In case you missed them! BCM post recap August 2022

Hey Everyone,

In case you missed them, here’s a quick look at Book Club Mom’s posts in August.

I read five books this month, one up from my normal four.

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan – 5 stars. I’ve always liked survival stories and became totally engrossed in Steven Callahan’s first-hand account of how he survived for more than two months, alone in the North Atlantic.

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards – 4.5 stars. This Young Adult thriller is just as good or better than many of the adult thrillers I’ve recently read!

Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe – 4 stars. I was immediately affected when I listened to the audiobook of Toya Wolfe’s debut novel (published June 2022) about four young girls who live in the projects in Chicago and even more so when I learned that the author grew up in these projects.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex – 4 stars. This is a slow-burn atmospheric psychological drama that looks at the effects of isolation and separation.

The Party by Robyn Harding – 3.5 stars. About a month ago, I was getting a haircut and my stylist, knowing I have a book blog and work in a library, recommended this book, about a sweet sixteen party that went terribly wrong. I find books like this hard to resist and I wasn’t disappointed.

I made two YouTube videos and in one of them, I play the piano for you. I’m busy practicing and have a few more pieces that are almost ready to go.

RETRACTION!! Paperless announcement no good!

Book Club Mom is playing Bach!

I introduced two indie authors this month. Make sure you stop by
and read about their books and writing experiences!

Jacqueline Church Simonds

Jacqui Murray

Miscellaneous posts

First Novels by Famous Authors

BCM’s Touchy Topic Discussion: Should book bloggers rate books with stars or just review them?

Book on my radar: The Measure by Nikki Erlick

Grammar check: inbetween, in between, in-between or just plain between?

Book Club Mom’s Blog WOES and Other Obsessions

Thank you to these superstar commenters!

I hope you all had a great month. On to the next book!

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Book Review of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
Steven Callahan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve always liked survival stories and became totally engrossed in Steven Callahan’s first-hand account of how he survived for more than two months, alone in the North Atlantic after his boat sank. In 1980, Callahan entered the Mini-Transat Race from France to Antigua, but less than a week out, his boat was hit and destroyed by what he thinks was a whale. With only minutes to escape, he grabbed what he could and jumped in the inflatable life raft. His supplies consisted of a few items of food, minimal water, some tools and twine, desalination equipment, emergency flares, a signaling device with limited battery and a survival book he’d picked up at a used book sale.

Callahan endured blazing sun, huge waves, storms, shark attacks and a never-ending assortment of life-or-death situations, including the constant pressure to find food. His salt distillers malfunctioned, his raft leaked and he was hundreds of miles out of range for anyone to hear his signal. When he finally made it to the shipping lanes, ships didn’t catch the signal or see him, despite the flares.

Equally challenging were feelings of worry and hopelessness, but Callahan had a mental resiliency like no one else. He writes:

“Mountain climbing, camping, Boy Scouts, boat building, sailing, and design, and my family’s continued encouragement to confront life head on have all given me enough skill to ‘seastead’ on this tiny, floating island. I am getting there.”

Callahan speared dorados and trigger fish, journaled, drew, and calculated where he was with a sextant he made out of pencils, but over time, especially after the raft was punctured while he wrestled a dorado, he questioned if he had the strength to keep fighting. By then he was emaciated and dehydrated and was covered with cuts and sores.

One of his only comforts was the relationship he developed with the schools of dorados that followed him and nipped and bumped his raft, feeding off the barnacles on the bottom.

“The dorados have become much more than food to me…I look upon them as equals—in many ways as my superiors. Their flesh keeps me alive. Their spirits keep me company. Their attacks and their resistance to the hunt make them worthy opponents, as well as friends.”

Later, he wrote: “I needed a miracle and my fish gave it to me.”

On land, Callahan’s family notified the Coast Guard and conducted their own campaign to find him. But on the seventy-sixth day, a fishing boat from the tiny island of Marie Galante spotted his raft. He’d floated all the way from France to just south of Guadeloupe!

Callahan survived because of his unique skills and mindset and I wonder if anyone else could have made it. I marveled at how he used his mind to find solutions to a continuous run of seemingly hopeless situations. This is an example of perseverance like no other.

Adrift was first published in 1986 and despite being an older book, I think this excellent account has stood the test of time.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Charlie Mackesy

I’ve been wanting to read this short graphic novel for a long time, but it’s always checked out at the library! I finally got my hands on it and, in an effort to tell you more about my new experiences reading graphic novels, I want to share my review of this lovely little book.

