ARC Reviews

Wild is the Witch by Rachel Griffin

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (August 2nd, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, grief, mentions of cancer (in the past), trauma/PTSD. mentions of divorce, injured animals, death of an animal, depictions of blood, graphic injuries, panic/anxiety attacks, brief scenes of bigotry (towards witches)

Friends, I can’t believe I read this book in only one day! I’m truly shocked. Aside from graphic novels, I haven’t come across a book that captured my attention the way this book did. Even when I sat this book down to go do little mundane things or even to take a reading break, my thoughts were occupied with the content of this books. It must have been the owl or perhaps the loathe to love romance, or maybe it was an impending curse that was on the verge of unleashing chaos. Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out which one it is.

“There is magic in my blood, but this place has its own kind of magic.”

With the past constantly hanging over her head, Iris Gray just wants to start over with her mother, in a small town in Washington with their wildlife refuge, Foggy Mountain Wildlife Refuge. However, even starting over can have it’s challenges and it comes in the form of one person named Pike Alder. These two don’t see eye to eye and when one day the news talks about a person from Iris’s past, the commentary from Pike leaves Iris chilled to her core. With fear seeping into her bones every second, Iris decides to do an old ritual her grandmother used to do and give a curse to the earth. But fate has other plans when a northern spotted owl interferes with her ritual, Iris is thrown into an adventure unlike any other to prevent the curse from being unleashed.

“This doesn’t have to end in darkness, in a vote that will make all the magic of the universe flicker and dim, until it finally goes out. There are other endings, and I will find one.”

One of my all time favorite things is when a character is morally grey, they’re flawed, make mistakes, and we get to see the multitudes that character contains. The author does that with our main character, Iris. Iris was such a easy character for me to love because there were so many moments where I saw myself reflected in Iris. And the thing that stuck out to me the most was how protective Iris is of everyone and everything she cares about. That just did me in with my love for her. I’m a very protective person myself and seeing that reflected in Iris just solidified my draw to her as a main character. Pike, on the other hand, was a different story. I wish we saw more of Pike’s character or at least saw more layers to him. He almost felt flat to me due to lack of details and that’s excluding the major key moments with him. Outside of the major scenes between Iris and Pike, Pike just didn’t have enough details to him as I would have liked and he kind of came off as a jerk the majority of the time. What ultimately made me like Pike was the details that were poured into his love for birds. I have a big soft spot for bird lovers for sentimental reasons and throughout this book we see Pike’s devotion to birds and how much he truly values them. However, together the build of the chemistry between one another was something to savor and that’s all I’ll say on that.

Speaking of characters, there’s also a sapphic relationship in this story. Iris’s mother, Isobel is in a relationship with her long-time friend, Sarah. Sarah actually runs a local breakfast café in the same town. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love a good story with a café and wildlife refuge with some small town vibes. Seeing Isobel and Sarah in little moments sprinkled throughout the book was a lovely touch, but I really wish we could have had more moments. However, I loved the chemistry between them and it the small moments we see them together, they just feel perfect for one another.

“I want to forget it. I want to forget because it was so heartbreakingly kind, because for a single second, it made me wonder what it might be like to be fully accepted. Fully known.”

I will say the magic and magic classes were fascinating to read about. I’ve read a lot of books that have witches in them and to me, this book feels very accurate to how I picture witches. In this book, there are three different classes of witches and there is a council of witches who maintain the balance with witches, and regular society. The first class of witches are the Solars. Solars are witches who work with plants and you can usually find them working jobs in agriculture or like Sarah who runs her own café. The second class are Lunars, who are witches that work with animals like our main character and her mother. And the final class are the Stellars. This particular class are highly powerful and considered dangerous as their powers center around people. Mostly, Stellars are all part of the witch council and we also have a side character, Cassandra who is not only an old family friend of Iris and Isobel, but also plays a role in key moments throughout this story. As I said, the magic system was fascinating and we learn how there’s a natural balance that’s bigger than people and witches themselves. Plus, the little pieces we get about how witches view owls just sent my heart flying to the moon.

“That’s the thing about magic: people want to see it and feel it almost as much as they want to dismiss it entirely.”

Speaking of owls, let’s talk about our little mischievous friend. One of my all time favorite elements any author can do in a book is have an animal side character who interferes with everything. As a lover of owls and as someone who has worked with them, I was in absolute heaven! This little owl was an absolute delight throughout this entire story and I love how the owl kind of throws our main character into a whirlwind of chaos, and just thrusts her into an unexpected adventure that forces Iris to work with Pike. Seeing the owl’s full plan and intentions come full circle at the end was truly everything and honestly, I think the owl was my favorite character of the book. Plus, the name the mc and Pike gave to him, MacGuffin! Ugh, my heart is just so full from this owl.

“I have to squint to see him, his shape nothing more than a shadow in the dusty twilight, but sitting in an old spruce tree is the northern spotted owl. Silent, still, and watching. Always watching.”

Also, before I forget to mention, the themes of grief that are laced throughout this book were chef’s kiss. Truly, it was fantastic. We not only see the side of grief from the loss of a loved one and how that can stay with us for years, but we also see the side of mourning the living and how we can harbor the grief from the painful things the living can do to us or have happened to us. I loved that we get to see both sides of grief and I also love how we see grief and trauma/PTSD laced in together with one another. I thought all of this was really well done and well written, and these themes are laced throughout this entire book. So anticipate seeing these themes frequently and how those themes impact Pike and Iris.

“That’s one of the worst casualties of being hurt by someone who was never supposed to hurt you: you start to question all the beautiful things that led up to the ugliness, start to wonder if some of the moments you thought were perfect were actually painted with a dirty brush.”

