House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland
Published: 4.6.21 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Paranormal Horror
Details: 304 Pages, Print, E-Book, Audio
Rating: 5 Stars
Series: Standalone

REVIEW

Disclaimer: I borrowed my audiobook copy from the local library. I read and reviewed this book voluntarily. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Content warnings at the end of the review.

“I’d realized there were scarier things in the world than the monsters that lived in my nightmares.”

I wanted nothing more than to find a book that I could immerse myself into. I asked everyone for recommendations on a book that would sweep me away. I was driving home and thought, maybe I should try the audiobook. So many people have told me that the audiobook is incredible and they were not wrong. Haunting, creepy, unputdownable. The prose is captivating and intoxicating, so much so that my husband listened with me and the binged it the next day. This is a story about love, loss, heartbreak, and the bonds that people share… what someone is willing to do for the ones they love. I will think for a very long time.

Something is wrong with the Hollow sisters. Iris, Vivi, and Grey disappeared without a trace, returning a month later with no memory, hair and eyes different colors, and a half moon scar at the base of their throats. Seventeen year old Iris spends her time attending her lavish private school, trying to stay away from the public eye, while her sisters rebelled. She becomes frightened as she’s being followed by a horned man (historically having stalkers due to their unsolved disappearance as children). When Grey goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Iris and Vivi begin following the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs left for them, unraveling the past that they desperately want to forget.

I seriously could not put this book down. Once I started, I realized how dark and atmospheric this book was going to be. The narrator, Eleanor Bennett, was phenomenal. I honestly don’t know if I will ever reread the physical copy of this because it is THAT good. I immediately felt connected to the Hollow sisters. Their shared pain, their dedication to one another, their love… Iris states many times that she would be nothing without them and you can tell that they all have a strange, yet beautiful obsession with one another. I really appreciated the conversational style Sutherland used. It’s rare that I read a book and think, “this is exactly what it would sound like if this were real…” It felt like real young adults having real young adult conversations and it helped me feel connected to the story. The narrator did an incredible job at controlling the tone of the story.

Side characters were well fleshed out and felt as if they all had their own places within this story. Cate, their mother, was overbearing, protective, and sometimes cruel in conversation with the sisters. Vivi and Grey both struggled with Iris’ blind loyalty to Cate. At one point, Vivi stated, “that’s a pretty heaven burden to bear, being everything for someone,” when Iris says she wants Cate to move with her when she goes to University. The horned masked stalker/villain had such an interesting back story that honestly I did not see that coming. And Tyler – what an addition to this twisting tale. So often we find significant others, co-workers, classmate etc being used as a throwaway plot device and I did not feel this way at all.

House of Hollow is by far the most atmospheric book I’ve ever read; Sutherland deserves five stars for world building alone. Once I started listening to the details of the story, I was hooked, whisked away to this creepy town. The author loved to use descriptive words, especially about the smell of things and places to really set the tone. Scent is such a huge factor in whether or not something is “grotesque” and she really understood that concept and used it to her advantage to make you believe you too could smell the rotting decay. It definitely is not for weak stomachs.

As far as horrors go, this wasn’t a book that made me feel like I couldn’t sleep but it was chilling enough to make me look over my shoulder when I was alone in the kitchen. This standalone YA paranormal horror really does mess with you mentally as you never are quite sure if the narrator is is reliable or not. If you are a fan of Stranger Things, a deep and rich prose, and world building that will make you question your own reality, then this book is for you.

Content Warnings: suicide and suicidal ideations, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, child death, parental death, self harm, stalking, violence, attempted rape, murder, gore


SPOILERS

Let’s talk about Cate for a second. At first, I thought – how could she be so cold to her children. How could a mother deny comfort and love. It broke me to pieces when she told Iris not to call her “mama” and to refer to her only as her first name… but you soon begin to understand why. I really appreciated the fact that she understood that her daughters were gone but she would rather have something rather than nothing, and she did remain dedicated to them (except for Grey 🌚)

The scene with Tyler reuniting with my sister was possibly the saddest scene in the entire story. I have to give mad props to Sutherland for making me feel this gut wrenching feeling about a side character and leaving it as one of the most memorable scenes. I also loved that Tyler was a Korean supermodel. I’m not biased or anything (okay I am because I am Korean), but the representation felt nice and not forced.

