Fantasy

The Graces

Three Stars

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Length: 432 Pages
Synopsis:

Everyone said the Graces were witches.

They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.

They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.

Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?

This beautifully-written thriller will grip you from its very first page.

Overall Review:

I liked this book overall. I’m always game for a new approach to YA fantasy stories, and the mystery that surrounds witches plays nicely into that. The author did a nice job mixing real world (high school, friends, etc.) with the mystical world where witches exist. It was a nice blend.

The story follows a girl named River, who automatically reminds me of the girl from Serenity, but I digress. She wants to be a Grace SO badly, and she slowly starts to fall in with their family. At first its hard (and if it wasn’t I’d be disappointed), but the family finally starts to trust her. The conflicts they encounter (both interpersonal and with external forces) is strong, and it was dramatic enough to keep my interest and move the plot forward.

The magic elements in the book were…interesting. I think I’ve gotten used to the Harry Potter style of magic, so when things started happening randomly and without apparent control, I didn’t really connect with that. There wasn’t an organized system for the magic, so I couldn’t really identify if the Graces and River were using it correctly or not. It was weird- I would have liked to see a little more explanation about how it works and why it’s hard to control. As a book about witches, I thought that lack of this was a huge negative. The other huge negative was River’s obsession with Fenrin. It was kind of unfounded- there was nothing written that established why she connected with him so strongly. I would have really liked to see that developed a little more.

The writing itself was easy and fun to read. The author did a good job building the characters and the setting, and giving the family a feeling unique to other characters in the book. The thing I liked best was River- I could see the difference in her as the story progressed. She was dynamic and relatable for me.

FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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The Argent Star

Two Stars

Title: The Argent Star
Author: Emerson Fray
Publisher: Createspace Independent
Length: 368 Pages
Synopsis:

Ren Argent wanted to be an archeologist and spend her life exploring the lost cities of Earth. But when a new planet is discovered and her father is appointed King, she has to leave behind everything she knows to rule over a place she’s only heard of in legends.

Not long after her arrival she discovers there are insurgents hiding in the darkened forests and the planet is on the brink of civil war. It won’t be long until the Monarchy steps in to “neutralize” the threat.
Will she be able to stop the hostile takeover? Or will her actions ignite a rebellion across the universe?

Overall Review:

My first thoughts on this book was that it was way too technical. I feel like there was so much jargon to sift through, and it wasn’t written in a way to make it interesting. The ideal situation with jargon is The Martian, but The Argent Star is a far cry from Andy Weir’s bestseller. This book also had a crazy and abrupt cliff hanger that feels like he was trying too hard.

The positives were that the scenery was nice and described well, and the writing style was easy to read. The conflict was believable, with enough moral dilemmas and political issues to keep the small cast of characters moving through the plot.

I did think it could have benefited from more hardships, though. There can never be too much conflict, and things happened a little too easily for the characters. I didn’t feel like there was enough information about the characters, either, and it made it difficult for me to get attached to them and care about them.

Bottom line? If you have other books to read, maybe pass on this one for other YA fantasy works. FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Dark Touch

Four Stars

Title: Dark Touch
Author: Aimee Salter
Publisher: Alloy Entertainment
Length: 239 Pages
Synopsis:

Tully isn’t alone in her skin. Whenever she touches someone, they feel everything she feels. All her ugliness. All her darkness. All her pain.

The only thing she wants is to be left alone—and to finally get out of her small Oregon town. But then she meets Chris. He’s everything she’s not. Light. Trusting. Innocent. And he wants Tully. Tully knows she should spare him the heartache of being with her. But when he touches her, she’s not sure she’ll have the strength to push him away…

From the author of Every Ugly Word comes a poignant, emotionally raw story about the violence that plays out behind closed doors and the all-consuming passion of first love.

Overall Review:

In reality, I gave this book a 4.5. 4 stars just weren’t enough, but there were a few things that prevented it from receiving a 5.

Dark Touch was beautiful. It’s dark and raw and captivating and vulnerable. It was mature, but not too heavy for the Young Adult readership. It follows Tully, who goes through such a personal journey of acceptance and self love. This book stripped me down and messed with my minds in ways I did not expect. It was fantastically painful in parts, brutally honest, and very deep. I don’t even know how to accurately explain how I felt while reading it- it just moved me in a way a young adult book hasn’t in a long time and in a way I haven’t experienced.

