YA Review: Loki: Where Mischief Lies

Title: Loki: Where Mischief Lies
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Edition:
Hardback
Rating:
4/5

Who was Loki before he became the character we know (and love!) from the Marvel Avengers films? What were his formative experiences? Mackenzi Lee gets to play with the family dynamics of a younger Loki, Thor, Frigga, and Odin in Where Mischief Lies, and it is evident that she is having a lot of fun in the process!

This is an engaging romp through Asgard and the Nine Realms, and Midgard in the shape of nineteenth century London. Dropping the god of mischief into a world that knows the myths and legends of his family but doesn’t believe in magic provides a perfect excuse for misunderstandings, unreliable bargains, new friendships and inevitable betrayals.

Loki’s task in London is to investigate a series of magical murders, with the help of a mysterious secret society. He’s already upset that Thor is proving himself to be the statesman and future king in the family, while he is sent to Midgard in disgrace. When he discovers the truth behind the secret society, and behind the murders, he has to decide whether his loyalties lie with Odin and Asgard, or with himself and the relationships he chooses.

This is an interesting glimpse behind the scenes of a character most readers will know from the Avengers films – untrustworthy, unpredictable, and out to cause mischief. The author is careful to show us who Loki was before he embraced this role – the jealousy of his relationship with Thor, his desperation to prove that he should be king instead of his brother, and his alienation in Asgard as he is required to subdue and hide his magical abilities. It’s a story about rejection, and being made to feel bad about who you are – and it’s story about redemption, and taking pride in your own strengths, even if your family wants you to follow a more conventional path. It’s a story about finding yourself and shrugging off the expectations of others.

And it’s a story about Loki, my favourite character from the Avengers story, who Mackenzi Lee brings to life beautifully on the page.

Have you read Where Mischief Lies? What did you think of Loki’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: The Upper World

Title: The Upper World
Author: Femi Fadugba
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
3/5

The Upper World is an intriguing time travel story that doesn’t quite stick its landing. The book combines ancient philosophy with hardcore maths and physics to explore the relationship between matter, energy, and perception. It takes the Socratic idea of the ‘Upper World’ – a place beyond our everyday experience where, if we can reach it, we can perceive time and space from the outside and find a deeper understanding of the workings of the universe. The characters use this knowledge to attempt to change the past, with unexpected consequences.

It is the characters who hooked me into the story. Esso is a believable teenager, navigating the gangs and complex loyalties of his South London comprehensive school alongside the expectations of his teachers and his West African mother. Fifteen years into the future, Rhia is juggling her unreliable home life in foster care with her ambition to become a professional football player. When she meets the maths and physics tutor her foster mother hired to help with her GCSEs, she finds herself diving into complex concepts – relativity, energy, and time travel. But why does Dr Esso think these ideas are important, and what, exactly, does he want from her?

The structure of the story builds the tension between the characters and the events they are trying to change. Esso’s present-day chapters alternate with Rhia’s future experiences. We know from early in the book that teenage Esso is heading for a dramatic, gang-related punishment, and as the story progresses he does everything he can to avoid disaster. In the future, Dr Esso’s interest in time travel starts to make sense, as Rhia begins to understand who she is, and her connection to her tutor’s past.

Rhia’s foster sister provides an effective sounding board for her theories, and the genuine friendship between the girls provides a contrast with teenage Esso’s companions – a group of boys who would rather taunt each other than show weakness. Esso’s relationship with his classmate Nadia allows him to demonstrate a softer side to his character, and her pivotal role in the story develops across both timelines. Both Esso and Rhia are sympathetic characters, and I found myself heartbroken alongside them when the plot twists and injustices kicked in.

While the climax of both stories is extremely well written, I wasn’t convinced by the plot leading up to the final moments. While I enjoyed the idea of weaving Einstein’s theories and the philosophy of Socrates and Plato into a YA time-travel narrative, the plot stretched the science and the philosophical ideas beyond breaking point, and this threw me out of the story.

I’m aware that I am not the target audience, and that I have read (and wrestled with the concepts of) a lot of time-travel stories. For YA readers with less exposure to maths, physics, science fiction, and the various fictional theories of time travel, The Upper World may well provide a gripping and satisfying read. If you don’t mind a bit of hand-waving and magical thinking with your real-world physics, this is an exciting story with clever twists, interesting ideas, sympathetic characters, and convincing real-world settings. If that sounds appealing, don’t let my review put you off!

