The Brick, and Why I Love Long Books

Some people call them doorstoppers, I call them bricks. These pictured paperbacks are quite hefty, but I’m pretty sure the hardcover editions qualify as murder weapons. They can be intimidating; they are an investment of time and effort, and you’ll also need the willingness to drag them around the country in your bag if you read during commute and don’t use an e-reader. Yes, I’m talking about those heavy, long books of over, say, 1,000 pages. As the year and the GoodReads reading challenge move along, it’s somehow those intimidating, heavy tomes that remain on the shelves.

A shame, because I do love long books!

brick

I love the slow burns, the stories that take their time to built their settings, flesh out their characters, and that slowly create atmosphere. That’s not to say shorter books are not capable of doing so; on the contrary, they can! I have definitely appreciated my fair share of shorter books. But for me personally, I associate long books with making me lose myself in the story, the world, and its characters for a long time. It allows for attachment to the characters, for events to unfold slowly, and for me, that usually contributes to the mood of the story.

That’s not to say there are no pitfalls with long books. They have the potential to be bloated; they can drag, become repetitive. Like any book, they can have massive pacing issues. But, if done well, investing the time and effort is so worth it to me! Of course, some genres might work better for long books than others. I like longer fantasy books, especially if it comes with excellent world building and character depth. It’s why I love GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for instance.

Then GoodReads happened, which, while a nice website, came with unfortunate side effects. First, there was the GoodReads reading challenge. Though I’m less concerned with the number these days, I did use to pick up the smaller books to complete this challenge. Second, there were all these shiny and interesting books out there that I wanted to read. So, somehow, the hefty tomes fell by the wayside, regardless of whether I had them on my shelf or not. I wanted to read them, but I didn’t get around to them due to their size and other concerns. A damn shame.

Two years ago, in the second half of 2017, I really wanted to read IT by Stephen King, my GoodReads reading challenge and my TBR amount be damned. The book’s title might as well refer to the size of the book rather than the monster. And though the book has some scenes that make me wonder what Stephen King had been smoking while writing it (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about), it also reminded me why I loved those atmospheric slow burns so much. I looked at the other bricks on my shelves, waiting for the moment I would finally pick them up but were somehow repeatedly passed over.

Now, I usually don’t like reading challenges; I’m a mood reader and I feel they restrict my reading too much. Yet, I did decide on annual reading challenge: from that point on, I’m going to read at least one long book of 1,000+ pages a year. Genre and author don’t matter, as long as it’s 1,000 pages or more and isn’t a collection of short stories. I named this challenge ‘The Brick’, because that’s how I personally refer to these large books. This way, it felt more like an encouragement rather than a restriction!

My brick of 2018 was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, also started in the second half of the year. Because even the paperback version is a murder weapon, I exclusively read this one at home and it took me a few months to finish it. That said, I loved it. Awesome characters, an intricate revenge plot… and probably a ton of stuff I’ve missed on my first read.

This year, I’ll be reading another book by Stephen King: The Stand. I’ve just started, so I have months to finish it. The fact that I went for another King novel is a coincidence; the amount of books that qualify for my personal ‘The Brick’ label standing around on my shelves weren’t as high as I thought, and I’m trying to get through the backlog of my owned books by Stephen King this year. Finally, considering this book is so well loved by fans of the author, I’m quite curious to see what all the fuss is about.

I’m not sure which book I’ll read next year for The Brick. Like I said, it doesn’t look like I have other books on my shelves right now that qualify. I don’t like buying books for the sake thereof — I want to be genuinely interested in reading it. Maybe I’ll have to adjust the qualifications or skip the challenge altogether (which would be fine), but who knows what will have found its way on my TBR by next year!

How do you feel about long books? Do you love them, or do you not have the patience for them? Any long books that you love? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

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Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

prioryoftheorangetree_shannonThe Priory of the Orange Tree
Samantha Shannon

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publishing year: 2019
Pages: 830
ISBN: 9781408883440
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Alright, before we get to the actual review, can I be shallow for a moment and say that I absolutely love this cover? Kudos to illustrator Ivan Belikov!