Tully was raised by an abusive and alcoholic father after her Mom passes away. The abuse is horrific. It’s not a part of my life, but having it presented in such a way makes me truly feel for people who have been affected by it. It’s such a dark element of life, and while that was definitely portrayed, it was balanced with a message of hope in the form of Chris.

I liked the fantasy elements of the book, with Tully’s special ability and how it shapes her life. That was cool- it was melded into everyday life for her in a way that was smooth and seamless.

The main thing I had issues with was how tidy everything ended. When a book like this is so messy and so hard all the way through, a nice ending where everything works out just seems a little far fetched to me. Other than that, it was fantastic.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Three Stars

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Length: 352 Pages

Synopsis:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Overall Review:

 

I was really interested in reading this book, and then when I saw they were making a movie out of it, I knew I needed to review it before it came out. First of all, supernatural stories have never been my thing. Candidly, they really freak me out, but this one had more of a fantasy vibe. That combined with knowing several people who absolutely loved it, I swallowed my fear and pressed on.

The story is focused on a boy named Jacob, who had a horrible tragedy fall on him. Everyone thinks his head is full of darkness, of evil, so they return him to the place it all started- a broken old house where is Grandpa used to live.

I thought the book was well written- the way words flowed and elements were expressed and explained were beautiful. I thought Jacob’s character was done very well, especially since he was such a unique person. I did not, however, like the darkness. He was so dark, and it kind of freaked me out. The setting was great, the other characters and their abilities (like invisible Millard!) were fun, but it just wasn’t my thing. I tried- and I can recognize that it was well written- but I just didn’t enjoy this one.

My biggest concern was the identity crisis the book found itself in. It had a lot foul language, but it was also pretty conservative in other areas. It’s almost like the author wasn’t sure what he wanted it to be.

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The Young Elites

Four Stars

Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: Penguin

Length: 384 Pages

Synopsis:

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

Overall Review:

This is a dark fantasy book, and I really enjoyed it. Lots of magic, fantastic villains (oh, how I love villains), and all of the princes and kingdoms you could ever want. I liked how the author set the scene. A fever that only left a few survivors- it makes Adelina special and unique going into the story. And then you find out that she has some pretty unique abilities and you start to love her even more.

I really felt for Adelina. She was kind of thrust into a world where everyone seems to be opposing her. She was abused by her father and felt totally worthless. She has a straight up weird relationship with her sister, and society shuns her because of what she can do.

I think my favorite part is that Adelina isn’t a hero. She’s not the good guy. Do you feel for her and become attached to her- absolutely. But she’s dark and broken. She’s complicated. And she’s fantastic. I really recommend this book. It was a dark read, but it was fresh and fun and a great take on fantasy that I think most people will really enjoy.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars

 

Five Stars

Title: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Publisher: Chicken House UK

Length: 288 Pages

Synopsis:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

Overall Review:

I’ve been hearing a lot about The Girl of Ink and Stars ever since it was released in May, so I knew it was a must-read for me. I was drawn to it initially because I really like maps- and a cartographer’s daughter seemed like such a unique character to write. I was so happy I put this on my to-read list. It was such a pleasant story- so charming and uplifting and refreshing. Not to mention the book itself was beautifully designed. The cover is flawless and the internal pages are so pretty. It’s a quick read- I finished it in about half a day.

The two things I loved the most was the world the author designed and the characters she created. Joya was so awesome! It was magical and surrounded by myths- my favorite kind of island! The way it was written was so tangible, and I had no problems getting immediately immersed in Isabella’s world. Speaking of Isabella, her character and her relationships were lovely to read…and I don’t throw the word lovely around lightly. I felt such a connection to her…and the author used that to further the plot along nicely. I also loved how friendship and love were at the center of everything.

The story unfolded slowly and at a perfect pace. It did a great job conveying its themes: friendship and love and loyalty and dreams. It had adventure and magic and friendship and family…and the writing was seriously great. I definitely recommend this book. I think it’s marketing for middle grade and early YA readers, but I think it’s one of those rare stories that anyone of any age would enjoy.

