Review: Paradise Squandered ~ Alex Stefansson

Paradise SquanderedParadise Squandered is the story of Andrew Banks, a recent graduate of Puget Sound Prep and quite possibly the most directionless member of his graduating class. Andrew returns home from a long-promised graduation trip to Hawaii and re-enters a bland, suburban landscape of privilege and indifference, feeling alone and empty.

Talented but uninspired, Andrew knows he wants to pursue his art, but he has no idea how. He resigns himself to going through the motions of his own life, until he overhears the disturbing truth of his father’s death. He instantly decides he has to leave his childhood home forever, and a darkly hilarious odyssey ensues.

1 Thumbs-UpThere comes a point in most readers lives when they hope that the much touted topic of ‘coming of age’ is finally going to be presented to them in a new and interesting way; unfortunately this novel is not the one you are looking for.

Whether it was the characters or the locations, this book lacked the traction that would have made it an interesting read.  Whole new sets of characters were introduced suddenly and the fact that the main protagonist didn’t even care to get to know them and the lack of back story made this book one that I wasn’t in a hurry to pick up in a spare moment.  There are only so many internal reflections one book can contain before it becomes a chore to read, and this novel hit its quota very early on it its pages.  There is so little back story to any of the characters, the main lead included, that it is very hard to connect with them or feel any compassion for their plight.  This book lacks substance and, at times, doesn’t even read like a ‘real’ story but rather a projection of something else.  As to the ‘hilarious odyssey’ mentioned in the synopsis, I have a feeling this may have been overlooked in the actual writing.

Unfortunately, I doubt very much I would read another novel by this Author, unless he changes his writing style and subject matter dramatically.  We have all been through the teenage years and all is accompanying angst, but do we want to read about it time and again in a manner that portrays it as the most depressing times of our lives; because of this I am unable to recommend this read to anyone.

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Top Ten Children’s Books of 2013.

Throughout the year I’ve been very lucky to have read some amazing books, not only by well-known Authors but books from the indie book community.  However, I have noticed that I reviewed very few, if any, children’s books; so to rectify this and lead into the new year, here is my list of what I thought were the ten best children’s books of 2013 in no particular order:

House of HadesTitle ~ The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus Series, Book 4)
Author ~ Rick Riordan
ISBN ~978- 1423146728
Publisher ~ Disney-Hyperion; First Edition (October 8, 2013)
Age Range ~ 10 and up
Grade Level ~ 5 and up

Description – At the conclusion of The Mark of Athena, Annabeth and Percy tumble into a pit leading straight to the Underworld. The other five demigods have to put aside their grief and follow Percy’s instructions to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death. If they can fight their way through the Gaea’s forces, and Percy and Annabeth can survive the House of Hades, then the Seven will be able to seal the Doors from both sides and prevent the giants from raising Gaea. But, Leo wonders, if the Doors are sealed, how will Percy and Annabeth be able to escape?

Comments – To be reviewed in 2014

Derpy DirkTitle ~ The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dirk: Derpy Dirk and the Fight with the School Bully by the Flagpole at Lunch — a Derp Sandwich chapter book
Author ~ Derp Sandwich
ISBN ~
Publisher ~
Age Range ~
Grade Level ~

Description –

Comments – Reviewed earlier in 2013

JabbaTitle ~ The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet (Origami Yoda Series, Book 4)
Author ~ Tom Angleberger
ISBN ~ 978-1419710452
Publisher ~ Abrams (September 1, 2013)
Age Range ~
Grade Level ~

Description – Dark times have fallen on McQuarrie Middle School this semester. Dwight’s back–and not a moment too soon–as Kellan, Sara and the gang face a new Menace: the FunTime Educational Program. FunTime is supposed to raise students’ test scores; instead, it’s driving everyone at McQuarrie crazy with its obnoxious Professor FunTime and his insidious singing calculator! When Principal Rabbski cancels the students’ field trip–along with art, music and Lego classes–to make time for FunTime, the students turn to Origami Yoda for help. But some crises are too big for Origami Yoda to handle alone: Form a Rebel Alliance the students must.

Comments – To be reviewed in 2014

Fancy NacyTitle ~ Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy Sees the Future (Nancy Clancy Book 3)
Author ~ Jane O’Connor
ISBN ~ 978- 0062082978
Publisher ~ HarperCollins (October 1, 2013)
Age Range ~ 6 – 10 years
Grade Level ~ 1 – 5

Description – Nancy thinks she may be able to read the future . . . and all signs point to her being a true clairvoyant—that’s fancy for fortune-teller. In this perfect follow-up to Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth and Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer, Nancy tries her hand at fortune-telling but quickly learns it’s a bit more complicated than she thought. Does Nancy really have special powers, or is it all just a coincidence?