While the beautiful illustrations suggest that this is a children’s book, the author clarifies in his introduction that this collection of encouraging sayings is for readers of all ages. We may have heard most of these adages, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be reminded, for example, to be kind to ourselves and others, that it’s okay to be scared of the world out there and that friendship and love are the most important things in our lives.

In a simple style, Mackesy covers all the fears and insecurities we experience. He writes that it’s okay to cry, for example because “Tears fall for a reason and they are your strength not weakness.” I especially like the line, “When the big things feel out of control focus on what you love right under your nose.”

I enjoyed reading this inspirational book and looking at the illustrations. I will note that the pictures and sentiments remind me a lot of Christopher Robin and Pooh, however, which diminished my feelings for the book a bit (honest opinion). But I suppose there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of the wonderful adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood, especially when the message is so positive.

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In case you missed them! Book Review Recap Jan-Jun 2022

Hi Everyone,

My monthly blog recaps have fallen by the wayside, but I’ve decided to bring them back. In this post, I’m just sharing book reviews from Jan – June. Later today, I’ll share all the other posts so far this year. Then next month I’ll be back on track for a monthly recap.


Run by Ann Patchett – 4 stars, slightly dated family drama tied to social and political ideas

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby – 2.5 stars, lots of hype, but this book disappointed me.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – 3.5 stars, fast, twisty domestic thriller


The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson – 4 stars, interesting nonfiction about a strange crime and the quirkiness of an offshoot of the fly-tying hobby

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – unrated, massively long murder mystery about a Franciscan abbey in 1327, heresy and a secret book

If I Were You by P.G. Wodehouse – 4 stars, amusing standalone story in typical Wodehouse fashion about love, marriage, money and family secrets

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow – 4.5 stars, moving story about a young biracial girl who is the only survivor of a tragic family accident


Something She’s Not Telling Us by Darcey Bell – 3 stars, domestic thriller about a woman who kidnaps her boyfriend’s niece and the family’s mad race to rescue the girl before something bad happens

The Second Mrs. Astor: A Novel of the Titanic by Shana Abé – 4 stars, engaging historical fiction about Madeleine Talmadge Force and her brief marriage to Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, cut short when they boarded the Titanic

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni – 3.5 stars, crime and courtroom series starter about Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective with the Seattle Police Department

Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta – 4 stars, 999-page account of Highsmith’s personal struggles with depression and her prolific writing career


House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg – 3.5 stars, middle-grade book about the beloved author of Anne of Green Gables and her battle with depression

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler – 4.5 stars, slightly dated Pulitzer Prize winner about marriage, family, disappointments and growing older, published in 1988

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – 4 stars, excellent nonfiction narrative about wireless inventor Guglielmo Marconi, murder fugitive Hawley Harvey Crippen and a transatlantic escape attempt

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – 4.5 stars, 2020 Booker Prize winner set in Scotland about a young boy and his alcoholic mother

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 4 stars, gothic horror story about a Mexican debutante who travels to the family’s mining town to rescue her cousin

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo – 3.5 stars, psychological drama about a family after a robbery and kidnapping


One by One by Ruth Ware – 4.5 stars, very good thriller about a members of a tech-start-up on a retreat in the French Alps as they go missing, one by one

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – 5 stars, excellent classic mystery from 1860 about a mysterious woman who escapes from an asylum

The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell – unrated, interesting look at the deep connection between trees, nature and humans

Kusama by Elisa Macellari – 5 stars, graphic novel/biography about Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who became a pop art sensation, all the while struggling from severe psychic disorders


Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson – 3 stars, atmospheric thriller about a young woman on her honeymoon

French Braid by Anne Tyler – 4 stars, Anne Tyler’s 24th very enjoyable novel about uncomfortable family dynamics and how people connect

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow – 4 stars, still-good courtroom thriller from the 80s, the first in the Kindle County series

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain – 3.5 stars, fictional account of famous war correspondent Martha Gelhorn and her tumultous marriage to Ernest Hemingway

What good books have you read this year? What are you reading now? Leave a comment!

Looking for more?

BCM Post Recap Jan-Jun 2022
Spotlight on Indie Authors Jan-Jun 2022
What’s that Book Recap Jan-June 2022

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Books from the sea

Read and reviewed

Summer is a great time to read books about water and the sea. Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction:

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific

Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife

Old-time classics

The Happy Return by C.S. Forester

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Shōgun by James Clavell

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

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Graphic Novel Review – Kusama by Elisa Macellari

Kusama: The Graphic Novel
Elisa Macellari

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In an effort to learn more about graphic novels, I picked up Kusama by Elisa Macellari. It’s all about the famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who came to New York in 1958 when she was in her twenties and became a pop art sensation, all the while struggling from severe psychic disorders. To cope with her anxiety, hallucinations and intense feelings of depersonalization, she used art as a form of self-medication.

