Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Road Trip Down Memory Lane

This isn’t a full post as much as it is a few quick updates about what I’ve been/will be up to. I’ll be participating again this month in the discussion over at Tumblr’s Reblog Book Club for Laurie Halse Anderson’s new book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, so I’ll probably be cross-posting some of my thoughts on that in the upcoming weeks.

In other news, some six months later, I’ve finally put together a video of  the cross-country trip my mom, sisters, and I made this summer. This is totally unbook-related, but it’s one of my creative projects I wanted to share, so here it is.

And because this wouldn’t be BookEndeavors without at least SOME books, I just want to give a shout-out to a few of my favorite books that include road trips (but aren’t necessarily road trip books).

1. Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta – Now this, might not strike most people as a road trip book. Almost the entire story takes place at a state boarding school in rural Australia. But the book starts with a road trip, and it ends with one.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, ‘What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?’ and my father said, ‘Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,’ and that was the last thing he ever said.”

2. The Key to the Golden Firebird, by Maureen Johnson – Again, not strictly a road trip book. But that’s perhaps the scene in the book that truly draws all three of the sisters in the novel back together, gives them a chance to be giddy and honest and unabashedly weird. Plus the book revolves around a car, so there’s that. I wrote a full review for this book a while back, which can be found here.

The funny thing about stop signs is that they’re also start signs.

3. Saving June, by Hannah Harrington – Now, this one is a true road trip book. After her sister June’s suicide, Harper and her best friend take off to visit California, the place Harper knew her sister always dreamed of going. I’ve always enjoyed books about grief after the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s my way of preparing for the worst; or maybe it’s that in those books, the protagonists are usually already near rock bottom at the book’s outset, so I don’t feel like I spend half the book waiting for the other shoe to drop. At any rate, I thought this book had it all – justified angst, character development, plot, and of, course the kind of music necessary for any road trip, fictional or otherwise.

Some people think that a place can save them… Like if they could just be somewhere else, their lives would be totally different. They could finally be the people they always wanted to be. But to me, a place is just a place. If you really want things to change, you can make them change no matter where you are.

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“Will” Power

Let’s talk about Will. For whatever reason, a surprising number of cute male characters in YA bear the name Will. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Elizabeth Scott’s Perfect You, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. And of course longtime BookEnders know I would never leave out Will from Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. Maybe it’s some deep-rooted nostalgic fondness for the Will I maintained a misguided, quite unrequited crush on throughout my high school years. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that so many of my favorite YA boys share a moniker. Or maybe authors and I love it because it’s more than a name or a love interest, it’s a tense. The promise of a future. Will.

If that’s the case, then it’s the perfect fit for Maria Boyd’s young adult novel, Will. Its titular protagonist, Will Armstrong, has made an art form of never quite capitalizing on his potential. But since his home life took a turn for a worse last December, he’s gone from St. Andrews’ well-respected slacker to the kid who can’t help pushing things too far. When he takes it upon himself to moon a busful of girls from Lakeside, the nearby girls’ school, his teachers decide to get creative with their punishment.

Although he’s spent years avoiding the stigma of associating with the school band, he is sentenced to play in it for a full two months while St. Andrews and Lakeside mount a joint production of 1953 musical, The Boy Friend. Though he longs for a return to normal life, eventually the company of Year Seven outcast, Zachariah, new kid and male lead in the musical, Mark, and leading actress, Elizabeth, have him starting toward a new normal. But how long can he keep it together now that a single misstep spells expulsion, and worse, no one will leave him alone?

I’d definitely recommend this to fans of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. It deals with many of the same topics – family, grief, deciding whether to blend in or stand out – in a way that is equally honest, funny, and best of all, unpatronizing. Not to mention both are set in Sydney area boys’ schools. Will also reminded me a lot of Andrew Smith’s Winger as well, probably due to the similarities between supporting characters Mark (Will) and Joey (Winger), as well as their protagonists’ tendency to take action before thinking about the consequences.