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Eat Brains Love

Three Stars

Title: Eat Brains Love

Author: Jeff Hart

Publisher: Harper Teen

Length: 352 Pages

Synopsis:

Jake Stephens was always an average, fly-under-the-radar guy. The kind of guy who would never catch the attention of an insanely popular girl like Amanda Blake-or a psychic teenage government agent like Cass. But one day during lunch, Jake’s whole life changed. He and Amanda suddenly locked eyes across the cafeteria, and at the exact same instant, they turned into zombies and devoured half their senior class.

Now Jake definitely has Amanda’s attention-as well as Cass’s, since she’s been sent on a top-secret mission to hunt them down. As Jake and Amanda deal with the existential guilt of eating their best friends, Cass struggles with a growing psychic dilemma of her own-one that will lead the three of them on an epic journey across the country and make them question what it means to truly be alive. Or undead.

Eat, Brains, Love is a heartwarming and bloody blend of romance, deadpan humor, and suspense that fans of Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies will devour. With its irresistibly dry and authentic teen voice, as well as a zombie apocalypse worthy of AMC’s The Walking Dead, this irreverent paperback original will leave readers dying for the sequel that’s coming in Summer 2014.

Overall Review:

I like zombies as much as the next person, but this book fell a little flat for me. There were some elements that I liked, and some of the characters I thought were clever, but overall the humor didn’t really do it for me and the romance was more weird than sweet. I will say I loved the snarky tone it was written in- that was the one thing that kept me going.

The combination of the young adult coming-of-age story and eating half the senior class for lunch one day didn’t really jive with me. Jake Stephens is an interesting character, and his motivations and point of view are fresh. The way he was written ALMOST lets me tolerate the weird feelings he develops for his zombie cohort.

Things really started to go downhill for me when the author introduced Cass, the psychic that works for the military in the special zombie unit. She starts to question everything when she touches Jake’s stuff, and it just is too wacky to work. Blending zombies and psychics is just too much, and the author didn’t really pull it off well. Things got confusing with the different points of view, and all the zombie-eating-people action was surprisingly gory for a book geared to teenagers. There were also a lot of vulgarity and sexual references- this is definitely not a book for the young teens…I would give it to someone 17 or older.

One of the redeeming elements of this book was the conflict. I thought the author did a great job at making sure there were enough twists and surprises and hard things for the characters to deal with.

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Far From Shandesto

Four Stars

Title: Far From Shandesto

Author: Wyborn Senna

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Length: 180 Pages

Synopsis:

“Far From Shandesto” is a sweeping tale of fantasy and magic (and horrible, horrible meals… though, I have to admit, I might give scrambled eggs and candy bars a try sometime). It begins on the outskirts of El Paso, by the Bridge of the Americas, in a town haunted by the disappearance of three local boys four years prior. Whispered rumors persist that they must have been captured and killed, that some powerful killer stalks the woods behind Shandesto High and lurks in wait for more bones and fat to add to his macabre statuary littered amongst the trees. Everyone now avoid the woods… everyone except our intrepid heroes.

The likable but flawed teens — Sofia, Jen, Rob, and Holly, the new girl — brave the woods to steal a trophy souvenir from Madame Elizondo, the fortuneteller. They soon discover, however, that the real danger lies not in Shandesto, but through the portal to Arcanaland, a mystical land on another plane and home to a dizzying array of magical realms (like Coldania, Roundtable, Mana, Animalya, and Samhain), and an even more dizzying array of characters (including Fedelm, El Colgado, a host of gnomes, the Lady de los Muertos, and the ghost of Father Andrew).

In this, the first book of the series, they find themselves reunited with the missing boys, and together they must all find a way to navigate the wondrous but dangerous realms of Arcanaland if they ever hope to find a way home.

Overall Review:

This book had me from the start, which is something I really appreciate. The characters are developed very well, the plot was refreshingly original, and it perfectly fit the YA book genre with its verbiage and actions. I liked the contrast between normal teenagers and the fantasy world they suddenly found themselves in- and how that allowed for fun interactions and natural explanations. I found the world to be built with great technique- it combines the traditional magical world with fairies and ghosts, but there are some interesting elements that make it unique to Far From Shandesto. The portal in the forest was fantastic- I love it when there are entries to other worlds that are right in the middle of the world we know today.

