Monday, January 30, 2017

Bullet Reviews: Gemina, Heartless, Torch Against the Night

Round 3 of Bullet reviews! I'm still working my way through November 2016, but I'm hoping to finish November this week and then I'll only be 2 months behind on reviews instead of 4! The bar is so low haha

This week's books are Heartless, A Torch Against the Night, and Gemina. These were all "big" 2016 releases, ones that I/the bookish community was hugely anticipating. One book exceeded my expectations, one was a disappointment, and one was just as incredible as I thought it would be. So which one was which? Check it out below!

18584855
Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Genre: fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • the descriptions of the food! I love cooking and baking, and all the descriptions of Cath's baking made my mouth water and inspired me to try baking some lemon-flavored things
  • Jest was a really cool character, as was the Hatter. It was interesting to see how archetypal Alice in Wonderland characters were reimagined for this Queen of Hearts origin story
  • I loved how dark this book got towards the end. For a book that started out talking about pies and cakes it sure didn't pull any punches when it came to blood, fury, and darkness at the end.

What I didn't like:
  • I was frankly bored for most of the book, nothing seemed to be happening and then all of a sudden Cath became the diabolical Queen of Hearts in the span of a few dozen pages. I wish there had been more darkness in her throughout or at least a more gradual transition
  • Cath was such a boring character at the beginning, and I didn't really like how the relationship between Cath and Jest was portrayed. It could have been developed so much more, I just didn't find their love very compelling so that made it hard to swallow a lot of the end because so much hinges on the strength of Cath's feelings about Jest
  • I adored the Lunar Chronicles because of the characters and the humor despite all the darkness, and this book just didn't have that. I didn't connect with the characters as much as I did the Lunar characters. Maybe this story was doomed because I don't like Alice in Wonderland all that much?
Recommended for... 
anyone who loves Alice in Wonderland and fairy tale retellings. Most people have enjoyed this one more than I have!

25558608
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to both book 1 and 2 on audio, and as much as I liked the voice for Elias, I didn't like Laia's narrator. I loved Helene's narrator, though, so that was a definite improvement from book 1
  • I don't like Laia much in general, so it was awesome that this book focused less on her and made room for Helene, who quickly became my favorite character of the series. She has to make the hardest choices of anyone, and sacrifices more than anyone else. She's broken but you know she will pull herself together and be stronger for it.
  • No middle book slump here! This was an exciting story all on its own, with lots of big reveals and cool elements added to the world/overall story arc
  • Biggest improvement from book 1: Much less propagation of rape culture. I was sickened by how much Ember in the Ashes spread ideas like "the pretty ones get raped more, they're asking for it". This book is still brutal but it is full of female friendships and mentors and women helping one another instead of tearing each other down.
  • Marcus is a lot smarter than people give him credit for, that was a welcome surprise! But also an unwelcome surprise. You'll know what I mean if you've read it.
What I didn't like:
  • I still don't like Laia. She's so whiney and incompetent and pretty selfish and honestly I don't get what everyone sees in her. At least she's trying, I guess?
  • The Warden was terrifying, as was the Commandant, but I just wish the villains were a little more 3D. They are truly frightening but I like more complexity and moral ambiguity in my antagonists
Recommended for: people who enjoy suspenseful, lyrical stories about war and revenge. There's more magic in this book than the previous one but I would still characterize this more as alternate history than fantasy

29236299
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: science fiction
Rating: 5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I thought Illuminae was mindblowing and intense and hilarious, and Gemina had the same winning formula! It was just the right mixture of the familiar and the new, because the plot and characters were obviously all new but it still had the same level of intensity/suspense in the plot and sass from the characters
  •  I absolutely love how both books feature badass young women saving the universe(s) and a lot of humor mixed in to offset the disturbing, devastatingly sad, and horrifying parts. 
  • I love the visual experience of the pages telling a story through art and words at the same time.Marie Lu's drawings were a great addition, and the illustrations worked great even on a kindle!
What I didn't like:
  • This book was just a tiny bit less shocking than Illuminae, just because it's harder to be completely surprised the second time around. It was still awesome, though. I wouldn't even say that I actually disliked being less surprised haha
  • My only complaint is that in the kindle version Ella/Pauchok's text is the same color as the background 70% of the time so I couldn't read most of her witty banter. That was incredibly disappointing because she was my favorite character, but that's my own fault for rushing to buy a kindle copy instead of waiting for a hardcover to ship
Recommended for... fans of science fiction and fast-paced, suspenseful stories with a big dose of humor

