Book Review: Spell Book & Scandal by Jen McConnel

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Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: Polarities by Carissa Andrews

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Title: Polarities
Series: Pendomus Chronicles Book 2
Author: Carissa Andrews
Publication date: October 2, 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

         
    

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Polarities
Pendomus Chronicles Book Two
Carissa Andrews
Carissa Andrews, October 2017
ISBN 978-0991055821
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Runa, the prophesied Daughter of Five needs to learn how to master herself, or all of Pendomus will perish. In a world where mythical creatures are either controlled, or on the brink of extinction—a prophecy reveals there’s one who can restore balance. The only problem is, she has no idea how to do it.

Separated from the only people who’ve had her back—as well as the love of her life, Traeton—Runa must go on a quest alone to uncover what it means to be human, as well as the Daughter of Five. Dropped in an unknown location, presumably still on the planet, she only has a monolithic book—the Caudex—as her guide, but it’s not giving up its answers easily. Will she be able to uncover the mysteries? The fate of the entire word rests on her shoulders and her ability to push through all of the challenges set her way.

Will she learn what she needs to step into her role as savior? Or will everything be derailed by her desire to get back to her friends?

When I read Pendomus, the first book in this series, I was taken with the characters as well as the plot and I looked forward to seeing the next book. Little did I think it would be four long years before that next book would come out but, in some ways, I think the delay has paid off. In particular, the author has really developed her craftsmanship and the story is stronger for that.

This time around, we’re treated to a more cohesive worldbuilding and, for me, the attachment to the characters was more intense. I also found the relationship between Runa and Traeton made more sense because it wasn’t so brand new even though there really hasn’t been any passage of time. Runa is still enjoying her experiences with the pleasures of life that are denied to the citizens but she’s isolated from her comfort zone, set on a quest of sorts that only she can complete. This might have been easier before she learned to love and be loved, back when Helix “protected” everyone from the vagaries of natural life.

In the course of Polarities, Runa truly comes into her own and becomes the strong young woman she always had the potential to be with the help of some fantastical creatures and a wondrous book. Meanwhile, Traeton and their friends have been left behind, not knowing whether Runa is alive or dead and trying to find their own way forward. Everyone’s journey will lead to answers…and even more questions.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

About the Author

“An author emerges from the depths of Minnesotan waters. Sci-fi/Fantasy is my pen of choice.”

Carissa Andrews is a Minnesota-based genre bending author who writes a combination of science fiction, fantasy, and dystopia. When not writing her own books, she’s busy reading them.

Her first novel, Pendomus, was the first of a three-part series and was published in 2013. Now, four years later, Polarities (Book 2) of the Pendomus Chronicles, and Revolutions (Book 3) will be released at the end of 2017.

For more information on their release, visit Carissa Andrews’ author website: www.carissaandrews.com and sign up for her newsletter notifications.

Carissa is also a freelance graphic designer, writer and content creator, social media manager, and marketing professional. She writes consistently on topics of science, technology, art, writing, photography, graphic design, health, self improvement, and more. Her articles can be found published across the interwebs. Carissa is also a Top Rated Freelancer on Upwork, and can be contacted for freelancing opportunities: https://www.upwork.com/o/profiles/users/_~011fb5962824326eaa/

Other author links:

Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Pinterest
Google // YouTube // BookBub // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

         10/10 – Book Lover’s Life (Article – My Journey So Far)

         10/11 – Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile – Review

         10/12 – Cabin Goddess – Review

         10/12 – Escaping Reality with Books – Review

         10/13 – Buried Under Books – Review

         10/14 – Contagious Reads – Review

         10/15 – Carissa’s Blog (Article)

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Giveaway

Win a signed print copy of Polarities,
as well as a $10 Amazon Gift Card!

Enter here.

Book Review: Time Reavers by Jacob Holo

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Title: Time Reavers
Series: Time Reavers #1
Author: Jacob Holo
Narrator: Tess Irondale
Publication Date: July 13, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Time Reavers
Time Reavers #1
Jacob Holo
Narrated by Tess Irondale
Holo Writing, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

The monsters are real, and time is their weapon.

Fed up with bad teachers and daily fights with her sister, 16-year-old Nicole Taylor yearns for something better. Sadly, she’s in for a letdown, because the world ends next week.

Nicole discovers she has a rare gift. She can bend time around her and even stop it completely. With her powers awakening, she must face the Reavers: horrific killing machines that exist outside our time.

Plagued with nightmares and ambushed by monsters at every turn, Nicole has one chance to stop their genocidal invasion. With help from a chain-smoking pyrokinetic, a neurotic sword-wielding assassin, and an icy goth chick with a crossbow, she may stand a chance.

But the Reavers are tireless foes, and time is on their side.

The very first thing that came to mind when I started this audiobook was that Tess Irondale is one heck of a narrator. She had a rocking good story to work with but she goes way above and beyond most narrators. I have my favorites and, consistently, they all do terrific voices, distinctively and with energy and clear understanding of the characters. Ms. Irondale takes it a step further by doing amazing vocalization of other sounds; in this case, the story is full of roars and screeches and piercing screams and she does the best job with such sounds I’ve ever heard. I wonder if she had a sore throat after each recording session.

