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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

There has been a lot of buzz about I’ll Give You the Sun in the book blogosphere. I’ve seen bloggers who received review copies of this, raving about the book. I read Jandy Nelson’s debut novel The Sky is Everywhere back in 2010 and I have fond memories of it even if I barely remember the details since it’s been so long. I’ve been looking forward to I’ll Give You the Sun and it made me happy that I had an added reason to bump it up when it got chosen for our book club discussion.

I'll Give You the Sun

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways… until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else — an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

I found I’ll Give You the Sun an absorbing read. It was easy to get into and kept me interested until the end. It reminded me of some of the Aussie YA contemps that I’ve loved because it has a similar feel and tone. It’s a novel filled with flawed characters who have experienced difficult situations, who are trying to live life one day at a time. Jude and Noah are teenage twins, both filled with a lot of artistic potential. Noah paints and draws the world as he sees it. Jude creates sand sculptures of women, and also designs and sews dresses, which she learned how to do from their grandmother. The narrative changes from Noah’s point of view when the siblings are 13 years old to Jude’s 16-year-old perspective. These two have such strong personalities and it was fun to read their narration. They’re super close at the start of the story but drift apart later on. I kept reading because I wanted to know the events that led to the emotional distance between two people who were previously inseparable. I also wanted to see them heal their brokenness together. This leads me to one point that kept me from truly loving the book. I felt like there was a lot of grief, hurt and pain in I’ll Give You the Sun and yes, there was also hope, forgiveness and healing but I don’t think there was enough to create a balance. Maybe it would have been better if the ending was extended a bit? I don’t know if that would have worked but I just felt like I wanted more from the story. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading I’ll Give You the Sun. There’s a lot to like in this book – such as the complex relationships between family members, the slow burn romance, the quirky narration and all the descriptions of art. I think most readers of contemporary YA would enjoy reading this. I will definitely be watching out for Jandy Nelson’s next book.


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Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

I’ve been meaning to try Linnea Sinclair’s books for a while now and I’m glad I was finally able to do so when I picked up Games of Command. There was a time when I felt that sci-fi isn’t really my thing because the worldbuilding tends to be more complicated that what I usually like. But then I loved Silent Blade and Silver Shark by Ilona Andrews and the Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Host so I’ve been wanting to explore the genre a bit more. Linnea Sinclair has been recommended by blogging buddies Angie and Janice and I’ve had her books on my TBR pile for ages. I was recently in the mood for sci-fi so I ignored the other three books I was in the middle of, bought the Kindle edition of Games of Command and promptly got sucked in by Linnea Sinclair’s writing.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Games of CommandThe universe isn’t what it used to be. With the new Alliance between the Triad and the United Coalition, Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian finds herself serving under her former nemesis, biocybe Admiral Branden Kel-Paten – and doing her best to hide a deadly past. But when an injured mercenary winds up in their ship’s sick bay–and in the hands of her best friend, Dr. Eden Fynn–Sass’s efforts may be wasted.

Wanted rebel Jace Serafino has information that could expose all of Sass’s secrets, tear the fragile Alliance apart – and end Sass’s career if Kel-Paten discovers them. But the biocybe has something to hide as well, something once thought impossible for his kind to possess: feelings… for Sass. Soon it’s clear that their prisoner could bring down everything they once believed was worth dying for – and everything they now have to live for.

I had a lot of fun reading Games of Command and I thought it was a good introduction to Linnea Sinclair’s work. I was so absorbed that I stayed up late to finish it. I have to admit that some of the terms and situations went over my head but I was fine with that, I felt like it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel. I think that will always be the case for me whenever I read certain space opera novels. I would rather go with the flow of the book instead of spend too much time trying to figure out the science and the mechanics of that particular book.