The Upper World will be published on August 19th. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Upper World? What did you think of the story? Did the science keep you hooked? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Good Girl, Bad Blood

Title: Good Girl, Bad Blood
Author: Holly Jackson
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been looking forward to reading the sequel to ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’. More Pip Fitz-Amobi – the brave, intelligent schoolgirl and accidental detective. More of her wonderful family and friends. More of Ravi, her ally in the first book, and more of the residents of Little Kilton. And most importantly, a new mystery for Pip to solve.

When the brother of one of Pip’s friends goes missing, the police refuse to investigate. He’s twenty four, old enough to disappear on purpose, and he’s not regarded as being vulnerable. He’s at the bottom of the police priority list, but Pip is certain that his disappearance and his recent behaviour are out of character, and she’s determined to find him.

Things have changed for Pip since her experiences in the first book. After her investigation into Andie’s death, she had to promise her family she would not put herself in danger again, so she’s going to have to run this investigation in secret. But this time she has an audience for her discoveries – the podcast she is using to tell Andie’s story, and to cover the trials associated with the case. Pip the detective is back, and this time she can crowdsource evidence from all the residents of Little Kilton, and beyond.

The story unfolds gradually, with new evidence coming to light throughout the book. We meet new neighbours and familiar residents of the town, and they all contribute pieces of the puzzle. Some of the evidence is presented in the form of transcripts of her podcast, and of the interviews she conducts with the people involved with the case, and some comes from Pip’s investigations. Her conversations with Ravi help her to clarify her thoughts, and together they pick up on details Pip might have missed if she worked alone.

There are suspect lists and twists and unexpected encounters. There is danger and bravery and evidence that doesn’t make sense until the end. There are links back to events in the first book, and to the people Pip suspected in her previous investigation. And there’s a nail-biting ending with a resolution that kept me guessing, even though the evidence, and the puzzle pieces, were all in front of me.

It’s a great story, and Pip continues to be a brilliant protagonist. Intelligent, brave, and a more than a little reckless in her pursuit of the truth. Her persistence and determination make this an exciting, page-turning read, and a worthy second outing for the schoolgirl detective.

Have you read Good Girl, Bad Blood? What did you think of Pip’s second investigation? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Burn

Title: Burn
Author: Patrick Ness
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

How could I turn down the chance to read a book that brings together dragons, prophecies, and assassins in 1950s America? I was very excited to read the new novel from Patrick Ness, and I’m delighted to say that he didn’t let me down.

Sarah Dewhurst lives with her father on the family farm. Since her mother’s death, her father has been struggling. If he doesn’t take drastic action before the summer, the bank will call in his debt and take the farm, so he hires a dragon to help him clear two fields for cultivation. It’s not illegal to hire dragons, but relations between dragons and humans are tense, and he knows the neighbours will be uneasy with his decision.

Sarah is no stranger to harassment from local people and law enforcement. She’s a mixed-race teenager in 1957, and her best friend is a Japanese-American boy who spent his early childhood in an internment camp. The dragon is just one more excuse for discrimination, and he understands how it feels to be discriminated against. As Sarah gets to know the dragon, he begins to share his reasons for being on the farm. Sarah finds herself at the centre of an ancient prophecy, and the target of a highly trained assassin.

The first part of the book follows this storyline. The Soviet Union is about to launch a satellite that could be used to spy on the US, and while the prophecy is vague, it centres on Sarah, the dragon, the satellite, and the assassin. The tension builds as the assassin, trailed by two FBI agents, makes his way to the farm. Just over half-way through, the plot twists, and the rest of the story plays out in an entirely unexpected way. Throughout the second part of the novel, idle sayings and superstition from the first part shift into reality, and the balance of power changes completely. It’s a very clever plot twist, and from that point on I couldn’t put the book down.

Sarah is a confident protagonist, used to dealing with people who don’t like her family, her poverty, or the colour of her skin. Her relationship with her father feels completely real. His trust in her abilities, his anger when she is hurt, and his frustration when he discovers she has been lying to him demonstrate his love for his only child, and the support they have provided to each other since the loss of his wife. The dragon is frustratingly alien and arrogant at the start of the book, but as Sarah discovers who he is and why he is on her farm, his attitude becomes more understandable and his relationships with the humans around him develop towards genuine friendship. Even the assassin has a human side, and his developing relationship with another boy helps to highlight his vulnerabilities.

