Far From the Tree by Robin Benway // Book Review

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I tend to stay away from sappy stories as if I’m allergic to emotions. This is a point of contention as I struggle to relearn what it means to be vulnerable. Coming into this book, I initially thought it would be another Lifetime, low-hanging tragedy porn. It’s your pity party and I’m not invited.

Yet, I couldn’t be more wrong and I’m happy to admit it. The main cast consists of the most precious people who are irrational but ultimately human. They make mistakes and run around trying to fix it but end up making it worse. It’s laughable, the convoluted ways we try help others not realizing that we’re hurting ourselves in the process.

Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are biological siblings. After years apart, they find each other and explore how their lives have diverged with their adopted families. It’s brutally honest at times as topics of race and sexuality arise. Things aren’t always what they appear to be and sometimes the simple answers are the hardest to reconcile. Benway handles these themes thoughtfully giving an authentic quality to character interactions. There’s a natural flow to dialogue so we can easily see character motivations.

My main gripe is that everyone ends up partnered together. I understand that when you grow you also allow more people into your life, but this just seems too…fairytale ending. I don’t believe that romantic love is the singular solution especially if you don’t love yourself. It’s pretty obvious that this is meant to be a feel good book where no one has to suffer. Yet, it somewhat undermines the notion that family will always be there for you. I mean, the Grace’s new relationship is too forced. They suited each other as friends, so I didn’t see a need to insert an obligatory romance.

In the end, you can choose both your friends and family.

 

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Yes.
Everything from the round sans-serif to the the perspective is amazing. One of the most dynamic covers I’ve seen.

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Kill or Cure by Pixie Britton // ARC Review

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I tried, fuck did I try. There comes a point where the pain exceeds your threshold for it.
Content Warning: rape, sexual assault/harassment

To tell the truth, I’m just not into zombies. You can call it over saturation fatigue because I feel that the subject has been thoroughly explored from perspectives ranging to the zombies themselves. So as I began reading the first couple of lines, an eerily familiar sensation flooded and I couldn’t help but shake my head and sigh.

Alyx lives in a post-apocalyptic world where they aren’t using the term zombies (in this case it’s Infected) but don’t necessarily establish new rules. Instead, it relies on the fact that the audience is already knowledgeable of how the zombie virus spreads. There’s little to no world building describing how survivors live outside vague descriptions the reader has to interpret. These inconsequential aspects make it difficult to suspend disbelief since it reads as if the characters exist in any generic zombie infested world. I want to know how society has restructured instead of filling in the gaps for someone who doesn’t bother to explain anything.

Instead, these important details are left aside in favor of clumsily shoving in tired tropes from an era of early 2010s YA:

  • Constant mentions of Will’s eyes which shifts between shades of green but are always luminous (obviously)
  • Alyx remarking that she’s definitely not a girly girl without prompting (why is this even matter in a post-apocalypse? This is almost as bad as a homophobe tacking on the phrase, “no homo”, to remind people that they are indeed not gay. Who the fuck would care)
  • Girl hate because the thought that another young female character existing is automatically a threat (let’s have Alyx sexualize Winter and then unjustly decide that she is a thot)
  • Third wheel romance because the disgusting flirting wasn’t enough (imagine children hitting and teasing each other and call it a form of endearment and not general harassment)
  • Oh and there’s some rapey scenes which accomplishes to illustrate that Alyx is desirable and allows her love interests to come save her

This is inherently problematic because no one really acknowledges how toxic Bobby is. He’s presented as the overblown cartoonish villain so everyone casually labels him a “perv” or “sleezebag” without the implication that he is capable of violence. In fact, he has on multiple occasions acted on it whether physical or verbal. It’s not addressed beyond adding a bit of dramatic tension into the story. I can say that the rape attempt was gratuitous and quickly forgotten. The reader doesn’t need a graphic scene since it was meant to remind us that zombies are not the only enemy. I just want to say it could have been handled more tastefully/meaningful.

