The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes – Suzanne Collins

You might remember from my Hunger Games review that I gave it an 8/10. You might also remember that it dropped points for its ending… Suzanne Collins returns to the land of the Hunger Games and brings us a prequel. I heard about this the day it was published and immediately bought it on my kindle.

Plot

As said, above, this is a prequel to the Hunger Games Trilogy. We are in the Capitol and are 10 years after the war that started the Hunger Games and divided Panem the way it was.

We are following a young Snow. We learn his family had money but they had invested it all in District 13 – now meaning that they have no money as it was destroyed in the war. We find out that Snow’s mother died in childbirth and his father died in battle. Snow and his cousin Tigris (remember her?) are raised by their mentally ailing grandmother. Because of the lack of money, Snow is hoping to do well at school to get a free scholarship to the university. The family can no longer afford to send him there on their own anymore.

This year is the 10th Hunger Games. They are very different to those that we learned of in the trilogy. Still in its infancy and raw form. This year, they have decided to have the last year students be mentors for the districts to get the Capitol interested in them as no one is. In a seemingly public slight of Snow, he is given District 12’s girl to mentor. The worst one tribute. Snow must now battle with his own morals, the law and his unquenchable desire to win to succeed, not only in the games, but in life too.

Opinion

This book is a bit of a mixed bag. I thought following Snow around in his early years was interesting. What makes such an evil man evil? And to be honest, I’m still wondering.

As you get into the book, the pacing is the same as the previous trilogy and makes for a great read. The relationships and character building that Collins has shines again.

But this, this is the problem… She creates these amazing worlds and characters and had you invested and then fizzles at the end. Again. I don’t think the reason for Snow starting down the path of evil was good enough. The stakes not high enough. Yes he was always selfish and you can see that throughout but how evil we know him to go doesn’t work for me.

Honestly, I think she should have made it a new trilogy. This book has a natural split. Easy to make it into 2 books and flesh them out a little. That would leave time for a 3rd where it could answer some questions. I was fine with these questions being not being answered from the last trilogy but Collins opened it up when she made this prequel and has left me disappointed. How does the Capitol turn into such a preening place? Why does Tigris turn on her own cousin? How does Snow go so deep into the evil we see in the trilogy? How does he become President? I think another book, set a few years after the end of this one would be welcomed.

Giving a score is a hard one for this. On the one hand, it was great to read for 4/5’s of it. But I was left disappointed. It also didn’t have 2 previous books to help temper the ending. 6.5/10. That ending 😦

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Filed under Book Review, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games Trilogy, YA, Young Adult

Normal People – Sally Rooney

As with a lot of people in the UK, I started to watch Normal People on the BBC and loved the series. So, as all good book nerds do, I got the ebook (maybe not such a good book nerd!) version and read it. I usually think the book is better than the TV/Movie adaptation (Harry Potter, Divergent etc) but I was surprised this time… (cliffhanger!)

Screenshot_20200520-151337Plot

We come to 2010s Ireland (as if that is a thing!) and meet our protagonists, Connell and Marianne. As an aside, it never occured to me that Connell was a first name but of course it is… O’Connell literally means Son of Connell so makes sense Connell is a first name! Marianne is the weird, smart loner at school and Connell the handsome jock. As it seems with teenage high school, they start to sleep together and Connell doesn’t want his friends to know so tells Marianne to keep quiet about it all, to which she agrees. However, love gets in the way of this and she is very hurt when Connell decides to take another girl to the Debs instead of Marianne. Connell’s Mum is excellent here when she finds out. She is rightly aghast that her son has been sleeping with Marianne and then just so casually takes someone else to the Debs.

We skip to the college years and discover that Connell and Marianne are at the same one, Trinity in Dublin, and that they haven’t spoke since that decision of Connell’s. As with all good teen stories, the person Connell talks to at class and whose party he is invited to is also the now boyfriend of Marianne.

We go through the next three years of the college life, through the ups and downs and their on and off again relationship.

Opinion

I really did like the BBC version and Rooney was one of the writers for the tv series and it shows with how close to the story line it sticks too. However, there are subtle tweaks to the TV adaptation, almost like Rooney has a second chance at it and I think these little tweaks make the story better. Not often the writer of the book is also the script adaptor (there are a few notable exceptions) and I think this is the key difference.

