This week’s Monday Minis are coming to you from Eastercon – the exotic holiday destination of London Heathrow. Sun and I are enjoying our time at Con, meeting many lovely people and listening to inspiring panels. And occasionally hiding out in our room, reading and reviewing – like getting this post ready! Many thanks to the publicists for sending me review copies of these books, all opinions are my own.
This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede is the first book in The Last Finestra series. It has a great hook – Alessa has a god-given gift of magic, supposed to help save her city from a vicious demon attack, except she keeps accidentally killing her suitors instead of amplifying their powers. She’s pretty desperate, she had one job and she’s definitely failing at it. In comes Dante, a mysterious rogue, who seems to be the one person she can touch – so she keeps him around as her bodyguard, all the while trying to solve her other problems. Sadly, I didn’t stay as hooked to the story as I did to the concept, and found Alessa rather frustrating and the chemistry between both her and Dante and her and the other suitors lacking. A lot of people seem to really like this Italian-inspired YA fantasy though, so it’s probably more on me than the book itself – a case of mismatched expectations and reality. I wish I’d enjoyed it more, but while it was a fine book to entertain, it wasn’t more than that for me, and I don’t think I will be continuing the series.
Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders is the middle book in the Unstoppable trilogy. Following up on last year’s Victories Greater Than Death, this is Anders’ first sequel – her first foray into YA and into writing something that isn’t standalone. That said, this volume both manages to build on the strengths of the first book, as well as not quite live up to my expectations – it is the second book in a trilogy, the one where many threads are left open and few plotlines are taken to their conclusion. Whereas Victories very much was concluded in itself, an arc that could mostly be left on its own, Dreams took these characters, took the ensemble cast, and fragmented it again. The found family aspects of the first book that I loved so much took a bit of a back seat as each of the characters embarked on their own arc and worked on establishing themselves as an individual in their changed circumstances – which was very interesting, but felt less compelling and comforting than the first book for me personally. I still adored Rachael, my favourite character, who was given plenty of space for her anxiety to unfold (THANK YOU CHARLIE JANE for giving us such a wonderful character with anxiety rep!) – and who got to grow outside of her friendship with Tina. Definitely still a good book, and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion, even if it didn’t quite have the magic of the first one.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemaier has been out on the other side of the Atlantic for a while, but the UK arm of Scholastic has only just brought it over here. This is a middle grade graphic novel set in Northern California, combining Latinx Day of the Dead traditions with Cystic Fibrosis rep. Cat is frustrated that her family has been uprooted to a new town, providing a better climate for her chronically ill sister Maya, and even more so when they meet local boy Oscar who won’t shut up about ghosts. And when an encounter with ghosts causes a flare-up of Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis, Cat has to find a way to help her sister despite her reluctance to embrace the magic. On paper, this is everything I love – the exact kind of graphic novel I tend to immediately fall in love with. But I struggled to connect with it, I think partially because Cat is so reluctant towards anything supernatural and focused on reality – whereas I am the type of person to immediately embrace anything magical. I did appreciate the chronic illness rep, especially how Maya is disabled but doesn’t let it take away from her love of life and desire to experience the world. Far from embracing toxic positivity or a rose-tinted view, it is a portrayal with nuance and dignity. Ghosts is a lovely story and the art suits it really well, and despite not fully connecting with it, I would recommend it on to middle grade readers.