Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reading Rec: A Duke in Disguise

In A Duke in Disguise, we get a long-lost nobleman, a saucy book about historical figures, and a woman who loves cheese nearly as much as I do.

adukeindisguise

Verity wants nothing more than to keep her family’s paper open despite her brother heading recklessly toward the gallows with his seditious ramblings. The only thing that seems to temper him is their dear friend, Ash. Ash is adrift. His ex-guardian and dear friend is headed off to Italy to improve his health, and after moving in with Verity and her brother, he finds himself unable to maintain the distance he once was able with her. The attraction is mutual, but they fear what might happen should their friendship become more since neither has many friends or relations to spare. That is until a chance meeting sends Ash into a crash course with a family full of secrets, some that will illuminate his past.

I received an ARC of A Duke in Disguise in exchange for an honest review and have been a fan of Cat Sebastian for a while, so take that into consideration when reading this review. Verity and Ash have a special place in my heart. Both are so earnest and sweet in their own ways, oblivious to the depth of each other’s feelings in a way that makes you want to simultaneously bash their heads together and hug them.

Verity is what I love in a heroine: strong-willed, driven (to the point of distraction), and a bit messy. I particularly love a heroine who has an appetite. In this case, food and sex (and we get some bi rep!). Ash is equally endearing. He is an artist who also has to deal with epilepsy. This features into the story’s plot, but it is handled realistically and doesn’t dominate the narrative. Ash is a softer hero, which I appreciate greatly in romance and is one of the reasons I love Cat Sebastian’s stories. He’s capable, tactful, and warm without being domineering or rude. The side characters, like Aunt Caroline and Roger are some of my favorite characters in this story. I am still hoping for short stories featuring the older characters because I’m a softy and love them as much as Ash does.

Overall, A Duke in Disguise has a wonderfully strong cast filled with characters devoted to each other. If you’re looking for a romance with reluctant nobility, an examination of power dynamics, and lots of wine, cheese, and cranky cats, you’re in for a treat.

A Duke in Disguise comes out April 9th, so grab a copy on Amazon now and have it delivered to your Kindle next week.

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Reading Rec: Any Old Diamonds

KJ Charles revisits the world of her Sins of the Cities series to bring us old favorites and new heroes.

any old diamonds kj charles

Lord Alexander (Alec) wants to get revenge against his father, the Duke of Ilvar, after he neglected and disowned his children and abused first wife in favor of his mistress. To do so, he seeks out a pair of jewel thieves to retrieve the duchess’s new diamond parure which will be displayed at their anniversary party. But getting into the party as a disowned son isn’t easy, so Alec must worm his way into his father’s life with the help of soldier-turned-jewel-thief, Jerry Crozier. Both Jerry and Alec get more than they bargained for by the time they reach the country estate and neither will be the same after.

As a disclaimer, I must state that I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I’m a fan of KJ Charles, which obviously gives me a bit of bias. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book as much as I did because the connection between Alec and Jerry wasn’t my style at first. I tend to like connections built on commonality and kindness, but in the opening chapters, it’s built more on a semi-distant sub-dom relationship. After a few chapters, we see the relationship shift into something more intimate and comfortable, and that’s really where I began to pick up speed with Any Old Diamonds. In the end, their relationship is warm and balanced in terms of emotional needs, which is something KJ Charles does exceptionally well, especially in relationships built on power dynamics (see her book A Seditious Affair for another fantastically written sub-dom relationship).

Alec is a wonderful reluctant hero. Throughout the story, his hesitance is realistic and sets him apart from other nobleman-hero types who seem to storm into conflict unimpeded by anxiety. Alec also has a profession that plays a role in the story and isn’t just a throwaway detail as it serves a purpose in the story. I stress this because nobility with actual professions in fiction are few and far between. The other characterization aspect I really liked was how Jerry’s backstory isn’t stereotypically tragic. There’s semi-sad reason he got off course in life and ended up becoming a jewel thief, but he’s unrepentant and enjoys his work. I less than noble thief who knows he’s less than noble is refreshing, especially when they aren’t simultaneously rubbing it in the world’s face.

