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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Posted in children's fiction, review

A Pocketful Of Stars – Aisha Bushby

“I sit back and wait for magic to happen. But this isn’t a fairy tale, and princesses don’t wake up after kisses.”

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Blurb: “Safiya and her mum have never seen eye to eye. Her mum doesn’t understand Safiya’s love of gaming and Safiya doesn’t think they have anything in common. As Safiya struggles to fit in at school she wonders if her mum wishes she was more like her confident best friend Elle. But then her mum falls into a coma and, when Safiya waits by her bedside, she finds herself in a strange alternative world that looks a bit like one of her games.”

[AD – Gifted]

[Note: I am friends with the author but this in no way affects my review of this book]

A Pocketful Of Stars is the debut Children’s fiction book from Aisha Bushby who many will know from her short story in the BAME anthology A Change Is Going To Come. 

Safiya is an avid gamer and addicted to Studio Ghibli films. She’s forced to deal with failing friendships, an inability to stand up for herself, and the fact that her mother is in hospital. When she begins to have strange dreams involving a younger version of her mother in Kuwait, she becomes obsessed with trying to piece everything together in the hopes of her mother waking up.

Children are not exempt from bad things happening to them and having a serious topic, the possibility of grief, at the forefront of a book is something I really can see helping children who find themselves in similar situations. The house in Safiya’s dreams is crumbling and appears to build itself up which every “clue” from her mother’s past that she uncovers. The whole experience is described through the metaphor of a game where the player has to work through the levels by solving the mysteries in order to get to the boss level which is presented as a locked door which her grown up mother is behind. Safiya becomes unable to focus on anything but working out what the next piece is by trawling through her mother’s flat in the hopes of finding something she doesn’t even know she’s looking for. Grief and the possibility of loss is something that leaves people feeling completely helpless, willing to do anything to feel like they can shift the tide and fix things in some way. For Safiya, she feels it’s building up this image of a past life as she begins to see the younger version of her mother outside of dreams. Through this “game” she learns more about her mother’s history and how they are far more alike than she previously thought.

I adore books that have a magical element to them but it’s not entirely clear whether the magic is real or not. It leaves so much to be explored through interpretation and I think it will be exciting to see what other readers take away from the story.

Aisha Bushby has an amazing way of using visuals to illustrate her points. From the video game metaphor, to describing intense emotion as “party poppers in my chest.” It’s a collection of images I would have never thought up on my own but just completely fit every single time.

A Pocketful of Stars is beyond any words I could possibly use to describe it. I wish I could hand out bottles full of the emotions I had upon finishing because words just cannot do this book justice.

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Posted in fantasy, lgbt, review, young adult

The Red Scrolls Of Magic – Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

“It’s a classic love story. I hit on him at a party, he asked me out, then we fought an epic magical battle between good and evil side by side, and now we need a vacation.”

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Blurb: “All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke. Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage.”

There have been many times where I have expressed my distaste for authors who put out endless books, adding aspects to a universe that don’t really need it. But when it comes to Cassandra Clare, quite frankly I’m a hypocrite. When I heard the news that a brand new series following Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood and their disappearance during City Of Fallen Angels I knew I was going to devour it.

As always, there’s enough room to enter the Shadowhunter world without prior knowledge as little kernels are scattered throughout to explain who characters are, but I feel that if you haven’t at least read The Mortal Instruments series that not only are you going to be spoiled for events from it, but you also miss out on that emotional weight of what has happened and how it affects the current timeline.

In the acknowledgements, Cassandra Clare talks about how her books (in particular The Bane Chronicles) have been banned from LGBT themes and how her friends found few books growing up where their sexuality was represented. This led her to make the character of Magnus Bane so unapolegetically open of his relationships with both men and women. Magnus Bane was the first bisexual character I came across in literally, at a time when I wasn’t really open myself, and seeing him embrace himself and the fact he openly talked about his male/female relationships meant so much to me.

The Red Scrolls Of Magic sees Magnus and Alec attempt to take their first romantic vacation together. It feels so relatable in the sense of an early relationship as the duo are new and only just starting to work each other out without scaring the other off. Alec comes from a repressed society where being gay is enough to get a Shadowhunter stripped of their runes, while Magnus is incredibly flamboyant and would quite literally give Alec the entire world if he could figure out exactly how to do that. Of course, this is a Shadowhunter story so things do not go to plan.

One thing I love about Cassandra Clare’s books is that you can never predict where the plot is going to lead. Every time a building exploded or a demon appeared I was freaking out because I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. On top of all of this, there’s the rise of a demon worshipping cult known as The Crimson Hand and all roads seem to leave to Magnus. It’s basically romance, action, and an investigation all wrapped up in one book and it works so well.