I know I’ve been kind of gushing about the things I loved, but I do want to talk about some of the things I wish were left out or just not in to begin with. One of those things being second-hand embarrassment which is a dead zone for me in books. Second-hand embarrassment truly is a mood killer for me when reading and can be really hard for me to recover from. There were two moments revolving around a condom and while I praise safe coitus, the way those two particular scenes were handled in a joking manner really had me cringing. Not only was the main character mortified and embarrassed both times, but that embarrassment overlapped into my own mortification and second-hand embarrassment while reading. Now this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. I’m a very serious person with majority of things. So I don’t really hold it against the author for including these two scenes, but I definitely wish they weren’t in or just left out from the beginning. Circling back to what I mentioned previously, Pike’s character was the other thing that bothered me the most. I really wanted more from his character and as I said, majority of the time his character came off as a jerk despite the few sweet moments and the major key scenes where we’re learning things about Pike. I think his character could have had more depth to him and he just felt closed off the majority of the time.

Overall, I’m still long-winded from this book and how much I adored it. There was so much to love in this book from the small town vibes to the magic, and of course you have the trope of loathe to love. There’s just so much this book did and it delivered it so well. I think this is going to be one of those books that makes a lot of top books of 2022 (spoiler, it made mine) and I think a lot of readers are going to be anticipating this book’s release. If you’re looking for a book that’s whimsical, magical, and has an adventure that’s sure to suck you in, then I recommend this book with my whole chest. Plus the cover is just stunning!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Astra Publishing House in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (May 3rd, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of near death experience, talk of death, talk of murder, hate crimes, talk of racism, mentions of cancer (in the past), mention loss of loved ones (in the past), grief, trauma/PTSD, self-harm, alcoholism, underage drinking, mentions of biphobia/bi-erasure, transphobia, homophobia, misgendering, ableism, bullying, stalking, emotionally abusive parents, anxiety & panic attacks, mentions of car accident, scene of emesis, poisoning, scene of anaphylactic shock, scene of strangulation, gun violence

I have been sitting on this review for a few days now and trying to decide how to convey my disappointment with this book. I really, really wanted to love this book especially because this book has so much representation we often don’t see in literature. I was so ecstatic about the synopsis and my curiosity was running wild with what the pages of this book would contain. However, I’ve been left unsatisfied and wondering if I even read the same book as everyone else because this was a huge flop for me.

“I’m not afraid of death because the living are much scarier, even the ones who aren’t trying to kill you.”

Our story follows Sam Sylvester, a non-binary teen who just moved to the town of Astoria. This move is supposed to be a fresh new start for Sam to recover from a trauma and hopefully this school will not only be more understanding of Sam’s gender, but also help accommodate Sam due to them being autistic. But as Sam starts making friends with the kids of the club for all the queer folk at school, things begin to heat up. After finding out a local kid was murdered in their home, Sam and friends decide to investigate what really happened, but things start to take a serious turn as they get closer to the truth.

I think my most favorite thing about this whole entire book was the relationship between Sam and their father, Junius. The bond and connection between Junius and Sam was so special, so wholesome, and it was the highlight of the entire book. Every scene that we had with them made me so emotional and so mushy, so soft, and it was a wonderful experience. Plus, the dynamic between Sam and Junius is one we don’t often see in literature. Sam is Junius’s adopted child and when I tell you how emotional I got over the memory flashbacks for the two of them coming together, it had me dissolving into a puddle. It was really wonderful being able to see those memories and how the two came together. The other dynamic is the single father household dynamic. This is representation we don’t often see in literature and deserves to be recognized for what it is. Seeing a single father household and seeing such a close-knit relationship between the main character and their father was such a breath of fresh air, and I just had to point out how much I really loved this about Sam and Junius.

“This is why I will never understand how people think family is as common as blood. To me, family is breath, it’s trusting the person besides you to demand your right to air in a world that would take it away from you.”

Speaking of representation, this book has so, so much representation. As I already mentioned, our main character, Sam is non-binary (they use they/them pronouns), autistic, and ace. There’s also so many side characters who bring so much diversity to the table. Mister Quach is Vietnamese and the teacher of the Queer club, Shep is Latinx and bisexual, Sky is bisexual, and Junius (Sam’s father) is Black, asexual and aromatic! I also want to take a moment to point out Aiden comes from a home of poverty/financial struggle and there’s so many moments of conversations surrounding this. I wanted to point this out because in middle grade books we often see things from a child’s perspective or even see financial struggles in the young adult/adult perspective, but we never see things from a teenager in high school especially from a teenager who has a high social status in school. This really hit home for me for a lot of reasons and I really wanted to give this the attention it deserves. Plus, Aiden as whole is an underrated character and deserves a lot more love.

“You have nothing to prove. To anybody. You are who you are.”

Sadly, these are about the only two really redeeming qualities that I really loved and enjoyed throughout this entire book. Again, I really wanted to love this book because those two things were so strong (which is why this book got the rating it did), but my love for those two things is not enough to overlook all the issues with this book as a whole. And friends, there were a lot of issues with this book.

One of the major things that really impacted this book was the writing and narrative of the voice. I can’t begin to express how important it is to have the right tone especially when it comes to contemporary and mystery books. The way this book dialogue felt more like a middle grade book and the way it fell flat made it incredibly hard to find motivation to read this book. There were many times where I wanted to ‘dnf’ this book because it felt like I was trudging through quick sand. Plus, the pacing felt very choppy in the sense of it would feel slow and then fast, then go back to slow. It was just an around rough time. This ties in with the ending as well. The ending felt rushed and a lot of the things that came to light felt swept under the rug and the most typical consequences being used to deal with the actions of others.

“That’s just it – people get jealous, of the popular kids, of the ones who get attention because they’re nice. And kids are cruel. Even if they don’t mean to really hurt someone, well. Impact matters more than intent.”

