Review: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked HeartsOur Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the eve of Ivy’s summer break, while her boyfriend is driving her home from a party, a mysterious figure darts into the road in front of them causing her boyfriend to swerve in order to avoid it.

There’s a minor accident as a result and Ivy’s face gets a little banged up. More concerning to Ivy however is the figure that caused them to go off the road in the first place. What was that?

They stop and pursue the figure into the woods. It’s a young woman and she seems out of place. The whole event is very strange, leaving Ivy feeling haunted.

Nevertheless, they return to the car and her boyfriend drives her home, where she proceeds to break up with him. Not the best start to summer break.

Making matters worse, she actually gets in trouble with her parents because of the accident.

As the hits keep on coming, she’s now grounded. This is going to be a great summer.

((Insert dramatic teen eye roll here.))

Soon Ivy is going to be wishing her lack of freedom were her largest problem as she starts being plagued by a series of increasingly unsettling events. The figure in the woods isn’t done with her. She doesn’t know how she knows this, she just does. It’s all connected.

That’s our present perspective. We also get a past perspective following Ivy’s Mom, Dana.

When Dana was a teen, she and a couple of friends had a real The Craft-moment happening. I’m not going to say one of them was Nancy, but one of them had some Nancy-leanings.

If you know, you know.

As the Reader it is very easy to become immersed in both of these timelines. Equally interesting is how they are connected and watching the two of them eventually bleed into one another.

I thought Albert did a great job telling this story. There were a couple of aspects that lost me a bit, some scenes towards the end had a fever dream-type quality to them and that’s not necessarily my favorite to see in a narrative.

With this being said, overall I found this story to be intriguing as heck.

The moody, dark atmosphere was definitely a plus for me. I loved how full of magic it was. Witchy vibes for the win!

Also, I really enjoyed the relationship between Ivy and her Mom. It’s complicated for a number of different reasons and watching Dana come to accept her daughter’s strength and power was beautiful to me.

Even though I didn’t agree with quite a few of Dana’s choices as a mother, I could definitely sympathize with her. I feel like Albert built her character out enough that it was easy to understand her motivations.

This was a highly anticipated release for me and it did not disappoint. I definitely recommend it to all who enjoy a dark, magical story with a bit of a mystery.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. The audiobook is fantastically done!

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Review: Never Coming Home by Kate Williams

Never Coming HomeNever Coming Home by Kate Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Unknown Island made its presence known via social media, it hit hard. An isolated, luxurious island vacation destination where young people, of a certain caliber and follower count, will get to stay free for a week at a time.

The claim is that an angel investor is funding the exclusive destination as a way for the best young minds to come together and share ideas. It’s invite only and no one over 21-years old will be included.

The initial marketing push is strong and everyone wants to be involved. If they can’t go in person, they’ll be watching it unfold via social media.

Who wouldn’t want a free vacation that the whole world is watching? The potential for publicity is off the charts. For some young influencers, this could be the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s so good, they can taste it.

After the First Ten are selected, the chosen ones slowly and complicatedly make their way to the remote island location.

Once they arrive, they quickly discover something is off. The scene they find is not what the promotional materials advertised. What the heck is going on?!

It’s soon exposed that these fresh-faced travelers weren’t invited to Unknown Island because of their individual follower counts. They were invited for the terrible secrets they hold. Someone knows and is looking to expose them.

Worse than that, it seems whoever is behind Unknown Island is hellbent on revenge. Will any of them be able to make it home alive?

I really like what Williams did with Never Coming Home. She gave me a classic-feeling mysterious slasher set on an abandoned island with a plucky group of diverse and unlikable characters.

That’s exactly the vibe I wanted going in and it’s exactly what I got. There were a few places when it dragged a little for me, but overall it’s a super fun Summer Chiller!

In addition to the fabulous horror elements, I enjoyed the underlining modern themes running through this one. It’s social media taken to the extreme, but it was interesting to think about.