Connell’s mental health issues of anxiety and depression I think are done well and I wish Marianne could also be helped in a similar way. While BDSM relationships when done safely and with trust and communication are obviously fine and power to those that follow it, Marianne is obviously in these types of relationships because of her own poor self-worth and family background. I feel that she should also be seeking counselling and once she is appreciative of herself after and still wants that type of relationship then that is all fine but to use it confirm her worthlessness about her is just abusive.

One of my main bugbears was the lack of quotation marks! It is obviously a Sally Rooney style as one of her Connell and Marianne short stories in a magazine are the same but with internal monologue and external speech happening for both Marianne and Connell it would have helped with the reading of it.

Overall a good read and a great TV adaptation. I’d give the book 7/10 and the TV series 8.5/10. 

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Fiction, Normal People, Sally Rooney

My Life in Rugby – Eddie Jones

img_20191118_221554_654When I was at Liverpool University, I joined the Women’s Rugby Union Team and had an amazing time with the girls. It started a love of rugby, primarily international rugby. Sale Sharks would have been our closest local union team but still a distance. We were sponsored by Walkabout – an Aussie themed chain bar – and every England international game we got to sit in there with our discounted food and beer and watch on their big screens the games. I love rugby because I chose it. It’s not like my love of Burnley FC which is so tied in with my dad in memories and emotions. This is something I found for myself with some great friends and in that way it was special. Eddie Jones came to Lingham’s bookshop on Wirral in 2019 promoting the book and I and 499 other people bought tickets to see him. We got a copy of the book too. Here is my view on it.

Plot

Eddie Jones is from a Japanese mother and Aussie father, brought up in Sydney. This book follows his life in rugby.

Opinion

Caveat – I worked in sport publishing for 3.5 years. I have read a lot of sport books. This has to be one of my favourites. Don McRae is an excellent writer and he is the ghost writer. The Guardian Sport Features writer, he is in a very privileged role as he gets to interview some of the most interesting people in sport. From Tatenda Taibu, who had to flee his homeland of Zimbabwe due to threats from the government, to paralympian Ellie Simmonds and then football legend Gary Lineker. Having Don on board is one of the main reasons this book is so good.

No matter how good the story, if the writer is bad it will be bad. On the reverse, no matter how good the writer, if the story is boring… well so is the book. Thankfully, Eddie Jones manages to get himself in enough interesting situations to make this book great. Jones is very honest, showing why he was never good enough to play for the Wallabies even though it was his greatest ambition. I thought it interesting that he was also a teacher and eventual headmaster and he had to choose between education or rugby coaching. Thankfully for England (and Japan) he chose rugby. You can see though that the same effort and determination he puts into rugby he put into his teaching, going in early and staying late to make the new school a success against an education board which seemed dead set on making it fail.

Whilst I appreciate Eddie isn’t going to start slagging off England’s hierarchy as he is still employed by them, he is very frank and honest about his time at some of the other rugby clubs and countries. He shows his dislike for the man above him at the Wallabies and how his own media mistakes cost him certain things. In his own assessment he is clearly his own biggest critic and when looking into the rugby, you get a great insight. My only criticism is that there is not much on his family etc. I found the delve into the USA treatment of the Japanese during the 2nd World War really interesting and wondered on the racism he and his family endured. Whilst everything is touched upon, the level of insight shown in rugby isn’t really shown on his own personal life. However, it is a minor gripe and on something I quite like but not many autobiographies discuss (Julie Andrews’ autobiography I also have the same issue).

All together, if you are interested in rugby this should be on your ‘to read’ pile. 9/10.

 

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A Darker Shade of Magic Trilogy – VE Schwab

Another fantasy trilogy for you, this time VE Schwab’s trilogy – A Darker Shade of Magic. I was in Waterstones one day and the bookseller suggested this title to me after I explained I was currently reading the Ash Princess. I was not disappointed!

