Tag Archives: work and tell

Mastiff

Pierce, Tamora. Mastiff: The Legend of Beka Cooper #3 (2011). 608 Pages. Random House. $18.99

Beka Cooper | Book Three

Please be aware of two things:

1) This is the third book in a series. It may contain spoilers for the first two Beka Cooper books, though I have done my best to avoid spoilers for this book.

2) This review of Mastiff is pre-release, based upon a galley. I did not receive it personally from the publisher*, but it is a galley nonetheless. The book is due out October 25, 2011, which gives you plenty of time to go buy and read the first two books (Terrier, and Bloodhound) so go buy them. Because this is an un-edited, pre-release galley, some details may change.

On that note, I’ve put the entire post behind a “more” tag, because there is no way to even give a synopsis without sharing details of the other books. If you’d like the short version? I feel that with every book she publishes, Tamora Pierce grows as an author, and Mastiff is no exception. It was brilliant, and managed to be all I had hoped for and more. I look forward to reading the published volume.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

The Emperor’s Edge

Buroker, Lindsay. The Emperor’s Edge: A High Fantasy Adventure in an Era of Steam (2010). Digital Only. Self-Published. $.99

I figured “Eh, $.99? Why not?” That’s the problem with Kindle, and instant-gratification low- or no-cost books; “Why Not?” That’s how you end up with a to-be-read list hundreds of books long. I kid you not, it’s gotten completely out of hand, even if you disregard everything except the ones I actively intend to read soon instead of just eventually. That’s how I ended up with Lindsay Buroker’s The Emperor’s Edge.

From the Author’s Website

Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.

First Lines

Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon paced. Her short sword, night stick, and handcuffs bumped and clanked at her thighs with each impatient step. Enforcer Headquarters frowned down at her, an ominous gray cliff of a building that glowered at the neighborhood like a turkey vulture, except with less charisma.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal, Speculative Fiction

Patient Zero

Maberry, Jonathan. Patient Zero (2009). 419 Pages. St Martin’s Griffin. $14.95

Joe Ledger: Book One

This post is long-overdue. When I read Rot & Ruin, I was thrilled. I’d found a zombie book which was also about humanity. I had to find out if the author had more in him, so I went out of my way to pick up Patient Zero from the library. I devoured it in a little under a day, and spent a little over an hour gushing about the pair of them to my mother, who has now decided that she needs to read it. And then, life happened.

I got sucked-in to a writing project– yes, I also do creative writing– and a few old forums that I haven’t been on in ages. I got extra hours at work, I’ve been on a fierce job-hunt, and reading has really fallen by the wayside. I am attempting to get myself back on track, which will likely happen as a direct result of me setting myself a posting-schedule.

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills… and there’s nothing wrong with Joe Ledger’s skills.  And that’s both a good, and a bad thing.  It’s good because he’s a Baltimore detective that has just been secretly recruited by the government to lead a new taskforce created to deal with the problems that Homeland Security can’t handle. This rapid response group is called the Department of Military Sciences or the DMS for short. It’s bad because his first mission is to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies. The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

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Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Cohen, Paula Marantz. Jane Austen in Scarsdale or, Love, Death, and the SATs (2006). 275 Pages. St Martin’s Press. $23.95

From the Cover

Anne Ehrlich is a dedicated guidance counselor steering her high-school charges through the perils of college admission. Thirteen years ago, when she was graduating from Colombia University, her wealthy family– especially her dear grandmother Winnie– persuaded her to give up the love of her life, Ben Cutler, a penniless boy from Queens College. Anne has never married and hasn’t seen Ben since– until his nephew turns up in her high school and starts applying to college.

Now Ben is a successful writer, a world traveler, and a soon-to-be married man, and Winnie’s health is beginning to fail. These changes have Anne beginning to wonder… Can old love be rekindled, or are past mistakes too painful to forget?

First Lines

“Great speaker last night, right?” Vince Flockhart, Fenimore’s principal, looked hopefully down at Anne Ehrlich, head of guidance, as she ate her grilled cheese sandwich in the faculty cafeteria. Report had it that the parents had been impressed by the speaker– though half had left in tears and the other half had been digging in the bottom of their bags for Valium.

Thoughts

I do not know much about Persuasion, as I’ve never actually read it, and I don’t recall watching a film version. From what I know, the main point is that Anne Elliot is from a good family, and falls in love with a handsome naval officer named Wentworth. Because her father, elder sister, and mentor disapprove of the match, Anne breaks it off. Several years later– when she is beyond “marriageable” age– Anne again encounters Wentworth, only now he is a successful, rich Captain. Things happen, and Anne ends up marrying Wentworth*.

