Bonus: August 2023 Reading Wrap-Up | NetGalley ARCs & Graphic Novels

Welcome, book lovers!

If you’d prefer to listen to this review, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. 

I’d love to know your thoughts on any of these books if you’ve read them. I invite you to hop over to my Instagram or X (aka Twitter), where you can comment.

If you listened to my August Reading Wrap-Up episode, then you heard me say that I was creating this “bonus” episode of the three graphic novels and three NetGalley ARCs that I read that month. I wanted to make a separate episode for these books because I didn’t want the main wrap-up episode to be too long, and originally, these books were not on my August TBR list.

So I’m going to start with the graphic novels. I read my first graphic novel back in June and absolutely loved it. So now, I try to read two to three graphic novels every month, and I try to choose ones that fit my monthly reading theme. When I was putting my August book list together, originally, I couldn’t find any historical fiction graphic novels, which was my theme. So I went rogue and chose a popular fantasy graphic novel to read because I really wanted to read one. Then, upon further investigation, I found two historical fiction graphic novels that sounded really good, so I added those to my list.

Also, if you ever haven’t read any graphic novels, I highly recommend trying a few because they are short and can be nice palate cleansers from heavier reads. I actually read these types of books whenever I need a break between books but don’t want to stop reading completely, but I need something lighter or fluffier after reading more serious or heavy books. They are easy to read, quick to read, and absolutely gorgeous. If you’re a visual person like me, you’ll find the artwork for most of these novels stunning. Actually, I don’t think I’ve read one graphic novel yet that I didn’t love the artwork.

Graphic Novels

The Moth Keeper by Kay O’Neill

Genre: Fantasy
My GR Rating: 2
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Being a Moth Keeper is a huge responsibility and a great honor, but what happens when the new Moth Keeper decides to take a break from the moon and see the sun for the first time? A middle-grade fantasy graphic novel about passion, duty, and found family.

Anya is finally a Moth Keeper, the protector of the lunar moths that allow the Night-Lily flower to bloom once a year. Her village needs the flower to continue thriving and Anya is excited to prove her worth and show her thanks to her friends with her actions, but what happens when being a Moth Keeper isn’t exactly what Anya thought it would be?

The nights are cold in the desert and the lunar moths live far from the village. Anya finds herself isolated and lonely. Despite Anya’s dedication, she wonders what it would be like to live in the sun. Her thoughts turn into an obsession, and when Anya takes a chance to stay up during the day to feel the sun’s warmth, her village and the lunar moths are left to deal with the consequences.

My Brief Review: The illustrations were beautiful. I have nothing against the artwork, but the story was difficult to understand and follow. There were not a lot of words, and the storytelling of the images weren’t very effective. It fell short for me and the pictures couldn’t hold its own to tell this story. Plus, the story itself is pretty bland and boring. And, the pacing was a little too slow for me. 

However, I did enjoy the universal messages of the importance of community and friendship. It really shows us that you can’t live life as an island. You need help and guidance from others. You don’t have to face everything alone. 

Not to get too political, but there are queer characters in this story. There is a gay couple. I don’t think this type of adult content and messaging should be kids’ books. It’s too mature and complex for kids to fully understand and digest. Let kids be kids and quit trying to jam all this gender ideology down their throats! Not everyone agrees with those lifestyles and for that type of adult content to be pushed upon young, innocent children and unsuspecting parents, it’s inexcusable and inappropriate.

City of Secrets by Victoria Ying

Genre: Historical Fantasy
My GR Rating: 3
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Ever Barnes is a shy orphan guarding a secret in an amazing puzzle box of a building.

Most of the young women who work at the building’s Switchboard Operating Facility, which connects the whole city of Oskar, look the other way as Ever roams around in the shadows. But one of them, Lisa, keeps an eye on the boy. So does the head of the Switchboard, Madame Alexander . . . a rather sharp eye.

Enter Hannah, the spunky daughter of the building’s owner. She thinks Ever needs a friend, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Good thing she does!

Lisa and Madame Alexander are each clearly up to something.

Ever is beset by a menacing band of rogues looking to unlock the secret he holds–at any cost.

And whatever is hidden deep in the Switchboard building will determine all of their futures.

On a journey that twists and turns as much as the mechanical building Ever Barnes calls home, he and his new friend Hannah have to ­ and out what’s really going on in this mysterious city of secrets . . . or else!

