Mini Reviews: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1 & 2 + Trouble Makes a Comeback

MiniI finally picked up Ms. Marvel! This year I’ve picked up my very first graphic novels and I can’t believe I’ve waited this long. They’ve been perfect for whenever I’m really not feeling like picking up a traditional novel. I’ve been trying to decide what the best way to review graphic novels is. Should I dedicate a full review to each one or wait until after I’ve read a few? I figure utilizing the mini-review is the best way to do this for now. Below are my mini reviews for the first two volumes of Ms. Marvel and Stephanie Tromly’s Trouble Makes a Comeback. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Ms. Marvel, Vol 1: No Normal
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Illustrator: Adrian Alphona
Series: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1
Pages: 120
Publisher: Marvel
Release Date: October 30th 2014 

      “Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!

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“These powers mean something, something scary but good. And for the first time, I feel big enough for this, big enough to have greatness in me.

Story time: I inadvertently read the first two volumes of Ms. Marvel without knowing it. I checked out Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal and didn’t notice that the edition I received also included the second volume, Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why. So when I went to pick up my hold for volume two, it turns out I had already read it.  So this mini-review covers the first two volumes though it reads like I’m only covering the first.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal is the kind of graphic novel I would have loved as a teen. Kamala Khan is such a relatable character. She tries to please her parents, but at the same time is also trying to forge her own identity, which isn’t easy when she isn’t sure who she is herself. She wants to fit in at school, but it can be hard when you’re Pakistani and Muslim and some of your classmates don’t understand and won’t take the time to understand your culture or religion. When Kamala first gets her powers, she believes she needs to be someone else, but discovers through a series of mishaps and some sage wisdom from an unlikely source that she is brave enough and her heart is big enough do take on the responsibility of being a hero. With a lovable sidekick and a cameo appearance from none other than Wolverine, Kamala will experience all the ups and downs of what it means to be a superhero as well as trying to find the right balance between this new life and her personal one.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Trouble Makes a Comeback
Author: Stephanie Tromly
Series: Trouble, #2
Pages: 336
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date: November 22nd 2016

      “Achieving high school “normal” wasn’t as hard as Zoe Webster expected, but she’s beginning to think Hollywood oversold how much fun it all is. Isn’t dating a jock supposed to be one long Instagram dream? Shouldn’t she enjoy gossiping 24/7 with her two BFFs? And isn’t this, the last year before the finish line that is Princeton, meant to be one of her best? If “normal” is the high school goal, why can’t Zoe get Philip Digby—decidedly abnormal, completely chaotic, possibly unbalanced, undoubtedly rude, and somehow…entirely magnetic—out of her mind?
      However normal Zoe’s life finally is, it’s about to get blown up (metaphorically. This time. She hopes, anyway.*) when Digby shows up on her doorstep. Again. Needing her help to find his kidnapped sister. Still. Full of over-the-top schemes and ready to send Zoe’s life into a higher gear. Again.
      It’s time for Zoe Webster to choose between staying in the normal lane, or taking a major detour with Digby (and finally figuring out what that stolen kiss actually meant to him).”

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      “Do you think it’s bad I’m disappointed no one’s turned up to murder us?

Stephanie Tromly’s Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is one of the most charming and funny debuts I’ve read. Zoe Webster and Philip Digby made quite the team as he managed to find trouble around every corner and she found herself going along with his schemes despite her better judgement. In this sequel, Trouble Makes a Comeback, Digby finally returns after a five-month absence. Since Digby left, Zoe has settled into a more normal life. She has new friends, a new boyfriend, and hardly ever thinks about her adventures with Digby. But once he’s back in her life, Zoe finds it hard to juggle these two very different parts of her life. After finishing the first book, I really hoped that we would get a sequel because I, like Digby, desperately wanted to know what really happened to his sister after she was kidnapped years ago. While we finally get some answers to this mystery, it did feel like there was no proper climax to the story and in this way, I’d say this sequel does fall into the sophomore slump trap. One of my favorite parts about Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is the undeniable chemistry and banter between the two lead characters. In this second book, their rapport didn’t feel quite as sharp and while I enjoyed seeing how their relationship had evolved, I kind of wish this part of the story could have been wrapped up earlier, so we could focus more on the mystery of Digby’s sister. Still, Trouble Makes a Comeback was a lot of fun and I look forward to reading the conclusion.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen, #2
Pages: 369
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: March 28th 2017

      “She is the princess of Bharata—captured by her kingdom’s enemies, a prisoner of war. Now that she faces a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. But should she trust Vikram, the notoriously cunning prince of a neighboring land? He promises her freedom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together they can team up and win the Tournament of Wishes, a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. It seems like a foolproof plan—until Gauri and Vikram arrive at the tournament and find that danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and twisted fairy revels. New trials will test their devotion, strength, and wits. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire

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“Light flared from creases of rock. I squinted against the brightness until we emerged from the cavern and into a valley that sprawled vast as a kingdom. My heart stopped. Day and night tore the sky in two, each half grabbing greedy fistfuls of clouds from the other. Stars glistened above.

Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes is a dazzling display of masterful storytelling with three-dimensional characters and a setting that will leave you breathless. Chokshi’s writing shined bright in her debut A Star-Touched Queen and continues to do so in this sequel. Though A Crown of Wishes can be read as a standalone, reading the first book will help give you a foundation for this world and the character of Gauri. At the beginning of the novel we meet two vastly different people who are brought together for the mysterious and magical Tournament of Wishes. If they have any hope of surviving and finding a way to take control of their own fates, they must learn to work together. Vikram and Gauri’s journey is one heart-stopping trial after another and with a capricious Otherworld lord in charge of the tournament, winning the game may not be as straightforward as they thought.

I was really intrigued by the small glimpse we got of Gauri as Maya’s younger sister in A Star-Touched Queen and was ecstatic to hear that this novel was going to follow her story. Gauri, known as the Jewel of Bharata, is many things. Princess. Warrior. Monster. Gauri’s spent her life living for the people of Bharata, fighting and sacrificing for them. Her brother Skanda’s cruelty has forced her to compromise her own morals and guilt is a hard thing to outrun. When she meets Vikram, she is at her lowest point. Her plan to overthrow her brother has been thwarted, someone she believed she could count on betrayed her, and it is only a matter of time before her best friend is executed. At first she intends to use Vikram and his invite as his partner for the Tournament of Wishes as an excuse to escape her imprisonment in Ujijain, but she finds a worthy ally and friend in Vikram. Gauri has always had to be strong, she’s learned to hide any weakness and shut down any feelings that may interfere with her goals. Being vulnerable does not come easy for her, but she learns risking her heart may be worth it in the end.

Gauri and Vikram are two sides of the same coin. Where Gauri’s strength lies in her ability to wield a weapon, Vikram wields a different kind of weapon: words. Appropriately called the “Fox Prince”, Vikram is both perceptive and cunning. His intelligence is his greatest asset, though his natural charm goes a long way. But Vikram has carried a secret on his shoulders for most of his life, a secret that threatens his entire future as the next ruler of Ujijain. Though adopted, the Emperor of Ujijain has always regarded Vikram as his true son and intends for him to succeed him, but the Council of Ujijain, also aware of Vikram’s illegitimacy, is not so convinced of his competence. Destined to rule in name alone, Vikram jumps at the chance to change his fate. Instead of ordering the execution of an enemy princess, he offers her the chance to change her own future and in so doing, alters both their lives forever. Despite his better judgment, Vikram finds himself drawn to Gauri, not just to the girl with murder in her eyes, but the one who has been carrying the responsibility of her people upon her shoulders for years.

From the lush setting of the Otherworld to an enchanting but deadly population of mythical creatures, Roshani Chokshi beguiles readers with her world-building from start to finish. A Crown of Wishes will leave you with a heart full as you follow the rewarding journey of two young souls desperate for a chance to take control of their lives.

5/5

★★★★★

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: February 14th 2017

      “On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
      But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
      Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?”

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“This is the opposite of an earthquake, where things were falling apart and the ground was shifting beneath my small feet. Here, the walls, the air, the buildings, the people all seem to have already fallen. And there is nothing else left to do but to shrink and squeeze until everything has turned to dust and disappeared.

Ibi Zoboi delivers a truly emotional story in her debut novel, American Street. Though born in America, Fabiola Toussaint has only known one home–Haiti. Upon entering the U.S., Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration and Fabiola is sent ahead to her aunt and cousins in Detroit. Desperate to get her mother back and struggling to adjust to this new world, Fabiola learns that America is not everything it’s promised to be. She finds herself in morally ambiguous situations that might cost her the only good things she has found since coming to America. Stuck between two impossible choices, Fabiola must decide how far she is willing to go to be reunited with her mother.

Fabiola spends the first few months in America pulled in different directions. Her cousins all have different ideas on how she can adjust to this new land while Fabiola tries to hold on to both her language and religion, both foreign and strange to outsiders. America demands a lot from those who immigrate to the country. A common theme throughout the novel is how people and America itself talk out of both sides of their mouths. Ideally, American is a melting pot, but in reality assimilation is necessary. The Creole language is part of Fabiola’s cultural identity and like her aunt before her, there is tremendous pressure for her to shed this part of who she is in order to fit in and feel more accepted. This new country comes with new rules for how to maneuver through the world and while there are aspects that Fabiola has encountered before, the line between right and wrong becomes more and more blurred as the story goes on.