The other major issue with this book was how predictable the killer was going to be. I love a good mystery book and I won’t lie, the mystery had me invested. I really wanted to know what the truth was going to turn out to be and I was invested in how everything was going to play out. However, by 17% into this book I already had three predictions of how this book was going to go and sure enough, I was right with two of those. Not only was the killer made really obvious, but the execution of leading up to the reveal was an entire mess. The very foundation for almost 50% of the book it’s hinted that the main reason was a hate crime and by the time we get to the 75% mark in the book, that whole foundation was scrapped for something else entirely. And what it was changed to was just a mess because the author had to rush to fill in gaps with all new information. It felt like a poor execution all around and it made the reading experience even worse.

I feel terrible for all this complaining and ranting, but this is only scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues. There’s a whole romance in this book between the main character and a side character that greatly lacked chemistry. Not to mention it felt like instant attraction between the two characters and things were really rushed between them. This is one of those times where I wish the author would have left the romantic subplot at home because this subplot literally caused this book to feel like it was trying to do too many things all at once. There’s also an entire conversation between Sam and a side character named Dylan about asexuality. When I say I had the most extreme second-hand embarrassment, I’m not kidding because I was cringing. I wish that conversation would have never happened, the scene felt entirely unnecessary, and I wish I could erase it from my mind. Not to mention the author wrote this side character to put all this pressure and blame/reason on Sam for why they were questioning things and feeling confused. It was one of the most awkward moments of this entire book (not that things weren’t already really awkward with this side character to begin with).

“They’re here with me because I found their stories, and this is the lesson I needed to learn from them.”

Overall, I was really excited and had high hopes for this book, but oof this book hurt my soul. And honestly, I should know better not to put my hopes too high when it comes to books I read due to this happening. This book fell short in so many categories and again, I wonder if I even read the same book as other readers because I’m definitely in the minority when it comes to my feelings with this book. If you’re looking for a book that has a cohesive story or a solid mystery plot, then I would recommend looking elsewhere. However, if you’re look for diverse representations like ace, non-binary, etc… then definitely give this book a chance.

Buddy Read with Destiny ♥

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Birdsong by Katya Balen

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Barrington Stokes in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (July 7th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Car accident, trauma/PTSD, grief, death of an animal, brief mentions of blood

“There is music everywhere – if you know how to listen.”

Wow, what a powerful read. Wow, wow, wow! I always find that middle grade books have some of the strongest themes that kids need to read about and this is definitely one of those books. Filled with conversations of finding one’s passion again after a tragic accident, finding the strength to move on past tragedy, and so much more. Birdsong is one of those reads that can make anyone feel seen.

Annie Ford loves music and has a special talent with the flute. However, after tragedy strikes, Annie loses her ability to play her beloved flute. Now after moving and having her world turned upside down, Annie struggles with finding the motivation to allow herself to heal or even talk about the feels she’s suppressing inside. Until one day she meets a boy named Noah, who tends to a blackbird family in the bushes. Soon, Annie not only made a new friend, but slowly realizes that with the help of these feathery friends, she’s slowly beginning to heal.

I really enjoyed Annie as our main character! Annie is a main character who’s had her entire world turned upside down and I think there’s going to be so many children who will end up relating to Annie, and what’s she’s been through. For myself, Annie reminds me of a lot of some of the things that I experienced and felt as a kid. I feel like I say this all the time with middle grade books, but I truly wish I had had a book like this growing up because seeing characters like Annie can change your perspective especially when you’re a kid. And Annie is far from being a perfect main character. She’s angry and grieving, but healing and scared of if she has a future with her passion. She’s all of those things as she navigates so many changes.

There’s also a theme of healing and how healing is never linear, but also how you can begin your healing journey in the unlikeliest ways/places. And I really loved how the author used the blackbirds as the center of Annie’s healing journey. Of course, Noah and music helps, but the blackbirds really help Annie and her journey back to the the that brings her the most joy. Annie finds her way to healing and forgiving the person she’s the most angry at too. All of it flows so well together and it’s a steady process of ups and downs, but it’s such a good theme we need to see more often in books.

“I fill the space around me with music. I don’t play anything that I’ve learned. I just play. I play for me and I play for the bird who has lost so much.”

My only major issue with this book is that it feels so short. Actually, it feels shorter than most middle grade books. I think if the author would have added more to the story, like a few chapters, then I think it would add to what’s already established in the story. However, I feel like I say this with most books that are on the quicker side of reading.

Overall, this was a really wonderful and emotional read. I really enjoyed so many themes within in this book and just reading from Annie’s perspective was such a nice treat. Again, this is a short read and would be perfect for reading challenges or something to read if you’re looking for those fast reads (for all your traveling adventures too).

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Taproot by Keezy Young

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Oni Press in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (July 5th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk and themes of death

“I’m just a gardener.”

What a cute and wholesome read! I’m always a sucker for a graphic novel that feels light, but also can make me feel a certain kind of emotional and this graphic novel does exactly that for me. And honestly, I’m kind of keeping my fingers crossed that maybe this will turn into a series because I’d love to continue following these characters. It was a very lovely and whimsical experience.

Hamal is just a gardener, who works at a little florist shop. The only thing is he can see and talk to ghosts, and he has no idea how he’s able to. Blue is a ghost, but he’s not just any ghost, he’s Hamal’s best friend and in love with him. With Hamal being able see ghosts, more keep flocking to him and his talents as a gardener continue to grow. Until strange things begin to start happening and a Reaper has suddenly turned up, looking for a necromancer.

I really adored these characters and I’m really glad we got to see a little backstory of how Blue and Hamal came to meet. Both of these characters are such soft, cinnamon roll characters that you can’t help rooting for, that you want to see come together in the best way. And speaking of characters, I absolutely fell head over heels for the Reaper. I adored their snarky, sarcastic tone, but also they way we find out they have a mushy heart and are a secret mushy hearted being. It was fantastic! The Reaper also gave me Suriel vibes and if you know then you know what I mean.

“Think of it as a favor you owe me. I’m a sucker for cheesey romance novels, and you two are terrible.”