Of course I couldn’t help but think of Fyre Festival with the set-up of this one. It definitely gives off that same sort of skeevy feeling. These poor kids was what I was initially thinking, but once the bodies started dropping, I stopped caring as much.

Williams kills were creative and a few definitely left me picking my chin up off the ground. She held nothing back!

This is the perfect quick read for a Summer Scare. I would definitely recommend it to people who love a good old fashion slasher. It checked all those boxes for me.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Delacorte Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had a lot of fun with this one and hope that Williams continues in this lane with her future work!

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Review: Summer’s Edge by Dana Mele

Summer's EdgeSummer’s Edge by Dana Mele
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summer days spent at the lake with friends; the stuff hazy, sun-soaked dreams are made of.

Everyone is young, good-looking, scantily clad, there’s a ton of food, drink and drama. Making memories, that’s what it’s all about. Both good and bad.

For Kennedy, Emily, Chelsea, Chase and Ryan, summers at Kennedy’s family lake house were their thing. They’ve been friends for so long and their summer days together serve as an anchor for their relationships.

As the friend group ages circumstances do become more complicated, however. Like the year that Chase, Emily’s long-time crush, brings a new girlfriend, Mila, into the group. That summer doesn’t end well.

In fact, in ends in Emily’s tragic death and the lake house burning to the ground.

A year later, the house has been painstakingly rebuilt; an exact replica. With the house ready for occupants once again, the friends have been invited to reunite at the property on the anniversary of Emily’s death.

From the very start you could cut the tension with a knife. It runs thick amongst this group. Everyone is second guessing if they should even be there.

Additionally, Chelsea begins having haunting visions. She’s seemingly the one who has suffered the most mentally since last summer and it is extremely challenging to be back at the lake. The guilt is overwhelming for her.

Making matters worse is the fact that the boys are at each other’s throats and Kennedy’s constant need to play the consummate hostess is pushing her to the edge.

Eerie events begin to plague the group almost immediately, leading to an accusation that Emily’s death was no accident. It seems someone else is on the property with them and that person is seeking revenge.

Will the friends be able to work together long enough to solve the mystery of what happened last summer before it’s too late?

Pitched as The Haunting of Hill House meets I Know What You Did Last Summer, this YA Supernatural Thriller was uncomfortably addicting from beginning to end.

I have read from Dana Mele before and while I enjoyed People Like Us quite a bit, I would classify it as a fairly standard YA Mystery/Thriller. Summer’s Edge is many things, but standard is not one of them.

This story took me completely by surprise. It’s like I went in expecting a burger and fries, but what I actually received was a perfectly prepped Wagyu steak with truffled fingerling potatoes.

I was going along, all was well and then it took a sudden right turn. I was surprised, but pleasantly so, thinking okay, I didn’t know this was going there.

Then we took turn after turn until I was questioning everyone and everything I had read previously.

It was reality-warping. I can’t believe how hard I was questioning myself.

I love that Mele was able to surprise me. It was cleverly-plotted and the writing was truly next level. I loved how it made me think. The narrative really plays off the assumptions we make as Readers.

My final thought was, wow.

In addition to the clever plot, disturbingly accurate toxic friendships and spooky scenes, the atmosphere was exactly what I was hoping for.

The perfect creepy summer read to keep you up late at night and possibly fearful of swimming in the lake or going out on the boat. Take from that what you will.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it didn’t disappoint for a moment! Highly recommend!!

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Review: Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow

Cherish FarrahCherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Farrah and Cherish are best friends. They’re also the only two Black girls in their country club community. The girls bonded quite deeply around the 4th-grade. Now at 17, they’re closer than ever.

Due to her parent’s recent financial woes, Farrah’s family is in a bit of an upheaval. Thus, she spends the majority of her time at Cherish’s house. They have everything they could possibly want there and Cherish’s adoptive White parents treat Farrah like a second daughter.

