Review: Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid

pretendwearelovelyPretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 18th, 2017

Publisher: Tin House Books

Pages: 284 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Consuming and big-hearted, Noley Reid’s Pretend We Are Lovely details a summer in the life of the Sobel family in 1980s Blacksburg, Virginia, seven years after the tragic and suspicious death of a son and sibling.

Francie Sobel dresses in tennis skirts and ankle socks and weighs her allotted grams of carrots and iceberg lettuce. Semi-estranged husband Tate prefers a packed fridge and secret doughnuts. Daughters Enid, ten, and Vivvy, thirteen, are subtler versions of their parents, measuring their summer vacation by meals eaten or skipped. But at summer’s end, secrets both old and new come to the surface and Francie disappears, leaving the family teetering on the brink.?

Without their mother’s regimental love, and witnessing their father flounder in his new position of authority, the girls must navigate their way through middle school, find comfort in each other, and learn the difference between food and nourishment.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Pretend We Are Lovely is one of those novels that really makes you think—both during and after—but where the real impact of the plot and themes within it hits you a little while after you have turned the final page. After you’ve let it simmer in your mind for some time. This is a story that revolves around hunger and nourishment of both the body and soul. And behind the façade of food and hunger, starving and eating, the true needs of this family shine through the cracks. It is a perfect warm, summer day read, whose pages will fly by quickly, but will simultaneously strike the reader with the surprising depth and heaviness of the subject matter.

This story follows a few months in the lives of the four members of the Sobel family. Mother Francie is struggling to deal with a great loss as well as the mental and emotional scars that come with it. Thirteen-year-old Vivvy and ten-year-old Enid are dealing with their own coming of age and new place in the world, all while attempting to cope with their struggling family life and their mother’s overbearing rules, primarily about food. Father Tate is trying his best to hold his family—and all of their lives—together as Franice begins to spiral out of control, further cracking the household’s foundation.

I’ll admit when I first started, I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to end up enjoying this novel. It took me a little while to really get into it, but as soon as I did, I was fully captivated. This story is full of broken and lost, but deeply and utterly beautiful souls. They are surprisingly loveable and incredibly easy to connect with. Each one has their own distinctive voice and personality, and I found that they were very realistically portrayed. Reid demonstrated remarkable insight and skill in her creation of this fractured family.

The element of food and hunger becomes very prominent as we begin to get to know each of the characters and the dynamic of the household. They all harbor a hunger for something more on an emotional level that masks itself in a battle with their eating or dieting behaviors. And these battles manifest uniquely in each person. Vivvy and Enid each look to a different parent for cues on how to treat food. Enid follows her father’s habits of carefree eating while Vivvy mimics her mother’s struggle with food and obsessive dieting.

The relationships and constant instability of the foundation of this family was incredibly poignant. We watch Enid and Vivvy coming of age and learning to deal with many of the harsh realities of life. Francie and Tate are drifting further and further away from one another, and Tate is struggling to hold the family together as best he can for the sake of his daughters. Vivvy’s and Enid’s relationship with each other was my particular favorite to watch as it changes with the highs and lows of growing up. Tate’s love for his daughters was another one of my favorite aspects of this novel.

The writing style used in this novel might not be a hit with everyone. The perspective alternates frequently between each of the four members of the Sobel family, so the reader gets an intimate look at everyone’s perspective on the events of the plot. I found it quite interesting to see the shift in the behaviors and outlooks of the all of the characters, but it can be a bit confusing at times. There is quite a bit of jumping about, and this can make the plot a little tricky to follow. However, once I started to get used to it and became more aware of each character’s personality, it flowed a lot smoother.

The other aspect of the writing to note is the almost stream of consciousness-like style that Reid uses. For me personally, it really worked well and I enjoyed the tone that it set. It truly feels as if we as readers are intimately following the lives of a realistic family, and that brings so much depth into the novel and the messages it sends. However, I realize that, though it adds a great deal to the realism of the plot and characters, it can be somewhat of a difficult writing style to follow—so there are definite pros and cons to it for the reader.

It reads just the way a person’s train of thought would go, but that can also make things feel a bit disjointed. On top of that, the constant shift in perspective takes a little while to get fully immersed in, especially prior to really knowing the family. As a whole though, I ended up loving the format in which Reid wrote this novel. There were a lot more pros that out-weighed many of the minor cons in the style, and she completely sucked me in.

