s a few places you should check out!

Storygraph: You’ve probably heard of this platform over the past year and what makes this website great, aside from its user-friendly and eye-catching layout, this is the place to “[help] you track your reading and choose your next book based on your mood and your favorite topics and themes.” Its a great website to discover new reads from the ‘Browse Books’ section and learn more about a book through different literary devices or elements like tone and pacing. There’s also more customizable ratings letting you be more specific and I think it also lists content warnings for books.

I haven’t spent too much time on my account, but I’d love to check back and see all the new features the Storygraph has added now that it’s out of Beta mode.

Booksloth (App): One of my favorite bookish apps by far now is Booksloth, I think its such an inviting space and truly makes reading feel more like a community activity through it’s discussion section, customizable shelves, and by making it incredibly easy to customize your profile making reading feel more personal and fun!

According to their website Booksloth is all about offering “personalized book recommendations” and making it easy to join their “bookish community.”

I’ve been meaning to get back to using this app because another one of my favorite features is how it lets you rate different story elements of a book and just discover new reads (or even recommend some) in the discussion section.

Readng: This reading tracker launched I think within the past couple years (2019-2020) and I’ve only just discovered it in the past month, but overall I love what I’m seeing. I like the layout of the site and how clean the design is. Its so easy to create collections for specific books, track current/finished/tbr reads (all determined with specific icons on the navigation bar), and there’s upcoming additions like statistics, reviews, and reading goals!

I like how it’s easy to see a live feed of other users activity for the books their reading and import directly from Goodreads.

Digital Spreadsheets: As I’m sure you’ve probably seen around the book community from different bookish creators are reading trackers through spreadsheets. Creators often make blog posts or videos and link their templates which provide an easy way to track your reading in a more detailed fashion.

When seeing all the different kinds of templates out there it can be a bit overwhelming, but over the past year I’ve found its a great way to not only track reading, but other specific book-related stuff too. In a future blog post I’d love delve more into my 2021 spreadsheet and offer unique ways to create your own.

Overall what makes spreadsheets such a great resource for book bloggers (or any book content creator) is how easy it is to customize it in whatever way you want and there’s lots of different digital tools you can use to get started! There’s places like Google docs or sheets, using templates, maybe even Notion, or other note-taking websites!

Hope my blog post offered some value for book bloggers or other bookish creators and I’ve love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

✨ What sites do you use to create graphics? ✨ ✨How do you track your reading?✨ ✨Will you use any of the resources I mentioned above?✨

The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black Review

The Queen Of Nothing by Holly Black (The Folk Of The Air #3)

Publisher: Little Brown & Company

Release Date: November 19, 2019

Pages: 305

Available Through The Book Depository: The Queen Of Nothing

Summary: He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to. Jude learned that lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now, as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time, determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines, she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And when a terrible curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity….

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: The Queen Of Nothing is the entertaining conclusion to the Folk Of The Air trilogy! When Jude’s exile is cut short by her sister, she’s given an opportunity to return to Elfhame, confront Cardan, and give it one more shot at her hold for power. Dynamic character arcs, dramatic politics, and more make this a page-turning finale!

As 2020 was coming to a close, I was very undecided on what my final read of the year would be. Then remembering one of my goals was to finish up QON after the gripping sequel that was The Wicked King, it wasn’t surprising at all that as with the previous book, it was read in practically a day. Taking a pause on blogging gave me more time to think about all the things that happened in this finale and while I find these reads to be just pure escapism, still felt there were parts that could’ve been better.

What kept me motivated to finish up Folk Of The Air was not only Jude x Cardan dynamic, but also the fate of Elfhame after Jude’s exile. Though without question, TWK is by far my favorite book in this series.

Jude is barely getting by in the human realm and continuously feeling out of her element, with her sister Vivi and Oak. However, when a quest involving the a former Court fae by the name of Grima Mog offers her the chance to brush up on her strategy / training she’s retained within her since being exiled, she knows she has to find a way back.

