#12 = Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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ATTACHMENTS a novel by Rainbow Rowell

jacket flap blurb

A strikingly clever and deeply moving story about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it’s someone you’ve never met.

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder, coworkers at the Courier, know the newspaper monitors their office e-mail. But they still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers, and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill still can’t believe that it’s his job to monitor other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be an Internet security officer, he pictured himself protecting the newspaper from dangerous hackers—not sending out memos every time somebody in Accounting forwarded an off-color joke to the person in the next cubicle.

Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can’t quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can’t help being entertained—and captivated—by their stories. But by the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you”?

With snapping dialogue and irresistible charm, Rainbow Rowell transforms and ordinary IT guy into a lovable and endearing romantic hero and proves that falling in love never happens the way you plan it. Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a fresh and energetic debut that marks the arrival of an exciting new voice in fiction.

thoughts

I don’t normally read books about adults. They tend to be kind of…thick. Not dense, but thick. And slower, too. Like YA is fast so teens don’t get bored by for some reason the people who write adult fiction think if you’re grown-up, you have all the time in the world to spend dilly-dallying your way through one of their novels.

But anyway. This book was not thick. At all. It was tense and wonderful, with a host of realistic, quirky characters and witty narration and unexpected twists. And even though it’s a romance from chapter one (from the jacket-flap, actually), you can’t say for certain that they’re going to end up together. Right up until the very end, I was guessing. I was wondering, is this going to be one of those bittersweet we-were-almost-together-but-we-ended-up-with-different-people books?

And sometimes I was thinking, this is all going to work out for them somehow. And other times I was convinced it was never going to happen between and there was no possible way for it to work out to be a happy ending. But it did. And it was wonderful and surprising and believable.

As for the characters, there are a quite a lot of them. There’s Lincoln, of course. And then there’s the friends Beth and Jennifer, and Beth’s boyfriend Chris and Jennifer’s husband Mitch. There’s Lincoln’s mom, his sister Eve (and her husband Jake), his Dungeons & Dragons friends—the main ones being Christine and Dave—his friend Justin, and his boss Greg. And then there’s his other friend, Doris. And Eve has two kids. And Justin ends up with a girlfriend. And there’s this girl Emilie who’s hitting on Lincoln. Oh, and Sam, Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend from high school. And I think that’s it.

But this isn’t exactly an action movie-style book, where a cast of like three and the bad guys are going to cut it. I never found myself confused over who was who, or trying to place where we heard a certain name before. So even though it seems like a lot of characters, it works really well, and they all add something to the story and the plot. And that’s really the question: would something be lost if you took _____ out? And yes, something would be lot if any of the characters were cut or combined.

But it’s not perfect. It’s almost perfect. It’s close enough to go on my wish list. But it could be better. For one thing, chapter 87 and the last bit of chapter 86 seem rushed and wrap-up-y, like knots are being tied off. And that sort of writing makes the momentum take an immediate downward leap. Right off a cliff. A cliff with no bottom, no resolution, no ending to the nebulous limbo of dulled interest. There was chapter I had to go back and re-read twice because I kept skimming it.

I only had one other issue with the book, and that what Lincoln looked like. He’s tall and muscular. But until like halfway through the book, I was picturing him as Mr. Ordinary. Someone you could pass on the street and not notice. In fact, when Beth started describing one of their encounters in one of her emails to Jennifer, I had to double-check the original scene to make sure it was actually him she was referencing. Just some mention of how tall he was compared to Sam earlier would be nice. We have something about that, when Lincoln’s thinking about what it would be like to hug Beth and then comparing it to hugging Sam. But that’s practically at the end of the book. Something in the first quarter would be good.

But overall, I left the book feeling good. But I also left the book feeling like if chapter 87 had been drawn out into multiple chapters, the momentum from Lincoln’s quitting, and the suspense of not knowing if this is it for him and Beth, would have carried longer and it wouldn’t have felt like the end before the end actually happened. Especially since the end was so incredibly fantastic.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

is it worth reading?

