Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Title: Long Bright River

Author: Liz Moore

Published: January 9th 2020, Hutchinson

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Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Books Australia

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My Thoughts:

Long Bright River is a compelling literary novel of family drama and suspense from Liz Moore.

“There’s a body on the Gurney Street tracks. Female, age unclear, probable overdose, says the dispatcher. Kacey, I think. This is a twitch, a reflex, something sharp and subconscious that lives inside me and sends the same message racing to the same base part of my brain every time a female is reported.”

Set in a depressed neighbourhood of Philadelphia where the opioid crisis is taking an increasing toll on its residents, police officer Mickey (Michaela) Fitzgerald patrols the decaying streets of Kensington, always keeping a look out, among the prostitutes on the sidewalks and the drug addicts slumped in doorways, for her younger sister, Kacey. When it becomes clear that a serial killer targeting sex workers is stalking the ‘Ave’, Mickey begins a frantic search for both her missing sister, and the perpetrator, risking the job she loves, and even her own life.

I’m not always keen on a first person narrative but I found Mickey’s voice to be compelling as the novel moves between the story of the sisters’ difficult childhood (Then), and their present circumstances (Now). Moore’s characterisation of the sisters, and their complex dynamic, is nuanced and gripping. Raised by their resentful grandmother after the overdose death of their mother, the sisters were once close, but no longer speak. Nevertheless, Mickey tries to keep tabs on Kasey, who is lost in her addiction, driven by a potent mix of guilt, regret, and love, while barely holding together her own life.

Though the plot with regards to the serial murders is a little vague at times, it serves more as a backdrop to the multi-layered narrative that explores the devastating impact of opioid addiction on individuals, families, and communities, the dehumanisation of vulnerable persons, childhood neglect, sexual abuse, police corruption, and a myriad of other issues that define life’s struggles.

A thought-provoking, poignant story of loss, addiction, forgiveness, and healing, told with compassion and authenticity, Long Bright River is a powerful and absorbing novel.

“All of them children, all of them gone. People with promise, people dependent and depended upon, people loving and beloved, one after another, in a line, in a river, no fount and no outlet, a long bright river of departed souls.”

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 

Review: Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

 

Title: Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas

Author: Adam Kay

Published: October 15th 2019, Picador

Status: Read December 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I read This Is Going To Hurt In 2018, though I never wrote a review as I was on hiatus at the time. I enjoyed Adam Kay’s honesty in describing the challenges he faced as a junior doctor in the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service), and his irreverent sense of humour.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas is more properly a collection of anecdotes, focusing on events that took place over the six Christmas periods Kay was on shift. In keeping with the season, and not requiring much in the way of concentration, it’s a quick read at not quite 150 pages and was perfect to peruse on Christmas night.

“Coming but once a year – and thank fuck for that – the Yuletide brings more than its rightful share of hospital drama.”

The story’s range from the absurd to the heartbreaking. Given that Kay was training in obstetrics and gynaecology, a number of them include inappropriate objects drunkenly inserted in equally inappropriate orifices.

Kay’s real point however is to highlight the fact that while most of us are at home enjoying Christmas with our families, half a million NHS workers – including doctors, nurses, and porters – are hard at work, separated from their loved ones in order to care for ours.

Hilarious, surprising, and poignant, Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas would be an ideal holiday gift for the health professional in your life (but make sure you read it before you wrap it!)

Read an Excerpt

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Available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: The Diamond Hunter

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: November 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

++++++

My Thoughts:

From a ramshackle, dusty miners camp in Southern Africa, to the green countryside of northern England, and the bustling city of London, Fiona McIntosh takes us on a journey of heartbreak, trust, betrayal, and love in her latest historical fiction novel, The Diamond Hunter.

Clementine is just six when her well-born mother succumbs to malaria on the plains of Southern Africa where her father, James, has brought them, determined to make his fortune during the 1870’s gold rush in Africa. With his wife’s death, James obsession to prove his worth grows and he stakes a claim in a nearby diamond mine, but haunted by grief and guilt, both the working of the claim, and the care of Clementine, is largely left to his partner, Joseph One-Shoe, a Zulu warrior.

Just as Joseph uncovers a large diamond that will ensure a secure future for them all, tragedy strikes, and Clementine has no choice but to return to England in the care of her Uncle to claim her birthright as the only legitimate heir of the wealthy Grant family.

