Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes | Book Review

Book: Evvie Drake Starts Over
Author: Linda Holmes
Series: Standalone
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

“She’d felt it in the crowd-their surprise, their relief. It meant hope, like it had meant hope for her. It was possible for things to get better when it felt like they couldn’t. It was possible for things that seemed doomed to be revived.”

I’m always looking for intriguing romance novels to dive into when I need a break from fantasy. I came across this one randomly while searching for a new read and bought it for myself to try out. The aspect that grabbed my attention was that the main characters were going to be roommates, kind of, and that was all I needed to know.

Evvie Drake, now a widow, does not mourn her husband like everyone believes she does. She’s out of an unhappy marriage and yet she still lives in their big house alone. That is until her best friend introduces her to Dean Tenney, a retired baseball player looking for an escape and somewhere new to live. Offering the apartment in her home, Evvie fills up space with his presence, and the quiet with their conversations. As their relationship develops, it is their pasts they have to face in order to move forward.

“I have been lying on my couch for thirteen, going on fourteen months. I have barely gone out. I have fed myself and made ends meet. I hope that’s not the proudest of me you could be. I hope surviving not being married to a doctor anymore is not the greatest thing you can imagine for me. I went to school. I’m going to live another fifty years probably. I hope this isn’t the highlight.”

I like it when sports are involved in romance novels, though the involvement of sports was different here. Instead of one party being on a sports team, Dean was retired with a “bad” arm. So it was not exactly the trope that I enjoy, only remnants of it. What was provided instead were details that were both confusing and interesting. There were random excerpts of articles and explanations of players and games that I needed to constantly reread in order to understand what was being said because I’m no baseball expert.

Evvie and Dean started off really chatty with each other; they went straight into being comfortable without really trying. I’m not gonna lie, the smoothness of it all threw me off. I was missing some kind of development. There were quite a few moments when I would smile reading their interactions or get teary-eyed because of a certain dialogue about their pasts, but for the most part I found their conversations to be dry and boring. I did enjoy their relationship the more I read but there was still something missing between them that did not make me fully invested. Honestly, I thought the problem was that Dean seemed detached and distant in their relationship. We got so much of Evvie thinking about Dean but not the other way around. At a point where I thought they would be talking more, there were days where they wouldn’t talk to each other at all.

Individually, I felt for the characters, I really did. Especially for Evvie and her situation. It really drew my attention and made me sad whenever she talked about it. In terms of Dean’s past, I do believe that Evvie overstepped a lot and did not let things go when he made it clear that he was done with baseball. I did not think it was her place to make those decisions for him, or spy on him even.

“You wake up one day and you need a whole new plan.”

If I were to describe the writing and execution of this story I would say that it was really jumpy. This was true for the dialogue as well as for events. In terms of the dialogue, they would jump between topics so fast sometimes that it felt like I was missing something. But maybe that was a way of making it more real? In terms of events, they would plan to do something and then it would jump to that plan on the next page. This was not a bad thing, I’m just used to there being more buildup or pages between important events, which was why the timeline stood out to me.

But we did miss a lot of the in-between. Months would go by and the characters would explain moments that happened during that gap. This left me confused because they would omit information about the status of their relationship until much later. Why wouldn’t they have a conversation about something so important on the page? I was sometimes even confused about who’s perspective I was reading from because it would randomly switch without warning. The only reason I realized it was because I would ask myself how Evvie would know what Dean was doing or thinking and vice versa.

Surprisingly, and maybe insignificantly, I liked the character of Monica a lot. I was not expecting much from her but her friendship with Evvie was a good dynamic to read about and I’m glad there was no jealousy in terms of Evvie being best friends with her boyfriend.

Did I make a good choice with this book? I wouldn’t say that it was a bad experience but I obviously could have done better. I mean, I would consider this an average romance, which is not my idea of a good escape.

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The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty | Book Review

Book: The Empire of Gold
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #3
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

“I am who I am because of that human world. It wasn’t the Banu Nahida who’d driven the peris to their knees, it was the con artist of Cairo, and Nahri wouldn’t cast her away.”

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, the final to a trilogy, and I went into it eager to find out how it ended. I was immediately pulled in, which made me optimistic about it getting extremely good fast. But that was, unfortunately, not the case. It took me over a month to read for a variety of reasons, which I will get into. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.

Nahri and Ali escaped Daevabad accidentally, transported to the city of Nahri’s heart, Cairo, and they took magic with them. Now they are far away from the chaos of the invasion orchestrated by the two people she believed dead. So Nahri and Ali travel, not towards their fallen city, but to where they believe sanctuary lies so that they could plan their victory and avoid those who are after them for taking magic. But all the complexities of the world that Nahri had been introduced to not so long ago leave her questioning whether it is worth it to go back when she desires to return to her human life.

