Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 13

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Worlds I'd Never Want To Live In

  1. 764347 Even if I'm out of the age range that makes people eligible for being unwound, it's so freaky that a country would agree to have their "trouble children" broken down and distribute their organs.
  2. 9680114 Most people in this world are fused to objects, buildings, or other people after a nuclear bomb went off. The rest are perfectly healthy, but live in a super-controlled dome. Neither scenario sounds very appealing.
  3. 6468718 I think it's safe to say I don't want to be anywhere near the Forest of Hands and Teeth - goodbye Zombies!
  4. 6984678 If I lived in this world, odds are I'd die a brutal death. I'd prefer to stick around for a little longer, thank you very much.
  5. 17693525 There is some pretty freaky stuff going on in this book that involves tapeworms, conspiracies, and people dying. No spoilers from me, but I really hope I'm never in a world like this one.
  6. 12476820 Speaking of freaky bioengineering/biotech-type stuff, this book features a tiny population of humans marooned on Long Island because their super-human creations turned on them and destroyed most of the humans using biological warfare. Not only is the world itself in shambles, there's always the lurking threat of more attacks...
  7. 7171771 MONSTERS AREN'T REAL MONSTERS AREN'T REAL MONSTERS AREN'T REAL (except in this book they are, and they want to eat you. GAAAAAH)
  8. 12788061 I'm a dancer, and I don't want to be possessed and possibly killed by creepy magical creatures that may or may not actually exist.
  9. 6065629 This book is creepy because everyone is unwittingly programmed to think and behave in certain ways through subliminal messaging. It's so scary to me that you could be controlled and not even know it.
  10. 821467 Last but not least, I absolutely do not want to ever live in a dystopian world conceived by Margaret Atwood. She's a genius, I love her books, but they are freaky as hell. This one features a mad scientist who thinks the best way to improve humanity is to get rid of it.
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Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Fragments

13170596Title: Fragments
Author: Dan Wells
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian, young adult

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what's left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira's journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn't even know existed.
The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity's time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival.

If you thought Partials was intense, just wait until you get to Fragments. Fragments has everything that Partials had - a bunch of diverse characters with mixed morals and motives, some politics, looming revolution, lots of science, lots of action, and lots of secrets - except twice as much of everything! It may sound like it's all over the place, but there are two very tightly written main story-lines that follow Kira on her search for the truth about her identity and Marcus as he deals with developments back in Manhattan.

All the characters from the previous book have grown leaps and bounds in this one. I loved the introduction of Heron as a main character. She is smart and independent, and won't take no for an answer. She answers to no one, but she's good to have around when her interests coincide with yours. I also really liked Samm's growth in this book. He really begins to question how much of him is genetic and how much is simply being conditioned to believe that he is a certain type of person. Both Samm and Kira debate so much about what it means to be human or Partial, and how that fits in with who they are. The whole nature-vs-nurture debate is one that fascinates me because I really can't pick a side. Marcus is as funny as ever, and although he won't admit it (least of all to himself), he has become quite a courageous leader.

We learn a lot more about the Trust in this book, and Kira's unwitting connections with it. There are lies and red herrings, answers that only raise more questions, and contradictory information, but there is also some truth. The stakes get much higher in this book as you finally understand what the Trust really did and what pushed them to do it. The future looks bleak to say the least, and as Kira learns the hard way, sometimes the right thing to do isn't easy. It's one thing to do something you now is right even if it's difficult; it's another thing entirely if you don't even know that your ultimate goal is justified. Are you a bad person if you kill a few people to save many? How do you decide which lives are worth more? Is sacrificing someone else ever justified? These are questions that are raised and debated by all the characters, and frankly I really can't pick a side. Everyone has similar hopes for the future, but no one agrees on the best way to get there.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book - not only was it an adrenaline-fueled story that had me turning pages like crazy, it also made me think about a lot of ethical issues. It made me laugh at times, and made me want to throw up at others. I am really looking forward to the next book!