Hell yes. It’s worth buying.

want to read it for yourself?

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#11 = Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

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WRAPPED by Jennifer Bradbury

jacket flap blurb

Agnes Wilkins makes a lovely debutante. She’s stunning, poised, and always wrapped in stylish, one-of-a-kind gowns. But her well-plotted future—filled with husband, home, and high society—is about to come unraveled…and she couldn’t be more pleased.

For a girl like Agnes, 1815 London doesn’t offer many options…until she uncovers a secret. A misplaced mummy holds a mystery that could be her way out of stuffy parties and strained elegance…but it also sets off a string of catastrophes that could become someone else’s undoing. A chance accident? Her true destiny? It’s hard to say. But for Agnes there’s no turning back.

thoughts

While all in all enjoyable, I thought the romance between Agnes and Caedmon was too prominent in the story. The jacket-flap is extremely vague, so I’ll have to give a (sort of) quick summary for anything to make any sense at all.

So, Agnes goes to a party of sorts hosted by her highly sought-after suitor, Lord Showalter. It is a “unwrapping” wherein Showalter presents them with a wrapped mummy, and various people take turns cutting into the wrappings in the hopes of finding little trinkets and other valuables. Because Showalter is courting her, Agnes is naturally one of the first to have a (reluctant) go. Agnes is one of those people who dislikes this idea of essentially stealing Egypt’s (and other “exotic” countries’) priceless artifacts and treating them as nothing but a game. Which, of course, I found immensely likable. I’ll talk more about it later.

So, unsurprisingly, Agnes finds an artifact, a little metal jackal head. Because someone else had just found something, she was able to slip into her bodice. She reasons that it isn’t really stealing because Showalter already said the could keep whatever they found. And then the museum calls: this is actually a very important mummy, and it was mixed up with the one that was intended to be sent to Showalter. So all the trinkets are returned. All except the one Agnes has.

She doesn’t particularly know what to do with it. She knows it’s important, because at the party, she was walking in the garden and someone suspicious followed her. She evaded him, but that, combined with the museum’s call, has her convinced this is a very important artifact. Eventually she ends up at the museum to ask about it, claiming that she found it a year or so ago. This is where she meets Caedmon, who works at the museum. They discover invisible ink writing on the artifact with a message intended for Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who recently escaped exile on Elis island and now, once again, threatens England. The message speaks of “W’s standard.” They piece together that “W” stands for Wepwawet, an important Egyptian deity. And his standard supposedly has the power to make the bearer invincible and give the ability to raise an army of the dead to fight for them. Even if it can’t do this supposed feat, it will still be able to boost moral and turn the tide of war firmly to Napoleon’s side.

They do eventually find the standard, all the while sneaking about at the same time that Agnes is forced to court Showalter. One of her servants, Clarisse, helps her because she’s something of a romantic and thinks Agnes is sneaking off to be with her “beau.” The standard is hidden on Showalter’s property, unbeknownst to Showalter himself. However, it does turn out that Showalter is a French spy, and it was him that the message was originally supposed to reach. Agnes and Caedmon beat him, and get the standard to Agnes’s father, who’s fairly high-ranking, and save the day.

Now, I liked how Showalter was written. It was believable and realistic. At the beginning, he was convincingly dislikable in that way some supposedly “magnetic” people are dislikable, for no particular feeling. Just a gut instinct sort of thing. And further on, he was decent, but neither threatening, hatable, or lovable. He was just sort amiable—which was perfect. I admit, I didn’t see it coming that he was a spy (all though how Agnes ended up besting him was rather obvious).

Caedmon was pretty awesome. He wasn’t super-annoying, like some love interests are, but neither was he without any flaws whatsoever perfect little angel. There were things I liked about him, and there were things I didn’t. I liked his personality, I liked how he fit with Agnes, and I liked the way he got when he talked about his passion (Egyptology, obviously).

