Tag Archives: book review

World War Z

World_War_Z_book_cover.jpgMax Brooks’ World War Z had been on my reading list for years, and I finally got around to crossing it off the list. It was definitely a good read, but for some reason I really dragged through it. I found it to be slow at times, and my mind often wandered.

Post-apocalyptic stories are one of my favorite genres, and yet I found this one to be bland at times. Maybe the devil way too far-gone in the details. I think it also might just be the fact that zombies are overrated these days, what with “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” and every other zombie show or book floating around. At this point, I feel like humans are fairly equipped if a zombie outbreak were to happen—hell, most people probably wouldn’t even be that afraid.

What I did like about World War Z was that Brooks really created some interesting storylines. While some had me bored and drifting in and out, some of them almost brought me to tears, and those were the ones that I really appreciated. I also enjoyed the background he dreamt up, with a Middle Eastern nuclear war going on as the outbreak began and hostilities between Russia and the U.S. reigniting. I don’t think much of what he said was too far-fetched, which I guess is what I enjoyed the most about it.

Overall I’m happy to have finally read it and will probably continue to seek out more zombie/post-apocalyptic stories.

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Sylvia Plath & Women’s History Month

belljarFor last month’s book club, we read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which I had never read but always felt like I should. I’m glad I finally did, even though it depressed the hell out of me. It felt like a necessary read, and also felt super appropriate to read during Women’s History Month.

I find it incredible reading about women’s lives during times when they didn’t have nearly as many rights (not that we don’t still have a helluva long way to go). It really does appear to be a bell jar of sorts, looking in from the outside and especially coming from a futuristic perspective. Life was so limited for women, even in the 50s and 60s, since the idea of the housewife was still very much alive. I seriously cannot imagine being born and raised with the end goal being that I’ll take care of my husband and children and remain in a home all the time—is there anything more depressing than that in itself? It’s no wonder that so many housewives felt trapped and depressed—they were forced into a life of stagnancy and were forced to repress themselves essentially.

As someone who has suffered on and off with depression and anxiety, I found it easy to relate to Esther in The Bell Jar. When I graduated college and moved home with my parents, I felt lost and miserable. My independence was gone, and it was as if the past four years of my life hadn’t happened and I was back in high school again. This almost mirrors what happens to her—she doesn’t receive a scholarship she wanted, and instead has to move back in with her mother. It was especially difficult for her since she came from a poor home where she couldn’t easily afford schooling and education opportunities, so she relied on these various scholarships and programs.

My favorite part about Esther/Plath was just how feminist she was without even being totally aware of it. She refused the idea of the traditional housewife and to learn shorthand, which is what “other women” (like her mother) did, opting instead to follow her passion to become a poet, and also lost interest in men and their imposing ways quickly. Rather than just sulk about the crappy guys in her life, too, she kicked them to the curb without the slightest regret. Yes, girl, YES.

Throughout the book, I was able to empathize with Esther a lot. I understand the downward spiral of depression all too well and how easy it is to be your own worst enemy when all you need is a friend. It was a fantastic, eye-opening read, but not one that I think I’m going to delve into again any time soon.

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The Clasp

theclasp.jpegI recently read The Clasp by Sloan Crosley, and it honestly kind of bummed me out. The characters were morbidly cynical, and the pacing of the novel overall felt a bit off to me. The climax of the story didn’t even start taking place until almost 200 pages into the book due to a lot of character buildup that ultimately felt like too much content with little substance.

The story was about a group of friends from college who secretly hated, or at least strongly disliked, one another. It was so depressing to read the inner monologues of all these people getting together at a mutual friend’s wedding and shitting all over everyone in attendance. I can’t imagine going to any of my college friend’s weddings and feeling anything other than extreme happiness for them—except maybe my douchebag ex-boyfriend, but that’s because he’s actually just a mean person—but I guess to each their own.

It wasn’t like it was just Victor—who is pretty much the main protagonist even though the story followed two other characters, Kezia and Nathaniel, as well—that was super cynical. Even though we were supposed to believe that Victor was the most depressed and negative person in that group, I really didn’t think Nathaniel or Kezia were any better. Kezia complained about everything in her life, constantly rolling her eyes and scoffing, while Nathaniel compulsively lied about every occurrence in his life. And for some reason, they were all friends even though they complained about each other all the time. It never seemed like they actually enjoyed each other’s company aside from a few moments where they weren’t insulting or making fun of one another.