Speaking of representation, QUEER CHARACTERS! It was such an amazing surprise for me to find out that Iris was Bi and Vivi was a lesbian. I also loved that that was normalized and not used as a plot device or some part of a painful story regarding their sexuality.

The ambiguous ending leaves me BEGGING for more. It reminds me of the end of Stranger Things at each seasons end. You can close that book forever always wondering where your beloved characters go, or you can pick up with the little snippets left behind and write more stories. I want Tyler to come back!!!


Rachael

Small Favors By Erin A. Craig

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig
Published: 7.27.21 by Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal Fantasy, Rumpelstiltskin Retelling
Details: 480 Pages, Print, E-Book, Audio
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Series: Standalone

REVIEW

Disclaimer: First and foremost, I would like to thank Penguin Random House Audio for providing me a complimentary audiobook of Small Favors in exchange for an honest review! Content warnings at the end of the review.

Ellerie Downing, a beekeepers daughter, lives in the quiet, isolated town of Amity Falls, where the townsfolk work hard at making sure everyone succeeds after early settlers fought off devilish creatures that lived in the woods. This dark, atmospheric, young adult horror opens up to a bloody end to a failed supply run, making everyone question the motives of the neighbors they’ve vowed to protect. Soon after, bad omens plague them; animals are maimed and deformed, crops are destroyed, and a catastrophic event sows mistrust within this community. Fearing starvation through the winter, lack of medical supplies, low ammunition, and a stranger appearing from the woods draws concerned feelings from the town. Being stuck within the borders of this creepy forest, with visitors being rare, makes the arrival of a strange boy all the more concerning. This book provides a very claustrophobic atmosphere which adds to the intensity of the plot. It also added psychological thrill which kept me listening until late into the night!

That being said, the character development and overall plot had some holes which made me lose some interest in the story. The behavior of Ellerie’s 8 year old sister was unconvincing, the narrator made her sound like she was 4 which frustrated me a bit as I always have trouble with authors/narrators not understand the tone of children they add to their stories. This being a Rumpelstiltskin retelling held true, with mystical creatures offering small favors in exchange for a little mayhem within the town, though we don’t learn much about the monsters until the very end, and even then it was slightly anticlimactic.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. My teenage self would give this a 3.5 star and would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed House of Salt and Sorrows, The Hollow Places, Rules for Vanishing, and other YA horror!

Content Warnings: pet/animal euthanasia, farm animal death, familial death, self harm/blood magic, fear of starvation, fire/severe burns


SPOILERS

Sam, Ellerie’s brother, was a throwaway character. He was extremely under developed and used as a plot device, even at the end. There was zero closure for his motives, leaving you with many questions about why he made the choices that he did. It frustrated me that there wasn’t much clarity for Ellerie and she was just okay with her brother being a jerk even until his death. Essentially going 🤷🏻‍♀️ immediately after his death scene (this was the same reaction Rebecca, his pregnant ex girlfriend had after learning that he’s dead). This frustrated me because it was completely for shock and it felt like having no emotional resolution for him (whether that be good or bad) was cheap. He was a character that the author could abuse and then forget about and critically, it just doesn’t sit well for character development.

The plot revolves around the townsfolk and how everyone works so hard to make sure they all succeed through the harsh winter, so when the town goes up in flames, Ellerie turns her back to the mayhem and then rides off to find her parents which were also used as a plot device and forgotten about as well.

The main villain was easily defeated, in a very unrealistic way (yes I know this is fantasy but there are certain things that you just shake your head at) and didn’t provide many answers to Ellerie’s desperate questions. Ellerie also makes choices that are completely useless and just made the book seem to drag. The paranormal elements of the book seemed disjointed within the story and was more-so confusing than it was revealing. The “small favors” parts of the book were not explored, just explained quickly – we don’t really get to see/read about WHAT the small favors actually were or why, just that it was happening. There were little instances like this that turned me off a bit when it started off with great potential.


Rachael

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
Publication Date: February 26, 2019
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Audio Narration: 4 Stars
Steam Level: 🔥🔥

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but in fact, she’s one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. Varin runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.


DISCLAIMER:
This book was gifted from PenguinTeen as a gift due to Four Dead Queens being nominated for a GoodChoice GoodReads Award! This in no way impacts my review; all opinions are my own.