I didn’t like how he could be kind of…I’m not sure what the word is. Eurocentric? Anglophile-ish? Disdainful of other nations? I don’t know, but I didn’t like it. I also didn’t like how he seemed to fall in love with Agnes after like two seconds. I’m not a fan of insta-love/love at first sight, especially when it’s only in one of the halves of the relationship. But his eurocentricity/anglophiliness/whatever wasn’t a big issue. I wouldn’t even bring it up if it wasn’t for one particular scene that I really hate. So my only real issue with Caedmon is how he falls so fast for Agnes, and then he just has to kind of wait, pathetically, to see if she returns it. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not—it probably is—but it doesn’t seem quite in line with his character, or some of his other actions.

Agnes’s brothers were also well-written. They didn’t have very large parts, but what we saw of them was good. I especially liked Rupert. Agnes isn’t Rupert’s biggest fan, and neither is he hers. They are those kinds of siblings. But Rupert’s not a villain, he isn’t there just so Agnes can have a slightly-annoying brother. He is, actually, complex and fleshed-out. We saw even less of Agnes’s other brother, Daniel, and he was likable in that bland, pleasant way nice characters without a lot of screen time are. But Agnes looks up to him, and that was written nicely; I could look up to him, too.

Agnes’s parents are kind of like that, with her father as Rupert and her mother as Daniel. Her father is far more fleshed out that her mother, and it shows. But her mother is so unimportant, all things considered, to the story it doesn’t matter all that much. It wasn’t a major detractor.

Guess what was a major detractor? As I started off with, the prominence of the romance between Agnes and Caedmon. Now, I have nothing against romance. I like a good romance. But there are books that should be mainly about the romance and there are books where the romance should be secondary to the rest of the plot. This was one of those books where it should have been secondary to the rest of the plot.

I mean here you have Agnes, and part of her personality is this stubborn, I-don’t-need-no-man, independent streak. I mean the whole book is this spy/espionage thing about saving England! And it’s clear, right from the get-go, that Agnes loves it. She loves the action, and the mystery, and the fact that it means something. She hates how being a woman means she’s automatically considered second-class, weak, the lesser sex. She has a bone to pick with her society, something to prove.

But instead of this story being all about her, a lot of the plot is devoted to her and Caedmon, and how she feels about Caedmon, and whether she loves Caedmon, and if he loves her back, and blah blah blah. It seems to opposite to this enormous chunk of who she is that she would spend so much time obsessing over a guy when she’s basically living this life she never dreamed could happen. And I’m just really angry that the author chose to bury this part of her in favor of having the romance be so central to a story whose plot really has nothing to do with it.

And by now, you’re probably wondering about that scene I mentioned. The one where Caedmon bothered me. But first, some more about Agnes, who’s an awesome protagonist. Agnes really believes that artifacts belong where they were made. That there is something inherently wrong in taking things from their mother country, frequently damaging them (often purposefully) on their trip, for the entertainment of people who don’t understand, and never will, their immense significance to their culture of origin.

She feels this at the very beginning, when she’s bothered by, and faintly disgusted by, the “unwrapping” at Showalter’s. And it comes up again on several other occasions, but one especially. Showalter takes Agnes, and her mother as chaperone, to the museum perhaps two-thirds or so through the book. Naturally, Caedmon is there. But Showalter’s just there because he noticed Agnes was interested in Egyptian artifacts and he’s courting her, so two-plus-two is four and he takes her on an outing to see the Egyptian artifacts at the museum.

They are looking at heart scarabs, and Agnes makes the internal comment, “I felt sorry that these objects, which were so dear to the people who’d counted on them so long ago, were now under glass, dismissed by the likes of us who didn’t know their real worth” (Bradbury 225). This is quickly followed by the following conversation:

“‘We are very fortunate that we established such a collection,’ Caedmon said softly.

I surprised myself by speaking. ‘They don’t belong here.’

Showalter leaned in. ‘What’s that?’

I looked quickly between him and Caedmon. ‘They don’t belong here,’ I repeated. ‘They ought to be back with the bodies, or at least back in Egypt where the scarab is understood.’

