Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











From Goodreads: There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

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“When we go to tell our stories, people think we want it to have gone differently. People want to say things like “sore losers” and “move on already, quit playing the blame game.” But is it a game? Only those who have lost as much as we have see the particularly nasty slice of smile on someone who thinks they’re winning when they say “Get over it.” This is the thing: If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff. Then someone from up on the yacht says, “It’s too bad those people down there are lazy, and not as smart and able as we are up here, we who have built these strong, large, stylish boats ourselves, we who float the seven seas like kings.” And then someone else on board says something like, “But your father gave you this yacht, and these are his servants who brought the hors d’oeuvres.” At which point that person gets tossed overboard by a group of hired thugs who’d been hired by the father who owned the yacht, hired for the express purpose of removing any and all agitators on the yacht to keep them from making unnecessary waves, or even referencing the father or the yacht itself. Meanwhile, the man thrown overboard begs for his life, and the people on the small inflatable rafts can’t get to him soon enough, or they don’t even try, and the yacht’s speed and weight cause an undertow. Then in whispers, while the agitator gets sucked under the yacht, private agreements are made, precautions are measured out, and everyone quietly agrees to keep on quietly agreeing to the implied rule of law and to not think about what just happened. Soon, the father, who put these things in place, is only spoken of in the form of lore, stories told to children at night, under the stars, at which point there are suddenly several fathers, noble, wise forefathers. And the boat sails on unfettered.

If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps.”
― Tommy Orange, There There

Y’all. This book. It packs a punch like no other, and I was captivated by it as the stories began to intertwine and come to a head, to one final moment that brings the characters all together in this gripping tale transcending multiple generations. Gripping is an understatement… when all was said and done, and the novel stopped, I felt myself continue to lurch forward with momentum. I don’t think I can express how deep and beautiful this novel is. I can’t do it justice. But let me back up.

Tommy Orange’s novel is difficult to start. When I first began listening via audiobook, I thought I was going to hate it. It didn’t make sense to me. The prologue, which is part of the novel and should be read, begins with a candid retelling of history as North Americans know it–laying bare what the history books don’t teach us, shedding light on the part of history that we’d like to forget and sweep under a rug, never to be seen again. I thought to myself, “is this novel a history lesson?”. No. But yes. Though fictitious, it has many truths, and the experiences of many of these characters are unfortunately all too real. Because those affected by our nation’s bloody history in the past are still affected by it in our present, which Orange makes explicitly clear as his novel commences with the first story from our twelve narrators, Tony Loneman. Truth be told, the first story, Tony’s story, was not how I’d start this novel. I found it a bit dry, and I wasn’t sure where Orange was going with the novel. Then the second narrator took over, and I didn’t see any obvious connections, and I was wondering, “is this novel just a grouping of short stories?”. The stories were just there, and they didn’t entice me. They were just unhitched stories. But as I continued, I began to see the connections methodically woven between the characters, all of which is leading us, the narrators and the reader, to one final moment at the powwow; all of these twelve characters are perfectly interconnected, though they don’t know it as of yet. And as they continue their stories, adding to what we already know, and beginning to converge on Oakland’s Coliseum, the novel takes hold, creating feelings of intense foreboding through Orange’s employ of dramatic irony. The interlude, from which I quoted a particularly stunning section above, floored me, and it was then that I knew, without a doubt, that this novel is a five star read. Orange is matter-of-fact, and he’s hitting on topics that we, as a nation, have fought about for far too long, still attempting to sweep truth under the rug in order to not face the reality of our current world, or who we are, and our sordid history. And while the interlude above is just that, and the narrators barely touch upon what is explicitly stated above–it’s not a novel steeped in politics or in your face–it’s there, calling to the reader, reminding us that privilege exists, that some are luckier than others, and that if we are to survive this harrowing world, we must come together, to understand one another, and to stop the fighting. This novel is fierce.

When There There ended, I was speechless. One, I couldn’t believe Orange left us the way he did, but two, it’s just so unspeakably beautiful, thought-provoking, and intense.  Five amazing stars!

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library, but then purchased my own paperback copy from Amazon, because this powerful novel is a must for my shelves.

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From Goodreads: Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

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This novel was my book club’s pick for October, and it’s quite fitting, given that Halloween is in just a few weeks. From the beginning, I found myself extremely interested in the three main characters: Franny, Jet, and Vincent. The novel begins when they’re just teens, aware that they aren’t like other people, but unable to exactly pinpoint why they’re different… until Aunt Isabelle calls for them. Meeting the teens, learning about their parents’ rules, and seeing what they choose to do with their lives and abilities made for a fun read, though Hoffman definitely speeds through this prequel to her famed Practical Magic. On many an occasion, I found myself wishing the novel would slow down. One moment, they’re teens, then in their twenties, forties, and then old old old (no idea of the age). The family curse was intriguing, and though an overall sad tale, it does have uplifting themes of family and love, which peppered the novel enough to keep it a relatively light read. It definitely held my attention, though rushed, and though I haven’t read (nor seen) Practical Magic, I bet this novel would tickle those who have, as they get to know the aunts and the mysterious uncle when they were young. Four stars.

I borrowed a copy of this novel from my library.

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Look at those covers! Aren’t they beautiful? Which one if your favorite? Personally, I’m really feeling the sleek magical black Canadian cover, though the American version has a more fun, artsy air to it, and I love that, too! But because I couldn’t decide, I ended up buying both for my collection, because that’s how I roll (and the Hardcover American cover version is on sale for only $2.99 at the time of this posting)!

Have you read Sleight? If not, it’s time to put it in your que, because it’s a must read! Jennifer Sommersby (also known as Eliza Gordon) is one of my favorite authors, and her YA novel Sleight wrapped me up and held me tight the first time I ever read it. I’ve had the privilege of reading it multiple times over the years as Jenn tweaked it for publication; Originally self-published in 2011, Sleight was then picked up and published by Harper Collins and Sky Pony in spring of 2018, and I’m not lying when I say this book gives me all the feels; I’m so excited that its final version is now published for all to enjoy, and I’ve just finished reading it — PHENOMENAL!

Sleight is a Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Book for Kids & Teens (Fall 2018) and an Ontario Library Association Best Bets Honorable Mention Book for Young Adults (2019), while Jenn herself is a British Columbia Arts Council Grant Award Recipient for 2019!

From Goodreads: Delia smiles at the shadow only she sees—

Something slams into her. The lyra whirls like a half-dollar spinning on its edge.

My mother is thrown backward.

And she falls.

Growing up in the Cinzio Traveling Players Company, Genevieve Flannery is accustomed to a life most teenagers could never imagine: daily workouts of extravagant acrobatics; an extended family of clowns; wild animals for pets; and her mother, Delia, whose mind has always been tortured by visions—but whose love Geni never questions. In a world of performers who astonish and amaze on a daily basis, Delia’s ghostly hallucinations never seemed all that strange . . . until the evening Geni and her mother are performing an aerial routine they’ve done hundreds of times, and Delia falls to her death.

