Practically Ever After: A Review

Practically Ever After by Isabel BandeiraGrace Correa has always been the girl with a plan. She knows exactly what she’s going to study in college (at her first choice university, naturally), she picked the perfect extracurriculars to balance her love of dance and make her a more desirable applicant, she is popular and fashionable. Grace even has the perfect group of friends and the perfect girlfriend, Leia.

At the end of her senior year, Grace’s perfect life turns into a perfect mess. With responsibilities mounting, projects looming, and pressure on all sides she’s no longer sure how to balance everything while making it look effortless–or even if she’s balancing the right things.

When a fight with Leia goes too far it seems like breaking up is the obvious choice–especially since long distance college relationships never last. Except Grace is starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, life (and love) don’t always have to be perfectly planned in Practically Ever After (2019) by Isabel Bandeira.

Practically Ever After is the final book in Bandeira’s contemporary Ever After trilogy which begins with Bookishly Ever After and Dramatically Ever After. Although the books are set sequentially each book follows a different character and all can be read as a standalone.

After playing a supporting role to both Phoebe and Em, Grace finally shares her story as she struggles to balance the perfect plan for her life with the person she thinks she wants to be in the future. As the title suggests, Grace is imminently practical with a no-nonsense outlook that forces her to think very hard about what pursuing her dreams can look like and the risks inherent to following her heart when a future with Leia (who is going to a different college) is uncertain.

Partially informed by the author’s own career path, Grace also tries to find a happy medium to balance her interest in dance and cheering with her professional aspiration to become an engineer as she maps out her college plans.

Grace and Leia are used to being a power couple among their friends and it’s an interesting contrast watching them try to figure out how to stay together instead of watching them get together over the course of the story.

Practically Ever After is a satisfying conclusion to a light, funny trilogy that celebrates friends, love, and big dreams in all of their forms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Isabel too!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Tea Dragon Festival: A Graphic Novel Review

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'NeillRinn knows all about Tea Dragons–the sometimes nuisances that are all over the village–but it turns out real dragons are a very different thing. When Aedhan wakes up from an eighty year sleep, Rinn quickly befriends him.

Aedhan appreciates Rinn’s welcome and their help in reintroducing Aedhan to the village he was once charged with protecting. But no matter how at home the dragon feels, he can’t forget all of the time he lost.

When Rinn’s uncle Erik and his new partner Hesekiel come to visit, they hope that the two adventurers will be able to help unravel the mystery of Aedhan’s magical slumber. But it will take more than investigating to help the dragon accept his changed circumstances in The Tea Dragon Festival (2019) by Katie O’Neill.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a prequel to O’Neill’s previous graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Both stories are self-contained and can be read on their own. Although set in different times and different locations, the stories both feature Erik and Hesekiel.

O’Neill once again delivers an adorable and thoughtful graphic novel, this time centered on gender fluid Rinn as they try to figure out their place in a village where it feels like everyone else has already found their special role. Rinn’s friend Lesa is deaf–something that is portrayed well in the comic panels with special speech bubbles to represent that sign language is being spoken. The contrast between dragon Aedhan and the tiny Tea Dragons adds another element of humor.

A mostly pastel color palette and the book’s larger trim size make this story as beautiful as it is entertaining. The Tea Dragon Festival builds well on the foundation of O’Neill’s previous world building while giving readers a slightly more complex plot.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a delightful and cheerful graphic novel about finding your place and your people. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Giants, Beware! by Jorge Aguirre,Rafael Rosado, John Novak, Matthew Schenk; Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G.; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Hildafolk by Luke Pearson; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

This Time Will Be Different: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Be careful about what you share and who you share it with. Own your power, and don’t apologize for demanding respect. Control the narrative.”

“But the trees whisper to me that life is bigger than my fears . . .”

CJ Katsuyama is the mediocre daughter in a family known for its grit.

Instead of a series of accomplishments that would make her family proud, CJ has a lot of failures that her mom likes to refer to as learning opportunities.

How can that compare to her grandfather who worked for years to buy back Heart’s Desire after his father was forced to sell it at a fraction of the cost before he and his family were interned with other Japanese Americans during WWII? How can CJ hope to impress her mom who had CJ on her own while being the first woman of color to earn a top position at her venture capital firm when CJ herself managed to fail out of coding camp?

