Once Upon a Book Club – February

Once Upon a Book Club – February

Once upon a time, there was a group of women studying publishing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neither of them was originally from the country, but they all had something in common: they had a fondness for romance novels. And so it happened, that when they crossed paths, it did not take long before a book club was formed.

This month’s book club pick: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory.

For February we decided to go a little theme crazy. If you’ve looked closely at the cover of The Proposal you might have noticed the little illustrations of cocktails, cupcakes, and taco’s… Now, with this month being February. (Meaning: Valentines Day.) We went all out and decided a cover recreation was in order for book club day.

The pictures do the talking, but if there’s anything I would want to add: best Valentines day EVER. Not pictured: the DELICIOUS taco’s we made for dinner. (Or the slight scare when we realised we’d left my cat in the room WITH chocolate cupcakes…) (Fury is fine by the way! He, thankfully, didn’t realise the cupcakes were out in the open.)

Once Upon a Book Club – FebruaryThe Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
Published by Berkley Books on October 30th 2018
Genres: Love & Romance
Pages: 327
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When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn't come as a surprise--or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn't the hard part--they've only been dating for five months, and he can't even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans...

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik's rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He's even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik's social media blows up--in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can't be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes...

Be advised that this post might contain spoilers! We discuss various aspects of the book(s) and although we try to avoid spoilers, some aspects cannot be discussed without mentioning parts of what happened in the book.

Justine on the plot

In true feel-good-romance-fashion, Jasmine Guillory delivers the ultimate ‘meet cute’ to launch us into Carlos and Nik’s story. After their swift escape post-jumbotron fiasco, the two remain in touch and quickly develop a connection. Albeit sometimes a tad cheesy, the plot offers a surprisingly accurate portrayal of modern contemporary romance. While Nik and Carlos’ interactions are believable, they are constantly convincing themselves that neither wants a serious relationship. Instead, the two remain in the ambiguous ‘no-label’, ‘grey-area’, ‘friends-with-benefits’, whatever you want to call it, zone. So, naturally they fall in love. The diverse character representation (Black, lesbian, Latino, plus size, Korean, etc.), witty dialogue, and overall themes surrounding love and dating were, in my opinion, very much on point. My only qualm in regards to the plot is that I felt there were several missed opportunities for tying up loose ends (mostly to do with secondary characters). Overall, The Proposal is a low-stress, light-hearted read, that pairs nicely with a pool-side holiday, or that mid-week glass of Pinot Grigio.

Lauren on the characters

The two main characters in The Proposal were both fantastic and very well written! First of all, Nikole is such a badass! She handled the entire situation with Fisher like a pro! I loved that she was so independent and did what she needed to do to protect herself. (Those self defence classes? Yes!) Second of all, Nikole had THE BEST friends. I would love to know more about Courtney and Dana (and Natalie too)! They were all such interesting characters. I would love to see their stories rounded out a more. Lastly, Carlos. (Need I say more?) He was so amazing. Reading about him with his family and friends was wonderful. Plus, I felt like him and Nik really balanced each other out. He was definitely swoon-worthy in my opinion. I mean, who doesn’t love a guy that cooks, is a paediatrician, sweet, and quick witted? Sign me up please!

Iris on the romance

The Proposal is a sweet and funny love story about two people determined not to fall in love (but, of course, ends up doing anyway). I thought the story was enjoyable and its portrayal of romance felt surprisingly accurate and realistic. I loved how it was a friends first and romance later type of relationship (and how supportive Carlos was of Nik!). However, I felt like Nik and Carlos’ chemistry lacked a little something. Sure, they were great together and I was rooting for them, but something kept me from fully connecting with them as a couple. It might have to do with the third person writing, or with the fact that the ending felt rushed, but I wasn’t fully invested. All and all, the romance in The Proposal was very enjoyable, just not the most memorable to me.

Caoimh on her favourite scene

I have been racking my brain to try and come up with my favourite scene in The Proposal. It has been a struggle because there are just SO many to choose from! So, I decided to cheat a little and choose two! *Drumroll please* For Nik and Carlos it has to be their attempt to make enchiladas and the infamous sour cream face mask. From its horrifying application to it cracking and ending up all over the floor, it was just hilarious. Nik and Carlos’ laughter was contagious and I could not stop giggling as the entire situation unfolded. My second favourite scene is one between Nik, Courtney, and Dana. Specifically when they sign up for the boxing class. From them underestimating their own strength (and the strength of their trainer) and ending up loving it and feeling powerful. It was the ultimate girl empowerment stance!

Once Upon a Bookclub – January

Once Upon a Bookclub – January

Once upon a time, there was a group of women studying publishing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neither of them was originally from the country, but they all had something in common: they had a fondness for romance novels. And so it happened, that when they crossed paths, it did not take long before a book club was formed.