 

Plot

We find ourselves in a world with multiple Londons, all controlled with magic in some form. Red London, where our protagonist Kell is from, is full of magic but it seems to bless people with differing strengths. Grey London seems to be our version of London where magic has but disappeared and no one really believes in it. White London where magic still clings on but in desperation it can be stolen from people and the rulers are often replaced and not through natural death. Then Black London where magic took over completely and destroyed the land.

Kell is an antari who is someone very rare. Most magic takes the usual forms of Air, Earth, Fire or Water. Antari are able to control blood magic and this makes them both unusually powerful and able to transport between worlds, as long as they have a relic from that land. This makes them useful messengers as they can go between the 4 (now 3) Londons and send messages between the kingdoms. Kell was taken in by the King and Queen of Red London and raised as a son and brother to the future King, Rhy. Rhy unusually has no great strength when it comes to magic and this is a concern as most royalty do. The current King is a great earth magician with an affinity for steel and his wife is fantastic with water, enabling her to listen across the palace with water bowls placed everywhere. Rhy has the ability to charm and please people, make people love him and whilst not seen as magic, through Kells eyes you can see that this will eventually make him a great ruler.

Kell has a nasty secret. He brings items from other worlds home with him. This is something which is forbidden and we learn this as he brings through with him from White London a strange stone which imbues the holder with magic, Black London magic. This starts a chain of events of which cannot be stopped and leaves Kell and his new found Grey London friend Lila, fighting for their lives and that of Red London.

IMG_20200414_123040

Opinion

I thought this book series was fabulous. The characters all had depth to them and you really cared about them all. Each had flaws but they all seemed to work together quite well. The world was believable and adding Grey London as our own world and having Lila come from it, I thought was ingenious as it brings us into this world fully. We could be Lila.

I also really liked the covers on all three and thought they were well worked to make a lovely collection.

The three adjectives you can see on the cover really does sum up these books, they were marvellous, fantastic and captivating. I have never read anything from Schwab before but I certainly will keep an eye out for her future works!

It seems a short opinion section but when nothing really is wrong with the books makes it hard to add great length! 10/10. 00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200414123215826_COVER

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Filed under A Darker Shade of Magic Trilogy, Ash Princess Trilogy, Book Review, Fantasy, VE Schwab

4th July – James Patterson

Well hello Women’s Murder Club! It’s been a while! I started this blog with my passion for the genre of Crime and it has changed with me as I have gone deeper down the YA Fantasy genre. But with this Covid-19 lock down I have found myself reading a lot more and re-read all of the Women’s Murder Club books I already have (1-11) and then I bought the next 4, nearly catching up to the 19 that are out. I figured I would continue the series review I was up to!

Plot

We find ourselves with a WMC without Jill, we are a woman down. I went into this book wondering how we would cope without Jill and Patterson doesn’t leave it long!

Lindsay is out with her friend’s at the club house of Susie’s, drinking a margarita whilst off duty, when Jacobi comes in and tells her that a case they have been working on might break. They go off together, Lindsay fully disclosing the couple of drinks she has had to Jacobi and off they go to conduct some surveillance. A car they have been looking for for months is in sight and all of a sudden they are in a high speed car chase across the city. The car crashes and Lindsay and Jacobi approach the car, guns drawn. Seeing that the drivers were a young teenage girl and boy and they were clearly in distress, with blood and vomit everywhere, the two cops holster their weapons and approach the car to give aid. Getting the kids out of the car, the lad shoots Jacobi and then when he is down, kicks him in the head. Lindsay pulls out her gun but not quick enough as she is also shot and on the ground. Before the kids can pull the lethal shot, Lindsay shoots them, killing the girl and paralysing the boy.

One would assume that after a police investigation, which Lindsay is cleared from, that would be the end. The evidence points to the young siblings as serial killers of the city’s forgotten. However, the young pair are part of a wealthy family and their father sues Lindsay for police malpractice, meaning Lindsay has to fight for her career in a court of law.

With all the media attention, Lindsay escapes to a sleepy village in California, house sitting for her sister to avoid the attention. This is actually the scene of Lindsay’s first ever homicide, one she never solved. Whilst trying to keep her nose clean, she begins to dive into the new homicide’s that are occuring in the village that seem suspiciously like the now cold case of hers.

Fighting on two fronts, can Lindsay clear her name and clear the sleepy village of a vicious killer?