Caedmon spoke without looking at me. In fact, he’d so far been able to avoid giving any indication of our association. And it bothered me more than I could say. Bothered me that he could see me with Showalter and carry on as if he didn’t even know me. As if he hadn’t been as rattled as I was by how close we’d found ourselves last night.

‘Perhaps the work the museum does to help people understand outweighs—’

‘No,’ I said firmly. ‘We don’t want to understand them. We want to gawk at them and congratulate ourselves for having such precious things. Things we’ve rescued from ignorant savages around the world—’

Caedmon set his jaw, nostrils flaring, finally angry, finally showing something for me other than polite deference. ‘You presume too much,’ he said. ‘You’re dead wrong to paint every person interested in antiquities or other lands with the same brush.’

‘But they belong in Egypt!’ I said, pleased that some of his true speech was slipping out, that the mask of the academic was failing him.

‘They belong where they can best be understood,’ Caedmon said evenly. ‘And perhaps the greatest gift we can give the people of Egypt in return is the benefit of our research. So that they might better understand their own history—’

‘Now who presumes?’ I said heatedly. ‘British citizens a thousand miles away know better what it meant to be a subject of the pharaoh?’” (Bradbury 226-227)

What I like about this scene is, of course, Agnes’s comments. What I don’t like is how some of the things Caedmon says seem to exist solely so Agnes can tell him how he’s wrong, and challenge the way of thinking about it all that was so prevalent at the time, and is still an issue today. But I could get over that. I could.

If the author hadn’t reduced every word that came out of Agnes’s mouth to baiting. According to the author, I’m supposed to believe that Agnes says things things not because she believes them—though there’s more than ample proof that she does—but simply because she wants a reaction from Caedmon. In this, the author is lowering something important to have a lesser value than it should.

Just like she’s doing with the whole story by forcing Agnes and Caedmon’s romance to take center stage.

rating out of five stars

★★★☆☆

is it worth reading?

It’s decent. Not spectacular.

want to read it for yourself?

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#10 = The Breakaway by Michelle Davidson Argyle

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THE BREAKAWAY
by Michelle Davidson Argyle

jacket flap blurb

When Naomi Jensen is kidnapped, it takes her parents two days to realize she’s missing. Escape isn’t high on her list of priorities when all she has to return to is an abusive boyfriend and parents who never paid much attention to her. For the first time in her life she’s part of a family—even if it is a family of criminals. But she’s still a captive. In a desperate attempt to regain some control in her life, Naomi embarks on a dangerous plan to make one of her kidnappers think she’s falling in love with him. The plan works too well, and when faced with the chance to escape, Naomi isn’t sure she wants to take it.

thoughts

The first thing I should say is that I devoured this book. It was supremely engaging, and there was never a point where I wanted to put it down. I liked it. But, objectively, it doesn’t work. The author was clearly trying to write a shades-of-gray story where no characters can be called truly evil or completely good. A lot like the book I previously reviewed, actually, Conjured. But Conjured succeeded and The Breakaway did not.

There are only a handful of characters, which works well for this story. There’s Naomi, the protagonist and third-person viewpoint character. There’s her mother, Karen, and her father, Jason. Jason has a very small part; he’s one of the background characters. Elizabeth, Karen’s sister, is another.

Then there’s Brad, Naomi’s emotionally-manipulative douche-bag boyfriend. She doesn’t realize she’s in that kind of relationship until later, when she learns, with Jesse, what relationships are supposed to be like.

The kidnappers comprise of Evelyn, her husband Steve, her brother Eric, and a man named Jesse. For most of the book, we don’t know how Jesse’s connected to the others, except for the fact that he is an intern at Steve’s architecture business. At first, this is fine, because his connection doesn’t seem to be at all pertinent. But then, suddenly, near the end, he announces what happened:

Jesse is a thief. Low on cash, he agrees to steal jewelry for him and a friend. The target jewelry store is where Evelyn works. Unbeknownst to Jesse, Evelyn is Steve’s wife—Steve is Jesse’s boss. And they’re close. So, Jesse plans to get his friend to rob Evelyn; taking her keys and replacing them with a false set. Then he will take the real keys, get into the jewelry store, steal some stuff, and get down. And presumably dump the keys somewhere.