One of the perks of studying publishing is that you’re surrounded by avid readers all day, every day! An added bonus is that there are plenty of enthusiasts around when you’re thinking of creating a book club. And so this romance book club was formed. Because this month started off with a three-week break for us, we decided to read not one but three books.

What: One Day in December, The Royal Runaway, and The Hating Game

Who: Lauren, Caoimh, and me (the fourth and final member, Justine, is joining us next month!)

Be advised that this post might contain spoilers! We discuss various aspects of the book(s) and although we try to avoid spoilers, some aspects cannot be discussed without mentioning part of what happened in the book.

One Day in December

Once Upon a Bookclub – JanuaryOne Day in December by Josie Silver
Published by Broadway Books on October 16th 2018
Genres: Love & Romance
Pages: 416
two-stars

Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic... and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Caoimh on the plot

When I read the blurb for One Day in December I instantly thought this was going to be a version of my favourite movie “Love Rosie”. I loved the similarity of plots with the missed chances between the characters to be together that had me screaming at the screen with Alex and Rosie and Laurie and Jack at the beginning. Josie Silver really wove an intricate plot over the ten years the story is told which was detailed and kept you wanting to see where the characters were each year and how they would end up. However, the cheating element of the plot between Laurie and Jack didn’t make me want to invest in their relationship quite the same as I did with Alex and Rosie, which was my only negative with the plot.

Lauren on the characters

There were some good characters and some bad characters in One Day in December. My favourite character, by far, was Laurie’s friend Sarah. She was such a good friend to Lori, and a great girlfriend to Jack, even when things went wrong. I loved where her storyline went: the success she found both professionally and romantically. When she moved to Australia with her husband I cheered! Good for her, for finding happiness after the mess that was her relationship with Jack.

Laurie was fine, but I feel like she pitied herself a lot and should have been a better friend to Sarah. If she had just told her the truth about knowing Jack at the start, SO MANY problems could have been solved. I feel like Laurie made a lot of mistakes (which is realistic), however, a lot of them were unnecessary and avoidable. (First of all, you NEVER kiss your friend’s boyfriend! I don’t care what the circumstances are. It’s not okay).

Finally, Jack. I think Jack is what ruined the book for me. I didn’t understand Laurie’s attraction to him. Sure, physically, but his personality left a lot to be desired. He cheated on Sarah, he whined A LOT, and he was very mean to Laurie at various points. By the end, I didn’t see what Laurie saw in him. This is not what I want out of a love interest in a romance novel. A book about Sarah and her happiness? Now THAT, I would read and enjoy.

Iris on the romance

Unfortunately, I did not ship the romance in One Day in December, AT ALL. I started this book thinking I would end up loving it (blame all the raving reviews…), but I was sorely let down. The romance wasn’t cute or heartwarming. The meet-cute was fun, but everything that followed just felt so wrong that it frustrated me to no end. I think this mainly had to do with the fact that Laurie is in love with her best friend’s boyfriend. I just have a massive problem with the fact that the boy from the bus stop, which they tried to find together, a few years later is introduced as her best friend’s boyfriend and she NEVER TELLS HER BEST FRIEND. The cheating aspect of the book made the romance as unenjoyable as could for me and, as a result, the story just fell flat.

The Royal Runaway

Once Upon a Bookclub – JanuaryThe Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory
Published by Gallery Books on October 9th 2018
Genres: Love & Romance
Pages: 290
four-stars

Princess Theodora Isabella Victoria of Drieden of the Royal House Laurent is so over this princess thing.

After her fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, she’s finally back home after spending four months in exile—aka it’s back to press conferences, public appearances, and putting on a show for the Driedish nation as the perfect princess they expect her to be. But Thea’s sick of duty. After all, that’s what got her into this mess in the first place.

So when she sneaks out of the palace and meets a sexy Scot named Nick in a local bar, she relishes the chance to be a normal woman for a change. But just as she thinks she’s found her Prince Charming for the night, he reveals his intentions are less than honorable: he’s the brother of her former fiancé, a British spy, and he’s not above blackmail. As Thea reluctantly joins forces with Nick to find out what happened the day her fiancé disappeared, together they discover a secret that could destroy a centuries-old monarchy and change life as they know it.

Lauren on the plot

The Royal Runaway had the most outlandish, unbelievable plot, and I loved every moment of it. This book was a new take on the royal romance genre, and it kept me entertained from beginning to end. Even though the book was completely unrealistic, it was still so fun to read. It had enough plot twists to keep me guessing and keep me interested in the story. The story was well paced. The romance developed fairly naturally through the crazy situation the characters were in (without spoilers: it involves a missing fiancé, a possible murder, stolen money, and a stalker to tie it all together).