Opinion

I kept hinting in the other 3 reviews that one of these books got a 10 and although I can’t quite remember which one it was for me back then, having re-read them all recently, it is definitely this one. Police brutality, especially in America, is rife and the apparent obvious racism that comes with it needs to be eradicated. However, this book shows just how perilous a police officer’s job is and that fine line and split second decision making they have to do on a daily basis. As a UK audience member, police shootings are very rare here as our normal police cannot carry a gun. We have had a few taser incidents which have resulted in deaths but rarely is it a gun shooting. I was fully behind Lindsay on this case and believe she was in the right to do as she did so it was interesting to see how money can play a big part as if the family had no money, you can be sure that there would have been no law suite, whether it be warranted or not. This case brought into the lives of the WMC the newest lawyer to replace the space left by Jill. Yuki is a delight and is also very different to Jill.

The second story line I thought was also excellent. With Lindsay making friends in the area but also managing to find herself in the middle, and eventually in the centre, of a serial killer case. Some people cannot leave the job at home! I thought the case was well done and the twist was excellent.

I have already given my rating away but here it is: 10/10. 

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Filed under Book Review, Crime, Women's Murder Club

Willoughby Book Club – Review

I am sure there are many book clubs across the world but at Christmas 2019, my other half bought me a 3 month book subscription to Willoughby Book Club. 3 free books sent to me via the post – what is not to love as a book lover? I thought I would give it a little review!

How it works

I figured I couldn’t do a ‘plot’ section here this time! So how it works? For us as this was a gift, I received a metal box and inside were a bookmark, sticker and some instructions on how to fulfill my gift. I went to their site, chose the ‘bundle’ I wanted (in this case I chose contemporary fiction) and then you filled in a little information about your usual reads and favourite authors etc. As I had a gift, I put in the gift code at checkout and it was free. As this was a gift for Christmas, receiving it on 25th December meant I was too late to get the first book in January (cut off is around 20th of the month for the following month) so I had to wait until February to receive my first book. This one was Ink and Bone, March’s book was Between the Blade and the Heart and this month was The Vanishing Season. I’m not going to really go into too much detail about each book but I did enjoy all three and I doubt I would have picked them up off the shelf in a bookshop so that ticks off two massive criteria for me in a book subscription service. Two were crime and 1 was a fantasy, both genres I said I liked in the information section. The first one was actually a little of both – a supernatural crime solving.

Opinion

As I said above, I did like the books sent and I wouldn’t have picked them myself. I found the ordering of it slightly confusing – I had to act like I was buying it for myself which meant I found out the cost of the gift. Maybe if they had a page on their website which says “gift card” and you can go through the procedure without seeing the prices? Then still fill in the coupon code at the end so they know you do really have a gift?

In the information box about my interests etc, I mentioned authors PJ Tracy and JoJo Moyes as well as book series Women’s Murder Club and Rizzoli and Isles as well as Fantasy books such as Ash Princess and Richelle Mead’s books. I went for contemporary (in this case books that are 5 years and younger) as I would rather read books that are recently out that I can delve into a new author as well as the fact it would be a greater case of not having read the book either. I am pleased that they didn’t send me any books of the authors I mentioned because that would have been a bit of a cop out for suggesting new reads for me. I think the selection was bang on with what I suggested and maybe the fact that I didn’t get the generic fiction title (with mentioning JoJo Moyes) would be because I only had 3 months – a few more months and who knows what else I would have gotten?

It was slightly disappointing that I couldn’t get my first book in January. I don’t know how many gift subscriptions they do get compared to how many people order this for themselves, and I do understand that they basically ship everything out all at once so they can spend the time taking delivery of the books and individually wrapping them for all the subscribers but I’d have thought maybe January they could look at doing a bit later so you can get it from an Xmas gift. Though all being said, with this Covid-19 issue, I was quite glad to get 2 books in lockdown! So it was a blessing in disguise that I had to wait a month!

The price ranges from £39.99-£49.99 for a 3 month subscription, depending on genre, and if you take into consideration a £7.99 book (which I am sure they get 40%+ discount on them) plus postage, it works out at around £13 a month for a book. Slightly steeper than you would pay if you went into a bookshop but they are employing people to look at your information and make personal recommendations for you and then wrap and ship the books. Not too bad a service and especially doable as a gift for those in your life who love to read.