It’s no wonder CJ feels like she has more in common with her free spirited aunt Hannah, especially now that she’s learning about flower arranging and the language of flowers as Hannah’s apprentice at the family flower store Heart’s Desire.

Just when it feels like she could be good at something, CJ finds out that Heart’s Desire is struggling and might have to be sold. CJ is willing to try anything to save the shop, even scheming with her nerdy fellow shop apprentice Owen Takasugi. With everything she cares about on the line CJ starts to learn more about her family’s history and realizes she might finally be ready see how much she has to offer in This Time Will Be Different (2019) by Misa Sugiura.

This Time Will Be Different is Sugiura’s sophomore novel.

First things first: CJ’s voice is so great in this book. Her first person narration is conversational and honest and made it a lot easier to swallow all of the ways this book called me out for not taking risks or being proactive in my own life. I am not sure I have ever felt so called out by a book.

While the crux of the story focuses on CJ’s efforts to save Heart’s Desire and thereby discover some of her own grit, Sugiura also looks head on at the ugly legacy of the Japanese American internment and the racism at its core. The long term effects of that legacy play out on a personal level as CJ sees how both her mother and her aunt try to deal with their family history and the ramifications it has had in CJ’s town where so many public spaces are named after the white man who was at the forefront of advocating for internment.

CJ is also forced to confront her own biases when her best friend Emily starts crushing on Brynn–a white, overachieving student and CJ’s longtime nemesis–a conflict that is resolved with some incredibly thoughtful conversations about what it means to be an ally and one of the best interrogations of the white savior problem that I’ve ever read.

The plot is fleshed out with a lot of humor, one madcap run with a ladder, and CJ’s own confused navigation of romance as she tries to get closer to her crush, gets to know Owen, and deals with quite a few missed connections.

This Time Will Be Different is a smart story about a girl learning that you don’t always have to win to succeed—sometimes you just have to try. Recommended for readers who are ready to be an advocate or an ally and anyone who’s ever needed someone to tell them to start saying yes.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Picture Us in the Light: A Review

“I don’t believe you can put anything meaningful into the world without having a kind of innate generosity, something to give of yourself.”

Danny Cheng feels stuck. He’s got an eye toward college next year with an acceptance to RISD with a full ride and, rarer still in Cupertino, complete support from his immigrant parents.

But Danny is still haunted by the loss of a friend who committed suicide last year and every time he tries to imagine next year without his best friend Harry Wong he finds himself spiraling into a panic. Not to mention wondering if Harry really is as in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan, as he claims.

When Danny finds a box of old news clippings and letters in his father’s closet he starts to realize that there might be a reason his parents never talk about their past–a reason that Danny never would have imagined.

As Danny hurtles toward the end of his senior year and delves deeper into his family’s past he will have to confront uncomfortable truths about his parents and acknowledge his own dreams and wants if he ever wants to move forward in Picture Us In the Light (2018) by Kelly Loy Gilbert.

Picture Us In the Light is Loy Gilbert’s sophomore novel.

Danny is the core of the story as he tries to imagine a future without Harry and away from everything he knows in California. His existential dread at both prospects is palpable in Danny’s first person narration and makes for a tense read. Loy Gilbert’s prose shines while focusing on Danny and his friends but an overly packed plot detracts from what should have been a character driven novel.

With so many things happening to Danny it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the final act of the novel feels rushed after a slow build up with layers of suspense padded with a lack of communication between characters–especially between Danny and Harry as Danny struggles with how (or if) to tell Harry that he is in love with him and has been for years.

Picture Us In the Light is a complex story about connection, privilege, and hope. Readers able to overlook a sensationalist plot will appreciate Danny’s relatable narration, clever dialog, and authentic characters.

Possible Pairings: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Into the Crooked Place: A Review

When it comes to magic, all that really matters is timing. If you have that right, you can perform wondrous feats or the slickest con and it won’t matter because people will still line up to buy whatever it is you’re selling.

Tavia has made a name for herself as a busker in Creije selling low level dark magic and performing high level cons. After years of staying very close to the line and watching her friend Wesley cross right over it, Tavia wants to leave Creije before she is forced to do something she can’t take back.

Wesley will do whatever it takes to bring order to the chaotic streets of Creije even if he has to fashion himself into a gangster no one wants to look at closely enough to recognize his past as a boy desperate to move beyond a lean life on the streets.

