Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Again, But Better – Christine Riccio

“I needed to know there was at least one other 20+ person out there feeling as alone and lost as I was at the time and couldn’t find one. This is for all the teens, young adults, who feel like they’ve been left behind” – Christine Riccio.

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Blurb: “Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal—but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change—there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!”

I’ve followed Christine’s booktube and her her writing series ever since it began. I knew the moment it came out I would want to read it and, when that day arrived, I didn’t hesitate. As with all my reading lately, I picked up the audiobook and the narrator, Brittany Pressley was just incredible at doing voices to distinguish the characters and it really felt like I was listening to the story play out and that she really cared about what she was narrating.

Shane is a very relatable character: she’s a bundle of nerves, loves reading any YA books she can get her hands on, and also feels like she wasted most of her college experience because she was too afraid to leave her room. She sees this study abroad period to London as an opportunity to right everything that she’s been doing wrong; a chance to become someone new. I saw a lot of myself in Shane and I feel that if I’d have this book when I was 20 that it would have encouraged me out of my shell a bit more. I was right there with Shane through every awkward encounter. It really helps that she has a group of new friends around her to bounce around interactions with and show that growth she has throughout the book. However, as the romantic element of the story kicks in, those side characters I grew to love, such as Babe, were sidelined and ended up falling a bit flat.

Again, But Better tackles the idea of “what would you do differently if you could do everything again… but better?” It’s something I think everyone’s experienced at some point in their life and it was interesting to see that explored over the course of this book and I thought it was a really nice redirect in the story.

I had a few niggles which are as follows: Shane is basically Christine self-inserted into her own novel. I’ve trying to work out whether this comes from me knowing Christine from her videos as a lot of Shane’s personality and preferences are shared with Christine, though I feel like this would not be as obvious to someone who doesn’t know her prior to reading the book. There’s a lot of pop culture references used to frame the timeline which I don’t mind in contemporary (I like the little nods here and there) but there were so many that I reached a point where I actually wanted them to stop. A lot of them as well were incredibly niche book mentions that readers in 5 years time probably won’t know. One part of this that particularly grated was when Shane uses the abbreviation for The Fault In Our Stars, TFIOS, but when asked what it stands for by another character she doesn’t elaborate any further than “only the best book ever.”

In addition, there is fact that Shane’s love interest, Pilot, has a girlfriend but this doesn’t stop her trying to pursue him, and this isn’t really called out by anyone, let alone herself until the Pilot’s girlfriend actually comes to visit. This is something I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really hate but honestly, maybe it was the narrator doing such an amazing job, it didn’t really ruin my reading experience like I thought it might do.

The conclusion feels kind of rushed, almost like an afterthought to the main bulk of the story. But overall, I enjoyed Again But Better a lot more than I thought I would.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

“I am Mackenzie Bishop. I am a keeper for the archive and I am the one who goes bump in the night, not the one who slips. I am the girl of steel, and this is all a bad dream.”

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Blurb: “Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.”

The sequel to The Archived sees Mackenzie Bishop is experiencing PTSD from the events in the previous book. She starts blacking out for significant periods of time and has to balance the job of being a keeper alongside going to school.

The same time flashes continue in this book, giving the reader further insight into Mackenzie’s relationship with her grandfather which keeps him present and reinforces the ideals he taught the protagonist. Wesley continues to be prominent and provides that outlet for Mackenzie to open herself up to and support her with the growing demands of being a keeper.

As always with Schwab’s books, there’s a big mystery and dangerous things to deal with which keeps the reader on their toes. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve worked out the big reveal, I’m surprised by the end result and that’s the magic that keeps my love for this author’s work alive.

The Unbound doesn’t shy away from the mental strain Mackenzie is going through. Alongside the trauma, she is trying to live a normal life. The pressure and tension build as she is nowhere near a door to the narrows while at school, and given the amount of time she spends there, the names on her list keep growing faster than she can take them out. It feels as if everything is building to the point of explosion and Schwab carries this through expertly.

