Review: Half the World in Winter by Maggie Joel

 

Title: Half the World in Winter

Author: Maggie Joel

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Read an extract

Status: Read from October 13 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A story of tragedy, grief, and redemption, Half The World in Winter centers around Lucas Jarmyn and his family who are mourning the grisly death of nine year old Sofia. As the household struggles with the loss of their beloved daughter and sister they turn away from each other, and their home, in which Lucas forbids a fire to be set, grows ever colder.
Hundreds of miles away a train accident claims the life of a young girl. Her grief stricken father, Thomas Brinkley, demands justice from the head of the railway, Lucas Jarmyn, and when it is not immediately forthcoming, seeks revenge on the man and his family.

Half the World in Winter is an exploration of the dynamics of a family in mourning, and the impact of death and grief in a period where tragedy was common. The Jarmyn family are not only struck by the death of Sofia, they lose a nephew to the Boer War, a cook to a chicken bone, a discarded maid to vice, and are burdened by the deaths of those souls killed on the railway.

“Inside 19 Cadogan Mews time had ceased. It no longer existed, it had no meaning. A silence had fallen that no one felt willing to break. Footsteps were muffled, and commands, if they were given at all, were given in muted whispers in the hallways and corridors. doors were kept closed and before entering hands hesitated on doorknobs and deep breaths were taken. An excuse not to enter at all was often found.”

Set in England during the 1880’s, the period detail is rich and meticulous, from the minutiae of the Jarmyn’s household to the physical and social context of Victorian England. I was surprisingly interested by the workings of the Victorian railway system, and intrigued by the elaborate rituals of mourning – for middle class Britons there were strict rules to be followed after a death, determining, for example, the type and colour of fabric worn, to the depth of the border on notepaper.

“Half an inch for the first three months of mourning certainly. After that the border decreases to one-third of an inch. At six months it decreases to a quarter of an inch, then in increments of a tenth of an inch over the succeeding six months depending on the nature of the loss and one’s relationship with the deceased”

I did struggle with the sombre and often bleak timbre of the narrative and the measured pace of the novel quickened only marginally near the end. The writing however is stylish and descriptive, and the portrayal of the period is vivid.

Half The World in Winter is a genteel historical drama,  but it was a little too slow and solemn for me to really enjoy

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Review: The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

 

Title: The Cure for Dreaming

Author: Cat Winters

Published: Amulet Books October 2014

Status: Read from October 16 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley)

My Thoughts:

“Your future is to become a respectable housewife and mother. Women belong in the home, and inside some man’s home you’ll stay.”

Set in the year 1900, seventeen year old Olivia Mead is a bright girl dreaming of one day going to university, but in Portland, Oregon ‘respectable’ women are still expected to desire little more than becoming wives and mothers. Olivia supports the voices of the suffragettes clamouring for the right to vote, to wear bloomers when they ride their bicycles, to choose education and independence but her father, a dentist, is appalled by his daughter’s rebellious attitude and hires a young traveling hypnotist, the renowned ‘Henri Reverie’ performing in town to ‘cure’ Olivia of her ‘unfeminine’ dreams.

The Cure for Dreaming is an unusual tale combining a specific historical issue and era with a twist of the paranormal. Aimed at young adults, the plot and characters are fairly simplistic, yet it is a thought provoking read, sprinkled with an appealing mix of romance, horror, magic and mystery.

Henri modifies Olivia’s father command for his daughter to accept society’s demands of women somewhat by telling Olivia she will wake and the see the world as it truly is. Her new perspective is frightening and far from supporting her father’s world view it shows faded and caged women, men with red eyes and sharp teeth and simply makes Olivia’s belief in female emancipation even stronger. With help from a contrite Henri, Olivia eventually reclaims her voice and her dreams.

The setting is vivid and atmospheric and supported by the inclusion of half a dozen photographs from the period. For much of Winters’ young adult audience the history about the rights of women is sure to be an eye opener.

A quirky and quick read, I think The Cure For Dreaming would be a wonderful choice for any mother/daughter book club in particular.

 

The Cure for Dreaming is available to purchase at

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Review: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James

 

Title: Cooper Bartholomew is Dead

Author: Rebecca James

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Cooper Bartholomew’s broken body is found at the base of a cliff his death is declared a suicide but Libby, Cooper’s girlfriend, refuses to believe him capable of it. Desperate to understand what led him to the edge, Libby retraces Cooper’s last hours, eventually unraveling a tale of betrayal, jealousy, and shocking secrets.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Cooper, Libby, Sebastian and Claire, and shifts between ‘then’, detailing the events that led up to Cooper’s death, and ‘now’, exposing its aftermath.