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Fantasy Friday 1 - Females in Fantasy - a rant


This is a meme hosted by Rinn Reads, and I thought I'd join in for this week!

A friend recommended Mistborn: Fall of the Empire on the grounds that unlike another book he'd recommended to me, this one had a strong female protagonist and would not make my inner feminist scream bloody murder.


Vin of Mistborn lore is a pretty badass character, and she has her vulnerabilities and flaws; she's not a bad character, per se. But just because the main character is a girl doesn't mean it's a "feminist" novel. Vin may be the awesome powerful hero of the story, but there isn't a single other female main character. All the other ones in the series (perhaps with exception to Twindyl) are either beautiful people that stand there and look pretty/minor threats that you never really take seriously. I don't need there to be an equal number of men and women in my books, I just want the few women to be treated with respect and given roles that actually matter. I would have been happy if just one other person in Kelsier's company was a woman.

I suppose there are far worse books out there. A depressingly large number of books fail the Bechdel test:

1) At least two female characters
2) Who talk to each other
3) About something other than a man.

I'm not even going to talk about the cover art. A quick google search of "women in fantasy" turns up pictures of women with exaggerated curves and super-tight clothes. Whyyyyyyy

I think part of the problem is that fantasy is full of white male authors. The Game of Thrones series comes to mind - some people argue that all the characters are messed up and flawed, so it's not really just subversive towards the women. While this argument might hold for the first book, it becomes a pattern throughout the series for women to wrestle some power for themselves (be it political advantage or the upper hand in battle) only to be thrown into a situation where a man needs to save them. It's either that or they're just thrown around like pawns in the marriage game.

I have read some excellent fantasy novels by female authors that aren't necessarily overtly feminist (they don't have a power structure where women are higher than men, and they don't particularly go out of the way to show how badass the women are), but they do a good job of portraying all their characters as complex, three-dimensional people. Melina Marchetta is one of my favorite authors, and she's a prime example of an author who writes characters who are simply people, not slightly fleshed-out stereotypes. She treats all her characters with respect, and even if they are flawed, there is still some sliver of nobility in all of them. I think George R.R. Martin should take a few lessons.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: The Golem and the Jinni

15819028Title: The Golem and the Jinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction, literary fiction

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.
Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.
The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

First time a book has made me cry tears of happiness.

The Golem and the Jinni takes place in turn of the century New York. The city is flooded with immigrant communities trying to make this new place their home. Add to the mix two supernatural creatures from two different countries' folklore, and you get The Golem and the Jinni.

This isn't a very fast book. It's a book about every day life and the little interactions that make you become part of a community - or cast out of one. It is very rich and layered in terms of setting, characters, and storytelling. There are a lot of little moments that really bring out what it is to be human and what it's like to struggle to fit in. I cannot even begin to describe how much I loved that about this novel. It seems that love is in the little things.

Chava and Ahmad are both incredibly different in temperament, but their ultimate struggle is the same. Chava is a creature of clay - a golem - who is compelled to fulfill the wishes of everyone around her (whether they ask for it or not). Ahmad is a creature of fire who loves and lives with passion, with no thought to the ashes and scars he leaves behind. Circumstances bring them both into neighboring communities within New York, and at first they are relieved to find someone else who understands the other's struggle to fit in with humans. But their conflicting natures and goals come in the way of their friendship, and still more sinister forces silently make their way towards them.

Not only was this a beautifully story, the writing was equally gorgeous. Unlike most books, which I want to finish as soon as possible, this was a book that I didn't want to end. As different threads of the story wove together, I was amazed at how intricately everything fit together.