While this book has many threads that I love about Schwab’s stories but compared to its predecessor, it falls a little flat. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the world opens up but only follows Mackenzie. With no other perspectives to veer off to, it feels like the space is too big for the story its trying to tell.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Archived – Victoria Schwab

“This summer when I tell you I can’t see anything, you just shrug and light another cigarette, and go back to telling stories. Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will never forget. I never do.”

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Blurb: “Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.”

Note: I read the two-in-one The Dark Vault edition of this book, but for the sake of keeping these posts relatively short, I will be reviewing the books separately rather than the collection as a whole.

I have come to love Victoria Schwab and her books in a great many ways. Every single book she releases feels like something that has never been seen before and it’s always executed in such a way that only she could do by putting pen to paper. The Archived – republished in a collection- is one of her earlier books that sadly led to a painful situation for Schwab. However, given her ever growing success it appears all her seemingly “lost” books are getting a second chance. Which is great for people like me who will happily bite off the hand of anyone who offers new stories from this author.

Victoria Schwab’s stories always have a darkness to them. Naturally the kind that is in your face, but also the more decrete kind where something… just something… feels a little bit off, and it’s equal parts awe inspiring and terrifying. Her world building is exquisite and readers are introduced to three “worlds” within this universe: the “outer” which is the regular world, the “archive” where the Histories are stored, and the “narrows”, the place where the Histories – bodies returning to the dead- manage to escape to; it’s basically a bridge between the outer and the narrows.

Mackenzie is a character that very much has a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’s reeling from the death of her brother and is struggling to deal with the influx of Histories she has to return to the archived as it’s the secret job she took on after the passing of her grandfather. She’s self-assured, bad ass, snarky, everything you really want in a female protagonist but also she has that emotional depth that really rounds her out. When she meets Wesley, another with access to her secret world, the reader sees her enter a new dynamic where she has to consider letting her guard down for the firs time in a long while. I loved seeing their bond build and how Wesley was very much there to support Mackenzie rather than take the spotlight away from her, or imply she wasn’t up to the work they were doing.

There’s an element of mystery and investigation woven through this story which keeps it exciting at every single turn. The narrative flicks between the present and the past which showcases the relationship between Mackenzie and her grandfather. Also, the balance between time spent in each world is perfect and prevents any lulls from happening. I was hooked the whole way through.

The Archived is part of a long list of books from Victoria Schwab that are utterly incredible and I will never ever tire of her work.

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Posted in contemporary, review

Meat Market – Juno Dawson

“I am body. I am flesh, I am meat.”

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Blurb: “Jana Novak’s history sounds like a classic model cliché: tall and gangly, she’s uncomfortable with her androgynous looks until she’s unexpectedly scouted and catapulted to superstardom. But the fashion industry is as grimy as it is glamorous. And there are unexpected predators at every turn.”

Trigger warnings: disordered eating, drug addiction, sexual assault, victim blaming, body shaming, transphobia.

Following the success of her previous book, Clean, Juno Dawson is back and it feels like she has found her writing niche. Clean was applauded for being raw and brutally honest and her new release, Meat Market, is no different.

The fashion industry is depicted as cruel and abusive with overworked models on juice cleanses, taking drugs to stay awake or sleep, waiting hours in casting corridors, and sexual misconduct. The themes are incredibly heavy especially on the sexual assault side. So please exercise caution if you decide to give it a read.

Jana is scouted to a model for Prestige and quickly becomes the flavour of the month. She goes from being bullied for her skinny frame to doing ad campaigns. Her arc over the course of Meat Market is exquisite. She starts off quite unique and takes everything at face value from those that claim to care about her and ends up down some dark paths as a result, even when she acknowledges they may not be the right ones to take. Eventually she begins to understand her worth and the power she actually does, which gives her the foundation to fight back and stand up for herself.

In a very odd way, I tend to enjoy contemporaries a lot more when they’re not centered in our reality too much. I like where there are comparisions you can make but the story stands up almost within it’s own bubble. The sexual assault scandal in Meat Market reminded me a lot of the #metoo movement and left me just as sick to my stomach.