Tavia is content marking time before she can wash her hands of Creije for good until one of her cons goes terribly wrong. Instead of duping a rich mark with fake magic, Tavia’s friend takes some very dark and very lethal magic.

With new magic circulating through Creije for the first time in decades everyone is on edge. As enemies circle and alliances are tested, Tavia and Wesley might be the only ones who can stop the conflict they’ve set in motion. That is, if they can bear to trust each other in Into the Crooked Place (2019) by Alexandra Christo.

Into the Crooked Place is Christo’s sophomore novel and the start of her new gangster fantasy duology.

The story plays out against an atmospheric, noir inspired world filled with political corruption and dark horse protagonists including Wesley and Tavia as well as the novel’s other principal characters Saxony and Karam. Potentially rich world building is diminished by breakneck pacing and action that leaves little room for explanation.

Elements of suspense and adventure come together as Tavia and Wesley approach the mystery of the new magic from opposite sides to try and make sense of this  development that could potentially destroy Creije. Alternating viewpoints and shifting story lines clutter more than they clarify with extraneous details.

Into the Crooked Place is an engrossing if sometimes superficial fantasy. Recommended for readers who can prioritize sleek one liners over a sleek plot.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Pumpkinheads: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Every autumn Deja and Josiah know they’ll be working at the best pumpkin patch in the world, right in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. They know they’ll be making succotash at the Succotash Hut (it’s all about the stirring). And most importantly, they know that their friendship will pick up right where they left off at the end of last year’s pumpkin patch season.

Except this year is different because they’re seniors. While Deja knows they’ll always be able to come back, Josiah isn’t so sure that anything can stay the same once they leave for college.

After a stellar season (and another Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person star for Josiah), Josiah is fully prepared to spend their final shift ever moping. But Deja has bigger plans to help both of them say goodbye to the patch with a proper sendoff while also giving Josiah one last chance to talk to the Fudge Girl he’s spent three years pining after.

With snacks to eat, exes to run into, and hopefully at least one date to make Deja and Josie’s final shift is sure to be an adventure in Pumpkinheads (2019) by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

This story is completely self-contained and as satisfying as the first pumpkin sighting of the season. Hicks’ full color illustrations bring the pumpkin patch to life in all of its zany glory with dynamic artwork filled with fun details and the motion inherent to a frenetic crowd.

Rowell’s dialog contrasts well with Deja and Josiah’s body language and things left unsaid as both friends try to figure out how to say goodbye to the patch and to each other–or if they even have to.

Pumpkinheads is a charming ode to fall filled with puns, pumpkins, and a really sweet romance. Recommended for readers looking for a bubbly, seasonal read and anyone hoping to try a graphic novel for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, and Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Mooncakes: A Graphic Novel Review

Working at her grandmothers’ bookshop, Nova Huang is used to helping them investigate strange occurrences in their small New England town–it comes with the territory when you’re a witch-in-training.

Following reports of a strange white wolf in the woods leads Nova to an entirely unexpected reunion when she finds Tam Lang–her childhood friend and longtime crush. As a werewolf Tam has been wandering from town to town trying to find a place to land and, more importantly, trying to hunt down a strange horse demon with connections to their own troubled past.

Together Nova and Tam are determined to get to the bottom of the dark forces plaguing town as they try to find their way back to each other in Mooncakes (2019) by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu.

Mooncakes is a full color, standalone graphic novel.

Xu’s artwork is brightly colored and filled with evocative depictions of Nova’s cozy bookshop, ethereal magic, and minute details reminiscent of the care and attention found in Miyazaki films.

Like Xu, Walker imbues this story with obvious affection for these characters and their world as well as deliberate attention to create a world that is as inclusive as it is authentic from Nova’s use of hearing aids to Tam’s request that Nova’s grandmothers refer to them with they/them pronouns.

With a sprawling plot that spans Nova and Tam’s backstory and hints at what their futures might hold Mooncakes is a delectable fantasy graphic novel that is equal parts spooky and sweet. Sure to be a satisfying read at any time of the year but especially when you’re ready to curl up under a blanket and enjoy the leaves turning.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger; Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova; Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley; Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang; Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

*An advance copy of this title was provided for review consideration by the publisher at BookExpo 2019*