Book Review: Time Benders: The Machine

Time Benders: The Machine
Time Benders #1
by J.B. Yanni

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA science fiction, Christian

Time Benders

When the four Fitzgerald children are orphaned, their aunt sends them off to boarding school. There, the four siblings grow closer than they had ever been before, as they rely on each other in their grieving and new, sudden situation. As the kids settle into life at the school, eldest sibling Ken begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding their aunt taking custody of the kids and excluding them from the will reading. Meanwhile, his brother Joe, a math and science whiz, finds a fascinating math problem, coupled with a machine. When he discovers that the calculation might just be the secret to time travel, the kids have to decide whether or not they should go back and prevent their parents’ death, and how they would even do that.

I have to say that this book was really not for me. There were two main areas that brought the story down the most for me, and sadly one of them was the plot itself. The other area was the writing style. I’ll explain a little:

Time travel plots can be difficult to do well, and since they always require suspension of disbelief, for some people, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about what you’re expecting from one. However, the assumptions the kids make in this book about how time travel would work for them and anyone who didn’t come along one the trip make no logical sense to me. And even when they see evidence that it doesn’t work that way, I don’t see them re-thinking their ideas. Also, they decide to go back and change a major point in history (won’t say what it is due to spoilers), because they feel that it will stop the beginning of a long progression of events that led to their parents death. And yet, they say more than once that they’re sure changing this major point won’t affect their friends’ families and lives. Even after saying that this event will potentially change another event in history, which affected millions of lives. It just makes no sense to me. And it’s not because they’re kids, since they’re generally shown to be smart (the oldest, who isn’t even one of the professed brains in the family, is going to Harvard). Oh, and I almost forgot that as the kids debate whether they even should go back to stop their parents’ deaths or not, their arguments actually make it seem like they’re against doing it…even as they decide to do it.

The writing itself seemed like it needed some more work. From the very beginning the dialog just felt stilted, and I realized that the kids don’t use contractions as much as an average person in America would. A lot of the story is told in a way that feels very zoomed out, rather than up close to the action. Conversations are told to the reader, rather than shown. For example, “she told him she wanted to go to the store, and he said he thought that was a good idea,” rather than seeing the actual conversations taking place. Coupled with these zoomed-out conversations having little to no explanation of what anyone was doing while talking, they felt shallow. A lot of the time, the story felt more like an outline (though granted, a really detailed outline) than a final draft.

I found the question of whether or not there was something sinister in the way Aunt Alicia handled the estate and kids she was charged with after her sister’s death more interesting than the time travel part of the story, which is sad, because it kind of fizzled out. The rest of the plot involved everyday life for the kids–they had classes, holidays away from school, got boyfriends/girlfriends, at least one lost a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. I think far too much of that was shown, considering how little it affected the plot, but it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much without the other issues I’ve mentioned, or if it would have at least served to show the kids’ personalities more. But there wasn’t much there.

I found this book when I saw the author was putting out the 2nd in the series, and wanted to see if it would be a good series to get into. Even though the first book ends on a huge cliffhanger, I don’t think it hooked me enough to put money into reading the next one. There may be an audience out there for this book, and it might just be the teenage audience that it’s meant for, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it to the YA group either. The book is in at least 1 Christian category on Amazon, and I could see where some of that was trying to come out. It might be brought out more in the next installment, but I can only speculate. I applaud the author for the work she’s put into this book, truly, but I think it needs quite a bit more work to be the great book it could be.

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Book Review: 4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace

4 Years Trapped in My Mind Palace
by Johann Twiss

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: YA historical fiction, fantasy

4 Years

Fourteen-year-old Aaron spends two years paralyzed, but still aware of his surroundings. He’s believed to be brain dead, though, and left to his own thoughts during that time. After two years with only his imagination to sustain him, inside of which he created a world he calls his Mind Palace, he gets a new roommate–Solomon, a dementia patient with a colorful history. The next few years are the best of Aaron’s life, so far. An unlikely friendship is forged, and neither Aaron nor Solomon will ever be the same.

This is a book that I worry I’m going to have a difficult time reviewing. I really liked it, but it’s hard to explain why without giving anything away. There were moments that made me laugh, moments that made me cheer, and even moments that made me tear up. It was an interesting conglomeration of historical fiction and fantasy, and I really liked the characters.