I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a twist in the book that I didn’t see coming at all that was really good and made total sense afterward. But my favorite part of the narrative was seeing Susan Lazarus from the Sins of the Cities series all grown up show up as a female private detective. She’s an incredibly capable character who doesn’t lose her edge and stands up to the other strong personalities in the story. The next book in the series Gilded Cage will feature Susan and I’m beyond excited to delve into her story. This is one of those stories, where if you’re a fan, everything starts to connect in a giant web, and it’s awesome. Like half her series all come together in this one story, but I’ll leave you to find the other Easter eggs.

Overall, Any Old Diamonds is great combination of a caper story and romance between three rather unlikely heroes. On top of that, the power dynamics off an interesting juxtaposition between hierarchical power and sexual dominance that runs parallel to the personalities of the characters involved.

Grab a copy on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on January 30th.

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Reading Rec: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White reframes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to show Victor for who he truly is.

dark descent

It’s rare that I read a rewrite or retelling that I truly love, but The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (to be called TDDoEF from here out) does an absolutely fabulous job of making sense of the original story and tweaking it for a modern audience. I have been a fan of the original Frankenstein since I first read it in high school, but if you’re someone who cheered for the monster rather than Victor, you’ll enjoy TDDoEF.

The story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, a ward of the Frankenstein family and Victor’s eventual angelic wife in the original tale. The novel artfully stitches together the original story with new material to create a new being more twisted and dark than one could have imagined. It rips Victor from his status of hero and elevates poor Elizabeth to something between an anti-hero to a heroine.

What I especially loved about this work was that White interweaves old with new so well, to the point that I often forgot where the old story left off and new information picked up. Using Shelley’s material, she explains why Elizabeth acted more like a puppet than a real person, why the monster was as eloquent as he was, why he and Victor took off to the north in an unending chase. The tragedies from the original story are worked into the new story, and I think it makes more sense than the original Frankenstein. Things that a modern reader struggle with in the Regency original are smoothed over and made sense of in TDDoEF rather than being ignored or glossed over. The original is revealed to be source material from Victor’s journals, where life has been fictionalized and certain exploits left unsaid.

It is wonderfully modern and takes Shelley’s feminism further. After reading The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, I think Mary Shelley would approve– her mother certainly would have. Besides an extra dose of feminism, it grapples with privilege and how we enable others. It is a fantastic sequel/companion to the original story, and I give Kiersten White kudos for being able to cobble together old and new better than Victor ever could.

Grab a copy of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein here.

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Reading Rec: When the Moon Was Ours

In When the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore once again casts us under her spell and fills our world with pumpkins and roses.

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Miel met Sam the night she magically appeared out of the the town’s fallen water tower. As children, they were inseparable, Honey and Moon, and while Sam hung painted moons all over town to make Miel happy and keep the nightmares of the other children away, Miel became known as the girl who grew roses from her wrist. Every few days I new rose would burst forth, but soon, the town’s it-girls, the Bonner Sisters, believe they need Miel’s roses to keep their powers of enchantment and romance and they will use all of Miel and Sam’s secrets against her to get them.

First off, if you aren’t new to this blog, you know I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s work, so keep that in mind as you read this review.

Now that fall is upon us, When the Moon Was Ours becomes extra atmospheric, evoking all of the hallmarks of fall with bright moons, pumpkins, leaves, and shades of orange. The scenery of this story is lush in detail and magic without becoming overwhelming or too strange. With all of McLemore’s books, you need to be open to magic and strange things happening in the normal world. It’s a hallmark of magical realism I know some have a hard time dealing with. My advice is: magic happens, so don’t question it, just enjoy it.

