Mini-Reviews: Check Please! Book 2, Camp Spirit, & Spinning

Check, Please! Book 2 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

I loved that the second Check, Please! book dealt with some deeper themes while still being just as heartwarming and sweet as the first. Bitty and Jack are such a great couple, always communicating and being there for each other. Bitty’s baking is still front and center and I absolutely loved it.

In a possibly unpopular opinion, I thought the ending was really stereotypical and it wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t dislike it enough for it to lower my rating.


Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 23, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Summer camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden… But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

Summer 1994: with just two months left before college, Elodie is forced by her mother to take a job as a camp counselor. She doesn’t know the first thing about nature, or sports, of kids for that matter, and isn’t especially interested in learning… but now she’s responsible for a foul-mouthed horde of red-headed girls who just might win her over, whether she likes it or not. Just as Elodie starts getting used to her new environment, though — and close to one of the other counselors — a dark mystery lurking around the camp begins to haunt her dreams.

This was a quick and easy read. The art was cute, the romance was done well, the story was… fine. I would have liked more elaboration on what was happening in the woods since it never felt fully explained. While I felt the actual camp counseling and the romance were fun to read about, I can’t say the same for the rest of the plot. The more supernatural aspects of this graphic novel were fun on the sidelines, but when they became front and center pieces of the plot, they fell short for me.

Overall, this was fun, but I’m not sure that I’d really recommend it.


Spinning by Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Spinning is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Tillie Walden (the first being I love this part), and I think I can officially add her to my list of favorite graphic novelists. There’s just something about her art style and the way she tells the majority of the story through the art rather than words that I love.

Spinning is the story of her years as a competitive figure skater. But it’s also the story of coming out, trauma, and growing up. This was an incredible book, and I can’t wait to devour everything Walden’s ever published.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Borrowed

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Let me start this off by saying that I had absolutely zero expectations when I picked this book up. I knew that it had gotten very good reviews, including many four- and five-star ratings from people that I follow, but I don’t always have an easy time connecting with gaming books. Within the first few chapters, I was blown away. The first note I wrote down for this book was “This is so well-written!” and honestly, it only got better from there.

The premise of this book is that Kiera, a Black teenager, has created an online MMORPG-type game in which players duel using cards based on Black history and Black culture. The game is exclusive to Black people and intended to be a safe space after Kiera experiences online bullying in a different, more widely-played MMORPG. Although her game has hundreds of thousands of players, it remains mostly unknown until a teenager is murdered over an in-game dispute. Kiera’s game is suddenly all over the news, with commentators calling it racist and strangers demanding that she make a statement. Being a teenager, she’s not sure what to do, and is understandably freaked out.

So, the first thing I want to talk about is the game of Slay itself. I’ve played the occasional game here and there, but I wouldn’t call myself a gamer. I’ve never played any kind of MMORPG, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the gameplay or anything like that that I’ve seen in other reviews. What I can say, though, is that Slay felt like a real game to me. It’s described so well, from the character creation to the rules to the depictions of duels, that I felt like there were probably hundreds of thousands of people actually playing it every day. I do also want to say that I don’t think whether it’s realistic for a teenage girl to have designed a game like this is the point of this book.

The next thing I want to talk about is the characters. Kiera was so realistic, so well-developed, and so complex. She felt like a normal teenager that you could meet in any high school and like someone it would be great to be friends with. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s really sick of being the token Black kid in her mostly white school who’s somehow required to answer every single question about race. The side characters were also really well-developed and realistic. Kiera’s sister, Steph, played a great role in the book, sometimes arguing with her but always supporting her. Her boyfriend, Malcolm, was absolutely awful and one of my notes from about halfway through says “Kiera deserves so much better than Malcolm — I hope he gets better or she breaks up with him. She’s not responsible for his actions and he treats her so unfairly.” I think that the author did a great job of portraying a realistic high school experience with realistic high school problems.

And finally, we have the whole point of this book: the debate over whether Slay is inherently racist. In my opinion? No, and all of the people who’d never even looked at the game or bothered to ask questions about it calling it racist made me so angry! But that’s an issue that I think different readers will take different stances on, and that’s okay. This is a book that makes you think, and it does it without sounding like it’s trying to shove any kind of message down your throat.

Final verdict? This book was incredible and I highly recommend it.


Have you read Slay? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: A Very Stable Genius, You Never Forget Your First & The Mosquito

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker & Carol Leonnig
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Rucker and Leonnig have deep and unmatched sources throughout Washington, D.C., and for the past three years have chronicled in depth the ways President Donald Trump has reinvented the presidency in his own image, shaken foreign alliances and tested American institutions. It would be all too easy to mistake Trump’s first term for pure chaos. But Leonnig and Rucker show that in fact there is a pattern and meaning to the daily disorder.