Before Solomon moved in, Aaron had to find ways to cope, and he became a bit snarky and sarcastic (in his mind). This led to some humorous observations. And his paralysis led to a similar situation to someone who’s lost a sense, and the way their other senses compensate for that loss. As such, each other character that ever entered Aaron’s room was associated with a specific scent, which carried on throughout the book. I really appreciated this small touch.

The book takes place in the late 80s, and we get to experience some specific points in history, thanks to Solomon. 1920s NYC, the Chicago jazz scene of the 40s, and a night during WWII, amongst other things. Not to mention the first-hand experience of the 1989 earthquake in California.

Considering the name of the book, I thought the Mind Palace was fairly under-represented. In the end, I think it could have been written out of the book and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Partly because of this, and partly because of some comments made in the second half of the book, I expected a vastly different ending. I did like the ending, but was waiting for something more that never happened. That is my only real negative comment.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this book, and would highly recommend it for everyone who enjoys historical fiction, as the fantasy aspect is not a detraction whatsoever, and for readers of all ages.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Book #7
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 7

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished the final book. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

This is the hardest review yet, for me. I was so caught up in the book by the last half that I was excited to give it 5 stars. But then I thought back over the entire thing, and looked at the notes I’d written earlier on, and realized that there were some disappointing things that really were worth an entire star detraction. Rather than try to organize my thoughts in a way that flows well, I’m going to do bullet points for this review.

What I liked/loved

  • Dudley’s appreciation of Harry, which is touching, yet not overdone or out of character for him
  • 7 Harrys
  • Luna in general, but esp that she could see through Harry’s disguise at the wedding
  • Godric Hollow’s wizards’ monument to the Potters and the graffiti on the sign
  • Ron’s chance to save the day
  • The fruition of the DA was better than I could have hoped for
  • Harry getting to see his parents again, and 3 out of 4 of the Marauders (Sirius was one of my favorites before he died, after all)
  • Neville’s triumph
  • The final defeat of Voldemort, of course, and the knowledge that these people are finally free from his destruction
  • I felt the epilogue was pointless at first, but after a few days to let it rest, I appreciate being able to see how the characters moved on, that Hogwarts was restored, and that Neville was a teacher there

What I disliked

  • The middle really dragged with all of the moving around to camp, and a few little things happened that really didn’t advance the plot much, if at all
  • The Deathly Hallows seemed so out of place, like a tack-on to another otherwise solid-feeling plot, and ended up barely having any point (despite me liking Harry’s use of the stone, as I mentioned above)
    • It’s really hard for me to buy that the invisibility cloak is infallible…except where it needed to not be for the plots of past books (especially since, from my recollections, none of the times I can think of that someone did, or seemed to, see through it were necessary to the plot)
  • Lupin’s and Tonks’s deaths should really have been “on-screen.” I know everyone loves Dobby, but I think they were at least as important to the series and should have been given a bigger send-off.
  • The Battle of Hogwarts and most of the climaxes and falling action that occurred between them were exciting, except for one thing–there was just so much talking during all of it! After the battle we get pages of exposition about Snape, then an entire chapter of Dumbledore explaining things to Harry (some of which we already know or could easily have deduced from previous information). Then there’s rising action to the final stand-off with Voldemort…during which they talk…a lot. I wish Rowling had figured out a way to include more of this much sooner than during/between the epic battle and final stand-off.

Overall, I did like the book a LOT more than I didn’t, and probably a lot more than it looks like here. But it generally takes more words to explain a problem I had than to share the things I liked. I do think the book was longer than it needed to be, and wonder if that was on purpose–the previous books had gotten so long, Rowling and/or the publishers felt she couldn’t go back at this point. I don’t know. But as this is the final book in the series, I can say now that I do understand why it is so loved. I am already looking forward to starting back at the first book some day and reading through the series again with an understanding of how things play out, to find those things that I missed the first time around.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book #6
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP 6

 

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #6. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

Well…I don’t even know where to start with my review of this book. Normally, I take a few notes while reading–just things I want to make sure I remember when I’m writing the review–things I really liked or things I didn’t like. I didn’t write any notes for half of this book, because I was just so caught up in the ride. So suffice it to say: I liked it.