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bookish Eats: Pistachio Macarons for Empire of Storms


This week's edition of Bookish Eats features:

Empire of Storms

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Empire of Storms has been quite a polarizing book in the SJM fan world, and I went into it with both eyes wide open. I wasn't expecting it to be spectacular, I knew there were things that would annoy me, but I also knew that SJ Maas has proved my skepticism wrong on multiple occasions.

I don't know how she does it, but somehow I will spend most of the book rolling my eyes and waiting for things to happen and not really caring about anyone, but then towards the end things will come together in this giant emotional crescendo and I will just be so overcome with FEELS that I put on my rose-colored glasses and decide I liked the whole book quite a bit!

So...what does this have to do with macarons?

Image result for macarons
Macarons, the ones with a single "o", are adorable, tiny little French cookies. They are delicious. They are also at least $2-3 each and after my baking adventure I totally understand why. These things are so temperamental. It's almost impossible to get them right on the first try, and honestly, I wasn't expecting this baking adventure to turn out very well. Eyes wide open, see?

A few other points for how making pistachio macarons reflects my experience of reading Empire of Storms:
  • they both took longer to finish/make than expected (5 hours for the macarons. FIVE HOURS.)
  • took some effort to get through it but totally worth it in the end
  • maybe not as polished as I'd hoped but overall enjoyable, I'm definitely excited about making macarons again/reading the next ToG book

And now for the macaron making process! This recipe was very labor intensive, so I enlisted some friends to help me. We ended up making a vegan version because one of my friends is vegan, and we discovered that if you whip the liquid that comes in a can of chickpeas you end up with this meringue-y goodness:



who knew chickpea water could look so good??

We made pistachio flavored macarons using ground up pistachios and almond flour. In hindsight we probably should have sifted the ground nuts so we didn't end up with such lumpy batter...


but who cares how lumpy the cookies are when they taste heavenly?


These macarons took an immense amount of effort but they were absolutely worth it in the end. I think that about sums up my feelings about the ToG series so far. I've disliked some characters/books, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort for me to get through the series, but in the end the books grow on me and I am still very much enjoying this series.

Anyone else brave enough to try baking macarons? Any thoughts on Empire of Storms?

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

TTT: Top Ten Nonfiction books I want to read this year



I read so much genre fiction. I love it, it helps me get through the day sometimes when I have another world to escape into. Genre fiction is entertaining and emotional and so much fun! But lately I have been making an effort to read more news articles and nonfiction books. Part of it is the whole "Be a well-informed citizen because this presidency is going to be full of misleading information and alternative facts" but part of it is just because I love to learn new things and I think reading is a great way to do it.

So here are the top 10 nonfiction books I want to read this year!

 Image result for ta-nehisi coates between the world and me
I've been meaning to read this for a while, and I actually just bought myself a copy so I am looking forward to this insightful commentary on how to live in a world where you are judged for the color of your skin - whether the world acknowledges that or not.
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This book was recommended to me by a friend, and a collection of essays on feminism in the South Asian community sounds like something I would really relate to.
 

This seems like such a happy, peaceful book, and I am very curious to read musings by such important figures of peace in our world
 

I've seen this memoir on a bunch of "Best of" lists, plus I've been listening to a lot of audiobook biographies lately and I quite enjoy them.
 
A friend recommended this to me...four years ago? I'm hoping to finally read this one!
 

I've heard nothing but great things about the movie, which I am planning on watching soon. It only makes sense that I also read the book :)


I've heard a lot of good things about this author, although I haven't read anything by him. 
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I've read a lot of WWII fiction, but not much nonfiction (I think Eli Wesel's Night is the only one I've actually read). It's a very troubling time but I am always amazed at people's resilience and how people managed to survive together.