The artwork was really stunning and captivating. The shades take on a soft tone, but when you move into those scenes of importance and seriousness, the coloring really emphasizes that to the reader. It feels very easy to get lost in the little details of the artwork, as well. I kept searching for any hidden secrets or little details that may hint to where the story was heading next. It was really enjoyable to get lost in the pages.

I think if I had to say anything negative about this book, it would be two things. The first thing is the romance in this story. It’s very insta-love and if you’re not a big fan of insta-love then this might be a bit of a miss for you. I find that for me, insta-love is very hit or miss and never anything in-between. The other thing, I feel like I say this with every graphic novel, is it felt very short and that some parts felt rushed. I think the author could have gotten away with adding more pages, a little more detail, and I think that really would have added more to the story as a whole.

Overall, this was a really fun read. I had a very delightful time reading this graphic novel and I really want to see it turn into a series. There’s so many characters in this one book that deserve the spotlight (like the Reaper, cough cough). If you’re looking for a fast read with wholesome cinnamon roll characters then I definitely recommend giving this graphic novel a chance!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Zatanna: The Jewel of Gravesend by Alys Arden & Jacquelin De Leon

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley and DC Entertainment in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (July 26th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Near death experiences, death, loss of loved ones, grief

Oh my glob, friends! Receiving an arc of this comic came out of left field and I am shook! I was graciously blessed by the arc gods and oh, thank you because this was a wonderful experience. I don’t really talk about my favorite DC universe heroes too often and Zatanna has always been one of my favorites. She’s also a hero that we don’t know much about. Zatanna doesn’t have a huge backstory and she doesn’t get the spotlight that often in shows or comics, and it feels so good to see Zatanna getting the spotlight compared to a lot of other DC heroes.

Zatanna is the daughter of famous illusionists, Ezra and Lola Starr. In Coney Island, New York, Zatanna only wants to get away from everything and lead a normal life. A life that doesn’t involve being in the constant spotlight or even the center of her father’s stunts. When one night Zatanna it out with her boyfriend and friends, strange things begin to happen and she decides to confront the one person who may have answers. Soon, secrets and mysteries surround Zatanna begins to pop up, friends and foes lurk in the shadows to see what with become of this magician.

Again, Zatanna is one of my favorite DC heroes. I’m pretty much a lover of the kind of heroes that don’t often get the spotlight like Martian Manhunter, Huntress, Hawkgirl, etc… So seeing a comic come out with more of Zatanna’s childhood/teenage years was a big excited time for me. However, I’ve been hesitant due to these comics being written in middle grade style, but also they tend to feel hit or miss to how the characters have already been established from the get-go of DC Comics. And I’m happy to say that this is one where I really fell in love with it.

The artwork is absolutely breath taking and the colors of the cover instantly drew me in. Not only is the art style something that really captures me attention and really shows off the mood in ever panel, but the color pallet is one that speaks to me and feels very much like my own personality at times. Plus, I have to talk about the rabbit, Flop. The way the rabbit was given expressions had me on the floor dying because I loved it so much.

Overall, I had a great time reading this comic. I think my only real issue or downside I had was the lack of information we have around the foe/foes of this book. I think I would have liked to have seen a little more information about that, but still a fantastic read. Like with all comics, I recommend then for readathons and those quick reads for travel. And I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s a true whimsical time!

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ARC Reviews

Sakura’s Dedication, Vol. 1 by Fuyu Yukimiya

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ARC was given by NetGalley and Kodansha in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (February 22nd, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of cheating, scenes of brief verbal abuse

Calling all lovers of the manga Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku and just any slice of life manga! Put this manga series on your radar because this was really cute and I couldn’t help thinking about some of my favorite manga that’s more slice of life. Yet, this manga also gave me very brief vibes of Ouran High School Host Club. Look, if you know, you know. I really enjoyed my time reading this and it was a nice pick me up when I needed something light yet sweet, borderline wholesome.

We follow Sawa Hanasaki, a high school girl, who recently broke up with her boyfriend after finding out he was cheating on her. While she’s still trying to work out her feelings, Sakura Yuma has decided to confront Sawa to ask her to be his girlfriend. Despite rejecting him, Sakura is even more determined he can be the boyfriend that she needs.

“I feel like you’ll get lost and I don’t want to let go of you.”

I feel like my opinion is going to be on the minority side of things, but I actually enjoyed Sawa and Sakura together. In the aspect of them acting like high schoolers, still navigating feelings, and even learning what it means to find true, genuine people who care about you is hard. I think the mangaka did a fantastic job of translating all of this into the manga itself. I think readers, like myself, who’ve been out of school for a while sometimes forget how much a whirlwind high school really was and some of the things that we endured during that time. And I truly believe with my whole chest that the mangaka really brought that to life in this book. Even more so when it comes to navigating the waters of love.

There’s also this whole minor theme of appreciating the little things. You all know, I love a good sprinkling of appreciating the little things in anything I read. And oh, it was delivered so beautifully for us in this manga. Not to the point that it’d be really obvious or overwhelming, but just the right amount that when you do notice, it’s such a burst of warmth. I think we need more literature that has this theme casually sprinkled throughout it.

“But I find myself wanting to touch him like this longer.”

The main theme, though, is what really caught my attention. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a whole theme of discovering what it truly means to be loved, to be valued as you are, and what that can look like when you finally find those genuine caring people. I think Sawa and her relationship with Sakura is such a good example of what it means to truly navigate leaving behind someone who was clearly very toxic, potentially abusive, or even an absolute jerk of a person and find people who value you as you are. It’s not an easy thing to do. I think this manga was a great example of showing a very realistic relationship of love and self value, but the relationship shows us a bit of Sakura and how new it is for him to be with a person he cares so much for. I really loved this theme a lot and this is the main reason why I can’t wait for the next volume.