This is easily one of the best books I read in 2013, and definitely one of my all-time favorites. I highly recommend it!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 12

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme:  Top Ten Things On My Reading Wishlist

  1. Historical fantasy - I love the Infernal Devices series, and recently read and loved The Golem and the Jinni. I just love the idea of introducing a little element of magic or mythology/folklore into our history - it makes the present a little more exciting too. I really want to read a book that mixes magic with ancient China or Elizabethan Europe.
  2. Something involving Arthurian legend - I'm not very familiar with the canon Arthurian legend (all my knowledge of King Arthur is from BBC's Merlin and a bunch of references to it in other movies/books). I want to read something more true to the original.
  3. A Melina Marchetta book - I love all her books to death because her character are all so realistic that I have to remind myself that they aren't real. I have cried for these characters and I have cheered for them, and I want more! I especially love her fantasy series because not only is it complex and character-centric, it portrays all its characters as whole people with flaws and triumphs instead of having the token beautiful temptress/virtuous whore/long lost evil brother/all that jazz. Please write more books soon, Ms. Marchetta!
  4. A "biopunk" novel - Paolo Bacigalupi is one of my favorite authors, and he considers his work to be "biopunk." I think Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam series fits the bill as well, and I loved that too! I guess I'm partial to that sort of thing because I'm a bioengineering major and it's cool to see what other people imagine I'll be doing fifty years from now :)
  5. A new epic fantasy series to get hooked on - I'm working my way through Dance with Dragons at the moment, and I will need another awesome fantasy series to read while I wait for George R.R. Martin to write the next two books! The Lies of Locke Lamora is on my radar, but if anyone has suggestions, please let me know!
6.  Something set in Asia - I think Asia has such a rich and diverse cultural heritage that there is so much fodder for an excellent book - be it historical or fantasy or sci-fi or even just contemporary fiction. I want to explore the world through my books!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 11

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten 2014 Debuts I'm Excited For

So...looking at my to-read list and most of the books on it are continuations of series I'm already reading. In fact, there's not a single 2014 debut on there! Thanks, people at The Broke and the Bookish for forcing me to go hunt for some lovely debut novels :)

  1.  15839984Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge - I'm a sucker for fairy-tale retellings, and this one sounds awesome - an assassin version of Belle who is supposed to kill the "beast"! 
  2. Midnight Thief (Midnight Thief, #1) Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne - It seems like this is the year of assassins, because this books also features a girl who's an assassin. Fantasy, danger, power struggles, and  secret pasts sound like a recipe for a good book :)
  3. Elizabeth is Missing Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey - I used to read a lot of mysteries as a kid, but I stopped reading them after a while because they got predictable. Last year I started reading more psychological mysteries, and I have been enjoying them! Looking forward to this one.
  4. Gilded Gilded by Christina Farley - This is a retelling of a folktale I'm not very familiar with, but it sounds really interesting - Jae Hwa moves from LA to Korea, expecting the worst of her troubles to be fitting in. But it turns out a Korean demi-god is out to steal her soul...
  5. Half Bad (Half Life, #1) Half Bad by Sally Green - Honestly, I saw the words "Patrick Ness" and "Markus Zusak" and added this book to my to-read list right away. Those are two of my favorite authors, so I am really excited for this. It helps that I'm on a fantasy book phase and that the reviews for this are stellar!

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Scarlet

17997655Title: Scarlet
Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Science fiction, retellings, YA

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the best-selling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison - even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life.
When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Even better than the first one!

I have really enjoyed listening to this series on audiobooks - whoever reads it really brings the characters to life (and does excellent accents to boot!).

This book brings much higher stakes to the table, as Levana's plans become clearer and you realize how far she is willing to go to get what she wants. Even more disturbing is how far she's already gone - the earth isn't as safe as most people believe.

While the first book was only about Cinder, this one alternates between both Cinder's POV and Scarlet Benoit's. Both girls are very different - Cinder doubts herself often, and Scarlet is nothing if not stubborn and confident - but they both are fiercely loyal to the people they care about and will do whatever it takes to help them. As their stories converge, secrets are revealed and dots are connected in incredibly intricate ways. I thought the big reveals were really well done, since they tied back to the first book and explained things without making everything seem contrived (which is sometimes the case when authors try and make a big shocking reveal). I also liked how both Scarlet and Cinder had trouble adjusting to their new (true?) identities instead of just accepting it and instantly making the transition.