If Jane Austen in Scarsdale were merely being judged on its ability to follow the general plot of Persuasion, I might have been more impressed. It does a decent job re-telling the story in modern New York. There are difficulties– as there always are when “updating” a classic– and it is hard to explain why a smart young woman would let her grandmother’s snobbery prevent her happiness.

However, it got very bogged down with the guidance counselor aspect. Several chapters were dealt dealing with “the parents,” who were all certifiable, and obnoxious. Additionally, the children were as crazed and driven as their parents, but whinier.** It didn’t really add to the story in any meaningful way, rather, it seemed to slow it down and distract from the main plot– which was supposed to relate to Persuasion. As either a retelling of Persuasion or a romance about a guidance counselor, this would have done very well, but it seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis at times.

The story still managed to be entertaining, and others may (and clearly have, judging by amazon’s rating) disagree with me, but I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it.  It scores a 2.5/5, for managing to be funny, at times, but still not good enough for me to really like it.

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* It’s been around for nearly 200 years, so I’m not concerned about spoilers.

** Good Lord. It drove me crazy to read about this. I went to one of those schools where it wasn’t “Are you going to college?” but rather, “Which college are you going to?” and I still wasn’t that crazed. I had reasonable expectations, and had worked hard enough to be near the top of my class without trying to get a 4.02. I didn’t even involve my mother very much, and she didn’t worry, because she had confidence in me, which mattered more than whatever the hell the parents in this novel seem to be doing. It felt like a little too much hyperbole, and it may have benefited from being a little less crazed.

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Filed under Book Review, Chick-Lit, Contemporary Romance, General Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Rampant

Peterfreund, Diana. Rampant (2009). 402 Pages. HarperTeen. $8.99

I was first introduced to Diana Peterfreund’s man-eating unicorns in Kiss Me Deadly, which is when I knew I had to read Rampant. I didn’t bother even reading the back of the book, I just jumped in. I was not expecting what I got:

“‘I will never really leave,’ said the unicorn. Diamond sparkles floated from the tip of its glittering silver horn. ‘I will always live in your heart'”

I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and forced myself to continue reading.

“Then the unicorn turned and galloped away, its fluffy pink tail swinging merrily as it spread its iridescent wings to the morning sunshine.”

Oh, no. Not wings, too.

“Every time the unicorn’s lavender hooves touched the earth, a tinkling like the chime of a thousand fairy bells floated back toward the children.”

Having just read a story about man-eating unicorns, this was not at all what I expected to find on page 1. I closed the book, walked away for a few minutes, then came back and gave it another go. This time, I got what I was expecting.

Astrid Llewelyn never thought her mother’s crazy stories about unicorns were true. When one attacks her boyfriend in the woods, she has no choice but to believe. Unicorns– previously thought extinct, even by her mother– are back with a vengeance, and Astrid will learn much more about her heritage than she ever knew.

Before she’s really had time to process, Astrid — a descendant of Alexander the Great, and thus a hunter– is on her way to Rome to study unicorn hunting at the Cloisters of the Order of the Lioness. Of course, since the last unicorn was killed several hundred years before, the Cloisters have fallen into disrepair, but that might be the least of their worries. Other hunters need to be found, a task which is easier said than done, as they must not only be descendants, but they must also be virgins (a rarity in teen girls this day and age.) Astrid (and the other girls) must learn to fight like true unicorn hunters, or they will die.

I loved this book. I was totally a unicorn girl when I was little. Our games would go something like: “I’m a princess, and I have a unicorn who’s sky blue with sparkly pink wings and purple mane and tail and her horn is silver and she’s super special because she’s a unicorn princess… … … etc etc etc” A few hours later, when we were done describing our unicorns, we could get to playing our game. I’m not sure I ever really outgrew that phase. I do love that this manages to be completely unexpected; who would think of unicorns as carnivorous and evil? I know I wouldn’t have. I also love the modern setting because Astrid’s disbelief mirrors the reader’s own.

Astrid manages to grow from the beginning to the end, and she transforms into a true warrior. She’s got her problems along the way, and she’s not always happy with her choices, but she keeps going. I really liked that about her.

In Conclusion:

With what can only be called a unique approach to unicorns, Diana Peterfreund manages to make Rampant a special book about butt-kicking teenage girls. It’s firmly based in real mythology, and despite the fantastical beasts, feels like something a lot of teens could go through. It gets a 5/5 because it was that good.