Clementine is a wonderful character, as a child she is sweetly precocious, adoring both her father, despite his obvious flaws, and Joseph One-Shoe, whose love for her is achingly tender. Though still only a child when she returns to a life of privilege in England, as she grows Clementine remains grounded, and I found her to be an appealing heroine.

Joseph One-Shoe is also a delight, a Zulu warrior with a largely unpronounceable name, it’s is Clementine that christens him due to his preference of wearing just one shoe in order to remain connected to the land. In her Author’s Notes, McIntosh reveals she based his character on a young African man who was hired to care for her and her family while they lived in a gold mining camp in Africa during the 1960’s.

Reggie Grant, Clementine’s Uncle, is perhaps the most complex character in the novel, neither a hero nor a villain, he is both laudable, and deeply flawed. His actions are the catalyst for the questions that arise surrounding the death of Clementine’s father, driving her to determine the truth.

There is a touch of romance introduced to the plot when Clementine meets Will Axford, an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. While somewhat conservative in his thinking, Will is a good match for her, in that he is plain spoken and honourable, though perhaps to a fault. The unresolved nature of their relationship is unusual for McIntosh, and I wonder if perhaps the author has plans to return to this story.

As always, McIntosh’s deftly weaves historical fact into her fiction. The story is meticulously researched, and her descriptions evocative, particularly in terms of her depiction of the frenzy surrounding the diamond rush, and the settlement that grew around ‘The Hole’, which later became the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Kimberley. The author also includes some general insight into the diamond trade during the period, and alludes to Lloyd’s of London’s first steps in expanding beyond marine policies.

Beautifully written with authentic characterisation and detail, The Diamond Hunter is a captivating read from, as I’m quoted on the back cover, an extraordinary storyteller.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Also by Fiona McIntosh reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod

 

Title: House of Wishes

Author: Jenn J. McLeod

Published: November 19th 2019, Wild Myrtle Press

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod is a captivating stand-alone novel with loose links to two of her previous five novels, House For All Seasons and Simmering Season.

Moving between two timelines, set forty years apart, House of Wishes offers an enjoyable and poignant exploration of grief, love, belonging and redemption.

The narrative shifts between Beth’s journey to understand her late mother’s wish to have her ashes scattered over an unmarked grave in the rural town of Calingarry Crossing in 2014, and farmer/stonemason/handyman Don Dawson’s connection to Dandelion House, a home for unwed mothers on the outskirts of town, and the two young women confined there in 1974, Lissy and Irene.

McLeod’s characters are vivid and appealing. An actress and dancer, mourning the loss of her marriage, a pregnancy, and her mother in quick succession, forty year old Beth is at a crossroads in life when she arrives in Calingarry Crossing, unprepared to discover a legacy of life-changing secrets, and find romance with local farmer, Tom.

Don is a sweetheart, a hard working young man who grows besotted with Lissy and is desperate to build a future with her and her baby. When tragedy strikes he does his best to hold on to that dream, but it eventually falls apart, and Don somehow has to find the will to go on.

The plot touches on several sensitive issues, such as the historical stigma of unwed motherhood, pregnancy loss, sexual abuse, suicide, and addiction, but at its heart I feel this is a story about family. Through the experiences of her characters, McLeod thoughtfully explores the strengths and failings of the family we are born into, and the family we choose, or who chooses us.

Well crafted with engaging characters, a strong sense of place and a thoughtful plot, House of Wishes is sure to delight both fans and new readers alike.

++++++

Learn more about House of Wishes by reading this guest post from Jenn J. McLeod

House of Wishes is available from 19th November.

For more information and special pre-release prices on both print and ebook, visit www.jennjmcleod.com

Also by Jenn J. McLeod reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

 

Title: Slayer {Slayer #1}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: February 1st 2019; Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read October 2019

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My Thoughts:

“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a Chosen One. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”

When browsing for a book to serve as a nod to Halloween (which isn’t really a ‘thing’ here) I quickly zeroed in on Slayer by Kiersten White. I haven’t been interested in the graphic novels that picked up where the ‘original’ left off, but I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, it’s the only box set I own, and I binge watch it at least once a year.

Comparisons between Slayer and the ‘original’ are inevitable for fans, and honestly, my expectations here were quite low, so I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this.