Though well paced, the novel lacked much of the tension I had been expecting, this is more of a psychological drama than a thriller. I found the plot fairly predictable and while the circumstances surrounding Cooper’s death, when finally revealed, are emotionally powerful, they didn’t come as a surprise to me. However, I found the narrative very compelling, due in no small part to my investment in the characters.

All four protagonists felt genuine in ways to me that other characters in the New Adult genre have rarely done, I believed in their emotion, motivation and actions. The characters have distinct voices, which is important given the structure of the narrative, and are complex individuals. The relationship dynamics are also convincingly drawn.

An engaging read about friendship, first love, loss and lies, I really enjoyed Cooper Bartholomew is Dead. This is Rebecca James’ third novel following on from Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

The Its Monday! What Are You Reading meme is hosted at Book Journey.

Life…

So much for best laid plains. I got so little done this past week and I’m not even entirely sure why! It was a short week, with last Monday having been a public holiday, but with the kids back at school I expected time to get on top of things, instead it seems the week was eaten up by committee meetings, school stuff and the launch of basketball season. I’m coaching two teams this season – a grade 6 girls team and a grade 3/4 mixed team (both won their respective games on the weekend!).

I’m willing to take some of the blame –  I’m watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I hadn’t seen even an episode before now but I’ve been curious since reading Lauren Graham’s debut novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe and also because I’m a fan of Parenthood, in which she stars. I didn’t expect to find it so addictive and instead of reading til 2 or 3 in the morning, I’m watching Gilmore Girls episodes instead (I’ve just started Season 4)!

 

What I Read Last Week

 

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

 

New Posts

(click the titles to read my reviews)

Review: Outback Ghost by Rachael Johns ★★★★1/2

Review: Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan ★★★1/2

Review: The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen ★★★

Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher ★★★1/2

Review: Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll ★★★

Review: Bite Harder by Anonymous-9 ★★★

About: Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

 

What I Am Reading Today

Cooper Bartholomew’s body is found at the foot of a cliff.  Suicide. That’s the official finding, that’s what everyone believes. Cooper’s girlfriend, Libby, has her doubts. They’d been happy, in love. Why would he take his own life? As Libby searches for answers, and probes more deeply into what really happened the day Cooper died, she and her friends unravel a web of deception and betrayal.  Are those friends – and enemies – what they seem?  Who is hiding a dangerous secret? And will the truth set them all free?

 

What I Plan To Read This Week

(click the covers to view at Goodreads)

 

It is London, 1880, and Lucas Jarmyn struggles to make sense of the death of his beloved youngest daughter; his wife, Aurora, seeks solace in rigid social routines; and eighteen-year-old Dinah looks for fulfilment in unusual places. Only the housekeeper, the estimable Mrs Logan, seems able to carry on. A train accident in a provincial town on the railway Lucas owns claims the life of nine-year-old Alice Brinklow and, amid the public outcry, Alice’s father, Thomas, journeys to London demanding justice. As he arrives in the Capital on a frozen January morning his fate, and that of the entire Jarmyn family, will hinge on such strange things as an ill-fated visit to a spiritualist, an errant chicken bone and a single vote cast at a board room meeting. Written with charm, humour and rich period detail, Maggie Joel has created an intriguing novel of a Victorian family adrift in their rapidly changing world.

 

It had been Mother’s secret and mine, one passed down through the de Winter women for generations. I would ensure it was kept that way, until I was ready to pass it on. When Anneke Sheldrake is forced to find a way to support her family after her father is lost at sea, she turns to the business by which her mother’s family once prospered: brewing ale.  Armed with her Dutch mother’s recipes and a belief that anything would be better than the life her vindictive cousin has offered her, she makes a deal with her father’s aristocratic employer: Anneke has six months to succeed or not only will she lose the house but her family as well.  Through her enterprise and determination, she inadvertently earns herself a deadly enemy. Threatened and held in contempt by those she once called friends, Anneke nonetheless thrives. But on the tail of success, tragedy follows and those closest to her pay the greatest price for her daring.  Ashamed, grieving, and bearing a terrible secret, Anneke flees to London, determined to forge her own destiny. Will she be able to escape her past, and those whose only desire is to see her fail? A compelling insight into the brewer’s craft, the strength of women, and the myriad forms love can take.