I enjoyed seeing Harry as team captain, really liked the luck potion fake-out, and even liked that the Gryffindor team was able to win without Harry (because of the common Harry-is-best-at-everything complaint some people have with this series). The romance with Ginny was expected, but I think that’s only because of spoilers I’ve seen over the last few years. Harry suddenly being jealous of her relationship with Dean and daydreaming about her being with him, with no indication that he liked her that way before, was actually pretty abrupt. I’m curious, though I’ll never know, about how I would have felt if I hadn’t been anticipating it, because it came out of left field in this book.

The formula throughout this series of Harry suspecting something and not being able to get anyone (except maybe his friends, but not even them this time) to believe him is getting a little tiring. It’s even worse if he turns out to have been correct about everything, so it leaves little mystery for us.

The ending was a bit unpleasant, not just because of the obvious, but because of the realization of how very different the next book is going to be. After 6 books that covered a year of school (with more and more shown of the summer each year), knowing we won’t be going back to Hogwarts was as sad for me as it was for the characters. I also felt really let-down by the explanation of the Half-Blood Prince, which was fairly anticlimactic.

The one biggest issue I had was not a fault of the book’s. Back when this book first came out, my husband showed me the video of some guy driving by a bookstore yelling, “Snape kills Dumbledore!” at a crowd of people waiting in line to buy the new book, or walking way after buying it. Even though my memory isn’t what it used to be, this has stayed in my mind for 14 years, even when I never had any plans to read the book. So it’s also tainted my thoughts, expectations, and theories as I’ve read the entire series. Because of that, and who Snape has been shown to be up until and through this book, I did truly expect there to be more to it than there was when it actually happened. But there wasn’t.

In my reading and book blogging over the last 10 months, I am making sure to continue with series at a decent pace, but have never read 2 books from one series back-to-back. However, when I finished this book, I just knew I had to keep going. So I’ve already started on book #7. That’s probably as much of a testament to how much this series has sucked me in as anything. In a similar fashion to how a lot of questions and mysteries are tied up at the end of each HP book, I’m expecting a lot of tying-up of things left a mystery (or misunderstood, etc.) throughout the rest of the series, at the end of Deathly Hallows.

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Book Review: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island
Book #3
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s/YA classic, coming of age

Anne 3

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

This book takes us through 4 years of college with Anne and her school and housemates. She makes new friends, experiences loss, runs from love, and finds comfort at home. Relationships form and blossom, and life continues on all around her.

There’s a lot to love about this book. The characters are written with the same heart as the previous books, and even Marilla has an outwardly loving moment. Davy is not as terrible as he was in the previous book, though Dora is still basically nothing. I will say that there has become a kind of repetition among the characters. Many newly introduced characters seem a lot like those that were larger in previous books. Phil, for example, is a lot like Ruby (and wow with what happened there). Even Patty’s Place has some similarities to Echo Lodge. However, the charm is still there.

There are some things that happen in this book that seem like a cliche, but I can forgive that, because this book was written before they became such cliches. Anne has started to become a little too perfect and loved by all, but it seems kind of natural, rather than forced. There are quite a few romances going on in this book, which I personally enjoyed quite a bit. 

Because of how quickly these books speed through time, I echo Anne’s sentiment that it’s sad people have to grow up. Characters come and go so much, it’s hard to get attached to any of them. Still, there are a few permanents, and at the end of this book, because of the writing and dialog style I was so immersed in by then, the word “sweetheart” seemed like a whole new word when it was used. I’m a little less excited about continuing the series than I was up to this point, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens to Anne next.

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Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

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Book Review: The Outcast

The Outcast
Summoner
Trilogy prequel
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Outcast

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the books in the trilogy, The Novice, The Inquisition, and The Battlemage.

In a land where only children of noble birth have the ability to summon demons, Arcturus, an orphan and stable boy, accidentally becomes the first common summoner. He is drawn into a political battle that threatens his life and the lives of those noble-born students he is studying alongside. He’ll have to choose between his fellow commoners or his fellow summoners.