Going into this novel, I knew that it was romantic sci-fi so I was looking forward to the romance and I wasn’t disappointed. The book focused on two couples but I liked the main story arc, between Sass and Branden, more than the secondary one. Admiral Kel-Paten is a biocybe, half-human and half-machine, and he’s not supposed to develop romantic feelings. But due to some quirk, he fell in love with Sass even though they’re on opposite sides of a galactic war. When truce comes in the form of an alliance, Branden fights to have Sass by his side as the captain of his flagship. I liked seeing these two interact with each other and I enjoyed seeing the story unfold from their points of view. Branden is highly competent in his work but he’s pretty clueless when it comes to human emotions. It was interesting to see his vulnerability and how he worked to build a relationship with Sass that goes beyond their professional connection. As for Sass, at first she was just concerned with keeping her secret past from Branden but then she grows to respect him during the months they work together. I found the slow burn romance between these two flawed characters sweet. Here’s a snippet that I really liked:

“When she saw the scars, she understood. They weren’t like Zanorian’s thin affectations. These were knotty, full of pain and bad memories. Unpleasant. Best kept hidden.

She understood that too. She had scars. But hers were inside, while his were on the outside.”

Games of Command is filled with action and adventure. I enjoyed the fast pace of the novel and have no complaints regarding the plot and character development. I just wish that it had an extended ending, I felt like the last scene of the book ended a bit abruptly and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more. I liked that Games of Command is a standalone novel and I feel like it’s a good introduction to Linnea Sinclair’s writing. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from her. Recommended for fans of romantic sci-fi or space opera.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Specfic Romantic


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Retro Friday: Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I became curious about Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant back when Angie did a Retro Friday review of it. It seemed like a very interesting, under-the-radar historical fiction novel. I was delighted when I found a bargain copy of it in one of the used bookstores in Manila. I thought the cover looked great and I liked the gold accents in the design. That copy has been patiently waiting in my TBR pile for years. Since I’ve been trying to be better about reading books that I have physical copies of, I picked it up when I was in the mood for historical fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:
A warhorse.
A fair maiden.
A just cause.

Will has a horse – a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight.

Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant – Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna…

Blood Red Horse instagram

Blood Red Horse is set in the time period when Richard the Lionheart serves as the king of England and he leads his men on a crusade against the Muslim leader Saladin. To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about this part of history because it wasn’t included in the curriculum in schools back home in the Philippines. It doesn’t really matter since I was able to enjoy reading Blood Red Horse even though I’m not familiar with the historical setting of the book. I liked how the book starts with Ellie, Will and Gavin as young children and how we see them grow and develop throughout the course of the book. More so in the boys’ case as they march off to join the crusade with their father. The boys were thoroughly excited to be knights of the crusade, not knowing that war is such a bleak and miserable business. Ellie was left at home but she was destined to have adventures of her own.

Even at a young age, Will has the skills that make him a fine horseman. When he is finally permitted to choose a Great Horse, he sees something special in Hosanna, and immediately knows that he’s meant to have that particular horse even if Hosanna wasn’t exactly meant to be a warhorse. With the title of the book being Blood Red Horse, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that majority of the story focuses on Hosanna and how the horse influences everyone who gets to know him. However, I thought it was a bit strange how fixated everyone was on Hosanna. I understood Will’s fascination because Hosanna becomes his reliable and faithful companion for years, but everyone else that comes in contact with Hosanna? I just thought it was a bit much for a non-magical horse. (If Hosanna had magic, I think it would have made more sense why he inspires such strong emotions in people.)

I’m usually not a fan of stories about war and true enough, I didn’t really enjoy the passages that centered around the crusade because I found it such a sad experience for the boys and everyone involved. As expected, there’s some violence in there but in an understated way. What I did like was how readers get to see two sides of the war, instead of being biased towards one side. They may disagree about their faith/religion but both leaders of the two groups, Richard and Saladin, see the other person as a brave and worthy opponent. As a result, there’s no clear villain in the story. What we have instead is two groups of people fighting for what they believe in. As I mentioned earlier, I also liked the character development of Ellie, Will and Gavin and I’m really curious what the next books will have in store for them. While I didn’t fall in love with Blood Red Horse, I did think it deserves more attention than it’s currently gotten. If you’re a fan of the historical period of Richard the Lionheart’s reign or of stories about horses, then I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this book.