I will say, I did have one issue with this manga and to be fair, it’s still the first volume. There could still be more on the horizon that we as the readers are unaware of. I really wanted to see more of the scenes with the ex-boyfriend. The few scenes we get of him show that he’s a bit of a verbal abuser, but I also feel there’s a whole lot more to things with him. Even more so with the very first scene we have with him and Sawa. I’m not going to lie, I was on the edge of my seat, but I wanted more. I really wanted to see how those scenes would play out just to get a better feel for his character as a whole. I’m really hoping in future volumes we’ll see little more details.

Overall, I had a really fun time reading this manga. I feel like I say this a lot, but I’m not the biggest slice of life manga reader, but when I do pick them up, I typically enjoy them. Again, I’m really excited for the next volumes and really eager to see what the mangaka has for us. So far, I haven’t seen any announcements on the next book or anything, but you bet I’m keeping my eyes peeled for any bread crumb of news!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Once Upon A K-Prom by Kat Cho

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use the Amazon link to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

Arc was given by Disney Publishing Worldwide & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (May 17th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: MC with low self-esteem, scene and talk of separation anxiety, depictions of anxiety, talk of abandonment, bullying, brief mentions of chronic migraines, harassment, death of a parent (in the past), talk of acrophobia (fear of heights)

“And for a breathless second, all I could do was stare at him as my pulse echoed like thunder through my head.”

Kat Cho has been an author on my radar for a while now, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down with her work until now and I think my expectation where blown out of the water. This book was absolutely everything. Truly, with my whole dang chest, I loved this book with every fiber of my soul. I mentioned before that I put this on a few five star predictions lists and honestly, I wish I could give this all the stars. Maybe I’m being mushy and sentimental about the places in my heart this book touched, but I really adored this book, these characters, and I wish it wasn’t over just yet.

We follow the perspectives of Elena Soo, an anxious girl who always feels like she’s being left behind by the ones she loves and now the one place she calls sanctuary is now in danger of shutting down. And Robbie Choi, a K-Pop idol and an old best friend to Elena, who has returned to keep the childhood promise they made to one another from long ago. After all the time that’s passed between the two of them, these once close best friends will go on a journey of reconnecting with one another and even admitting the truth about their honest feelings. Swoon worthy moments, heartbreaking moments, and second chances will ensue for this dynamic duo.

I adored Elena and Robbie as our main characters. I’ve seen so many readers say that we don’t see enough of who these characters are, not enough detail of their history together, but I think they’re perfect. Robbie and Elena came off as very really people. Not only when they’re together, whether it was them reconnecting or struggling with expressing themselves, but also in the moments that had your heart hammering in your chest, rooting for them to be happy. Even on their own, they felt like very strong characters. Elena has anxiety and we see that constantly reflected throughout this book. We see her doubt herself and see her navigate her feelings, and even her coming to terms with some of the things she’s done to protect herself. And Robbie, Robbie is incredibly shy yet we see him be charm and charismatic at times, as well. There were so many layers to these characters and it was lovely getting to see all the different sides to them.

“There’s too much between us to be just starting out. But we can see how we fit together now, after all of our history, the good and the bad. A K-Pop idol and a regular girl.”

The friendship between Elena and Robbie was probably the thing that got me the most. I’m talking moments of clutching my tablet, rooting for them and sobbing as these two were navigating their way back to one another. This friendship so close to home with my own childhood friend, how close we are, and how now we’re navigating our friendship after he and his family moved back to Japan. So reading Elena and Robbie go through so much with their friendship and seeing them work through the good, the bad, and the cute yet awkward moments really tugged at my heart strings, and made me miss my best friend a whole heck-a-ton.

“Robbie didn’t want to give up on this chance to spend time with his old best friend. Not when he’d jumped through so many hoops just to see her again.”

Speaking of characters, there’s so many amazing side characters throughout this book. Like Elena’s brother, Ethan and how despite them having some rough patches, these two always make amends with one another. We also get to see the way Robbie interacts with the other members of WDB (Wondeo Byul or Wonder Star) whbich was so freaking wholesome and precious. It’ll make your heart melt. Plus, we get little WDB member pages scattered throughout the book which was a lovely bonus. I’m just going to say it, there’s going to be a lot of happy k-pop lovers who I think are going to fall in love with this book, for sure. And I have to talk about Soonyeon is and how much I loved her character. Her character was such a lovely surprise and I really enjoyed the way the author had Elena become good friends with someone from Robbie’s whole world. That friendship blooming the way it did was just chef’s kiss!

Also, there’s a lot of Korean culture throughout this entire book. I really appreciated the author adding a lot of Korean words throughout this book. Every time I see authors use their language, their culture, anything of the sort it just makes my heart all warm and fuzzy inside. Which I know, probably sounds a little corny, but it just makes me so happy seeing authors do that. I think that’s an aspect in books that often get overlooked or aren’t always given the spotlight it deserves . So I wanted to take a moment to say how much I really valued and cherished that part of this book. On top of that, we get to see a lot of insight of the music industry in different cultures. There was a time where it was almost taboo to talk about the way the music industry treats their artists or what artists have to go through, and thankfully now, we’re entering into a time where it’s being brought into the light more and talked about more. And that was an element of this book that I’m glad the author didn’t hold back with. I really appreciate how the author took it, not just with Robbie, but also with the side characters in this book. I’m really glad we got to see different sides of that within these pages.

I think if there was anything I had to really find fault in with this book, it would probably be the lack of perspective we get from Robbie. While this book a two-person point of view book, we get very few chapters from Robbie’s perspective and I think this book would have benefitted even more if we had more chapters from Robbie’s pov. There were so many moments in this book that would have been really interesting to see from Robbie’s side and we just didn’t get that. Not necessarily a disappointment, but it definitely felt like a missed opportunity.

