The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles #1)

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“The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.”

From the very start, “The Belles” had an entrancing quality to it. I could feel the textures, see the colors, and experience the sounds of Clayton’s novel from the first chapter of Camellia’s story. I instantly connected with the rich and fluid quality that Dhonielle’s storytelling style seemed to possess, and I really love how “très français” the begging of this book felt while I was reading it. Between the opulence of the court, the fashion, and the absolute need and desire for beauty and power, I felt like I was reading about King Louis XIV’s court. It has been a long time since I have read a book that has so instantly drawn me into its story, and I was both enthralled and disgusted by the opulence and excess of the broken world that Dhonielle portrayed in “The Belles.” Dhonielle Clayton is a very impressive author to elicit so spontaneously both positive and negative emotions; the beauty was alluring in this book, but then I would pause to think about how vicious and truly disturbing the heart of the “culture” of Orléans was. With this book, I appreciate the fact that I felt so strongly opposed/drawn to the world that Dhonielle had created for her heroine. I was also pleasantly surprised that Camellia was not a born rebel, already prepared to usurp the authority of Orléans, when I was “introduced” to her.

Camellia was a follower. She was obedient, subservient. Most people might have issues with that aspect of this character’s personality, but I rather liked it. Sometimes I feel like YA novels get more than a little too formulaic with the development of their heroines and heroes. Somehow these girls and boys are just born rebels, unlike anyone else in their culture or society, and that their “perfectly” devised rebellion against the rules is exactly what all the world needs. I’m tired of reading the same type of characters recast with new names. So for me, Camellia was a breath of fresh air. This poor girl was unique by her society’s standards due to the fact that she was born with the gift of beauty, but she was otherwise the opposite of a rebel in the beginning of this book. What I so enjoyed about “The Belles” was how it took trials, experiences, and seeing the ugly truth behind the elegantly constructed façade of her world to make Camellia think about the consequences of such a cruelly stratified society. Gradually, she began to see what needed to stopped, what needed to be changed, and learned to be brave enough to do what was right. Camellia was not born with the tools that so many other heroines are given in their own books, but Dhonielle did such an amazing job of writing the struggle between Camellia’s desire to only see and create beauty for her society, while also wanting to be free of the confines of the Orléans’ toxic culture. I loved that Camellia’s character development was a slow-burn; she still has a long way to go in the next book, but I am really looking forward to seeing Camellia grow more fully into who she has the potential to be.

A unique aspect to this book was how the tone of the novel changed as Camellia began to discover what made her world keep spinning. I know that many books get darker as they go along, or they become grittier as the characters uncover what’s going on or who needs to be stopped. But with “The Belles,” it felt almost artful in how the tones were fluffy, elegant, and airy while Camellia was enamored with the court of Orléans, but as she became aware of what others were doing to gain power and beauty and that she was just a pawn in their game, the tone became darker, almost grayish in hue. I know that most books attempt to do this as its hero or heroine evolves, but the writing style in “The Belles” made the transition and change in tone feel so fluid and elegant that I did not notice the contrast right away, because I was so engrossed in the story. Dhonielle’s writing style didn’t lose its fluid descriptiveness even as it maintained a sense of gravity that was appropriate for the situation and the parallels it was drawing between this book and our current society.

Oh, the parallels! Honestly, I just loved how Dhonielle put societies’ standards of beauty, past and present, on display in “The Belles.” The culture of Orléans was built off of the idea that you are only good or valuable if you maintain the ever evolving standard of what it is to be beautiful. Sound familiar? Fallow the trends, or else you’re an outcast. Ostracize those who do not fit into your groups based on how they dress or how you look. Block the less pretty people/accounts from your instagram because they’ll “kill your image.” I saw in “The Belles” so much of the current generation of what beauty is, what men and women do to themselves to obtain it, because beauty is power, right? It is a tale as old as time, and I admit that I have been guilty of this same behavior at times in my life, just like everyone else. But to me, I loved the fact that Dhonielle brought these parallels to the forefront of her book, not to accuse, but to encourage people to stop that kind of behavior, and to not let others’ ideas of what beauty is to make you hurt yourself or change how you look, just to make them comfortable enough to accept you. I thought her message was poignant considering the swipe right and instagram generation we live in. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful or wanting things to make you feel pretty (I love my makeup and pretty clothes!), but what makes it wrong is when that desire becomes an obsession that consumes and hurts you, driving you into a mindset that leaves you unhappy.

