“The Tea Dragon Tapestry ” by Katie O’Neill – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


“Join Greta and Minette once more for the heartwarming conclusion of the award-winning Tea Dragon series!”

Goodreads


I had been seeing the illustrations from this series floating around on some bookish sites for a bit, and thought it looked cute. When I got the chance to preview this new installment, I took it! First, since this is the third in a series, I eagerly devoured the first two through Hoopla. Then, I read the galley of this one, “The Tea Dragon Tapestry,”distributed from Oni Press.

All the reviews and blurbs I had seen about the series used the term “charming,” and it’s actually apt here. Katie O’Neill is both the writer and illustrator. The world she’s created is full of diversity – main characters are of various genders, roles, colors, abilities, and even species. But it’s also full of tradition. Characters learn trades from their elders, and interact with dragons who have centuries-long lifespans. The major themes within the series include friendship and family, finding your path/place, learning, and caring for others.

The illustrations are warm and rich. Each story takes place over a period of time, and often different color schemes are used to denote the season or place of different threads within the story. There are sweeping vistas, character shots, and pictures of everyday home life. Even the margins are often filled with little doodles and details.

In the first book, we meet main characters Greta and Minette, who are just learning to take care of some tea dragons. Hesekiel and Erik are their teachers in this endeavor.

In the second book, we step back in time to when Hesekiel and Erik are a bit younger, and have not yet settled into their home that we saw in the first book. They are traveling, and visit Erik’s home village. We meet his niece, Rinn, and a full-sized dragon, Aedhan.

In the third book, we are back in the village where Hesikiel and Erik are settled down and teaching Greta and Minette about tea dragons. But Rinn (now an adult) and Aedhan also come to visit here. Since this book is the final one, it’s nice that we can check in on the characters from both of the previous books.

The main threads of this story, however, focus on Minette and Greta. In Minette’s case, she is haunted by her past – which she only can remember in vague glimpses. At first she is frustrated with the feeling that she isn’t living the life she had started before. Eventually, she accepts that both her past and her present are important parts of her path.

In Greta’s case, she is trying to impress a blacksmith that she wants to apprentice for. At the same time, she is trying to bond with her tea dragon, who is depressed and not eating. She decides to make the dragon its own bowl, with her name and a cool design on it. The blacksmith is ultimately impressed that she chose to use her craft to communicate with another being, instead of making a battle instrument, and agrees to teach her.

The story ends with a little epilogue from Hesekiel, who is relieved that the girls are carrying on the tradition of caring for the tea dragons – an art he was afraid would be lost over time.

These three graphic novels are aimed at a middle grade audience, so they are fairly easy reads. But, they are a great respite for times when the world feels harsh. I would definitely recommend them if you need a little pick-me-up.

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” was originally supposed to be published in October, 2020. It was delayed due to a printing issue, however, and is now releasing on June 1, 2021.


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“I Hope You Get This Message” by Farah Naz Rishi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

Goodreads


This is a fast, fun YA read. The author is Pakistani-American, and I read this in March for my monthly diverse SFF read.

We are introduced to three main characters, and the chapters alternate between focusing on one of the three. Cate Collins, Jesse Hewitt, and Adeem Khan are all in their late teens. Cate hails from San Francisco, and has spent her life caring for her schizophrenic mom. Adeem lives in Carson City, and is more obsessed with his amateur radio hobby than doing his school work – much to his parents’ dismay. Jesse lives in Roswell, where he and his mom are barely scraping by.

Earth translates a signal discovered in space, and learns that a race from another planet – which humans name Alma – is putting humanity on trial, and determining its fate within the next seven days.

Much of the world devolves into chaos after this news sinks in. Looting is rampant, people trying to escape cities cause major traffic jams everywhere, and cell towers stop working.

But within this chaos, many people also start trying to reach estranged family members or other loved ones. Cate’s mom tasks her with finding her father – who never even knew of Cate’s existence. Adeem sets out to find his older sister, who ran away two years ago after coming out to her family and fearing they would not accept her. As tourists flood Roswell, Jesse stays put, and sees this turn of events as a way to make some money off people who are looking for hope.

Jesse’s dad was a failed inventor, and even though he passed away years ago, many of his materials are still gathering dust in their shed. So Jesse builds a “machine” to send messages to Alma. People line up to send messages, and Jesse makes decent money. He thinks he’s lying to people, and ripping them off. But a new kid in town sees it differently, and thinks Jesse is giving people hope, which is the only thing they really need.

Inevitably, these three stories start coming together. (I don’t even consider this a spoiler – by about 20% in, you figure out that they’re all going to end up in Roswell.)