It’s a clever, engaging book with some amazing world building – by the end of the first chapter the reader is completely immersed in this version of 1950s America, where dragons coexist with Chevron gas stations and pickup trucks and farmers in need of labour. It captures the paranoia of the Cold War, and the feeling of being on the outside of a society that would prefer you didn’t exist – dragon, mixed-race girl, Japanese-American, or gay man. There’s a cult of dragon-worshippers, a legend of a dragon goddess, a plot to kill Sarah’s dragon, and an exciting, dramatic conclusion to the story. Highly recommended!

Have you read Burn? What did you think of the story? Did you find yourself believing in dragons? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories

Title: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories
Author: Holly Black and Rovina Cai
Edition:
Hardback
Rating:
4/5

There is something extraordinarily exciting about turning the first page of a story book with pictures. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an illustrated children’s story, or this gorgeous collection of tales from Elfhame – beautiful artwork with beautiful words will always cast a spell. If the artist and the writer share a clear vision, the result can be magical.

I loved this book. Are the stories about Cardan’s past a necessary addition to the Folk of the Air series? No. Do they add to the reader’s understanding of his character and motivations? Definitely. Are they a pleasure to read, and to look at? Absolutely.

The stories in the collection include glimpses into the events of the Folk of the Air books from Cardan’s point of view. We see his relationship with Nicasia, the abuse at the hands of his older brother, and the moment when he realises he is haunted by thoughts of Jude. We follow him as he visits the mortal world (with and without his queen), and there’s a thread of stories exchanged between Cardan and a mysterious old woman, which change a little every time they are told. Each section adds a small insight into Cardan’s life and upbringing, without revisiting everything in the original novels. At the start the stories feel unrelated, but by the end it is clear that they have been very cleverly woven into the book. Cardan’s journey is mapped out in these pages, and revealed with a deceptively light touch.

The illustrations by Rovina Cai add a touch of magic to the words on the page. The images are dreamlike when they relate to Cardan’s childhood, but more realistic where they involve Jude. Where Cardan and the old woman exchange their tales, the illustrations resemble woodcuts or shadow puppets, perfect for a story within a story. The artwork is beautiful, occasionally straying across pages of text and interacting with the words.

This collection might not be an essential addition to the series, but it is a magical glimpse into the world of the Folk of the Air. It’s a quick read, and I’ll definitely pick it up and read it again, if only to experience the thrill of reading such a beautiful book.

Have you read How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories? What did you think of the book? And what about the illustrations? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Eve of Man

Title: Eve of Man
Author: Giovanna and Tom Fletcher
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
3/5

This is a YA dystopia with an interesting premise. For sixteen years, Eve has been protected. Raised by a team of older women, she is the last girl on earth – and the only woman of childbearing age. No one knows why girls stopped being born, but everyone knows that Eve is going to save humanity. Three young men have been carefully selected as potential partners for Eve, and she has always known what is expected of her. But a chance meeting with one of the young men who helps to run her perfect sanctuary changes everything, and Eve begins to question what she wants.

It’s an engaging story, to begin with. We meet Eve in her beautiful, isolated tower. We meet her carers – the ‘mothers’ – and her hologram best friend, Holly. Eve knows that she is about to meet the potential partners who have been painstakingly chosen for her. As the meetings draw closer we see her begin to doubt her conviction that chosing one of the men and having children – hopefully girls – is what she really wants.

We also meet Bram, one of the human ‘pilots’ behind Holly’s hologram. He’s grown up with Eve, wearing Holly’s hologram and acting as Eve’s best friend. Eve has no idea who is behind Holly’s face and voice, and they are never supposed to meet. When they do, briefly, everything changes, and they will both be forced to choose between their own happiness and the future of the human race.

I don’t know why I didn’t connect with this book. I liked Eve, and I loved all her ‘mothers’. I liked Bram, and his team of pilots. The setup was intriguing and the theme of environmental destruction was extremely relevant. I found myself wanting more science, and more insight into the environmental crisis – but that wouldn’t be possible with Eve and Bram as the only narrators. Neither of them knows the full truth about their world, and about the efforts to save humanity, so their limited views make perfect sense in the context of the story.

Eve is a strong narrator, who moves from a girl who accepts everything she has been brought up to believe at the start of the book, to a young woman daring to challenge her place in the world. The story reflects teenage anxieties about sex and relationships, and about breaking away from the expectations of parents, teachers, and communities. Eve’s role as the only person in the world who can have children dials these anxieties up to eleven, and ensures that her decisions matter.

There is plenty of action and danger, and there are lies to uncover and secrets to reveal, but somehow I wasn’t drawn in. I wanted to like this book. I wanted to enjoy the story, and feel wrapped up in Eve’s dilemmas, but maybe this is a story that works best for readers who identify more closely with Eve. Don’t let me put YA readers off – this is a book perfectly pitched at its intended teenage audience.