Relying on scores of exclusive new interviews with first-hand witnesses and rigorous original reporting, the authors reveal the 45th President up close as he stares down impeachment. They take readers inside Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the Trump legal team’s scramble for survival, behind the curtains as the West Wing scurries to clean up the President’s mistakes and into the room to witness Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders and members of his Cabinet, and assess the consequences.

What’s interesting about this book is that the authors don’t try to push an agenda or influence the reader’s opinion — they just present quotes and events and let the reader draw their own conclusions. In my opinion, there’s really only one conclusion to draw, but hey. I’m just a book blogger.

Anyway, here are four things I learned while reading this book:

  • Trump thought the attorney general was his own personal lawyer.
  • Putin was the world leader Trump most wanted to meet.
  • He wants to bill other countries for US military support.
  • He thought he might win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Overall: very well-written, would recommend.


You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he’s not quite the man we remember

Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle.

But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield—like espionage and propaganda.

After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn’t allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency—twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created.

Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy—what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned—before succumbing to a brutal death.

Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend.
 

I feel like I’ve seen this book everywhere since it came out! I’m not really a historical biography reader — if I’m going to read about politics, I much prefer current events — but I figured the hype had to be there for a reason. And it was.

This is a very different kind of biography. It’s short, hitting all of the highlights within about 300 pages, and never boring. It’s highly informative but still engaging. It dispels a lot of common myths about George Washington, like the wooden teeth and the whole cherry tree thing. All in all, it just shows a much less stodgy side of Washington than we usually see.

If you’re looking to learn more about the first president of the United States, you could sure do worse than this one.


The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A pioneering and groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction that offers a dramatic new perspective on the history of humankind, showing how through millennia, the mosquito has been the single most powerful force in determining humanity’s fate

Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution?

The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.

Across our planet since the dawn of humankind, this nefarious pest, roughly the size and weight of a grape seed, has been at the frontlines of history as the grim reaper, the harvester of human populations, and the ultimate agent of historical change. As the mosquito transformed the landscapes of civilization, humans were unwittingly required to respond to its piercing impact and universal projection of power.

The mosquito has determined the fates of empires and nations, razed and crippled economies, and decided the outcome of pivotal wars, killing nearly half of humanity along the way. She (only females bite) has dispatched an estimated 52 billion people from a total of 108 billion throughout our relatively brief existence. As the greatest purveyor of extermination we have ever known, she has played a greater role in shaping our human story than any other living thing with which we share our global village.

Imagine for a moment a world without deadly mosquitoes, or any mosquitoes, for that matter? Our history and the world we know, or think we know, would be completely unrecognizable.

Driven by surprising insights and fast-paced storytelling, The Mosquito is the extraordinary untold story of the mosquito’s reign through human history and her indelible impact on our modern world order.
 

Microhistories are something that I’ve recently gotten into, and after having read books like Stiff and How Music Got Free, I was interested to see this almost 500-page take on mosquitoes. But instead of a book on mosquitoes, their spread throughout the world, and the diseases they carried with them, I ended up with this… military history?

Unexpected.

I did learn a few fun facts while reading this book, like that people with Type O blood are bitten twice as often as Type A, and that an old remedy for dysentery was to inject mercury directly into the male urethra, but overall, I was kind of disappointed. I think instead of The Mosquito, a title like Malaria & Militias would have been more appropriate.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Moonstruck Vol. 1, The Steel Prince Vol. 1, & Check Please Book 1

Moonstruck, Vol. 1 by Grace Ellis
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 27, 2018
Source: Borrowed
Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.

Collects issues 1 through 5.

I remember seeing Moonstruck floating around when it was first published, and I thought it looked so cute! I had totally forgotten about it until I saw it on Hoopla.

And it was cute. It features all kinds of mythical creatures, a ton of diversity, and great art. Where it kind of fell apart for me was in the actual storyline. Or maybe I should say lack of storyline? It was all over the place in terms of characterization and actual events, and the resolution at the end was really unsatisfying.

This was quick and cute, but I don’t need to keep reading this series.


The Steel Prince, Vol. 1 by V.E. Schwab
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 6, 2019
Source: ARC via Edelweiss

Written by #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab and torn from the universe of the Shades of Magic sequence, this all-original comic book prequel to A Darker Shade of Magic is perfect for fans of bloody, swashbuckling adventure and gritty fantasy!

Delve into the thrilling, epic tale of the young and arrogant prince Maxim Maresh, long before he became the king of Red London and adoptive father to Kell, the lead of A Darker Shade of Magic!

The youthful Maresh is sent to a violent and unmanageable port city on the Blood Coast of Verose, on strict orders from his father, King Nokil Maresh, to cut his military teeth in this lawless landscape.