Overall, this was the big-hearted and consuming read it promised to be. Reid beautifully set the painful, destructive, yet loving atmosphere of a family in turmoil. I felt like I really connected with everyone, and found that I truly cared about each and every one of them. I experienced the hurt they both felt and inflicted, but also the small moments of caring, love and hope. Every emotion was tangible and I was completely wrapped up in their lives. The bittersweet final few chapters particularly stood out from the rest, and they are the ones that held onto me the longest.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

achosenwarA Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: A Chosen War Series

Date Published: April 25th, 2017

Publisher: REUTS Publications

Pages: 500 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website

Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old Maia has spent her life haunted by dreams of a man with uniquely brilliant blue eyes. She never expected she’d actually come face-to-face with him, or that he’d be the harbinger of a chaotic new life. But as shocking as meeting Blake is, it’s less unsettling than her sudden ability to adversely affect electronics and seemingly control—even heal—plants.  

Before she can figure out what’s happening, Blake’s cryptic warning about the impending approach of something big manifests as a freak earthquake, destroying Maia’s home and killing her parents. Devastated, Maia has no choice but to turn to Blake, where she learns that the earthquake was not as natural as it seemed. The reigning Terra guardian, or Mother Earth, has gone rogue, wiping out her replacements in a series of orchestrated natural disasters around the world—and Maia is next.

Worse, she’s the only one who can stop the Terra guardian from destroying not just Earth, but the fabric of the universe itself. Now, thrust into a world of celestial beings charged with the protection of the universe, Maia must come to terms with her new powers, and the idea that her destiny was shaped long ago. And she must do it all before she faces off with the woman who controls nature itself.

Intelligent and thought-provoking, A Chosen War takes the idea that everything is connected and wraps it in globe-spanning adventure with just a tinge of romance.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Sadly, I have to admit that I did not end up enjoying this novel as much as I thought I would. I tried so hard to get into this story—to connect with the characters—but I had absolutely no luck. This was quite a struggle to get through, and there were many times where I wished to put it down. There was very little that motivated me to keep coming back to this story—to this world—and continue on, because it felt like a battle I was losing. The more I pushed through it, the more confusing it became, and the less rewarding it was to my attempts to carry on.

The pacing is incredibly slow, not helped by the extremely confusing plotline and under-explained elements, which are the key to the understanding that the reader desperately needs. In a story like this that is so character driven and centered around such fantastical beings and powers, the pace becomes bogged down when the reader cannot mentally connect with any aspect of the narrative.

There were so many instances of info-dumping in this novel, and yet I felt that they did not make anything clearer, at least not anything of importance to what was transpiring in the plot. This slowed down what could have been a fast paced story immensely. I had to go back and review parts over and over again because I felt that I was missing the main point the author was attempting to convey.  But in my frustration, I eventually reached a point where I just had to push on through these moments and give up any hope of trying to truly understand what was happening.

This is a third person narrative that follows a young woman named Maia as she attempts to navigate a whole new way of life, as well as come to terms with who she is. After a morning of inexplicable events—some of which include the sudden healing of dying plants and explosions of electronic devices—the day turns worse as Maia loses her family to an earthquake that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Maia is thrust into a world that has been existing silently among humans for years, intervening in many aspects of the life—even the planet—she thought she new. There is a whole other life that has been waiting for her, lingering in the depths of her thoughts as she grew up. In a world of celestial beings that guard Earth with their unique powers, Maia has to come to terms with her own power, while simultaneous taking on the role of being the strongest and only one of her newfound group of friends that can stop the destruction of the universe caused by the reigning Terra guardian.

I wanted so badly to love this novel. I thought the synopsis sounded very intriguing—I am totally a sucker for any story that involves a unique magic or power system. However, this may have just been me, but I found it impossible to understand what was going on from one page to the next. As I said, even the information dumps that regularly occurred throughout the story served only to make things more confusing for me.