That night, a dark curtain in Geni’s life opens. Everything has changed.

Still reeling from the tragedy, the Cinzio Traveling Players are also adjusting to the circus’s new owner: a generous, mysterious man whose connection to the circus—Geni suspects—has a dark and dangerous history. And suddenly Geni is stumbling into a new reality of her own, her life interrupted daily by the terrors only Delia used to be able to see.

As the visions around her grow stronger, Geni isn’t sure who she can trust. Even worse, she’s starting to question whether she can trust her own mind.“

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A mastermind storyteller, Sommersby’s recently released YA debut, Sleight, does not disappoint. I was hooked from page one as the mystery, deception, tension, and comic relief unfolded, and I was amazed by how vivid and real the characters were.  Through her pristine use of prose and characterization, Sommersby captures the true nature of humanity as she creates characters that come to life right off the page. It is obvious from the get go that each character in this novel is crafted with love and care, and as you read, they become extremely real. Geni’s spunk and determination, Henry’s charm and humor, and Baby’s protective fatherly nature, all help to create a tale that exudes humanity and realness, endearing them to my heart. I fell in love with them immediately, and having just finished the novel, I can say that I truly feel like I know them. All of the characters are given true attributes of human nature, even Daegen, the worst of the worst, making it hard to draw an exact line between good and evil, though it blatantly exists.  I was enamored by both the characters and the writing as I read, and I adored how Sommersby uses ghostly visions of flashbacks to help Geni, Henry, and the reader begin to fill in the gaps concerning the past in order to determine the correct course of action in the present, helping Geni solve the mystery of what, exactly, she must protect.

Sommersby has a wonderful gift with words, and she does an excellent job explaining all the intricate details of circus life and magic, all while weaving a tale from which I just couldn’t look away. I gobbled up this novel in less than 24 hours, and I’m dying for more. Everything circus in this novel is beautiful, and I could literally see the big top in my minds eye, as well as the vast Elephant enclosure housing Gertrude and Houdini; I loved the relationship that Geni has with her elephants and her extended “family” of the circus, and truth be told, the synopsis for this novel just doesn’t do it justice, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, which comes out in April 2020 under two different titles: Scheme, which is the American title, and The Undoing, which is the Canadian title. Though it’ll be the same story, I’m feeling the cover love for the sequel, too, and I can’t wait to add them both to my collection as well.

Sommersby is an up-and-coming author to watch!! Five stars for this beautiful story!

I purchased my copy of Sleight from Amazon (US) and Chapter’s Indigo (Canada).

Kindle | Paperback | Hardcover for only $2.99

Visit Jenn:

 Website: http://www.jennsommersby.com

Twitter: @JennSommersby

Facebook: Jennifer Sommersby

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From Goodreads: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

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Wow.

This novel, just, WOW.

This is Where it Ends is a very powerful read, a shocking, palpable read that takes place over the course of 54 terrifying minutes while a school is locked down by a student with a gun; every parent, student, and educator’s worst nightmare come to life.

The beginning of this novel is a little difficult to follow. There are four narrators and a few twitter feeds, and the text switches constantly between them, so until you have good grasp on who’s who, it’s a tad frustrating. But don’t give up. Please don’t give up. High school is made up of many individuals, and one narrator wouldn’t have done this story justice. Neither would have a third person omniscient narrator. This story has to be told from multiple perspectives, and it works, though perhaps difficult to follow in the beginning (and also something that I bet the audible would easily fix as it has multiple narrators). It’s definitely a book where you have to think and pay attention; this is no beach read, and in my opinion, Nijkamp tells this story exactly how it has to be told, through the lens of many.  Here’s a rundown of what you need to know to help keep them straight:

AUTUMN: High school senior bent on getting out of town by applying to Julliard and other dance schools. She is a talented dancer, and she wants so badly to be like her mother–who was a professional dancer before her death. Autumn is dating Sylv,  has one disapproving brother, Ty, and an abusive father who blames Autumn for her mother’s death, forbidding her to dance.

SYLV: High school junior trying to keep her head above water. Her mother is currently ill and doesn’t always recognize Sylv or her twin brother Tomas. She lives with Tomas and her mother on their grandfather’s farm, and her older siblings come back to help as often as they can. Sylv is dating Autumn and would do anything for her, including lying about their future and the threat that Ty poses to their relationship, in order to keep Autumn happy.

TOMAS: High school junior and self-proclaimed “bad boy.” He’d rather cut his classes and is often in trouble. Twin to Sylv, he would do anything for his sister, including fighting Ty over his bullying nature towards Sylv.

CLAIRE: High school senior. Track and field and JROTC student. Former girlfriend to Ty. Has an older sister, Trace, who is in the army and overseas serving, and a younger brother in 9th grade, Matt. He is on crutches and has a compromised immune system due to Lupus.

Four narrators. And they don’t all survive. As an educator, someone who has literally spent ten months of every year in school since the age of 5, this novel terrifies me. I’ve read a lot of reviews where people say that Nijkamp’s characters don’t wow them, that they don’t connect with them like they wanted to. That’s valid, to each their own, but from my point of view, I definitely connect with them. I have students just like Autumn, Sylv, Tomas, and Claire. I don’t know these kids in this novel, but I don’t have to. They are children, they are dealing with their own fallout of their lives while trying to stay sane in school; they are in pain, and now there is an active shooter picking off random students in an auditorium that he locked from the exterior, during a school-wide assembly. I feel for them, and their stories are poignant, all of their stories are poignant, even though some of the dialogue is awkward and perhaps not always how a high schooler would speak, or think. But regardless, our four vividly real narrators lead the way, allowing the reader to feel their abject horror and fear as the 54 minutes slowly, painstakingly tick by.

What’s the culminating factor for these four main characters? Ty. He’s the school shooter, and he’s here to be heard.

Tyler. What happened to Tyler to push him to this point? I think Nijkamp does a wonderful job showing the reader that this story is not just black and white. It doesn’t just have good characters and evil characters, though Ty’s final choice to murder is pure evil, and some of his other actions are as well. Through our four narrators, we learn about their pasts and how they intertwine with Ty, and we see him through their eyes are he began to break down, from his choices, yes, but also his abuse at the hands of his father, the sudden death of his mother, his fear of losing his sister… and he projects in the worst way possible, choosing to murder, for which there is absolutely no excuse. But psychologically speaking, there is no black and white here.

Nijkamp’s novel was published in early 2016, back when the mantra of “run and hide” during an active shooting was the advice we were given. But what do you do if you’re locked in the room with the shooter? I wish the school of Opportunity (yes, it’s a cliche name for a school), had have practiced ALICE. In 2018, my district began training educators in ALICE: Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. It’s the run, hide, fight idea, which has been around for at least a decade if not longer, but not something that’s often taught in school, I mean, my district just started making ALICE training mandatory for teachers–it’s not something students are taught. Ty murders many in his 54 minute rampage; many of those murders happen in the locked auditorium, and as I was reading, I kept thinking, FIGHT. I wanted them to fight. I wanted them to take him down; yes people would have died, but I don’t believe as many would have died if the student body, or all the teachers on stage, had of reacted immediately. But then again, it’s so easy to tell people what they should have done when on the outside looking in. I just, I just cried.