Spoilers Ahead:

This was the most slow-paced, boring book I have come across in a long time. And it definitely did not help that it was so long. I mean, even five hundred pages in and the pace had not picked up yet. And I, desperate to enjoy it, tried to hold onto anything that would motivate me to keep going.

What kept me going? The potential romance between Nahri and Ali. I know this was not the most pressing issue of the story, but I had a feeling that by the end Nahri and Ali were going to end up together. But, these two had friend zoned each other so hard that it was difficult to imagine at first. It was exciting though, not just because their awkward banter was hilarious, but because if this romance was going to play out then that would mean it would break the trope of going for the attractive, brooding warrior, who almost always becomes the expected love interest.

“No more journeying with attractive warriors on dangerous quests after this. She clearly had a problem.” -Nahri

“Risking his life using marid magic to provoke an insurrection among pirates was one thing. Flirting was another.” -Ali

But, as much as I anticipated it, I do believe that I missed out on the satisfying end of Nahri and Ali’s romance. I understand that this relationship would take time to grow, but it’s also the final book for these characters. I was, at the very least, expecting a small glimpse into their future through an epilogue.

I was struck by the feels a few times despite my dislike for this book: Nahri reuniting with Yaqub and Dara leaving Daevabad and Nahri forever. Everything else pretty much did not draw my attention (except for some Nahri and Ali moments of course, but they were limited). Just to highlight my disappointment even more, the final showdown was anticlimactic, ultimately confined to a small space while so much happened around them. It was too short and easy.

It’s never a good feeling to not enjoy an anticipated book, the final chapter to a favourite trilogy no less, but I still love the characters: my awkward Ali, my fierce Nahri, and my loyal Dara. I’m going to miss them, of course. For some reason, (I’m going to take a guess and say because of my dissatisfaction) I feel like there can still be more storytelling in this world, with these characters.

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Did My Most Anticipated Book Releases of 2020 Live Up To My Expectations? | Wrap Up

I had five anticipated book releases in 2020: a variety of final books and first books to a series as well as a prequel. Unfortunately, none of them got a five stars and the majority disappointed me. I ranked them from least to most favourite. Here they are:

5. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins was my least favourite read from this list. If I were being honest, the only reason this was included was because it was a new edition to a trilogy that had given me so much: a desire to branch out into new genres, years of excitement for the films, and an introduction to the first fictional heroine I looked up to. Now, obviously I read the synopsis and knew this was going to be about young President Snow, so it wasn’t really a shock that I disliked it. But regardless, I was let down. It has been years since the last book was released and Collins finally decided to come back to it in a way that I didn’t understand. What was the point of this installment? Why did she choose this character when there were so many more significant characters to write about? This did not come across as something I needed to read as a fan of the original trilogy.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

4. The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty, the final installment to a trilogy that I had randomly happened upon but loved nevertheless, at least in the case of the first two books. This was supposed to be the end to an epic historical fiction fantasy story in the MENA region with characters I adored and complex politics that kept me engaged. And yet, the conclusion could not have been more disappointing. Why? It was painfully slow, characters were separated, the foundation of relationships build previously were barely developed, and the climax was easy. The worst part was that this was almost eight-hundred pages and most days I was lucky to get through ten. I would still recommend this trilogy because of my love for the first two books. I am still anticipating future releases by Chakraborty, but it’s sad to know that I cannot say this is a new favourite trilogy.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

3. House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas; if you know me then you know that of course I would anticipate the first official adult fantasy book by my favourite author. But as much as I anticipated it, I didn’t know what to expect. It was a new world with new characters, nothing could guarantee that my love for her previous series’ would continue for her third. It wasn’t that this was a bad book, it just didn’t grasp my attention. The characters were okay but not different, I was not really interested in the romance, and the last two-hundred pages were just ridiculous. Obviously I have hope that if I continue with the next installment that my mind will change because I want to feel that excitement that I usually feel when Maas releases a new book. But for now, this one wasn’t for me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

2. Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare, the first in her new trilogy, and one that started a journey that I am excited to continue. Of course I was thrilled to pick this up considering its about the children of the characters from my favourite Shadowhunter trilogy. Though it was a little slow to get into in the beginning, I enjoyed this book for the way it set up relationships. i am on the edge of my seat just thinking about all the angst and romance, elements that Clare thrives in, that will be included in the next book. I also really appreciated the Persian representation, (I said this in my review but my family is Assyrian from Iran) it’s not very often that I can relate to a character in that way. Shadowhunter books are always fun to read and the sequel is on my most anticipated book release list for 2021.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