Overall, what more could I possibly say about this book that I haven’t already. Honestly, I thought I may have set the bar too high for this book especially since this is my first time reading anything by this author, but I truly loved this. I had messaged my childhood friend about this book, telling him how much I adored it, and he’s really invested in reading this book now, and I just really fell in love with this book. I definitely think this is going to be one of those books where readers will find every flaw in it or they’re absolutely going to adore it. And definitely, many k-pop lovers are going to enjoy this book. I can’t recommend it enough and you know, if you’re on the fence about whether to pick it up or not then let this review give you the nudge you needed to give this book a chance.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Riox

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Arc was given by First Second Books & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (June 21st, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexism/sexist remarks, abandonment, displacement

Friends, this was such a delightful, whimsical read with stunning artwork! I know I usually talk up a lot of the graphic novels that I read, but I really enjoyed this one. It has monsters, a main character who is beautifully layered, an art style that pulls you in, just so many goods wrapped up in this graphic novel. Honestly, I wish I knew about this sooner because I would have talked about it sooner.

Our story follows Suri, a young girl who wants to be a monster tamer, but for right now she’s telling stories/legends of monsters, while travelling with her monster camp. However, things start to take a turn for the ominous when Suri discovers a ball of golden twine. Soon Suri finds her world being turned upside down and setting out on an adventure with an Imp and a giant-sized dog named Byron.

Suri was such a wonderful main character to follow. As a reader, I feel that I’m always drawn to characters who have a very headstrong, warm, but also lighthearted kind of presence, who wants to seize their opportunities throughout this story. Also, Suri is that kind of character you can’t help rooting for, you want to see her succeed and have the happy ending she deserves. And there’s a whole mystery around Suri about how she ended up with this traveling monster camp, why is this person of authority chasing after her and want her gone, and more so related to the end of the book, what will happen to Suri now that she’s on her own.

The artwork of this book is probably one of the most stand out elements. Though, all graphic novels usually have drop gorgeous artwork, but the color tones of this graphic novel really stuck out to me. It really resonated with aesthetics that I’m really drawn to. The design of the monsters really stands out as well. There’s a very eerie, spooky, almost ominous vibe expressed through the art style for these creatures. Though I do want to point out, this art style isn’t of a horror aesthetic. This is a graphic novel that’s directed more to younger audiences though I say anyone would enjoy reading this graphic novel especially in the fall/winter season.

Despite these wonderful elements, I still had questions that I doubt I’ll get answers to. Mostly, I had questions surrounding the backstory of our main character and the traveling camp. It feels like there’s missing details surrounding these two elements. This is also a fast paced read and with that being said, I felt like this could have been a longer graphic novel. I’m still holding out hope we may get some more details or more backstory about those two things and fingers crossed the next book with be a tad longer.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this graphic novel. It’s such a fast paced, whimsical read that I think many readers are going to fall in love with. It has such an amazing, magical feel to it and I’m really excited to see where this story goes in the next book, The Mole King’s Lair. I’m even more excited to check more books by Jo Rioux and I think this will spark many readers to look into more of this author’s work.

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ARC Reviews

I’m Looking for Serious Love! by Shoko Rakuta

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Arc was given by LOVE x LOVEs & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (February 15th 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Bigotry (those who live in the city/country), brief scene of cockroaches (censored), entomophobia (fear of bugs), scene of underage drinking, drink spiking/drugging, brief fatphobiac name calling, sexual predator behavior, stalking, harassment, brief mentions of abandonment, sex

Oof, friends this manga was rough for me to read. I’m still wondering what the hell I just read. On one hand, I can acknowledge a lot of the cultural references that are happening in this book that relate to things actually happening in present day. On the other hand, the amount of second-hand embarrassment was a lot to read through. And second-hand embarrassment is something that’s always hard for me to recover from with a book. Either way, this was a doozy of a read.

Miyazawa Kyouhei just moved to Tokyo from the country and he has this big idea of the city life is, and how those who live in the city actually are. When Miyazawa goes to give his new apartment neighbor a gift of welcoming, Miyazawa is met with Takara Tomohiro, his senor. And thus begins their wild story of shenanigans and how they come together.

For those who love manga like Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi or Junjou Romantica then this book is right up your alley. However, I will caution that the difference between those manga and this manga is the content warnings. I wasn’t kidding when I said I had a lot of second-hand embarrassment. Not to mention, instead of this manga coming off as leaning more to the romantic, slice of life side of manga, this manga leads more towards contemporary and has back to back scenes that could make the reader really uncomfortable. Often times if feels like you can’t catch your breath on the amount of serious scenes.

However, I really enjoyed the art style and I really appreciate the bursts of happy, positive moments throughout this story. For example, there’s a side character who really enjoys a popular J-Pop group and when this character meets Miyazawa’s grandmother, they have such a wholesome connection that brough the biggest smile to my face. Truly, one of my favorite moments of this manga.

Overall, this wasn’t a terrible read, but this definitely wasn’t the best. A lot happens in this one manga and there’s a lot to process while reading through it all. Plus the second-hand embarrassment from a lot of the incidents that happen. Also, I wish we got to see more romance between the MC and the love interest, but it was interesting to watch them come together. Still a good read and if you’re looking for more contemporary manga then I’d definitely recommend giving this one a chance.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space edited by Zoraida Córdova

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Arc was given by St. Martin’s Press & NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (February 15th 2022)

Maybe we really should reclaim the stars! Friends, if you know me then you know I always get nervous reading anything that’s sci-fi, but oh, this anthology was a pleasant surprise. I always feel like I’m such a hard reviewer on sci-fi reads, but I really enjoyed my time within these pages and have found myself daydreaming about galaxies far, far away.

I’ll be honest, there were so many stories I fell in love with during my time reading. Trying to choose just one feels like an impossible choice. However, I think my two favorites were The First Day of Us by David Bowles and Tame the Wicked Night by Zoraida Cordova. Though there were many other stories in this anthology I deeply loved, these two in particular had me clutching my pearls. Maybe it was the romance or maybe the spark of the characters, but I just really loved these two stories best.

As always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts, feelings, and include content/trigger warnings.