The story itself was fast-paced and exciting. The creatures Wyborn Senna built into the plot were so fun. The whole book had a whimsical and charming feel. It’s very adventurous, and it made me really engaged in the work the entire time. It was very entertaining, and definitely a fun read.

The lowlights for me was the lack of conflict. Often times in a world of fantasy, there are dark creatures that balance out the fun and light ones- but Far From Shandesto didn’t really balance it for me. I appreciated how light it was (I thought it was age appropriate), but a little darkness would have been a little more realistic. Everything came a little too easy to the characters, and the tasks weren’t gut wrenching or even that problematic. I would have liked to see a little more of that to round out the story.

All in all, it was a fun read. I definitely recommend it, and I look forward to the red of the books in the Arcanaland Series.

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Lux Series, Books 1-5

Four Stars

Title: Lux Series: Obsidian, Oblivion, Onyx, Opal, Origin

Author: Jennifer Armentrout

Publisher: Entangled, Teen

Length: About 400 Pages Each

Synopsis:

Obsidian: Starting over sucks.When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring…. until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up.And then he opened his mouth.Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something…unexpected happens.The hot alien living next door marks me.You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades.If I don’t kill him first, that is.

Onyx: Being connected to Daemon Black sucks…Thanks to his alien mojo, Daemon’s determined to prove what he feels for me is more than a product of our bizarro connection. So I’ve sworn him off, even though he’s running more hot than cold these days. But we’ve got bigger problems.Something worse than the Arum has come to town…The Department of Defense are here. If they ever find out what Daemon can do and that we’re linked, I’m a goner. So is he. And there’s this new boy in school who’s got a secret of his own. He knows what’s happened to me and he can help, but to do so, I have to lie to Daemon and stay away from him. Like that’s possible. Against all common sense, I’m falling for Daemon. Hard.But then everything changes…I’ve seen someone who shouldn’t be alive. And I have to tell Daemon, even though I know he’s never going to stop searching until he gets the truth. What happened to his brother? Who betrayed him? And what does the DOD want from them―from me?No one is who they seem. And not everyone will survive the lies…

Opal: The Lux series continues with the third installment of this riveting paranormal YA series.No one is like Daemon Black.When he set out to prove his feelings for me, he wasn’t fooling around. Doubting him isn’t something I’ll do again, and now that we’ve made it through the rough patches, well… There’s a lot of spontaneous combustion going on.But even he can’t protect his family from the danger of trying to free those they love.After everything, I’m no longer the same Katy. I’m different… And I’m not sure what that will mean in the end. When each step we take in discovering the truth puts us in the path of the secret organization responsible for torturing and testing hybrids, the more I realize there is no end to what I’m capable. The death of someone close still lingers, help comes from the most unlikely source, and friends will become the deadliest of enemies, but we won’t turn back. Even if the outcome will shatter our worlds forever.Together we’re stronger… and they know it.

Origin: After the successful but disastrous raid on Mount Weather, he’s facing the impossible. Katy is gone. Taken. Everything becomes about finding her. Taking out anyone who stands in his way? Done. Burning down the whole world to save her? Gladly. Exposing his alien race to the world? With pleasure. All Katy can do is survive.  Surrounded by enemies, the only way she can come out of this is to adapt. After all, there are sides of Daedalus that don’t seem entirely crazy, but the group’s goals are frightening and the truths they speak even more disturbing. Who are the real bad guys? Daedalus? Mankind? Or the Luxen? Together, they can face anything. But the most dangerous foe has been there all along, and when the truths are exposed and the lies come crumbling down, which side will Daemon and Katy be standing on? And will they even be together?

Opposition: Katy knows the world changed the night the Luxen came. She can’t believe Daemon stood by as his kind threatened to obliterate every last human and hybrid on Earth. But the lines between good and bad have blurred. Daemon will do anything to save those he loves, even if it means betrayal. But when it quickly becomes impossible to tell friend from foe, and the world is crumbling around them, they may lose everything to ensure the survival of their friends…and mankind.