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Jane Bites Back

Ford, Michael Thomas. Jane Bites Back (2009). 320 Pages. Ballantine Books. $14.00

Have you ever picked up a book, and not expected anything from it, but been pleasantly surprised? Jane Bites Back was an impulse-grab off the new books shelves at the library. I was just there to pick up my holds. “I promise, I’ll be done in just a minute. I’m only grabbing one book and I’ll be right back!” My unfortunate (and non-bibliophilic) boyfriend does not enjoy trips to the library, so when he comes along I try to hurry. It works well if I’m attempting to limit myself to my holds.

Anyway, Jane Bites Back was on the shelf, and I couldn’t help picking it up. It’s even got a cover-blurb by Seth Grahame-Smith (of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) mentioning that it’s lovable. Having not loved anything about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies any of the several times I tried to read it, I took it as dubious praise at best. But I let myself get it (and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter) off the new-books shelves.

I made the mistake of reading it while we drove home. Three chapters in, I realized that we were home, and that I was sitting in the car in our parking space. Whoops. It’s that good though. The premise is silly, but it somehow works– Ford is an author, writing about an author (Austen) who is writing about an author (Constance). Ultimately, Ford is writing an Austen-inspired book about an un-dead Austen who wholeheartedly disapproves of Austen-inspired books. It’s really quite funny how this works out.

A little over 200 years ago, Jane Austen was turned into a vampire. Shortly after, she “died,” and has been living under a series of pseudonyms ever since. In the last few years, she has become Jane Fairfax and purchased a bookstore in the town of Brakeston, NY. Due to a recent Austen craze, Jane has seen a lot of spin-offs and rip-offs appear (making her long for royalties and recognition she will never receive) and as a result is rather irritated that hacks who use her name can get published, while she cannot sell her own manuscript to anyone. It’s a failure, she knows this because she’s been trying to get Constance published since she “died,” and it’s still only a manuscript.

So, when she finally gets a letter from Kelly Littlejohn saying that Constance is brilliantly Austenesque, and that they would love to publish it, Jane is surprised. That is not the only one in store for her, and unfortunately not all of them are quite so pleasant. A “dark man from her past” (back cover) makes an unwelcome reappearance in her life, and makes unwanted advances. Meanwhile, Jane struggles to come to terms with her attraction to Walter Fletcher– a local carpenter– who Jane has refused repeatedly.

As if romantic entanglements weren’t enough for Jane to deal with, she’s also got a publicity tour– to Chicago and New Orleans– for her book. Things get really complicated while she’s away from home, and a surprising new villain appears in the latter half of the book (to help set it up for the sequel Jane Goes Batty from Ballantine Books, due February 2011.)

The book ends well, but leaves some things unfinished. It was clearly setting up for a sequel which will be out next year.

In Conclusion:

I really loved Jane as a narrator and a character– especially the way she changes– and I feel like she is a large part of the reason that I enjoyed this book. You want to like her (not just because she’s Jane-Freaking-Austen) and you root for her. The prose is solid, and the story is really fun, and light. There is a lot which is clearly being set up for future novels– not the least of which is Jane’s revelation of vampirism to loved ones (and how she avoids discovery). Perhaps it is because I didn’t expect anything from it, though I’m more inclined to think that this was just a surprisingly good book, but this novel gets a 5/5.

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Hard Day’s Knight

MacAlister, Katie. Hard Day’s Knight (2005). 344 Pages. Signet. $6.99

Hot men in tights and armor, women in bust-enhancing bodices, swords, horses, the world’s largest renaissance faire, and an international jousting tournament form the backdrop for Hard Day’s Knight. I love Faires, and enjoyed reading about them, especially because despite the increasing summer heat, I’m still cooler and more relaxed enjoying them in book form than wandering around in dry, dusty heat and longing for winter.

Anyway, Pepper Marsh is our newest heroine; she’s curvy, she’s sassy, and she’s wicked in bed.* The unemployed, single Pepper is more than willing to come to a Faire with her cousin CJ (especially when promised hot men in tights), and is even willing to work as a Harlot for a wench’s guild. Unfortunately for Pepper, things at the Faire don’t go exactly as she planned. Behemoth– the cat she is watching– does not like to behave, and leads Pepper straight into the path of two handsome men on very large horses (one of whom nearly runs her down, while the other “saves” her). We are introduced to Farrell– a blonde-haired blue-eyed drool-worthy knight– and Walker — the black-haired grey-eyed anti-hero. There is a long, bitter rivalry between the two which is about to overflow into a battle for Pepper’s heart.

Walker is a strong, distant hero with a sad past that haunts him, and is very much the center of the story (despite the fact that it is actually about Pepper, nearly everything revolves around Walker and his past). He’s not the hero you expect, and his past is not what you think it is. He and Pepper work well together, despite being seeming opposites. They both force each other to confront ghosts of their past, and they grow together.