NON SPOILERY REVIEW

Wow! This standalone book totally swept me away! I haven’t read a royal fantasy in a while and it really took me by surprise!

I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the murder of the four Queens and the story of Keralie, the thief entangled in the murders front the get go! This book was fast paced and kept my attention chapter after chapter. Some of the twists I never even saw coming! I listened via audio and I absolutely loved the narrators; they did a phenomenal job and brought the characters to life! I really enjoyed the romance as well. I think the story could have functioned well without it, so what we did get was cute and exciting!

I think it’s important as an adult reader to meet books where they are. I am rating this book as if I were 16 years old, and my teenage self would have LOVED this book (my adult self does too!) There are some moments of more mature content but nothing I wouldn’t let a young teen read!

This book is available now at most book retailers, in store or online! Astrid Scholte’s new book THE VANISHING DEEP arrives March 3rd, 2020 and is available for preorder!

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The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars

The Near Witch

Synopsis:

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.


DISCLAIMER:
This book was purchase by me. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.


REVIEW

Alright y’all… this might be the first book from Schwab that I actually am not super impressed by. I realize that this book went out of print and I realize that this was her first novel… but to be honest, I think this would have worked better for my mind as a middle grade read. I think labeling it as YA just doesn’t suit the book and actually makes my opinion on it less favorable.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a 3 star – which to me is a decent book. It’s likable, the plot moves forward, there’s aspects of the story I enjoyed… but it was just missing something. Everyone says it’s “atmospheric” but honestly that’s where it stops. There’s the town Near in which kids go missing, there’s the Moor.. and that’s  about where the story ends.

Lexi and Cole were characters who felt one dimensional – I found a hard time caring about them and their mission. The romance felt meh, honestly not even necessary to me. I pushed through because I wanted to know more about the story and I did enjoy the ending because the action picks up.

I will say, the audiobook is AWFUL. I’m a huge audiobooker and it was so weird. The narrator kept putting inflection on the last word and had this strange AF tone. She was supposed to be portraying a young woman but sounded so old. I don’t know, I think that may have had an impact on my reading experience and how much I enjoyed this book.

I think it would be a perfect spooky read for middle school! So if you have a child who likes spooky but wants to be able to sleep at night, this is a good one for that!

This book is available for now at most book retailers, in store or online!

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Soulwalkers by Cassidy Thomas

Soulwalkers by Cassidy Thomas
Publisher: Little Big Books
Publication Date: December 3rd, 2019
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis:

Kia LaStrauss can see into your soul with the touch of her hand. She can see your fears, desires, wants. She can see your past. Your present. Your future. She is a Soulwalker. 

New Orleans is the city Kia calls home: a city of revelry, jazz, wonder, and magic. She grew up listening to stories of magic and mysticism, but they were just stories… or so she thought. After experiencing two visions of the future, Kia learns of the existence of Soulwalkers, and that she is one of them. With the help of her mentor Ian, she begins to learn what she is capable of, and the consequences of her newfound power. But even Ian cannot prepare her for what she will discover. 

Kia is thrown into a world once unimaginable, where the touch of a hand could kill her and every new discovery can change the course of her life forever. 


DISCLAIMER:
Thank you Cassidy Thomas for this free finished copy to read and review. This is no way shapes my opinions, all thoughts expressed are my own.


REVIEW

I really enjoyed this YA urban fantasy! I love stories that center in New Orleans because the world-building is always so rich. Within this world, we have Soulwalkers, people who can see your soul with a touch… however, there is a balance to this magic system. This adds a level of stress to this ability, throwing me for a loop when you learn about Kia’s first walk. This book explores more magic than soul walking but I don’t want to say too much and spoil the surprises! This book has many twists and turns, some totally unexpected! This is a super quick, exciting read and I would recommend this to anyone who likes books you can devour in a sitting!

I liked the multiple points of view as I’m always wondering what everyone is thinking other than the MC. It just gives a book more depth to me.

***could be considered spoilery***

I enjoyed the romance aspect as I’m a total romance sucker. The only thing I think can be worked upon is the term of endearment. Ian would call Kia kid when they had a “mentor/student,” relationship but once it was more it seemed a bit demeaning. Calling the person you’re interested in as “kid,” isn’t for me, but honestly I think it could just be my own opinion! Other than that, I was totally rooting for the characters!