Then when her twin sister Taryn gives the perfect opportunity by switching places with her and attempt to pardon her after murdering her husband Locke, she questions whether she should take this chance and risk facing the King of Elfhame, Cardan again.

While seeming rather disjointed and unpredictable early on from Jude’s moments undercover at the Court Of Teeth to her eventual return to the palace, there’s importance to these scenes especially in how Jude’s power as queen and the stakes are confronted later on in the story.

Both a pro and a con of this finale is how sympathetic I felt for the cast, which is supposed to be filled with morally grey / bad fairy folk. When Jude is reunited with her sister again, there’s that moment of fear for Taryn and the feeling of triumph that Jude finally has a way back to Elfhame. When she sits down with Madoc at the Court of Teeth, there’s a sense of understanding in knowing now why Jude and Taryn were brought up so differently with Madoc. However, why this majorly impacts the story is that it takes away from the whole purpose of what I thought this series was meant to be: these are morally bad people and Jude being one of them, we’re still compelled to root for her in her journey to gain power.

In a way our characters felt weirdly out of character. That intense greyish morality and cunning was swapped for this idea that now everyone is just misunderstood. Did I like some of those characters regardless? Absolutely, in the context of the book I enjoyed it, I’m not sure about you but I felt like I finally understood Taryn in this one even Nicasia. However, in general it felt like that mystery of whether characters can be good was just taken away and didn’t seem like it made sense when looking to the series as a whole.

The politics, while not as strong as in The Wicked King, do carry an important weight as we begin to see the impact power, prophecy, and the fae lore has on the future of this world. The division between Elfhame and the mortal world was a much needed addition that brought a nice balance of realism to the fantastical elements of the Folk Of The Air. The way it operates is pretty different than in Elfhame and it was fun to see that introduced.

Next I wanted to talk briefly about the writing. While it does have a fairytale-like quality to it and Black is very clever (in this book especially) with weaving together plot points/ fae’s ability to say things a certain way in order for them to come true later. I feel like it gets me to remember specific scenes, and allowing those important tidbits of info to stick with you. But as a whole, the writing in general doesn’t have much substance to it. It’s very focused on Jude’s internal and emotional thoughts which leaves little to no detail for the setting or building more concrete elements into the world itself.

Okay now onto Cardan and Jude!  The ending of the second book left them off on an interesting twist and no doubt I was invested to see what would happen to them in the finale. Out of all the characters, he was the most interesting and one of my favorites throughout the series. I think their dynamic here was more like an established partnership (which was nice) as their fitting into their roles as king and queen, but I thought that angst and uncertainty wasn’t as strong in this one. While I won’t spoil specific scenes, it felt like a core piece to Jude as a person did a complete 180 in this book because of their roles and established relationship. Again, I didn’t dislike their relationship, but it felt like something was missing here.

The pacing itself is also a bit weird. It’s fast paced at times and yet it felt it like I was stuck at certain spots forever, like the Court Of Teeth and the Madoc stuff near the end. It felt like that sense of urgency to the story wasn’t always there. Also a very random side note, I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this in previous reviews of The Cruel Prince or Wicked King, but overall, don’t really like Bomb, Roach or Ghost…In this book I thought they brought interesting surprises for Jude in the story for sure, but sadly I’m just not the biggest fan of them and honestly could not tell you a single thing about them.

The ending does wrap-up rather quickly, though the build-up towards it felt like forever. Spoiler’s ahead: Probably one of my favorite chapters in the entire book was the throne room stuff near the end, yet I felt like it was bogged down with trying to show Jude become more comfortable in her role as queen on her own. But in general it’s a nice ending so I’ll leave it there. Overall this series was just fun, entertaining, escapism, and I could probably see myself rereading them in the future one day.

The Queen Of Nothing is the conclusion to the Folk Of The Air series! Wrapping up all the loose threads this finale does seem a bit out of place compared to previous books, but overall it’s filled to the brim with politics, intrigue, some romance and is just entertaining all around!