But Evelyn fights back and the friend ends up stabbing her and taking the keys. Jesse finds out her relationship to Steve when Steve tells him his wife’s in the hospital and he has to go be with her. Jesse feels awful. A stabbing was never supposed to be a part of the equation, and now he’s done it to Steve’s wife. To make matters worse, Jesse says to Steve that he couldn’t believe Evelyn had been stabbed. Of course, Steve never mentioned the stabbed bit, just that she was in the hospital.

Well, he decides he still has to go through with the robbery. But Steve, after making sure Eric was with Evelyn, followed Jesse and threatened to turn him in. In the end, though, they struck a deal: Jesse would help them pull of robberies, and in return he’d get to live with them and keep a percentage of what they made. And, you know, Eric wouldn’t kill him.

So, why does any of this matter? Because Jesse decides to take Naomi, drive her to the police station, and let her free. At this point, that’s pretty much the last thing Naomi wants, but he forces her and then drives off. And Jesse does this partially because he feels shitty for kidnapping Naomi in the first place (they thought she saw them robbing a jewelry store, had to find out what she knew, and then realized even if she knew nothing like she claimed, she had still seen them and could identify them. Plus, Evelyn really wanted to keep her and have her like a daughter) and partially because he isn’t Eric’s biggest fan and he dislikes the situation he’s been put into.

It’s not really all that clear, actually. For the first three-fourths of the book, Jesse, Eric, Steve, and Evelyn seem to get along. They act like a family, and treat each other like family. But then suddenly after Jesse spills this story, he’s talking about turning them in himself and how they need to pay for what they’ve done and eventually how he needs to pay and blah blah blah.

It’s just not consistent with the entire rest of the book. It feels like a rushed ending, trying to get Naomi back to her parents. See, at the beginning, Naomi’s parents are pretty much the definition of “absent.” They don’t spend any time with her. They don’t seem to care for her at all. But over the course of the story, there are a few chapters in Karen’s (Naomi’s mom) point of view.

For Karen, it’s something of a don’t-know-what-you-have-‘till-it’s-gone situation. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supposed to believe. I, personally, did not find Karen very believable in that role. I think her husband Jason is supposed to have had a change of heart, too, but we don’t see much of him. He has a minor role.

I can see what the author was trying to do. She wanted a life-is-complicated book and she didn’t want Naomi to stay with her kidnappers because hey, there’s the whole abusive emotional bonding thing that could mean Naomi’s just being manipulated and she’s still and victim and yadda yadda yadda. This was the goal. It didn’t work.

The book would have been far better if the kidnappers were truly good people and Karen and Jason were really kind of crappy parents. Crappy parents exist. Good criminals probably exist. After all, they’re only criminals because they want to buy back Evelyn and Eric’s grandmother’s house in Italy and live there: the one place they were ever truly happy. If the criminals were more like the two kidnappers in the movie, Ruthless People.

In Ruthless People, a millionaire intends to murder his wife and run off with his mistress. But then Ken and Sandy Kessler kidnap the wife. They want revenge on the millionaire because he stole Sandy’s fashion design and got super-rich off it. Eventually, the wife, Barbara, bonds with Ken and Sandy. She falls in love with Sandy’s designs, and agrees to go into business with her. She is released, only to come right back after she finds a newspaper with an article about the millionaire’s mistress. Through a bizarre series of events, Ken, Sandy, and Barbara are able to rob the millionaire and get away clean.

So in the movie, Ken and Sandy are, in fact, good people. They never hurt Barbara or anything. They chain her to a bed, but other than that they try and make her happy because they don’t have anything against her, just her husband.

I’d have liked this book a lot more, and I think it would have worked a lot better, if Evelyn, Steve, Eric, and Jesse were good people in a bad situation as well. They kidnap Naomi after a mistake, but try and keep her happy and make her comfortable because they’re really not bad and they don’t want to hurt anybody. Of course, for this to work, Eric would have to change.