On its own, this book was intriguing and exciting with good world-building and some engaging characters. However, as a prequel, it had some issues–namely too much repetition from the original trilogy and too many characters in common.

The first third or so was especially had a lot of similarities to the first book in the series. A commoner unintentionally summons a demon, is whisked away to Vocans, the summoner school, and is snubbed by some, but not all, of the nobles while being far friendlier with the servants and “lower” races than most other humans. Even some of the early explanations of how spells work felt repetitious.

Prince Harold in particular I really liked in this book. And Captain Lovett as a teenager was quite the fun and rambunctious character too. However, while it was kinda neat to see characters in this book that were in the trilogy, or were parents of characters in the trilogy, when all of these characters who we know are alive years later are put into peril, there’s no question of whether they will survive or not. Though I will say that, for me, this didn’t mean there was no suspense. There was still some danger, but it wasn’t as exciting as it could have been.

As for Arcturus himself, who is very similar in personality to Fletcher from the trilogy, when I was reading through the trilogy, I really liked Arcturus. And when I saw there was a prequel about him, I expected there to be a lot more of him in the last half of the trilogy than there ended up being. In the end, perhaps he wasn’t the best choice for the subject of a full-length prequel novel. Yes, he was the first common summoner, which was mentioned in the trilogy but made for a decent story on its own. But from what I understand, Matharu had already written a shorter story of his origin, and then later turned that into the full novel. But the story wasn’t far enough removed, and the time it took place wasn’t long enough before the trilogy, for this to work all that well as a prequel.

I wonder if it might actually work better if this book were to be read before the trilogy. I can’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be some world-building that was lacking in the prequel, because the reader is expected to know the world already, but I didn’t really think that was the case. Whether or not someone who has read the trilogy absolutely needs to read the prequel before calling this series complete, I would say…it’s a toss-up.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #5
by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

HP5

Continuing with my first ever reading of the Harry Potter books, I’ve just finished #5. As a reminder, my reviews will likely contain spoilers, as I’m not too worried about avoiding that, with as long as these have been out, and as well known as they are.

There was so much to love about this book, and yet, a few things that really detracted for me. I’ll start with what I liked.

First of all, George and Fred are my heroes! Their roles in the story has grown throughout the books, starting out as just some background troublemakers. But in this book, their mischief found a target, and it was brilliant. After so long of Umbridge being one of the most despised characters I’ve ever read/seen, the culmination of George and Fred sticking it to her was almost worth it (but not really). Not to mention Peeves taking up the call.

I liked seeing Lupin again and loved seeing so much of Sirius. In my review of the previous book, I mentioned how much I liked him being around so much in that one, and his role was even bigger in this one. He’s become my favorite character, which I think may be as much because of what he’s able to be to Harry as anything. Of course, that just made it all the worse at the end. I am frustrated about the fact that Hermione actually did question if it could be a trap, only for them to take the word of the house elf and walk into the trap anyway. But I’m not sure if my frustration about his death is just because I liked him or if I’m legitimately bugged by what seems like a spot of weak plotting/characterization.

I also really liked the progression of the D.A. and Harry trying to explain that a lot of what he’d done in the past was luck. Yet they were aware that, luck or not, he still had more practice with these spells than anyone else. I was glad to see Neville have some good moments in this book, while still having plenty of struggles, poor kid.

There were some other smaller things that happened that I found particularly interesting, like Ron being made prefect and the reminder that Petunia would have at least a little knowledge of magic. Hermione’s drive for house elf freedom can die any time, in my opinion. But who knows, maybe it’ll have a purpose at some point in the last couple of books.

The biggest downside to this book is Umbridge herself, and how much power she was given by the end of the book, only to not really have a great resolution to it. And really, it’s not Umbridge, at least not solely, but the Ministry, and how much power they were able to wield with apparently no one to keep them in check. Because of how long the book was, this whole thing just seemed to drag on and on.

As for the book length…I have never been one for long books. I’ve never read anything longer than 550 pages, and that length is not common for me. But of course, I didn’t come this far to not finish the series. After reading it, though, I can see a few side plots that could have been cut out. Of course, I don’t know that these side plots won’t be more important in the later books, so maybe I’m wrong.