So, by this point you and I are wondering where Tommy has gone. The reason for finding another compound was because of a lazy plot connivence. Yet, now this is hilarious, Tommy hardly gets any dialogue. It’s all about Alyx and how she feels and making progress on her love life. Some side characters are given attention but on the condition that Alyx can insert herself into the spotlight. This is to give her character development like how great of a sister she is and how much she cares for Joe.

I thought that this book was just Tommy and Alyx on a mission to find a cure hence the title itself. There would be some depressing moments but also heartfelt ones where Tommy and Alyx bond after this traumatic event. Perhaps the climax involves the difficult decision of whether or not Tommy will turn furthering the conflict. The reason Tommy is infected would have been an opportunity for character development like trying to go back to their wrecked home to retrieve an item filled with memories. Damn, it could also be something as blasé as taking a walk outside the boarders because he’s lulled into the belief that life is back to normal. I can’t help but think that this was wasted potential of a bygone YA structure that may appeal to new readers but not seasoned ones.

Thanks to Netgalley and Troubador Publishing Limited for this advance reader’s copy in exchange for a fair review.

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For a fairly generic book, this is a unique cover. The illustrations are spot on and immediately communicate the supposed tone. I also love the type choice and how it mimics this sort of woodsy feel. The colors are unsettling but not dull. I appreciate the thought that went into this design.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli // Book Review

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You can say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Simon vs the Homosapien Agenda for one petty reason: the shit stain spelling out Mason. Wow, spoilers for the first book but this asshole steals private information to blackmail Simon to coerce a girl into liking him. The plan obviously backfires because no one wants to find out that their cute-meet story involved underhanded manipulation. In addition, Mason eventually outs Simon because Abby’s just not that into him and has the audacity to feign ignorance that people would “be cool with it”. I thought that the first book inadvertently excused Mason’s actions as benign straight kid antics and not a form of violence. While it ended well for Simon finding the love of his life, I felt that this validated Mason or lessen the severity of what he did. You could argue that I took it too seriously for a work of fiction, but I beg to differ for those who are constantly on high alert against targeted acts of violence. What’s fictional to me is someone else’s reality.

Okay, rant aside, I enjoyed Leah on the Offbeat immensely in comparison. Leah is authentically written. I found many moments relatable from insecurities about her artistic abilities to general prom worries. For her, it’s the best or nothing at all. Yet, when you’re constantly afraid that it won’t be perfect, you prevent yourself from improving. It was nice to read a story normalizing lgbtq+ kids as any other who are accepted and loved. Don’t get me wrong, coming out is a big deal and there are always assholes but it’s refreshing that Leah and her friends aren’t solely defined by labels. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with who’s included that we don’t focus on how they are included. Is it an honest depiction or are they just a means to a sensationalized end?

People are also complicated with more than a single issue affecting them. I appreciate that Abby, resident awesome black girl in this universe, is popular and (gasp) nice. Yet, the book doesn’t shy away from depicting the racism that Abby faces today. It’s a part of her identity but it’s not the sole reason why she exists in this book. She has goals and ambitions outside of supporting the main white characters and giving them some preverbal street cred that allows usage of the n-word.

Concurrently, Leah in typical teenage fashion frustrates and annoys me. However, it’s her characterization and not a product of poor writing. She gets worked up about money problems, her mom’s new boyfriend, and coming to terms with her sexuality. Often times, Leah will do or say something really bratty but I can’t fault her for it. It’s obvious that Leah doesn’t even know how she feels let alone how to ‘properly’ react.

In fact, I think I learned something from Leah and gang. Understandably, Abby and Leah are not over the fact that Mason may be a demon incarnate but it’s perplexing to witness Simon forgiving him. It’s not all rainbow and butterflies, but more like small awkward smiles in response to unfunny witticisms. It made me realize that it’s okay to let go. Once Leah realized that too, new opportunities she never considered were made available.

 

 

 

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart // Book Review

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I’m not going to talk about onions and ogres but the layers that you uncover about Jules runs deep.