1. A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir; this takes the number one spot in my ranking. A series final that I have been waiting for for over two years. It was a great way to finish off the year but it also broke my heart. I was hoping to give it a five star rating but unfortunately Tahir made a decision in the end that I did not agree with. Also a few storylines were a little repetitive, as if we were going in circles, not making any progress. Despite this, I enjoyed reading about these characters again, the plot was complex and interesting, and the romance for a certain couple made me swoon. It had a great balance of these aspects with an overall epic feel to it. I have been into this series for five years, Tahir’s words have kept me engaged from the very beginning, so I am definitely going to miss it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi | Book Review

Book: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Series: Legacy of Orïsha, #1
Genre: High Fantasy
My Rating: 2.75/5 Stars

“You crushed us to build your monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive, it was thinking we’d never fight back”

This was one of those books that I had heard amazing things about but left unread for a couple of years after I bought it (which is how it usually goes with most of my books). When I finally picked it up, I found that the plot and characters were just average for me. I seem to be having bad luck with YA fantasy these days, and it is making me realize that branching out into adult fantasy is what I should be doing.

Zélie is a divîner, someone who would have inherited magic if the king hadn’t destroyed it years ago. When she comes across a scroll, an important piece to bringing back magic, she finds herself tasked with searching for other objects that would reverse what the king has done. With the help of her brother and an unexpected ally, Zélie must succeed in her adventure before the crown prince stops her and destroys the only chance they have of reclaiming their powers and fighting back against their oppressors.

“As long as we don’t have magic, they will never treat us with respect. They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes, we burn theirs, too.”

This book started out strong. I really enjoyed the beginning and the potential direction it was going to take, but then it hit a point, even before the middle, where it started to move slowly. This was why I was living for the short chapters. It made it feel as if I was getting through the book faster, even though that was far from the truth; many of the events that took place lacked grabbing my attention. But in the book’s defense, I was also at a place where I wasn’t in the mood to read in general. Though, I did look forward to Inan’s chapters; thankfully they were pretty frequent.

The way the potential pairings were setup intrigued me: Zélie and her brother matched with the royal siblings. I love me a good enemies-to-lovers dynamic, especially when they are fighting for the opposite side of a war in a fantasy setting. That complexity of one of the characters battling themselves on which side they should be on is great. I was looking for a book that had this and I picked this up without knowing that it had this trope. Unfortunately, the romance between Zélie and Inan seemed out of place and by the end I was more confused than anything. Their transition into falling in love was really abrupt considering they were trying to kill each other a few chapters earlier. They couldn’t seem to make up their minds about where their relationship stood. So they just kept going back-and-forth. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good complicated romance story but I am always more invested in a slow burn with a rewarding payoff at the end.

Despite not liking a lot about this book, what I did appreciate from this reading experience was the power of the author’s words; there were so many lines that stood out to me, that touched on important topics that affect our world. What I want to continue doing is this: read books by black authors and listen and learn.

“Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. I told myself that if just one person could read it and have their hearts or minds changed, then I would’ve done something meaningful against a problem that often feels so much bigger than myself.”

Ways you can help: Black Lives Matter

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Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi | Book Review

Book: Emergency Contact
Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Series: Standalone
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating: 2.75/5 Stars

“I like knowing that you exist. It doesn’t make me feel any less lonely, because life is lonely, but it makes me feel a lot less alone.”

I was drawn to this book because the synopsis sounded so promising. Going into it, the first chapter really took me by surprise, but not in a good way. Immediately we were talking about the main character’s mother being a player and her mediocre boyfriend thinking his nudes were a gift to the world and I was like, “what did I just sign up for?”

When Penny transitions to college in Austin, Texas she looks forward to using this as an opportunity to get away from her mother and soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Here she meets Sam, a family member of her roommate, at a coffee shop he works at. Their interactions are minimal but it isn’t until Penny randomly witnesses Sam having a breakdown when she goes out one day that they agree to exchange contact information. They begin talking back and forth, confiding to each other about their life struggles, without ever planning on meeting again. The more they connect, though, the more that desire to come face-to-face again grows but what if it ruins the relationship they have developed?

“Penny believed with her whole heart that there were moments – crucial instances – that defined who someone was going to be. There were clues or signs, and you didn’t want to miss them.”

Sometimes I just need to pick up a contemporary for the sole purpose of giving myself a break from fantasy. This was the case when I picked up Emergency Contact, but unfortunately I chose wrong. Getting through one page was an actual struggle because of the amount of times I had to look up words and the amount of times I had to reread sentences since they didn’t make sense the first three times I read them. I really wanted to stop reading because my brain hurt (the total opposite effect I expected).