The East and the West have been divided for ages. In order to protect her country in the West, Queen Sabran must conceive an heir. However, she refuses to marry while assassins get closer and closer to getting her reign cut short. Her lady-in-waiting Ead does her best to protect her, but she must make sure her forbidden magic or her true heritage is not discovered. In the East, Tané has been training to be a dragon rider all her life, but she’s forced to make choices that might have some horrible consequences. Meanwhile, a draconic evil is awakening — can both East and West work together to prevent the destruction of the world?

Magic, dragons, and an evil force threatening the world. Yes, this behemoth of 830 pages is definitely epic fantasy. The Priory of the Orange Tree includes a lot of lore and world building, and this book definitely takes its time to set the stage. It’s quite a slow burn, but mysteries and origins get slowely unraveled as we move through the plot. I really enjoyed that the two kinds of dragons, and the related magic, balance each other out like a yin yang. I also enjoyed the backstory of The Priory Ead was part of, and how that tied in to Sabran’s family history.

Speaking of Ead and Sabran; I’m usually not big on romance, but wow, this was an extremely well written one and definitely among the book’s highlights! Both characters had a lot of chemistry, and the way their relationship developed, as well was the challenges they faced, was realistic. This, along with the aforementioned lore and world building, also made Ead’s POV the most interesting. From the synopsis, I had expected Sabran to be a POV character as well, but she wasn’t. Nonetheless, I do feel this romance was handled amazingly.

Which brings me to the other POV characters. One of them is the aforementioned Tané, and though she is definitely integral to the story, I felt some plot threads (such as her fellow students, along with a rivalry that was set up) were left hanging. I also would have liked to know more about the Eastern dragons; only one got enough so-called screentime, but she didn’t have a lot of character. I did like that Tané had a lot of character growth throughout her arc, though.

The other POV characters were both male: Doctor Roos and Loth. I did like both of these characters, but their involvement in the story fell a bit short. Roos didn’t add much to the story other than providing information, and Loth seemed like a character that got moved around to wherever he needed to be for the story. I would have liked more build-up, especially because he was initially stuck in a kingdom that provided a really interesting and tense situation for him, that also could have shed more light on a problem I’ll mention below. I felt that these two characters and their roles could have been fleshed out more.

I also would have liked more of the ‘evil’, Western dragons. Though they were supposedly a massive threat, they were also absent for most of the story. They had taken over a kingdom, yet that kingdom doesn’t really do anything until the end. Only one of these dragons makes a few appearances, but this character didn’t really bring a sense of a lingering threat or even a real presence. For that matter, The Big Bad lacked presence as well. A part of this issue could have been fixed with pacing, and perhaps spending more time on parts that were glossed over. Giving the Western dragons more of a presence could have given this book a lot more urgency, which would have built more a threatening situation. Now? Most of the threat the characters faced stem from politics. And political intrigue is fine, very interesting even, but it meant that the dragons themselves, the supposed Big Threat, felt a bit lacklustre.

Another issue is the ending. The whole book builds towards this epic Big Bad. Though I already mentioned that this Big Bad lacked presence, I felt that the final showdown was resolved a bit too easily and neatly. There were no great sacrifices, it didn’t even take a lot of time, and there was no real emotional pay-off after the Big Bad had been slain. It appeared, and then it died, more or less.

All my problems kind of signify that Shannon hasn’t used her 800 pages as efficiently as she could have, which is a real shame for an epic fantasy story like this. Though I do not mind a slow burn, this book can feel a bit bloated at times, while on other occasions I felt some interesting parts were glossed over.

Yet, despite all that I’ve said, I have given The Priory of the Orange Tree 4 stars. Objectively, perhaps I should have given it a lower rating, because the story and setting do have issues. However, I did enjoy this epic fantasy a lot. Ead was an amazing protagonist, I loved the romance (which did have an emotional pay-off!), and the world building was incredibly fascinating. Though this book isn’t perfect and could be considered a bit slow, this is still worth a read if you like fantasy, dragons, and badass female characters.