This novel is unfortunately all too real in this day and age, and many people are lucky to not have to think, to really think about it, or connect to it, because it hasn’t happened to us, and for many of us, it won’t ever happen. But that doesn’t mean we should write it off. Yes, it’s awful that we have to be prepared for it, in any setting, not just school, in today’s climate. But I think that’s also why this novel is so incredibly powerful. Five stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Fire in exchange for an honest review.

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From Goodreads: A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt, while brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel’s framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel’s heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.

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Overall, Jesmyn Ward creates extremely vivid, real portrayals of life, her words floating off the page, creating mostly beautiful imagery as her stories unfold, though truth be told, some of this imagery I could do without. This is the second novel of Ward’s that I’ve read, and I truly to believe her prose is poetic, though some of it might be just a bit too overpowering. Ward has written three novels to date, and while I have not yet read the third, the two I have read both begin with blood, and in this vivid tale of abject poverty and woe, it begins with the birthing of puppies. While extremely important to the story, Wards descriptions of afterbirth and squelches definitely made me a bit ill. Dry wretching ill. I was lucky enough to borrow the audible of this novel from my library, and let me tell you, driving down the highway at 5 in the morning listening to the audible narrator, Cherise Boothe, describe a pitbull giving birth was an experience. Ward definitely has a way with words. A gift.

Salvage the Bones is Ward’s first novel, and it’s the only one she’s written that deals specifically with hurricane Katrina, though all her novels take place in Mississippi around the same time. It is a very poignant novel, one that stays with you for days after all is said and done, but at the same time, I felt that too much time was spent leading up to the storm, building up the characters and focusing on things I was less interested in, such as dog fighting, and not enough time assessing the severity of Katrina or how the family attempts to survive throughout–it is a storm that none of them take seriously, save pop, until it is too late. The characters are all extremely realistic, and Esch broke my heart, but at the same time, I wanted so badly to reach through the pages and knock sense into these children running amuck. They don’t know any better, their father is distant and their mother is dead, but between Esch’s search for “love” in all the wrong places and Skeetah’s sole care in the world being his pitbull that he forces to fight, I found myself getting angry with them. Perhaps it’s projection, because as the reader, there is literally nothing I can do to help any of them, but I still wish I could.

Personally, I don’t care about dog fighting, and Ward spends a lot more time fleshing out that sordid world than I would have liked. When the storm comes raging against their shack, I expected the novel to come even more alive, but it was over just as quickly as it began, and I was saddened by this. Now, I enjoyed this novel, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely finished it wanting more. I feel like the story just isn’t over, all this time and effort went into fleshing out these characters, but in the end, nothing changes. There is no win for anyone, and that made this one tough on me. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Go west. Capture Apollo before he can find the next oracle.
If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero had given to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on Indianapolis? And now that I have made it here (still in the embarrassing form of Lester Papadopoulos), where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal, she can order me to do anything . . . even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of prying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try.

But I’m new at this heroic-quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of all my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! Untold humiliation, impossible time limits, life-threatening danger . . . Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each completed task? Not just more deadly quests?

I vow that if I ever regain my godhood, I will never again send a poor mortal on a quest. Unless it is really important. And unless I am sure the mortal can handle it. And unless I am pressed for time . . . or I really just don’t feel like doing it myself. I will be much kinder and more generous than everyone is being to me—especially that sorceress Calypso. What does Leo see in her, anyway?

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I don’t know; this might be where I call it quits with Riordan’s Apollo series. While I did find myself snickering a lot more with Apollo’s quibs and sarcasm in this one than I did in the first installment, I also found that my interest was waning as the book cycled on. I like the story enough, and I enjoy the characters, as well, but it just seems to be the same arc over and over again:

1. Get in a jam

2. Lament about it

3. Prepare to die

4. Be saved by someone while the not too smart bad guys divulge their plan.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. After a while, it just kind of takes the joy out of it for me. I also, personally, felt like not a whole lot happened in this book, aside from Apollo constantly being upset about his average body (body shaming much?), his past loves, both male and female, and his predicament of not being a god. I get that Apollo was a self-absorbed god and all that, but I need him to calm it down in the whole “whoa is me” category.

I just wasn’t feeling this book, so I think I’ll take a break before heading on to book three, where I hear some of the bigger past characters from the other series make a sizable appearance, and maybe that’s what I’ve been craving. Two and a half stars — because it was “meh,” but also I liked it enough to probably go back to it in a few weeks.

I borrowed this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

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Jesmyn Ward is a beautiful writer, her words flowing off the page like poetry. Her characters are deeply realistic, and I found myself really enjoying this novel. Even though I hated Leonie, and wished her ill many a time as she narrated her story of selfishness and drug riddled episodes, the story is raw and real, one from which I could not look away. Jojo’s story is heartbreaking, and I felt surges of both sadness and anger for him as he narrated his story of growing up too fast in an inhospitable post Katrina world.  I really felt for Jojo and his toddler sister, Michaela. I just don’t understand how people can be so incredibly selfish that they put themselves before their own children. Yet, it happens everyday in the real world; the news is cluttered with instances of parental shortcomings.  It’s disheartening, but real, and Ward’s novel expertly captures these poignant and raw relationships.

While the writing and characters are extremely well written and vivid, the one aspect that I wasn’t so much in love with in this novel was the magical realism. Magical realism and I have never been good friends, and while I do understand its purpose, I felt that Ritchie’s story blending into Jojo’s was more so confusing than insightful in the very end. I’m not 100% positive, as Ward doesn’t explain it, but I believe Jojo has “the sight.”  Without giving too much away, what I will say is that Jojo’s mother and he both see ghosts, but not the same ghosts, and not for the same reasons. Leonie’s ghost is that of her deceased brother, Given, who only shows when she is in the throws of a high, born out of guilt. However, Jojo’s ghost, Ritchie, shows up for the first time halfway through the novel seeking answers that only Jojo’s Pop can provide, if only Jojo can convince Pop to finish telling him the story of his time at Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. Ritchie’s story is powerful, laying bare the life of Jojo’s idol, Pop, and the soul-crushing choices one must make when faced with impossible decisions. Up until this point, Pop has repeatedly told Jojo the beginning of the story of Ritchie, but he never verbalizes the end, an end that Ritchie, like Jojo, needs to hear in order to move on. This I do understand, but the story doesn’t end there, when I thought it would. Instead, more ghosts show up, and I’m not sure why or what is really happening there at the end–like I said, Magical Realism and I aren’t good friends. Regardless, though, the story itself is beautifully told, and if you get the chance to listen to this novel via audio book, I highly recommend it! Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley give the novel life with their bold and emotional narration, bringing the story, the lyrical prose, and the characters to life in a way reading off the page cannot. Four stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go… an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

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I was really excited to start reading this novel; the Percy Jackson series was amazing, and I didn’t realize that Riordan had written a new series that takes us back to Camp Half-Blood! Apollo, now a mere mortal after angering Zeus, has a very interesting story, and once again, Riordan does a wonderful job allowing readers to pick up here without the need of reading the other ten books in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles (the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus series), though I think it would help with a few of the references that Apollo makes as he narrates his tale. I believe that this novel picks up 6 months after the conclusion of events in The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus #5), but as I haven’t yet read that novel, I can’t be too certain — but it makes sense in my mind based on the conversation that Percy Jackson and Apollo have towards the beginning of the novel.