The story follows Victor, a depressed coder who was recently fired from his job, after a mutual friend’s wedding. He drunkenly falls asleep on the groom’s mother’s bed, and she’s mostly fine with it the next morning. She even shows him where she keeps her jewelry, despite discovering that he had tried to steal it the night before. She shows him a photo of an expensive necklace that was stolen from her aunt, which Victor then steals from her. He then turns it into his mission to go to France to search for this necklace, aka he breaks into a chateau and is promptly arrested. Fortunately, Kezia is also in France on an urgent business trip, and Nathaniel happened to be there too just because he needed a vacation. What luck! From there, although Victor never actually told Kezia much, she somehow pieces together his entire plan and is able to locate him in the prison right after he’s arrested.

And what would any group of close-knit “friends” be without a little bit of romance drama? So, get this. Victor loves Kezia, but she just sees him as a best friend. Bummer! When she shut him down in college, he went into a spiraling depression where he cut everyone out of his life for months and no one really tried that hard to help him. Meanwhile, she’s apparently loved Nathaniel the entire time, who was Victor’s old roommate and pretty much his closest friend in college. When Kezia and Nathaniel finally do sleep together, though, she pumps the brakes because it turns out that she’s just not that into it anymore even though he appears to be super into her finally.

I think?

It ended very strangely with the three “friends” returning from Paris on a plane together. Kezia and Victor are chatting, laughing, and generally having a good time while Nathaniel is ignoring them and pretending to sleep. Victor is in a grand mood because he got beaten up in a small village outside of Paris, had all his stuff stolen, got arrested for breaking into a chateau, and then was randomly offered a job. Victor goes to the bathroom, Kezia pokes fun at Nathaniel, he gets moody and keeps ignoring her, and THE END!

And that’s pretty much all she wrote. It starts abruptly, not a whole lot happens in the middle, suddenly there’s action for maybe 40 pages, and then it ends similar to how it started. I wouldn’t have minded as much if it had been a more interesting story, but it fell flat. I read actually on another review that the author said she cut over 200 pages out of the original piece, which actually makes a lot of sense. It felt like there was a lot missing from this story, and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t strung together is a more concrete way after the other content was removed. Ah well.

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Maybe in Another Life

23492661.jpgTaylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe in Another Life was…fine. Well, mostly fine. It was relatively dull at times, and I thought the dialogue tended to drag. Also the protagonist, Hannah, mentioned cinnamon rolls way too much. Like, we get it, girl. We get it.

I think my biggest problem with the story was that it was way too predictable at all times. When Hannah chose to stay with Ethan, it obviously came as no surprise that they would get married two years later. And as soon they even mentioned her nurse, Henry, in the hospital during her other timeline, I rolled my eyes because of course that Hannah is going to get with him. The Henry timeline seemed a bit ridiculous to me, too. She was insanely excited to see Ethan again after years of not living in the same state as him and realizing that he absolutely was the love of her life. But upon learning that he possibly went home with another woman, Hannah cuts him out entirely. She doesn’t try to have a dialogue with him about it, but instead takes a secondhand text as the truth and lets that decide her future. He was the supposed love of her life that she was never able to get over despite being in countless relationships afterward, yet she’s able to turn off her feelings for him as soon as she hears that he might have hooked up with someone else. Also, fuck you Ethan because like what even is that? The girl of your dreams who you’ve been in love with since high school declines hanging out with you for an extra two hours so you sleep with someone else? Maybe these two ARE perfect for one another actually…

I think what would have improved this story would have been a bit of conflict or uncertainty—I knew from chapter three that, even with all the negative things happening to the characters, everything was going to work out in both scenarios. I was more interested in Gabby and her story rather than Hannah’s. Because, despite claiming to be a whirlwind mess, Hannah seemed relatively put-together and would probably register as just a normal mess on the messiness scale.