One of the things I loved about this story is the different ways magic is explored. We have Miel’s caretaker, Aracely, who helps to cure love sickness using traditional means like eggs, herbs, flowers, etc. Then, there’s Sam’s mother who has the uncanny ability to get children to do their lessons and practice their instruments even when they give others a hard time. Sam makes his beautiful moons while Miel grows flowers from her wrist and the four Bonner Sisters ensnare lovers as easily as breathing. Each character has a different magical quality and while some are more overt than others, it’s obvious that each has more going on than meets the eye. This leads to a discussion of who is a considered a bruja. Bruja has a bit of a different connotation than simply saying someone is magical; it’s typically seen as more of an insult or something to be feared. Behind their backs, the Bonner Sisters are referred to as brujas while Miel and Aracely hear it to their faces despite how many people come to Aracely for help with their love lives. The discussion of race is fairly subtle but certainly there.

While this is a story of magic, it is certainly one of identity as well. Miel struggles to remember who she is before she appeared in the water tower while the Bonner Sisters deal with losing their identity after their oldest sister leaves and returns a different person. It is also the story of Sam’s identity. Sam is transgender, but he hasn’t quite come to accept himself and his identity yet, despite identifying as a boy for the majority of his life. Sam fears what it means for him to fully accept that he is a boy/man and not a bacha posh, a Pakistani tradition where a family with no sons dresses a daughter as a boy and treats her as such until she reaches adulthood and returns to being a woman. The arc about coming to terms with a shifting identity was handled incredibly well and McLemore states that the essence of Sam’s character was pulled from her husband’s experiences coming to terms with his identity. The realism behind Sam’s struggles are obvious and well done.

Overall, When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful story about love and identity wrapped in a blanket of moonlight and pumpkins. If you’re looking for a seasonal tale to sink into for fall, I highly recommend it. You can grab a copy here.

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Reading Rec: Teacher’s Pet Vol. 2

I received an ARC of Teacher’s Pet Volume 2 in exchange for an honest review.

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I want to begin by saying I accepted this ARC because I greatly enjoyed Lee Welch’s novel Salt Magic, Skin Magic, and at the time, I didn’t think about how awkward this might be for me since I’m an adjunct professor. Luckily, this anthology doesn’t contain any underage or just eighteen hanky-panky with an older professor (which I absolutely hate as a literary fiction trope).

One of the things I appreciated about this anthology is that the power dynamics between student and teacher were often discussed, and the teachers were ethical enough to pull back or augment the relationship in order to maintain that balance of power. The other interesting thing about this anthology is the fluidity of the definition teacher. Several were college professors while others were teachers of magic, a yoga instructor, a writing tutor, and a personal trainer.

The bad thing about an anthology is that it is a mixed bag. While I’m now happy to have found a few more authors I would like to read more, there were a few clunkers in the mix. I’ll detail this more in my review on Goodreads later where I’ll write a mini review for each story. My favorite stories tended to be about the nontraditional teachers. Some highlights were “A Spell for Master Vervain” by Lee Welch, “The Silent Treatment” by Elna Holst, and “Shedding Doubt” by Danielle Wayland.

“A Spell for Master Vervain” centers around a rather straight-laced magic student who tries to summon an incubus doppelganger of his teacher and instead accidentally summons his teacher.

“The Silent Treatment” is about a female priest who is forced to go on a yoga retreat by the Vicar to relax and take off the edge of her doom and gloom attitude. Her yoga instructor, Anita, decides to have a little fun with the uptight priest.

“Shedding Doubt” features a young man trying to lose weight and regain his health. After a fall at the gym, he befriends a buff gym rat who decides to help him get in shape. This leads to them becoming more than friends.

As I said, Teacher’s Pet Volume 2 is a mixed bag, but if you’re looking for more queer romance authors, I certainly think it’s worth a go. You can grab a copy here and I will post my microreviews of each story on Goodreads later.