Farrah deserves this luxurious life just as much as Cherish and if her parents can’t provide it for her, she’s not afraid to get it elsewhere.

Regardless of all that static though, Farrah really loves Cherish. Doesn’t she?

Told in a stream of consciousness narrative style from Farrah’s perspective, the Reader gets to be a fly on the wall observing this unique and possibly codependent friendship.

Disturbing and tense, I really enjoyed my time reading Cherish Farrah. I’m not quite sure why the rating is so low for this one, but I am happy to be an outlier.

I won’t claim to have understood all the nuance included within these pages, but I don’t think I need too in order to appreciate the care and commitment Morrow poured into this story.

I have previously read A Song Below Water and A Chorus Rises by Morrow and enjoyed both of those as well. I feel like the writing style is quite similar over the three novels, but obviously with this one being Social Horror, the tone is quite different.

This one is definitely more in my lane than the previous two.

I would certainly classify this as a slow burn, but to me, it pays off. I was uneasy the whole way through, which frankly is a vibe I tend to enjoy. I wasn’t sure who to trust. I kept flipping between the girls.

You can tell something is off, but who is causing that feeling? Is it Farrah, or is it Cherish? It was impossible for me to tell. It actually got a little stressful if I’m being honest. That just shows how invested I was. I felt it.

I also enjoyed the way Morrow explored race and privilege in this one. The dynamics of the characters families and relationships provided plenty of room for her to roam in that regard. I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it.

I would recommend this to people who enjoy Social Horror, or uneasy feeling narratives in general. Stick it out and I think you’ll enjoy it. I certainly did!

Thank you to the publisher, Dutton Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate it so much.

I’m such a fan of Bethany C. Morrow and will continue to pick up anything she writes!

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Review: What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

What Big TeethWhat Big Teeth by Rose Szabo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars rounded up**

Here’s the thing, normally when I finish a book, I like to let it stew for a while before I write my review.

Generally, I will rate a book, write a couple of quick thoughts and return at a later time to compose a full review; giving myself permission to alter that initial rating.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I will raise or lower the rating depending on how the story has impacted me more long-term.

Unfortunately, What Big Teeth is the type of story that I feel like if I wait any length of time at all, I will remember nothing about this.

Here I am minutes post-turning that final page and I already feel the details of this book flying out of my brain like dust in the wind.

This story follows Eleanor Zarrin, who was sent away from her family home many years ago. She was shipped off to a private school and never even returned to visit.

Now as a teenager, after being the perpetrator of a violent act at her school, Eleanor is forced to flee and return to the unopen arms of her estranged family. The Zarrin Estate is set on the coast of Maine in a little town called Winterport.

Over the course of the story, Eleanor becomes reintroduced to the monstrous relatives she had left behind. She begins to come into her own in this strange place; learning more about herself and her family history than she ever knew before.

And that’s really all I’ve got by way of a summary for this book. I didn’t recognize much of a compelling plot for me to sink my teeth into other than learning about the family.

It was just sort of an odd family drama following a Lovecraftian-Addams family. While I understand that the author probably had more in mind when writing this, whatever it was went 100% over my head.

The reason I am rounding this up to three stars, silver linings, is because of the quality of Szabo’s writing. It really was beautiful. It felt so fluid and I really enjoyed the tone. The point though, yeah, that was completely lost on me.

For this one, these are my full and final thoughts. I am obsessed with this cover. I will keep this on my shelves and I will definitely pick-up Szabo’s future works!

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Review: Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich

Killing TimeKilling Time by Brenna Ehrlich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Natalie Temple is on the cusp of adulthood. It is summer and she should be out partying and enjoying time with her friends while she can before heading off to college.

Unfortunately, that is not in the cards for Natalie after she discovers her favorite teacher/mentor has been murdered.

