2 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Grace and Fury: a YA novel that says nothing new

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Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury #1

author : tracy banghart

pages : [hardcover] 320

summary :

In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir’s eye, it’s Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

review :

I think the problem with Grace and Fury is it might have been an innovative YA novel if published a decade earlier. Coming out in 2018, this really didn’t say or do anything that hadn’t already been handled in more interesting ways in other books.

The idea of women existing in a totally oppressive society isn’t unique. In Grace and Fury, women really can’t do anything except sit there, wait to enter an arranged marriage, have children, and possibly work in a factory all their lives. They can’t go to school, can’t go anywhere alone, can’t make decisions for themselves. I think I’m tired with these stories now because it feels so formulaic. Women are incredibly mistreated; main character disagrees with how society works and is going to set out to somehow change that.

I’m tired of reading stories like this because yes, women are still fighting for equality in reality. But these stories don’t really make any commentary on life as it currently exists; they don’t reflect current issues and present situations that will feel familiar to readers, then show how the main characters persevere beneath those circumstances as a way to show how the world might take those ideas and better itself by using them, too.

So these stories just end up being really depressing and repetitive.

I want stories where women can want more than equality, where the plot can focus on something different because in the book’s society all people are already treated equal. I just don’t understand why so many fantasy stories seem to feel the need to go backward without using that as a way to comment on the present. Maybe it’s time to look ahead.

Grace and Fury also attempted to include a few plot twists, but . . . they were the exact twists I’ve seen in other YA books, so I was almost hoping they wouldn’t happen as that would have made this book somewhat different.

I won’t be recommending this book, and also won’t be reading the sequel.

2/5 stars

fiction · graphic novel · young adult

Camp Spirit: a spooookily good graphic novel

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Camp Spirit

author : axelle lenoir

pages : [paperback] 204

summary :

Summer camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden… But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

Summer 1994: with just two months left before college, Elodie is forced by her mother to take a job as a camp counselor. She doesn’t know the first thing about nature, or sports, of kids for that matter, and isn’t especially interested in learning… but now she’s responsible for a foul-mouthed horde of red-headed girls who just might win her over, whether she likes it or not. Just as Elodie starts getting used to her new environment, though — and close to one of the other counselors — a dark mystery lurking around the camp begins to haunt her dreams.

review :

I started reading Camp Spirit because I’m eager to read more diverse graphic novels and was able to access this via my local library through the Hoopla app. This book is set in the year I was born, so I was interested to see what the setting would be like–especially because I’ve never gone to summer camp. Something I’m thankful about–I think I would have been as against it as our main character Elodie is when she’s forced to work at the camp for the summer. Her last summer before heading off to college.

For most of the book, this seems like a pretty typical coming of age story. Elodie leads a group of unruly campers and makes reluctant friends with the other counselors, particularly a girl who is incredibly annoying and definitely not cute. Sure, things are kind of strange. The school songs are rather ominous. It feels like something is lurking in the words. And there’s that weird camp legend . . .

I loved how the paranormal elements of this book slowly build in the background. For a while, you don’t know what’s just Elodie’s overworking imagination in this new environment, and what’s actually out to get her. I loved that all of the fantastical elements here are so unique, like nothing I’ve ever read before. So I’m eager to get my hands on a sequel!

Camp Spirit is a lot of fun, with great LGBTQ+ representation, a sarcastic main character, and a unique plot. I really recommend it!

4/5 stars

5 stars · Fantasy · series · young adult

The Rise of Kyoshi: an AMAZING original story in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe

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The Rise of Kyoshi

author : f.c. yee

pages : [hardcover] 442

favorite character : kyoshi

memorable quote :

What you do when no one is guiding you determines who you are.

summary :

F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. The first of two novels based on Kyoshi, The Rise of Kyoshi maps her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice who is still feared and admired centuries after she became the Avatar.

review :

The Avatar universe continues to be one of the best things ever created.

When I first heard they were telling Kyoshi’s story in books, I was so excited because Avatar is one of the few franchises I think has done well in the transition between mediums. Usually, when you read an adaptation of something that appeared on film or television, it’s . . . lacking. But the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics are stunning, and I expected this book to be no different. I was right!