Comments –

SurvivorsTitle ~ A Hidden Enemy (Survivors Series, Book 2)
Author ~ Erin Hunter
ISBN ~ 978-0062102607
Publisher ~ HarperCollins (May 7, 2013)
Age Range ~ 8 – 12 years
Grade Level ~ 3 – 7

Description – After discovering a forest filled with prey and fresh water, Lucky and the Leashed Dogs are sure that they have found their new home. But a fierce pack of Wild Dogs has laid claim to the land and their menacing Alpha is determined to make sure that no other dogs settle there. Now Lucky finds himself forced to go behind enemy lines—and he has to decide which dogs will ultimately be his true allies.

Comments –

TrallisTitle ~ Trallis the Warrior and the Sword of Unimaginable Power (The Ridiculously Epic Saga of Trallis the Warrior)
Author ~ Jack Thomas
ISBN ~
Publisher ~
Age Range ~
Grade Level ~

Description – In this first episode of Trallis the Warrior’s epic saga, the man who describes himself as a “freelance warrior” sets off on his quest for loot, excitement, and something good to eat. When Trallis finds what is perhaps the greatest sword in existence right at the start of his journey, he’s obviously rather delighted! He could never have guessed however that by the end of it all he would have soggy pants and a good chance of slight brain damage. All in a day’s work though for our dear warrior!

Comments – Reviewed earlier in 2013

LichgatesTitle ~ Lichgates (The Grimoire Saga #1)
Author ~ S.M. Boyce
ISBN ~ 978-1939997067
Publisher ~ Caffeinated Books Publishing LLC; 3 edition (October 15, 2011)
Age Range ~
Grade Level ~

Description – Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things: Ourea.

Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With nothing to do, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict – a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.

For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.

Comments – Reviewed earlier in 2013

Delmar Shark Chronicles #1Title ~ The Delmar Shark Chronicles: Isola di Squalo (Book #1)
Author ~ Heidi Peltier
ISBN ~ 978-0525425779
Publisher ~ Dutton Juvenile; 1st edition (May 21, 2013)
Age Range ~ 8 – 12 years
Grade Level ~ 3 – 7

Description – On the small Mediterranean island of Isola di Squalo, an ancient legend binds the fate of the royal Delmar family directly to the peace and protection of the island. The consequence of turmoil is the return of a giant shark who ultimately attacks one of the royal family.

Comments – Reviewed earlier in 2013

TheodoreTitle ~ Theodore Boone: The Activist (Book 4)
Author ~ John Grisham
ISBN ~ 978-0525425779
Publisher ~ Dutton Juvenile; 1st edition (May 21, 2013)
Age Range ~ 8 – 12 years
Grade Level ~ 3 – 7

Description – Theodore Boone is back, and he’s facing his most dangerous case yet. As Strattenburg sits divided over a hot political and environmental issue, Theo finds himself in the middle of the battle. When he uncovers corruption beneath the surface, Theo will confront bigger risks than ever to himself and those he loves. But even face-to-face with danger, Theodore Boone will do whatever it takes to stand up for what’s right.

Comments – To be reviewed in 2014

Day of doomTitle ~ Day of Doom (39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers)
Author ~ David Baldacci
ISBN ~ 978-0545324168
Publisher ~ Scholastic Inc. (March 5, 2013)
Age Range ~ 8 – 12 years
Grade Level ~ 3 – 7

Description – The Ultimate Sacrifice

It started with a kidnapping. A shadowy organization known only as the Vespers snatched seven members of the Cahill family and demanded a series of bizarre ransoms from around the world. Thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill and his older sister Amy began a global treasure hunt, determined to bring back whatever Vesper One needed, so long as it kept the hostages safe.

But when they deliver the last ransom, Amy and Dan discover Vesper One’s terrifying endgame. The objects he demanded are vital pieces in a Vesper plot that will harm millions of innocent people. Now the two siblings and their friends are in an all-out sprint to stop Vesper One . . . before the whole world goes BOOM.

Comments – To be reviewed in 2014

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Changes in the Wind

george-bernard-shawI hope you are all as flexible as I am, and I don’t mean physically I mean mentally.  With autumn upon us, I felt it was time to do some redecorating around Cate’s Book Nut Hut, and this will mean change.

In some things, particularly when it comes to my books, I like them to be in a certain order and ‘catalogued’ in a way where others may get lost looking for something but I can go straight to it.  I think the Book Nut Hut is beginning to head down this alley, as after looking at it on a different computer, and heck even a different operating system to my own, I realised there needs to be changes.  I don’t want my ‘readers’ to get lost in its digital annals only for me to discover their skeletons propped up against a meta-tag somewhere down the road.  Don’t worry though, the changes won’t take place over night, like everything else that is worth doing well, it will come into being in a slow and deliberate manner.