This book is available for preorder on Amazon and will be available 12/3!

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Thirsty Thursday – Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Wow wow wow, where in the heck did Thursday go? Let’s talk about an upcoming release that I am lucky to be a part of! Fireborne by Rosaria Munda!

Fireborne is a debut trilogy published by Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers! I am so excited for this as this is supposed to be like Game of Thrones x Red Rising! SIGN ME UP! I am so excited to have the chance to read this book early as it releases on October 15th, 2019! I plan on binging it all weekend long! You can pre-order HERE or from most online book sellers!


Synopsis:

Game of Thrones meets Red Rising in a debut young adult fantasy that’s full of rivalry, romance… and dragons.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders. Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city. With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.


Will you be reading Fireborne when it releases? I cannot wait to see the reviews!

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Wild Wednesday – WWW!

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and brought back by Taking on a World of Words.

Rules are to just answer three questions:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?


Currently reading: Soulwalkers by Cassidy Thomas
This book is an urban fantasy set in New Orleans! Kia learns that she is a Soulwalker; she can see the past, present, future, hopes, wants, dreams, etc in a person’s soul… but that doesn’t mean anything is set in stone. I am about halfway through and I am enjoying it! I really like the setting as I love NOLA! We don’t have enough stories written in that place. I am already finding myself attached to some of the characters but I have a feeling the author is not going to give us much mercy! This hits the shelves December 3rd, 2019 and you can pre-order the Kindle edition right now for $1.99!

Recently finished: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
The Wicked Deep is a story about three sisters who were drowned after being accused of being witches. The sisters posses the body of young women in the town and lure men to their death by drowning as revenge for what happened to them. This book has plot twists all over the place and it was perfectly witchy for October. I wrote about some of the problematic themes in my Tuesday post but other than that, I felt like it was a decent read! Solid 3.5!

Reading Next: The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring
I’ve been seeing this book around Bookstagram for a while now so I think it’s time for me to dig in.

Synopsis:
Simmering in Patagonian myth, The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist.

At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.

Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored.

One of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi’s existence. In order to survive she must solve a cosmic mystery—and then fight for her life


I hope everyone had a marvelous Wednesday! Tomorrow I’ll be talking about some of the upcoming releases I am excited for!

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Topic Tuesday – Problematic Themes in Literature

Hellllllo everyone! I hope everyone is having an amazing Tuesday! I had to wait until nap time before I could jump on! Below is a triggering topic, so if you are triggered and upset easily, please do not continue reading. I want my blog to be a safe space for everyone! It’s going to be a doozy!


After reading The Wicked Deep, I wanted to talk about problematic themes in literature. Now, I’m not one to get offended easily. I have gone through a fair amount of trauma in my past, which I am very open out; thankfully for me not a lot triggers me into panic. However, there are some topics that make people upset. There are many problematic themes like violence against women, rape, abusive partners that make it into our books.

I for one do not like reading Bully Romance, which is a huge reason as to why I did not like the After series. The reason why I don’t like it is not because of the topic itself, but it’s because sometimes those themes do not serve as a vehicle for the plot. Sometimes these characters are just shitty to be shitty and I can’t stand behind that. With books like The Cruel Prince, Jude and Cardan are SO MEAN to each other and there really isn’t much reason for it other than to be a dick (in my opinion, don’t @ me LOL). In After, Harden and what’s her face (I forgot already), were abusive to each other and then they would make up and then everyone would just gloss over it. They would have intense sex and then all is forgiven until they are screaming at each other in public and emotionally manipulating each other. That is NOT okay for me.

What I mean for a problematic theme to be a vehicle for the plot, is that it has to be addressed in some way and have a meaningful impact on those characters. There are many books out there that talk about race and prejudice and we see those characters go through some tough stuff, but it gets resolved. Someone learns something from it. The aggressor realizes that it’s NOT okay to behave this way. Most of the time, especially in YA literature, we don’t see it addressed – everyone just sweeps it under the rug.