The Rise of Kyoshi is everything I could ever want and everything younger me needed. When I think back to the thirteen year old watching the show as it aired on my television–back before I could record anything so I’d need to rush to the screen once the time came–she would have loved this book as much as I do. She might have figured out some important things about herself a little faster. She would have been overjoyed, able to relate to freaking Avatar Kyoshi, aka one of the most badass characters I think has ever existed.

This book is so well-written. I love how it managed to capture the feel of the TV series with funny moments, a great crew built around Kyoshi, and also terribly poignant, heartfelt moments. Not to mention terrible violence and danger. Can’t have the Avatar’s job be too easy.

Kyoshi’s character arc in The Rise of Kyoshi is fascinating and unique in that viewers of the series will already know who she is when she’s older. At the beginning of this book, we see an uncertain teenager who’s actually pretty certain she isn’t the Avatar. I loved seeing her growth in this book and was jazzed when I realized this wasn’t a standalone–we’re getting an entire Kyoshi series! I can’t wait to see what’ll come in book two, which is releasing soon. Watching Kyoshi grow, evolve, make all the mistakes typical in a coming-of-age novel–it’s incredibly refreshing, real, and relatable, which is what Avatar is all about. The Rise of Kyoshi has the same heart as the series, and I can’t recommend it enough. I literally can’t stop thinking about it.

If you’re an Avatar fan, or even if you haven’t watched the show and are just looking for an incredible book to read, pick up The Rise of Kyoshi. You won’t regret it.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Crier’s War: an amazing LGBTQ fantasy

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Crier’s War

Crier’s War #1

author : nina varela

pages : [hardcover] 435

memorable quote :

favorite character : crier

summary :

Impossible love between two girls —one human, one Made.
A love that could birth a revolution.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.

Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.

Set in a richly-imagined fantasy world, Nina Varela’s debut novel is a sweepingly romantic tale of love, loss and revenge, that challenges what it really means to be human.

review :

Crier’s War is a book unlike any other.

My friend was nice enough to give this book to me for my birthday, and had already read and loved it, so I was eager to dive in. Without knowing much about the book, I was immediately immersed in the story and both POV.

Ayla is a human servant, whose family was destroyed by the Automae (basically, near-human robots who’ve taken over society). One day, she’ll have her revenge.

Crier is the daughter of the Automae leader, and one day hopes to lead them on her own.

The two are pulled together in unusual ways that reveal important aspects of their divided society neither knew beforehand.

I loved the dynamic in this book. Because we get perspectives from either side of the conflict–human and Automae–we get an interesting look at the whole world the author has created. Each POV has its own biases and judgements, so I liked being able to compare how Ayla and Crier saw the world, the people around them, each other–and then forming my own opinions of what those things might really be like, and how I would react to them myself.

For me, the book did seem to lean more heavily toward romance than toward the plot, but I didn’t mind that. I love that diverse books are getting the chance to have stories like this told. It did make some of the decisions made by the main characters seem a little off, like maybe things were moving a little too fast for some of the decisions they were making, but I also think the timeline during this book was a lot longer than it’d initially seemed. This actually gives the characters a chance to grow together . . . or maybe apart.

I love how Crier’s War managed to have some unpredictable moments that kept me on the edge of my seat, including the ending that has me eager for the sequel. I’m not sure what will happen, but I really can’t wait! Go read Crier’s War and then come discuss the book with me!

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · graphic novel · young adult

Check, Please! Volume 2: my favorite graphic novel, ever

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Sticks & Scones

Check, Please! Volume 2
Volume 1

author : ngozi ukazu

pages : [paperback] 336

favorite character : bitty

summary :

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

review :

Check, Please! is something that makes me so happy that when I think about it I literally want to cry happy tears. This webcomic turned graphic novel heals my heart. It’s fun, funny, and incredibly endearing. The cast of characters is diverse, and even readers who know absolutely nothing about hockey (or sports in general) will love and cheer on these boys to victory. This second volume (which I realized upon opening would be the LAST) is an incredible conclusion.