Slayer is set after the end of the television series, and (so I’ve been lead to believe) fits with the canon developed in the graphic novels. If you are a fan, you may remember that the Watcher’s Council was all but eliminated during an explosion orchestrated by Caleb, the creepy Preacher. In Slayer, the few Watcher’s who remained have gone to ground in Ireland, and have essentially been in hiding ever since. Athena ‘Nina’ and her twin sister, Artemis, are the sixteen year old daughter’s of Council member Helen Jamison-Smythe, and the late Merrick Jamison-Smythe who was Buffy’s first watcher, and died protecting her.

The story unfolds from Nina’s perspective when, after a lifetime of being sidelined by her mother and overshadowed by her sister, she is imbued with the power of the Slayer. Nina is horrified given that she holds Buffy responsible for almost every wrong in her life, and is further devastated when both her mother and Artemis make it clear that they think it’s a power that Nina isn’t capable of wielding. Nina herself might have her doubts, but she’s determined to prove them wrong.

“Being chosen is easy. Making choices will break your heart.”

Though a touch angsty for my taste, Nina is a typical teen in that she is somewhat self centered, insecure, and short sighted. Her relationship with her mother is very complicated, and while she has a close relationship with Artemis, it’s not as equal as she likes to think. Denied the opportunity to apply for a position as a Watcher, Nina has carved out a niche for herself as a medic for what’s left of the Academy, but being Chosen changes everything.

I enjoyed the storyline which is fast paced with plenty of action that begins when Nina kills a hellhound on the trail of a runaway demon. Doug, the aforementioned horned demon who secrets a substance that gives humans a high, alerts Nina and her friends to the presence of a monster fight club in nearby Dublin, and inadvertently exposes a traitor, or three, in their midst.

“How evil can something wearing a Coldplay shirt be?”

One of the major elements of Buffy’s appeal is its humour, often sarcastic occasionally slapstick, there are very few episodes that don’t raise a snigger. There are lines in Slayer that raised a smile, and one or two that made me chuckle, but it didn’t quite have effortless wit or banter I was hoping for.

Of course I loved the references to familiar characters and events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from a dig at Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike, to the betrayal by Gwendolyn Post, and even a cameo by Faith. Buffy even makes an appearance or two in Nina’s dreams.

For me, Slayer was a easy, fun read which pays appropriate homage to the Buffyverse while also forging a new direction for White to exploit further. I’m looking forward to reading more in Chosen, due to be published in Feb 2020.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Review: Cross My Heart by Pamela Cook

 

Title: Cross My Heart

Author: Pamela Cook

Published: September 26th 2019, Wildwords Publishing

Status: Read October 2019 courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

Cross My Heart is a moving story of friendship, grief, and redemption set largely in a small country town, west of The Blue Mountains in the middle of NSW, from Australian author, Pamela Cook.

When Tessa De Santis learns of the death of her childhood best friend, she is reminded of the long ago vow she made to care for Skye’s daughter, Grace, should anything ever happen to her. Tessa, whose lifestyle with her husband is not conducive to motherhood, is reluctant to take custody of the ten year old, but feels compelled to honour her promise. Grace is traumatised by the loss of her mother, and overwhelmed by her new circumstances refuses to speak, so on the advice of a child psychologist, Tessa takes Grace back home in hopes that the familiar will be of comfort.

Cook’s characterisation in Cross My Heart is thoughtful and authentic. Tess is a woman who has unexpectedly found herself caring for a troubled child, and flounders somewhat under the weight of the sudden responsibly. Grace is grieving the loss of her mother, and wary of Tess who is a virtual stranger. The development of their relationship is realistic and moving as they both struggle with their new circumstances.

As Grace confronts her turbulent emotions in an equine therapy program, Tessa’s own emotional equilibrium is tested by a series of flashbacks. Nearly twenty years previously Tess and Skye were victims of a predator, and between Skye’s death, a suspected suicide, and living among her things, memories Tess thought she had buried are resurfacing. Cook’s treatment of this issue is sensitive and honest, and the author uses it to add an unexpected element of suspense to the story.

A heartfelt, thoughtful, and ultimately uplifting story, Cross My Heart is beautifully written, and I’m pleased to recommend it to readers of contemporary women’s fiction.

