Tag Archives: SciFi

L: Review of Anderson’s “Feed”

M. T. Anderson’s Feed is one of those books that is mentioned as an inspiration by other books and authors all the time, especially in YA. In fact, I was just listening to the audiobook version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (review to come soon) and the main character includes Feed in a list of favorite books. So… why didn’t I like it?

I’ll tell you why. Reading this book was exhausting. I liken reading Feed to my 6 a.m. workout sessions; this is a means to an end, that end being a better me, but make no mistakes that I am exhausted and frustrated, with an expression that could curdle new milk (LOTR ref). So the key to understanding my 3 star rating has to be hidden in the frustrating bits.

But first:

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

The first point of frustration was the language. The story takes place in the distant future, when other planets have been colonized and most people have grown up with the feed. Language undoubtedly changes over time, as evidenced by the high give-up-rate associated with any Jane Austin novel. Our language in 2016 is not so different that her novels are unintelligible, but just enough that reading passages or novels from that time often prove more frustrating than anticipated, and people give up. Anderson changed the language to reflect the passage of time. If the story takes place in a time when cars can fly, of course the English language would have come up with hip, new jargon. It’s only realistic. However, this was a big stumbling block for me. The dialogue was fluid & realistic enough that Anderson didn’t waste space defining words that the characters would already know, but I didn’t know them, so I had to learn on the fly, which takes time and patience which I have never claimed to possess. In fact, I slowly read and reread the first 30 pages of this book, couldn’t understand any of it, and eventually gave up until I realized it’s a required text for two of my summer classes. Nothing breeds achievement like necessity, so I restarted and endured. After about 50 pages, you get used to it and either skim over it or, by some divine knowledge, understand it.

I thought the novel was going to be far more political than it was. I assumed, “oh ok, feeds in the brain and someone is going to rage against the system and blah blah blah,” but there was very little raging and most of them loved and appreciated “the system.” That, in and of itself, was undoubtedly a statement about society’s reliance on technology, namely our phones, and our willingness to submit to that dependence. The message, although more subtle than I assumed it would be, was still there in all its majesty, urging readers to think about technology and how our society has progressed from primitive independence to total dependence, and how it might continue to evolve.

However, like I said, that message was not as in your face as expected; what was in my face was the other annoyance: Violet. The protagonist, Titus, starts seeing this girl and she seems sweet and whatever until they both endure an unexpected interruption of their feeds. Titus and his feed recover in all their annoying glory, but Violet’s recovery does not return her to her initial, “quirky” personality, but rather that of a Stage-Five Clinger. It starts with casual mentions of “their” future and “when we’re old,” and evolves into paranoia, obsession, unaccountable anger, and psycho-esque behavior. She becomes a total flight risk and I lose both my patience and my tolerance for her. Not to mention, she was one of those people who would ruin an innocent conversation with dramatic news updates and statistics. You know that person, the one you avoid because you might casually say “what beautiful flowers” and s/he’d follow up with something about the bees dying at incredible rates leading to the demise of the Earth’s natural ecosystem. You note a favorite restaurant in Boston and suddenly you’re talking about the Riots and the number of casualties. This is Violet.

All in all, I think the overall messages of the novel slightly outweigh the annoyances. And truthfully, teens will be dealing with acquaintances who possess qualities much like the characters in Feed, like peer pressure, societal pressure, parental pressure, and reading this could help them see the futility in certain actions and the advantages in others. This might be a good book placed alongside 1984, showing the different ways that the government and media can influence its citizens, and how fine the line is between technology making you capable vs. controlled. Good enough, but not something I’ll ever read again. Meh.

 

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“Love This? Try This!” and Review – “Sleeping Giants”

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Poster: here; book: here

I wasn’t allowed to watch The X-Files when I was younger; you see, I was very impressionable. Still am. If you look back through the Shrews archives, you’ll see plenty of evidence of my ongoing problem with reverse-projection, or adopting the feelings of the characters in books/on TV. My parents assumed The X-Files would scare me, so I lived twenty-some odd years of my life sans-Mulder before my eyes were opened to the majesty of Fox and Dana, the Smoking Man, conspiracies aplenty, and the “I want to believe” poster. ***Sidebar: that new season?! Amazeness!!***

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is The X-Files in book form.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

The whole time I was reading this novel, I just could not get over how much it felt like The X-Files. It has science, government conspiracies, potential aliens, political intrigue, and a mysterious Puppet-Master; the only thing it’s missing is Mulder in 90’s jeans (YUM!).