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Reign of Diamonds by Anna-Marie McLemore ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of death, violence, wounds

I won’t lie, I was pretty excited that this was the first story we get to read upon first starting. I’ve really enjoyed Anna-Marie McLemore’s work in the past and seeing their name on the list of authors had me really hyped up about this book. With that being said, this story didn’t disappoint. As always, McLemore writes characters that are so beautifully layered and contain multitudes that you can’t help loving the story, no matter how emotional it gets. I’m not saying I got soft and sappy over these two princesses, but they have my whole heart. And I lowkey wish this story got made into it’s own book.

“There was something heartbreaking at that moment, the two of us staring like that.”

Flecha by Daniel José Older ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of a plague (Silent Cough), grief, loss of a loved one, mentions of genocide

This story had me absolutely sobbing, ugly crying everywhere. Maybe its due to some of the themes within this story or maybe it was due to how vivid the emotions emanated from these pages. Truly, this is one of those stories that stand out to me the most because of the impact it had. I really loved this and I can’t wait to see what other stories this author has written for us, the reader, to discover.

“I’ll become that arrow of Ochosi, launched for divine justice – sacred, razor sharp, unforgiving.”

The First Day of Us by David Bowles ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, grief

Did I fall madly in love with this story because of a polyamorous relationship? Yes, yes I did and I don’t care who knows it! Truly, I wish there were more short stories, more stories in general, out there that normalize polyamorous relationships. I think this story was so well-done, so beautifully handled, and I loved the way how the feelings between each character manifested. Honestly, I wish this had it’s own book because I loved it so much and I feel that there’s so much more to discover about this world, these characters, and I just have a mighty need to know more about everything that was this short story.

The Tin Man by Lilliam Rivera ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Pandemic, natural disaster, grief, loss of loved ones

This wasn’t a bad short story, but this story hit my emotions so hard that I thought I was going to have to skip it entirely. You follow the perspective of a child, potentially young teenager, who’s not only trying to survive, but is coming to terms with the loss of their family. This story is beautifully written, easily to get emotional over, and a main character you want to see have the happy ending they deserve. The reason why I gave it three stars is just due to the fact that it caused me to go into a sensory overload and after that, it was very hard to maintain a lot of the details.

This Is Our Manifesto by Mark Oshiro ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of incarceration, mentions of death, brief mentions of police brutality

Another story that had me wrapped up in my feelings. Our story follows a character named Ramona coming across a manifesto. In this manifesto, we learn about these planets that holds those who’ve been incarcerated and the horrible treatment they’ve had to endure. This story hit close to home and left me weak in the knees. When I say the world melted away and there was only this story, I say it with my whole chest. Mark Oshiro has such a beautiful talent for taking serious topics that happen in the real world and manifesting it in literature, in such a poetic, emotional piece that leaves you with countless thoughts and feelings. And the way this story ends on a strong note, but also a kiss (yes, a literal kiss) is truly the icing on the cake.

“There is one thing we – the abandoned, the diminished, the harmed, the forgotten – want you to know. We will dismantle them all. And when we do, we are coming home.”

Creatures of Kings by Circe Moskowitz ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, talk of death, mentions of cancer, scene of homocide

This is the first short story in this anthology that had me really questioning how I felt about this story. And I have to admit, I’m a little bias towards stories that involve gods of death, grim reapers, etc… I just really enjoy those type of stories, like a lot. However, I felt a lot of confliction with this story due to the mother in this book. Our story follows an mc who can’t die and whose mother refuses to tell her the truth. I was really curious to see how this story was going to unfold. Honestly, I know why the mother acts the way she does, but I really didn’t like her and her behavior (no matter the circumstance) just painted her as a terrible person/neglectful parent. That aside, I did enjoy the story and I was invested to see how everything would unfold. However, I still have many questions and I’m still asking myself what the hell did I just read.

Eterno by J. C. Cervantes ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, hospitalization, car crash, mentions of terminal illness, manipulation

Much like the story before this one, I was very conflicted on my thoughts of how I felt with this story. Again, this is another story that involves gods of death or grim reapers except this time they’re called eterno and things are anything but peaceful. Also, this short story is told in then and now flashes. Ultimately, I liked the story, but at times it felt like it was a lot of information to keep track of between flashbacks. Like, I was INVESTED in the mc and their romance! And then… it hit a point where my brain dumped all the information, my eyes glazed over, and my brain just goes, “Yup… Nope. Can’t keep up with this.”

White Water, Blue Ocean by Linda-Raquel-Nieves-Pérez ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Dead naming, misgendering

Okay, the concept of this story had me clutching my blanket because it was so good! A curse has been placed upon the Garcia family by an ocean goddess, making them unable to lie without emanating a terrible smell. We follow Gabriel, a non-binary teen returning to their family, who refuses to accept them for who they are. I was completely captivated by the whole element of everyone in this family being unable to lie. What I think I loved most about this story was the subtle bond between Gabriel and their father. It’s not a main focal point of this story, its very subtle, but its there and those moments were very wholesome. And the way Gabriel constantly keeps coming back to the ocean, their love for it radiating through the pages so much. It fills my heart with a lot of warmth.

Leyenda by Romina Garber ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sexism

I want to state that I’m not fully sure if this short story has any relation to Lobizona, but there did seem to be hits towards it in some of the parts of this short story and it is set in the same world. So if you haven’t read Lobizona yet then you might want to skip this short story. Let’s talk water witches! Yes, the mc of this story is indeed a water witch. She is a force to be reckoned with and I absolutely adored her. She has no problem standing up for what she believes in, but when she does, there are those who are very displeased with her. I always enjoy the characters that Romina creates and the abilities given to those characters are always fascinating to watch unfold. If I’m being honest, anything Romina writes, I feel invested in. I wish we got the chance to see more of Zaybet and their story especially with the way this story concludes. I’m so invested and I need more!