Things are getting real now, and there are only 2 books left. I’m so nervous about what other bad things will happen as this series finishes up (not to mention about spoilers I’ve heard out of context).

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Book Review: Ender’s Game

Finished Reading: Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi

Ender's

This book was a rough ride for me, and I’m not sure I can write an adequate review. It has long been a book my husband has really liked, but I’d never read it and not had much desire to read it. And for the first few chapters, I did not care for it at all. As my husband promised, it did pick up after that, though I still struggled with a lot of the content. I did somewhat anticipate the “big reveal,” though to be honest, I thought there’d be another twist coming after that. 

I had a really hard time following and caring about all of the politics, both on earth and at Battle School. The chapter and later sections about Peter & Valentine frankly went over my head and bored me, and I didn’t understand the point of them. I know that some of this is delved into a lot more in other books, but it’s really not something that interests me, so it detracted from the book for me. And while the end was mostly good, the last chapter felt like a tack-on, and I could have done without it.

What really turned me off in the beginning, while I was waiting for things to really get going, was Card’s writing style. I do not care for it. It bugged me so much that the narrative and characters would reference things off-hand as if they’d already been explained to us and then expand on those thoughts, and I was left mentally sputtering as I tried to keep up. I think that, in the end, this kind of writing just does not mesh with my way of thinking, my personality, my preference in reading…whatever the case may be, it frustrated me, where most seem to be fine with it.

I’m surprised to say that I was not actually put off by Ender’s tendency to be the best at everything. I mean, that was kind of the point. He was genetically bred to be that way (though to be honest, I barely picked that up from the book itself, but the synopsis does state that). I couldn’t imagine him as a 6-year-old, though, and had to just think pre-teen from the start. My daughter is 9, so I couldn’t get past how ridiculously unrealistic it was, but I’m not saying it didn’t make sense for the story…it just didn’t make sense in my head.

Overall, I don’t fully get why it’s such a classic. I get why people like it, but do not understand the fanatical draw. This was my second Orson Scott Card book (the first being Lost and Found). I didn’t particularly care for the other, either, and it’s interesting to note that they were published decades apart. I kinda think that maybe Card’s writing just isn’t for me.

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Book Review: Anne of Avonlea

Finished Reading: Anne of Avonlea
Book #2
by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic, coming of age

AoA

See my review for book #1, Anne of Green Gables.

No longer a child, Anne Shirley starts a new adventure as the schoolteacher in Avonlea. Fortunately (for us, not for her), she still gets into scrapes, has adventures, and meets interesting people. We follow Anne through 2 years as teacher, starting with her first terrifying day. During this time, Green Gables becomes the home for 2 young orphans, who present a whole new challenge to Marilla.

I had anticipated this book being not as wonderful as the first, considering that plenty of the charm of the first was wrapped up in Anne’s childish nature. Not only has she grown and matured, she’s also been “raised” to be more proper. Still, her spirit and imagination were there, and she met other kindred spirits to provide some of that as well.

I did not care for the twins that Marilla took in, not just because Davy was such a handful, but also because Dora was…nothing. It seemed as if the author only gave Davy a twin so that he would have a target for his shenanigans, but she forgot to develop the sister, and thus, she became boring to the author, and likewise to the other characters. They liked Davy more because he needed them more (because he was a terror), and Dora was so good she had no imagination. So basically, if she’d acted up a little more, or made more mistakes, she’d be more interesting. Just…no.

The storyline with Miss Lavender is cute and sweet. I loved the way Paul Irving keeps saying, “You know, Teacher,” to Anne (and a few times, he said the same basic thing to someone else) to show that they were so similar in spirit. J.A. Harrison’s storyline was a little bizarre, yet came out nicely.

These books meander so, with time sprawling across the pages, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the plot of a single book. But the overall plot seems to be the life of this orphan girl as she learns who she is, how to navigate life, and what she might want to do someday. I’m looking forward to reading about the next chapter of Anne’s life.

Side note: I have now purchased 5 out of 6 of the “main storyline” of this series. I didn’t really intend to, especially as I haven’t read enough yet to know if anything past the first one will be worth owning. But I have taken a lot of trips to Half Price Books over the last 3 months, and so often find one or two of these in the clearance section. It’s hard to pass it up for $1…

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