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Reading Rec: The Craft of Love

The Craft of Love is a sweet novella featuring two artisans falling for each other in early Victorian New York City.

love of craft

When Benjamin Lewis stumbled across some of his mother’s old sewing projects, it dredges up painful memories from his past. Unable to part with the old dresses, he decides to have them transformed into something new: a quilt. Luckily, his lace-making sister knows just the seamstress for the job, Remembrance Quincy. Remembrance is a woman of strong convictions and even stronger skills. At her studio, she and her girls produce pieces for New York’s upper class, but something about the soft-spoken Mr. Lewis catches her attention. He proposes a trade: the quilt from his mother’s dresses for a silver teapot worked by his hands. Soon it’s silver for fabric and craftsman for craftswoman.

Sometimes I really crave a drama-free romance, and The Craft of Love hit the spot. Remembrance is a strong, confident woman who prides herself on her skills and her principles. She’s an abolitionist who practices what she preaches by staying away from goods produced by slaves, like cotton and sugar, and within her own community she tries to give women a voice. Mr. Lewis is also more than what he seems. Some of you may have been curious why I have a male-female romance on my blog when I mostly read LGBT+ romance. Well, Mr. Lewis is transgender, which is revealed early on and isn’t made a big deal over. This is incredibly refreshing as there’s no traumatic reveal or obsessing over the character’s sex. It’s woven in with skill and no muss, which I think speaks to the fact that Ottoman is an own-voice writer.

What I absolutely loved about this novella is how much of early nineteenth century New York City is brought into it. We hear about William Cullen Bryant doing a poetry reading, the New York Botanical Society (and how the city couldn’t care for their plants), and Sunday promenades in the park. It makes for a lush yet familiar atmosphere, especially for someone living in the Tri-State Area like myself.

The other highlight of this book is how Ottoman focuses on the characters’ crafts. The same amount of gravity is given to quilts as to silver-working. Remembrance is seen as someone who is incredibly skilled even if her works bear no maker’s mark or end up in a museum in the twenty-first century with the name anonymous where her name should be. It speaks to a changing tide in how women’s handicrafts are now being taken more seriously and are starting to get the scholarship they deserve. This book took me back to the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum where silver tankards sit in display cases in the sun, maker’s mark highlighted and explained on a card while sewing and quilts are indoors within their period rooms behind glass, easily missed as one passes down the hall to the pieces of furniture and grand portraits. It’s easy to miss the skill and time needed to make a piece when we have been taught to ignore that craftsmanship. The same can be said for Benjamin’s pieces, which are domestic as well. Do we ever stop and give a teapot its due? Probably not, but after reading The Craft of Love, I know I shall pay more attention.

The Craft of Love comes out Friday, so grab a copy now and have it delivered to your Kindle.

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Reading Rec: Band Sinister

Band Sinister by K. J. Charles is a delightful Regency rom-com complete with a motley crew and a touch of the Gothic. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

band sinister

Guy and Amanda Frisby are no stranger to scandal. With a run-away mother and a father who drank himself to death in the aftermath, they have desperately tried to keep their heads down and live a decent life. But that’s quite hard living next door to the Sir Philip Rookwood’s Murder, a hellfire club spoken about in whispers by the locals and attended by notorious libertines. When Amanda goes for ride and breaks her leg on Rookwood land, she ends up nursed back to health in Sir Philip’s estate. Guy fears for his sister’s health and reputation but soon finds the Murder is not what it seems. And the biggest surprise of all is how Sir Philip changes his views on life and love.

I was beyond thrilled to receive an ARC of Band Sinister, especially since Ms. Charles promised a rom-com with a body count of zero. If you’ve read her work, you know how remarkable that is, and better yet, it delivers.

The central romance between Guy and Sir Philip is a slow burn that moves in steps until Guy is comfortable enough with his identity and Sir Philip. Guy is a virgin hero, which is a breath of fresh air in a genre where most characters somehow manage to be exceedingly well-versed in sex. Sir Philip, while seen as a rake by society due to his half-brother’s behavior and his own cultivation of his reputation, is far from that. He is patient, kind, and treats consent as a key aspect of any relationship. There’s a lot of talk in Romancelandia lately regarding consent in romance novels and whether it ruins the aesthetic or slows down the romance. Personally, I think it’s needed. The characters show their ability to grow and communicate and no side is taken advantage of in the process.