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Okay, maybe I’m not the sharpest so the ending did throw me for a loop. If you’ve read Lockhart’s We Were Liars it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the twist is in the title. But I hesitate to quickly dismiss it as a cheap trick. There were many clever nods revealing Jules’ true identity interwoven with character dynamics. At the surface, we don’t know what her motives are but we are suspicious. Others around her will sometimes make odd comments regarding her past and it isn’t until the end that the readers fully realize the entire scope.

The chapters are also ordered in reverse. So at first it may be disorienting, but that just makes the reveal all the more thrilling. I found it entertaining to read about these rich young kids and how they justified their lifestyle. Meaning they took it for granted and didn’t think twice about their privilege. No one works as they take long stretches of time to hone their crafts and find themselves. This is made possible by the support of their parents and the limitless amount of funds in order to write the next great American novel. It doesn’t occurs to them that they don’t risk as much to take internships paying in “experience”. In contrast, it makes you sympathize with Jules because she’s presented as this hard worker even though the work may be…illegal.

There are some remarks that I found out of place at first, however, this book lends itself to be reread. It’s fun to see all the pieces there knowing that the reason the readers were deceived was not because of poor writing. I was given a chance to figure it out and to be one step behind feels like I was properly duped, not cheated out of something so simple. Give this a read if you’re in the mood for a story about a girl doing whatever it takes.


If you liked this book, I suggest the movie Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal!

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch // Book Review

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I didn’t expect to lose brain cells when I read this but somehow my motor functions are failing me. Does the author think that their audience is stupid enough to be surprised by that “twist”? What’s most insulting is that there is no plot. I mean, if Lina just thought to read the entire journal or even ask Howard before jumping to conclusions there would have been no point to this book existing. Honestly, why the hell can she only read a few pages at a time? It’s a diary, not Dostoyevsky. The fact that the only thing propelling the plot are cliche misunderstandings is lazy and uninteresting. I figured it out the very moment her mother wrote the note. It’s a no brainer.

Beside that, I can usually excuse a basic storyline if the focus was on character development. Yeah, that doesn’t happen in this book. She just hangs out with this boy and falls in love with him in a matter of seconds. This is causing me to lose even more brain cells. Lina is nothing of a girl. Just a mere impression of one. I wish she spent less time thinking about Ren and more about, I don’t know, a father she just found out?

And there’s somehow a lot of tropes in this book but redressed as if I wouldn’t notice such as supportive, quirky best friend who might as well have no role in this other than trying to make the main character appear less denigrative towards females. Or the classic, “I’m pretty but I don’t notice yet tons of men still hit on me and there’s even some sort of rapey scene where I get saved so the readers understand that I am just that desirable”. I’m done.

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What is creepier than visualizing two gelato cones making out? Not much else.

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude // Spoiler Book Review

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This was an absolute dumpster fire. I don’t know what I detested more: Ivy or the entire message of the book. Let me provide a backdrop to this landfill.

Rowan Glen is a small town with a close knit community. Everyone is practically fucking each other’s second cousins but that’s not what bothers me. Instead, there’s this peculiar cult mentality that no one can leave without negative repercussions or judgement.

Why would anyone want to abandon their home, but that’s my main issue. There are beliefs that others hold which I can respect, but the Glen is on another level of ridiculousness. All these spells, charms, and superstitions don’t mean shit because a murderer is on the loose. Ivy takes these myths seriously and threatens her friend Heather for not having complete faith. Here are a few examples ranging from harmless to plain impossible. Teas to calm nerves, three hoots from owls that signify death, and acorn necklaces/thread dipped in essential oils to protect you from all danger. No, it wasn’t the folk jewelry that protected Ivy but sheer plot armor. Congratulations on being the main protagonist because everyone else is either dead or maimed. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be magical realism or just poor writing. More than half of the superstitions held zero impact to the plot mainly because they’re nonsensical and meant to be lore not fact. To give credit where it’s due, this was integral to the world building.