The only real issue I had with this book is that it’s cowritten in a way where it’s entirely obvious which author wrote these parts. There’s a lot of sections where the grammar is really sloppy and I’m not sure how that was missed in editing, and the way some things are phrased was really jarring and took me out of the story for a moment.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and I came out the other end having an even bigger love for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood than I ever did before.

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Posted in fantasy, review, Uncategorized

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them – Newt Scamander (J.K.Rowling)

“I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Muggle purchasers that the amusing creatures described hereafter are fictional and cannot hurt you.”

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Blurb: “An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail … Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist.”

I originally read Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them when it initially came out several years ago, back when I would happily devour anything else Potter related that I could get my hands on. I still remember the wonder and excitement this tiny book brought me. Now, in the midst of a movie franchise of the same name, it felt like the right time to revisit it.

I chose to experience this book through the audiobook because Eddie Redmayne (who famously plays Newt Scamander) is the narrator. It was honestly the best decision I could have made. He is familiar with the character and therefore able to add the magic and brilliance that Potter fans will be familiar with seeing on screen. When he talked about the beasts in detail I felt almost like I was in a classroom listening to Newt as the teacher. In addition to this, the audiobook features lots of animal calls and atmospheric sounds that do a fantastic job of immersing the reader in the history of various beasts. I felt closer to the Potter series than I have in a long time.

The book features an updated introduction from Newt Scamander and filters in aspects from the movie and its timeline, making it feel more current than the previous edition. The rest is basically an A-Z of beasts featuring facts about them along with an “egg rating” of danger which I really loved because a 1 egg rating simply meant the creature was “boring.”

It was fascinating to be reminded of just how much exists in the Potter universe that we are familiar with, but also are still yet to see.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

“One song is sometimes all it takes. I’ve got one song.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, I’m sure you’re aware of New York Times Best-Selling Author Angie Thomas. Her debut, The Hate U Give is still thriving and even lead to a successful film adaptation.

Her new book, On The Come Up, is an set within the same town of Garden Height as The Hate U Give and while there are many nods to it, this story is its own entity. The reader is introduced to Bri: a teenage girl who is trying to break onto the rap scene. Given all the expectations already placed on her because of her race, music is the one aspect of her life that Bri feels she can fully control.

Bri focuses a lot on the outside elements that directly led to the people in her life being led down the wrong paths. For example, if a drug dealer hadn’t sold to Bri’s mother, she wouldn’t have become an addict. She’s sick of everything already being decided about who she is and what she should do and it takes a while in the story for Bri to finally come out and say it. The moments when she opens up about being a “race poster girl” and being vulnerable are beautiful parts to see.

Angie Thomas has a truly incredible way of writing characters and every single one of them has so much personality that it’s almost impossible to believe they’re not real people. They all have so much energy  and I think a lot of this comes from the brilliant audiobook narration from Bahni Turpin.

My knowledge of rap lies solely in the musical Hamilton so it was really fun and fascinating to see the rap battles (one of which is my favourite scenes in the book) and to learn how rap songs are constructed, especially when it’s on the fly. A big bonus of the audiobook is that Bahni Turpin actually raps the lyrics which added so much to the experience especially when it came to the rhythm which is something I feel is lost to the readers who opt for the book in a written form.

Angie Thomas has delivered another incredible book and I cannot wait to see what else comes from her brain.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

The 1,000 Year Old Boy – Ross Welford

“Would you like to live forever? I am afraid I cannot recommend it. I am used to it now, and I do understand how special it is. Only I want it to stop now. I want to grow up like you.”

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Blurb: “Alfie Monk is like any other nearly teenage boy – except he’s 1,000 years old and can remember the last Viking invasion of England. Obviously no one believes him. So when everything Alfie knows and loves is destroyed in a fire, and the modern world comes crashing in, Alfie embarks on a mission to find friendship, acceptance, and a different way to live…which means finding a way to make sure he will eventually die.”

The 1,000 Year Old Boy poses the interesting question to the reader of “what would you do if you could live forever but don’t want to any more?” I’ve read so many books over the years that feature immortal characters but never one where the individual really battles with the prospect of giving it up.

The story is told through two perspectives: A 1000 year old boy called Alfie and an 11 year old boy called Adrian. Naturally, Alfie speaks like he’s lived for a thousands years. He’s reserved and mature, speaking with a lilt of sadness. Whereas Adrian is sarcastic and has naivety flowing through his narrative. The use of this format works wonders for the plot as the reader gets an insight into Alfie’s past and how he tackles the modern day, while also getting to see how Alfie looks and acts on the outside through Adrian who doesn’t know him. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Chris Coxon and Luke Johnson, which only added to this distinction.