Will wasn’t technically perfect. The dialogue could be confusing sometimes, since there were never any speech tags and characters’ lines weren’t situated in a way that always made it clear. I thought a few of the secondary characters could have been consolidated, since there were quite a few of them and some served overlapping purposes. I was torn between a four and five star rating. But I went for the full five because it had that spark. The one that keeps you up until four in the morning, even though you promised yourself you’d “just read the first chapter or two.” The unquantifiable something that makes you cry in that painful way where your chest hurts because you can’t quite breathe, and the only thing left to do is keep reading.

Although Will was released in 2010, I honestly hadn’t even heard of it in passing before now. Perhaps like many other Aussie YA books, it simply hasn’t received as much publicity or marketing in the U.S. I stumbled across it when playing around with the subject headings for The Piper’s Son on the Seattle Public Library’s online catalog. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful debut from Boyd, and I sincerely hope to see more from her soon. In the meantime – Will Armstrong reinforces my love for the Wills of the world – well, those of the fictional variety, anyway. And you, my dear BookEnders, are left with one last question – Will you or won’t you?

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Reblog Book Club

Hello, Bookenders!

This is just a quick update to let you know about a new project I’m taking part in. I’m contributing to the discussion in, the Reblog Book Club, the first official Tumblr book group. Here’s the first paragraph of my initial (spoiler-free) reflection on the first book, Rainbow Rowell’s new novel, Fangirl:

“As you may have surmised from my recent deluge of Fangirl posts, I’m contributing to Tumblr’s first official book club, the Reblog Book Club. Fangirl is Rainbow Rowell’s newly released YA novel. Cath is a devoted fangirl to the mega-hit Simon Snow fantasy series, and a popular fanfiction author in her own right; her twin sister, Wren, used to be. As Cath heads off to her first year of college she explores how college life and Simon Snow diverge and how they overlap – and how she and Wren do.”

You can find the rest of the review here, at the Reblog Book Club. My other posts will be put up periodically under my tumblr name, “your-ya-story.”

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2,583 Miles Later…

Hello, blog readers!* This post is coming to you from the other side of the country. I have officially made the transition from Buffalo, New York to Seattle, Washington. Because I have a weird unique and incredibly loving family, I did not make the move alone. My mom, two sisters, and I turned it into two-week, cross-country (semi-Oregon Trail-themed) road trip. Huge props to my dad for valiantly staying home to hold down the fort while we were gone.

My mom, sisters, and I at the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I’m on the right.

Trip highlights include visiting my friends Mackenzie and Patty, Taste of Chicago, climbing up a 102-foot “Hermann the German” monument, and seeing a buffalo walk down the middle of the road. Things have settled down in the past few days. I moved into my first apartment (which I’ll actually be moving out of at the end of the month), started putting out my job applications. And my family left. I’ve spent my free time exploring the area, shamelessly using coffee shops for their WiFi (this apartment has no Internet), and going for runs.

Oh yes, I also sat on the foot of a 60-foot-tall Jolly Green Giant.

These kinds of major changes are exciting, character-building, and generally invaluable experiences. But they’re also hard. As much as I’m loving Seattle, it’s hard not to be a little homesick (okay, sometimes a lot homesick). Most times I try not think about how long it will be before I can hug my mom again, or tickle my little sister under the chin (she might deny it, but she’s just as ticklish there as she was when she was five).**

This is not a wallowing, moping post. I just want to acknowledge that for every awesome opportunity and exciting event here, there are things (and people) that I’ll miss back home. So I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books for times when there my life’s own setting changes. Whether you’re leaving for a new school or job, studying abroad, or just moving, these books help ease the transition.

1)      Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery – Hold on a second, you might say. Weren’t those books written way back at the beginning of the twentieth century?*** Aren’t the Anne of Green Gables books just heartwarming stories about an imaginative orphan?

Anne of the Island departs strongly from what most people would probably expect from a woman writer of the early 20th century. For instance, in Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley leaves her beloved home in Avonlea to obtain her B.A. from Redmond College. She moves somewhere totally new, deals with financial burdens, and makes housing plans with friends. It’s the quintessential college story, an era of life sadly overlooked in literature.