Like volume one, Sticks & Scones follows Eric ‘Bitty’ Bittle’s college years. Volume one is freshman and sophomore years; volume two is junior and senior. It’s amazing how much Bitty has developed as a character between page one and the final chapters. I loved him from the start, but I was so proud of how far he’s come! With his confidence, his skills–on the ice, and in the oven. Check Please is constantly handling important, big issues, in this brightly-colored comic that also had me laughing too much to myself. The characters deal with anxiety, depression, coming out, and so much more. These boys go through so much–and it’s all relatable and well-written.

love that these books take place in college, because so few do. They’re going to help so many high school and college readers; I can see that already. Sometimes the best thing for a person struggling with issues that can feel so isolating is to find themselves in a story. Check, Please! shows how happiness can be found at the end of any seemingly impossible fight.

My heart is still glowing from this book. I can’t wait to read it over and over and over again. The artwork is stunning. The characters are real, flawed, and fantastic. The storyline is great, such a nice mix of humor and serious plot–I love all of the sideplots that appear throughout the story. I’d read absolutely anything by this author, because Check, Please is one of my favorite series of all time.

5/5 stars

 

 

Fantasy · series · young adult

The Language of Thorns: a book where the words and illustrations are equally beautiful

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Grishaverse

author : leigh bardugo

pages : [hardcover] 281

memorable quote :

We were not made to please princes.

summary :

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

review :

This book is beautiful. The words, the illustrations, the cover. Every piece of it is pure art. I could sit here and stare at it all day, and be content.

The Language of Thorns is a collection of short stories. I was surprised to find that most of them are fairytale retellings–guys, gals, non-binary pals, those are my very favorite type of thing to read. I love how those stories always feel familiar, yet tell you so much about the writer in the way they change the words, characters, and tales to become their own creations. It’s fascinating in a unique way.

This book is entirely unique. It’s rare that I come across a collection where I enjoy each of the stories inside. Yes, I had my favorites here, but I liked reading through every story, trying to pick apart what tale inspired each one and predict what was going to happen. A lot of these are surprisingly unpredictable, and I loved the little reveals that came in the text.

In my opinion, this is a collection best savored. I read one story each day, so I had time to sit with it and really sink into the words. Just because short story collections can be devoured quickly often doesn’t mean they should; something beautiful might be lost in the rush. And with this book, you’ll want time to look over the illustrations as well, literally framing the pages. BEAUTIFULLY. It’s all so beautiful. I’m never going to be over it.

The Language of Thorns is also perfect because if you haven’t read anything by Leigh Bardugo yet, you can dive right into this to get a taste for her writing style. These stories are related to the world she’s created, but you in no way need to read any of those other books before turning to this one. And loving it. And then deciding to pick up her other novels, because of course that’s the only reasonable decision to make.

Although I guess there aren’t many YA readers left who don’t know Leigh Bardugo’s writing.

This collection of short stories gets 5/5 stars from me; it’s one I’ll reread over and over again, but I might save it next to curl up with on a chilly autumn evening.

5/5 stars

 

science fiction · series · young adult

Sword in the Stars: an amazing conclusion to this King Arthur in space duology

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Sword in the Stars

Once and Future #2

authors : amy rose capetta & cori mccarthy

favorite character : merlin

summary :

In this epic sequel to Once & Future, to save the future, Ari and her Rainbow knights pull off a heist… thousands of years in the past.

Ari Helix may have won her battle against the tyrannical Mercer corporation, but the larger war has just begun. Ari and her cursed wizard Merlin must travel back in time to the unenlightened Middle Ages and steal the King Arthur’s Grail—the very definition of impossible.

It’s imperative that the time travelers not skew the timeline and alter the course of history. Coming face-to-face with the original Arthurian legend could produce a ripple effect that changes everything. Somehow Merlin forgot that the past can be even more dangerous than the future…

review :

Wow wow wow wow wow.

I’ve never read a book like Once and Future, I’ve never read a conclusion like Sword in the Stars. This duology is so good, and so important for spreading diversity in a genre that unfortunately doesn’t see much of it. There’s so much representation in these books, so much love, power, and determination sprinkled on every page. It makes me wish there was more for me to read, more books to anticipate, but, honestly, Sword in the Stars is the perfect end to this epic journey across space and time to save the universe.