My Brief Review: I enjoyed the illustrations and thought they were stunning, though it could’ve used a bit more color, but I wished the pages of the book were glossy and made with thicker, higher quality paper. 

This was a mediocre story. At times, it was confusing and hard to follow. I felt like a lot was trying to be crammed into a short book, and we needed more time to flush out the characters and the plot. I think this would’ve been adapted better if it was a standard middle grade chapter book. 

As for characters, I liked the dynamic with the two kids, but they weren’t very relatable, and I didn’t get a lot of time to get to know them and care for them as much as I would’ve liked. They were just okay. 

I loved the world-building and the steam-punk vibes it gave me. It was very creative, but just needed a little bit of work on the execution. It felt a bit rushed and needed more buildup and explanation as well as some character development. There’s a good amount of action and suspense. There’s even a bit of violence, which surprised me. 

The big plot twist at the end was unexpected. It definitely caught me off-guard, but then once we learned what was happening, it reminded me of a popular 90s animated movie. I can’t give the name of the movie without spoiling this story. But if you read it, then you probably know what I’m referencing here. So then, I didn’t think this story was that original once I correlated the two stories. 

Overall, it had potential and I didn’t hate it, but I’ve definitely read better graphic novels.

Salt Magic by Hope Larson (Writer) and Rebecca Mock (Illustrator)

Genre: Historical Fantasy
My GR Rating: 5
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: When a jealous witch curses her family’s well, it’s up to Vonceil to set things right in an epic journey that will leave her changed forever.

When Vonceil’s older brother, Elber, comes home to their family’s Oklahoma farm after serving on the front lines of World War I, things aren’t what she expects. His experiences have changed him into a serious and responsible man who doesn’t have time for Vonceil anymore. He even marries the girl he had left behind.

Then a mysterious and captivating woman shows up at the farm and confronts Elber for leaving her in France. When he refuses to leave his wife, she puts a curse on the family well, turning the entire town’s water supply into saltwater. Who is this lady dressed all in white, what has she done to the farm, and what does Vonceil’s old uncle Dell know about her?

To find out, Vonceil will have to strike out on her own and delve deep into the world of witchcraft, confronting dangerous relatives, shapeshifting animals, a capricious Sugar Witch, and the Lady in White herself–the foreboding Salt Witch. The journey will change Vonceil, but along the way she’ll learn a lot about love and what it means to grow up.

My Brief Review: I loved this story! This was my first five-star graphic novel. I read it in two sittings! If I had time, I would’ve re-read it during the month I read it in. I’m so glad this one is part of my book collection. 

The artwork and illustrations are gorgeous!! I couldn’t stop staring at the pictures, and when this happens, I definitely take my time going through the story as I admire the artwork. The colors really popped, and the illustrations helped to tell the story. Stunning!!

I loved the mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I didn’t know what to expect going into this story, but it was such a pleasant surprise and a fun ride. The pacing was great. I never got bored. I got plenty of fantasy elements. I connected to the main character and cared about her the entire time. I also enjoyed her character development. I thought the plot of the story was creative. 

It definitely gave me Studio Ghibli vibes, which I loved. It was captivating, compelling, and so engaging. I also got cozy fantasy vibes from this one. It’s so heartwarming and sweet. It’s magical and enchanting. Highly recommend it!!

NetGalley ARCs

Under the Gilded Sky by Imogen Martin

Genre: Historical Western Romance
My GR Rating: 4 (4.5)
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: Missouri, February 1874: The last thing struggling homesteader Ginny needs is a scandal on her hands. But when a badly injured drifter arrives at Snow Farm in desperate need of medical attention, Ginny’s kind nature and good upbringing means she has no choice but to treat his wounds and care for him until he’s back on his feet, no matter the danger he might pose.

Ginny’s been running the farm and looking after her fourteen-year-old sister Mary-Lou since their papa died two years ago, each morning pulling on his old leather coat and pushing her feet into stout boots that come up to her knees, before heading out to tend to the cattle. She’s determined to hold onto the one thing that connects them to memories of their parents – whatever the cost. And when their uninvited guest – Lex – is well enough he offers his help, and she surprises herself by accepting it.

But not long after Lex moves on, Ginny realizes that her heart has gone with him. And when the farm’s fortunes take a turn for the worse, she faces her hardest test yet. Can she save the only home she’s ever known, and everything she holds dear? And what if doing so means risking a chance at love and happiness she never expected to come her way?