2)      Just One Day by Gayle Forman – Let’s skip ahead to a book published nearly a hundred years later. This book was released this past January, but I didn’t read it until June. Honestly, I hadn’t thought I would like it. The premise of the book is that Allyson Healy goes on a trip abroad a few weeks before she starts college. While in London, she meets actor Willem and spends a day with him in Paris. She wakes up to find him gone. She returns home, starts college, and tries to forget about him. Unable to, she eventually struggles to track him down.

Here’s the thing – the summary makes it sound like the novel is about Willem, but it’s not. It’s more about Allyson spending her first year of college trying to figure out who she is and who she is going to be: the reliable Allyson she was throughout high school; the daring “Lulu” she was with Willem; or someone else entirely? This is another novel that covers the college transition – living away from home for the first time. Making new friendships and reevaluating old ones.

All I’ll say is that this is one of those Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover books.

3)      A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith – Let’s try some fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Vidanric, born into a noble family, lives in a small country where the tyrannical King Galdran rules. To both keep their son out of danger and help prepare him for the future, Vidanric’s parents send him away to a foreign academy in the militaristic country of Marloven Hess. While there, Vidanric struggles to learn weaponry, command, politics, and how to understand a culture starkly different from his own.

This was one of my favorites while I was in Turkey. It addresses adjusting to and partaking in foreign customs. And let’s face it, I love books that include any sort of specialized training, such as the skills Vidanric has to learn. This is a great book for those who enjoy vicariously learning how to be a warrior.

While I would love to keep writing about my favorite books, I think I’ll stop with those three. After all, I’m in Seattle! My new home for the next two years. Some protagonist I would be if I spent all my time reading and writing instead of adventuring and learning to ride a horse the bus.

Side Notes:

*I really should have a cooler nickname for my readers than “blog readers”… Hmm… BookEnders? That sounds strangely menacing. I like it. Other suggestions?

**I suppose I should mention that she is, in fact, nineteen-years-old and only occasionally sacrifices her dignity to let me tickle her chin.

***You might not actually say that, people who aren’t as excessively into L.M. Montgomery might instead think of it as just generally “way super long ago” or something to that effect.

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“A Corner of White,” by Jaclyn Moriarty

Last post I mentioned my intention to tackle Jaclyn Moriarty’s recently released (well, recently released in the U.S.) novel, A Corner of White. I actually finished it up the day after writing that. While I wish I could make my books last, I usually gulp them down in one or two sittings. I’d categorize myself as member of species Biblio devourus rather than Biblio savorus. Can you tell I just finished a term paper on evolution and biological classification?

Australian cover for A Corner of White

Back to A Corner of White. The story utilizes two braided strands. One takes place in modern day Cambridge, England. It mainly follows Madeleine Tully, a fourteen-year-old girl who has trouble adjusting to life after she and her mother run away from their luxurious life with Madeleine’s father. Madeleine’s mother took only a sewing machine with her when she left, leaving her struggling to make ends meet through mending clothes. As the novel is narrated in omniscient third-person, this strand of the narrative also includes some scenes between the two other students with whom Madeleine is homeschooled, Jack and Belle. Through Jack’s perspective, Madeleine is initially characterized as mysterious and ethereal, causing readers to wonder if she might be connected to the magical world of the other narrative.

This magical world of the second narrative strand is called “the Kingdom of Cello.” It does have many similarities to our world – televisions and trains and high school physics. However, it also has some notable differences. While Cello does have much of the same technology, they still rely heavily on fax machines. The organized sport of choice, deftball, revolves around some sort of supercharged, skyrocketing root vegetable. The biggest difference, however, is the Colors in their world. Rather than simply a visual phenomenon, they’re natural disasters:  Violent Purples, fatal Yellows, waves of Red that send everything haywire. The protagonist of this strand of the novel is fifteen-year-old Elliot Baranski. He’s nearly single-minded in his determination to rescue his father, Abel. Elliot believes his dad has been abducted by Purples (although most of the town believes  Mischa, the fetching high school science teacher who disappeared simultaneously, to be a far more likely cause of Abel’s disappearance).