Now, this is not a novel about Percy Jackson. While he makes a few appearances, as do some of the older characters from the prior series, readers are mostly given a whole new cast of characters to love and enjoy. For example, Apollo and his newest friend, a demigod named Meg, are a fun pair, and I relished their trials and tribulations as they attempted to set the world aright. Although a tad juvenile here and there (Meg is only 12 years old, afterall), I enjoyed their banter and the story overall, though I did find the foreshadowing a bit overbearing… as I called all the main plot-points well before they happened. Much like the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan continues his crossover of Greek and Roman mythology, and regardless of the heavy foreshadowing, the story itself is still entertaining and definitely worth a read if you’re into Greek and Roman Mythology. I’m happily about to begin the second book in the series (with book four just coming out a few days ago), and think that, like the Percy Jackson series, this series, too, is a great addition for reluctant readers and, of course, any lovers of MG and YA novels. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

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This book. This book is not for everyone. It’s an enigma. I went from loving it to being less than enthralled by it… I almost entirely gave up on it about halfway through, but pushed on and finally found myself enjoying it again. Lincoln in the Bardo was recommended to me as a book to possibly teach/have students research in high school AP Literature and Composition, but by a quarter of the way through, I KNEW this was absolutely not a book I’d ever be comfortable teaching… I personally can’t hand this to a student, and below, I’ll tell you why.

Lincoln in the Bardo has many awards with claims of immense literary merit; they say a novel of its like has never been written, and that may be so, but even so, I found it… Lacking? Obscene? Grandiose? Confusing? Powerful? Tedious? Engrossing? Boring? Strange?

Can I check off all of the above? Because I’m going to have to say it falls into every single one of those categories in one way or another.

For one, I’ve never read a book with over 104 chapters in it. I mean, this novel is not that long, coming in at just over 340 pages. I’d expect a dozen or two chapters, of course, but over 100? Really? Well, they say this novel is unlike any other, and in the chapter category, I’ll say that’s probably true. What really got me about the chapters is that many just end mid-sentence. And while that was strange in the beginning, it actually worked really well at the end, except that’s not how the novel truly ended. For the last 10% of the novel (read this via Kindle and audiobook), it seemed that every single chapter was the perfect conclusion, but instead, it just kept going. This was frustrating to me, to say the least, but I will admit that I enjoyed almost all of the last 10% of the novel, except for the completely uncalled for lewd “shock value” scene, which Saunders seems so fond of using, as he’s peppered them throughout this novel, and I just don’t see the point, nor did I enjoy, them.

But let me start at the beginning. When I first tried to read this novel, I bought it on Kindle and was listening to it via text-to-speech, and that was a terrible idea. This novel isn’t written like others, and Saunders instead goes back and forth between his fictitious spirit characters and actual primary sources, such as letters and diary entries from eyewitness accounts, surrounding Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and little Willie Lincoln’s death. Trying to listen to the novel go back and forth between the fiction and primary sources in a dead monotone computer voice just wasn’t working, and I had no idea what was happening in this novel. As I was driving on my way to work, I couldn’t just stop of follow along with my Kindle, so I spent an hour listening via text-to-speech, trying so hard to figure out what was happening, to no avail. At that point, I was ready to throw in the towel and thought this novel wasn’t for me. But then, I checked with my library, and they had the audiobook available! Praise God, “I’ll try again!” I thought. I’m still not sure if that was a good idea on my part, but let’s just say this was an experience.

So, the audiobook has 166 narrators. You read that right. 166 different narrators. Again, they say this book is unprecedented and there is none other out there like it. In this aspect, I agree. 166 narrators? Alright, let’s hear it. So, I began listening. And you know what, listening via audiobook made this novel come alive (no pun intended), and I really got into it! Nick Offerman narrates as one of the main spirit characters, Hans Vollman, and boy does he do a great job! I loved him in “Parks and Recreation,” and he was fantastic in this novel as well. Truth be told, I might not have finished this novel had he not been the main narrator. He really brings the story to life, and I can’t say enough good about him! But anyway, the two main spirits, Vollman and Bevins, were fabulously crafted, though some of their stories a bit strange, and I found myself drawn in by them as they perpetuate the story. They were intriguing to me, and I enjoyed the back and forth nature of their stories/dialogue and the real primary sources. The fact that Saunders intertwined historical documents and eyewitness accounts about the events surrounding Lincoln and his dying child, Willie, gave the story validity, even if some of the accounts were boring and repetitive, as I eventually found them to be… I don’t really find pages upon pages of eyewitness accounts concerning what the moon looked like the evening Willie lay dying, or pages of accounts of the color of Abraham Lincoln’s eyes all that interesting… but I digress. Initially, I was really enjoying this novel. At least, the first 15% of it I really enjoyed.

But then, somewhere between 15-25% of the way through the novel, things got… weird. It turns out, our spirit guide, Vollman, is actually running around naked with a “huge swollen member” impeding him from doing things. At this point, I was like, “What?” Why is this included in this novel? There is no historical reason, and it doesn’t fit, nor is this something I want my students reading about in class… but it only happened once, so I pushed past it. However, Vollman’s “member” was randomly mentioned throughout the whole rest of the novel, so it did get to be a bit too much. We learn in the very first chapter that Vollman wants to consummate his marriage with his wife, but can’t (because he’s dead…and won’t admit it), but is that the reason he runs around naked and Saunders continues to draw attention to his “member”? I can’t pinpoint a valid reason for its inclusion aside from Saunder’s wanting to shock the reader, which in my case, he did, because it came right out of left field… Every. Single. Time.

Now, that’s not all that was shocking. Like I said, there are 166 narrators in this novel. Some narrators literally read only one sentence from a historical document, while others play larger parts, and making up those larger parts, are many, many spirits. I’m just guessing here, but I’d say there are at least 30 different spirits in the cemetery that chime in or insist on telling their story to young Willie at some point over the course of the novel… Poor Willie, who has just arrived in the graveyard and has no idea what’s happened to him, or what’s happening around him. Most of the other spirits stories did nothing to actually move the story along. One couple in particular made my skin crawl and I see no purpose to them whatsoever: The Barons. These people are despicable, and every other word out of their mouths are “f— you/them/him/her.” Now, I’m no scholar, but this is set in 1862, the day young Willie dies/is interred in his crypt. That being said, the use of the F word didn’t really exist in the manner in which The Barons so liberally use it, as they yell at everyone and everything using this cuss. This just didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t fit with the narrative, was 100% shocking and unexpected, and gave me pause. Was the F word used like that in 1862? Well, everything I looked up concerning The F word and its popular usage and meaning says it didn’t come into the use it currently has, the same use The Baron’s use it for, until around the 1900s, so I personally don’t feel like this part of the story holds any merit, which is strange, because it’s very obvious Saunders did a ton of research for this novel. Like I said, he spends a good deal of time dishing out eyewitness accounts of the moon, Abraham Lincoln’s ugliness, and a whole slew of other information to validate the time period, which Saunders would have had to dig for. So why the use of the F word if that’s not something that would have been said back then in this manner? The only thing I can think of here is that it was purely for “shock value,” just like the orgy scene at the end of the novel that had no place or reason for being there at all.