My only complaint is that the ending was too quick. Most issues were resolved and the romance was tied up nicely on the last page. However, I would have liked a longer epilogue to further see the couple work things out. It felt too abrupt, but that was the only part of the plot that wasn’t perfectly paced. If you’re like me and love completely wild, unrealistic plot lines (in the best way!!) I would definitely recommend this book

Iris on the characters

The Royal Runaway was quite unrealistic and frankly so are its characters, but that’s exactly what makes them so enjoyable! The two main characters, Thea and Nick, could have used a little more depth but were very likable and a lot of fun to read! Although there are some other characters introduced in the book, the story really revolves around Thea and Nick. Thea is clearly struggling, but loves her family and the history of her country somewhat fiercely. Nick is all gruffiness and very very Scottish. Their banter is so much fun to read and their sweet moments are just that: sweet. All that plus some scenes where their chemistry sparks and you have found the beating heart of this fun and wildly bizarre romance/mystery story!

Caoimh on the romance

I am a sucker for any type of romance that has the word royal proceeding it. So I eagerly snapped up The Royal Runaway. The main couple, Thea and Nick, and their budding romance as they tried to uncover the royal secrets ended in all sorts of scandal and tension. I really enjoyed their development as singular characters but also as a pair – they each retained their core qualities without sacrificing anything to be together. Their romance was the perfect mix of swooning and sexy all rolled into one, especially with Nick being a sexy Scot. There’s not a whole lot that can beat that!

The Hating Game

Once Upon a Bookclub – JanuaryThe Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow on August 9th 2016
Genres: Love & Romance
Pages: 384
five-stars

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive-aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Iris on the plot

The Hating Game captured my heart with its hate-to-love slow-burner romance. I literally cannot think of anything that I disliked, because the story is THAT perfect! The story doesn’t sag and the way the romance unfolds over the course of the story gave me ALL THE FEELS. The pace of the story and the way the plot unfolded was believable and constant. I literally could not put this book down. The Hating Game was just so well-written! Definitely my favourite book out of the three titles we read!

Caoimh on the characters

I loved every second and every page of The Hating Game. Most especially I loved the two main characters, Lucy and Josh. Their dynamic was hilarious as their hate for each other jumped off the page in the most hilarious of situations at their publishing company. I loved how Sally Thorne skirted the line between hate and love with Josh and Lucy and how she used that to slowly develop their relationship over the course of the book. I couldn’t put down the book I HAD to see how it ended between them and I was not disappointed. Of all three books, I think Josh and Lucy were my favourite couple to watch come together as they realised there really is a very thin line between love and hate.

Lauren on the romance

The romance in The Hating Game is AMAZING. It’s everything I want out of an enemies-to-lovers romance, and out of an office romance. Joshua was the perfectly imperfect romantic hero and the scene about the colour of his bedroom walls? My heart exploded. He unconsciously (and then consciously) loved her for so long, and was never outright mean to Lucy. Their banter and flirting were perfectly written, and the progress of their relationship was natural and believable. They felt like a real couple, and the obstacles they had to overcome to be together were perfectly resolved. Overall, this book had all of my favourite elements of the romance genre, and it got the publishing world right as well! I would read a dozen more books about Lucy and Josh, just to see more of their banter and undeniable chemistry.

Be sure to check in next month for the next book discussion. February’s book club pick is The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory!

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | Book ReviewFlame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance
Pages: 393
Format: Hardcover
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three-half-stars




The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Flame in the Mist was a very enjoyable read, albeit a bit confusing with a plot that was a bit all over the place. Before I start this review, I first need to get something off my chest… Because, honestly, calling it a Mulan retelling seems a bit of a stretch, as one of the few things the two tales have in common is that both protagonists grab a knife and cut off their hair in order to hide their feminity. This too doesn’t really hold, as the idea of genderbending isn’t really exclusive to Mulan… It has been used before by many other authors, one of the most prominent being Shakespeare in Twelfth Night (which is believed to be written in the early 1600s). That being said… I LOVE GENDERBENDING. I need more genderbending stories, so this book is a step in the right direction!

This review has been waiting to be written for such a long time, but somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to write it. My main problem is that I have such mixed feelings about Flame in the Mist. I enjoyed the story quite a bit and I know I want to read the sequel, but I’m just not blown away by the story and a part of me expected to be blown away by it.

The romance was good… but it wasn’t great. The thing is, though, it was a slow burn romance and I’m usually ALL over that. But I think my annoyance stemmed from the fact that the love interest was simply the only ‘available’ love interest in Flame in the Mist. That, and I didn’t feel like this story necessarily needed a love interest. I think instead of focusing on the romance the story should have focussed more on who tried to kill Mariko. That way the plot would have been a little less all over the place and kept some focus.