I was truly surprised and impressed by Clayton’s refreshing approach to her heroine, and her book’s progression and message. I also found the other characters like Ivy, Rèmy, and her sisters to all be very interesting, despite not getting as much time to get to know them as I had wanted. I feel like “The Belles” was really about setting up the world, revealing the villain, and beginning Camellia’s true journey, rather than throwing too many other dynamics into the mix. It was a fairly complex book, but I can definitely tell that there is going to be a LOT more going on in the next book. I hope that Rèmy and the sisters get a bit more page time, because I felt like there is so much more to all of these characters, and I am curious to see where Dhonielle intends to take her story.

This book was a big win for me!

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Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!

Release Day: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Good morning, readers! I am so excited to announce that “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon is out today in bookstores and online!!!!!

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This is the YA contemporary novel that both my sister and I have been anxiously awaiting, and I am beyond excited that it is out today! The story sounds insanely charming (keep scrolling if you want to read the summary), and I started following Sandhya and she seems like the sweetest, most adorable author. Also, she loves Bollywood movies and her newsletter is called “Cupcakes and Tea with Sandhya Menon,” so….that’s like an instant win in my book! (If you are interested in following this author, here is Sandhya’s website.)

Do yourself a favor today and go pick up or order a copy of this beautiful and adorable novel, and enjoys the contemporary FEELS!

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Goodreads summary:

“A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.”

Spirit Followers by Lydia Redwine (Instruments of Sacrifice #1)

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Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

How much I enjoyed reading this book: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“When a Royal dies, the realms elect the one to take their place. By reasons Camaria does not know, her realm elects her as the next Royal. Now that she is the new-found sixteenth Royal of the nation of Mirabelle, Cam embarks on a journey with her sisters and a young huntsman to the four realms of the nation to complete training in the four kinds of magic. Once she has completed this training, she will then be permitted to consume her annual amount of magic and possess manifested powers. Her ventures are unexpectedly steeped in precarious events when Cam discovers a secret plan of revolt, a past she never knew, and an ancient people group thought dead who call themselves the Spirit Followers.”

This review has been long in coming, and I am grateful for Lydia’s patience with how long it took me to get to her book! College and life got the better of me, but I was finally able to read the review copy that Miss Redwine sent me, and I am excited to be reviewing it! In lieu of that, I just want to say ‘thank you’ to Lydia Redwine for sending me her book in trade for an honest review. In no way has this influence my opinion or review regarding “Spirit Followers.”

Lydia Redwine’s book, “Spirit Followers,” was a very good debut to what seems to be a promising career as a writer. Lydia is a talented writer, this book being a fairly complex novel for not only the first book in a series but also a debut novel. While reading “Spirit Followers,” I thought that the approach Lydia took toward the fantasy genre was fairly unique compared to some of the other books that I have read within the genre, and her world building was well done. The society and different “cultures” that Lydia introduced in “Spirit Followers” reminded me a lot of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series in how each teenager had to decide which magical inlet they wished to become a part of and to live in for the remainder of their lives, especially because of how each “district” was divided by certain abilities and cultural traits. Basically it was the factions renamed with a dash of magical giftings; that aspect was not particularly original feeling, but I don’t think that it was a problem or detrimental to the plot, despite the similarities between this book’s society and other dystopian novels’. Besides the differing magical enclaves, some of the other rebellion themes were reminiscent of other YA fantasy and dystopian books that have been written throughout the years, but I thought that Lydia Redwine did a good job adding different dynamics to her story that made a similar theme completely her own.

Lydia definitely started her debut off with a bang , but for me personally, I wished she had taken a bit more time to introduce her characters and the society before throwing me as a reader right into the thick of the plot. I didn’t feel like I got to know Camaria (AKA Cam) as well as I wanted to before her whole life started to implode and the drama started saturating the story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy action-packed, fast-paced plots, but I would have liked to have had the time to get attached to Cam and the other characters before their world suddenly went up in flames in the traditional YA way. The pacing was a little problematic for me in the beginning of “Spirit Followers,” but Lydia did a really good job of keeping her plot moving by introducing new characters and having Cam and her group travel around the different “factions” throughout this book.