Ten Unpopular Bookish Opinions

I saw this going around earlier this month. I might be late with joining the bandwagon, but I wanted to spread out my posts a bit, so that’s why I’m posting up my list only now. Without further ado, here are ten of my own unpopular bookish opinions!

We’re not entitled to Winds of Winter and GRRM has no obligation to finish it ASAP. 
Yes, I get it. We’ve been waiting for years. The last book, A Dance With Dragons, has been published in 2011. The disappointing final season of Game of Thrones doesn’t help (or any season after the fourth, in my opinion), so all we can do is pin our final hopes for a decent resolution on George R.R. Martin himself. But the GoT finale is not only proof that rushing things is not a good idea, but he’s also not obligated to lock himself in his room until he has finished Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. He’s not a writing slave. If he wants to work on other projects, he’s entitled to do so. If he wants to twiddle his thumbs, he’s also entitled to do so. Writing is a creative process, and if you know anything about writing, you should know that it’s not a good idea to force it. Now, you’re perfectly allowed to be frustrated with GRRM and even drop his work like a hot brick. That’s up to you. But don’t harass him about the fact that he’s old and that he might die before finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s just rude. In fact, don’t harass him at all. To quote Neil Gaiman: writers are not your bitch.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is not my thing. 
I kind of feel like I should be hiding in a bunker — if you like fantasy, then surely, you must like Discworld! Now, I don’t hate those books and they definitely weren’t bad. I’ve read The Colour of Magic and Mort. I appreciate the humurous social commentary and they were entertaining enough. Just not entirely my thing. So I’m not going to read the rest, and that’s alright.

We do not need to ban ‘problematic’ books.
All the shitstorms on various social media (Twitter and BookTube, most often) whenever an author has the audacity to publish a book that contains something ‘problematic’ are very, very toxic. Yelling on social media about how the book shouldn’t be published (harassing the publisher as well as the author) because it contains X is not only not okay, but it also reeks of censorship. I hope I don’t have to explain why this is a very dangerous thing? Moreover, such behaviour also completely ignores any nuance — a book does not have to be politically correct to portray societal issues. The author might be trying for a representation of a certain era/place? A character can change? And even if a portrayal is indeed ‘problematic’ or even a blatant misrepresentation/stereotype, there should be room to discuss these issues in a mature way.  People can gain new insights and, heaven forbid, learn things. What we shouldn’t do? This whole lynch mob mentallity of forbidding publications, condemning people who do buy that book, and shove issues under a rug.

Breaking spines and battering my paperbacks is not book abuse. 
If you want to keep your books as pristine as humanly possible, great, you do you. But don’t act like people who throw their books in their bag, crack their spines, dog-ear their pages, or annotate their books are horrible human beings. In the end, books are simply objects meant to be read, not your pet dog. Borrowed books are another thing entirely, of course, but let people do whatever they want with their own books, okay?

I thought Dune by Frank Herbert was merely ‘alright’. 
I guess I’ll need to find my bunker again, because Dune is hailed as this amazing work of science fiction. Though it has a promising start, with a great setting on a desert planet  (with Sandworms!) and an interesting political climate, it falls flat on its face. The book becomes a slog, with philosophical drivel and a main character that becomes completely unrelatable and unlikable. The political intrique becomes meaningless. Maybe all of that was the point and I didn’t ‘get’ it, but I guess this wasn’t for me.

I can’t stand Jane Austen’s works
As a former English major, this is definitely an unpopular opinion. Her books are treated as ‘feminist’ and must reads. Now, I get that they portray the lives of upperclass women during the Victorian era. With a canon that’s dominated by the white male voice, Jane Austen is something different. But. I’ve tried reading Pride & Prejudice and Emma, and… ugh. They’re boring as Hell and I can’t stand the characters being all prim and proper while discussing marriage options. I’ve DNF’ed both of my attempts. No thanks. 