Natalie’s greatest interest is true crime, much to the chagrin over her over-protective mother, Helen. In fact, her teacher, Mrs. Halsey, is the only adult who ever seemed to understand, and even nurture, Natalie’s curiosity regarding true crime.

Even though the pair had a bit of a falling out, Natalie still cherishes Mrs. Halsey as a person and feels determined to discover what happened to her. It seems only natural to Natalie to begin her own investigation into the crime.

Over the course of the book, you get both Natalie’s present-day perspective, as well as her Mom, Helen’s, past-perspective, which occurs while Helen was in her first-year of college.

Through these two perspectives, the Reader gains insight into the complexity of Helen and Natalie’s relationship, as well as the circumstances surrounding the murder of Mrs. Halsey.

I usually enjoy alternating timelines and perspectives and this was no exception. I liked getting to see Helen’s background. It definitely helped to understand some of her overbearing behaviors; at least her motivations behind them.

I certainly wouldn’t say I agree with her parenting style. You trying to push her away, Helen?!

Natalie, for me, was the weak spot of this story. I did not enjoy her. I could relate to her on being obsessed with true crime at a young age and not having people understand you because of that, but dang, I found her so abrasive.

The way her perspective was written rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed overly aggressive, or brash. I’m not quite sure how to explain it. It turned me off from the story.

Pushing that aside, however, the mystery itself, I was into. I did want to know what happened to Mrs. Halsey. I was absolutely taken along on that journey of discovery.

I also found it interesting to see the connections between the past and present; to see how much Helen’s own backstory shaped the present. That was very interesting.

Overall, this was a good reading experience for me. I wasn’t blown away by it and there were a few aspects of the story I felt could have been handled better, but yeah, I liked it. The audiobook kept me engaged and I would definitely pick up future work from Brenna Ehrlich.

Thank you so much to the publisher, RB Media, for providing me a copy to read and review. I really appreciate it!!

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Review: As Good As Dead (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #3) by Holly Jackson

As Good As Dead (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #3)As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

As Good As Dead is the third, and they claim, the final book in Holly Jackson’s popular A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.

Personally, I feel like Jackson may not be done with Pip. There’s so much more story that could be told. I’m hoping she pulls a Maureen Johnson, a la The Box in the Woods.

By this point in the series, y’all know, Pip has been through it. This isn’t a cozy YA Mystery series. Pip has faced very real dangers and she hasn’t come out unscathed.

Particularly after solving her last case, she’s left with PTSD surrounding those events. Her emotional state of mind is fairly dark. She’s struggling for real.

Adding to her stress, because like all she’s been through isn’t enough, someone is harassing her.

While Pip is used to trolls, any person with a public presence on the net is, she begins to take special notice when one particular troll asks her the same question over and over: who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears?

The harassment quickly escalates and Pip begins noticing things popping up around her house that indicate this person may be close by, watching her. Before long, there’s no question, she has a stalker.

As Pip starts to look into who this person might be, she discovers connections that may link her stalker to a local serial killer case purportedly solved six years ago. Is the wrong man in jail? Is the killer still on the loose? Will Pip be his next victim?

When the police refuse to act on her behalf, Pip does the thing she is best at, she investigates herself. Is she finally in over her head?

It’s no secret that I absolutely love this series. Pip is one of my favorite characters in the literary world, but this novel finds her in a totally different headspace.

Gone is our sparkling baby girl with all the optimism of a newborn pup. The world has beaten it out of her. She’s seen the dark side of humanity in a way many people never do.

I actually really appreciated that aspect of Pip’s mental health being showcased. So many times in books, the protagonists go through incredibly horrific things and just seem to get over it. They bounce back in a way us regular peeps could never even dream of.

The fact that Pip really struggles with recovering from her experiences made her feel that much more real to me. You can really empathize with her character.

The tone of this entire story is much darker than the previous two and I feel like some people may not like it as much because of that. For me, it felt like the natural progression of Pip’s story.