Now to The Wicked Deep. If you haven’t read it, don’t read this paragraph as I will be discussing spoilers. The Wicked Deep is about the spirit of 3 dead sister witches who inhabit the body of girls and lure boys to their death out of revenge from their drowning. Penny, the main character, has what I believe is sex with the main love interest, Bo. Later on it is revealed that it is a sister witch, Hazel, inhabiting her body and she used Penny’s body to get close to Bo. The author literally swept this under the rug. No one even talked about how fucked up that was, not even Bo! Hazel says, please don’t tell Penny what happened, I will leave the good memories for her. Like ? Then we are not told if Bo reveals the truth, which I’m sure he doesn’t since the ending he’s still obsessed with Hazel even though he’s with the real Penny.

That is rape you guys. Penny did not consent to this. It doesn’t matter that she was unaware and that a witch possessed her. It doesn’t matter that Hazel left the “good memories.” Penny could not consent. I am not pointing all of the blame on Bo as he did not know at the time, but I do think it was his responsibility to tell her the truth once he knew and she was Penny again. I had a long conversation with Kibby (www.somethingofthebook.com IG: @somethingofthebook) about how wrong this, in fact she’s the one who initially brought it up and I was like wait no, wtf, I didn’t even think of this!

If the author were to have made Bo reveal what happened and discussed how wrong that was even for a freaking paragraph, I would be singing a different tune. This is how we perpetuate rape culture. It is NOT cute that Bo and Penny are now together and Hazel is a ghost in the wind still whispering she loves him. NO! It’s like Bo got to have his cake and eat it too (thank you Kat IG: @kathardistywrites for this phrasing because it’s PERFECT).

Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is an enjoyable book, but those things need to be fixed. We cannot keep sweeping these problematic themes under the rug. They have to be there for a reason, it has to drive the plot forward. I heard people are boycotting Ninth House because of a problematic theme but then from others I hear it’s addressed in the story. It’s okay to have traumatic events in book! What’s not okay is acting like it’s normal and not discussing the issue for those characters and for the readers.


Well,  thank you all for reading my rant if you’ve made it this far! How do you view problematic themes in literature?

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Mood Monday – New Week/New TBR!

How can it be the second week of October already? This week will be a whirlwind for me as I’ll be headed off to LA with my mom on Saturday morning for a quick trip to KoreaTown! Words cannot express how excited I am! It’s also the last week of the #housecupreadathon19 for October over on Instagram! I’m excited to see who is in the lead!

I am starting off this week with a brand new TBR! I am going to be reading The Wicked Deep and Blackbirds! Kelli (@starlightfaerytale) is going to the Morristown Book Festival soon so we are trying to read books from authors going to that event (Chuck Wendig). I’m also trying to fit in a few short books (Soulwalkers) and write some reviews! Lord only knows where I’ll find the time!

This weekend I read Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (gothic novella) which was Narrated by David Tennant, Rose Leslie, and Phoebe Fox! This audio drama was SO STINKING GOOD y’all! I mean it was legit like listening to a movie. The voice acting was just phenomenal! It’s a super short audible original, the book is about 100ish pages. This was written in 1872, 26 years before Dracula! The female vampire is in love with another woman! Yay LGBT in the 1800s!! I totally recommend this novella via audio!

I hope everyone has an amazing week!

TGIF – Who Else is Busy AF?

WOW! This week just flew by! I totally forgot to post my Thirsty Thursday new and upcoming release post! I might post that this weekend. Chuck and I have spent a lot of time redoing our nook’s flooring! The old owners put laminate over the hardwood so we tore out the old and installed stuff that looks like wood!

Don’t mind my crazy mess 😂 we are going to paint the walls and of course clean up my shelves when everything is done! We still have some to go along the edges but hopefully that’ll be complete by Sunday!

I finished reading A Thousand Pieces of You last night and needless to say I’m not that impressed. I’m going to go ahead and finish the series and I will write a review for the series as a whole. Today I’m going to finish up To Kill a Kingdom, which I am reading for research purposes with my friend to help her with her book! Then I will get to The Wicked Deep!

I’ve heard some mixed reviews about this book, especially about the last page so I’m curious if I will feel the same way. I’m typically an easy raider because I rate critically rather than personally which I think is important. I can’t stand when people write books that are for younger audiences or forgenres they know they don’t like and rate the books poorly!

I hope everyone has an amazing weekend!

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