++++++

Available directly from the author at pamelacook.com.au

Or from your preferred retailer @ Amazon AU I Amazon US I Kobo I iBooks

 

Also by Pamela Cook reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer

 

Title: Matters of the Heart

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: August 27th 2019, Hachette Australia

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has been the subject of numerous retellings, especially of late, and to be honest, I was a little hesitant about selecting this for review. As it happens, my doubts were unfounded, Matters of the Heart by Fiona Palmer is a charming, delightful and thoroughly enjoyable adaption of the classic romance novel.

The story of Matters of the Heart doesn’t stray far from the original plot of ‘Pride and Prejudice, but it is effectively translated into a modern tale, exploring the themes of love, family, class prejudice, gender and of course, pride, in an Australian rural setting.

Palmer deftly reimagines the beloved characters of Pride and Prejudice, with the story focusing on Lizzy, the second oldest daughter of the Bennet family. Spirited, smart and passionate about working on the land, she is determined to ensure the success of their sheep farm, Longbourn.

The author introduces Will Darcy as the best friend of new neighbouring property owner, Charles Bingley. While Charlie and Lizzy’s older sister, Jane, hit it off immediately, Lizzy is less impressed with the wealthy Will, especially when she inadvertently overhears him make unflattering remarks about Longbourn’s viability under a woman’s (her) management.

Their relationship is beset by obstacles, not the least their poor first impressions of one another. Lizzy pegs Will as a snob, and he fails to give her the respect she is due.

Present also in the story are versions of Charlotte, as Lizzy’s best friend, Lizzy’s awkward suitor (Ken) Collins, and (Luke) Wickham, a charming rodeo rider who stirs up trouble, among others, including all of the Bennet sisters.

Crafted with wit, warmth and heart, even if you have never read, or watched, Pride and Prejudice, Matters of the Heart is an entertaining rural romance novel in its own right. I loved it.

++++++

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Available from Hachette Australia

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Also by Fiona Palmer reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

 

Title: Snake Island

Author: Ben Hobson

Published: August 5th 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Snake Island by Ben Hobson is powerful tale of patrimony, regret, vengeance, and tragedy.

For two years Vernon Moore, and his wife, have refused to acknowledge their son, Caleb, who is serving time in a nearby minimum security prison, firm in their belief that he should serve his sentence for a vicious domestic assault without clemency. Yet when Vernon learns that his son is being victimised by a local thug, Brendan Cahill, given free rein to regularly bash Caleb by a corrupt prison warden, he realises his error and is determined to put an end to the attacks. Vernon knows that appealing to the local police for help would be futile, the Cahills’s pay Sargeant Sharon Wornkin well to ignore their transgressions, which includes a large scale operation growing and selling marijuana, but he hopes that an appeal to Cahill patriarch Ernie, one father to another, will save his boy. Instead, Moore unwittingly ignites a feud that threatens to destroy them all.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Vernon, Sharon, and the youngest Cahill son, Sidney, I was riveted by this low key, gritty rural thriller as events spiralled out of control.

“A cornered rat used what teeth it had.”

The characters, and their relationships, are realistically crafted with a skilful complexity. Few are likeable, all are deeply flawed, but none (well almost) are entirely irredeemable. I had sympathy for Vernon and Sidney, despite the mistakes they made, but I had very little for Sharon, whose lack of integrity I found difficult to forgive.

“You keep giving up parts of yourself, you end up as far down the track as it’ll take you.”

Hobson explores several themes in Snake Island. I thought one of the most important was the notion of loyalty, to whom it may be owed, and where it’s limit may lie, and each of the characters wrestle with these questions. Another is the legacy of violence, whether from the experience of domestic abuse or war, and how it affects who someone becomes, as a father, as a son, as a wife, as a person. Also thoughtfully examined are themes of family, justice, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

“Vernon looked at his son. Understood deeply now what he had given up. Knew, too, he wasn’t willing to give up anymore.”

A vivid and thought provoking novel, I was gripped by Snake Island from the first line, to the last word.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

 

Title: Never Have I Ever

Author: Joshilyn Jackson

Published: July 30th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read July 30th 2019, courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“She smiled and I had no premonition as I smiled back. She didn’t look like my own destruction to me.”

Only after inviting neighborhood newcomer Angelica Roux In to join the members of the Brain-Dead Mommies Bookclub clustered in her basement does Amy Whey realise her mistake. Without a shred of humility, and with confidence born of beauty, Roux, as she prefers to be called, disrupts the planned discussion about The House of Mirth, instead leading the women to play an adult game of Never Have I Ever. While a handful of drunken women grow ever more indiscrete, Amy refuses to participate.