And on a final note, I kinda thought the whole baby situation was a bit forced as well. The Hannah that mourned the loss of her child made sense to me—she was upset, thought about the possibilities, and rationalized that it must have occurred at the wrong time. Yet the other Hannah jumped right on board with the idea of motherhood without even working her first day on a job, having a place of her own to live, and after just adopting a new puppy. It just seemed like overkill and almost unrealistic. Like why was everyone so happy that she was having this married man’s baby? Why wasn’t Gabby or her parents like, “Okay cool, but let’s just make sure we think this out because you actually have no money and no home so let’s like just take a pause here”?

I think I just tend to enjoy books that have a bit more of an emotional twist to them rather than wrapping everything up in a nice, pretty ribbon of happiness. It wasn’t a bad read necessarily, it just wasn’t my ideal type of book.

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Fates and Furies

9781594634475_custom-a1c60d0db7c4d3d9fce99ec338b463c8ea95ca03-s400-c85.jpgI was inspired to read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies after NPR chose it for their Morning Edition book club. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes at the language, and I even started to write it off as a bit pretentious, but that changed after just a few pages. I became enraptured by this book, finding myself thinking about it and wondering what was going to happen next in between readings. Ugh, I LOVE when that happens during a book.

It’s the tale of a marriage told from the perspective of the husband (Lancelot aka Lotto) first and then from the perspective of his wife (Mathilde). Mathilde’s perspective was almost alarming since I didn’t see any of it coming—the skeletons in this woman’s closet have their own closets full of skeletons. Usually I like to think I’m relatively perceptive, but damn, Groff—you got me. It threw me so off-balance that my immediate instinct was to totally reject the character and her secrets that. I wanted to believe that she had a perfect marriage where she and her spouse knew everything about one another. That is, until I started questioning why I disliked this strong, wildly independent female lead so much and preferred her as the timid wife that her husband saw her as. I think it was simply because I heard Lotto’s side of the story first and was so ready to read the perspective of his quiet, stay-at-home wife who lived to serve him and their marriage.

In her interview with Morning Edition, Groff talks about how she rejected the idea of marriage until her now-husband proposed and she accepted since she didn’t want to lose him. She felt like a hypocrite (I definitely don’t think she is), and this book was a redemption of sorts for her. What she created was a strong character who tells her husband within the first few pages of the book that she isn’t his just because she’s his wife. Girl, YES.

Lotto was raised with a lot of money and the constant support of his family who put him on a pedestal at birth—he was told that he could do anything and that he was destined for greatness, an that idea followed him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Mathilde was lonely and outcasted (sometimes intentionally so), and never understood what it was like to be adored while her husband had legions of loyal followers. He turned a blind eye to the imperfections in his life and to Mathilde’s somewhat obvious flaws rather than deal with the possibility of failure or falling short of perfection. He wanted to believe that he had a wife straight out of a fairytale as well as the best job and all the fame that came with it. They finally recognized his talent, he believed, and now he could sit back and relax as everything in life continued to come to him easily and fall into place.

Reading it from Mathilde’s perspective was startling, though. How she went into his study after he fell asleep drunk to edit and refine his plays, or finding out how she kept them financially afloat while Lotto struggled to find his calling. It was impressive, resourceful, at times exceedingly manipulative, and so not the Mathilde that I thought I knew. Then, on the other hand, it deeply saddened me to read about her own failed plays that she put on under an anonymous moniker. Even though she essentially created works through Lotto, they were accepted and approved of simply due to his name and status in the community.

I also loved the way Groff styled the book and the way she wrote it; it was poetic, yet at times it read like a more detailed play. There are few things I love more than amazing character development, and this continued right to the very end. It was an entrancing read that captivated me pretty much from start to finish; there was nothing I would change about this novel. I think if I were to read it again (which I probably will, let’s be serious), I’ll probably discover so much more than upon my first read through.

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Americanah

51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For our latest book club meeting, we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which is undoubtedly my favorite book we’ve read so far in our short four or five months of meeting. Adichie is a fantastic writer; she makes it easy to picture the characters and readers can get fully invested in their world. (She’s also a brilliant public speaker, as can be seen in her TEDx Talk “We Should All be Feminists.”)