Most of the book deals with the issues these kids are facing, and the interpersonal relationships between them and their families, friends, etc. But there are interstitial bits featuring the aliens, as well. The friends I read this with debated whether this was really “sci-fi,” since it was mostly teen drama. While I agreed that the bulk of the book falls more under that Young Adult scope, I can’t say it’s not sci-fi when there are actual aliens in it. Those parts may be small, but still – aliens.

And I will also argue that most good sci-fi is meant to examine the humans, anyway, right?


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“Firekeeper’s Daughter ” by Angeline Boulley – Review

By: Angie Haddock



As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Goodreads


I was interested in this one as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover, but the title and the description also added to my intrigue. My first reaction was, “This book has everything!” It’s YA, and from an own voices/BIPOC perspective. It has romance, sports, crime. There are other very relevant issues at play, as well, so let’s dive in.

Our main character is Daunis Fontaine, who is half Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and half white. She lives in the Upper Peninsula area of Michigan – which is significant, as people in her town cross the Canadian border with ease. A lot of the action actually takes place on Sugar Island, which is in the river that acts as the international border in this area.

There is quite a bit of the usual teen drama here, including hating on exes and contemplating jobs/colleges. But Daunis has some extra weight hanging around such decisions, as her mom is currently taking care of her own mom after the loss of her brother (Daunis’ grandma and uncle, respectively). She has a complicated family history, in which her white side hasn’t always been kind to (or even accepting of) her Ojibwe side. She is close to her half-brother, who is a local hockey star. Daunis herself played, until an injury cut her hockey career short. She is still close to the players, though, both past and present.

She is also close to her father’s sister, who plays a prominent role in the story. Aunt Teddie is one of Daunis’ closest ties to her Indigenous side’s histories and traditions. Her best friend Lily, and Lily’s grandma, are also great windows into this culture.

The action really picks up after Daunis witnesses a murder. She hadn’t realized that the FBI had been running an undercover investigation in her area already, and gets roped into being an informant. The investigation is concerned with drugs being made and distributed in the area. I felt like this was another layer that made this book super relevant, as the opioid epidemic has affected many communities over the past decade or so. The effects that drugs are having on her friends and former teammates is the primary reason Daunis agrees to get involved. She questions her involvement often – especially as it involves not being honest with her family at times – but keeps coming back to the idea of helping her community.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, but there is a lot going on. Some parts are gut-wrenching. Other parts made me cheer. (The elders in the community are kick-ass on several levels.) This book definitely had a huge emotional impact.

There are some hard truths presented at the end that are very frustrating, but realistic. Not every strand in this story gets wrapped up in a positive or convenient fashion. That’s not to say there isn’t sufficient wrap-up here, because I think the author leaves Daunis in a good place, ultimately. But you will be angry at some of the injustices left bare.

I loved this book, even when I wanted to yell at it. There is a whole community of interesting characters, which feels a lot like the reality of growing up in a tight-knit community. The females are mostly fierce, which I’m all for. While the main characters are in their late teens, there are good representations of people of all ages.

This book comes out today, March 16th, through MacMillan. I was able to read an advanced digital copy through Netgalley. Also, it is already slated to be adapted for the screen on Netflix.


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“Prepped” by Bethany Mangle – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Always be ready for the worst day of your life.

This is the mantra that Becca Aldaine has grown up with. Her family is part of a community of doomsday preppers, a neighborhood that prioritizes survivalist training over class trips or senior prom. They’re even arranging Becca’s marriage with Roy Kang, the only eligible boy in their community. Roy is a nice guy, but he’s so enthusiastic about prepping that Becca doesn’t have the heart to tell him she’s planning to leave as soon as she can earn a full ride to a college far, far away.

Goodreads


This was described as a YA romance, so I went into it thinking it would be a little on the fluffy side. I was intrigued by the setting – it takes place within a community of doomsday preppers – but thought that was going to be kind of a quirky hook to make it different than other YA novels.

I was not prepared for how poignant, tense, and frustrating this novel was going to be! The kids in this community literally exist to keep the species going, and calling the parents “detached” would be an understatement. In many ways, those aspects reminded me of Tara Westover’s “Educated.” The parents are often using the kids for free labor, putting them in harm’s way, and acting like any harm (physical or emotional) that they inflict is good for the kids.

Thankfully, this story is fictional. But, like any good piece of fiction, the emotions it brings up are very real.

The heroine here is Becca Adlaine, whose parents run the aforementioned prepper community. She is a high school senior, and has every intention of leaving as soon as she can… but, she also has a younger sister. A lot of the story focuses on this relationship, and Becca worrying about whether she can leave her sister behind or try to save her.

Becca’s relationships with her parents are also fraught with difficulties. She both hates them for the way they are, and still kind of loves them because… well, because they’re her parents? I have known people like this, who are still fiercely dedicated to abusive parents because they feel the pull of family ties. So, while I struggle with understanding this dynamic myself, I do acknowledge that it is real for some people.