Have you read Eve of Man? What did you think of the story? Did the characters grab you? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Daisy Jacobs Saves the World

Title: Daisy Jacobs Saves the World
Author: Gary Hindhaugh
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

A fun book that contrasts a cosmic-scale alien threat with the daily life of an intelligent and feisty teenager. Daisy doesn’t expect to be the target for an alien invasion, and the alien inside her head doesn’t expect resistance to his plans. He’s not ready to navigate the complexities of school work, best friends, and family relationships – and Daisy is not about to let him destroy the world.

Daisy is a strong, funny character whose attitude and intelligence drive her resistance to the alien attack. Her friends, family, and teachers may be background characters, but they all feel real and three-dimensional. Her interactions with the alien range from comic misunderstandings to genuine fear, and their conversations are by turns funny, chilling, and heartwarming. The two central characters are strong enough to carry the plot as they explore their relationships with each other, and with the rest of the universe. The concept and setting might be straightforward, but the author uses the alien invasion scenario to examine Daisy’s life, attitudes, and values, and the result is an engaging celebration of a strong, intelligent, female protagonist. A quick, fun read with a surprisingly big heart.

Have you read Daisy Jacobs Saves the World? What did you think of the story? Was the book like anything you’ve read before? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: An Abundance of Katherines

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Every so often I need to find a new John Green book to read, to remind me how much I enjoy his writing. Several people have recommended An Abundance of Katherines to me, and I can see why.

Colin is heartbroken over the end of his relationship. He’s been dumped, again, by a girl named Katherine, again. In fact, it’s his nineteenth dumping by a girl named Katherine, and he’s wondering why this keeps happening. In an attempt to escape from his post-high-school misery, he heads off on a road trip with his best friend Hassan. Their plan to keep moving and discover themselves on the road quickly comes to a halt in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they both find work – and girls who are not named Katherine.

Colin is a former child prodigy, and throughout the book he attempts to build a single mathematical model that accurately describes all nineteen of his Katherine relationships. If the model works for his previous experiences of being dumped, he’s hoping it will predict the course of his future relationships. It’s a girl called Lindsey who helps him to perfect his model, as he explains the circumstances of every relationship and breakup.

This is a quirky, fun read that doesn’t sidestep the very real pain of being dumped – and being dumped repeatedly. Colin’s attempts to understand his experiences feel constructive and pointless at the same time. He’s used to being able to think his way through problems, and while building a mathematical model for his relationships feels like an effective coping mechanism, Colin struggles to see past this cerebral response to an emotional solution.

Colin is a relatable character. He’s a fundamentally good person, but he is plagued by the fear that he has wasted his childhood potential. He knows that being a childhood prodigy does not automatically guarantee a successful career. Adult geniuses were not necessarily outstanding as children, and intellectually brilliant children are no more likely to become adult geniuses than anyone else. It’s a tough situation, and his obsession with the mathematical model feels like a genuine and understandable reaction to his fears for the future as he graduates from high school.

There’s an engaging cast of supporting characters. Hassan embodies everything that Colin struggles to accept. He is happy to sit and watch daytime TV, and let life happen around him, while Colin spends considerable energy on being brilliant and earning the good grades he knows he deserves. He’s the easy-going best friend who highlights Colin’s highly strung approach to life. Lindsey and her friends provide the companionship Colin and Hassan need as they navigate the summer between school and college. Their relationships are complicated, and not entirely obvious to the outsiders. Lindsey’s mother is a high-powered businesswoman with a heart, and her employees and former employees shape the small-town community of Gutshot. Every character feels real, and it is a pleasure to spend time in their company.

John Green’s positive portrayal of characters experiencing mental health challenges (in this case a crisis of confidence and a fear of the future) are always engaging and sympathetic, and Colin is another wonderfully realistic example. Like his other books, this is a quick but haunting read. There may be an appendix explaining the mathematical theory behind Colin’s relationship model (and I love John Green for providing that!), but it is the emotional impact of the story that stays with you, long after you’ve turned the final page.

Have you read An Abundance of Katherines? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the mathematical elements? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)

Title: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)
Author: Bex Hogan
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting for the final book in the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series for a year, and after the extreme cliffhanger at the end of Book Two I couldn’t wait to get started!