I’m not saying that The Barons use the F word and other cusses occasionally. I’m saying it’s every other word for pages upon pages. I had my windows down in the car as I was listening, and let me tell you, I turned beat red and paused the audible, rolled up the windows, turned the sound way down, and was still uncomfortable listening to those two characters rant. Wow. They are intense, and they randomly pop up all over the place for the rest of the novel, touting their lovely language, so you never know when you’re about to be needlessly inundated by the F word.

This whole novel takes place over the course of one night, and as it turns out, no one in the cemetery, in this purgatory of sorts, really knows they’re dead. They consider themselves sick or recovering, and each day they crawl back into their “sickboxes” with their literal remains, but for some reason, they don’t understand that they’re dead. And that’s fine. That’s what actually propels this entire novel. You have the spirits knowing they can pass through the undead, can fly through walls, and cannot leave the black gate, but they don’t put two and two together that they’re in a cemetery, dead. So poor Willie, and all of them, really, have to figure that out. It’s actually a kind of cool premise, and once I figured out that was what the story was about, things really started making sense… but there was so much red tape I had to get through to figure out that this is what the novel is about, hence me nearly putting it down for good.

For one, I thought this novel was supposed to be about Willie, but he really only plays a very tiny part in this story. I also thought it was supposed to be about Abraham Lincoln attempting to come to terms with the death of his son while the country is in turmoil, but that’s also just a tiny part. Instead, it is about the spirits coming to terms with their lot in life and passing on, which in the end, was kind of beautiful. Yes, this novel was a mess. Even with the audible, I had no idea what was going on sometimes, or why certain characters existed. I was shocked and appalled, grossed out, bored with some of the never-ending historical accounts, but also enamored by the grit of it all, especially when Saunders began sharing the eye witness accounts of people who hated Lincoln and thought he was driving the nation to its end. They were appalled with him, with his throwing of a lavish party while Willie lay upstairs ill, with the Civil War and the brother/fathers/lovers dying for a cause many saw as being frivilous… and reading these brief but poignant accounts from real people who lived during the time was attention grabbing for me, especially when Saunders finally brought in the African-American voices near the conclusion (of which I wish there had been so much more). And in the end, I think there’s a pretty powerful metaphor concerning a spirit that leaves with Lincoln… but you’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

When all was finally said and done, I actually found myself having a hard time letting go of the characters and their stories. I felt, not to be cliché, that I was missing a piece of myself. “How can that be?” you might ask? I asked myself the same, especially because I had such a hard time reading this book, let alone enjoying it. I’m not sure, but part of me connected with this book, and the other part wanted to run away from it screaming.

In the end, this is a book that needs to be studied; I didn’t get it all the first time, and I certainly didn’t enjoy all of it. I probably won’t get it all the second time I read it, nor the third. And that, I believe, is what gives it “umpfh.” It’s a rich text, confusing as they come, but rich nonetheless, and while certainly not one I’d hand my highschoolers for the above-mentioned shock value peppering (that adds nothing to the story), it’s one I will someday, in the far distant future, pick up again and re-read, because there’s more to this than meets the eye/ear/senses.

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From Goodreads: Bernadette Fox has vanished.

When her daughter Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as a reward for perfect grades, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent shut-in, throws herself into preparations for the trip. But worn down by years of trying to live the Seattle life she never wanted, Ms. Fox is on the brink of a meltdown. And after a school fundraiser goes disastrously awry at her hands, she disappears, leaving her family to pick up the pieces–which is exactly what Bee does, weaving together an elaborate web of emails, invoices, and school memos that reveals a secret past Bernadette has been hiding for decades. Where’d You Go Bernadette is an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are and the power of a daughter’s love for her mother.

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I really wanted to love this novel; I was hooked almost immediately upon beginning, and for roughly half of it, I was 100% on board loving everything about it! An epistolary novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told completely through letters: emails and faxes being the main mode for this story. And yet, we learn so much about Bernadette; she’s a funny, whimsical character that had me in stitches as I read. Her nutty neighbors and the gnats (busybody school moms), as Bernadette refers to them, were so much fun to read about, and I felt like this story was just so perfect. It was witty, funny, and had enough elements in it that made me say, “this could really happen–I’ve seen crazier in real life!” I felt like I had a connection with the characters, and all was well. And then, Bernadette disappeared. Initially I was intrigued, but it soon became too fantastical, too unbelievable, and the novel seemed to speed up to the point that I just lost interest — whole months were being skipped. Suddenly, the main fun character was gone, and we’re left with a moody daughter, a cheating husband, an annoying gnat, and a quick resolution explaining how and why everything works out in the end, except that it doesn’t, and it’s outside the realm of belief for me. When I finally got to the end, I said aloud, “that’s it?” There’s no resolution, and I walked away from this one disappointed. It’s actually a novel where I feel like the movie is going to be better than the book, just because the trailer I saw already had changed some key points that I’d taken issue with in the novel, so… even though the novel was a bit of a let down in the last half, I still have hopes for the movie. Overall, I give this book three stars.

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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From Goodreads: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

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This was not for me. The description and cover made me think this was going to be realistic drama surrounding a suicide, with perhaps some magical realism woven throughout, but what I read was very far from that. This short novel (less than 200 pages) is a science-fiction fantasy read, and had I realized that, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, since that’s not really my taste in books.

The story moves very quickly as the unnamed narrator tells it, and I had a lot more questions than answers in this one. I think the idea behind Lettie Hempstock and her family was extremely intriguing, but because no real information is ever divulged, I found myself frustrated with non-answers. I think I might have enjoyed this more had it been longer and more fleshed out, with more of a cohesive story-line and connections I could follow. Now, if you’re looking for a fast-paced, staccato science fiction read, you might really enjoy this one, so don’t write it off just on my account, but alas, this book was not for me. Two stars.

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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From Goodreads: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

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As I began reading this novel, I was reminded a bit of A Man Called Ove, which I absolutely adored. Like Ove, Eleanor is put-off by people and social interaction, though her decision is more so because she doesn’t really understand them, rather than that she just doesn’t care for them. But regardless, she’d much rather spend time by herself. However, as Eleanor begins to share her idiosyncrasies with the reader through her first-person narrative, we find that her story, and the reason she acts the way she does, is not so much out of disdain for others, but rather from her tumultuous upbringing in which she endured some awful, tragic experiences at the hands of those who should have kept her safe. In truth, while Eleanor is funny in her quibs and thought-process, her story is quite sad and shows a deep, raw level of her psyche as she deals with her past and begins, slowly, to remember what happened to her so long ago.