It’s amazing yet disheartening to think that there’s so many Americans (myself included) that don’t actually know much about Africa. For instance, I really had no idea that most Africans—especially educated ones—speak English, and that many prefer to speak it instead of their tribal language. It’s a very clear indication of both westernized influence on their continent and self-obsession with our own affairs, yet I really had no idea the extent of it. In the same vein, another thing we discussed was how people in many other countries know so much about the happenings in America while we don’t know all that much about places outside of our immediate realm. One of our members conveniently went on a trip to South Africa recently and spoke with locals there about Trump and our political process as we gear up for the primaries. I have no idea who rules in Nigeria, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to hold a lengthy, in-depth conversation about their politics. It’s actually rather embarrassing and makes me want to expand my political intake more.

We also talked about the difference between people in Nigeria and in the United States. In the book, Adichie shows people asking their neighbors for money, and they all know and talk about each other’s problems. They’re pretty distant from their corrupt government, but among their peers, they’re open. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, I can’t even tell you what the girl and guy that live upstairs do for a living. There’s more of a feeling of community among people, which is further shown when Ifemelu moves to America and feels isolated from the people around her, especially the ones she knew back in Nigeria. The idea that many foreigners have of America is that it’s a place where dreams can come true and people can get a new start on life, however, Ifemelu’s experience is a more realistic depiction of many immigrant’s lives. She struggles to find work and has to settle for jobs that are below her capabilities, nannying and working as a maid. She eventually adapts to it, but then when she moves to Nigeria again over ten years later, she’s shocked by people’s honesty and openness as well as their enthusiasm to hire her simply because she lived in the U.S. Once she gets used to the new culture, she has to acclimate again to what she grew up with.

Additionally we discussed her white American boyfriend, Curt, who most of felt was dating Ifemelu as a trophy in a way—her being black was something that he was attracted to before he even knew her as a person or figured if he actually liked her. It almost felt like a rich white man’s rebellion against his upbringing. I’ve also known people who say things like, “I only fall for black guys, I don’t know why,” and it has always annoyed me. Saying that you prefer one race over another fetishizes a person’s race and makes the relationship inherently flawed from the start.

The only thing people universally disliked was the ending since it seemed so sudden and rushed. It was almost as if Adichie got tired of writing the story or hit a word limit, and she tried to nicely wrap it up and leave the reader to interpret it as they would. But we didn’t want to do that! We wanted to be told what happens since we were so invested in the story and characters the entire time. I did find this blog that Adichie made in the voice of Ifemelu as if it were the blog that she created once she moved back to Nigeria, so I guess that’s a bit of a continuation and closure. Personally, I didn’t hate the ending entirely. It definitely didn’t detract from my feelings on the novel as a whole, and I’m excited to delve into more of Adichie’s works (possibly Purple Hibiscus next!).

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To Feel Stuff

41yItFueaZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like many, I decided to read Andrea Seigel’s To Feel Stuff after hearing about it on Starlee Kine’s new podcast, Mystery Show (aka one of my new favorite podcasts, because it’s hosted by one of my favorite radio journalists and she’s adorably hilarious). I was in a place where I had nothing to really read after finishing my last book club book (And The Mountains Echoed), and threw it onto my library hold list. I got it pretty soon after requesting it and dove right in.

In the Mystery Show episode that features Seigel’s mystery, she talks about how poorly To Feel Stuff was received. So it wasn’t like I went into this with a raving review to back it up or anything. And ultimately it wasn’t as bad as I expected it would be from the way she spoke about it—it was just anticlimactic and a bit boring. The premise surrounded a girl, Elodie, that was perpetually living in her university’s infirmary (yet never doing ANY school work despite attending Brown) who is riddled with disease after disease (two of which must have been pessimism and antisocial proclivities—ayo!). Eventually Elodie falls in love with a guy in the infirmary, Chess, who is well off and thinks he’s a lot cooler than he actually is, if the name wasn’t a clichè indication. Elodie, who I imagine as an antisocial goth girl, and her preppy frat boyfriend obviously breakup, which is pretty anticlimactic as far as college breakups go. He kind of just leaves the infirmary after his injuries heal and writes an overly eloquent breakup letter that she reads and mourns for about a day, despite him being the love of her life or whatever.