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Isla and the Happily Ever by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After was one of my highly anticipated releases for this year since I really enjoyed reading both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. Those titles are quite a mouthful, aren’t they? I kept seeing other bloggers post pictures of their review copies of Isla and this just made me want to read the book more. Also, I’m still bummed that Stephanie Perkins visited Manila and I wasn’t able to attend the event (so many authors have visited the Philippines since I moved to Singapore). I was so excited when I finally got a copy of Isla so of course, I read it as soon as I could.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

I really enjoyed reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and I think I like it just as much or maybe even a bit more than Anna and the French Kiss. Isla and Josh are both great characters. I liked how there’s so much more to them that what was previously shown in the first book. I found it interesting that Isla is named after an island because “isla” is the Filipino word for island (pronounced is-lah instead of eye-lah though). I always think it’s awesome when of the characters in the book I’m reading is a reader herself. I could understand Isla’s thirst for adventure and how she satisfies that thirst by reading books. Also, how cute is it that Isla and Josh bonded over Joann Sfar? They made me want to read his graphic novels even though I’m not much of a graphic novel reader. I could really relate to Isla and her insecurities about not having a clue about what she wants to do in terms of her career – heck, I’m a decade older than her and I’m still figuring things out. I could also understand how she’s so forgiving of others but so hard on herself, to the point where she questions whether she’s worthy of being loved. I loved her friendship with Kurt and how she had to learn how to balance having a guy best friend with having a boyfriend. On a counterpoint to Isla’s ambiguity, Josh is very passionate about his art and he knows that he wants to pursue a degree that would enable him to focus on this field. My artistic talent is limited to stick figures so I’m always in awe of artists. I enjoyed reading about Josh and his art and would have loved to see samples of them if that was possible.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is partially set in New York, Paris and Barcelona. I’ve never been to New York so I can’t really say anything about the scenes set there. But having read Laura Florand’s vivid and detailed descriptions of Paris, I feel like Stephanie Perkins’ imagery pales in comparison. Isla mentions that she’s comfortable enough in Paris for it to feel like home but I don’t think she was able to portray that in a believable way. I did love the Barcelona scenes since they were from the perspective of tourists, with both Josh and Isla visiting the city for the first time. It reminded me of my own trip there earlier this year because we visited the same tourist spots, mostly the sites of Gaudi’s work.

I think Stephanie Perkins excels in portraying realistic teenage romance. She gets how awkward it is to have a serious crush on someone. And how tentative things are at the start when the two parties realize that what they feel might be mutual and there’s just all this tension between Isla and Josh. Then it transforms into a new-found relationship that makes both of them giddy with happiness. Even the issues that they they had to deal with felt authentic. I was really rooting for them and the way they changed and matured throughout the course of the novel was satisfying. I had so much fun reading this book and would recommend it to any fan of YA contemporary.

Here are some pictures from my Barcelona trip that are related to the book. Casa Batllo is probably my favorite Gaudi-designed house:
Barcelona - Casa Batllo Barcelona - Casa Batllo (2)

The awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia:
Barcelona - Sagrada Familia1 Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

On top of the world a.k.a. the view of Barcelona from Parc Guell:
Barcelona 2014 - view from Parc Guell


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Retro Friday: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I read both Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore when they first came out. That was a few years ago, back when I didn’t have a book blog. I recently reread them for a discussion with my online book club YAckers. I loved rereading both and realized that I have never written a review for Fire. It’s a good thing I refreshed my memory by rereading it recently because that gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite epic fantasy novels.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

FireIt is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, the royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

Fire is such an achingly beautiful novel. It is wonderfully written with engaging characters, set in a dazzlingly colorful world. Fire is a human monster, an amazingly beautiful person who can read minds and manipulate people through her powers – either with just the way she looks or by compelling them to say or do things. Having seen what her cruel father Cansrel was able to do with his own monstrous powers, Fire is very cautious with hers. She has no intention of manipulating people and doesn’t even want to be involved in court politics. But the kingdom is on the brink of civil war and Fire has a role to play in all of this.