I did start enjoying it more as I read on, in that I mean I found a crumb of a reason to not DNF it (which I was intrigued to do multiple times), when Penny and Sam interactions took place. For the most part the first one hundred pages were about them separately so it was nice to finally get to the main point of the book. But again, it wasn’t as amazing as I’d expected. Some of their interactions seemed off, like not reasonable responses to things that were being said. The following is a text message interaction that made me question what was happening:

Penny – “It makes me sick. NO PUN INTENDED. It’s sad. We criminalize the poor. Everything is broken.”
Sam – “OK calm down.”

Sam’s response left me confused. It was abrupt and uncalled for and there were more interactions like this that didn’t make sense.

I did enjoy reading about Penny’s writing class. I learned some great writing tips from her experience and I was actually really interested in the story she was writing, especially because we were able to read excerpts from it. I recently finished my BA in English so this definitely reminded me of my experience and it made me feel sad that I’m officially done taking Uni classes.

This book turned from me wanting to DNF it to being okay enough to get through, but that’s not saying much.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | Book Review

Book: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Series: The Hunger Games, #0
Genre: Dystopian
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

“You’ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom. Those are things everyone is born with, and they’re not yours for the taking. Winning a war doesn’t give you that right. Having more weapons doesn’t give you that right. Being from the Capitol doesn’t give you that right. Nothing does.”

Of course the announcement of this book had my attention. How could it not when The Hunger Games trilogy contributed so much to my love of reading in my early teens. But like many other readers, when I found out that this was going to be about young President Snow, my excitement was reduced. I was tentative for obvious reasons: I just didn’t want to end up reading a book that tried to make me sympathize with the villain when it was absolutely clear what path he was going to take regardless of how he was in his earlier years. But I found that though I never sympathized with him, I was intrigued by the perspectives and human responses he had that we were not used to.

The time for the tenth annual Hunger Games has come and with them still being a new concept, the Gamemakers are looking for change to convince more citizens to watch. So they announce that Capitol students will be mentoring this year’s tributes. Coriolanus Snow takes this as an opportunity to bring a glorious reputation to his family name. But when he finds out his tribute is the District 12 girl, Lucy Gray, he loses all hope of winning.

Spoilers Ahead:

This being the tenth annual Hunger Games, it was obviously not similar to what we know from the original trilogy. Even though I figured this would be the case, I was still left surprised and shocked at what happened before and during the games. Especially before because, I have to say, the events that lead up to the games were much more horrifying (and that’s saying a lot considering the circumstances of the games). It probably had to do with the fact that the actual events of the games took up a very small part of the overall story. It was the least interesting part about the book and the outcome was really predictable.

I really liked Lucy Gray as an individual character, she was unique but her introduction being a performance at the reaping was such an anomaly, an awkward place to hold a concert, that I really did not know what to make of it. But I did enjoy reading familiar songs and learning about where they came from when she continued to sing throughout the book.

“Well, you know what they say. The show’s not over until the mockingjay sings.”

I did not really care for her dynamic with Coriolanus. The fact that he repeatedly claimed her as “his girl,” that she belonged to him, made me extremely uncomfortable. He was being so possessive. I can not tell you the amount of times my eyes had to read “she is my girl, mine.” He liked it when she was locked up in a cage like an animal because he knew where she was and he claimed her district as his because “she was his.” If we did not already know about his corrupt presidency in the future these red flags would have given away that he was a lost cause.

I hated Coriolanus, which is not a surprise. He would do the wrong thing and then we would be stuck with reading through his thought process of feeling guilty to feeling his actions were justified as he convinced himself that he was “doing the right thing.” He thought he was superior and reading his story just made me feel exhausted.

A lot of topics discussed reminded me of a philosophy class I took called “The Philosophy of Human Rights and Justice.” It was unsettling but interesting to read through them. But nothing prepared me for the ending. That was truly the most terrifying part of it all: the removal of the tenth annual Hunger Games, the power and control of erasing traumatic events, the gaslighting that would come from it…

I still believe Suzanne Collins could have taken this opportunity and written about literally any other character we know: Haymitch, Mags, etc. I would be interested to know if she will write books in this world again.

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo | Book Review

Book: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows, #2
Genre: High Fantasy
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

“They don’t know who we are. Not really. They don’t know what we’ve done, what we’ve managed together. So let’s go show them they picked the wrong damn fight.”