As with Cam, I did not feel like I got attached to any character in particular. Oliver, Cam’s friend, made an appearance just in the beginning of “Spirit Follows” only to disappear for 90% of the book, and I was a little bummed by that because I thought that he could have been a more dynamic character if he had been present in this book for longer. Riah’s story was vague, but I totally got what Lydia was going for with this character, although I wish it had been more “fleshed-out,” so to speak. I don’t go for the bad boy type where they are actually the enemy, despite their inner struggle between good and evil; that’s just not my personal taste, so Riah was the kind of character that was fairly interesting, but I was not particularly invested in him. Fiera was probably the character that I liked the most, and she reminded me a lot of Nesta from “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Normally I don’t like the prickly, super intense female characters, but she ended up being the most dynamic character in “Spirit Followers,” and she got business done, which I totally respected.

Besides the characters, I was quite surprised by Lydia Redwine’s world building. She did a fantastic job of not just telling her readers about all of the different regions of her world, but also showing them. Cam and her group of reluctant rebels traveled to most of the little enclaves where she (and her readers) learned about the different cultures and the magic that was present in the region. Lydia did a very good job of making her world feel expansive, and I think that there is a lot of potential in the next couple of books in this series to explore in-depth the history of Cam’s world.

Overall, I thought that Lydia Redwine’s debut was well-written and creative with a fast moving plot, but I do wish that certain aspects had been more developed (like some of the characters) before you-know-what hit the fan. I did not feel as attached to the characters as I had hoped I would be, but they were still very good. I have other things that I want to talk about regarding the plot and the loops that Lydia took her characters for, but I do not want to spoil anything for those of you wanting to read this book! I feel like “Spirit Followers” would be a great book for fans of both the fantasy and dystopian genres, especially fans of the “Divergent” series, and although this book had a high body count, I think that younger readers (middle school) would like this book, too.

New ‘Heist Society’ Book by Ally Carter!

I have been waiting for this day for the past three years, and I am SO excited to announce that Ally Carter is finally coming out with another “Heist Society” book!

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I’m terribly depressed that it is just going to be a novella and only available in e-book, but honestly, I’ll take anything that I can get when it comes to the characters in Ally’s “Heist Society” series. My only wish is that her new novella doesn’t sign the end of this series, because I desperately need just one more full-length novel with Hale, Kat, and Gabrielle.

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Okay, on to the novella!

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“The Gift of the Magi” by Ally Carter

(Heist Society #4)

Release Date: November 15th

Format: e-book

Summary:

“Katarina Bishop is a thief. To many it wouldn’t matter that she now uses her considerable skills to resteal valuable works of art and return them to their rightful homes. She’s still a thief.

So that’s why Kat’s surprised when an Interpol agent comes to her one snowy evening, asking for her help.

The Magi Miracle Network was set to auction off a very rare, very valuable Fabergé egg two days before Christmas, but the egg’s been stolen and now the charity’s reputation—and their future—is on the line.

Kat’s family and Interpol might be on opposite sides of most jobs, but someone just stole Christmas.

Now it’s up to Kat and her crew to steal it back.”

I am super excited to read another book by Ally Carter, especially a Christmas themed story, and I just hope that this isn’t the last time we get to see these wonderful characters!

Happy reading to my fellow Ally Carter fans!

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Les Petits Bonheurs #29…

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These Latin quotes always remind me of Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” trilogy, and it’s about that time when I do my annual rereads. ;-D

Fangirl Friday #19…I’m in Love, and I Don’t Care Who Knows It

So, I know that this is technically old news, but I am extremely excited about Renée Ahdieh’s upcoming book, which is slated for May of 2017. I love Renée’s style of writing and storytelling, and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for her next series, especially since it is supposed to be a retelling of one of my favorite stories and Disney movies of all time. Oh, did I not mention yet that Renée is writing a YA retelling of “Mulan”?

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I heard the news from my sister and I was overjoyed that not only was Mulan going to get the time of day that she has always deserved, but also because Renée Ahdieh is the best author to retell her amazing story. This whole situation is LEGIT, and I already pre-ordered Renée Ahdieh’s amazing sounding book. Alright, time for the title and summary!

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Amazon summary:

“From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn, comes a sweeping, action-packed YA adventure set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan where Mulan meets Tamora Pierce.
 
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.”

After reading this summary, I feel like all that I am missing in my life book-wise now is a “Pocahontas” retelling from one of my favorite authors…*sighs* I’m not sure what to do with my life until “Flame in the Mist” comes out. *sits and waits 8 months for book’s release.*

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