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.

Ella, sweet Ella, you were meant to be mine. You can’t begin to imagine all the things I want to do to you. When the time is right, I will come for you . . . A series of hand-delivered letters leaves Ella scared for her life. Someone is watching her. Wanting her. Someone promising revenge. Desperate for the nightmare to end, Ella will do anything to discover the truth. Even join forces with a man who comes with his own danger warning . .

Jo Wheatley, winner of the Great British Bake Off 2011, shares a new collection of the hearty food she brought her three hungry boys up on, the fool proof recipes handed down to her by her Nan, and the treats she delights her extended family and friends with. All of the 100 recipes featured have been taste tested and enjoyed by generations of Jo’s family, and are now ready to be enjoyed by yours. Easy recipes for little ones, tasty pies and tarts, delicious pastries and sumptuous cakes all fill the pages of Home Baking, and all will make you want to roll up your sleeves and turn on the oven. Jo’s recipes are refreshingly simple and honest, and all made regularly for her family. From a classic focaccia, to delicious chocolate and honeycomb bars, perfect American pancakes and a spectacular croquembouche, Home Baking will fill your home with fantastic homemade food all year round.

Thanks for stopping by!

About: Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

 

Title: Nora Webster

Author: Colm Tóibín

Published: Picador: Pan Macmillan Au October 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from October 11 to 12, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I am somewhat embarrassed to be declaring this a DNF. Despite the appeal of the premise and some appreciation for Toibin’s style I found I was wholly uninterested in Nora’s grief and finally admitted defeat at the halfway point. However I did request this book for review and Nora Webster is receiving rave reviews from critics, who seem to think it will likely be nominated for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, so I wanted to share it with you.

It is the late 1960s in Ireland. Nora Webster is living in a small town, looking after her four children, trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. She is fiercely intelligent, at times difficult and impatient, at times kind, but she is trapped by her circumstances, and waiting for any chance which will lift her beyond them. Slowly, through the gift of music and the power of friendship, she finds a glimmer of hope and a way of starting again. As the dynamic of the family changes, she seems both fiercely self-possessed but also a figure of great moral ambiguity, making her one of the most memorable heroines in contemporary fiction. The portrait that is painted in the years that follow is harrowing, piercingly insightful, always tender and deeply true.

 

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Review: Bite Harder by Anonymous-9

 

Title: Bite Harder

Author: Anonymous-9

Published: Blasted Heath September 2014

Status: Read from September 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Bite Harder caught my attention on Just A Guy Who Likes To Read, I left a comment and a few days later the author contacted me requesting a review and I decided to give it a shot based on the premise, and Josh’s praise.

Dean Drayhart is a paraplegic amputee, having been severely injured when a hit and run driver ploughed into he and his family on a crosswalk. Drayhart’s young daughter didn’t survive, nor did his marriage, and with little left to lose, Drayhart, along with Sid, his helper monkey/assassin, and Cinda, a prostitute with a heart of gold, embarked on a vigilante spree across L.A., in Hard Bite executing hit and run drivers who thought they had gotten away with their crimes. Bite Harder is the sequel, though it works well enough as a stand alone.

It opens with Dean arrested for the murder of his last target, Ambrose Malalinda, the youngest son of a local drug-dealing crime family who mowed down a father of four. The Malalinda family have already twice attempted to exact their own revenge on Dean by first attacking the police transport during his transfer, which resulted in the death of Ambrose’s older brother Mateo, and then arranging Dean be stabbed to death in his cell. With both attempts thwarted the apoplectic Malalinda matriarch, Orella, takes matters into her own hands and arranges to hijack Dean during a manufactured medical emergency but things quickly go wrong and Dean, reunited with Cinda and looking for Sid, is on the run.

Fast paced and action packed with plenty of humour, bordering on the slapstick at times, Bite Harder is an entertaining read. The characterisation is good, Dean is a well developed protagonist, though the author is fairly reliant on stereotypes for most of the supporting cast. The writing is solid, using both a first and third point of view, but personally I would prefer character’s don’t address the reader directly, as Dean does on occasion.