Besides the romance, the cast of characters is phenomenal and begs the question, will there be more books in this series? Apart from the Frisbys and Sir Philip, we have two rogues from Philip’s childhood, a musician and composer, a cosmopolitan doctor ahead of his time, and two paleontologists, who I am incredibly intrigued by. Each character is unique and hints at what could potentially be a story of their own (possibly set before this volume takes place).

Band Sinister has a bit for everyone: a hint of the Gothic, a charming romance, handsome rogues, a plucky woman, and a cast of bright intellectuals and rogues.

Band Sinister comes out tomorrow, so grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: The Descent of Monsters

Have you ever read something called silkpunk? An infusion of Asian flare with a punch of magic and technology. If not, you need to get your hands on JY Yang’s Tensorate series beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. In the third book of the series, The Descent of Monsters, Yang takes us further into the world of tensors and strange hybrid creatures.

descent of monsters

Part Jurassic Park, part noir-ish crime story, The Descent of Monsters begins where The Red Threads of Fortune leave off but from the point of view of an investigator charged with figuring out why everyone at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods was slaughtered and how a naga raptor hybrid escaped. Told through file entries, diaries, letters, and interrogations, it fleshes out not only the mystery of the murders but what happened to Rider’s twin and how it is tied to the institute.

“Get livid.” The Descent of Monsters begins with a call to arms from its readers. Investigator Chuwan has seen the atrocities the government has not only covered up but sponsored and she wants your rage. This call sets the tone for the story, and it’s one of the things I absolutely love about Chuwan. While most of the characters in the Tensorate series have been very human, Chuwan is at times the most relatable. She is angry and fed up and just wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, especially since the government put her in charge of the investigation figuring she would cave and sweep the evidence under the rug. WRONG. She has the investigative chops and enough moxie to go against the government.

What I love about this series is the slow building of rebellion. With the first book, we get the inner workings of the government from the view of the children of the ruler. Then from the point of view of exiles, and now, we’re getting bits and pieces from an investigation from the government and a detective going rogue. I look forward to seeing what will happen when the fourth book comes out, and hopefully this interesting progression will continue. This is where I should comment more on the format. There are interrogation scripts, files from the investigation, letters, and Chuwan’s diary/memories. If you don’t like that format, you may not like this book, but Chuwan’s voice is strong and has that no-nonsense detective noir vibe. It’s hard not to picture the scenes in dramatic black and white.

One of the things I love about Yang’s books is how effortlessly they create their world. It’s rich in the sights and textures of Asia while still being infused with futuristic technology and magic. Somehow Yang manages to make them live side-by-side without feeling awkward or mismatched. The magic, or tensing, is intricate yet simple at its heart. It makes for an interesting magical system, especially regarding how different characters interact with the slack (the magic in everything). Within their world, queer characters are commonplace, and there is even a coming-of-age ceremony where children choose their gender and name. Other characters appear as nonbinary and/or non-straight, and there is even a brief discussion of pronouns in Descent of Monsters.

If you wished the latest Star Wars trilogy was even more daring, political, and had cooler creatures, you should check out JY Yang’s Tensorate series, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. Grab their latest book, The Descent of Monsters, now.

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Reading Rec: Salt Magic, Skin Magic

I received an ARC of Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch in exchange for an honest review.

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When Lord Thornby was dragged back to his father’s estate, he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to leave. Fearing his sanity is slipping when he can’t move past a seemingly invisible barrier, Thornby worries he has no chance of escaping until John Blake arrives. Masquerading as a guest, Blake has his own mission, to figure out what witchcraft is going on at the estate. When Thornby realizes Blake is the key to his escape, the men team up to fight the forces at play only to discover Thornby is more than he appears.