“I knew what she was then. Too late, I understood her game.”

Two days later Roux appears again at Amy’s door, but this time she isn’t in the mood for games. Roux demands a quarter of a million dollars or she will reveal a dark secret from Amy’s past that will shatter her well ordered life.

“You owe me. You owe me, and you are going to pay.”

Deftly plotted, offering unexpected twists and turns right up until the last pages, Never Have I Ever is a compelling psychological thriller. Roux’s attempt at blackmail sparks a daring game of cat and mouse between two women who both have a lot to lose.

“She was better at this than I was, more experienced, but I didn’t have to win, after all. I only had to play down to a draw, get enough to make her walk away. I needed two things: a secret and to know who she was hiding it from.”

Amy is not so much interested in winning, as she is in simply ridding herself of the threat Roux poses, but each move she makes is met with a countermove from Roux that escalates the stakes. I’ve always found Jackson’s female characters to have an authentic complexity in thought and behaviour, and it’s no different here. Amy is a sympathetic character, but she refuses to be a victim. As a sociopath, Roux’s actions are more slightly more predictable, she puts her own self interest above everything, except perhaps her son. I was utterly absorbed by the battle of wits as it played out, particularly curious to see just how far Amy was willing to go to protect herself, and those she loves.

“The past remained the same, and so, apparently, had she, but I had come up new.”

Never Have I Ever is a provocative, gripping, and wildly entertaining tale of secrets, betrayal, revenge and redemption. A must read.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

 

Available from HarperCollins US

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Alternate Cover

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

 

Title: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: July 16th 2019, Vintage

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Blue Rose is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, peril, and adventure, set against the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the inscrutable Empire of China.

After disgracing her father, Marquis de Ravoisier, at the court of Versailles, Viviane de Faitaud is exiled to her late mother’s estate, the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, where she spent her childhood. Though meant as a punishment, Viviane is happy in Belisama, far from her father’s cruel attentions, and able to regularly escape the notice of her chaperone.

While the estate is barely viable after years of the Marquis’s mismanagement and neglect, when Viviane’s father remarries, he decrees that an extravagant garden shall be created to honour his new bride and hires an ambitious young Welshman to design and oversee it’s construction. David Stronach hopes that the commission will launch his career among the French nobility, allowing him to support his family, and throws himself into the project, but he soon finds himself distracted by the beauty and grace of Viviane.

Despite the impossibility of the match, Viviane and David fall in love, but when the Marquis discovers their romance, David barely escapes the chateau with his life, and Viviane is given no choice but to marry a rich Duke more than twice her age. Believing her lover dead, Vivienne returns to the palace of Louis XVI, just as the revolution begins to gather momentum, while David, believing himself betrayed, joins a British diplomatic mission to Imperial China at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks.

Forsyth deftly illustrates the decadence of life at the court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XVI, and the extraordinary evolution of the French Revolution. After the death of her hated husband during riots in Paris, Vivane serves as a lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and stays with the beleaguered royal family as their rule falters. Seen through Viviane’s eyes, the French royal family, especially the much maligned Marie-Antoinette, become humanised as they face the situation with bewilderment, grief, and growing horror. The author’s recounting of the astonishing historical events that defined the Revolution, from the demands of the Third Estate, to the storming of Bastille, and finally to the wholesale imprisonment and gruesome beheadings of the country’s aristocracy, is utterly engrossing.

David’s journey was inspired by the author’s discovery of a diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney at the behest of King George III to request the Chinese Emperor open trade with Britain, during which a member of the party gathered botanicals and shipped them to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip fits neatly into the timeline of the story, and ties beautifully into David’s desire to obtain a blood-red rose, unavailable in Europe at the time. I found David’s expedition by sea, and his impressions of Imperial China, interesting.

As with much of Forsyth’s recent work, The Blue Rose also takes some inspiration from traditional lore, in this instance a version of The Blue Rose, a Chinese folk tale. It is a romantic story that ties beautifully into David’s quest, and his relationship with Vivane.

An enchanting, captivating novel, with a plausible, seamless narrative which melds compelling historical fact, with vividly imagined fiction, The Blue Rose is another spectacular story from Kate Forsyth.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

******

Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

 

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