This novel was also sort of hovering slightly toward the heavy side of the romance spectrum. Though I am not the biggest romance fan in the world, I do enjoy a little bit of it on the side in a story. I am usually very tolerant of it, and I absolutely do not mind reading a bit of it. I have no problem when it begins to become particularly intense, or even very graphic. However, this novel not only made the romances feel really uncomfortable to read about, it also took up a huge part of the beginning and middle of the story.

Romance took center stage instead of an explanation of just what on earth was happening and how we had gotten to this point. While still confused about the plot, I had to sit there and read page after page of people hanging onto and pawing all over each other. Aspects of it could have been sweet if only they had taken the chance to answer some questions first. Maia sometimes seemed equally as confused as I was, but somehow fell into her new role with ease. She seemed to know exactly what to do, even as she groused at everyone about not giving her any helpful answers. I definitely connected with her on the latter.

The characters were actually one of the best parts of this story, in my opinion. They were interesting and engaging, and they helped to drive the narrative forward a bit better. Eldridge’s characterization was very three-dimensional, and she really brought the characters to life. They all had a unique personality that was clearly defined right from the start. I did end up feeling moderately invested in some of them, and one of the only reasons I continued on with this story was my urge to see what their fates would be in the end.

Another one of the high points in this novel was Eldridge’s writing. She very clearly has a wonderful talent for stringing words together and painting detailed mental pictures for her readers. Her descriptions and the language she used were beautiful, and her words flowed well despite the slow pace of the novel. She has a very lyrical style of writing, which suited the atmosphere and setting of the story quite well.

The only complaint that I had about the writing style and the text itself was something that I have been mentioning all throughout this review. Info dumps. Very long, very confusing info dumps. Despite this, the writing was still very engaging, which only added to my conflicting feelings about the novel as a whole.

As always, I enjoyed the reading experience even though this turned out to be a book that was not really my cup of tea. Though these opinions are my own and clearly may not reflect the general feelings of other readers, I personally cannot recommend this novel. However, this is only based on my experience with the novel, so yours may be very different. I would definitely encourage anyone who thinks the synopsis sounds interesting to give it a try. For me, at this point, I do not think I will be picking up any of the upcoming books in this series.

2.0 TARDISes

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16 Books I Want to Read in 2016

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A new year means a time to make resolutions, and for us book lovers, some of those may be bookish resolutions. For me, my TBR pile is beginning to get out of control, so I would like to make a good dent in it this year. There are also many specific books that I am particularly interested to get to, either because they’ve been in my pile for ages or because I intended to read them last year and never got a chance. For these reasons, I’ve decided to make specific lists of both standalones and series that I want to get to in 2016.

I am determined to get to most if not all of these books that I’m listing, so I definitely plan on checking back periodically throughout the year to see what I’ve completed. Essentially, these are my 2016 book bucket lists! I’ve already written a post about series and trilogies that I plan on starting this year, so I’ll keep this list mainly to standalones that I would like read (with a few exceptions). If you want to check out my series and trilogies TBR, click here!

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1. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – My goal is really to read the rest of Gillian Flynn’s books this year (so Sharp Objects as well), but I figured I’d just include one in this list. This is on my January TBR, so I’m hoping that it will be one of my first reads of the year. I can’t wait to dive into another one of her novels, even though I’m going to be sad when I run out of books!

2. More Than This by Patrick Ness – I read A Monster Calls about a year and a half ago now, and it is absolutely insane that I have not read anything else by Patrick Ness yet. On top of starting the Chaos Walking trilogy, I would also really like to read this novel. Patrick Ness’s writing is beautiful and some of the best that I have ever read, so I am incredibly eager to experience more of it.

3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – Though I own three, I have not yet read a Rainbow Rowell book. Now, contemporary romance type stories are not usually my thing, but I have heard such fantastic things about her work that I really want to give it a try. The plots for many of her novels also sound more like something I would enjoy than a lot of books usually found in the same genre. I would also like to read Fangirl this year, but I have decided to start out with Carry On, mainly because it sounds the most appealing out of all of her novels to me.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I have been dying to read this book for a long time, and it has been sitting on my shelf for ages. I am so eager to experience all the epic nerdiness that is this book! Also, I purchased a copy of this for my dad for Christmas, so I’m hoping that we can read it together some time during the year.