I’d definitely recommend this to give as a gift for someone and for me, I think I would prefer to pay per month for the subscription rather than in one go for me to take it up not as a gift. The recommendations were great though and I don’t think the price is bad for what you get. A very solid 8/10.

 

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Filed under Book Review, JoJo Moyes, Richelle Mead, Rizzoli and Isles, Women's Murder Club

Ash Princess Trilogy – Laura Sebastian

You may have surmised from the below posts that I like YA fantasy. You are not wrong. It is one of my favourite genres at the moment. Just a shame you have to go to the children’s section in book shops! I don’t need a fancy different ‘adult’ cover, just put it more in the middle rather than next to Horrid Henry!

Plot

We join Theo as her mother is killed and the Kalovaxians take over Astrea. Theo becomes Thora and the Ash Princess. We see that the Kalovaxians are not peaceful rulers but rather come and make the natives slaves and take all the natural resources from a country and then move onto the next one. We eventually find many countries that have been through a Kalovaxian rule and many people are now displaced.

Theo is friends with a Kalovaxians girl, Cress. However, Cress’s father is the Theyn, the right hand (and sword) of the ruler. He is the one that killed Theo’s mother in front of her. So a bit of a strange friendship! Theo does wonder if she is little more than a pet to Cress but she has literally no one else. That is until three Astrean’s sneak into the castle to rescue their Queen. Blaise, Heron and Artemisia (or Art) become Theo’s new guards (after eradicating the previous ones) called Shadows who follow her every move. This is to gather information for the resistance and try and bring down the Kaiser. During this time, the Kaiser’s son, Soren, starts to ‘date’ Theo. Theo initially uses Soren to be in a trap but once they have left the palace (he as a prisoner) she realises his loyalty to her and he becomes part of her inner circle.

As the books go on, you discover that Theo has access to power herself, able to control fire.

IMG_20200302_134326Opinion

I haven’t really delved into the plot for the other books in the trilogy because doing so would be major spoilers and I think you should learn about the book for yourself. I loved this series. I’ve seen from reading other reviews that some people think that Sebastian’s use of the Germanic light skinned invaders and the darker skinned natives along with the love triangle and other themes throughout the series are lazy and copy-cat like. Whilst I can understand that and it is true to an extent, for me it didn’t take away my enjoyment of the book. Unlike other books, such as Eragon or Lord of the Rings, the other languages shown you would never be able to ‘learn’ like some people know the full elfish language etc. For me that is better. I don’t need to learn a new language in my light reading. Maybe it doesn’t add as much depth as those other worlds but these books are much shorter and a more standard length, especially when compared to the Eragon series.

The books didn’t drag, keeping a believable pace all the way through. Sometimes Sebastian had our main character/s knocked out or in a deep sleep to make a few weeks pass and then we get an overview which is both slightly lazy but also a clever way to make time and action pass quickly.

The main 5 lead heroes are definitely written well and Heron’s homosexuality is so normalised it isn’t even a thing which I think is well done.

For those who have read some previous posts (thinking along the line of the Hunger Games review etc) then you know I have an issue with endings! I think they are the hardest thing to write in a series and all this anticipation has been built up throughout however many books and now you have to end it. I think this one was relatively well done. It was slightly predictable. The person who obviously had to die at some point did and pretty much everyone else survived but sometimes it is nice to have a relatively happy ending and not have a random death placed in (looking at you Tonks and Lupin!).

Overall, an 8.5/10. A great series I would highly recommend.

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Filed under Ash Princess Trilogy, Book Review, Christopher Paolini, Eragon, Harry Potter, JK Rowling, Laura Sebastian, The Hunger Games Trilogy, YA, Young Adult

Home Work – Julie Andrews

I seem to be reading a lot of autobiographies at the moment! They never used to appeal to me when I was younger and I do think they have to grab me in some way to keep me going. I loved Julie Andrews when I was younger. Sound of Music is easily in my top 5 movies of all time. This is how out of the loop I am when it comes to autobiographies – I didn’t even know she had already had one out! Home Work follows Andrews as she embarks on her Hollywood years.