But honestly, this was a very interesting read. Much akin to Illuminae, the format is a-typical, since the whole novel is told via interviews, journal entries, and military reports. This made it a very quick read but it also included a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo when interviewing certain characters, so I got bogged down a few times. Pierce Brown’s blurb likened it to Wier’s The Martian, which managed to subtly integrate science and math into an action packed sequence of events. Neuvel attempted to accomplish the same feat, but it wasn’t nearly as effortless and fluid. I ended up skimming over these parts instead of tolerating science long enough to subconsciously learn something.

Otherwise, I loved the format. I’d like to see more variance next time; about 90% of the story was told in interviews and I think more sources and more rotation would keep readers more interested. Illuminae did it best, but Secret Giants isn’t too far behind.

The main issue for me was that the characters were not particularly likable. This is partly due to the ways in which these characters were portrayed; some were cold and distant, some were psychopaths, some were pathetic, and the rest were entirely forgettable. Only one character was likable, but maybe that’s because I don’t often relate to the militaristic, emotionally damaged bossypants. The other possibility is that the unreliable narration did its job and I’m not sure whom I trust. This honestly may not be a problem for other readers, but it was a problem for me. I have a hard time committing, emotionally, to a book if I can’t forge a connection with any of the characters. Don’t believe me? Ask my review of The Girl on the Train.

Overall, 4 stars. It wasn’t a book that consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t able to read, but it was certainly an interesting and unique idea. It was moderately clean; minor sexual references; I don’t remember curse words… definitely a good choice for anyone interested in science, robotics, and/or aliens.

P.S. it’s the first in a series and the epilogue did a serious mic-drop DRAMA moment, so I’m jazzed to keep going!

I want to believe!!!

 

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L: Review of Wendy Spinale’s “Everland”

I don’t read a lot of re-tellings, so when Wendy Spinale’s Everland was in a stack of ARCs my professor had received from Scholastic for our class to review, I did not reach for it. Somehow, it followed me home, nonetheless, so I decided to give it a chance.

Forget the story of Peter Pan you know. Because in Everland, the only way to grow up is to survive.

London has been destroyed in a blitz of bombs and disease. The only ones who have survived are children, among them Gwen Darling and her siblings, Joanna and Mikey. They spend their nights scavenging and their days avoiding the ruthless Marauders — the German Army led by Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretschmer.

Unsure if the virus has spread past England’s borders but desperate to leave, Captain Hook hunts for a cure, which he thinks can be found in one of the survivors. He and his Marauders stalk the streets snatching children for experimentation. None ever return. Until the day they grab Joanna. As Gwen sets out to save her, she meets a mysterious boy named Pete. Pete offers the assistance of his gang of Lost Boys and the fierce sharpshooter Bella, who have all been living in a city hidden underground. But in a place where help has a steep price and every promise is bound by blood, it will cost Gwen. And are she, Pete, the Lost Boys, and Bella enough to outsmart Captain Hook?

The names of the characters were the main tip-of-the-hat to the original story of Peter Pan. Some of them were obvious; it took very little effort for me to be like “ah yes, Mikey is Michael and Pete is Peter” et cetera, et cetera. Some of the other ones, while still glaringly obvious, were more subtle. Wendy became Gwen and the brother, John, needed to be female, so he became Joanna. Even Hook was still Hook, but it was a nickname for some four-part, uber German name.

When I started reading the book, the names were an irritation; it felt forced, as though the author was coddling the readers, reminding us not-so-subtly that her novel was an homage to the classic story. However, I have to admit that the names grew on me as the story progressed, since Spinale’s story was so vastly different from the classic. Without the inclusion of the names, the story would have shared the same central idea (the power of youth and the need to preserve it), but I’m not sure that the average reader would have noticed the parallel stories, nor the homage being paid to the classic.

Otherwise, the novel was quite interesting and well written. Since it was an ARC, I spotted a few editing errors here and there, but the writing was smooth, making the reading effortless. It was a quick read, not only because it’s short, but also because my interest was piqued throughout. The characters were developed into believable, sometimes likable, sometimes hatable teens. The main character was female, and I do feel as though the story leaned heavily towards female readers; it’s all about Gwen’s responsibility, Gwen’s mission, and Gwen’s unsurprising crush on Pete. Also, there’s a fairy on the sparkly gold cover, so… yeah. Having said that, though, the vast majority of the characters are male, there’s a cool, underground haven that boys will love, and there is a fair amount of murder most foul, crocodiles behaving badly, and guns that seem to call out to male readers (and females, I love that stuff).

Spinale managed to take an old, familiar story and turn it into something new and exciting. The main characters are teens and they go through a lot of friendship, relationship, and family trials that could be helpful for student readers who may be enduring the same things. Also, it’s entertaining! I’m giving it 3 Stars on the Lindsay scale, but 4 on the classroom library scale. I wouldn’t hesitate to put this into a few students’ hands!