As always, Pip is completely focused on the task at hand, even to the detriment of some of her relationships. I was concerned for a while about her relationship with Ravi; he’s just such a gem.

This one didn’t turn out quite like I was expecting it to. There’s one point where you think the story could be over, but then a huge twists sends it spinning off in a whole new direction.

After this, I wouldn’t say I was crazy about a lot of Pip’s choices, but who am I to judge.

As mentioned above, I would be super stoked if this weren’t really the end. If it is though, I respect Jackson’s decision and think she did an incredible job with this series.

I would definitely reread all of these book again someday. I think it would be really fun to binge them back-to-back. If you haven’t read this series yet, you better get cracking. You don’t want to miss out!!

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Review: These Deadly Games by Diana Urban

These Deadly GamesThese Deadly Games by Diana Urban
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Admittedly, most of Crystal Donavan’s focus lately has been on the upcoming Mortal Dusk gaming tournament she will be competing in with her e-sports team.

So when her little sister, Caelyn, goes off on her one morning, accusing Crystal of only caring about her games, Crystal can’t really offer up much of a defense.

Although Caelyn’s harsh words sting, winning the tournament could literally change their lives. She’s really doing it for her family. There’s a lot of money on the line.

Nonetheless, dropping Caelyn at school for a weekend field trip, Crystal’s heart aches thinking about her little sister feeling neglected. She needs to make it up to her.

A short while later, Crystal receives a jaw-dropping, cryptic message through a mysterious app that has suddenly appeared on her phone. It says Caelyn has been kidnapped and to get her back, Crystal needs to play a little game.

The message includes video of Caelyn bound, gagged and scared. Even though it hardly seems possible, Crystal knows this isn’t a prank. It’s very real.

The games begin immediately and as she struggles through, Crystal begins to see the connection. Every game seems to be aimed at harming those closest to her; her best friends and teammates.

What’s worse, Crystal has to keep it a secret. The kidnapper has threatened to kill Caelyn if she tells anyone. Who could possibly hate Crystal enough to do this?

These Deadly Games is a wild ride. I am a huge fan of dangerous game tropes and this definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard.

I couldn’t believe how far this kidnapper was willing to go; what they were requesting of Crystal at times seemed impossible. I was at the edge of my seat, biting my nails, waiting to see what Crystal would choose to do at each turn in the road.

The narrative follows Crystal in the present, but also includes flashbacks from 5-years ago, to a traumatic event centered around Crystal and her friend group.

It’s an event they have never really healed from. Could this current threat be connected to that?

I enjoyed learning about these characters and felt they were well developed. The core group of kids played well off of each other’s personalities and I was definitely rooting for them to come out of this okay.

I also think Urban did a great job of including a wide range of potential suspects for the kidnapper. I feel like I suspected just about everyone at one point or another. I thought she executed that aspect of the suspense/build-up really well.

Additionally, I think the pace was really well done. The action kicks off fairly quickly and then the intensity builds steadily until the ultimate, explosive conclusion.

I definitely expect a sequel to this, although I have heard no official announcement of one yet. You better believe I will be snatching it up as soon as it is released!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I thought this was so much fun and would definitely recommend it to Readers who enjoy wildly-intense YA Thrillers!

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Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Anatomy: A Love StoryAnatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1817-Edinburgh, Hazel Sinnett’s desire to be a surgeon is far from the norm. Seriously, a woman being a surgeon?

It’s true. It was the times. Women of a certain standing were meant to look pretty, take on inconsequential hobbies, be quiet and care for a husband and household.

Hazel isn’t interested in all that, but unfortunately, she knows the realities of her circumstance. In order to protect her position within society, she will need to be married.

In a way, Hazel is lucky. She’s been betrothed to her cousin Bertrand since the two were children. They’ve known each other forever and get along quite well.

