Book Review: After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang – A Quiet Fantasy About the Climate, Queer Love, and Having Hope in A World You Cannot Save

A banner featuring the cover of After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang. A blue dragon encircles the title. In the corner is an icon that reads: "Reviewed by Skye, The Quiet Pond".
Summary:

Dragons were fire and terror to the Western world, but in the East they brought life-giving rain…

Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern dragons survive. As drought plagues the aquatic creatures, a mysterious disease—shaolong, or “burnt lung”—afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.

Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons they love.

After the Dragons is a tender story, for readers interested in the effects of climate change on environments and people, but who don’t want a grim, hopeless read. Beautiful and challenging, focused on hope and care, this novel navigates the nuances of changing culture in a changing world.

Skye's Review:

If you, like me, think the world is in sore need of more quiet slice-of-life fantasy stories about ordinary people, I have just the recommendation for you today. Set in the near-future of a hazy alternate Beijing, Cynthia Zhang’s After the Dragons is a lovely urban fantasy novella about saving stray dragons, queer romance, and what it means to have hope in a world you cannot save on your own.

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Book Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa – A Vulnerable and Warmly Funny Story about First Love, Coming Out, and Loving Oneself

Synopsis:

A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.

Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.

Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.

Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.

Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.

I was provided an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Somewhere, sometime, a queer teen will read Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, hold this story close to their chest, the story finding a home in their heart. What an illuminating and poignant book Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is; a book that deftly balances the softness and joy of first love and steadfast friendship but also the sharp and painful edges of heteronormativity and anti-gay prejudice. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is soft, beautiful, triumphant, painful, heart-aching, and bittersweet – and I suppose it’s a little like life, isn’t it?

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Book Review: Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson – A Thoughtful, Vulnerable and Queer Story about Time Travel, Our Greatest Loves, and Acceptance

Synopsis:

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

I received an eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Stories that blend time travel and romance together have my whole heart. One of my greatest and most vulnerable hopes in our existence is that love transcends time and space; that love can exist independently of both. And then I read Yesterday is History, a wonderful YA story about a boy time travels and, against all odds, finds a love of his life in the 1960’s. I struggle to accurately describe the feeling that reading Yesterday is History gave me – all I know is that this story is beautiful, heart-rendering, and filled with so much hope.

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Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Jonny Garza Villa, Author of Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun – On Their Upcoming Queer & Chicanx Debut, Writing Journey, and Food

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

When I first head about Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun, pitched as Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and, one of my favourite TV shows of all time, One Day at a Time, I could feel my whole body buzzing with excitement. I mean, a queer story about two Chicanx teens, a long distance relationship, and a story that is one part sweet and one part heart-rending? I knew that this was a book to put on my radar immediately.

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Book Recommendations: YA and Adult Queer Historical Fiction

Book Recommendations with Varian: Young adult and adult queer historical fiction. Image is of Varian the toad, sewing a shirt while wearing a monocle.

In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!

Historical fiction has always been one of those underappreciated genres for me. Although I don’t actively search for historical fiction books, historical fiction has always been like one of those rare treats for me – I don’t have it often, but when I do, I enjoy it.

What makes historical fiction even better though? When there’s queer rep! Queer identity and queer people have always existed, though historic (and some that still even exist today) oppression made it impossible for queer people to live their truest and most authentic selves. Historical fiction gives us the opportunity to explore and imagine the complex and fraught experiences that queer people had, the ways they found happiness, freedom, agency, and themselves.

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