Mini-Reviews: Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1 + A Pho Love Story

Can you believe that I’ve already met my reading goal for the year? I didn’t read a ton this month, but overall this year has been kind of amazing. I’ve had so many five-star reads that I know I am going to struggle later in the year picking my very favorites. I’m so excited to bring you two five-star reviews for this mini-reviews post. Both of these brought me so much joy and I hope if they aren’t on your TBR, you add them.

Title: Witch Hat Atelier, #1 Author: Kamome Shirahama Series: Witch Hat Atelier, #1 Pages: 208 Publisher: Kodansha Comics Release Date: April 2nd 2019

"In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch…until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, traveling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem..."

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1 by Kamome Shirahama radiates joy and charm. From the very first page, you are transported to a world of magic that is both mysterious and mesmerizing. Young Coco has always been fascinated by magic and once dreamed of becoming a Witch until she learned that witches can only be born. Coco’s enthusiasm is infectious and it is so easy to fall in love with her character. She is kind and curious, but also resilient and creative. The world of magic is like an unopened box that Coco cannot resist opening, but the knowledge she gains has consequences. One of my favorite aspects of this manga is the art. Every illustration is so lively with scenes practically leaping off its pages. Its beautiful and dynamic illustrations captured movement in both an elegant and powerful way, sweeping reading off their feet and into a world like no other. Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1 is a must for anyone looking for a manga with a heroine whose trouble-making you won’t mind following.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Title: A Pho Love Story Author: Loan Le Series: N/A Pages: 402 Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers Release Date: February 9th 2021

TW: racism, grief, anxiety

"If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal. If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant. For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition. But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember. Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories? When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants."

Loan Le delivers an expertly paced YA contemporary with A Pho Love Story, about the children of rival Vietnamese restaurants falling in love. Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai have kept careful distance from one another over the years. They may not know why their families hate each other but they know to stay away from the other. Until one night when one of them is in desperate need and the other offers to lend a hand. Boa and Linh quickly discover how much they enjoy each other’s company. But when their tentative new friendship might turn into something romantic, they both must decide if it’s worth the risk. The more time they spend together, the more both of them want to figure out the truth behind the rift between their families, but the truth could drive them apart for good. Linh has been an artist for as long as she can remember, but painting isn’t what her parents have imagined for her when it comes to her future. Bao is feeling a bit directionless. Unlike Linh’s parents, Bao’s just wants him to find one thing he can be passionate about. Bao has never really found an avenue to express himself. When an opportunity to work more on his school newspaper comes along, Bao finds a knack for writing. I loved both Bao and Lihn’s journeys as they discovered more about themselves, their voices, and what they want out of life. A Pho Love Story is an example of how well dual POVs can work in a romance. Not only did it add insight into each character’s life, it didn’t leave readers wondering what the other character was thinking during their interactions. But it also allowed both leads to breathe and feel like real, independent characters. Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story is at its core a celebration of Vietnamese culture and bridging gaps between families and generations. And the cute love story is just the cherry on top.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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