I love the xkcd comics and I am such a science geek, I think I would thoroughly enjoy this :)
Image result for collected essays george orwell

1984 was my first dystopian novel and it was incredibly chilling and insightful. I am excited to read some nonfiction from this genius author

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Monday, January 23, 2017

ARC Review: The Girl Before


28016509Title: The Girl Before
Author:  J.P. Delaney
Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.
The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.
EmmaReeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.
JaneAfter a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

I really enjoy psychological thrillers, especially when they're told from the point of view of a not-necessarily-reliable narrator. This book is told from the perspective of two women with eerily similar lives. They both are tenants in a futuristic, austere flat belonging to an eccentric (or insane, depending on who you ask) architect, and rumors abound about some unsavory events that happened on the premises.

I thought the idea of the futuristic house was really cool. The engineer in me was geeking out about how much technology can impact our daily lives and improve everything from our mood to our health. At the same time, I also wondered why someone would automate every single aspect of a house without any manual overrides, because one of the biggest reasons the Internet of Things isn't widespread already is that it's easy to hack. At least that doubt was addressed eventually.

I thought the parallels among both Emma and Jane's lives were drawn well, and I liked how you got to know each of them a lot better as the novel progressed. Neither of them are who they seem to be at first, and they both have a lot of secrets and trauma to deal with. Emma in particular is almost self-destructive, which makes watching her trainwreck of a life that much more horrifyingly fascinating. What I didn't like was how both women ignored all warning signs of an abusive relationship/gaslighting; it's not like they were stupid or oblivious, they both chose to ignore the signs and continue their relationships. There were a lot of questionable situations that were just too reminiscent of the whole it's-okay-if-I-have-a-creepy-stalker-as-long-as-he's-hot rape culture thing that plagued YA fiction after Twilight.

The funny thing about this book is that it's so transparent at first that you think you know exactly how it's going to go. But as the book continues and you uncover more clues, it becomes obvious that your initial assessment of every character was wrong. This isn't the most shocking book, even the "twists" weren't that unexpected, but I did like how it played with the reader's expectations.

Overall a pretty good psychological thriller. There were some issues I had with it, but overall I did enjoy it.

A free e-ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Obama book list




The sun is setting on the Obama presidency, quite literally. I'm holding onto the last few hours of feeling free because I know the Trump presidency is going to weigh down on me and my communities, as a woman, a child of immigrants, and a person of color. I know it's going to be a tough few years for many of us, but I will continue to do my best to support people whose voices aren't being heard.

To get through the next few years, to honor an incredible president and human being, and to check out the recommendations of a fellow bookworm, I'm going to attempt to get through this list of books that Obama has recommended throughout his presidency:

http://ew.com/books/2017/01/18/barack-obama-book-recommendations/

This is going to be a long-haul project, for sure. I'm thinking 5 years, reading one book every 2 months with a friend. I'm hoping that's infrequent enough that this won't feel like forced reading for school but frequent enough that I get through a sizable portion of the list. It helps that I've already read quite a few of the books on the list, or at least already had some on my giant TBR pile.

If anyone else wants to join in, I'll post which book I'm planning to read within the next two months and then post a review/discussion when I'm done with the book. It's going to be very low-key, it's more of a personal goal than a challenge to motivate other people

The book for January-February 2017 is: The Quiet American by Graham Greene. It's supposedly one of Obama's "forever influential favorites" so we'll see how this goes!

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bullet Reviews: The Trespasser, The Accident, The Revanant


Okay, here's round 2 of the bullet reviews. In case you missed the first set, I'm doing a couple of quick bullet point reviews of books I read last fall/winter so I can catch up by the end of the month (fingers crossed).

This week's books are The Trespasser, The Revanant, and The Accident. My loose theme for them is that they are all mystery/suspense novels, and I read them all in October. They're actually very different; Trespasser is a character-focused and psychological mystery, The Revanant is not a mystery but it is very suspenseful and intense historical fiction, and The Accident is more of a fluffy, fun mystery.