In the tradition of writers like Jordan L. Hawk and K. J. Charles, Lee Welch takes us on an adventure of magic, romance, and of course queer characters. Don’t mistake my reference to other authors of queer historical-fantasy as saying Welch’s work isn’t original. The magical system is wholly her own. What I loved about it was how it artfully combined the mystique of Victorian beliefs in faeries and paranormal creatures while also aligning with the heavy industrialism of the era. Magic can come in several ways, through faerie folk, demons, and by utilizing commonplace objects. This comes with a set of preconceived notions involving class and misconceptions about magic due to this rigid structure. The interweaving of these aspects of the Victorian Era keep us grounded in a historical reality while expanding it [logically] to contain magical elements.

Thornby and Blake are charming characters, each determined to find their way out of this magical muddle, and while there is a little friction at first, they quickly become a well-oiled team. They have fantastic chemistry, and more importantly, I loved how quirky they both can be. Thornby seems like an eccentric at first, but as the story progresses, his behavior begins to make more sense. With Blake, he is like Thornby’s foil and offsets his emotional and quirky side with a more utilitarian calm.

My only real quibble with this book was at times I found the romance aspects a bit gratuitous. I know that is a convention of the genre, but even for paranormal romance, it felt like a lot. This may have been because I read the book rather quickly and it only felt compressed. The scenes themselves though are written well and varied in terms of emotional and physical intimacy.

If you’re a fan of noblemen in emotional crisis or magic in a unique form, then Salt Magic, Skin Magic should be moved to the top of your to-be-read pile. Grab a copy here, and congrats to Lee Welch on their new release!

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Reading Rec: Wild Beauty

If you follow me on Patreon, you may have read my post about Bookcon and how Anna-Marie McLemore’s book signing and ARC giveaway was the ONE event I knew I had to attend. I was elated to find a signed copy of Wild Beauty at Bookcon, which I didn’t realize was signed until I got home (bonus!). After reading Wild Beauty, McLemore has been added to my auto-buy list.

wild beauty

For years, the Nomeolvides women have been trapped on the grounds of La Pradera, growing plants from their hands on the forgotten estate of the Briar family. More mysterious than their magical abilities is that if they step off the land, they die a painful death and those the Nomeolvides love go missing, never to return. Then, a boy in antiquated clothing and covered in dirt appears in the garden. Estrella and the other women wonder if he is a blessing from the garden or a warning, but Fel cannot remember where he came from or who he is. Estrella and her cousins must figure out who Fel was and how to escape the grip of La Prader before it’s too late.

I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s style. It’s an ingenious blend of the normal and surreal where magical flower growing women live along side cotton candy and instant mashed potatoes. Her prose is effortless to read, and her world is rich in texture and beauty. Magical realism is hard for some to deal with because of that intermixing of real and unreal, but if you can suspend your disbelief in this pocket of magic, it’s well worth it.

One of the things I worried about with this book was how it had an obvious aesthetic: flowers. What I mean by that is that some authors beat you to death with repetitive imagery and metaphors. While McLemore makes reference to flowers constantly throughout the story, it is done in such a way that it comes off as varied and artful. She capitalizes upon the sheer number of flowers available to utilize in metaphors and combines them with interesting actions and images. One of the other aspects I love that other readers may miss or think is a fault in the writing is how McLemore makes the Nomeolvides women interchangeable for the most part. Each generation there are five women, and they tend to be names without obvious identities apart from the plants they create. I feel this is done purposely and shows how the outside world sees the women versus how they are easily able to tell each other apart.

The story itself speaks to the impact of history on real people and we often try to sanitize or bury our pasts. This feels very relevant with what is going on in America politically. While McLemore doesn’t explicitly state this, readers should be able to see the parallels and understand why we must dredge up the bloody parts of our history in order to learn from them and grow.

I don’t want to give too much away because this book builds layer upon layer until the story truly unfolds at the end, and I don’t want to spoil that. If this review piqued your interest, you can pick up a copy of Wild Beauty on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

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