In her early years, she drew and painted and later moved to performance art, sculpture, installation and other forms of abstract art. Her art represents feminism, sexuality, minimalism and surrealism. Much of her expression is represented in red and white polka dots and her naked performance art, representing free love and homosexual sex during the sixties, often occurred in public places. I’m not an art expert, so I’ll stop there, but you can find plenty of information about her online.

By Terence Ong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

So, on to the graphic novel. Graphic novel is an umbrella term, but this one is actually a graphic biography. I was struck by how powerfully the illustrations, all in red, white and black, and the words came together to depict Kusama’s life, especially her childhood and her fragile mental health. Her parents fought, her mother berated her and her father was unfaithful. I thought the author/illustrator did a fantastic job showing Kusama’s hallucinations, sadness and feelings of detachment while chronicling her life. Through the pictures, I could tell how lost she felt and understand the therapeutic power of her art.

Macellari also tells how Kusama, desperate to leave her unhappy home in Japan, wrote to the American modern artist Georgia O’Keeffe for advice. The two began a correspondence and O’Keeffe offered to show Kusama’s art at galleries in New York. Soon after, Kusama made the move to New York.

Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and disappeared from the art scene for twenty years. The Japan she knew had changed and she had trouble fitting in. She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital to treat her fragile mental state where she used art as therapy. Slowly, her art became recognized in Japan. At ninety-three, she continues to create and is recognized worldwide.

Now, Kusama reflects on her life and career and her parents. “My entire life I have swung between feelings of love and hate for my parents. If I have got to this age, I owe it only to them. They prepared me for the light and shadows of life and death.”

A note about adult graphic novels. These are not kids’ books! They are colorful and inviting, but the pages inside are for adult eyes. I found this book compelling and extremely readable. I read it twice to let it all soak in. There are plenty of biographies about Kusama. This is a good place to start. Its minimalist presentation fits perfectly with the artist’s style.

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Graphic Novel Review – Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York
Roz Chast

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A few years ago, my work friend recommended Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York. Since then, I’d seen this graphic novel all around the library, but hadn’t read it. I finally brought it home to read this week and laughed so hard I was crying. Chast’s book began as a simple guide book for her daughter, who was headed to college in Manhattan. The family had moved from Brooklyn to a suburban town when her children were small and Chast wanted her daughter to fall in love with the city the way she had at that age. She writes, “I wanted to introduce her to Manhattan and didn’t want them to ‘get off on the wrong foot.’” Also, she wanted to make sure her daughter knew how to get around!

This isn’t a travel guide, but it will help you get around. And Chast includes plenty of clever cartoons to help a person understand streets, avenues, uptown, downtown, the east side and the west side. She points to Manhattan’s idiosyncracies, but also to its attractions, including parks, museums and other “Stuff to Do.”

I could have used this guide years ago when I volunteered to be a chaperone for the annual sixth-grade trip to New York. We left on three middle school buses at 7:00 am and arrived in New York at 9:00 am for an 12:00 lunch at ESPN and a 2:00 pm Broadway show. Another mom and I were put in charge of eight boys (including our sons) and told to explore the city! Those eight boys wanted to do about ten different things, including going to a sneaker shop to buy sneakers we could have gotten at the local mall and visiting FAO Schwarz. After lunch, when we finally got to the theater district, we were right in the middle of a throng of people much like in this picture. I was sure we would lose them while crossing the street.

One of the things I liked best about this book is how inclusive the author is. And although she pokes a little fun at tourists, she really just wants everyone to love New York the way she does. Chast has been a cartoonist for the New Yorker since 1978. She also wrote and illustrated the award-winning graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? in which she explores the topic of aging parents.

You don’t have to be a New Yorker to like this book, but I think it might help to have visited the city or to be interested in it. I grew up in a New Jersey town outside New York and have visited the city many times, but I’m a full suburbanite now. And I definitely don’t know my way around Manhattan. You can ask any extended family member to verify. I’d also recommend Going to Town for readers to get a taste of what graphic novels are like. Not all graphic novels are funny, but this one is!

Do you read graphic novels? What types do you like? If you haven’t read any, are you interested? Leave a comment below!

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Book Review – The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell

The Songs of Trees
David George Haskell

I enjoyed this book that explores the deep connection between trees, nature and humans. Haskell studies twelve trees from around the world and explains in descriptive detail how the trees grow, adapt, sense, and provide living space for a multitude of living things.