As I mentioned before, dead animals start surfacing and people suspect Birch Markle. A mystical boogyman who people feel no qualms blaming all of their problems on. Oh, your TV remote isn’t working. Yeah, that was Birch. You get the feeling that your husband is having an affair. That’s because he’s in the woods getting it on with Birch.

So while this is going on, the story focuses on Ivy’s drifting relationship with Heather. It begins when Ivy sneakily (like the snake she is) follows Heather into the middle of the night to a secret rendezvous. She spots a pair of leather boots and this sets her off because this obviously means that Heather is encroaching on her man Rook. It’s the golden rule that when you call dibs on someone, your friend is supposed to avoid them. It’s not as if the person you have a crush on has their own feelings and can decide for themselves who they want to love. However, in typical Ivy fashion, she’s just jumping to conclusions from flimsy evidence. Ivy has a panic attack and throws a tantrum. She confronts Heather, but for good reason Heather refuses to divulge the mystery person’s true identity. Ivy feels betrayed for some petty reason and cuts ties with Heather. She then attempts to talk to Rook but the scene plays out like trying to placid a illogical child who doesn’t understand adult interactions. Maybe I’m being harsh and Ivy does have a stunted mental capacity because this doesn’t sound like a 17 year old.

For hetero purposes and plot conveniences, Rook returns Ivy’s feelings automatically. This leads up to a nasty fight where Ivy doesn’t apologize to Heather for wrongly accusing her of being a slut (her words, not mine). No, Ivy has to warn Heather that she saw a ghost projection from the near future where it’s clear that Heather is about to be murdered. Like anyone, Heather is properly freaking out and thinks that this is a way for Ivy to beg for attention and I’m on her side. Ivy is a thirsty bitch. She then proceeds to fire back by saying,

“Runnin’ around the st-stable with someone at night, slutting off to the trailer…”.

Yeah. Ivy is a piece of shit who belongs in first drafts and shouldn’t have been cleared for final draft material. She’s jealous that Heather is more beautiful, fun, and overall not her. The only way Ivy can even be happy is to bask in Heather’s afterglow like having the special privileges of being a ‘best friend’ affords you. Not for nothing, the best part of the book is when Heather gives a deafening slap to Ivy’s hypocritical face. Just to put it into context, Ivy is in a heteronormative romance and even has sex with Rook later on. Of course, Ivy isn’t a slut because this is true love with someone in network like the worst health insurance ever.

Instead of being supportive and understanding of Heather’s choices to leave the Glen, she guilts Heather for abandoning her. Personally, I hate clingy people who are too dependent and constantly blame you for their unhappiness. People like Ivy are toxic and would rather drag you down to their level than admit that they don’t know how to live their lives. Why would Heather reveal that she’s in a gay relationship with someone outside of the Glen when Ivy criticizes anything outside of her perfect little bubble.

Unsurprisingly, Heather is murdered. In between, there’s numerous stupid red herrings that don’t even fool you. In the end, it’s a clusterfuck of three murderers who happen to be active as if something in the water is turning the townsfolk homicidal. Also, the twist involves a cover up from local law enforcement and a conspiracy years in the making. As it turns out, Marsh (Heather’s step-father) killed Terra, the first victim. Except, Rook’s father who’s also the sheriff covers up the crime and frames Birch Markle who actually is mentally ill and probably has no idea that someone is dragging him? All of this is not only tragic but utter nonsense. The worse part is Ivy blames Heather for ‘getting herself killed’. She honestly thinks that and I wish I was joking. Violet is another victim who was killed by her boyfriend August after she felt remorse for the both of them poisoning Heather because Violet wanted to be better friends with Ivy? Do you see why I’m frustrated and high key think that it’s completely justified for everyone to regard the Glen as backwards.