As usual with Katie Mac, you find yourself laughing aloud a lot, there are several very steamy scenes, and there is a lot of drama. Two people who are seemingly too different find a way to work together, and the book itself really draws you in.

The Quick Version:

The setting really works for the story in this case; the faire gives it a concrete setting, the jousting gives it a solid future, and the characters do seem to grow (at least a little bit) from beginning to end. Toward the end of the book, there’s just a little too much “misunderstanding” to really leave me happy. I found myself wondering what the hell was going on, and not really sure what the characters were thinking. It was enjoyable, and I did tear through it like I do with all the other Katie MacAlister books I’ve read. As much as I like the Faire setting though, this book only gets a 3; it’s good, but not brilliant.

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* Unlike a few of the heroines, she’s not much of a babbler, which was nice.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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Blow Me Down

MacAlister, Katie. Blow Me Down (2005). 359 Pages. Signet. $6.99

I said it last night; Katie MacAlister is dangerous. I started reading Blow Me Down this afternoon, and found that I could not put it down  until I finished it a few hours ago. My unfortunate boyfriend tried to speak to me once or twice, and found himself glared and/or growled at until he gave up. It was another of those books-I-grabbed-from-the-library-on-impulse, and I’m glad I did.

Anyway, Blow Me Down is about Amy, the incredibly organized, mildly neurotic, financial analyst. She’s divorced, and has a sixteen year-old daughter. I’m not usually a fan of “real life” in my romance. Divorce brings back bad memories, and relates to unpleasant experiences, and frequently makes it all-too-easy for characters to wallow. Katie’s characters have never fallen victim to that particular sort of wallowing, and even when they have been divorced, it’s never the center of their personality, and is really not one of their hangups.

Oh, right. So Amy the divorced, organized, neurotic financial analyst and mother of one techno-geek teenage girl finds herself playing her daughter’s new Virtual Reality beta in the middle of a storm. She’s zapped by lightning, and wakes up on a pirate island. Amy is a strange woman who finds herself organizing the finances of an entire brothel in an effort to set up retirement plans for computer-controlled-pirate-prostitutes. Of course, she meets Black Corbin, a man who is feared on the island of Turtle’s Back, and unfortunately for Amy, their attraction to each other is mutual and immediate. However, all is not easy, or as it seems in this pirate game.

Something has gone horribly wrong in this Virtual Reality setup. It’s a truly immersive game with cutting-edge technology which renders everything in such a way that you truly do experience the game’s events*. You can smell the privies, and feel the breeze on your face, or the kisses of an attractive pirate. However, there is no longer any way out. Corbin, Amy and Holder are trapped, and have to find a way to escape the game before anything else goes wrong.

The swashbuckling begins here. And boy oh boy is it some pirate-astic swashbuckling. And adventuring, and some hot and sweaty romance scenes.

The end is… not surprising, but that’s OK, because it was an enjoyable book.

The Quick Version:

As usual, I really enjoyed the book. I started it, and several hours later I realized just how much time had disappeared between when I started reading and when I finally put it down. I really enjoyed this one, and had no trouble suspending my disbelief. The trouble I did have, however was with the fact that I had the story figured out within the first couple chapters. It gets a 4.5/5, because I liked it a lot, but it’s predictable.

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* One of the reviews I glanced at suggested that this was a plot problem. I’m a little concerned about people who read romance novels looking for realism.

This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!

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Improper English

MacAlister, Katie. Improper English (2003). 369 Pages. Love Spell. $6.99

The trouble with Katie MacAlister is that when I start reading one of her books, I cannot put it down. I really and truly cannot bring myself to part with her books until I’ve finished them, and when they are a part of a series, I keep tearing through until I get to the end, and then I still want more.

This became increasingly problematic when I realized I had reached the end of the Dragon Septs series*, and I found myself wondering what the heck to read. Then, in the mail came a package. A book I had traded for had finally arrived, Improper English sat there taunting me, begging to be read. So I obliged, and found myself a day later, bemused, realizing I had lost yet another day and having finished yet another Katie MacAlister book.

Improper English is a lot like many of Katie’s other books; Alix, our (American) heroine, is insecure and flawed, more than a little neurotic, and prone to what I can only think of as verbal diarrhea. They prattle, they blather, they babble, they go on and on and on, and all I want is for them to just shut up already. I’m big on flawed characters, it makes them interesting, and it makes them likable. It’s the babbling I’m not big on. However, despite my annoyance, despite the fact that I sometimes just want to gag a character and move on with the plot, I genuinely enjoy her books. They’re good, they make you laugh, they make you sigh, they drag you in and have you yearning for more, all of which is great. It’s just the babbling that gets me.