I loved Fire’s character. It was a pleasure to see her stretch as she opens herself up to possibilities. It’s understandable that she’s afraid of what she’s capable of but she has such a good heart that she doesn’t really have to worry about it. Aside from Fire, there are also plenty of fully fleshed out secondary characters to love in this novel. Can I just take a moment to say how much I love Brigan? Remarkable character and brilliant in so many different ways. I loved how Kristin Cashore portrayed the relationships in this book – they’re very messy and complicated but work so well in the context of the story. I liked seeing the dynamics of different types of relationships – romantic, platonic and within families – in the story. There’s a lot of love in there but also has some sadness and violence mixed in. Here’s a snippet that illustrates this:

“She had thought she’d already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upwards, and, just when you’d thought you’d reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary feeling lives of other people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her.”

Fire just has everything that I look for in my epic fantasy reads. Great characters, solid worldbuilding, a slow burn romance that I can root for and complex relationships that feel realistic. I cannot recommend it enough. It makes me happy that Fire stood up to a reread and I loved it just as much as when I was first introduced to it. In fact, I had to wait a couple of days for the story to fade from my mind before I could move on to another book. After rereading both Graceling and Fire, I am now craving for a new Kristin Cashore novel. I will be eagerly waiting for news about what she will publish next.


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Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona and Gordon is my favorite adult urban fantasy (UF) series. That may not be saying much since I currently only follow two adult UF series: Kate Daniels and World of the Lupi by Eileen Wilks. I have, however, tried other series but didn’t feel compelled to continue beyond the first few books. I read more epic fantasy than UF prior to falling in love with the Kate Daniels novels but I’ve been more willing to try UF after that. I can still remember when I was first introduced to the series, there were only four books out at that time. I’ve been eagerly anticipating each new novel every year since then. If you feel like we have similar tastes in books, I think you should give this series a try. Also, see my blog banner with the huge lion and the warrior girl? That was totally inspired by Kate and Curran.

Here’s the reading order:
Magic BitesMagic BurnsMagic StrikesMagic BleedsMagic SlaysGunmetal MagicMagic Rises

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Magic Breaks by Ilona AndrewsAs the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe — especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

It’s always such a comfort to dive into a new installment of a favorite series, books that are set in a familiar world and have characters who feel like old friends. Magic Breaks was one of my most anticipated releases for this year and I was super excited to read it. The authors also announced that this book will conclude the main arc and conflict that has been building up in all the previous books. So I was also a bit nervous going in because I had no idea what would happen. I shouldn’t have worried. Ilona and Gordon are great storytellers and I had so much fun reading Magic Breaks. The humor that I’ve come to love in the series is present in this one. Certain scenes with back and forth banter cracked me up.

I also like seeing how much Kate has changed and matured since the series started. She’s a much better leader now and is more level-headed. I like her development as a character, the way she started as a lone wolf (figuratively speaking since she’s not a shapeshifter) to someone who is now in charge of a huge shapeshifter Pack and has a handful of people she trusts. She’s willing to go through so much to keep these people safe and they are willing to do the same for her. I also liked seeing the growth and transformation of secondary characters – this far into a series, we’re all bound to have our own favorites. Some of the ones I really like are Andrea, Raphael, Jim, Derek, Ascanio and Dolittle. Even the villains have such interesting personalities that it’s hard not to like them even if I know they’re evil, they come in shades of gray and we see the motivations behind the things that they do. I missed seeing certain characters but then it’s expected that not all of them will get page time in each novel. I have always been a big fan of the slow burn romance in the series and I love seeing Kate and Curran’s relationship develop over time. Even after they got together, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for them. As both of them continue to grow, so does their relationship. I’m happy to announce that their romance is on much better footing in Magic Breaks compared to Magic Rises.