Just like when I read Six of Crows, I’m asking myself why it took me so long to pick up this duology? I’ve seen readers not only praise these books but constantly reread them and now I understand. I’m not the rereading type, but while I was absorbed in Crooked Kingdom I decided that if I were ever to pick up a book for the second time, these two would be it. Just like the first book, this was packed with action, impossible scheming, and characters I adore.

Spoilers Ahead:

After their successful heist at the Ice Court and arriving back in Ketterdam only to find out they were double-crossed, the crew not only have to plan to take what is owed to them in their own way but they need to save Inej from the hands of the person who wronged them. As they hide the prize of their heist, a boy who is the missing piece needed to make more of the dangerous drug, Jurda Parem, Kaz leads his crew through the impossibility of gaining justice against all the powers that oppose them.

“How many times have you told me you’re a monster? So be a monster. Be the thing they all fear when they close their eyes at night.”

I was honestly in this for the Kaz and Inej relationship; their chapters were what I was most looking forward to. And I was living for the “save Inej” plot: Kaz worried and desperate to rescue her? Check. Inej not believing he would come for her but he does anyway? Check. The whole group knowing that wanting Inej back was more about his feelings than anything else (though of course that’s a touchy subject)? Check. I love it when a cold-hearted character develops feelings; Kaz is literally soft only for her and he gave her everything she desired, which, of course, gave me feels.

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

Going through all of the other character’s chapters was still captivating though, in their own ways. I think what works when reading from all of these perspectives is that they not only have issues to solve as a group but they each have personal issues that are just as interesting. Even though I was sometimes annoyed about jumping from character to character, I always ended up getting invested in whichever side of the story came up. And, of course, they each had their unique dynamics among the crew (six is a great number to pair up). Nina and Matthias used to be my priority, but I was spoiled for the ending way before I decided to read this, so I tried to keep myself from loving them too much because I knew my heart would not be able to handle it otherwise. I enjoyed how much more we got of Wylan and Jesper in this book; Wylan finally having his own chapters definitely helped with that. Their relationship developing into romance was fun to read. And I’ve already talked about the best couple.

It was interesting how not every scheme worked out no matter how promising. Bardugo made it so that we were never sure if a plan would be followed through with or not. Though the schemes playing out in the end were still heart-stopping, I think the execution fell a little flat for me, it seemed more overdramatic than anything else, especially with Pekka Rollins. I personally would have loved to see the Silos plan succeed because I was invested in the way it was described.

I honestly cannot believe I’m writing this review. I told myself this was the year I was going to read these books and here I am. Apparently there will be a third book and I have no idea when it will be released, but that just means I will be adding it to my “highly anticipated books” list because I need to know in what way Kaz and Inej’s relationship develops going forward.

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Beach Read by Emily Henry | Book Review

Book: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Series: Standalone
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

*e-ARC provided by Berkley Publishing on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Beach Read includes a dynamic that I love: two lonely people dealing with a lot of emotional baggage cross paths and become each other’s go-to person. With the background of a small town and a beach, I was immediately hooked.

After her father’s death, January Andrews is left to come to terms with his second life. Broke with no promise of getting back into writing books, she moves into the beach house that he left for her only to find out that a writer from Uni, Augustus Everett, who she deemed her competition, lives next door. January unwillingly reconnects with Gus and they strike a deal: they each have to write a novel in the other person’s style. She needs to write a hard-hitting fiction novel and he needs to write a romance. As they work on their books and coach each other on their respective genres, their reconnection becomes more than just a competition.

I love when fictional men are like Gus: slightly awkward but attractive, funny, and serious. Someone who feels a lot but has a difficult time conveying it and then slowly breaks down those walls for the other character as they get to know each other. I also really enjoyed January as the protagonist and narrator, though I sometimes found it difficult to follow and understand what she was saying.

One of the best parts of their relationship was the banter. I literally stopped and highlighted whole pages because a conversation between them would be so hilarious. Despite the banter and fun dynamic between them, this book also had a lot of serious and interesting topics. Like all the conversations on the process of writing different genres, the struggles with their pasts, and what women’s fiction means. In terms of the writing aspect, it was interesting reading about January’s process: how she put the pieces of her plot together, changed the time period, and drew inspiration from her life.

It’s funny how this book talks about what is in a romance novel while being a romance novel. Though the romance really worked for me, I did not enjoy the whole element of cult research because it made the scenes even more serious when they were together when I was just craving light-heartedness. And that tent scene was kind of weird, like talk about a terrible setting to get it on.

There were a few elements that I prefer that were not included, but regardless this was a quick and gripping read with a great balance of romance and angst. I’m looking forward to picking up more books by this author.

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