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Morning Star”

To quote myself, “ALL THE FEELINGS THAT EXIST ARE HAPPENING IN MY BODY!!”

Thank Jove that I have friends with whom I can discuss the happenings of this novel, because I clearly cannot do it here and shower spoilers down upon you all. But I CAN discuss the roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced since starting this series in December. I need a Xanax.

I am feeling some type of way about these characters, the likes of which has not been felt since reading the Harry Potter books, ASoIaF, and LOTR. Please, do not take this statement lightly. I do not just throw around references to the favorites all willy-nilly, and I certainly don’t put anything on their level without due consideration. But dang. I have made the sacrifices; I have lost sleep, had murderous war dreams, cried like a little baby, been dooped, devastated, and overjoyed, and suffered a mild panic attack when things weren’t looking so “prime” for my book friends. The series now lives on my “All-Stars” shelf and let me tell you, it earned it.

As is always the problem with series works (except for the first), I can’t include the customary synopsis of the third and final book here since it might ruin the subsequent two for those who are climbing aboard the bandwagon. So it will have to suffice for me to talk about the feelings. The many, many feelings.

One thing that highlighted Brown’s prowess as a writer was that the readers were continually surprised. This third volume was exhausting for me, not least of all because, as I mentioned, I am emotionally invested in these characters and I needed to know whether we’d all make it safely through this together. However, the constant near-misses and political confrontations weren’t the only stress-inducers. Brown managed to lull readers into a sense of security (since we read from the main character’s perspective and thus thought we knew everything he knew) but Brown found the most heart-pounding ways to set readers straight and remind us that we’re not exempt from the surprises he has up his sleeve. I have to say, those moments of exclaiming “WHAT?! Why didn’t I know about this?!” were my favorites. Brown got me. He got me good.

Generally speaking, the final book in a series is usually a bit of a disappointment. It often feels as though the author exerted all his/her effort into establishing intrigue and conflict and then just got careless or exhausted with the final bits. S/he often resorts to some sort of deus ex machina quick fix, just trying to wrap it up, get it published, and make those final millions. “If you do books one and two well enough, they’ll buy book three, regardless of whether it’s good or not,” right? Well, yes, that’s true, but that isn’t a “get out of jail free” card that can be used to phone in a good ending. We stuck with you; we deserve pizzazz.

Pierce Brown has made me proud! He did not leave his readers hanging. It is abundantly evident that he put as much, if not more, thought into the minutiae of book three than into books one and two. The fact that book three was the pride and joy of this series was palpable. It got a bit heavy with details here and there, and my eyes glazed over during more than a few of the political discussions, but DANG, was that book every single thing I needed it to be. In terms of Morning Star being its own, individual piece of literature: bravo! But in terms of it being the third and final volume in a series: AH-MAZING!!!!

He’s writing a spin-off series = all the praise, all the time!!

5 Stars! Read it!!

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son”

I have officially been labeled a disturber of the peace due to my… expressive reactions while reading Pierce Brown’s second installment in his Red Rising Trilogy, Golden Son. In spite of my better judgement, I needed to read this book in public. I knew it would solicit gasps, giggles, and tears, the likes of which I generally try to keep on lock when in public, but I was addicted to this book and what was to become of my beloved character friends from Red Rising. Just last night, I was reading my book over here, the boyfriend was reading his book over there, and I hit a MAJOR plot twist that evoked this response: “*gasp*… what? wait, WHAT?? Oh my god… whatohmyGODOHMYGOD!! WHAT?!?!? *maniacal laughter*.” The boyfriend just stopped to watch me react and process the info that had just rocked my world and, when I had calmed down to just soft murmurs of disbelief, he went back to his book, just like the random strangers I had been interrupting all week. This book is WORTH disturbing others.

Let us endure the boring part:

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

That’s distressingly short, don’t you think? And it has to be, considering the aforementioned dilemma of reviewing a subsequent volume in a series without spoiling the first book. This book, though, you guys, is out of this world and no dust jacket synopsis can adequately encapsulate that fact.

Whereas the first volume reflected elements of The Hunger Games Trilogy, with Darrow entering into a “game” for the entertainment of the upper class, even when his life and the lives of those he loves will be determined by his success or failure. However, in Golden Son, Darrow has now left the Institute and has entered into the world of politics. In my opinion, all hints of The Hunger Games have faded and been replaced with an essence of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. In the most flattering way possible, Brown echo’s Martin’s elements of political intrigue, familial bonds and betrayals, and the social divide enforced within the caste system. The similarities are subtle enough to be a mere tip-of-the-hat to Martin, not a blatant copycat. I have no idea whether Brown intended to emulate aspects of Martin’s series, but having read both, the similarities are clear to me.