The first of these changes has already taken place, some of you may (or may not) have noticed that it is no longer catesbooknuthut.wordpress.com but just catesbooknuthut.com.  If you have the WordPress link in your bookmarks, there is no need to change this, as you will be automatically redirected to the dot-com site.  Other changes that will be taking place are the redesigning and wording of some of the pages (review and ratings guideline being one of them,) and page titles in the hopes of making ‘The Hut’ easier to find your way around.

‘The Hut’ also now has its own Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CatesBookNutHut.  Here you can find links to some of the Authors already reviewed on the site, such as Heidi Peltier and Lee Foust, and there will be ‘bookish’ items and trivia posted here on a regular basis.

Another big change coming up shortly; one I’m really excited about and hope you will be too,  will be the inclusion of a podcast.  This is currently being worked on by myself and © Altered Reality Productions, and will be called ‘The Acorn’ as Cate’s Book Nut Hut is a mouthful to say at any time of the day.  The podcast will have its own page on the site where you will be able to listen to ‘chapters’ (after all this is a book podcast), and links to iTunes where free subscription will be available for those who want to make sure they don’t miss out.  ‘The Acorn’ will also feature Author interviews, and I already have some lined up, along with other goodies to keep the bibliophile in all of us happy.

There will most likely be other little changes as I progress through my housecleaning, but for now these are the major big ones that I wanted to let you know about.  So, as the saying goes…….

“Watch this space”

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‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Guest Host: Billy Collins
Host: Garrison Keillor
Writers: Betsy Allister, Holly Vanderhaar
Technical Director: Thomas Scheuzger
Engineer: Noah Smith
Producer: Joy Biles
Permissions: Kathy Roach
Web Producer: Ben Miller”

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‘You are NOT allowed to read that!’

bebelplatz-berlin-memorial-to-burned-books

Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial

 ‘The fact that anybody wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol’ ~ Chuck Wendig.

Until I married my American Husband I was not fully aware of the fact that there are people out there who want to restrict my access to the types of book I read, not just fiction but non-fiction as well.  I was also naive in thinking that book burning was a thing of history; for example the May 10 1933 book burning in Berlin, the monument to which I have visited.  Book burning is also a thing of the 21st century and takes places in America for various reasons; Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina in 2009; Tolkien’s works publicly burned in Alamogordo, NM, in 2001 as satanic.  Really?  In the 21st Century, here in America, intelligent people would fail to celebrate Tolkien’s masterful achievement and, instead, find it threatening enough to burn it?

I feel it would be amiss of me as a lover of the printed word not to write about this form of censorship and, how we are slowly creeping towards a more complete ‘Nanny State’ where we are told what is good for us, and how much of it we can consume.  I understand that there needs to be checks and balances in place for some things, but when it comes to art, and to me writing is an art form, personal choice needs to be allowed to run free.  If, after reading the synopsis of a book on a fly-leaf, we feel uncomfortable or it may be against our beliefs, we have the choice to put the book down and find something more to our tastes.

jailed-book1If you are completely confused by this topic, I’m referring to the upcoming Banned Books Week.  Whether you may be blissfully unaware, or choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, it does with challenged and banned books spanning all genres and reading age groups.  But what is Banned Books Week?  It is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read that is typically held during the last week of September and highlighting the value of free and open access to information; it brings together the book community, from reader to publisher, like nothing else can as they share their support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some may consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and all of the books featured during this week have been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools, by individuals or groups. While books have been and continue to be banned, the fact is that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available, unless you happened to be in Alamogordo NM, where not only Tolkien but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling were committed to the flames.

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Although we are still a month out from Banned Book Week, I strongly feel it is an issue that needs to get publicity not just for one week of every year but all the time.  However, I know how difficult this would be so, in my attempt to stand up for an art form that gives me great pleasure, as well as broadening my mind and horizons, I am going to focus all of my posts for the week of 22-28 September 2013 with books that have been challenged since the beginning of the 21st century.  I will be choosing four books and proudly showcasing them on the blog.

I am giving you all advance warning of this, in case there are some people out there who would rather not see these books blazoned across their computer screen, and they will know to give my reviews a miss for that week.  I will not just be showcasing the books that week, but also listing why these books were challenged and also giving a little background on the Authors.  List of nominees for this week of challenged books are:

2001 – Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
2002 – Harry Potter (series)*, by J.K. Rowling (because I have never read any Harry Potter books)
2003 – The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1), by Jonathan Stroud
2004 – The Alice Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
2005 – Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
2006 – The Handmaids Tale, by Margaret Atwood
2007 – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2008 – His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2009 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt
2010 – Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
2011 – The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, by Alan Moore
2012 – The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls
*Please note, where books are part of a series, I will only be featuring the first.