Family is the most important aspect of Fabiola’s story. The absence of her mother is a weight she continually carries around. Any happiness she feels getting to know her cousins or falling in love for the first time is counterbalanced with the hole in her heart left behind by her mother. Though it is only briefly touched on, the possibility that Fabiola’s mother knew what would happen after the two of them entered the U.S. is something I continue to wonder about. We are not given a definitive answer, but I believe Fabiola’s mother isn’t a stranger to sacrifice and if she believed telling her daughter they were both meant to start over in America was the only way to get her to leave Haiti, I believe she would have done it. Fabiola’s loyalty to her family is tested throughout the novel. She loves her aunt and cousins, but they don’t always make good decisions. She wants to protect them, but this isn’t always easy when they don’t want her protection or when other people with more power than her can easily throw a wrench in her plans.

I do wish we could have spent more time individually with Fabiola’s cousins Chantel, Primadonna, and Princess, but I still think Zoboi did a good enough job defining who they are individually. A nice touch were the different character-driven sections sprinkled throughout the book that gave readers a little more insight into minor characters’ stories. With an engaging protagonist and an heart-stopping ending, American Street is a debut not to be missed.

4/5

★★★★

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Title: We Are Okay
Author: Nina LaCour
Series: N/A
Pages: 234
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 14th 2017

      “Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

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“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes your self, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore.”

Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay explores one girl’s emotional journey as she grapples with loss, grief, and ultimately the first steps toward closure. It’s been months since Marin’s grandfather passed away, since she lost the only family she had left. Months since she walked away from her old life, leaving behind a best friend who had only begun to be something more. Now at school in New York City, Marin has been trying to forget her past, but one visit from her former best friend Mabel will change everything.

There are books you walk your way through and ones you feel your way through. We Are Okay falls into the latter category. LaCour’s novel focuses heavily on internal conflict as readers follow Marin as she copes with seeing Mabel for the first time in months. At first Marin is desperate to hide how she is, but her relationship with Mabel makes it impossible for her to put up a convincing front. Using various flashbacks, LaCour pieces together the protagonist’s past, giving context to not only her relationship with her grandfather but to Mabel. There’s an underlining tension to every interaction between the two old friends. More important than what is said is what isn’t. When Marin skipped town without a word to anyone, she left Mabel hurt and confused. Their romantic relationship was just in its beginning stages, they hadn’t yet defined what they were, but it’s clear they were in love with each other. These past feelings are made even more complicated by Mabel’s new relationship and the fact that Marin herself hasn’t been able to move on.

Marin’s relationship with her grandfather was unconventional at best. Though she remembers his lectures fondly, there was always something missing between the two of them. The only true link she had with her mother, Marin’s grandfather has never been very open about his daughter. Marin lost her mother at a very young age and her memories of her are not concrete. It’s clear that many people loved her, but these are strangers and Marin would rather hear about her mother from someone close. Marin and her grandfather function more like roommates and though their separate lives may seem unusual to everyone else, it’s all Marin has ever known.

Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay is an emotionally gripping novel: quiet in its intensity, but still manages to pack a punch.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

Title: The Ship Beyond Time
Author: Heidi Heilig
Series: The Girl From Everywhere, #2
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: February 28th 2017

      “Nix has spent her whole life journeying to places both real and imagined aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. And now it’s finally time for her to take the helm. Her father has given up his obsession to save her mother—and possibly erase Nix’s existence—and Nix’s future lies bright before her. Until she learns that she is destined to lose the one she loves. But her relationship with Kash—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—is only just beginning. How can she bear to lose him? How can she bear to become as adrift and alone as her father?
      Desperate to change her fate, Nix takes her crew to a mythical utopia to meet another Navigator who promises to teach her how to manipulate time. But everything in this utopia is constantly changing, and nothing is what it seems—not even her relationship with Kash. Nix must grapple with whether anyone can escape her destiny, her history, her choices.

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“Bullets zipped in the air like bees; I crouched at my father’s feet as the mist of the Margins swallowed us whole. Then Slate cried out–I blinked up at him in the sudden darkness. His face was pale in the gloom…

Heidi Heilig once again wows with her sequel The Ship Beyond Time, taking readers on a thrilling and fanciful adventure. Nix has seen what love and loss has done to her father and is more determined than ever to not end up like him. But fate has other plans. When a prophecy foretelling the loss of someone she loves, Nix finds herself desperate to change her destiny. A mysterious encounter with a stranger will change everything and Nix will be faced with unimaginable choices. Her former convictions are put to the test when she is given the chance to discover whether it’s truly possible to change the past, to control the destiny of not just yourself, but a whole world of people.