29430013The Trespasser by Tana French

Genre: Mystery, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • this is yet another winner from Tana French! She's my favorite mystery author because of her books are character-centric instead of plot-twisty (but there are still awesome revelations!)
  • I loved getting to see the other perspective of the Conway-Moran duo that we got to know in Secret Place
  • Stephen is so adorable <3
  • Tana French takes on sexism in the workplace, and she keeps it real. She isn't shy about portraying harassment and the double standard for men and women doing the same job. At the same time, we also see how Conway interprets her colleague's actions in a certain light, and sometimes she's mistaken

What I didn't like:
  • honestly, I can't remember anything I didn't like! The mystery and its resolution were compelling, as were the detectives and their character arcs
Recommended for... 
anyone who loves character-focused mysteries. I can't say this enough, Tana French writes them so well.

22926521The Accident by Chris Pavone

Genre: Mystery, suspense, contemporary
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator is awesome! Honestly the narrator was the only reason I decided to read this in the first place :)
  • It was cool seeing cameos of characters from The Expats and seeing what they're up to now
  • The humor was pretty good, it wasn't too over-the-top-cheesy and it got me to crack a smile every so often
What I didn't like:
  • This book was kind of a mess! It tries to combine the publishing industry with espionage/government agencies and politics. At times it was just hard to believe a manuscript could have such damaging information that people were being killed if they read it (sorry if that's too spoilery, but that's the basic premise of the book and is revealed early on).
  • The ending was really abrupt and didn't really seem to fit
  • I think the previous book, The Expats, did a better job of balancing suspense, humor, and believability; this one was just too much
Recommended for: people looking for a suspenseful story with a large cast of characters and globe-trotting. I would actually recommend The Expats over this book though!

28492027The Revenant by Michael Punke

Genre: Historical fiction, suspense
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • The book was very well-researched and you could tell that the author really cared about staying true to history as much as possible
  • This story is intense and not for the faint of heart! Revenge is the main motivating factor for the main characters, but most of the suspense comes from whether a character will be able to survive what mother nature decides to throw at them
What I didn't like:
  • This is a rare case where I liked the movie better than the book. I watched it the night before I started reading, and the gorgeous cinematography made the visceral, brutal pain even more emotional for me. The contrast of the beautiful landscape and a bloodbath was so unsettling and made me more invested in the story. I just had a hard time getting invested in the book because it was written in a more dry style
Recommended for... fans of historical fiction and man vs wild survival stories

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

ARC review: The Bear and the Nightingale

25489134Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.




I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. If more of the book had been like the last quarter or so, I probably would have liked it more. I think I just wasn't expecting the right sort of book. If I had expected historical fiction with a little dust of magic and folklore, I probably would have enjoyed it more. I was expecting a book with a lot more magic, especially because the title is so mysterious and reminiscent of fairy tales.

Most of the book was a young girl growing up in Russia in a time period where women were expected to be humble and domestic. Vasya is instead headstrong and wild, and does what her heart tells her. She follows the old traditions and feels a deep connection to the creatures and spirits of Russian folklore, even as her family members try to assimilate and become good Christians. I really liked Vasya, especially because of the contrast between Vasya and her step-mother. I also loved the portrayal of the Lord of Winter/Death. He isn't actually in much of the book but the few moments where he is present are magical.

I have really mixed feelings about the writing style. On one hand, it was very lyrical and beautiful, and quite fitting for a story about the richness of folklore and magic in every day life. On the other hand, I felt like the prose was a little...for lack of a better word...cold. I didn't feel very connected to the characters throughout the book, and it was mostly because the writing style told story as if you were a neighbor passing by and looking into people's lives instead of engaging with people and really understanding them.

Another thing that kept me from really getting into the book is how slow it was. The prologue was beautiful and got me hooked, but then nothing much happened for the rest of the book. The last quarter of the book was really intense and I thought the book had a fantastic and fitting ending, but it was just hard to stay focused in the middle. Thankfully the book isn't that long so it wasn't too bad even with the slow middle.

I did like this book, but it wasn't as magical as I was hoping it would be. I would definitely recommend it, but with the caveat that it's a very slow book and more historical fiction than fantasy.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Pages of Starlight SFF challenge



I was looking online for a reading challenge to do this year, and I found an awesome one at Pages of Starlight! You can check it out by clicking on the link.