This novel gave me pause as I began to think about social interaction, and what is deemed acceptable versus what is deemed “strange” in today’s society. We have all known others who don’t seem to understand social ques and “acceptable” practices… but what if, from their point-of-view of the world, we’re actually the ones who don’t get it? Eleanor made me laugh aloud a number of times as she described what she perceived as rude or strange behavior she was witnessing, which many in the world would actually view as quite natural and fine. But from Eleanor’s standpoint, it made sense that she found it strange, or thought so matter-of-factly about it, especially as we got to know her. It was quite interesting to turn those tables and think about this other side of the coin.

Here’s a few of my favorite examples:

When determining what gift is appropriate for someone, Eleanor, “pondered what else [she] should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. {She] looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”

When asked to contribute for a company gift for her co-workers, Eleanor states, “Janey was planning a short engagement, she’d simpered, and so, of course, the inevitable collection for the wedding present would soon follow. Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery-I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.”

And later, Eleanor has a hard time identifying a balloon she’s given, as she generally does not know what is popular in the world, as seen in this interaction with Raymond: “’It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,’ he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “SpongeBob SquarePants?” A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something completely unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

Of course I guffawed at these and many more instances, thinking, “she has a point!” In Eleanor’s world, she is not influenced by the world around her, and she thinks rationally–she’s never had anyone in her life really explain or show her the way of the world — she’s lived a very sheltered, lonely life, and while her thoughts are funny and endeared her to me, I also felt really quite badly for her, as the reader slowly begins to put together that the reason she isn’t influenced by the world around her, and the reason she doesn’t “get” people, is because she’s stuck, unbeknownst to herself, in a past where she was so deelpy hurt that allowing the world in again is unfathomable.

The characters in this novel are very real, and I found this to be quite an intriguing read, one I devoured quite quickly, though not without questions. Some of the events in the novel seemed a little off, like they perhaps wouldn’t be something that could or would happen, and of course, which I can’t describe specifically here without spoiling the entire novel. But even with suspending disbelief in a few areas of the novel, overall I found it quite enjoyable and rather touching, and I highly recommend it. Four stars.

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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From Goodreads: Noah’s happier than I’ve seen him in months. So I’d be an awful brother to get in the way of that. It’s not like I have some relationship with Melinda. It was just a kiss. Am I going to ruin Noah’s happiness because of a kiss?

Across four sun-kissed, drama-drenched summers at his family’s beach house, Chase is falling in love, falling in lust, and trying to keep his life from falling apart. But some girls are addictive….

Not your typical beach read.

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I was a touch disappointed with this novel, as the last Moskowitz book I read, Gone, Gone, Gone, was absolutely phenomenal, but this one didn’t do anything for me. It was a bit too angsty, a little gritty, and just overall had too much of a staccato feel to it. The story takes place from the viewpoint of Chase over four summers in, I believe, Ocean City, MD, where he and his rather large family spend 1 month a year in the summer, next door to the Hathaways. It’s always been like this, and it’s something the whole family looks forward to all year, however, the first year we meet the family, everything is beginning to fall apart at the seams, and poor Chase is trying desperately to hold it all together. But, I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters. Chase is 14 when the story opens, and I believe he’s 18 when it closes, but to me, he didn’t change, grow, or mature at all as a character over that span, and neither did any of the other characters, aside from in age. Chase’s older brother was melodramatic and lamented his upbringing, but for what reason’s, I was unclear, Chase was a tad clingy and touchy-feely, and the other characters were just kind of there. Melinda, next door, was a strange nymphomaniac, and the story itself just seemed to move too quickly and gloss over every major issue presented, and there were a lot. I think I would have really enjoyed this novel had those major bombshell scenes been fleshed out and truly dealt with, but that doesn’t seem to be the way anyone in the family deals with anything, and so the novel, and characters, left me more or less unsatisfied, so I rate this one a two.

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

However, like I said in the beginning, Moskowitz’s novel, GONE, GONE, GONE is absolutely wonderful and one you need to read, so below is a link to my review of that novel!

Gone, Gone, Gone 5 Star Review

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From Goodreads : A thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of sacrifice—inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago.

At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak’s magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world–using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally’s tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.

The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak’s country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature—told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world.

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I’m not usually a historical fiction reader, but The Secrets We Kept was an absolutely phenomenal read that had me glued to the pages from the very beginning. Told from the viewpoint of multiple people during the height of the Cold War, readers embark into the world of spies, revolutionaries, double agents, and their secretaries. A mix of love stories and spy work, Lara Prescott fills readers in on the true story of how the CIA smuggled Dr. Zhivago back into Russia as a way to bring down the Communists from the inside. Though the dialog is imagined, especially the Typists sections — those brave woman back from WWII delegated to secretarial work instead of the field where they belong, now that the men are home from the war — the people and events are real.

Prescott is a very talented writer, and I loved the flow of the novel, jumping from character to character as the novel unfolds, allowing the reader to get to know all the key players, from the spies, Sally and Irina, to the Russian lovers, Olga and Boris, to even the secretaries, seamlessly tying the story together as each character shares their take on events. The Audible version actually employs multiple narrators in order to keep each person’s story separate, and I loved have male and female narrators accordingly. They expertly read their parts, and I easily got lost in their tales as they shared the story with me. If you have Audible, I highly suggest listening to this novel that way; it made it that much more real and compelling for me.

I haven’t fully read Dr. Zhivago, though I tried immediately after finishing this novel, as I wanted to see what all the hype was about back in the late 1950s, however, that story wasn’t for me. Yet, whether or not you’ve read Dr. Zhivago has no baring on your ability to keep up with this whirlwind of espionage that Prescott so masterfully fleshes out for the reader. I spent a good few hours after completing this novel looking up the characters and learning just how well Prescott did mirroring the situations and adding dialogue that perfectly matches events, and yet captivates readers at the same time.

Truth be told, the synopsis above tells it best. This is a powerful novel, and I highly suggest you move it up the reading pile so it’s next on your list. Five stars.

I purchased this novel from Audible.

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Synopsis: Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know each other. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Stone House is finally ready to welcome its first guests to the big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. Laugh and cry with this unlikely group as they share their secrets and—maybe—even see some of their dreams come true. Full of Maeve’s trademark warmth and humor, once again, she embraces us with her grand storytelling.

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I’m not going to lie; I didn’t want to have anything to do with this book, but I’m so very glad I picked it up! I recently moved, and my new neighborhood has a book club, which I was eager to join to hopefully begin making friends in the area. That being said, the current novel they were reading and about to meet to discuss was A Week in Winter, published post-humanously after the death of Maeve Binchy. Having been out of the book world for so long, I’d never heard of this well-established author, and in checking her covers and synopsis, I feared this was a hallmark novel trap–that I was going to have to read something so vastly different from my tastes and walk into my first book club meeting less than pleased with the book. However, we’ve all heard not to judge a book by its cover, and I was absolutely pleasantly surprised by how much I adored this novel!