We do not need every single note scribbled by J.R.R. Tolkien published.
Okay, maybe I’m just salty over The Fall of Arthur, which contained a few pages of a poem that wasn’t even close to being finished, while the remainder of the book consisted of Christopher Tolkien’s ramblings, oh, excuse me, analysis of every single Arthurian-related note his father had written. Perhaps there was a reason that J.R.R. Tolkien had never finished or published it? It reeks of a cash grab, and I’m not inclined to buy any further releases. Just wait, eventually they’ll publish Tolkien’s grocery list and relate it to Hobbit cuisine.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is terrible and definitely not feminist. 
There, I’ve said it. Because this book has Morgaine as the main character, this book is frequently hailed as the feminist Arthurian work. Though I get that it’s one of the first instances of an Arthurian work written from a woman’s perspective, I have to disagree with that statement. Morgaine is elevated by putting other women down, which is not feminist at all. She especially looks down on Gwenhyfar, who is blond and pretty — apparently the Arthurian equivalent of the popular cheerleader girl in high school, and it even comes with love drama because, heaven forbid, Lancelot prefers her over Morgaine. Morgaine bitches about typical medieval female activities that are boring, because she’s not ‘like other women’. The males are cardboard cutouts. The book is also a complete slog to get through. For a story with a main character who bitches about how weaving and embroidery is boring, there are sure a lot of scenes involving these activities.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami was ‘meh’. 
Norwegian Wood appears to be hailed as Murakami’s magnum opus. I’ve read a few books by Murakami, and Norwegian Wood is actually my least favorite. It’s not bad, it’s probably more accessible because it lacks the magical realism in Murakami’s other works, but it just wasn’t anything special for me. I guess it didn’t resonate. I prefer The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

I didn’t think Children of Blood and Bone was the best thing since sliced bread. 
Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate the setting, lore, the themes of oppression, and the character development of Amari. However, it also has a lot of problems. Though I understood where she was coming from initially, I felt that main character Zelie was a wishy-washy character that became annoying at some points, and her romance with Inan was horribly executed. The plot also wasn’t anything to write home about, unfortunately. I won’t be reading the sequel.

And, there we have it, ten unpopular bookish opinions! I could probably make this list even longer if I wanted to, but I thinkt his post has enough text as is. Agree with these? Or disagree? Feel free to discuss in the comments. 🙂

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

conveniencestorewoman_murataConvenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata

Publisher: Granta Books
Publishing year: 2018
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Pages: 163
ISBN: 9781846276842
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4/5

Keiko is thirty-six years old. She’s never been into a relationship and she has been working at the same dead-end job in a convenience store for eighteen years. She’s happy with her life as it is, but her parents wish she’d just find a ‘real’ job. Her friends also keep pestering her about finding a boyfriend.

This short novel begins with Keiko explaining that she’s always been a strange child. Practical to a fault, as a child she came up with solutions to problems that weren’t exactly accepted by society (such as hitting another child with a shovel to break up fight). As she got older, Keiko realised that it was better to try and act normal. Her job at a convenience store makes this much easier: there is a manual that explains how to behave in different situations, which gives her something to hold on to. However, most people tend to move on towards either a ‘decent’ career or marriage (or both), but Keiko’s life remains in service to the convenience store. Eventually, she notices that, despite her efforts to appear normal, people begin to judge her for not moving on.

Convenience Store Woman is a short novel. The prose is straight to the point and easy to read, and the deadpan and practical way in which it is written makes the book a little quirky. In regards to its themes, however, there is a lot to unpack. Most notable is the theme of conforming to expectations. Japanese culture is quite strict (more so than my own Dutch culture, in any case) in terms of meeting these expectations. Though Keiko has a job to support herself, which should be enough, she still experiences pressure to find a ‘real’ job and a husband even though she’s not interested in doing either. This pressure influences her actions throughout the novel, even though, as a reader, you do get the sense that conforming to these wishes isn’t a good thing for Keiko herself. She obviously gets satisfaction through her work in the convenience store, and she’s good at it, yet there is still pressure to change. When she begins to mention her ‘relationship’ with some freeloading bum to others, people begin to treat her differently. Or rather, it becomes evident that her coworkers weren’t really treating her like a normal person before, yet this new treatment unsettles her.