Overall Review:

I previously read Obsidian and the subsequent books in the series, and I really enjoyed them. I’m doing a series review here since I just recently finished all of them- and I’m happy to report that each book is well written and pushes the plot along. It tugged my heartstrings in all the right way, and the characters were strong enough for me to read all of the books without getting bored. The plot had great twists, the secondary characters were developed well, and it was a really fun read. It’s a great romance series for the young adult audience.

The series had some callbacks to Twilight with Daemon being an alien hopelessly in love with Katy, a mere mortal. Plus Daemon was incredibly attractive. Like, wow. Their dynamic was enchanting, and his nickname for her (kitten…swoon) was adorable. I felt like each of them were strong, stand-alone characters that can protect themselves, but who also protect each other. It wasn’t a story about a girl who was helpless and plain being saved by a Greek god of a man. Katy is feisty and funny and has a strong sense of self, which I really appreciated. Daemon is a total bad boy…and what girl doesn’t love a bad boy?

The sci-fi aspect of these books is fresh. New approaches to the old paranormal love cliché are always welcome, and this series did not disappoint. I definitely recommend reading these for a fun, easy, and fresh take on paranormal romance and science fiction.

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Song of Locke: The Dark Empyrean

Five Stars

Title: Song of Locke: The Dark Empyrean

Author: J Washburn

Publisher: Lost Boys Ink

Length: 440 Pages

Synopsis:

Locke loves stories—they fill him with a longing he can never quite describe—but he’s not the sort of kid who actually lives adventures himself. That is, until a bloodthirsty band of marauders passes near his home and Picke, a musical sylfe, dares him to follow. In hopes of fulfilling his longing, Locke accepts the dare. This leads him on a quest where he must face snarling wolves, wield a magic blade, and risk his life to rescue a Goddess—a girl he hardly knows but who he can’t stop thinking about. In the spirit of Legend of Zelda and Peter Pan, SONG OF LOCKE portrays a detailed fantasy world, somewhat grittier than its forebears and drenched in human emotion. The tale has sword fights, witty banter, crushes, and even some subtle philosophy smuggled in. It’s an epic for everyone who loves good stories—for anyone who has longed for something that seemed forever out of reach. SONG OF LOCKE is also an artisan book—written, illustrated, and typeset by the author, a masterpiece handcrafted from beginning to end. The first 50k-word draft was written for NaNoWriMo in 2013. In November 2014, a crowd of Kickstarter backers provided the initial funding for publication (see kickstarter.jwashburn.com). It was published 4 August 2015.

Overall Review:

A friend of mine from college wrote Song of Locke, and I had the opportunity to help in the editing process. It was such a pleasure to read this book- not only is it fun, but being able to see close up some of the process of writing was a really awesome thing for me.

Song of Locke is a fan fiction work that throws back to the Legend of Zelda. I’m not a hardcore Zelda fan, but I definitely recognized some of the references and deeply enjoyed this book.

Song of Locke is a fantasy- and Washburn does a fantastic job of setting up the world where the story takes place. The characters were well-developed and complex- with clear moral dilemmas happening as the story progresses. I love it when characters have internal moral battles- and it was nice to see growth as the book went on.

The writing was spot on. Nothing dull- and it was full of showing instead of telling, which is unfortunately common in a lot of the books hitting the market today. He defines elements of his world piece by piece, so as a reader you feel like you’re organically getting to know the environment instead of getting a ton of information thrown at you.

What Washburn did with the main character Locke was really cool- it was more a duo than a single person. Every Elfe has a personal fairy-type creature, and Locke’s is one named Picke. Each part of the whole are definitely separate and distinctive, but they create a fantastic single character full of conflict, flaws, and many redeeming qualities.

I would have liked to see a little more character development on the villain and potentially some of the other side characters. That definitely doesn’t take away from what is otherwise an awesome book.

The book had a great plot with unexpected twists to keep things interesting. The themes were relatable, the foremost one that I took away was the main character trying to establish who he was and what moral beliefs he would abide by. It’s a fun read full of mystery and questions and awesome characters. I definitely recommend it!

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