It’s difficult to discuss how much I enjoyed Magic Breaks without going into details and spoilers. Let me be vague and just say that I was satisfied with how the main arc was resolved because I found it believable. I was thinking that if it went in a different direction, I might not have felt that it was realistic for the characters. Magic Breaks just really worked for me and I loved it. The Kate Daniels series remains my favorite urban fantasy series and I can’t wait to find out what the last few books will have for its fans. I felt a bit lost after finishing Magic Breaks and kept discussing it with friends who have read the book. I had a book hangover and some of my favorite scenes from the series kept running through my mind. It took a few days for me to start another novel (which is rare for me unless I’m in a slump) since I wasn’t in the mood to leave the series behind. It’s a good thing the authors have another book scheduled for release this year, Burn For Me, so I still have something to look forward to.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
The Nocturnal Library
Smexy Books


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The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

Apparently I’ve had a draft of a review for The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand sitting in my dashboard for the past few months. I dusted it off and tweaked it just in time for Amour et Florand this weekend. It’s always a pleasure to read a book by one of your favorite authors. The Chocolate Temptation is part of the Amour et Chocolat series and the books can be read out of order because they stand well enough on their own. However, the characters in The Chocolate Temptation were earlier featured in The Chocolate Heart so I think it would be a good idea to read the latter first. I was intrigued by Patrick in The Chocolate Heart so I’m delighted that he got his own book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Chocolate TemptationShe hated him.
Patrick Chevalier. The charming, laid-back, golden second-in-command of the Paris pastry kitchen where Sarah worked as intern, who made everything she failed at seem so easy, and who could have every woman he winked at falling for him without even trying. She hated him, but she’d risked too much for this dream to give up on it and walk out just so he wouldn’t break her heart.

But he didn’t hate her.
Sarah Lin. Patrick’s serious, dark-haired American intern, who looked at him as if she could see right through him and wasn’t so impressed with what she saw. As her boss, he knew he should leave her alone. The same way he knew better than to risk his heart and gamble on love.

But he was never good at not going after what – or who – he wanted.

He could make magic out of sugar. But could he mold hate into love?

Out of all the Amour et Chocolat novels, The Chocolate Temptation stands out because one of the main characters is a female pastry chef. I know how male-dominated the industry is since I have a cousin abroad who works in that field, so it’s pretty interesting to get a better idea of what things are like from Sarah’s point of view. I think Sarah is a great character. I love how brave she is in terms of changing career paths. She’s an intelligent person, with an engineering degree from Caltech. She could have been living comfortably in the States while working as an engineer and yet she chooses to throw that away to pursue a culinary career. I admire her guts and her passion for what she feels is the right path for her. Patrick is also very passionate about being a pastry chef. He was once a foster child but he has risen to the top of the culinary ladder and is now one of the best pastry chefs in Paris. I liked Patrick’s easygoing nature and how he’s constantly being likened to a beach bum/surfer guy. What a contrast to the demanding and hectic workplace that they thrive in. He also has a terrific sense of humor, which he uses to relieve the pressure that everyone feels in their work environment. I also loved the dynamics between his relationship with Luc, especially after getting Luc’s POV from The Chocolate Heart.

Sarah thinks of herself as the lowly intern and she obviously looks up to Patrick as her mentor. Being attracted to each other, without knowing what the other person is feeling, gives their relationship tension that stretches out over the months of Sarah’s internship. They both feel that liking the other person is inappropriate – since Patrick is essentially one of Sarah’s bosses – and yet they can’t help feeling that way. I loved this bit of comparison of their romance to their creations:

“This thing between them was like this beautiful fairytale of a dessert constructed out of work and caution and risk and whimsy. Leaping and twirling, full of color and taste, a wrong breath could break it. And yet night after night, in the kitchens, they made such fragile magics and waiters got that fragility all the way to the tables they were meant for.”

Such a beautiful way of describing what began as a tentative romance that slowly developed into something deeper. Given how passionate they are about their work, it’s not surprising how strong their feelings are for each other. I’m not usually a fan of workplace romance but Laura Florand handles it so well. I had such a lovely time reading about Sarah and Patrick – from how they started getting to know each other outside the workplace to how much they’re willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy. At this point, I feel like I’m a broken record because I keep recommending Laura Florand’s books. But that’s only because they’re SO GOOD. Go forth and read them.

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