Another interesting aspect relates to the novel’s portrayal of identity. Keiko has maintained her ‘normal’ appearance by copying the people around her to a certain extend. Considering people tend to behave differently when in different groups, the fluid sense of identity is quite remarkable to think about. Finally, there is the extend to which Keiko’s sense of self relates to her job, which becomes evident throughout the story in various ways.

Convenience Store Woman has some interesting food for thought, but considering it’s a rather short book, it doesn’t delve too deeply into these topics. The freeloading bum that Keiko hooks up with, Shiraha, got on my nerves as well. Though I realize that’s the point of his character, he got a little repetitive with his views on society. Keiko herself is also a rather passive character; practical and not emotional. Though I think it works for this kind of story, it does make the novel a bit quirky, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, if you’re looking for a short read narrating some relevant issues without becoming too heavy, Convenience Store Woman is definitely worth a shot.

Six Books to Read After Game of Thrones

Unless you’re living under a rock, this won’t be anything new: Game of Thrones has ended. Whether you liked the ending or not, it’s hard to deny the impact this fantasy series has had. So now what?

Obviously, there are the original books, A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as several related works: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, The World of Ice and FireThe Ice Dragon, and Fire & Blood. But maybe you’ve already read them, and you’re waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish Winds of Winter. Or maybe you’re not inclined to read ongoing series because you’re worried about it never being finished. Whether you’re looking for something to fill the gaping hole Game of Thrones has left, or a new series to tide you over until GRRM releases Winds of Winter, here are some book series you might like as well!

Of course, none of these are Game of Thrones 2.0, but if you like GRRM’s world,  I’m sure there’s at least one among these titles that will catch your interest.

The Warlord Chronicles
Bernard Cornwell
fdaa13c5-f644-4036-8a49-4a1dc2cf03fdimg100Did you enjoy the gritty medieval setting of Game of Thrones? Look no further. Set during the Saxon invasion of England during the middle ages, this trilogy follows a soldier in the army of King Arthur, Derfel Cadarn. Considering the main character is a soldier, there is a lot of warfare, but there is also some political intrique and religious fanatics. Cornwell doesn’t shy away from portraying violence and the unpleasant sides of war. In this more historical-ish retelling of the Arthurian legend, the presence of magic in this trilogy is mostly ambiguous, but if you can live with the lack of dragons, this is definitely worth a shot. The trilogy consists of The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur. It’s also finished, so no worries about never knowing how it ends.

Temeraire
Naomi Novik

hismajestysdragon_naominovikIf you love dragons, then Temeraire might be just the thing. This is basically the Napoleon wars, but with dragons! We follow the honorable and somewhat uptight British naval officer William Laurence as he stumbles upon a dragon egg while conquering an enemy ship. The dragon, Temeraire, soon hatches from his egg and chooses Laurence as his handler. Considering dragons are so valuable, Laurence has no choice but to abandon his position in the navy to become an aviator. With Napoleon wanting to conquer the world, Britain included, Laurence and his dragon companion are needed in the war. The best thing in this series is the bond between Laurence and Temeraire as both character grow because of the things they go through, but Novik has also managed to incorporate dragons in an interesting way. As Laurence and Temeraire visit other locations over the course of the book, we get to find out about how dragons are incorportated in other cultures. There’s also some political intrique, gray areas, and Napoleon is portrayed as an affable character despite being on the opposite side. This series begins with His Majesty’s Dragon and consists of nine books in total, excluding the short collection called The Golden Age and Other Stories.

 

The Farseer Trilogy
Robin Hobb

hobb_assassinsapprenticeI have to admit that I haven’t finished the full trilogy yet, but judging from what I’ve read of the first two, it’d be a crime not to include this. Anyway, we follow FitzChivalry, the bastard son of the crown prince who ends up in court. After being raised in the stables, King Shrewd eventually decides to have Fitz trained as an assassin. Considering most of these books take place at court and our main character is trained as an assassin, political intrique is definitely a thing here. However, the world building is also a great part of what makes this trilogy so interesting. There is also some magic, such as Fitz’ ability to bond with animals that he must keep a secret, and the threat of raiders who do something terrible to those they capture. The Farseer Trilogy consists of Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assasin, and Assassin’s Quest, but if you didn’t quite get enough of Fitz and/or this world: there are a lot more books taking place in the world, called The Realm of the Elderlings