Heilig has a way of weaving together both myth and history, making each feel equally vivid and real. In The Girl From Everywhere, Heilig explored 1884 Oahu, but in this sequel Nix and her crew arrive at the fabled island of Ker-Ys, a utopia destined to fall. New characters like the ambiguous Crowhurst, who carries secrets Nix is desperate to uncover, and the mysterious Dahut, who may be the key to unlocking the truth behind Crowhurst’s reign in Ker-Ys, broaden the possibilities of time-travel in Heilig’s universe. The island itself had a lot of interesting architecture and mythical creatures that I wanted to explore more of. The locals were also a bit of a mystery and learning more about them would have made this mythical island come more to life.

Nix isn’t the only one struggling with philosophical issues. Kashmir, who was such a steady force in The Girl From Everywhere, must contend with his own identity. I was so happy to find a few chapters in this one told from Kash’s perspective. Taken from a land only found in folklore, Kash struggles with his very existence. Is he a real person or only a figment of someone else’s imagination? For other characters, the chance to change history, to right the wrongs of the past is almost too much of a temptation to resist. Nix herself spends so much time fighting against fate that she doesn’t realize that her fear is keeping her from truly living and making the most of what little time she and those she loves may have together.

The Ship Beyond Time is a story of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. With gut-wrenching twists that will steal the breath right from your throat, this conclusion to The Girl From Everywhere duology will have you wishing for a time-traveling ship of your own.

4/5

★★★★

Beyond the Red by Ava Jae

Title: Beyond the Red
Author: Ava Jae
Series: Beyond the Red, #1
Pages: 360
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Release Date: March 1st 2016

      “Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.
      Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. But that doesn’t stop him from defending his people—at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He is given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.
      When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.”

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“A scream rips from my throat, but by the time the soldier turns and sees me, it’s too late–I slam my dagger into his neck. He drops, gurgling as I rip the blade away, whirling on the second soldier and catching him in the throat.”

Ava Jae’s Beyond the Red feels more like a decent setup to an interesting series than a compelling opening installment. The human race is barely surviving, but its greatest enemy is not the dry, hot desert in which they dwell, but the Sepharon, an alien race that regards humanity as invaders. Eros has been raised among humans, but as much as he would like to be a part of their race, nothing erases the fact that he should not exist. As a “half-blood,” Eros is an offspring of a Sepharon and human, considered an abomination to both races. When Eros’s people are attacked by Sepharon soldiers, he finds himself taken captive and thrust into the Sepharon queen’s court. Kora is young and inexperienced. Though the throne is her birthright, many believe her brother Dima is better suited. With threats at every turn and no one in her own ranks she can truly trust, Kora is forced to turn to Eros to protect her. Each needs the other to survive, but their arrangement is a fragile thing.

Beyond the Red has some excellent building blocks for solid world building. I was immediately taken in by this alien world, from the red, hot desert sands to the gleaming white architecture of Vejla city. There’s also an interesting political dynamic with Kora and her brother, as the people riot for a different ruler and Dima tries everything he can to undermine his sister. There’s a larger power structure beyond the kingdom of Eljan, but the novel only just touches on this. The Sepharon people have a really interesting religion that I was hoping to learn more about as well. Beyond the Red started off really strong with its world building, but dropped off in the middle when the focus narrowed to Eros and Kora’s growing relationship and much of these interesting aspects got left behind.

I wanted to believe in the connection between these two characters, but I found that their interest in each other began way too quickly. Eros’s immediate attraction to Kora left me cringing, not just because Eros is a servant, but because Kora’s actions resulted in Eros losing many people he loved. Although it’s acknowledged that Kora is responsible for the actions of her soldiers, I didn’t think that this instantaneous attraction was really necessary in order for me to get behind their relationship. It wasn’t until the end of the book that I felt invested in the two of them and much of this had to do with the fact that it finally felt like they had an actual foundation to build on.

As far as their individual character arcs are concerned, I was hoping for more for Kora. She’s a queen after all and it made me so mad to see her brother circumvent her authority at every turn. I wanted her to gain the kind of confidence she needed in order to lead, but this never really happened. Eros’s story was actually much more interesting. I can’t say too much because of spoilers, but the ending really got me excited for the direction this story is headed.

Rating: 3/5

★★★