Another plot element that I wasn’t sure about was the fantastical part. More than anything, that part confused me. I realize that this can very easily be solved in the sequel, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was ‘just there,’ and none of it is explained. The end of the story was pretty damn awesome, but it felt rushed and as a result, it left me unsatisfied and I really didn’t know what to do with it all.

Flame in the Mist was enjoyable but confusing. The story was really interesting, but the plot was all over the place and it left me unsatisfied as a result. I need that sequel to find out what happens next and to explain the leftover vagueness its predecessor left! I guess what I am trying to say is: Flame in the Mist had some awesome bits and some unsatisfactory bits, but I am not giving up on the story!

 

three-half-stars
The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine | Book Review

The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine | Book Review

The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine | Book ReviewThe Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine
Series: Ravenspire #1
Published by Balzer & Bray on February 16th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance
Pages: 387
Format: Hardcover
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four-stars




Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

If you know me at all, you know that I’m all for fairytale retellings, and The Shadow Queen was all that a fairytale should be! A fantasy story with magic and dragons. You can sign me up for that anytime.

I think what I loved most about The Shadow Queen was that while it was gory and hard at times it also had that classic fairytale feeling to it. Like most fairytales, the story was brutal and choices were made that had to be made. There were plenty of plot twists and turns that I didn’t see coming (and frankly… I’m quite good at figuring out plot twists before they happen).

The protagonist, Lorelei, is calculated and kickass. I like how she’s a planner and has carefully got herself to a point of challenging the antagonist. Together with her brother Leo and Gabriel, who sort of became a father figure to them, they form a great team and have a great dynamic going. Trow a recently crowned king and his entourage into the mix and you got what I deem a recipe for a solid story. Kol is a Draconia, which means he can shapeshift into a dragon (COOL!) and he meets Lorelei early on without knowing who she is which causes plenty of problems for the both of them later on.

Although it is quite obvious early on who is going to end up with whom, I love that there was no instalove to be found. They slowly get to know each other (and themselves) and their relationship slowly blooms into something more. The fact that they’re both trying to save their respective kingdoms give them that something important in common that is the beginning of so much awesomeness.

Even more awesome is the fact that the antagonist isn’t just a villain for the sake of needing a villain in the story. Irina actually has a lot of depth and I enjoyed the chapters from her perspective as they provided an insight behind her motivations. She’s very well-written and a part of me actually felt for her as her past was filled with pain. Her narrative was confusing, but this only added to the whole vibe she had going on.

The Shadow Queen might not be the most impressive fairytale retelling, but it was a VERY enjoyable read and a solid read. In fact, I love how Lorelei and Kol’s story got resolved within this story. It was a fun book, with tons of great fantasy elements and very enjoyable characters! If you, like me, love fairytale retellings I suggest you give this one a go.

four-stars
The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout | Broke my Heart and Mended it in +400 Pages

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout | Broke my Heart and Mended it in +400 Pages

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout | Broke my Heart and Mended it in +400 PagesThe Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 17th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance
Pages: 474
Format: Hardcover
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five-stars




For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.

As anything that Jennifer Armentrout writes is pretty much on my auto-buy list and so The Problem with Forever too found its way to my home. It pretty much inevitable that my Read-Everything-By-Jennifer-Armentrout-Obsession struck again… And boy, what a book! The Problem with Forever definitely won me over (as pretty much every book has done before). It was powerful and moving, and it broke my heart and mended it all within +400 pages.

Mallory was a complex character, sometimes her story was incredibly hard to read, but at the same time she’s relatable and tries so hard that you will root for her every step of the way as she tried to put her past behind her and overcome her fears.  Her character grows SO MUCH throughout the story and has so much depth, it is on of the aspects of the story that made this book shine from beginning to end.

Then there is Rider Stark, who has the whole kinda-bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold going on. Rider and Mallory have so much history together and so much chemistry that all the feels and the sparks just fly right off the pages. He’s artistic and kinda (read: a lot) damaged, which is hardly surprising considering the past they share. Again, so much depth and complexity to his character. I dare you to not fall in love with his character (I’m betting you can’t).

The supporting characters were just as good as the main characters: Mallory’s adoptive parents, Rider’s foster family, Mallory’s best friend! Characters usually make or break for me, and The Problem of Forever is a perfect example of how they can make a book unforgettable. That, and the writing, because, as always, Jennifer Armentrout’s writing was beautiful and on point!

The Problem with Forever is an emotional and inspiring book that will break your heart and mend it again. It’s a beautiful story about what it means to be brave and moving past the difficulties of what is in one’s past. It has wonderfully complex characters with tons of depth that you can’t help but root for along the entire way!

five-stars