Why I Chose This Book: This is a debut author and the plot sounded good, so I thought I would check it out. It’s another historical Western romance book, and after reading, The Hope of Azure Springs by Rachel Fordham, which is a Christian historical Western romance book that I loved, I thought I’d give another book in this genre a shot. I’m so glad that I did because I really enjoyed this charming, sweet historical Western romance story.

My Brief Review: I loved the historical settings, and it felt like I was transported back to the 1870s. We see the aftermath of the Civil War and people’s thoughts about things. We also see that many people still have prejudices after the North had won. You can also tell that the author did her research on what life was like back then. I could easily picture the hard, back-breaking life on a western Missouri farm during this time period. But then, we also got to see the glitz and glamor of high society back east in Boston. The juxtaposition of the two settings was very engaging and compelling. The descriptions of locations and events were very vivid and immersive. However, I wish we got a bit more polished lush lyrical prose. 

I loved the two main protagonists, Ginny and Lex. They were very likable characters, and I was rooting for them the entire time. Ginny was a very strong-willed, intelligent, independent, and clever woman. She was an unconventional woman for the times as the owner and worker of a farm. I loved her loyalty to her sister, the family farm, and the legacy and memories she is trying to preserve by keeping the farm running. Lex was a mysterious, charming, honorable, kind, and gentle man. He had his secrets, but his intentions were always pure and genuine. He definitely made me swoon for his cowboy ways at the beginning. Each protagonist had their faults and flaws, which made them feel more human and relatable. I also loved the layers to them and taking our time to peel each layer away as we learn more about them throughout the story. 

If you enjoy the friends to lovers romance trope and a slow burn love story, then you’ll really enjoy this book. We get dual perspectives from both characters and see how each one is holding back their emotions and guarding their hearts, but then when they are together, they each start to let their guards down. We learn about their pasts and begin to understand more of their backstories. It’s a beautiful love story. 

However, the ending felt really abrupt. I could’ve used a few more chapters so that it felt more like a satisfying conclusion. I would love to read a sequel to see what happens next. The pacing was perfect. Every time I thought it would start to lull and get boring, it gave me some twists and turns and kept my attention. I could’ve used some more action sequences, but overall, it was a pretty captivating and engaging story. I also appreciated the short chapters, which made me feel like I was getting through the book faster. It only took me a few days to read it. For a debut novel, this was an impressive start to a successful writing career.

The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree by Lucille Abendanon

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
My GR Rating: 4
Publication Date: Jan. 23, 2024

GR Description: Batavia, Dutch East Indies, 1942.

Emmy has the voice of an angel but hasn’t sung a note since a family tragedy. With war looming, her father plans to ship her off to a singing school in England for safety. But all Emmy wants to do is stay in Batavia with her best friend, Bakti, even if it means putting up with her snooty classmate, Violet. Then the Japanese army invades—and as war erupts in the Dutch East Indies, Emmy’s world falls apart.

When her own actions sabotage her chance to evacuate the island, Emmy is captured and confined in the Tjideng prisoner-of-war camp with other women and children. Separated from her family and friends, and silenced by her grief, Emmy will need all her strength to survive the war, find her voice, and reclaim her freedom.

Why I Chose This Book: Honestly, the title of the book and the cover caught my eye. I quickly skimmed the plot and knew it would be about World World II but in the Dutch East Indies, which I knew nothing about and didn’t know much about that side of the world. So I thought I’d give it a shot. 

My Brief Review: This turned out to be a very powerful, moving, heartfelt story. It is a very well-written middle grade historical fiction book. The prose is very lush, rich, and descriptive. I was fully immersed in this time period and the location/setting. I felt like I had been transported to Batavia and experienced the harrowing conditions of the internment camp. However, I did feel like there was a bit of a modern lens on this story. It really came through some of the dialogue of the children. They sounded like today’s conversations and responses, not from someone in the 1940s. (For example, there’s a conversation about speaking my truth/your truth. That is VERY 2023 and not of that time period!) That really pulled me out of the story at times. I questioned some of the wording and phrases used because they sounded too much like today’s culture. It also felt a little preachy at times, like it was written from an activist’s angle, which was a turnoff for me.