U.S. Cover for A Corner of White

It wasn’t until probably a third of the way through this 400-page novel that I felt myself becoming fully engaged. I always have trouble switching between narrative strands. As soon as I found myself beginning to understand Madeleine, I was yanked back to Elliot, and vice versa. The story really took off for me once Madeleine and Elliot started communicating – writing letters to each other via a Crack between Cello and the World. In Madeleine’s world, the Crack is located in a parking meter. This leads her to believe that her penpal is some fantasy-enthusiast who takes role-playing a little too seriously. Through Elliot’s letters to Madeleine, Moriarty is able to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of Cello to readers. I also greatly enjoyed Madeleine’s letters to Elliot. In them, she critiques Elliot’s description of his life and kingdom as though it’s entirely made-up, the humor being that of course it is completely made up, but to the readers, not the characters. Through events in both worlds, Madeleine and Elliot come to rely upon each other.

I would give this book a solid four stars. I thought it did a great job setting up the worlds, plot, and characters for the next book in the trilogy. I also thought it did a great job showing character growth. Both Madeleine and Elliot start the novel as somewhat unsympathetic characters, but gradually become more aware of themselves and others. Although A Corner of White got off to a slow start due to two very disparate narrative strands, it eventually picked up the pace and became a compelling read in a world I can’t wait to revisit.

Which book cover do you like best, the U.S. or the Australian? Let me know in comments!

Jaclyn Moriarty’s Website
A Corner of White on GoodReads

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Summer Reading

I’m not entirely sure it’s spring yet here in Oswego. Although we’ve had our share of nice days in the past week or two, in mid-April there’s still the possibility of some more snow sneaking in. Yet with graduation only four weeks away, I can’t help jumping ahead to my favorite season: Summer. Although I appreciate autumn for its vibrant oranges and reds and spring for its balmy breezes, they can’t compare to summer’s constant atmosphere of celebration. And whether I’m going on an impromptu trip to Bennett Beach or going to see a free performance of Shakespeare in the Park, I like to have a book along.

A picture from last year's performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Delaware Park.

A picture from last year’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Delaware Park. This year they’re doing Hamlet and Measure for Measure.

Finding good summer reading material isn’t a simple task. For me, a beach book needs to be easy to read – hold the dense sentences and experimental structure, please. And I don’t mind if it tackles darker topics as long as it has a mostly happy ending. One young adult author really fits the bill for my summer reading choices – Sarah Dessen. Although Dessen, who’s now published ten young adult novels, has written some books that deal with topics like abusive relationships and sexual assault, most of her novels are a little bit lighter, but still substantive fare. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite books of hers that I think also make great summer reading.

Keeping the Moon: Fifteen-year-old Colie visits beach-town Colby to stay with her Aunt Mira for the summer while her mom, fitness guru Kiki Sparks, tours Europe. Colie expects the worst from her summer with her strange, artsy Aunt Mira. Instead, she finds herself waitressing at the Last Chance Bar & Grill and making friends with her slightly older coworkers; sharp-tongued Isabel, friendly Morgan, and easy-going, artistic Norman. Colie slowly stops judging her Aunt Mira, and appreciates her for who she is – not the town weirdo, but a woman completely sure of who she is. Through her time there, Colie starts to stop expecting the worst from Colby, and the rest of the world, and take both herself and others as they are.

The Truth About Forever: After her father’s sudden death a year ago, Macy has focused on being the perfect daughter. She’s become a stellar student and started dating Jason, a highly-motivated student and considerate guy. She even helps out from time to time with events for her mom’s real estate business. Her summer is carefully planned out, full of SAT preparation and logging hours at the library help desk, filling in for Jason while he spends the summer at a camp for gifted students. But when Macy spontaneously accepts an offer to work at disorganized, chaotic Wish Catering and starts getting to know the crew there, she starts thinking about whether perfect is all it’s cracked up to be.