There are also logistical issues with running away – like how to get away, how to make money to live on, etc.

The Adlaines picked out Becca’s future husband for her already – a boy in her grade named Roy Kang. His family is newer to the community, and they are Korean American, so this will diversify the gene pool. Becca is less than enthused, for obvious reasons. It also irks her that Roy seems to go along with all the training drills and such with no complaints. While she may not like Roy romantically, she is comfortable with him – he’s one of the only people who understands her upbringing, and they have a long history of shared experiences.

Photograph by James Mangle

All that changes when Roy reveals that he doesn’t believe in this prepper stuff, either. He just goes along to get along with his parents. Now, with two of them, there’s a better chance that they can make a plan that will work.

Let me interject here that Bethany Mangle is a Korean American herself, and specifically wanted to write the love interest in the book to be Korean American. However, his ethnicity is not Roy’s defining trait by any means.

Becca (and Roy) have a few other allies: one is another student in their grade, Sydney, who is not a part of the prepper community. Another is one of Becca’s teachers, Mrs. Garcia. While these two characters do not know all of what Becca is going through, she confides bits and parts to them as needed, and they both protect her secrets and help when they can.

Hopefully, I’ve given you a lot about the emotional punch of this story without giving away too many of the plot details. I didn’t want this review to be so full of spoilers that you don’t go pick up this book!

The book is being released on February 23rd, 2021. I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy through the Books Forward program and NetGalley.


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“Bookish and the Beast” by Ashley Poston – Review

BY: BRITTANY LEWIS


“Bookish and the Beast” by Ashley Poston is the final book (as of writing) in the Once Upon a Con trilogy. For fans of Reading Our Shelves, you’ll remember our first review was for the second book in this trilogy “The Princess and the Fangirl.”

Nisha and I both gave the previous book ☆☆☆. Looking back, I think my main dislike for “Princess and the Fangirl” was my general dislike for the fairytale “Prince and the Pauper” as well as how much time was spent at ExcelsiCon. I do enjoy stories that take place in one central location, but those are for short stories and novellas.

So going into “Bookish and the Beast,” I had higher hopes knowing that it was going to take place in a library over an extended period of time.

As usual I listened to the audiobook and I have to say that I loved that Caitlyn Kelly was one of the two narrators. She is my all time favorite book narrator. Curry Whitimire did a great job as well, so kudos.


Looking back at my previous comments related to “The Princess and the Fangirl” I quickly realized that less ExcelsiCon the better. Ashley Poston might have read my mind because there was just enough of ExcelsiCon to establish the aura that is her Once Upon a Con series aesthetic but not shoving it down your throat.

The opening of the book is the ending of that year’s ExcelsiCon. Starting with the big ball and leading to the meet-cute. Rosie – our “Belle” – isn’t too enthused about this ball. It’s too loud and too many people. So she goes off to find someplace quiet and meets Vance – the “Beast” – and his amazing General Sond cosplay (spoiler it’s the actual movie wardrobe).

I very much enjoyed this meet-cute. It sets up Rosie and Vance as two individual people, not just a fan and actor respectively. Rosie isn’t defined by her love of Starfield which seemed to be more prevalent in the previous two books. Yes, she loves Starfield, but her love is more rooted in the Starfield book series and it’s connection with her recently deceased mother.

Vance on the other hand is a nice and charismatic young man, but as the book goes on he shows how his Hollywood lifestyle has somewhat rotted his brain, making him believe he is the bad boy everyone thinks he is.

I’m not going to spoil the novel in this review, but I will speak now on some of my favorite sections and my thoughts on a couple characters. Ashley Poston did a fantastic job with “Bookish and the Beast” that I encourage all of you to read it,

First off, one of my favorite scenes was when Rosie meets Vance. The real Vance, not the General Sond cosplayer. There’s a dog and a pool and a book. It’s funny and sad at the same time. It made me want to shove Vance in the pool too.

Like with “Geekerella” and “The Princess and the Fangirl,” Ashley Poston adds in scenes from Starfield. These scenes are from the novels based on the TV series. They focus on General Sond, who is believed to be the “Big Bad” who steals Princess Amara from the hero Prince Carmindor. There’s a lot of complexity in the relationship between Amara and Sond, and I hope Poston continues to explore the world of Starfield.

Rosie’s father, aka Space Dad (you’ll understand when you read the book), is my favorite side character. The love he shows his daughter and his “I used to be big into the punk scene in my youth” aura made him unique and lovable.

Overall, I would give “Bookish and the Beast” ☆☆☆☆☆. It is my favorite in the entire Once Upon a Con series. You can tell the passion for the story that Ashley Poston put into it as well as all the Beauty and the Beast tie ins. It’s a love letter to geekdom and booklovers young and old. There’s lots of nerd culture and book culture and sweet YA romance. Everything I enjoy in a book, and more.


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