In the book, Eric has a weird-ass personality. He’s mostly nice, but then he’ll suddenly snap when Naomi disobeys him or yells at him and slap her and threaten to kill her if she runs. I found it difficult to reconcile the two halves of Eric, especially considering how the other characters treat him. It’s like his evil side only exists for Naomi, for plot purposes. He would be a lot more believable if he was a little more like Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly, or Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS. Someone strict and intimidating, but a good person at their core.

I did like her final confrontation with Brad, and I think that should be kept, but it could go a different way. If, on her way with the kidnappers out of the country, she runs into Brad and he tries to “free” her, she could confront him about his manipulative, abusive behavior and escape back to the kidnappers, who are more like a family to her than Karen and Jason ever were.

rating out of five stars

★★☆☆☆

is it worth reading?

Yes, because it’s very engaging even though it could be far, far better.

PS

There is, apparently, a sequel. Something I did not know going in to The Breakaway, and have not yet read. I believe I will. You might think: oh, a sequel, that might change how you feel about this book. But I really don’t think it will. From the jacket-flap blurb of the sequel, it sounds like the story is mostly a love triangle between Naomi, Jesse, and a new boy with no connections to her kidnapping or anything.

It sounds like a decent continuation of Naomi’s “recovery” from the kidnapping, but it’s still stained by the fact that this first book didn’t seem to work very well. If the author is trying to show the danger of abusive emotional bonding and the long recovery or whatever, than the kidnappers were far too nice. If it was just Eric, and Jesse was his son or something, then maybe it would work. But as it is, it doesn’t.

So I don’t think it’s possible for something to happen in the sequel to make the first book’s pitfalls work.

want to read it for yourself?

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#9 = Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

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CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst

jacket flap blurb

There are three things that Eve knows.

One. She can’t remember who she is—but she has someone else’s face and name.

Two. She is the only survivor of a notorious serial killer—who will never stop hunting her.

Three. There is something horrifying buried in her memories that her protectors want to access—and there is nothing they won’t do to get her to remember.

At night, Eve dreams of a tattered carnival tent and of buttons being sewn into her skin, the only clues she can provide about the killer who stalks her. By day, she shelves books at the local library alongside Zach, whose blatant flirting and cheerful optimism lend a sense of normality to her life. But, as the serial killer who pursues her and the people who claim to be protecting her know, there is nothing normal about Eve. And once she remembers who and what she is, no one’s life will remain untouched.

From the acclaimed author of Vessel and Ice comes a mind-bending, haunting thriller that illustrates why who we are born does not dictate who we choose to become.

thoughts

I loved this book. It had me hooked from page one, and I never lost interest. The characters are fascinating and complex and unforgettably real. All of them, Eve and Malcolm and “Aunt” Nicki and Zach and Aiden and Topher and Victoria and Lou and Patti and, yes, the Magician and the Storyteller. I loved them all. They were all unique, they were all complete, they were all believable, and, in a strange way, they were all good guys. Sure, some were good guys only in their own minds, in their own stories, but there was never a character you could point to and say, yes, them, they are the villain, the antagonist, the bad guy.

In fact, the only thing I didn’t love was the fact that the tense and first/second/third person changes. Eve, has visions of her past (she has forgotten all of it), and these visions are written in first person + present tense. But the first part of the book is written in third person + past tense. The second half is mostly first person + present tense, except for one part, which is third person + present tense.

It actually works. Almost. The first/third person changes felt natural, and they worked. It fit the story, and I think something would be lost if the whole story was in either third- or first-person. But I think the tense changes didn’t work. The second half, which is all present tense, flowed much better than the first half, which is part present and part past. The changing between tenses made the transitions in and out of visions awkward and jerky.

So if I was writing this book, I would change it to be all in present tense. I would also change the title. If I had to go with a one-word title, I think I’d call it Becoming. But I could pick any title, I’d go with: Breathing Green.

rating out of five stars

★★★★★

conclusion

I loved it.

want to read it for yourself?

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