Along for the Ride: As the child of two intelligent, competitive professors, Auden has been an adult since about the age of five. While her older brother, Hollis, has always been able to get away with most anything, Auden’s met her parents’ expectations, academic and otherwise. Auden continues to excel in school, even though she finds herself unable to fall asleep during and after her parents’ rather nasty divorce. About to leave for college in September, Auden makes the impulsive decision to leave her mother’s and  spend her summer at her father’s new house in Colby – along with his new wife, Heidi, and newborn baby, Thisbe. When Auden gets to know some of the locals, including fellow insomniac, Eli, she starts to wonder if it’s ever really too late to learn to be a kid.

These books are set over the course of the summer, and, yes, there is usually a love interest. But I think it would be a mistake to write off Dessen’s work, even her more beach-appropriate books, as romantic fluff. While romantic relationships are a staple of Dessen’s books, most are just as focused on the characters’ other relationships – with their parents, siblings, friends, and themselves. Aside from enjoying summer’s festive mood, I also usually find summer to be a time of individual growth and healing. In the “Note from the Author” section on her website’s page for Keeping the Moon, Dessen writes, “If you read my novels, you’ll see that I love a book set in the summer: it’s such a good, concise time period, and there’s endless potential for what can happen.” In the summer, anything seems possible. Her books capture the potential for a person to change course completely, fix relationships, form friendships. A lot can change in a summer.

Sarah Dessen also has a new novel coming out on June 4th. This one’s called The Moon and More, and also looks like a Summer Book. Check out this article for a description and the first chapter!

Sarah Dessen’s Website
Sarah Dessen’s Tumblr
GoodReads Pages for Keeping the Moon, The Truth About Forever, and Along for the Ride.

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MarkReads in Syracuse

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry about MarkReads.net. Just this week, he had a tour stop in Syracuse which I and a few of my friends were able to attend. Very few YA-oriented literary events usually occur in Central New York, so I was especially excited to learn he was coming to Syracuse. My two friends and I hit the highway and made the hour-long trek down to LeMoyne College. Despite my dislike of highway driving and the slightly embarrassing difficulty we had navigating LeMoyne’s small campus, the drive was worth it.

Mark Oshiro started out the evening with a lecture.* His topic was online reading communities. He placed a strong emphasis on the idea of creating a space of inclusion and personal connection when running an online community – whether a blog, a forum, or something completely different. I think it would be interesting to compare his brand of literary criticism – which places equal emphasis on the emotional and intellectual experience of reading – with more traditional, scholarly literary criticism. While it makes sense that literary criticism functions well when everyone has the same terms and phrases to describe a piece, I’m very intrigued by the idea of more informal, personalized literary criticism emerging through the Internet. Book blogs, forums, and review sites like GoodReads certainly make a greater variety of literary criticism accessible. I do realize though that online literary discussion has its limitations as well – not everyone has regular Internet access.

Although I enjoyed the lecture Mark gave and found it immensely helpful both as a blogger and aspiring YA librarian, my favorite part of the evening came afterwards. He delivered a dramatic reading of one of the most ridiculous fanfictions I’ve ever read. The story is called “Gurren Jesus,” and though I’ve never seen the anime it was based on, it was no less amusing. Jesus and an anime character team up to ride motorcycles and try to assassinate Hitler, who is dressed up as Chester Cheetah. Before I’d finished laughing over that story, he went into a real-life annecdote that involved drunken Tennessean nerds playing gladiator with tree trunks. It made me wish I was better at actually telling stories rather than writing them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet. It gives me a way of connecting with far more people than I ever would in person, and helps me gravitate towards people with similar interests. But this event was a good reminder of how enjoyable it is to connect with other readers face-to-face. It’s a great feeling to be laughing with a room full of people who appreciate the same kinds of jokes, read the same kinds of books, and who probably spend the same amount of time on the Internet as I do. I came away from the event energized by a renewed sense of my love for both online and in-person communities of readers.