Now, as for the story, kudos to Mr. Holo who, first of all, seems to have the inside track on how a teenaged girl thinks and behaves. Nicole is refreshing and about as normal as she can be in her present circumstances. Daniel makes a nifty sidekick, if you will, and the other players are all just as interesting and appealing. And the plot? Well, put simply, these kids have to fight roving hordes of bugs. Bugs? Yes, bugs, the metallic, highly dangerous sort of insects that can freeze time and there’s literally something happening  in every chapter, so rapidly that there’s no time to get a real sense of place. That’s a little disconcerting but it somehow works in this tale, this fight for survival in which Nicole has discovered her power to manipulate time.

Time Reavers was just what I needed on a sleepy kind of day to wake me up and I thoroughly enjoyed this band of Tao guards as they fought to save the world, all with a snarky sense of humor. I do hope to see more of them in the not-too-distant future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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About the Author

Jacob Holo is a former-Ohioan, former-Michigander living in sunny South Carolina.  He describes himself as a writer, gamer, hobbyist, and engineer.  Jacob started writing when his parents bought that “new” IBM 286 desktop back in the 80s.  Remember those?  He’s been writing ever since.

Author Links:

Website
Facebook
Instagram

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About the Narrator

Tess​ Irondale​ is a professional audiobook narrator and voice actress, credited with bringing ​nearly ​5​0 titles to life. ​She ​specializes ​in ​Fantasy, Adventure, and Erotica, although ​her​ work ​has covered​ nearly every genre including Young Adult, Humor, Spirituality, ​LGBTQ, Sci-Fi, Self Help and ​Mystery​. ​She is on Audible’s in-house voice roster, and ​also works directly with authors through ACX.​ When not in the recording booth, she can be found hiking in the woods or hunkered over a crossword puzzle.

Website

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Play an excerpt here.

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After discovering her ability to manipulate time, Nicole must fight
otherworldly insects preparing to attack the human world. Holo’s
(The Dragons of Jupiter, 2013) novel begins in a hectic rush, as
teenage Nicole finds herself seemingly the only moving person in a
world suddenly frozen in time…chapters rarely pass without a big,
life-or-death battle, which leaves the novel in a nearly
continuous intense state…—Kirkus Reviews

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GIVEAWAY

The giveaway is for a signed copy of Time Reavers.
Runs Sep. 20th-27th⎮Open to Continental US Only

Enter here.

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Review: Fate of the Stars by Arwen Paris

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Title: Fate of the Stars
Author: Arwen Paris
Publication Date: September 1, 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBook // Amazon

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Fate of the Stars
Arwen Paris
Legendary Prose, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-947334-01-4
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When the fate of the world rests upon you…

Allison Delaney wants to spend her senior year healing from the loss of her father, to leave the shadows of his death and her junior year break-down behind. A Labor Day beach party seems like a good place to start…but there’s more danger lurking than anyone could imagine. Death is coming to Earth if the pods of infectious creatures aren’t stopped. But only one human can help…

To live or die is no longer a choice.

Eenoki is a protector of life but must have a sentient host to fight the invasion. A teenage girl would not be the best choice, but out of desperation Eenoki invades Allison’s mind and body, granting her unnatural abilities and strengths – and helping her escape certain death when the first wave of pods land.

As destruction rains down on Earth’s population, Allison realizes to save everyone, she must make the ultimate choice: Reject her human side and bond with Eenoki to become the Earth’s Priestess – or be killed along with the rest of humanity.

One of my favorite oldtime science fiction movies is “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” (the 1956 version) and that’s what this book’s jacket copy sounded like so, well, I had to read it. Lo and behold, Ms. Paris has pulled off a really fun and credible take on a gloriously cheesy premise.

Every campy science fiction tale has to have a hero and Allison fits the bill quite well…or maybe I should say Allison/Eenoki. In the movie, being taken over by an alien was a very bad thing but, this time, being taken over turns out to be a good thing (if the taking over is being done by the right kind of alien) because Eenoki wants to save humanity, not destroy it. Thing is, Allison doesn’t know at first that she’s been invaded and occupied but there are some pretty strange things happening to her. It’s one thing to fight the aliens and quite another to cope with problems at home.

Besides a nifty plot, I really think Allison is a very nice girl who loves her mom and is a reluctant though well-meaning hero, just the right kind. Eenoki…well, I just can’t be spoilery so you’ll have to read the book 😉

But wait! There’s a second bunch of aliens??

Fate of the Stars is unlikely to ever be called The Great American Novel but Ms. Paris has made a place for herself in the world of adventurous, fun science fiction. I’m glad to have met Allison and hope to see what will happen next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

About the Author

Arwen Paris is the author of young adult fiction. Her debut YA Sci-fi Urban Fantasy novel FATE OF THE STARS released September 1, 2017. The actions packed pages of her novels are filled with characters that are forced to face fears they never expected. When she’s not writing, you can see posts of her (too many) vacations that keep her sane. Arwen lives in Washington, has a big crazy family & after the day job, she writes Fiction For the Fearless – #F3Fanatic

Author links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Goodreads

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Book Review: The Thirteenth Gate by Kat Ross

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