Anyway, Improper English is about Alix, a neurotic, insecure babbler who has lived under her mother’s thumb for 29 years. She has left a string of failures in her wake, and is hoping to succeed with just one thing; a novel. Her mother has agreed to finance a flat in London for a month on the condition that should Alix’s novel fail, she will move back  to America and take care of her elderly grandmother without complaint. This seems fine to Alix, how hard can writing a novel really be?**

Alix’s landlady is the enviably perfect and poised Isabella, who represents just about everything Alix thinks she wants to be. She’s beautiful, prim, proper, and delicate. She knows scores of handsome, available men, and even offers to set Alix up with someone who is perfect for her. When Alix arrives for dinner at Isabella’s, she finds Alexander and Karl, only to be disappointed when Isabella says that Karl the Dentist is Alix’s perfect match. In fact, Karl is charming and considerate, and an all-around stand-up guy. It is, unfortunately, Alex whom Alix finds herself drawn to.***

As I have said so many times before, knowing this is a romance novel, we come in with certain expectations. They are met and exceeded. Alix’s romance is enthralling, you find yourself drawn in, and alternately horrified by what she has just said, worried about her stupidity, gasping at what she just did, steaming up your glasses over the next page, and laughing aloud immediately after. Adding to all of this is the story of Alix writing her book, and the excerpts which start each chapter. They are so bad they are funny, and all I can think is that Katie must have had a great time writing them.

The Quick Version:

Considering that this is one of Katie MacAlister’s first books, it makes sense that it’s not as polished as her later work. It is still incredibly fun to read, and I truly did enjoy it immensely. It gets a 4/5 because it really was good, even if Alix was annoying.

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* And by end, I mean the latest book published, which came out earlier this month, and which represents the “end” only in that I can’t read the next one until it’s been written.

** Those of us who have attempted NaNoWriMo have got at least a vague sort of grasp on just how difficult novels can be.

*** I would make fun of the name thing, but I dated a guy named Aaron.

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This book is part of the Into the Wild Book Challenge. It’s ready to go, and will be released Memorial Day Weekend at Fanime Con! Hopefully it will find its home soon!

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For the Love of Pete

Harper, Julia. For the Love of Pete (2009). 400 Pages. Forever. $6.99

“Things finally came to a head between Zoey Addler and Lips of Sin the afternoon he tried to steal her parking space.” With another solid first-line, Julia Harper drags us back into the world of FBI chases and romance. Some of you may remember Dante Torelli from Hot. It’s alright if you don’t though, because this book really stands alone. The references to Hot are there, but they are not key to the story.

Anyway, when the child of a key witness is kidnapped, Special Agent Dante Torelli (a.k.a. Lips of Sin) must find Pete (Zoey’s infant niece) in time for her father to testify on Monday. Of course, as difficult as finding a kidnapped baby in Chicago might have been, that’s not all that’s going on here. Pete is kidnapped from her kidnapper in a robbery-gone-wrong. Dante is framed for murder, and most everyone believes he’s a dirty cop. Zoey refuses to trust him, and will not just go home, or at least anywhere safe. Bullets fly, chases ensue, cat and mouse repeats itself.

Meanwhile, as with Hot, we get other points-of-view. Chapters may focus on Dante, Zoey, Mrs. Gupta & Mrs. Gupta, Neil Senior, and the “Senior FBI Agent”, to name a few. It could get a little confusing, but since it’s in third-person limited, the story stays reasonably clear. As with Hot, I feel that the bad-guy chapters can be a little too much sometimes, even if they are pretty funny (especially those which dealt with the Mrs. Guptas.) The story unfolds in an unexpected way, and the bad guys are defeated in some very surprising ways.

If you are surprised by romance novels featuring romance, do not read this paragraph, as it could spoil the book. If you are not surprised, hilight the text to read “spoilers”. Eventually the romance plot becomes primary; Dante is head over heels for Zoey. There are a few kisses which are badly handled; they act like the second kiss is the first, which it is not. They are equally as shocked by the third. By the time they’re truly involved with each other, you’re rolling your eyes and telling them to get it over with already.</ “spoiler”>

The Quick Version:

With a fun plot, an entertaining cat-and-mouse game, and a brief appearance by Mac, this book is nearly as entertaining as Hot. It does, unfortunately, fall a little short, and has a bit too much of the “uptight, structured man falls for free spirited hippie chick” which is not my favorite plot. It scores a solid 3.5 out of 5. I enjoyed it, but I won’t be re-reading it any time soon.

If you’re still interested, you can get it through Amazon or Swaptree.

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