Brown has achieved something that, to me, is a rare gift: a second volume that blows the first one out of the water! His writing is effortless, picking up where he left off in book one and including reminders of the previous events that are subtly worked into the story line, not uncomfortably forced in for reminder’s sake. The language is beautiful and evokes powerful opinions, forcing readers to take sides, pick favorites, and yearn for certain outcomes. I am emotionally invested in these characters and they immediately stand alongside my life-long favorites, the Potters, Bagginses, and Starks. Brown readily elicits emotions like victory, defeat, sorrow, hope, joy, and longing from his readers, meaning that I had to consistently remind myself that what I was reading was fake, not my life, and I needn’t feel so strongly, but I did, and still do.

5 stars. Hands down. No question. Golden Son is an undeniable success, appealing to all ages, sexes, races & creeds. I already got two friends addicted to the series, and you’re next!

Goodreads tells me the third volume, Morning Star, is expected to be published in early February. That cannot possibly come soon enough!

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L: Review of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”

I love Huey Lewis and the News. It is physically impossible for me to refrain from dancing while listening to “Power of Love.” However, my father used to make fun of “The Heart of Rock & Roll” because he said that it seemed like the purpose of the song was to list as many cities as possible so that everyone hears the shout-out to their city and thereby likes the song. I’ll go ahead and admit that I am more inclined to like a song that fondly mentions Atlanta, or “A-town.” So, by including shout outs to as many cities as possible, Mr. Lewis is ensuring that his song is enjoyed by as many residents of as many cities as possible. Smart move, Huey. Smart move. Having said that, I feel like Ernest Cline was replicating this “mass appeal” idea in his novel Ready Player One.

Let us get the obvious task out of the way:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

This novel has a cult following, which is why it has been sitting on my TBR list for years. However, I did not love this book, especially not with the ferocity with which others seem to love it. My number one qualm with the novel was the Huey Lewis-esque mass appeal aspect, which was less “city shout-outs” and more “make every 80’s reference possible.” I’d say about 50% of Ready Player One was 80’s pop culture references, 40% was straight up info dump, and 10% was action. While I did love the connection to 80’s culture (he mentioned Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” within the first two pages and that is MY JAM, so I was immediately on board), it struck me as Cline’s attempt at mass appeal, naming as many 80’s pop culture movies, TV shows, songs, video games, etc. as possible so that if readers didn’t get one reference, they might get the next one, or the next one. It didn’t take long for my impression to go from, “he’s just trying to include everyone” to “oh, he’s just using this book to display his vast knowledge of 80’s culture.” It became frustrating; he’d often name some obscure cult classic but not explain how it related to the events in the novel. Cline quickly became that “friend” that everyone has that prides himself on his vast amount of “trivia knowledge,” who finds excuses to pepper the conversation with irrelevant info, just to show everyone that he knows a lot of things about a lot of things. YES, THANKS, WE GET IT!

One of the issues with sci-fi literature is that a good bit of time has to be dedicated to “world building” or setting the scene and updating readers on the backstory of the novel. There is a fluid way of incorporating this info; read The Martian and you’ll see what I mean. Cline did not achieve that. A large portion (40%, by my earlier estimate) of the book is Info Dump City. I’m talking about pages upon pages describing the minutiae of Wade’s world. His neighborhood, his hideout, his avatar, his avatar’s clothes, his video game console, gloves, goggles, chair, etc. are all described in painful, paragraph-consuming detail. I eventually learned to scan paragraphs for irrelevant details, so that I could skip the 4 paragraphs in which Cline describes the front door of Wade’s apartment.

If you can sift through the mounds of “info overkill” and ignore the millions of obscure 80’s references, the events of the book are quite unique and interesting. I like that Cline was able to focus so strongly on “geek” culture that not being nerdy enough became a disadvantage for readers. In this novel, the nerdier you are, the cooler you are. I LOVE that idea. I have always considered myself nerdy (see any of my countless LOTR references for examples), but I was so not nerdy enough to get all the geek culture shout-outs in this book, and I felt left out. It’s about time that the nerds get to be the “in crowd,” so I didn’t mind that most of it went over my head. However, I could tell that I was not the intended audience. I don’t doubt that if I were a teen aged, geeky, socially awkward, video game-loving boy, I would have liked this book far more than I did as my current self.

As it is, I’m giving it 3 stars. It was just okay. I won’t read it again, but I won’t deter anyone from reading it. Another one bites the dust (80’s reference!!).

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