As with all my books lately, this was another audiobook listen. The narrator, Avita Jay, did my favourite thing of using different voices for the characters. It added so much to the personalities of the surrounding characters.

Meat Market is an brilliant feat from Juno Dawson and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman

“I need something to live for, Allah, because right now the only thing keeping me here is you. And I’m starting to feel like that’s not enough.”

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Blurb: “16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.”

[AD-Gifted]

Trigger warnings: grief, suicide attempt and talks of suicide, ableism, sexual abuse, self harm, intrusive thoughts.

Yasmin Rahman was one of the many contributors to the YA BAME anthology A Change Is Gonna Come, and now she’s back with her debut novel.

All The Things We Never Said follows three girls: Mehreen (a muslim girl with depression and anxiety), Olivia (a victim of sexual abuse), and Cara (a wheelchair user as a result of a car accident). I loved the variety of the protagonists because it kept all of their story lines interesting and none of them felt the same. Yasmin Rahman said that it was important for her to include a Muslim character who is proud of her religion. She certainly succeeds: Mehreen’s religion is one of the many parts of her character rather than solely who she is and, in addition, religion is a form of solace for her; a way to try and process what she’s feeling. It was also nice to see Cara and Olivia actively trying to learn more about Mehreen’s belief system when they didn’t know much about it.

The website, MementoMori, which forms the basis of the story, reminds me a lot of They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera in which a website is used to bring people together at a difficult point in their lives. I love stories that are about bringing people together who would never have met if it wasn’t for them being brought together by one thing. When the plot intensifies over the course of the story, I got Pretty Little Liar vibes. There’s just so many elements and all of them were brilliantly carried out.

As noted from the trigger warnings, this book is incredibly heavy in its subject matter. For example, Cara has lots of negative thoughts around now being a wheelchair user that are quite upsetting to read, intrusive thoughts are a repetitive narrative. Despite really enjoying this book, I did have to take breaks because of some of the topics covered.  If you plan on reading, please exercise self care if you feel that you might be triggered from some of the events in this book.

I loved the early scenes of the trio together where they are just getting to know each other and understanding each other’s lives. Mehreen talks a lot about her anxiety as “chaos” and this was something I could really relate to. I just admired the way these girls were, despite the circumstances, able to find someone they could open up to.

The only thing that I found jarring was the fact that Mehreen and Cara’s perspectives are prose but Olivia’s is poetry. I appreciate the angle Yasmin was going for but I find that it often took me out of the story a little bit.

All The Things We Never Said is a fantastic debut and I can’t wait to see what Yasmin Rahman comes up with next.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance

The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

“I can no longer deny the fact that my life has taken a turn for the worst.”

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Blurb: “Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…”

I decided to pick this up after hearing that Carrie Hope Fletcher was one of the narrators, alongside Kwaku Fortune.

Tiffy is the typical eccentric, bubbly woman readers can often find in the pages of a romance novel, and Leon is a grumpy night worker who just needs that little bit of magic in his life. The narrators do a brilliant job of bringing these aspects to life and there’s just something wonderfully addictive about these characters. They balance each other perfectly and as their relationship develops it’s impossible not to be rooting for them to end up together.

An interesting narrative choice is that the duo spend the majority of the book existing outside of their connection to each other: Leon is struggling with his brother being sent down for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tiffany is starting to process the emotionally abusive relationship she’s just left. But when the pair start exchanging post-it notes, those typical early-relationship feelings start the flourish and I shared their excitement every time they found a note stuck to a cupboard door or attached to a tray of baked goods.

A small audio decision I loved in the audiobook was the audio shift when phone conversations took place. It was such a minimal detail but just made the experience even more immersive.

I adored every single aspect of this book. It filled my heart with so much warmth and joy. I will hold it in my heart for a long time.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

The Paper & Hearts Society – Lucy Powrie

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book lover is in want of a good book will always find one in a library.”