A quick, aggressive and darkly funny read, I enjoyed Bite Harder, and I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Bite Harder is available to purchase from

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Review: Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll

 

Title: Love Me or Leave Me

Author: Claudia Carroll

Published: Avon: Harper Collins UK October 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from October 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the The Light Brigade/publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A divorce hotel. Where you check in married and check out single….This would be a place where two unhappy souls could quickly tie up loose ends and where something that had long been a source of acute pain to both, could gently be eased out if its misery. At least that was the general idea.”

Claudia Carroll’s 11th book, Love Me or Leave Me, is a lively romantic comedy about love, betrayal, divorce and new beginnings. Chloe Townsend is certain she has the professional experience, and personal empathy as a jilted bride, to make Dublin’s newest luxury niche hotel catering to amicably divorcing couples a success and she is determined to ensure its opening weekend will prove it. But true love, and its dissolution, never runs smooth, and with her boss hovering over her shoulder, and her ex-fiance making an appearance, the honeymoon period might be over before its even begun.

The narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Chloe, and three of the guests, Dawn, Jo and Lucy, who slowly reveal why they believe their short marriages have reached crisis point. Dawn, young and heartbroken, can’t forgive her husband, Kirk, who is embroiled in an affair; Jo, a control freak struggling with infertility, regards Dave, an often out of work actor, as irresponsible; and supermodel Lucy believes her marriage to Andrew has disintegrated due to his grown children’s sabotage. Of course none of the women are entirely blameless, and almost uniformly the men are reluctant partners in the divorce.

“There is his story, her story and then somewhere in the middle lies the truth.”

As the weekend develops, the couples are forced to confront each other and deal with their mistakes and misunderstandings. Carroll presents their issues sensitively but also with plenty of humour. There is a frisson of suspense built up as reconciliation seems possible for some of the couples, and plenty of drama, from screaming arguments to medical emergencies.

With well drawn characters, and plenty of humour and heart, Love Me or Leave Me is an engaging and entertaining novel where everyone gets their happy ever after.

 

Love Me or Leave Me is available to purchase from

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Review: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

 

Title: Dear Committee Members

Author: Julie Schumacher

Published: The Friday Project: Harper Collins UK October 2014

Status: Read from October 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Presented wholly in epistolary form, Dear Committee Members is a short, witty novel exposing the weary cynicism of an aging college English and Creative Writing professor under siege from budget cuts, rampant bureaucracy, renovations, online forms and desperate students.

Over a year Professor Jason Fitger writes many letters, spurning the modern day convenience of email where possible, to complain about the lavish renovations occurring on the floor above him in the Economics department while the Humanties department slowly suffocates among the dust, to lobby whomever he can think of, enemy or no, to grant his favoured writing student a fiduciary break, and to recommend both past and present graduates, some of whom he has never met, for jobs they are wildly over qualified for.

Into each missive creeps increasingly brutally honest snippets of Jay’s frustrations with his stalled writing career and his disastrous love life, his contempt for university politics, and his dismay at the dwindling esteem for language and literature. Though painted as an opinionated, surly curmudgeon, it becomes obvious that Fitger is also a passionate and dedicated teacher whom wants the respect he feels his department and its denizens deserve.

Bitterly funny and surprisingly poignant, Dear Committee Members is a scathing commentary on the foibles of academic administration, and an eloquent argument for the rescue of Humanties studies.

Dear Committee Members is available to purchase at

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Review: The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

 

Title: The Night Garden

Author: Lisa Van Allen

Published: Ballantine: Random House October 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from October 06 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“To visit the Pennywort farm was to be reminded of everything in the world that was beautiful and bountiful…luxurious and endlessly good.”

In upstate New York, Olivia Pennywort tends the family farm and the remarkable garden maze that she has created as a haven at its heart. It is said that the maze offers its visitors the answers to their most difficult questions, but it affords no such benefit to its caretaker who harbours a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. Over the years, Olivia has schooled herself to accept that there is no solution to her problem, but when Olivia’s childhood best friend and sweetheart, Sam Van Winkle, returns to town, her fiercest desires are rekindled and she is compelled to ask herself if the garden she has created is her protector, or her prison.

Van Allen’s prose is often lyrical, with vivid imagery of the garden and its surrounds. I could easily visualise the bordered up house, the stone walled garden of poisonous plants and the ramshackle cottage where Olivia’s father made his home, though I wish I had a better knowledge of horticulture to fully appreciate the individual design of the maze.