But otherwise, I really enjoyed the story. It was compelling and engaging. The pacing was great. I never got bored. There were enough “action” sequences and interesting scenarios that kept me turning the page and wanting to know what happened next. It was also interesting to see the war through the eyes of children. I liked the perspective and voice this story took. We see the innocence and naivety of the main character. She doesn’t understand what is happening and why. It helped build compassion and empathy toward her.

All the characters had their own unique voice and personality. They were all likable (or unlikable), and we got character growth and development throughout the story, which I always appreciate reading at the end. I like to see a character change from the beginning to the end, and we got that in a few of the characters. I also enjoyed the found family element that we got from some of the characters as they bonded closer in the camp. It was really sweet how they looked out for each other and helped one another during their time there. But there were also a lot of heartbreaking moments, which made me tear up. It’s an emotional read, and I had to be in a certain mindset to read it.

This point in history is always hard to read about, but we get some amazing stories of courage, bravery, and love. It’s inspiring to read how these prisoners survived, mostly by their sheer will to live and see their freedom again. The conditions they had to endure were unfathomable and horrific. I didn’t know much about what happened in that part of the world during that time period, so I felt like I learned a lot from this story. We always hear about the German/European concentration camps, but not really anywhere else. This was definitely an eye-opener of what went on in today’s Indonesia.

Definitely read the author’s note at the end for some very interesting information because this is a work of fiction based on real life. I loved how the author told us which parts were real and which parts she fictionalized. There is also a section with some historical information, which helps to understand the story better. There were some definite surprises in these notes that I enjoyed reading at the end.

Absolutely worth the read, especially for middle graders, as they learn about WWII.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Genre: Historical Fantasy
My GR Rating: 3 (3.5)
Buy on Amazon here.

GR Description: A lavish historical drama reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

Why I Chose This Book: After reading Mexican Gothic by this author and really enjoying it, I knew that I wanted to read another one of her books. When I saw this on NetGalley, I knew I had to request it. So I was thrilled to be approved.

My Brief Review: This is the second book that I’ve read by this author, and I love her writing style. It’s incredibly immersive with lush settings and rich descriptions. She really knows how to transport you to these imaginary worlds, and her stories easily play out like a movie in my mind. I love learning about Mexican culture and tradition, even though I have a hard time with her use of Spanish words. I don’t always know what they mean, which can make understanding the story a little more difficult. But it doesn’t take away the mood and atmosphere that she creates in her stories, which are superb. They are creepy, eerie, and alluring in the best ways possible!

This is a re-telling of a classic book that I can’t remember if I read it or not. If I did, it was way back in high school, and I don’t really remember it. I have seen the 90s movie, but it’s been a really long time, though I remember it not being very good and pretty disappointing. But overall, I am familiar with this classic story. I appreciated her nod to the original while creating this new concept. I thought it was very creative and fun to be in this world. She had an interesting interpretation of this tale. 

The story itself had a lot of potential, unfortunately, it fell pretty short for me. I loved the concept but the execution needed some work. I wished more happened and was flushed out a bit more because it was a tad on the boring side. I wished there were horror or fantasy elements. It’s another slow burn and doesn’t pick up pace until about 60% into the story. I enjoyed the last third of the book more than the first two thirds. Once we get the plot twist, which I didn’t expect, it starts to get good. This is the same thing that happened in Mexican Gothic. However, I enjoyed that story a lot more than this one.

As for the characters, the bad guys were easy to dislike, but the good guys weren’t always easy to like. I definitely felt compassion and empathy toward the hybrids and even Carlotta and Montgomery at times, but the two main protagonists had their flaws and made some bad choices and acted in certain ways that annoyed me. I found myself not caring as much as I wanted to about the main characters. I couldn’t really find them relatable. However, I did appreciate the growth and change we see in both of them over the course of the story. I also liked that this story is told from their two POVs. It helped put things in context better. I wish the side characters were fleshed out a bit more because they were a little bland and boring. However, I really enjoyed the found family element with all the characters. 

Even though this wasn’t my favorite book of hers, I will absolutely read more by this author. She’s a very talented author, and I love her beautiful lyrical writing. 

Would I recommend this novel? If you like a mix of historical fiction/sci-if/fantasy, slow burn stories that focus more on characters than plot, and don’t have high expectations going into it, then you may like it. But personally, Mexican Gothic was better, and I absolutely recommend that one.

*Please note that I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and a member of other affiliate programs. I may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made through links in this article.

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