I love that this challenge is mostly sci-fi/fantasy and speculative fiction, because that's what I usually read. Still, it has enough unique criteria that it's going to be challenging to read them all. I really like how a lot of the challenge focuses on diverse books, because that's something I care a lot about. I keep saying I'm going to do more DiverSFFy posts, and even though I read a lot of books featuring POC and LGBTQ authors/main characters, I don't feature them enough. I'm hoping this challenge will help motivate me to expand my horizons and actually feature some awesome diverse books.

Here's the challenge grid:

I have a few ideas for books I want to read that fulfill the challenge, so I'm going to list them here:

2) Historical Fantasy: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
9) A classic: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick
18) Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
19) POC author: The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin
22) Published last year: A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab

I'm really excited for this challenge!


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bullet reviews: Blood Song, Hammered, Throne of Jade


I'm about 3 months behind on reviews, what a way to start the year! In an effort to catch up, I'm going to do bullet point reviews so that I can get my thoughts out quickly and catch up by the end of the month! Some books I read in the last 3 months need full reviews because I have so much to say about them, so there will be a few of those too!

My first 3 books are Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, Hammered (Iron Druid chronicles) by Kevin Hearne, and Throne of Jade (Temeraire) by Naomi Novik. Funnily enough, Blood song is book 1 in its series, Throne of Jade is book 2, and Hammered is book 3!

I put them all together because they're all fantasy books, I read them all in October, and they all got 3 stars. 3 stars from me usually means I was kind of bored with the book, it was annoying enough for 2 stars but it wasn't enjoyable enough for 4. Perfect for bullet reviews, because I never have much to say about 3 star books!

13569581Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • The warrior monk situation was really cool, and I liked seeing the different orders of monks and their different perspectives on life
  • I liked that the MC was telling his own story from the "present" (a la Name of the Wind)

What I didn't like:
  • Al Sorna is kind of boring. And a total Gary Stu, he literally is the best at everything and everyone loves him
  • For almost every aspect of this book, I kept comparing it to other books I've read that did it better: It had the monks and political turmoil of Emperor's Blades but without the mind-blowing world and awesome character development. It had the political manipulations of The Traitor Baru Cormorant without the same level of intelligence and brutality. It had the friendship and complex family relationships of Robin Hobb's books, but without three dimensional characters I could love (and love to hate).
Recommended for... 
People who haven't read too much fantasy before, fans of Name of the Wind (it has a similar tone/mood/protagonist, but not as well written)

9595620Hammered by Kevin Hearne

Genre: Urban fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I will never stop loving Oberon. He's one of my favorite bookish dogs :)
  • I read this at an airport so it was nice not having to think too hard to keep up with the story despite constant interruptions/announcements
  • loved the diversity of mythological cultures incorporated in this book, and the Norse pantheon was a pretty cool idea

What I didn't like:
  • The Norse gods weren't as awesome as I'd hoped. Most of the Norse gods seemed like 2D bullies and idiots, and while I don't mind the farcical and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of mythological figures, I would appreciate a little more effort to make the "villains" as interesting as the heroes.
  • There was a huge section in the middle where each character got a whole chapter to explain why they hated Thor. It was literally 100 pages of infodump in the middle of the book. There had to have been a better way to incorporate those backstories!
  • This book just seemed like a placeholder. It ties up loose ends from Atticus's previous promises in books 1 and 2, and sets up for more shenanigans with Atticus, Granuaile, and the Greek pantheon. There isn't actually that much plot in this book
  • A bit annoyed that there were hardly any women with significant roles in this book, especially now that Granuaile is supposed to be taking on a greater role as Atticus's apprentice. She didn't get to do much.
Recommended for: If you're looking for a fun, sassy urban fantasy and aren't afraid of committing to a series, this is for you! The first two book were their own contained story but this one is mostly setup for later books

14069Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy, Historical fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Temeraire and Laurence's friendship is incredible, and they continue to grow together and individually
  • It was cool to see how different life is for Chinese dragons compared to European ones. It was kind of cute that Laurence was so jealous of Temeraire enjoying the company of his fellow Imperials!

What I didn't like:
  • The plot was incredibly slow. Half the book is just on a boat getting to China, and almost nothing happens on the way. As cool as Laurence and Temeraire are, these books are really hard to pay attention to because so little is happening. 

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