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5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – This was one of the books on my “Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Read” list from last year. Embarrassingly enough, I have never read any Tolkien novels; I’ve not even seen any of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit films. This totally hurts my film nerd, book nerd, and general nerd status! I’m planning to finally watch the films this year and, in terms of the novels, I would at least like to start out by reading this one before the end of 2016.

6. Alice by Christina Henry – I purchased a copy of this with a gift card from Christmas and I absolutely can’t wait to read it! If you’ve read my other posts, I’m sure you are already aware of my obsession with retellings/reimaginings. Take that and make it into a dark retelling and add a morally ambiguous villain? Yes please! I’ve already added it to my January TBR, so I’m planning for it to be one of my next reads.

7. This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee – Speaking of retellings, here’s another one! I saw a few reviews for this while browsing blogs and it sounded like my kind of story, so I recently picked up a copy. This book seems particularly interesting because it includes the actual publication of the story that it is a reimagining of (Frankenstein) as a plot point, something that I’ve never personally seen this type of novel do before. I have not heard all that much about it, but everything that I have heard has been very positive, so I’m interested in giving it a try.

8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – This was the top book on my “Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Read” list. The film version of Rebecca is one of my favorite films of all time. I absolutely adore this story, but incredibly enough, I’ve never actually gotten around to reading the novel. I definitely want to fix that this year; I know that I am going to love reading this and experience the story again in a whole new way. And I’ll definitely be using this as an excuse to re-watch the movie for the millionth time!

wool A Darker Shade final for Irene flowersforalgernon neverwhere

9. Wool by Hugh Howey – This is one of the exceptions to my list of standalones because it is the first book in a trilogy. My dad got me a copy of this for Christmas, so I didn’t have it yet when I made my series and trilogies list. I must admit, the main thing that originally attracted me to this novel is the fact that it sounds a lot like one of my favorite series of games, the Fallout series. I’ve also heard nothing but fantastic things about this book and the entire trilogy as a whole, so I am very eager to get into this one.

10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – This is another exception to the standalone list because it is the only book out so far (though not for long) in the series. Since Vicious ended up being my favorite book of 2015, I am now on a quest to consume every Victoria Schwab book in existence. I hoping to read the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, this year as well, so I may go ahead and marathon the two after that is released.

11. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – This is yet another book that was on my “Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Read” list. It was always in the list of options for summer reading when I was in school, but I never got around to choosing it. I’ve wanted to read this for ages, so I think it’s about time that I do!

12. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors of all time, yet I still have a couple of books of his sitting on TBR. I have also not read a novel by him in over a year, something that needs to be fixed at once! This definitely sounds like it is going to be a great one. I am hoping that I can get around to reading The Graveyard Book this year as well, but Neverwhere is my top priority at the moment. 

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13. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – Again, another book that was on my “Books I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Read” list. This is also another book I feel like I should have read in school but never did. We actually never ended up reading any Steinbeck at all in school, which, as an avid writer and reader, I definitely need to rectify. My dad, who is a big Steinbeck fan, got a copy of this for me for my birthday, so I really want to give it a read sometime soon.

14. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This is another exception to the standalones because, as of right now, this is meant to be a duology. I picked up a copy of this right after it was released last year but I never had an opportunity to read it. This sounds like it is going to be a fantastic read; the plot definitely seems right up my alley. I’m hoping to get to this one relatively early on this year because I am far too excited about it to wait any longer!

15. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin – I’ve mentioned many times before that I have been experiencing a massive Game of Thrones addiction these past few months since I started watching the show. Because of this, I have been desperately wanting to read any and all books even remotely related to the series. And, excitingly, I ended up getting a copy of this one for Christmas! I have the main series of novels on my series and trilogies TBR, so I definitely needed to add this one on here.

16. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – Last but not least, I think that I finally need to give this one a go. I sort of ended up chickening out of it last year. As I’ve said before, I’m sure there is a good chance that it will turn out to be a lot better than I think it is going to be, and I really do want to read it. As long as I keep in mind that this is a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird and not a sequel, I’m sure I will end up enjoying it.

What are some of the books on your TBR that you particularly want to get to in 2016? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

-Ariana

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Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

nimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 12th, 2015

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 266 pages

Source: Library

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones. 

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are. 