I also enjoyed the addition of the new characters. Wolf took some getting used to, but he grew on me eventually. There were times when I wanted to punch him, times when I wanted to get the hell away, and times when I wanted to hug the poor soul - yeah, this guy is complicated. I do like how he developed over the course of the story - it felt natural, and I like who he's become. My favorite new character has to be Thorne. He is so full of himself and so ridiculous, but he has a good heart (deep down. Ok, fine, maybe really deep down). He's hilarious, and brought some much needed laughter to a story that has a lot of tense and intense situations. My favorite character from the previous book thankfully made a reappearance, though not in the way I was expecting. No spoilers here! I missed Kai in this book, since we hardly got to see him. He does still play a big part in the story, though. I just wish he knew some of the answers that the reader already knows - I can understand his confusion and conflicted feelings, but isn't it about time he got some answers? Maybe in the next book...

I am really enjoying this sci-fi twist on fairy tales - I want to get my hands on Cress right away! Just a few more months...

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Precious Thing

17934533Title: Precious Thing
Author: Colette McBeth
Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery, adult fiction

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
 I know her inside out.  I know what she’s thinking, I know what she wants. So I can’t give up on her, she knows I never will.
Some friendships fizzle out. Rachel and Clara promised theirs would last forever.
They met in high school when Rachel was the shy, awkward new girl and Clara was the friend everyone wanted. Instantly, they fell under one another’s spell and nothing would be the same again. Now in their late twenties Rachel has the television career, the apartment and the boyfriend, while Clara’s life is spiraling further out of control. Yet despite everything, they remain inextricably bound. Then Rachel’s news editor assigns her to cover a police press conference, and she is shocked when she arrives to learn that the subject is Clara, reported missing. Is it abduction, suicide or something else altogether?
Imagine discovering something about your oldest friend that forces you to question everything you’ve shared together. The truth is always there.  But only if you choose to see it. In Colette McBeth's Precious Thing.

I think comparing this book to Gone Girl is what made me disappointed with it. I thought Gone Girl was phenomenal, so I was expecting something full of unreliable narrators and plot twists and twisted characters. Precious Thing is not nearly so tightly plotted, and the characters are definitely twisted but lack the charisma of Gillian Flynn's. It's not that this is a bad book, it just tries too hard and doesn't deliver.

Rachel is a news anchor, and by a cruel stroke of chance she ends up reporting on the disappearance of someone very close to her - her best friend, Clara. Rachel and Clara have had a very close friendship; the two have grown up together and been so close that they know each other better than anyone else. Or so Rachel believes. As she investigates what happened to her friend, she discovers that there is a lot more to the story than she bargained for.

I usually like stories with unreliable narrators, but with this one I was unclear as to whether Rachel was even supposed to be unreliable. She kept saying things like "No one knows you like I do, Clara" and manipulate her friend, then freak out about how Clara was manipulating her. She insisted "I'm not crazy. You know the truth, Clara" and then did some pretty insane things. I honestly don't know if I'm supposed to question Rachel's judgement so much, because I am seriously questioning her sanity. And her common sense.

The "big twist" and consequent actions (especially the epiloge. don't get me started on that) were so convoluted. It seemed like the author wanted to make some big twisted shocking twist, something that would make me say "WHOA!" but instead made me think "What the hell?" The big twist was just so far-fetched as to be ridiculous instead of shocking, and as I said before, everything was just one big mess.

If you haven't read Gone Girl yet, maybe you'll like this one. But if you've read a bunch of psychological thrillers, skip this one.

*A free copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley*

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014

I kind of already did this with my Happy New Year post a few days ago, but why not write down my bookish goals again? :)