Anyways, the moral is that if you’re gay, be prepared to die in every YA. Sorry, but authors still use this tired trope because gay characters only exist in fiction for the sake of transforming the straight protag. Fuck this book.🖕🏼

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Surprisingly competent with an eerie photography that cleverly calls back to the Glen’s lore. The faded treatment gives the black a certain coldness that I like. The hand lettered title is appropriate for the tone but I prefer the fuchsia pink rather than a gradient. I just can’t believe how much the cover deceived me because the content is a shit show.


Don’t be mad, just leave a comment.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed // Book Review

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The #MeToo movement is still ongoing and hopefully more victims will have the courage to talk about their experiences. This includes simply recognizing what happened to them as criminal and not justifiable in any way. Just as well, those who think what they’re doing isn’t abuse will realize it fucking is. On another note, the topic of rape culture and feminism sometimes don’t involve people of color or other sexualities. It can be complicated and The Nowhere Girls do not shy away from those topics.

There are many perspectives as the title suggests. It begins with a freshman girl, Lucy, who dared to name her rapists and hold them accountable. Unfortunately, due to the current climate at the time it doesn’t end well. Yet, it takes an outsider to rightfully rile emotions up again. Grace, Rosina, and Erin create a safe space for girls to voice dissent and eventually support each other. Turns out, there were many girls who not only believed Lucy but were victims, too. Being afraid no one will listen to your cry for help is more terrifying than pretending everything is okay.

Girls from numerous backgrounds are able to voice differing opinions. Not everyone agrees on what a women is or how they should behave. Discussions about sex, sexuality, expectations, race, and an amalgamation of identities/beliefs are acknowledged. This is done in a thoughtful manner and really delves deeper into intersectionality rather than present a shallow representation. Yet, one thing everyone agrees on is that Lucy was raped. She wasn’t asking for it and she couldn’t give consent. No one was doing her a favor by bestowing a pity fuck. Rape is rape.

Another aspect of the book that surprised me was no one except the rapists were vilified. People have their own struggles and corresponding defense mechanisms. Also, it points out that guys who see rape but don’t stop or report it as culpable. You might not be the one committing a crime, but you’re still hurting someone by your actions.

I can’t begin to recommend this book enough with its dynamic characterization. Even the rapists were outside of your typical narratives with blog posts that seem so authentic I feel I’ve read a couple online. I was totally invested in these girls’ lives rooting for them. This book gives hope.


☟Give this book a read and let me know what you think down in the comments!

The Merits of Judging a Book by Its Cover

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As a disclaimer, there have been numerous books that have impressed me with their content despite an unattractive cover. However, it wouldn’t be fair to discredit the work of artists who design covers as inconsequential to the final product of the book. Writing is a collaborative effort being that the publishing industry relies on factors alongside the story alone to be market success. Similar to other mediums of artmaking, such as movies, it is rarely done by a single person.

That’s why I get upset when an amazing book has an incompetent representation of what’s inside. Graphic designers are tasked with creating a visual accompaniment for the story. That could take on the form of illustrating a character, introducing the tone, or generating intrigue. Covers are often entry points to decide whether you want to invest your time. Since descriptions have to be vague, a compelling cover is the deciding element to help convince me. There are even moments when I value a book higher due to a beautiful cover rather than from what I’ve read. I saw potential suggested from the font, layout, and imagery. It can be disappointing when I open a book only to be let down by lack luster dialogue and an incoherent plot.

ARE THERE BAD COVERS?
There are technical aspects to any medium that sets a benchmark of skills or talents. Yet, that applies to a certain extent when it comes to visual communication. “Bad” designs derive from miscommunication. To avoid that, any thoughtful designer would first read the material to better understand the appropriate design. Another consideration that influences the final cover is identifying the audience. What type of genre is it? Is there an already established language that permeates?

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For example, I find erotic adult romance covers to be utterly unappealing but that says more about me than it does the design. A truncated beefy man putting his abs on display with a variation of props (ie cowboy hat, unbuttoned suit, kilt) is the very definition of pandering. But that’s not necessarily a poor decision. It is attractive to those craving porn and communicates what to expect.