There, he encounters an unruly band of soldiers, a lawless landscape, and the intoxicatingly deadly presence of the newly returned pirate queen, Arisa…

Collects Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince #1-4. 

I like V.E. Schwab and I like graphic novels, so reading The Steel Prince seemed like a no-brainer. I was really excited when I saw it on Edelweiss as a new addition, and completely shocked when I was actually approved.

The story was a little jumpy, and I never say this, but I think the pacing was too fast. It was like a whirlwind of Maxim’s life with things happening almost like bullet points on a list. This, then that, then that, then this. I wasn’t a big fan of the art, either, which is very dark. I never really felt like sticking around to look at the images, which is kind of the main point of a graphic novel.

In the end, this graphic novel was fine, but I don’t feel the need to continue with the series.


Check, Please! Book 1 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here!

Y’all… I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

This is one of the cutest things I’ve ever read. I went into it with basically no expectations since sporty graphic novels and I haven’t always gotten along, but this was just so cute.

I loved Bitty, I loved Jack, I loved all of the characters and all of the baking and all of the vlogging and I didn’t even mind the hockey. The art was absolutely adorable. And that cliffhanger!!

If there’s any character that needs to be protected at all costs, it’s Bitty.

Excuse me while I go read book two.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: Heartstopper Vol. 3, Something is Killing the Children, and Happily Ever After & Everything in Between

Heartstopper, Vol. 3 by Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 6, 2020
Source: Purchased

In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

There’s this idea that if you’re not straight, you have to tell all your family and friends immediately, like you owe it to them. But you don’t. You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready.

After two volumes of Nick and Charlie being absolutely adorable, it wasn’t really a surprise to find some deeper themes in Volume 3. This volume follows the group through a class trip to Paris, along with all of the exploration they do and all the fun they have.

But despite all of the fun, Nick and Charlie do have to navigate some real issues in this volume. It’s definitely a darker feeling than the two previous volumes, but still so, so good. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Nick and Charlie. I may need to read Solitaire while I wait.

Content warnings for:homophobia, self harm, and eating disorder

Something is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

When children begin to go missing in the town of Archer’s Peak, all hope seems lost until a mysterious woman arrives to reveal that terrifying creatures are behind the chaos – and that she alone will destroy them, no matter the cost.

IT’S THE MONSTERS WHO SHOULD BE AFRAID.

When the children of Archer’s Peak—a sleepy town in the heart of America—begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible details of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to be the only one who sees what they can see. 

Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it must be done.

GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new story about staring into the abyss.

Collects Something is Killing the Children #1-5.

The first graphic novel series I read by Tynion was The Backstagers, which I absolutely adored. I’d seen the individual issues of Something is Killing the Children on Hoopla, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out yet. Luckily for me, the first volume showed up on Netgalley and I was able to read it all at once!

First things first, this is a very different vibe from The Backstagers. This isn’t cute and fluffy, it’s dark and gritty. It features monsters and death and blood and gore. But it also features a pretty cool monster slayer and it takes place in my home state of Wisconsin, so that’s always a win for me!

If you like Stranger Things and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll probably like this graphic novel.

Content warnings for:blood/gore/violence/murder, homophobia

Happily Ever After & Everything in Between by Debbie Tung
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley

From the bestselling author of Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love comes a funny and adorable collection of comics about married life, specifically an introvert married to an extrovert! Debbie Tung’s tender, funny, and utterly relatable comics are the perfect gift for anyone in a relationship.
 

The comics in Happily Ever After & Everything In Between may be inspired by Debbie Tung’s marriage to her extrovert husband, but any couple can relate to increasingly relaxed anniversaries, slowly seeing more of each other’s weird sides, or the punishment for taking care of your sick loved one (catching whatever they had). Happily Ever After humorously captures what everyday love looks like—both the sweet moments and the mundane—making it a fitting gift for weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.

I’ve previously read (and really enjoyed!) both Book Love and Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung. When I saw Happily Ever After & Everything in Between show up on Netgalley, I knew I had to read it too. I was expecting that same relatable quality that all of Debbie’s books have, and it was there. But there was just something about this one that didn’t sit quite right with me.

I think there’s a lot of the “everything in between” and not as much of the “happily ever after” as I might have expected. For instance, there are a few pages where Debbie shows herself doing all the housework while her husband makes excuses for why he can’t help, or while he just sleeps on the couch. Was that supposed to be cute? Am I missing something?

Overall, this was fine, but it isn’t a book that I’m going to recommend anybody run out to buy. If you’re looking to get into Debbie’s work, I’d recommend Book Love as a better starting place than this.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good graphic novels recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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