Color-Coded by Maya Montayne ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Abandonment

I was really interested in premise of this short story. In this world, when women hit puberty, they start to develop a magical abilities. Some ladies develop the power of flight, someone may set things on fire, or even obtain abilities relating to plants or creatures. However, our MC is terrified of this happening to her after having a terrible experience with a loved one. Honestly, I was really excited to see where this story would go. I think the premise of getting magical abilities when you reach maturity/puberty is a really interesting element to loop in. However, I wasn’t in love with this story. It feel like some things were missing and personally, I just didn’t like the MC. The MC spent large portions of this story whining, throwing fits, and due to that, it felt like a lot of excitement I had about the story ended up dying down a lot. And it doesn’t help that the MC’s mindset doesn’t start to change until near the end of this story.

Magical Offerings by Nina Moreno ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Displacement

I was pleasantly surprised and caught off guard by this story. This is story of a girl coming to terms with who she is, what her abilities are, and finding out the place you can call home has been right there all along. Honestly, I was really surprised on how much I enjoyed reading this. The atmosphere as it starts to build to the climax of this story was just chef’s kiss. I think the part I loved the most was watching the MC truly discover who they were and what they were capable of. Seeing the MC come to terms with that and how happy they felt was just one of the best elements of this story.

Rogue Enchantments by Isabel Ibañez ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, harassment

I’m so hyped to read more from this author! I loved so many elements about this book, the atmosphere, the brief mention of dragons, just so many things I fell in love with in this story. Our story follows an MC who just took over her abuelita’s stall to sell magical brushes and paints. However, since the start of their first day, things seem to be quite amiss from what they originally thought. With sabotage a foot, our MC has to get crafty to seek out the truth and put a stop to all of the harassment. Again, I loved this. It’s a very atmospheric read and I constantly wondered if the MC was going to get the justice they deserve.

Sumaiko Y La Sirena by Vita Ayala ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of slavery, loss of a loved one, hostage situation, manipulation, brief depictions of blood, death, murder

Who doesn’t love a good story about sirens? This story is sure to deliver a love story you won’t forget! This story was so sad, but so beautiful. And this is the first time I’ve seen sirens told in this way. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was really good, enough to make me go, “Damn! The plot thickens!” This stories follows our MC who once was a siren, but has been stranded on land. When one night, after singing to the ocean, another siren reveals themselves. But, after the MC’s father passes away, terrible things will begin to happen. This was such a captivating story. The atmosphere is so good with setting the tone especially in the more climatic scenes. However, I adored the connection between our MC and the siren she becomes close with. I loved the way their friendship built and way it slowly blossomed into something more.

“It is said that on clear nights, two glowing shapes shapes can be seen frolicking in its water, the laughing sound of their joyous song carried for miles on the wind.”

River People by Yamile Saied Méndez ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of parents (in the past), grief

What an atmospheric read! I can’t decide what I enjoyed more; watching the story as a whole unfold or the MC blowing me out of the water. Truly, this was a really good read. We follow an MC who can talk to ghosts and not only ghosts, but can speak with the river god of the Paraná River. This gift comes in handy when one day the river god tells the MC that her older brother is in terrible danger. Thus, our heroic MC does everything she can to save her brother before it becomes too late. This was a really good short story. I was so sad when the story finally ended because I wanted more. This was such an easy story to get caught up in because the pacing starts of slow, but once the pace picks up, you’re just along for the ride and the ride is fantastic!

Moonglow by Sara Faring ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of sex, illness, abortion, abuse, physical violence

Let me just say that this story… this story was a wild ride and I’m still asking myself what the hell I read. I don’t know if I walked away from this story shell-shocked or in the midst of processing everything, but I sure wasn’t expecting the story to unfold that way it did. One of the key elements of this story is it’s told in diary entries which adds a bit of ominous atmosphere and leaves us, the reader, wondering what the next entry will hold. We follow an MC who talks about about her love and the things happening within her household, from the mischievous to the more unfortunate events. I was hooked, hanging off the edge of me seat waiting to know how this story was going to conclude. Though I haven’t read anything by this author before, this honestly has me excited to look into more of their writings.

Killing El Chivo by Claribel A. Orlega ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of loss of parents, brief mentions of starvation, mentions of abandonment, depictions of blood, death

Okay, this should come as no surprise by how much I adored this story. How each word had me hanging by a thread, wondering what was to come next. I love the way Orlega writes; the way she creates worlds and characters always has me excited. Okay, so maybe I was a little bias going into this, but truly, at the core of it, I do enjoy the stories this author writes. We follow an MC who is learning magic to help assist the remaining people of this world stop El Chivo. Many people have already left or have died, but our MC with her sister and aunt have devised a plan on how to put an end to all the tragedy that has been plaguing their homeland. I was fully captivated by this story and maybe it was how quickly the pace picked up, but oh, I couldn’t consume this story fast enough. I think my favorite part had to be the way it concluded. The ending just felt so powerful and after day of finishing this anthology, I still think about this ending relentlessly.

Tame the Wicked Night by Zoraida Córdova ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Minor war themes

Have I maybe, kind of, sort of fallen in love with this story because a mortal falls in love with a fallen goddess? – Yes, yes I have and I have zero regrets about this! I think I just loved everything about this story. From the MC who’s been gifted an ability with plants to the way the relationship blooms, thinking back on reading this story, I don’t have a single complaint. With my whole chest, I adored this story. We follow an MC who refuses to marry and choose to stay true to himself, and so he’s sent into the mountains to tame The Night. The Night is said to be a fierce beasts that takes no prisoners, and anyone who dare enter the mountain never returns. Yet what our MC finds is so much more than what they could have expected. And there’s a goat. A very charming, quirky goat with his own little attitude and little chime ins! I know I’ve said it a lot, but I really loved this short story and this is probably my first piece by this author that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. This has me excited to see what other pieces this author has created.


I gave Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space four stars overall, because out of the possible 85 stars (5 stars being possible for all 17 stories) this anthology accumulated 71 stars (83%)!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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