Chicky Starr is a vivid character that the reader can’t help but love. We meet her as a whimsical young woman, swept off her feet by an American and whisked off to the USA, where, of course, years pass, and things don’t go as planned. Armed with a plan, she finally returns to Ireland and takes over Stone House, slowly putting everything together in order to open to her first guests. From there, Binchy expertly weaves the tales of the rest of the people involved with, and staying at, Stone House, dedicating one long chapter to each of the 9 remaining people in the novel.

I think, by far, my favorite chapter was that of Rigger, a young boy born out of wedlock and hidden from his extended family. Although it’s the latter half of the 20th century, we quickly learn that Rigger’s mother cannot bare what she feels is shame for having a child without a father, so she hides him away. Doing her best to raise Rigger in Dublin, working many jobs just to put food on the table, Rigger soon finds himself wrapped up with the wrong type of folk, and after a stint in juvie and a robbery gone wrong, ends up at Stone House with Chicky. I loved his story of redemption, and how realistic Rigger is. And while it is true that many of the characters within the novel do find a type of redemption, or solace, making this into a definite hallmark feel-good novel, I loved it!

I thought it was especially intriguing how Binchy chose to weave all the character’s stories together, and she ordered them so perfectly that each character builds off the next in some way, without overdoing it, or rehashing too much. Each character, from the movie star John to the psychic Frida, has a role to play in this story, and how they all arrive at Stone House, and their previous plights are all nicely wrapped with a bow at the very end… all save one character, who I tend to believe couldn’t have a happy ending without making the novel too touchy-feely, and for which I give kudos to the author.

For me, this definitely classifies as a beach read, or better yet, a Christmas read, one where you can sit leisurely and read, or as in my case, listen in chapter increments. Rosalyn Landor was a phenomenal narrator, and her voices and accents really helped me visualize and dive deep into the stories; I found it quite uncanny how well she did male voices versus female, and Irish accents versus American. I definitely recommend this novel, which you can get on Kindle for just $3.99 at the time of this review release, though I recommend the Audible even more.  Five stars.

I purchased this novel from Audible.

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Synopsis: A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

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This is another novel that I’d heard so much about over the years, and regret putting off reading for so long! It’s an absolutely spectacular novel, which I had the opportunity to listen to through Audible, narrated by George Newbern. Between Backman’s wit and Newbern’s matter-of-fact narration style, I found myself snickering and chuckling to myself as I listened while easily falling in love with Ove and his story of love, loss, heartbreak, and redemption. This poor man wants nothing more than to die and join his wife, and while suicide is no laughing matter, Backman is able to take this story and show how the simple act of paying attention and caring for those around us can have a profound effect on those around us who need it most.

I love how Backman intertwines the present with the past, slowly revealing how Ove came to be the sour, angry old man that he is, but also chipping away at his hard shell exterior in order to show the true Ove inside, as he attempts time and again to join his wife, and is comically interrupted due to his strict rules and beliefs about how his residents’ association should be run, time and time again.  Ove has his set of rules, and he doesn’t break them for anyone, leading to a kind of comedy-of-errors as the residents around him live their lives free of strict rules and instead choose camaraderie.

The one aspect of the novel that I struggled to fully grasp was that of the “white shirts,” and what their role is in Sweden. Are they real, or fictional? In the novel, it seems that the government can come in and boss around citizens whenever they please, going as far as taking away their homes and rights to freedoms, and while I’m sure that’s not the exact right interpretation, I haven’t been able to find much corroborating who or what they represent in Sweden online, aside from a poke at government and corporations, however, I’m not sure if an entity of the white shirts is real or made up for this novel; I’d love an answer, if you happen to know.

I see a little bit of myself in Ove, as I’m sure we all do in one way or another, and Backman’s heartwarming unraveling of Ove allows him to finally find everything he didn’t realize he was missing in life. It was such a moving story; I laughed and I cried on many occasions because of the wonderful connections I made with the characters and their plights as I read, and I really can’t say enough good things about this amazing novel. I highly recommend it, especially as the Kindle version is only $5.99 at the time of this initial posting! Five stars.

I purchased this novel from Audible.

Did you know that you can try a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

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Synopsis: When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job and moves his family to the idyllic rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Despite Ludlow’s tranquility, an undercurrent of danger exists here. Those trucks on the road outside the Creed’s beautiful old home travel by just a little too quickly, for one thing…as is evidenced by the makeshift graveyard in the nearby woods where generations of children have buried their beloved pets.

Then there are the warnings to Louis both real and from the depths of his nightmares that he should not venture beyond the borders of this little graveyard where another burial ground lures with seductive promises and ungodly temptations. A blood-chilling truth is hidden there—one more terrifying than death itself, and hideously more powerful. As Louis is about to discover for himself sometimes, dead is better

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King once self-proclaimed his novel, Pet Sematary, to be the scariest, darkest of all his books, a statement I expected to hold true for the king of horror, however, I found that this novel was not in fact scary in the sense that I expected, but rather more so disturbing, and then only near the end, after tragedy befalls the Creeds.

Truth be told, I spent a majority of this novel just waiting for something to happen. It’s a long story, and King spends much of the novel fleshing out the main character, Louis Creed, until he feels like an old friend that we’ve known all our lives. The character development is phenomenal, if painstakingly slow, and Louis and his actions throughout were quite believable, especially to someone who has felt the pangs of grief as he does. However, I never quite got over his treatment of the cat, Church, which actually made me quite mad.

It’s no secret that this novel touches upon a cemetery, and the title itself states it deals with pets, so it is safe to assume that you’ve already figured out that animals, such as Church, come back from the dead in this novel. But what I wasn’t ready for was the absolute abysmal treatment of the reanimated cat by Louis, who is the worst offender, and then the rest of his family, who are none the wiser to the fact that Church was brought back to life by the Indian Burial Ground located not in the Pet Sematary itself, but beyond, deep in the woods full of danger and strange sounds.

I love cats, and poor Church never asked for anything, nor did he ask to be reanimated, but once he is, his poor coordination, constant smell of decaying dirt, and his uncanny ability to be wherever Louis doesn’t want him is not his fault, and I literally spent over half the novel feeling sorry for this poor animal who is really only a precursor for what is to come much later in the novel, the darker twist that readers see coming from a long ways off, one they hope won’t come true, but know ultimately will.

And how that all unfolds is the portion that is disturbing. I wouldn’t say it is scary by any means, but rather just awful to think about, and a hard pill for many to swallow, especially adults with children in their lives. Luckily, King doesn’t seem to want to dwell on it much either, and this portion, the part that is really what Pet Sematary is all about, is the shortest portion of the novel, moving along quite quickly and then, like so many others of Kings novels, leave readers on a cliffhanger of sorts. One where we must write the rest of the story; one that might keep us up late at night just thinking, what if?