Ari and her friends, including backwards-aging Merlin, all return in this sequel with the intent to stop Mercer once and for all–the power-hungry company ruling the known universe (I personally picture them as Amazon but with spaceships). They need to go back to the past if they have any hope at saving the future.

I was honestly worried when I saw time travel would be involved in a duology where in Once and Future each character, no matter their identity, is allowed to live fully out and proud without any fear (well, being afraid of Mercer, but Mercer wants to kill them for various reasons, none of which involve how the characters identify). Refreshing! Obviously untrue in the past (and … present). I did really like how their time in the past was handled, though; no truth was brushed over, but a lot of hope was given in the past as well.

I do wish Sword in the Stars had dug a little farther into its characters. There’s an amazing cast here, filled with people who genuinely care for one another and the universe even if they each have their own spectacular flaws. At times, something would happen that wouldn’t just be shocking, but devastating, and only a line or two would be spared for the characters’ feelings before . . . it would never be mentioned again. I’m an emotional person, and often feel better connected when reading if I have a good understanding of where the main characters are emotionally. None of that was ever really touched on. The plot was excellent; I liked the different beats the story hit, but at times it felt like emotional arcs were sacrificed in order to tie up plot points.

That being said, for someone sitting on the fringes of sci-fi and only just beginning to get into the genre, I loved the world and story built here. The plot was complex and a little convoluted, but not difficult to follow. I loved the journey the characters take, and the conclusion more than satisfied me (okay, yes, I shed a few tears at the end. SUE ME. That was an emotional beat that hit!). I can’t wait to read more from these authors. I also can’t wait to see the diverse stories that are published in the future (our future, not a Mercer hundreds-of-years-from-now future) because YA readers were inspired by books like Once and Future and Sword in the Stars.

4/5 stras

3 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Conceal, Don’t Feel: I should have let this one go

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Conceal, Don’t Feel

Disney Twisted Tales #7

author : jen calonita

pages : [hardcover] 312

favorite character : elsa

summary :

What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?
When a magical accident erases Anna and Elsa’s memories not only of magic, but of each other the sisters are separated for protection. But when Elsa unexpectedly finds herself as a young queen mysterious magic begins to happen and questions of her past start to form. Will the sisters ever be reunited?

review :

Do you want to build a–

Alright, alright, I’ll try to contain myself and not just turn this review into a gigantic sing-a-long. I’m sure we are all familiar with Disney’s Frozen. I’ll just have to let it go.

Disney has this interesting series of Disney Twisted Tales which I don’t think enough people are speaking about. They’re basically written retellings of Disney movies in what-if scenarios. In Conceal, Don’t Feel the what-if is obvious from the very beginning: What if Elsa and Anna grew up separately? What if they didn’t know they were sisters?

Because one of the most important themes in Frozen revolves around familial love and mending a sisterly relationship, I was incredibly curious to see how this new situation would be handled. The book has all the same components that appear in the movie, but they fall into place in different ways. Anna grows up on the outskirts of Arendelle where she encounters a certain ice harvester. Elsa grows up alone and afraid of her growing powers in the palace, meeting a certain ambitious prince with plans of his own. There’s magic at play, lives are at stake, and the kingdom is on the verge of collapse.

I really liked how magic was much more prominent in this novel than it is in the movie (the first one, we know the entire sequel remedies a lot of this). Although the whole troll magic system still isn’t really explained, it plays a huge role in Conceal, Don’t Feel. Honestly, I don’t really like the trolls, but I loved how this book gave them a more pressing need for existing within the context of the story.

That being said, I didn’t really enjoy this journey. Because magic existed at the forefront of this retelling, sometimes the plot suffered from that. There were so many events that happened only because one main character or another had a feeling they needed to be somewhere–basically the magic was leading all of them around. I wanted the characters to have more agency! Where is feisty, funny Anna? Where is regal, commanding Elsa? They seemed to pale in comparison to the forces moving them around, which was a real disappointment.