The weirdest part of the novel is the doctor who works directly with Elodie. He mentions multiple times how he isn’t interested in his patient in a romantic way, OKAY?, so just stop inferring that everyone, GEEZ. He decides to conduct a very informal study on her, bringing her to his house for meetings at times, to figure out just what the heck is going on with this girl. Well as it turns out, she’s seeing ghosts. But not normal ghosts—ghosts of premonitions, actually. And that’s the end. No, seriously. That’s the end of the novel. They discover that she’s seeing ghosts of future people, which is actually only one future ghost person, and somehow an onslaught of intense diseases is a symptom of that.

I guess the lesson to take away here is that if you find yourself suddenly suffering from an array of weird diseases that you have no family history of, then watch out for ghosts in your near future. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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And The Mountains Echoed

16115612Khaled Hosseini is one of my favorite authors; his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of my favorite books of all time that I will recommend to anyone when given the chance. I seriously cannot talk highly enough about this book. The way Hosseini is able to create a compelling story full of in-depth, completely rounded out characters is remarkable to say the least. The Kite Runner is also amazing, and gets way more acclaim than his second novel (although I would argue his second is his best). Therefore, I had pretty high expectations for And The Mountains Echoed.

I wasn’t necessarily disappointed because I’m mildly addicted to his writing style, however, I think this was the weakest of his novels. Hosseini tells the tale of two Afghan siblings that are torn apart at an early age and how that affects them throughout their lives. He tells this tale from multiple perspectives, which is a way of storytelling that I truly love. There were some narrators that I didn’t believe totally advanced the storyline, however—the Greek doctor, Markos Varvaris, and Nabi’s two young neighbors being some of them (especially Markos because his storyline was the longest and most drawn out). While these characters had interesting backgrounds and I can see how Hosseini ties them into the overall theme of family relationships and obligation, I really felt like they were a bit of a stretch since they weren’t very closely connected to Abdullah or Pari, who are the characters that he initially got the audience interested in and shaped his story around. On the other hand, there were other story arches that I felt were cut a bit short, and I was left hoping I’d get some sort of closure on them. Instead I came out at the end of the book a bit disappointed (Parwana particularly comes to mind here) and feeling unfilled, as if there was more information that I needed to fully complete this story.

Other than that, the English major geek inside me thoroughly enjoyed how Hosseini connected the fable that Abdullah and Pari’s father told them, which started the novel, to the end of the book. Like the father in the tale, Abdullah and Pari were both able to forget one another in their own ways so they were no longer plagued by the pain it brought them to know what they were missing out on. And in those times without one another, they were able to shape successful and generally happy lives, full of ups and downs as lives oft are. Although my geeky side was giddy, my Hosseini fangirl side was heartbroken—I yearned for the closure that could have come from two long lost siblings being finally reunited. Even if Pari had seen the box of feathers at the end and said something along the lines of, “Well, this is strange! I don’t understand what these are, but I’ve always been entranced by feathers,” then I would’ve been thrilled. Or if Abdullah had even the slightest, tiniest glint of recognition of his missing sister. But no, NOTHING. There is no sort of closure, and this is probably me just whining as a reader but goddamn.

Besides that, though, I honestly loved this novel. I love Khaled Hosseini and will always be eagerly looking forward to his next piece. And in the meantime, I’ll be rereading A Thousand Splendid Suns every few years and reveling in its perfection.

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Me Before You

Me-Before-You-book-cover-Jan-12-p122JoJo Moyes’ novel Me Before You was a romantic drama that at the very least actually did shock me a little bit. Parts of it were melodramatic and unbelievable—such as the main character, Louisa, never having used a computer/the Internet in 2012—but overall I guess it was fine to read. I definitely didn’t hate it, but I don’t feel like it’s going to be a novel that I remember for the rest of my life either.

To sum it up, Louisa lives in a very small town outside of London working at a cafe that gets shut down. After a few brief stints in positions that didn’t work for her, she finally got a job working as a caregiver for a quadriplegic man. And from there, you just know they’re going to fall in love. My eyes may have gotten stuck in a permanently unflattering position from all the rolling they did.