I think, had I the proper information going into this novel (I’ve never watched the movies, nor looked up the premise, save what I heard in “Broken Fingernails,” episode 17 of the hit podcast LORE by Aaron Mahnke, which is what made me pick up Pet Sematary in the first place), I wouldn’t have been as disappointed as I was with the lack of scares I felt as I slogged through the novel, and in this vein, I am very happy that I listened to this novel via audiobook.com, as Michael C. Hall did a great job narrating and switching voices, adding depth to the story that I feel I would have completely missed had I read this in the traditional sense.

All in all, I was looking for a few more scares in this novel, and thus, it’s a 3.5 star read for me.

I received this audio book as part of a free trial for audiobooks.com.

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Synopsis: “What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

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“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted.”

— Jellicoe Road opening lines.

I wish I’d read this book sooner. I wish I’d read this way back in 2011, when I first learned about it, and everyone told me how wonderful it is. I wish I’d read it in 2014 when I finally purchased a copy based on the rave reviews, but alas, I did not, and I feel like I wasted eight years of my life having not read it until this moment–eight years in which I could have had Taylor, Jonah, Chaz, and Narnie besides me and in my heart, eight years in which I could have recommended this novel to others as a must read, just as it was recommended to me… I’ve been away from the reviewing world for about four years, and this is literally the first book I’ve read in nearly five years that’s wrapped me so tightly that I read it in one sitting; it kept me up into the wee hours of the morning turning the pages, wanting to know more, but not wanting the story to end, and I finished it in a whirlwind of feelings just five short hours after I began.

When I first began this novel, I’ll admit I was confused. But Marchetta immediately drew me in with those two opening sentences I mentioned above. How could she not? Marchetta tells two stories that intertwine throughout and paint a beautiful tale of mystery, identity, and finding oneself, but in the beginning, that isn’t as obvious, and it might tempt you to put the book down and check it off as just “not for you.” DON’T DO THAT! Trust me on this one, you need to keep reading. It will all come together in the most perfect, beautiful way, but you’ll have to wait for it, which is part of what makes this novel so good. The prologue begins in the past–and thankfully Marchetta chooses to tell the past in italics to help the reader get their bearings as the novel progresses and switches between the two narratives, one in the present, and the other 18 years in the past. The story in the present of course takes the forefront, focusing on a boarding school and a semi-violent turf war between the Cadets, Townies, and the Jellicoe School Students as they battle it out for territory for six weeks each year, and the territory wars are extremely serious. Between a coup, running dorms, hiding the “war” from teachers and adults, and trying to negotiate for territory, the main character, Taylor, is introduced and solidified as a young woman hell bent on keeping her head down and just trying to make it through unscathed. Abandoned at 11 by her mother, she doesn’t know much about her parents nor her identity, having pushed her life prior to Jellicoe from her mind soon after Hannah picks her up from the 7-11 in town and brings her to the school. Taylor’s story is heartbreaking, but at the same time, it is majestic and healing as well, and as Marchetta unveils new information about events that happened 18 years prior through her expert sprinkling of foreshadowing, savvy readers will begin to piece together who and how each person from the past and the present intertwines with one another so seamlessly.

This is a wonderful story that builds realistic characters that jump off the page and enter the reader’s soul. I cannot say enough about how perfect this story truly is, and I highly, highly recommend you pick up a copy and start reading TODAY! Five stars!

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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Synopsis: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

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This novel absolutely wrapped me up and blew me away. It’s a very poignant tale of a young woman attempting to survive in an inhospitable world, running first from the abuse of her father, and then from that of the townsfolk, finding solace only in the silence of nature. Virtually alone in the world from the young age of six, Kya’s story is one of sorrow that will run the reader through a whole gamut of emotions, and yet, it is also so very empowering. Whereas I would probably lay down and die if abandoned by the world, Kya flourishes into a beautiful young woman, expertly blending into the Marsh around her and learning to not only survive, but thrive.

Although this novel was released in August of 2018, I only recently heard of it through an AP Literature page I follow on Facebook (I’ve been away from the book world and writing reviews for quite some time). Many, many teachers have fallen in love with Where the Crawdads Sing, and the fact than many are also teaching it in AP Literature this year roused my curiosity. And since I just joined my neighborhood book club, I chose this as our upcoming November read. However, I just couldn’t wait that long to read it, and due to the nature of my new commute to work, I decided to purchase it through audible and start immediately, and I am quite glad I did!

While I’ll admit I wasn’t pulled in by the story immediately, I found that, as the murder mystery of the story began to intertwine with that of Kya’s fight for survival, I became hooked. There are many layers to this story, creating true-to-life characters and many aspects for analysis, and because of this, I can see why so many teachers have chosen to teach this novel in AP Lit this year. There is so much to this beautiful novel that makes it a spectacular read!

The novel begins with Kya at six years old, watching her mother walk down the lane away from the shack, as Kya slowly begins to recount how everyone leaves her. We’re introduced to the Marsh, her brother Jodie, and Kya’s plights to avoid her abusive father, find food, feed herself, and stay away from the truancy officers who come to take her to school. And as Kya grows, so does her ability to care for herself; the love stories within this novel add many layers to Kya that show how human she really is, despite what the townsfolk say. While much of Kya’s life is a struggle, this story is not bogged down by sadness by any means, and the way that Owens structures her novel allows the reader to seamlessly experience the highs and lows, as well as the mystery surrounding the death of Chase Andrews, calling into question, “did Kya really do it?”

Living in the Marsh her whole life has made Kya different, but the events taking place are believable and majestically told, especially with the Southern voice of Cassandra Campbell. If you get the change to listen via audible, I highly suggest it, though traditional reading of this story will leave you in love with it just as well. Five stars.

I purchased this novel from Audible.

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Ready Player One.pngFrom Goodreads: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

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Ernest Cline’s bestseller, Ready Player One, packs a serious punch that any gamer in our Galaxy can easily get behind. But what about non-gamers? No worries, you’ll still be drawn in as the characters are fleshed out and their story between the real world and the virtual OASIS intertwines. I’m not an avid gamer; I haven’t played video games in probably ten years, but the idea behind a society where people are jacked into a virtual game, where they can live their entire lives, going to school, working a job, etc., and at the same time, immerse themselves in the past, mainly the 1980s, well, that kind of tickles my fancy. Especially because for us, right now, the 1980s isn’t that far in the past, and for me, it’s still fresh in my memories, so traveling down memory lane, focusing on movies and other fun 80s mementos makes for a fun background to the story.

I really liked how Cline began his novel, stating the ending outright, and then circling around to explain how everything came to be. Yet, even though I was aware of how it all would end, the novel was still fraught with suspense as Wade fights his way through both the game and the real world as well. With many friends and foes, this novel is really a non-stop ride, one I highly enjoyed and hope that you’ll give a try, especially as this novel is slated to hit the big screen in 2018. This is one I’ll be watching on release night, but just remember, the book is always better than the movie! Five stars.

5 stars

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