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Blurb: “Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in. She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people. Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body.”

Trigger warning: panic attacks

Lucy Powrie is a booktuber who talks about YA and classic literature. I’ve always found her so eloquent in the way she expresses her love of books and her dedication to the Twitter chat #UKYA, which she created, has been a joy to witness. NOw, at nineteen years old, she’s published her first book.

It’s almost stereotypical to say, but a book club is an experience I wish I’d had growing up. I didn’t have many friends who read for pleasure, let alone ones that were willing to talk for hours on end about characters. As the tagline says, “find your people”, and Tabby does just that. She stumbles across a book club at her new school called The Paper & Hearts Society and feels like she is validated for her love of various books, even if they are different to her peers. An aspect I really loved about this story was that every single person in this group is a different book that they love from Harry Potter, to Game Of Thrones, to the classics and that is accepted and appreciated by the others, even if they don’t like those stories at all.

Social media is explored in some ways I’ve never seen before. When Tabby’s friend requests are accepted by her new friends and she is allowed access to their online platforms, it feels like she has been given permission to see a private side of them; the inner workings of their mind. It’s something that I’d never really thought about. Of course, the negative side of the internet is shown as a big sub plot of the book is the fact that Tabby’s ex-friend, Jess, is bullying her online. It’s suffocating and horrible and shows just how easy it is to attempt to ruin someone’s life from afar under an anonymous name. It causes severe anxiety in Tabby, affects her relationships with her new friends, and causes panic attacks.

Periods get a mention and I loved how there were references to both tampons and pads to show the different tools for tackling mother nature. It’s nice to see this make a more common appearance in YA contemporaries.

The Paper & Hearts Society also has the character Olivia come out as demisexual and explain what it means. It’s a lovely little moment and a chance to educate readers on a type of sexuality they may not be as familiar with.

The real star is the narrator of the audiobook, Imogen Heap, who did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. I’d love to read more books narrated by her.

The only problem I had is that I just didn’t really gel with the story as much as I thought I might and found myself having to restart chapters again because I wasn’t really paying attention, so it took a bit of time to really  But overall, The Paper And Society is a dream for anyone in desperate need of a group of people who love books just as much as they do.

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Posted in poetry, review

Lord Of The Butterflies – Andrea Gibson

“I think I might be trapped
in a miserable person’s body.”

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Blurb:”In Andrea Gibson’s latest collection, they continue their artful and nuanced looks at gender, romance, loss, and family. Each emotion here is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart, while giving the body wings to soar.”

Trigger Warnings: talks of depression, depictions of panic attacks, mentions of blood and school shootings.

Like with all my poets lately, I discovered Andrea Gibson through the YouTube channel Button Poetry. I became absorbed by the way she talked passionately about mental health, gender and politics. Her performances always left me completely stunned when she stepped away from the microphone at the end. So when I heard that she actually has a book, it was an absolute no-brainer.

Unlike the other poets I’m familiar with, Andrea Gibson is a very hard hitting poet. Often at times she doesn’t resort to pretty images to convey the real tragedy of what she’s trying to say. She speaks it with the blunt truth which can sometimes make  her poems incredibly hard to read and listen to; but that in itself is important. We can’t keep turning away from certain situations. What makes Andrea stand out to me is her performances: she has this passion and rage that just can’t escape attention.

Lord of The Butterflies is her latest collection and covers a range of topics from gender, to her sister, to mental health, growing up, and politics. She speaks in such a captivating and eloquent way in every single poem. I found myself having to sit back for a moment and process her words.

My favourites from this book included:

“Orlando” which pays homage to the Pulse LGBT nightclub mass shooting in Florida. It was a harrowing, heartbreaking read but some of the stanzas were so powerful that they had a lasting impact.

“Ode To The Public Panic Attack” depicts the random places a panic attack can happen along with how isolating it can feel due to the ever present stigma around anxiety and panic. This was a poem I could really relate to.