So Louisa falls in love with the sarcastic, douchey, ex-big shot lawyer that she’s caring for, Will, and I think (???) he fell in love with her as well. It was hard to see the relationship working since he was paralyzed below the waist with movement only in one arm, and when he pointed this out to her, she could only respond with a feeble, “But I love you, we’ll make it work.”

Anyway so one day at work, Louisa overhears a conversation where she discovers that the entire reason she was hired was with the hopes that within six months time she’d change Will’s mind about wanting to commit suicide at a Swiss facility that provides consented suicides. This family puts a helluva lot of trust into the hands of a girl who has only ever worked in a cafe and has no life goals to speak of, but like no pressure.

Maybe I don’t understand her family dynamic because I don’t have a sister, but it seemed like every single person hated Louisa. Her sister, dad, and boyfriend were all constantly making fun of her for the way she dressed, how she styled her hair, how her body shape wasn’t ideal, and how she was generally unmotivated and dense. Her entire fictional existence made me exceedingly sad as she went through her day to day motions not pursuing anything while everyone made fun of her. But, of course, she’s alleviated from her own depressing existence by the heroic, strong-willed male character, as women in novels and movies often are. This particular case really struck a chord with me because it all seemed so exaggerated: Will was a very rich and successful businessman while Louisa worked at a small cafe in a small town and lived with her poor parents at age 27 with no dreams or goals to speak of. Yet they fall in love because she’s chatty and bubbly and wears quirky clothing. However—and here’s the only part that did shock me—it wasn’t enough love for him to reconsider killing himself. I honestly would have been really pissed off if he decided to live just to be with her. The biggest kicker is that after he kills himself, he leaves a TON of money behind for her so she can pursue college (which she only applied to because he essentially told her to) and move out to live by herself. So even though he isn’t there, he hopes to have some stake in her future and the direction it ebbs into, as if he deserves credit for what happens to her life even though he decided he doesn’t want to be in it anymore.

I’m just so sick of stories where a woman finds self-worth and newly discovered confidence solely due to the influences of a new man in her life. This novel just happened to take it to a bit more of an extreme where this girl was extra pathetic and this guy was extra amazing so she can have extra great life now. I have a headache from rolling my damn eyes.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

rooftop-to-kill-a-mockingbirdAs many of you know, Harper Lee’s manuscript Go Set a Watchman has recently been published. This book is the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and from what I read, it was lost for many years and just…found. As a huge fan of Lee’s first novel, this news caught my attention. Naturally I had to reread To Kill a Mockingbird before I read its sequel, though. Plus the library hold list for Go Set a Watchman is actually ridiculous, and I probably won’t even see the book for another three months.

There isn’t much to say about To Kill a Mockingbird that most people don’t already know after dissecting it to pieces in any high school English class. Personally I love this book and think it’s a fascinating look into 1930s southern life, something that I’m obsessed with mostly due to the fact I’ve never been to the South. Scout and Jem’s childhoods remind me a lot of my own, and I relate so much to the education-obsessed yet tomboyish Scout. I was surrounded by boys so I wore jeans, hated dresses and combing my hair, and preferred playing in the mud to playing house. But once I set out for school, I became addicted to learning and reading. On the other hand though, this novel is also a solid reminder of how freaking happy I am to have been born in this time period because I would NOT be able to deal with all the rules, specifically for young girls. I also can’t not talk back to save my life, so I probably would’ve gotten shipped to the North anyway because I would have fit in better there and the South wouldn’t have known what to do with me. Which, incidentally, is exactly what happens with Scout in the latest novel as she hightails it the heck out of Alabama and straight to good ol’ New York.

I’ve heard disconcerting rumors of this new novel, which center mostly around Atticus changing from parent of the year to an old racist bastard. People are seriously heartbroken over this character development—probably not more than the couple that changed their child’s name, though. Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. Anyway, aside from dramatic parents and a sorta childhood hero being ruined, I’m still eager to read the book. I also want to know everything about how a manuscript just goes missing for so many years and suddenly turns up again perfectly ready to be published. My life has felt a little boring lately and some sort of book-fueled drama is the perfect thing to cling to.

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