*Maybe “lecture” gives the wrong impression – his talk was far more entertaining than the word lecture usually connotes.

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MarkReads (and reads, and reads, and reads)

Only four posts in, and the time has come already – blogception. This post will be a blog about a blog, specifically MarkReads.net. I discovered MarkReads the fall before last, during my time in Istanbul. While some days I loved wandering through the city in its perpetual autumn drizzle, sometimes it was just as satisfying to spend the day curled up in my dorm with a cup of apple tea and my laptop. I’d been trying to decide between the two Harry Potter conventions happening in the summer of 2012, Ascendio and LeakyCon. I saw Mark Oshiro of MarkReads listed as a special guest for Ascendio. Interest piqued, I innocently clicked the link to his website. I then proceeded to work my way through the entirety of his “Mark Reads Harry Potter” posts in only a few days

He’s even edited and compiled his posts into e-books, available at markdoesstuff.com

MarkReads provides some of the most in-depth book reviews I’ve ever come across. Mark Oshiro does chapter-by-chapter reviews of popular books and series. His whole enterprise started in 2009, when he undertook someone’s challenge for him to read and review the entire Twilight series (which he ended up hating). He later took on the Harry Potter series, writing reviews for each and every chapter of all seven Harry Potter books (which he ended up loving). I cannot even begin to fathom writing that many blog posts. Although he doesn’t review exclusively Young Adult books, many of the books he has reviewed in the past have been YA – Looking for Alaska, The Book Thief, His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games. For those of you less interested in reading, he also has sister sites called MarkWatches and MarkPlays, where he does similar-style reviews for television shows and video games.

On the surface, reading a review for every chapter of a book or series of books might not sound that enticing. This is where Oshiro’s writing comes into play. His writing tends to be full of humor, honesty, and enthusiasm. He sometimes includes details from his own life to explain why he connects especially strongly to a certain scene or chapter in a book. His posts contain unconcealed glee for well-developed characters and expertly executed plot twists. It’s not the kind of book review that gets printed in the New York Times but maybe it should be.

One of the best parts of MarkReads is that Oshiro knows little or nothing about each book he reads, which keeps the element of surprise almost completely intact for him. This leads to much ironic humor, as sometimes he’ll make joking speculations about future events in the story that turn out to be completely correct, or he’ll be totally off base with his predictions. If you’ve read the books Oshiro’s reviewing, reading his posts is the same kind of fun found in soap operas or books with third-person omniscient narrators; you know the endings, the character motives, the future betrayals, while he gets to be the hapless character, bumbling blindly through the book.

I suppose I should reveal my own secret bias. Right now, he’s reviewing all of Tamora Pierce’s books. He’s finished the first quartet (The Song of the Lioness) and is halfway through the second (The Immortals), and has already become a Tamora Pierce fan of my own magnitude. I sometimes think that the key to my heart is Tamora Pierce; every person I’ve ever met who enjoys her books turns out to be someone awesome (my former roommate, a friend from Germany, my little sister, etc). So nothing makes me happier than watching someone else fall in love with her work.

I’ll just wrap up by mentioning that Mark Oshiro is going on tour soon. For those of you who are also in the Central New York area, he is having an event in Syracuse on March 27th. At 6:30 p.m., he’ll be giving a talk at Le Moyne College called “Mark Reads & So Do You: Literacy Development Through Online Communities.” In his own words, it’ll be about “how Mark Reads started, why [he’s] so interested in promoting literacy and being a bookworm online, and how educators in the future need to consider things like online communities, identity politics, and the power of being a nerd when teaching English and literature.” I’d really encourage any local English and Creative Writing majors to attend; it’ll be a chance to get some insight from an extremely successful blogger, and any talk he gives is bound to be a lot of fun.

MarkReads
Facebook Page for Syracuse MarkReads Event

Edit: His reviews do tend to contain a lot of spoilers, so my advice is to either only read reviews for books you’ve already read, or read along with him. Much thanks to Carol for suggesting I add this disclaimer.

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