One last thing to bear in mind, and an indication of just how out of hand some of these book challenges are becoming; in 2010 in the Menifee, Calif. Union School District pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary because a parent complained when a child came across the term ‘oral sex’.  Officials for the District said, at the time it was pulled, that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent ban of the dictionary; whether they went ahead with this is not known.

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Review: Lexicon (The Young Witch’s Chronicles #2) ~ Calista Anastasia

LexiconMercy is trying to control her new-found powers. Although she is outwardly living as a ‘normal’ teen, attending high school in her home town, she is enrolled in witching lessons as dispensed by Darynda, her trainer on WTC (The Witch’s Training Channel). Oh, and BTW, Alistair, her grandmother’s cat, has been appointed her guardian. A new threat arises as The Dark Coven tries to take over the town and restore their lost powers. Mercy must battle The Dark Coven, keep her boyfriend, Greg, in the dark and keep him from being jealous of Charlie, the hunky teenager she has somehow manifested.

 5 Thumbs-UpThis is the second instalment of The Young Witch’s Chronicles, but the first of the series that I have read.

The fact that I didn’t read Book 1 in this series in no way detracted from my enjoyment of this book, which works just as well as a stand-alone.  It’s true I may have missed some of the characters back stories and development when the foundations were laid in the earlier instalment, but this is such a fun and easy to read book it really didn’t matter.  The main character lead reminded me very much of Samantha from the old TV series ‘Bewitched’, but her personality and the way she approached things also contained elements of ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’.  She has two best friends and a boyfriend, apart from that the reader doesn’t need to know anymore about her when they enter this series a book in.

The thing I did find interesting in this book aimed at younger teens upwards, was the writers skilful use of pathetic fallacy, that starts early in the novel and continues throughout.  This is something readers rarely see in a book with this target demographic, and it is seamlessly included in the pages of this one.  This shows a great skill on the part of the writer, which in turn makes this book accessible to readers of a more mature age who are looking for something entertaining and enjoyable.  It is apparent that the Author has a wide and creative imagination that is obviously fuelled by the inner child she has not let die, as this novel gives a gateway to complete escapism from the strains and stresses of modern-day life to readers of all ages.  There is nothing in this book that could offend the overly sensitive or the politically correct crowd; the only people who may have issues with it are the devoutly religious, but then again I doubt that they would pick this up based purely on the title.

Even though this is listed as being a YA Fantasy, I would highly recommend it to readers from young teens upwards; also lovers of the fantasy genre and books about magic and witches would most likely find this enjoyable read.  I am looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Chronicles, and will be reading Book 1 to see if I missed anything important.

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Review: The Metatronic Chronicles: Book I: a Minor Inconvenience ~ Kathleen Esther

MetatronicIn the Metatronic universe, Heaven and Hell are located in a spatial void that exists outside of what we understand to be our universe. Angelic assignment outside of this “Void” is a plum job as it involves the populating of entire planets, which gives angels the utmost freedom to wander.

Michael and Daniel Wilder are normal teenage boys who live in a small Wisconsin town, trying to keep up with school, meet girls, play their music and keep their parents off their backs. When an unexpected tragedy whisks them off into the lives they are destined for before they are ready, they find themselves in a fantastic world of angels, swordplay and adventure. However, with school still needing to be attended to, a baby on the way and being expected to fulfill new responsibilities, life becomes very complicated.

To top it off, the new baby just happens to be Metatron, creator of the universes, chief of all angels and a general pain in the ass.

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This is the first part of what could turn out to be a very entertaining series of books and, at only 266 pages not an epic in any sense of the word.

This book is a fun take on the all too often done to death topic of angels; different because this one involves teenagers and everything they bring to the table with them.  Teenagers are always a tricky age to write about, I feel, too much angst and the adult reader just rolls their eyes and wants to shake them, not enough personality and the same reaction may occur.  In this novel the Author has managed to write her teenage characters beautifully, portraying them as people you actually care about and are interested in.  The Author develops not only theirs, but each of her characters in such a way that they come to life on the page and make you actually feel as if you are a part of the world they inhabit.

This book is sexually raw in some places, which makes it not a suitable read for children, but it is also humourous and fast paced too with the perfect balance between drama, action and comedic episodes; because of this you want to read more and I, for one, will be continuing to follow the series as it becomes available.  I recommend this book to the more mature YA readers as well as adults who are looking for something fun and a little bit different from the norm.

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