Viper (Book One) sets up Marianne’s story and introduces us to the politics and magic of the Eastern Isles. Venom (Book Two) explores the consequences of Marianne’s actions, and sends her into danger as she travels across the Western Isles. In Vulture, familiar characters from East and West are brought together as Marianne seeks to protect the Twelve Isles from a dark magical threat.

It’s a breathtaking story. The action is non-stop as Marianne discovers the limits of her abilities, and the temptations of the magic she has learned on her journeys. This isn’t a black-and-white finale to the series, but an exploration of power, and how too much power brings temptation, corruption, and destruction. The first-person narration gives the reader a clear insight into the battle Marianne must fight within herself to control her hard-won abilities. It is refreshing and exhilerating to follow her story as she is repeatedly tempted towards revenge instead of justice. It is wonderful to see how much she has grown throughout the series, and how the strength she discovered in Viper has developed into the ability to change the world. How she uses that ability, and the changes she chooses to make, are always in question, keeping the reader and the supporting characters constantly on edge, right until the final pages.

It is wonderful to see characters from the previous books coming together to save the Twelve Isles and support Marianne – although some characters are more welcome than others. The author doesn’t give anyone an easy ride – there are twists, shocks, and surprises that test the strongest of Marianne’s companions, and tempt her to lose control of herself and her abilities. As in the previous books, no characters are safe from pain and tragedy, and everyone faces mortal danger. Be prepared for heartbreak – Bex Hogan doesn’t take prisoners!

This is an exciting, exhilarating, and thoughtful conclusion to the series, which highlights the strong relationships between the wide cast of characters, and gives Marianne the chance to grow and find her place in the world of the Twelve Isles. If you haven’t read the series yet, what are you waiting for?

Have you read Vulture? What did you think of the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: I Know When You’re Going to Die

Title: I Know When You’re Going to Die
Author: Michael J Bowler
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Michael J Bowler’s tightly paced thriller begins with a gift. Leo is volunteering at homeless shelter, when one of the men gives him the power to see someone’s death when he looks into their eyes. The old man tells him to make wise choices, assures Leo that he’s the right person to take on this gift, and then dies, leaving Leo without guidance or advice. I would call this book ‘wholesome teen horror’ – and I realise I’m going to have to explain myself!

Leo is a shy rich kid in a school of rich students. He never looks anyone in the eye, so it takes effort to test his gift for the first time. His best friend Juan Carlos (J.C.) encourages him to look into the eyes of strangers on the street and in shops, testing his visions and trying to decide whether Leo can really see what he claims to see. The proof arrives uncomfortably quickly, and the boys must decide what to do with the information Leo has discovered. Can they stop a murder, or could getting involved be the trigger for a deadly shooting? When Leo accidentally looks into his friend’s eyes, they need to work together to uncover the circumstances of J.C.’s death, and find out whether they can prevent it.

There are plenty of twists and scares as the story progresses, and the two boys come up with a plan. With their friend Laura, fellow victim of the school bully, they piece together a way to keep J.C. safe, while setting a trap for the would-be killer. The climax of the story is exciting and scary, and with the identity of the killer in doubt, the friends must work together to protect each other and figure out who they need protection from.

So that’s the horror part – there’s a supernatural gift, genuine peril, and a haunted house – but what about the wholesome aspect of the story? Throughout the book, Leo, J.C. and Laura all demonstrate ideal behaviours, and their actions are contrasted with bullies, emotionally absent parents, a school principle who blames them for being bullied, kids who are more interested in partying than helping their community, and with the various killers and would-be killers Leo uncovers with his gift. They support each other, they defend each other from bullying, and they build strong relationships without any sexual overtones (Laura has a girlfriend, and Leo and J.C. have a strong, trusting friendship). The ending is emotional, putting their actions, and Leo’s ability, into a larger context, and there are consequences for the bad guys.

This is an exciting story. Michael J Bowler is a screenwriter as well as a novelist, and as I read the action sequences I could easily imagine them playing out on a movie screen. I loved the premise of Leo’s power, and the mysterious man who chooses him to receive it. The tension between Leo’s vision of J.C.’s death and their attempts to understand and prevent it keeps the pages turning. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and the positive representation of young people helping their communities and giving up their time to help others. There’s a strong moral steer in this book, but it doesn’t feel preachy. The engaging story presents the relatable characters as role models without making them perfect, providing a balance with the genuinely scary elements of the book. If thrilling cinematic wholesome teen horror appeals to you, this is a great place to start!

Have you read I Know When You’re Going to Die? What did you think of the story? What would you do if you had Leo’s power? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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