” As she approached the garden maze, she saw that it too had gone wild with the joy of the rains. The smell of flowers was so thick it crossed the line from pleasant into nearly repulsive. Inside, Olivia wound through the twists and turns, admiring how rambunctious and joyful her maze seemed, as if it were spring instead of late summer. Morning glories the size of dinner plates stayed open all day long, and thickened beds of coreopsis gave off a mustardly glow. There was a slight breeze that carried the faintest scent of autumn, and far beneath the sweetness, the mineral scent of winter.”

Though billed as magical realism, the magic wasn’t grounded in the way I would expect from the genre, and instead I feel the story had more in common with a modern reinterpretation of a fairytale like Sleeping Beauty. Olivia, beautiful and beloved by all, lives alone at a top of a tower, is essentially trapped in stasis, and is eventually rescued by her Prince Charming, who has to hack through wild overgrowth to save her.

The romance between Olivia and Sam, which began when they were childhood sweethearts, and is reignited on his return, is touching and soulful. I sympathised with their hopes and fears for their relationship, I believed in their yearning to be together and I could feel their frustration at not being able to have skin contact.

” And then he was threading his fingers into the mass, twisting and untwisting it in his hands. She didn’t even try to make conversation while he touched her; the sensation was too exquisite, too painful and pleasurable at the same time. He combed his fingers through her hair from top to bottom, and each time he caught a tangle it was like a little bite, a small and precise blast of desire like the spark from flint and steel.”

In terms of plot, however, the neighborly conflict seems forced and fizzles out, and though we are told the garden can offer help to those seeking answers, Van Allen never really shows this. The overall conclusion too is unrealized, almost as if Van Allen couldn’t figure out how to solve the conundrum herself, and so just hoped the reader would would accept vague assurances of ‘love conquers all’.

A tale of loss, grief, desire, love and hope, I enjoyed the story of The Night Garden.

The Night Garden is available to purchase at

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Review: Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan

 

Title: Killing Adonis

Author: J.M. Donellan

Published: Pantera Press October 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from October 04 to 06, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

‘WANTED: NURSE (a proper one, not a silly male one) PRETTY (but not too pretty CLEVER (but not too clever) APPLICANTS WITH AN EXCESSIVELY CURIOUS AND INQUISITIVE NATURE ARE DISTINCTLY NOT WELCOME. LIGHT DUTIES. LARGE PAY. (ALL CASH. NO QUESTIONS ASKED OR ANSWERED)’

After several hours of swilling booze with best friend Callum, Freya Miller drunkenly emails her CV in response to an unusual ad passed on to her by her friend, Jane. Just hours later she is summoned to the home of the powerful, wealthy and eccentric Vincetti family and promptly hired to care for their revered comatose son, Elijah. Though forcefully warned that curiosity about her employers, their business, or her patient, will not be tolerated, Freya can’t resist unearthing their secrets, but is wholly unprepared for what she finds.

Killing Adonis is Brisbane writer J.M. Donellan’s debut adult fiction novel. With larger than life characters (including a cameo from Marilyn Munroe), a strange mystery and a surreal plot that teeters between farce and satire, it is a quirky and darkly comic story about corporate greed, obscene privilege, and murder.

Freya is an entertaining character, quick witted and bold, with a prodigious capacity for booze, an irrational fear of pineapple cutters and the ability to see music as colours (a synesthete). She blithely ignores her employers warnings as she begins to poke around the mansion uncovering, amongst other things, two identical baby’s rooms, one entirely pink, and one entirely blue, a room filled with boxes of tiny woollen jumpers (which she later learns are for the penguin victims of an oil spill), three billiard rooms, and Jack.
Jack, Elijah’s older brother, suffers from mild Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Disease), agoraphobia and writer’s block. He becomes Freya’s unlikely, and sometimes unwilling, ally in the hunt for the truth about his brother’s coma and his parent’s machinations.
As Elijah lies silently, a sculptured Adonis surrounded by ‘beepers’, Freya and Jack begin to investigate the enigma of Elijah’s coma, the mystery of the ‘Danger Room’, the death of a beloved maid and a string of corporate rivals, all to expose Evelyn and Harland Vincetti’s diabolical secrets.

For me, Killing Adonis was a surprising page turner. I was thoroughly entertained by the snappy writing, audacious characters, and gaudy plot. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend readers comfortable with something a little less mainstream give it a chance – no question.

Killing Adonis is available to purchase from

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