Hazel feels that Bertrand may even learn to understand her passion with anatomy and helping people. At least that is what she hopes.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man, digging up recently deceased bodies and selling them to doctors and anatomists within the city.

It’s a dangerous job, but when Jack’s main source of income, his position at a local theater, gets taken away due to circumstances outside of his control, he has no other choice. Jack doesn’t come from wealth and has no family nest to crawl back into.

When their mutual arts of dealing with the dead bring them into contact with one another, Jack and Hazel are each set on a new course that will change their lives.

Anatomy: A Love Story reminded me a lot of my time spent with Down Comes the Night last year. Not because of its content, but because of its darkly gothic vibe that pleasantly took me by surprise.

I really enjoyed this. It had just the right ‘romance to darker bits’ ratio for my taste.

There is mystery, intrigue and a very slow-burn romance. Jack and Hazel are from different worlds, but together they work. They support one another in a way that neither of them have ever experienced before.

It was so comfortable watching their relationship blossom. It seriously filled my heart.

Another strong comparison would be to Stalking Jack the Ripper. Again, not so much for the content, but for the overall vibe.

Hazel is compelling, she doesn’t back down to convention. I always love that. Jack has a good heart in spite of his chosen profession. We stan a bad boy with a heart of gold. They shouldn’t work, but you know you’re going to root for them.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Wednesday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I was really impressed with this and look forward to reading more from Dana Schwartz.

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Review: Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards

Seven Dirty SecretsSeven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars rounded up**

One caused the fall. One did nothing.
One saw it all. One didn’t care.
One used their head. One played the hero.
One was left for dead.

Reading the above at the beginning of the synopsis for Seven Dirty Secrets, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

I see something like that and automatically want to know all the scandalous details. In short, if someone has a secret, I want to know all about it.

Natalie D. Richards kicks this one off immediately. In the very first chapter you a diving into the drama. I really appreciated that.

We follow 18-year old, Cleo, who on her birthday receives a hella creepy invitation to participate in a scavenger hunt.

At first, although the initial placing of the first clue was scary for her, Cleo believes that perhaps her best friend, Hope, or her brother, Conner, are behind it.

However, when they both vehemently deny having anything to do with the hunt, she is forced to consider other culprits.

Cleo’s given a weekend to solve all the clues, or a deep dark secret of hers will be revealed. A secret that involves the drowning death of her boyfriend, Declan, the previous year on a rafting trip.

Cleo puts her head down and digs in, determined to solve this mystery, before it is too late for her and the rest of her friend group.

As mentioned above, Richards wastes no time getting into the nitty-gritty of this story. Cleo discovers the first clue within moments of the story beginning.

After that, it is non-stop action until the bitter end.

While the synopsis of this seems absolutely up my alley, I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience.

I listened to the audiobook on a road trip over Thanksgiving holiday and had to push myself to get through it. The narrator just did not work for me. Frankly, it was painful.

It felt so forced, with zero expression. The voices for the male characters, wow. I would have preferred she read their dialogue in her regular voice than the ones she was putting on.

Further, anytime there was any excitement in the narrative, where someone would be shouting, or freaking out, it felt like she was reading it out loud in her apartment and didn’t want her neighbors to hear what she was doing.

With this being said, I can’t really blame the narrative style completely. There were parts of this story that I found repetitive and I didn’t care for any of the characters.

While I don’t need to like characters in order to enjoy a story, I at least need to be invested in their outcome. I just don’t feel like I ever relaxed enough into this one in order to feel that for them. I think I was too distracted by everything else going on.

This is a solid premise and Richards does a great job of keeping the pace steady throughout. I wish I could have connected with it more, but just because I didn’t, doesn’t mean you won’t.

If this synopsis sounds intriguing to you, absolutely give it a shot. A hard copy could end up being one of your favorite books of the year!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my honest opinions.

Even though this one didn’t hit like I wanted it to, I will absolutely continue to pick up Richards future work.

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