The writing fell flat for me as well. This book is on the bridge between middle grade and YA and it definitely felt like the writing style suffered from trying to appeal to both audiences. Dialogue was stiff. Scenes dragged. And this is a fairly short book. I really wanted to like it, because I had a lot of fun reading another one of the Disney Twisted Tales, the one based on Aladdin. This just didn’t do it for me.

If you’re looking for a quick Disney read, filled with references to one of the most beloved contemporary Disney movies, go for Conceal, Don’t Feel. Just don’t let those expectations get too high.

3/5 stars

 

4 stars · graphic novel · young adult

cute, unique graphic novel: the prince and the dressmaker

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The Prince and the Dressmaker

author : jen wang

pages : [paperback] 277

favorite character : frances

summary :

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

review :

I’ve never read a graphic novel like The Prince and the Dressmaker–stunning, beautiful, and just plain CUTE. Yes, there were moments that really stressed me out, but overall this book is creative, smart, and a joy to read.

Prince Sebastian has a secret: sometimes, he prefers to wear gorgeous dresses and go out as Lady Crystallia, making a reputation for himself among the elite in the fashion world. His dress designer is also his best friend–Frances, who has always dreamed of becoming a well-known fashion designer. But how can she achieve those dreams if the person she’s creating for has to live in secret? Will she have to remain a secret, too?

I liked how there were so many different layers to this book. You fear Sebastian will be caught; you fear he’ll need to hide an important part of himself throughout his entire life. You recognize Frances’ aspirations for her own career; you empathize with her willingness to sacrifice so much for an important friend. Both main characters are struggling with who they are and who they want to become; it’s intriguing to watch them grow and find themselves throughout the course of the novel.

While the plot shines, the illustrations sparkle. I loved the art style for this book, and the dresses created by Frances for Sebastian are truly breathtaking. I want to see real-life versions of them. Someone PLEASE cosplay as Frances and Sebastian at a convention. All of my dreams would then come true.

This is an excellent read for those wanting to read more graphic novels, who want to read more diversely, as well as those who truly may not understand situations and people so far outside of the gender binary. I really do think this graphic novel will spread awareness, and love, getting people who may have always thought one way about gender roles (and how even CLOTHING is gendered!) to ask questions that might bring them around to acceptance. It’s important to teach those who are willing to be taught.

The Prince and the Dressmaker reads like a lighthearted fairytale perfect for any collection. I’d eagerly read more by this author.

4/5 stars

 

 

graphic novel · paranormal · young adult

TAPROOT: a graphic novel that made me cry because it’s so cute, and also scary

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Taproot

author : keezy young

pages : [paperback] 127

favorite character : blue

summary :

Blue is having a hard time moving on. He’s in love with his best friend. He’s also dead. Luckily, Hamal can see ghosts, leaving Blue free to haunt him to his heart’s content. But something eerie is happening in town, leaving the local afterlife unsettled, and when Blue realizes Hamal’s strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means… leaving him.

review :

Feeling the urge to read something incredibly cute and yet nearly guaranteed to give you nightmares or just weird dreams if you read it too late at night? Taproot is here for you.

Blue is a ghost with a best friend who’s alive. Hamal can see ghosts, including his best friend Blue, so people constantly think he’s talking to himself. Blue isn’t ready to move on. Hamal is trying to keep the flowers at his shop from wilting. But then things start getting . . . weird. Creepy weird, scary weird, grim-reaper-might-be-coming-after-us weird. The afterlife is unbalanced, and Blue needs to figure out a way to fix things or else his friend might end up hurt.

This book is so. Cute. I flew through it, so I know this is a graphic novel I’ll reread over and over again. I love the art style–whimsy mixed with realism mixed with the unsettling. I love how much Blue and Hamal care about each other and would do anything to keep each other safe. And, okay, I just really like ghost stories, and Taproot is like nothing else I’ve ever read before.

Of course, things really never go as planned when the living and the dead mix, so I liked how this book was unpredictable. Short, sweet, BITTERSWEET, incredibly satisfying. I just want to read more; I could have sat and happily read a few hundred more pages of this story. It’s not often that you find something like this that makes you feel good while also freaking you out just a little bit. This unique combination is what makes me love and recommend Taproot so much.

5/5 stars