The last thing you want to do is mislead a reader only to receive a justified negative review. The goal isn’t to reach out to every potential reader. Instead, it’s to call out to those who have an interest in what you’re writing. At the end of the day, someone is making art (commercial in this sense). It’s okay to dissect the imagery and critique it apart from its functionality. Concurrently, there are times when we have to admit that a cover isn’t made for us specifically.

 

My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma // Book Review

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So, I have to say that this isn’t my first foray into a contemporary YA with a Bollywood twist. Let’s just say it didn’t end well and I still consider When Dimple Met Rashi unbelievably cringy. Maybe if you want to advocate for women’s rights, don’t put down other women’s decisions as if you were the official authority of ‘strong female-dom’.

But enough of that because I want to sing praises to My So-Called Bollywood Life. This was a fun story about destiny and soulmates with an insightful message. Winnie has been living her life with the assumption that she’s set up for success. She’s already found her soulmate and getting into NYU is a guarantee as co-captain of her film club. Yet, when her boyfriend Raj cheats on her and a new club faculty advisor threatens to make her resume less impressive, her future is in jepardy.

While the ending is predicitable, it doesn’t diminish the book’s commentary about free will. Knowing that your life has a purpose comforts some if all it takes is following the devine plan. Or it can piss others off that no matter what they do, it won’t change the outcome. I think that Winnie’s journey strikes a delicate balance that shows anything is possible as long as you will it.

On a side not, I totally appreciate Winnie as a character because when you proclaim something is your passion, I want you to convince me. For Winnie it is, of course, Bollywood films. This is not a means of gatekeeping as I believe that anyone is allowed to like whatever they want to any extent. However, if your character likes film, is it wrong of me to expect them to know technical terms or a myraid of titles outside of superfical name dropping. I want to understand why it’s significant to their individuality. In romance, that can be forgotten in favor of petty fights with exes or the ‘overwhelming sexual tension’.

The only gripe I have with this book is that it may have restricted itself too ridgedly to the YA canon. There’s a jelous girlfriend whose role is overblown to hyperbolic status in order to justify all the hate coming her way. We don’t really see what her relationship was like to get a greater sense of the why behind her actions. Other than that, it’s a solid summer read.

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I love the graphic illustration bringing motion to the cover. I’m assuming this is Winnie and it accurately represents the tone + character. It was a good to put a stroke to the letters and a light drop shadow to distinguish the title. While the color palette is energetic, it also too closely reminds me of comic books which doesn’t really tie in with the story. I just wish that the background was patterned to emphasize the excess of Bollywood vibes.

Sheets by Brenna Thummler // ARC Review

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Let me preface and say that the art was astounding. I love the line work that’s unsteady but demonstrates the presence of the hand. Even the choice of a deep purple to outline and shadow. It worked well with the overall color palette and enhances the feeling of nostalgia. There’s a scene in the book that illustrates Wendell’s past that uses ink prints and lithograph. I honestly think it’s creative to incorporate other forms of art making into this medium of storytelling.

This was a sweet story about growing up with the loss of a loved one. The debate of whether you should live with your ghosts or let them go is a prevalent conflict that not only Marjorie handles but her grieving father, too. It reminds us that a person means different things to others. In the light of a sudden death, sometimes it becomes a competition of who is hurting more when in truth, this is a time to reconcile. While the story doesn’t ever reach such gravity, it translates well for a younger audience. There’s a comical villain to rally against and mean girls who unjustly bullies the protagonist who’s mother just died. Oh, do you remember that one time you accidentally bumped into that popular guy? Well, he always had a crush on you even though you never spoke a word to him. It ends pretty much how you would expect it. Can I say deus ex machina?

I personally think that if the ending wasn’t so storybook, it would be more helpful in the long run. I mean, that’s kind of the point, life happens and it’s not always going to be in your favor but you have to make a decision to live it.

This fair review of an advance reader’s copy was thanks to NetGalley.

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*This comic has some of the strongest spreads that really make the world building fantastic. I recommend picking this up for the artwork alone.