The side character of Roxy swiftly became my favourite. She is bold, courageous and smart. She reminded me so much of Hermione from the Harry Potter series as she often comes up with plans or points out things missed by Adrian and she was just an absolute joy to read. I imagine if I read this book as a child, she would be the character I’d look up to the most.

The 1,000 Year Old Boy has the regular amount of humour expected from Ross Welford’s work. But it is also littered with sadness as tragic events mean that Alfie has outlived everyone he’s ever known and loved. It’s a heartbreaking read and incredibly understandable that Alfie was trying to find a way to end his mortality by tracking down one of the last life pearls.

This is a tale about facing difficult decisions, learning to do what’s right, and finding friendship in unexpected places.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Girls With Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

“You are perfection personified,” she continues, “and we must ask that you act like it.”

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Blurb:”The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.”

[AD – GIFTED]

Trigger Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, gore.

Innovations Academy requires girls to work towards being the perfect sponsorship investment upon their graduation. Their diets are strict (no additives in their own meals but they must learn how to cook a hearty flavourful meal for a future husband), dating is strictly forbidden, no access to the internet because their future sponsor/husband will give them all the relevant news information they need. They’re not allowed to leave the property except for the very rare trips to the town where their movements are carefully monitored.

The protagonist, Philomena, is coming to the end of her time at the academy but feels her opinions of the teachings she’s been given start to waver after bumping into a boy called Jackson at a gas station. He’s completely different to what she’s been trained to believe boys and men act like and suddenly everything is under a magnifying glass. For the majority of this book, Philomena was difficult for me to get behind because she didn’t have much personality. However, I think this is more the fault of the situation she’s in than her exclusively as a character because once she starts to pick apart what’s really going on she becomes a much more well-rounded character and I was rooting for her by the end.

It’s a very quiet, slow book but when it hits that climax I was unable to process what was happening. The inner workings of this place are something I never saw coming and it was refreshing to read a YA book of this ilk that had something completely different in that big reveal.

There’s some LGBT representation as two of the girls are in a secret lesbian relationship and while this is mentioned briefly, it’s more of a sideline thing to show some girls doing the opposite of what they’re being told and it would have been nice to see this get played out more.

My favourite scene in the book was when the girls get their hands on a women’s magazine and start reading an article about how to work out if you’re good at oral sex or not. It was a little bit of exposure to a world they didn’t know existed and it was so funny.

Girls With Sharp Sticks shows the importance of friendship, the power of literature and taking back what was once taken from you.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Last Bus To Everland – Sophie Cameron

“I think we’re not in the real world any more.”

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Blurb: “Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants. Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.”

[Ad – Gifted]

I adored Sophie Cameron’s debut Out Of The Blue and so when Macmillan sent me an advanced copy of her new book, I was over the moon.

Everland is a secret world beyond a door that appears at 11:21pm every Thursday and the protagonist, Brody, happens upon it after a chance meeting with wing-wearing Nico. This new location has everything you can possibly think of and is full of people from all around the world. It’s a place that will surely appeal to fans of readers who dream of abandoning the every day for a bit of magic just within their grasp. While Everland was what initially drew me to this book, it’s not what ended up holding my interest. The mantle goes to Brody himself.

Brody is a gay – not out yet- boy who is bullied at his school, under-performing and always second to his intelligent “soon to be a Cambridge student” brother, with a dad suffering from agoraphobia and a mother working all hours to make ends meet. If anything, the discovery of Everland becomes a lifeline for him. But for six days a week he is forced to live this version of his life.

Last Bus To Everland tackles dealing with a relative who has a mental illness, the pressures of under-achieving as well as over-achieving, and poverty. I expected this book to be heavily set in Everland and that was not the case. Everland is almost that physical manifestation of wanting to get away: its inhabitants are all facing issues in their lives and Everland provides that place to escape everything, while also proving that you can leave your problems behind, but they’ll always be waiting when you get back. I love that this aspect gave the platform to round out why all the characters came to this magical place and what led them to discover it in the first place.

Brody is a character that I just felt so much for. I wanted to climb into the pages and give him a hug along with having a stern word with the bullies. He struggles a lot with the weight of the future and feels very much alone: something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with.

Sophie Cameron is a gem of an author. While her story concepts have brought me to both of her books now, it is ultimately the characters I leave thinking about for weeks after.

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