Andrea Gibson continues to be one of my favourite poems and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

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Posted in Historical Fiction, lgbt, review, young adult

The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue – Mackenzi Lee

“We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with lacquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so loved.”

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Blurb: “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men. But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end.”

Trigger warnings: racism, violence, child abuse.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice And Virtue is a book I put off reading for the longest time. While LGBT books are something that I eat up, often I struggle with Victorian reads.

The moment I began reading, I became hooked on the character of Henry “Monty” Montague. He is extravagant and often gets drunk, along with having many romantic moments with his friend, Percy. He reminds me a lot of Magnus Bane from The Mortal Instruments series. His behaviour leads to his father sending him in away for a year to get his act together before returning to be the rightful heir to the family estate. The side charcters are just as strong: Percy is a black man who suffers from epilepsy but doesn’t let his identifiers define him and is determined to live life the best way he can. Felicity, Monty’s sister, wants to go to medical school but the time period and her gender means her life is already set out for her. It doesn’t stop her using the smarts she has to get her brother out of difficult situations. In a lot of ways she reminded me of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. There’s so much diversity but none of it feels like it’s been thrown in just to tick a box.

I expected this book to be a slow read following the trio spending a year exploring Europe, but it went to extremes I was not ready for. They really do end up in the most bizarre situations, many of which sadly I didn’t care for, but it was really the personalities of the characters that kept me powering through this story.

Time plays a big part. Everyone is facing a possible monumental change at the end of the year and none of them are quite ready to accept them just yet. There’s that real feeling of making memories, making every moment matter, for who knows when the next will come.

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Posted in lgbt, review, young adult

They Both Die At The End – Adam Silvera

“No matter what choices we make – solo or together – our finish line remains the same… no matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end.”

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Blurb: “On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.”

Adam Silvera has become an author that I decided to avoid. For me, his books had amazing concepts but never seemed to follow entirely through with them. So I accepted the fact that, while many readers adore his stories, they just weren’t for me. However, as I scrolled through my audiobook app looking for my next listen, They Both Die At The End came up and I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Reader, this was the first book from Adam Silvera that I really liked.

One thing that I’ll give credit to Adam Silvera for, is how he’ll introduce something new to society and make it completely normal. In this world where people find out they’re dying from a phone call, TV shows are incorporating it, there are “once in a life experiences” for quite a lot of money to those who have received their call, and of course there’s the app.

The app was a really lovely touch as it provided an outlet for people on their End Day to reach out and find someone nearby if reasons prevent them from being with their family and friends, or if they just didn’t want them to know. Certain experiences can feel completely isolating and both protagonists, Rufus and Mateo, talk about this in their respective narratives along with that pressure to find the best person to spend their final hours with. If it wasn’t for their death call, Rufus and Mateo would probably have never met and the weight of that just adds to the story even more.

Rufus and Mateo were both strong narratives but I really liked how they were different. Rufus seemed almost kind of “screw the world” and just wanted to eat at his favourite food place, whereas Mateo was just drowning over the course of the book. Mateo’s dad is in a coma, and Mateo just wanted to hide away in his room in the hopes that if he did he could somehow bypass his own death. I found myself caring so deeply for both of the characters and I think this is a lot to do with the narrators who did a fantastic job of bleeding personality into them.

The story lulled in a few places but if you expect this to be a “bucket list” type story then you’re mistaken. It’s a very quiet story about a gay boy and a bisexual boy just spending their last day together. What helped pick it back up was the extension of brief narratives emphasizing that this issue doesn’t just affect the protagonists. One heartbreaking subplot was a woman who broke off her engagement with her husband who worked at the center that dishes out the phone calls. When she receives a call the next day, she thinks her ex has set his coworker up to it as revenge, yet little does she know…

If you pick up a book literally called They Both Die At The End and think you’re going to leave the experience with a smile on your face, then I can redirect you to many books that will do just that. Death if final and talked about a lot in this book. After all, it’s the one thing none of us can escape.

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