 

Gentleman Bastard
Scott Lynch

lynch_theliesoflockelamoraIf you don’t mind to committing to another unfinished series, I’d like to draw your attention to Gentleman Bastard by Scott Lynch. The main character is Locke Lamora, a thief/con man in a world where such elaborate schemes are not as prevalent. Politics eventually find their way into the heists of Locke and his crew, however, and they sometimes have dire consequences. The characters are the main draw of this fantasy series, but the worldbuilding is also quite interesting. This series starts off with The Lies of Locke Lamora, but continues with Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves. According to Scott Lynch’s own Twitter account, the author has also finished the first draft of the fourth installment: The Thorn of Emberlain!

 

Iskari
Kristen Ciccarelli

LastNamsara_CiccarelliOkay, that’s all great, but what about some different perspectives with some politics? And dragons? If you like YA fantasy, Iskari might be a good fit for you. The first installment, The Last Namsara, follows a princess, Asha, who hunts dragons and wishes to escape her arranged marriage with a jerkass. Ciccarelli has also included a lot of worldbuilding and lore into her story, which she expands on in The Caged Queen. This second installment follows a character we were already introduced to: Roa, who chose to marry Asha’s brother to save her country. She offers a different perspective to the world we got to know in the first book. She’s in a hostile country, however, and political intrique is everywhere around her. The third and final installment, The Sky Weaver, will be released this fall and will follow two other characters: Safire, Asha’s niece and military commander, and Eris, a pirate.  

 

Draconis Memoria
Anthony Ryan

thewakingfirefinalA gritty fantasy with excellent worldbuilding and different POVs; there are a lot of things this trilogy does right. The dragons are a great bonus. The dragons are exploited for the magical properties of their blood that allow some mages (called bloodblessed) to perform magic. Clay is a thief from the slums who is secretly a blood-blessed. When he is caught, he has to go on an expedition to find the mysterious White Dragon. Other POV characters include Lizanne, a spy who has to infiltrate the hostile empire to gather information, and Hilemore, a navy captain. The first installment, The Waking Fire, is doubtlessly the strongest with its sense of mystery, but the two sequels (The Legion of Flame and The Empire of Ashes) definitely have their own merit as they narrate the ensuing war and the desperate attempt to save the world.

 

And there we have it, six series to fill the gap that Game of Thrones has left. I have not purposely stuck to only fantasy novels, but they happen to be the ones I find most suitable from what I’ve read. Do you have suggestions of your own? Do feel free to leave them in the comments!

Book Presentation: Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Last week, the new book by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (writer of horror novel Hex) was finally released in Dutch! Accompanying this was an official book launch on May 10, which I was lucky enough to attend. The event was held in Pakhuis de Zwijger, an event building close the IJ river in the centre of Amsterdam. A pretty location, I might add.

Though I usually hold off on discussing Dutch publications because this blog is in English, Olde Heuvelt’s new book Echo will most certainly get an English translation after the international success of Hex (not sure when, though). Therefore, I figured this might be interesting for international readers as well.

echothomasoldeheveult

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YalFest NL 2019

This year on the 21th of April, I have spent my Easter not at home looking for (chocolate) eggs, but on YalFest NL! This is a Dutch event about young adult books, held in Hoevelaken this time around. Though this event was held for the fourth time, it was my very first time attending, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Luckily, the admittedly pretty hefty ticket price (40+ euros) was justified!

The event was organized by a few young adult publishers: Blossom Books and The Best of YA Books. The organization had invited six international young adult authors:

  • Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe & The Inexplicable Logic of my Life);
  • Nic Stone (Dear Martin & Odd One Out);
  • Kristen Ciccarelli (the Iskari series: The Last Namsara & The Caged Queen);
  • Karen McManus (One of Us is Lying & Two Can Keep a Secret);
  • Samira Ahmed (Internment);
  • Teri Terry (Slated trilogy). 

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