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

This was my first experience with Noelle Stevenson’s work and I was completely blown away by her talent. Nimona started out as an award-winning, serialized web comic that was published as a full graphic novel; Stevenson does both the artwork and the writing for it. Given the theme of super villains, I knew right away that I was probably going to enjoy this story. I did not, however, expect to love it nearly as much as I did. The plot, the characters, the art—everything met and exceeded all of my expectations.

I first discovered Noelle Stevenson and Nimona a few months ago through watching Booktube, and I am extremely glad that I did. Finding out that she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels was something that instantly intrigued me. I have always loved the idea of an author being able to do the artwork that corresponds with their text. That personal touch not only allows the illustrations to flow more seamlessly with the words, but it gives the most accurate possible depiction of what is going on in the author’s mind. This can be particularly captivating when it comes to this medium, as it relies so heavily on the visual aspect, and this was definitely true of this novel.

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The story itself has a perfect mixture of hilarious and heartwarming moments, and it is completely packed with witty humor. There was also a deepness and complexity to the plot that I was not originally expecting to get out of it. To me, this felt like a sort of caricature of the types of stories where the villains are not entirely evil and the supposed “good guys” are not truly the heroes.

It stars the notorious, not so villainous super villain, Ballister Blackheart, and his reckless new shape-shifting sidekick, Nimona. Nimona’s main mission is to make Ballister into a better super villain so they can cause as much general destruction as possible. On the other hand, Ballister’s main goal is to prove that his friend turned nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics are far more corrupt than people realize. Ballister is, in fact, quite against creating havoc, and steadfastly refuses to hurt or kill anyone. Obviously, delightfully hysterical shenanigans ensue.

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All of the characters in this story are extremely interesting and wonderfully endearing. The relationship between Ballister and Nimona is lovely. She has sort of forced herself into the position of sidekick, and she does a lot of things that he does not always approve of. But they take care of one another, and you can see very clearly just how much they care about each other. Together, they make a great—and only moderately destructive—team. Ballister and Ambrosius’s relationship is beautiful and done to perfection. I really appreciated how Stevenson fluidly works their romance into the plot without making a huge fuss about it; it feels perfectly normal and accepted, as it should.

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The best part to me about reviewing a graphic novel is that I get to talk about the artwork, which, in this novel, was absolutely fantastic. The style was colorful and comical, fitting absolutely flawlessly with the themes in and tone of the plot. I loved the fact that she designed her work more like sketches, focusing less on having thorough detailing. The composition of the text itself had a very handwritten feel to it, and matched the overall style nicely. The entire graphic novel was solidly constructed as a whole, and made for an incredibly entertaining reading experience.

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I cannot recommend this highly enough, particularly if you are new to graphic novels. I am relatively new to them myself, as I have only begun reading them in the last year or so and have only read a handful. Nimona was one of my first real experiences with them, and an absolutely magnificent one at that. This story has the perfect mix of comedic and heartfelt moments, and beautiful artwork on top of that. It is a hilarious, fun, and captivating read that will put a smile on your face and leave you feeling good long after you have turned the final page. I am really looking forward to reading more of Noelle Stevenson’s work in the future.

5.0 TARDISes

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Top 10 Tuesday – December 22nd, 2015

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Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another Top 10 Tuesday list. This is an original weekly blog meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, there is a new bookish topic for bloggers to create a list about. If you want to know more about Top 10 Tuesday, click here!

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday topic is the top ten books you wouldn’t mind Santa leaving under your tree this year. As I’m getting older, I’m finding it harder and harder to think up a general wish list for myself for gift giving occasions. There really aren’t many things that I want or feel that I need at the moment, and I much prefer giving gifts. However, like many other book lovers I’m sure, whenever anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, the only things I can think of are books. I can never have too many books (though my room begs to differ…)! In fact, what I would really like the most would be a tree that just grows all the books I want to read!

Since that is sadly not going to happen, here are ten of the books I would most like to see under the Christmas tree this year! 😀

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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  1. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

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  1. Soulless by Gail Carriger

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  1. Alice by Christina Henry

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  1. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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  1. The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

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  1. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

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  1. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

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  1. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

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  1. Wool by Hugh Howey

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Sorry for the short post today; it has been a bit of a difficult and emotional day. What books are currently on your wish list? Please let me know in the comments! 🙂

-Ariana

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