  1. be better about updating my blog - I'm going to be more consistent and hopefully have more fun posts instead of just reviews
  2. check out my fellow blogger's stuff - I'm really good about commenting back, and not so much about checking out other blogs on my own. I'm going to try and do that more often! I'm looking forward to all your wonderful posts.
  3. A-Z challenge on Goodreads - The plan is to read 26 books each that start with the letters A-Z (the only exceptions being X and Z which can simply be present in the title)
  4. 2014 Goodreads challenge - This year, I'm planning on reading 80 books. I've only read 2 so far, but I usually do a lot of reading over the summer so plenty of time to catch up :)
  5. Participate in a book club - one of the clubs I'm in at college has started a book club. The January book is an intimidating Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami! We'll see how that goes...
Some non-bookish goals:
  1. Have more self-confidence - I'm going to stop being my own worst critic and try and believe in myself a little more. A think a little confidence goes a long way to being happier about yourself, so I'm going to consciously stop those negative thoughts and focus on the good.
  2. Keep in touch with more people - since I've gotten to college, I've been pretty good about keeping in touch with my friends in other universities/other cities, but there have definitely been times where I go for weeks without checking in with any of them!
  3. Practice my French - I took French for 6 years in middle school and high school, but as an engineering major I have no time for French classes in college. I really miss it and I've been trying to at least read a French play or novel so I stay in touch with the language. Ideally I practice speaking it too, but that's tough with no one to speak it with...
Those are my goals for this year. Here's to new years and new beginnings!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: The Pirate's Wish

15714476Title: The Pirate's Wish
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword and their wits. But Naji has unseen enemies, and Ananna must face the wrath of the Pirate Confederation.
Together, they must travel afar, defeat their foes and break the mother of all curses. With all this going on, falling in love would be such a bad idea... All of this and much, much more await, in the swashbuckling sequel to The Assassin's Curse.

As I said in my review of The Assassin's Curse, the first book felt like part of a larger book instead of its own novel. The second book does a little better on that front, but it still wasn't as good as I'd hoped.

The Pirate's Wish is about how Ananna and Naji attempt to break the spell by performing three impossible tasks. They must decide who to trust and navigate treacherous conditions both in the world around them and their own minds and hearts. I thought the three impossible tasks sounded sufficiently impossible, but I felt like the third one especially was very anticlimactic. I know the author justified it, but it still felt like a cop-out to me. Ah well, at least things got more interesting in this book.

I liked the addition of a few secondary characters and their subplots. They added more color to the story, and made things a lot more interesting than the first one. I especially liked the manticore!

I felt like Ananna's love for Naji came all of a sudden at the end of the first book. Sure, she was grudgingly getting fond of him, but I didn't think true love was warranted. But putting that aside and starting this book, I liked the way Ananna's and Naji's relationship panned out. (view spoiler)

I did like this one - it was both fun and funny - but it was still not quite as good as I was hoping. A solid three stars.
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Review: The Assassin's Curse

13533650Title: The Assassin's Curse
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.
To break the spell, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks--all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic...and the growing romantic tension between them.

I had heard a lot of good things about this book, so I picked it up eager for some swashbuckling pirate princess action. How many books have you read that involve pirate princesses and magical assassins? It just sounded like so much fun, and after reading some dense books that was exactly what I was looking for. In the end, I just thought it was pretty boring.

When Ananna of Tanarau is forced into an arranged marriage, she steals a a camel and runs away. The groom's family retaliates by sending out an assassin who will follow her to the ends of the earth in order to kill her. But once Ananna accidentally saves his life, the assassin is bound by a curse to protect her at all costs. The pair must now break the curse, dodging sinister magical creatures and the enraged pirates along the way.

Well...they do a lot of dodging, but this book doesn't see much in the way of breaking the curse. In fact, by the end of the book, they have just found out how to break the curse. I was a bit disappointed, since it felt like the book was over right when it finally got started. The book felt like it was only half of a larger one - the author explained in the acknowledgements that it was originally one book, but her editor convinced her to split it in two. I would have preferred one large book, since this one flew by really quickly.

I was also disappointed in the characters. I was promised a badass pirate princess, and while Ananna is foul-mouthed and feisty, she also seemed childish a lot of the time. Naji was also not quite as mysterious and frightening as I expected him to be. Their push-and-pull relationship was also tiresome at times - we get it, neither of you wants to be dependent on the other. Fine. Move on.

This wasn't a bad book, just not as good as I was expecting. It's a really fast and light read, so not too much time wasted.

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