Plot

As said above, this follows Andrews from her time entering into Hollywood to the mid 80s.

Opinion

As stated above, I love Julie Andrews! So it comes as no real surprise that I do like this! I hadn’t realised she was in her 80s until this book. Which seems ridiculous but with her age in Sound of Music, obviously they stay that age in your head. I wonder if we will see the final book written with her input? Her daughter is the ghost writer and Andrews seemingly has written diaries all her life as they make a great impact here so it is possible that we could get the 3rd installment post Andrews but then again, people are living well into their 90s and she did do publicity for this book so is still fit and able.

I would say that this book has made me want to get the first book on her life. Whilst there was a recap at the beginning of the book, it seemed such a fascinating period of her life and the hardships she had to overcome look like they would be interesting to read about.

I did like this book, and I found interesting to read about her experiences on the films I have seen (Poppins, Sound of Music and Victor/Victoria) but I must confess I didn’t really know much about the other films she was in and did find that to drag somewhat. Her experience in Cambodia and Vietnam when she went as part of a charity trip was horrific and one of the better parts of the book as she reacted to what she was seeing. I did think some aspects were brushed over slightly quickly. We didn’t really get into her brother’s drug abuse, which might have been for the family but seems a shame we couldn’t go further into that. Same with her step-daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend that Blake Edwards (Andrews’s husband) disapproved of enough to cut her off when she moved in with him. This comment just popped up with no forewarning of this boyfriend and was rarely mentioned again. I understand it was maybe a ‘we need to add it in as it happened but we don’t want to go over the details for the family’ situation but seemed like the family connections which I love to learn about were very much brushed over.

Andrews was very candid about her relationship with her husband, Blake, discussing his pain pill addiction, his depression and at times volatile nature were all interesting.

Overall, I’d give this 7.5/10. 

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Filed under Autobiography, Book Review, Julie Andrews

Unfollow- Megan Phelps-Roper

Full disclosure – I did go to an event by Megan on her book tour. It was great. She was lovely and answered every question which as some, I am sure, were challenging for her in terms of a baying crowd demanding why she said and did hurtful things and then questioning why she decided that they were hurtful things to say. I admire her bravery in facing up to what her and family did and are currently doing is not really ‘the Word of the Lord’. But anyway, she was great, it was great, the book was great.

Plot

Basically, just go and watch Louis Theroux’s documentary called The Most Hated Family in America. 

Opinion

It’s always slightly harder to review autobiographies. This is the author’s own truth. This is their story. Who am I to say, well this was a bit boring when it was their life and they lived it? That being said, I have read it and this is a review site so here we go!

This book challenged me in a good way. I have to admit, I went into this book thinking how can anyone believe in the Westboro ideology and you must be brainwashed to believe that. And I still think that BUT I also can see them as a family which I hadn’t before. They were still parents loving their children and trying to bring them up. They were still children who defied their parents as all kids do and pushed the line. It was interesting to learn that the Phelps name was first heard as champions in the race wars of the 60s and 70s as the founder of Westboro believed in equality for both black and white people and fought to help black people when other lawyers wouldn’t. It shows that the religious zeal of the family if applied to the right outlet could also be a force for good. A major lesson to take from this story.

On the whole, I found the beginning to slightly drag a little and I found it most interesting when Megan started to doubt her family’s beliefs and ideology. It gives me hope that Twitter can be used for good as well as all the other horrible things the social network is famed for.

I also found the copious amounts of bible verses placed about slightly hard to deal with. When it tied in with the story then I got it but they were placed about quite frequently. Though as Megan herself said in her talk I went to, they are in italics so you can skip them quite easily!

Overall, because it challenged my own prejudice against this family and enlightened me on a topic I thought I knew (because I had seen all the Theroux documentaries) I give this a 7.5/10.

 

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Filed under Autobiography, Biography, Book Review

Currently…

I am currently reading Megan Phelps-Roper’s autobiography, Unfollow. It’s a great read so far – I never thought I’d feel sympathy and outrage over a family in equal measure that is so hated. Shows that every family is the same, just some have extreme outcomes.

Review to come soon!

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Filed under Book Review, Presents, Side Note