From the Ceibo in the Amazon, to the Redwoods and Ponderosa Pines in Colorado, to the Japanese White Pine, we learn about these and other regional trees, their chemistry, their leaves and adaptive roots, the fungi that help them grow, how the trees protect themselves, and the effects of climate change over millions of years. In addition, we learn about regional cultures and their relationships to specific species. Haskell also describes the spiritual, economic and political connections with the trees.

While I enjoyed learning about all the trees he described, I particularly enjoyed reading about the Ceibo in Ecuador. Haskell ascended a structure through the canopy of this part of the forest and was able to see and experience the vast network of creatures living within the branches, animals that never visit the ground. That includes the bullet ant, known for its intensely painful sting! I also liked learning about how humans and the Hazel tree arrived in Scotland at the same time, during the Mesolithic Age. These civilizations had a deep dependency on the Hazel, used its wood for fuel and ate hazelnuts to survive. Haskell also studies several urban trees, including the Cottonwood in Denver and the Callery Pear in Manhattan. Both of these species have become gathering places for people, in Denver, to enjoy shade along the Cheery Creek and the South Platte River and in New York, as a place to step away for a bit from the busy sidewalk traffic. In Jerusalem, he looks at the olive tree, how it adapts to dry conditions and the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its farmers and their families.

To say that Haskell is descriptive is a major understatement! He packs every sentence with a multitude of adjectives and scientific detail. That makes for a slower read, perhaps the author’s deliberate attempt to make readers truly understand and experience the atmosphere he describes. At 252 pages, you may think you can read this quickly, but I’d recommend taking it at about ten to twenty pages at time. I was under pressure to read it for my library job and had to commit to fifty pages a day to get it done. That was a little tough, time-wise. I’d recommend this book to readers who like books about natural history and enjoy the connection between nature and civilization.

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Book Review: House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery
Liz Rosenberg

Illustrated by Julie Morstad

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I read about House of Dreams over at Bookshelf Fantasies and was immediately interested in reading about Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canadian author of twenty novels, including Anne of Green Gables and hundreds of short stories and poems. Montgomery was Maud to family and friends and she used L.M. Montgomery as her professional name. I confess I have not read the children’s book Anne of Green Gables, but now I want to. I also knew nothing about Maud Montgomery and her life.

Maud was born in 1874 and grew up in a village called Cavendish on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Her mother died when she was two years old and her father soon moved to Saskatchewan. Maud went to live with her maternal grandparents, Lucy and Alexander Macneill. They were already in their fifties and although they provided Maud with all the material things she needed, they were not affectionate or supportive, leaving Maud to feel sad and alone. Her grandfather was particularly hard on Maud. Despite this upbringing, Maud felt a deep attachment to Cavendish.

Maud was destined to become a writer. From an early age, she kept a journal, made up stories and when she was older submitted them to newspapers and magazines for publication. “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author,” she wrote.

Maud was merry on the outside (merry was one of her favorite words), but inside she battled mood swings and seasonal depression: it was a lifelong struggle. Mental illness was not widely talked about, accepted or treated in Maud’s time and she and others suffering had to tough it out alone. She wrote happier stories to escape the gloom. “Thank God, I can keep the shadows of my life out of my work. I would not wish to darken any other life—I want instead to be a messenger of optimism and sunshine.”

Maud had many suitors, turned down several marriage proposals and broke one engagement after “a year of mad passion” with another man. That relationship was not meant to be, however, and she later married Ewan Macdonald, an aspiring minister. They had two sons, Chester and Stuart. Ewan, however, also struggled with mental illness and their marriage was not happy. To combat their depression and mood swings, they took sleeping pills, tranquilizers, bromides and other medicines. Maud died of an overdose in 1942 at age sixty-seven. In 2008, her granddaughter revealed that her death was a possible suicide.

I knew from the description that this book talked a lot about depression and mental health, but I had no idea that an author as beloved as Montgomery had suffered so much. She endured many losses and heartbreak, but hid these feelings from the public. This book is supposedly geared to readers ages 10-14, and the writing style is definitely simpler. It’s also illustrated, which makes it look like a middle-grade book. In my opinion, the content is more appropriate for an older reader, although I can see it being used as a way of talking with kids about mental health problems.

That said, I found it interesting and easy to read and it has sparked my interest in her books.

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Book Review: Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

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Erik Larson

If you think you don’t like nonfiction, you should try out a book like Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. In this 2006 narrative, Larson tells the story of wireless inventor Guglielmo Marconi, murder fugitive Hawley Harvey Crippen and the race in 1910 to apprehend Crippen on a transatlantic escape attempt. Thanks to what was then called the “Marconigram,” reports of sightings around the world were communicated via wireless transmissions to detectives in London, including one from Captain Henry George Kendall of the SS Montrose. Kendall was certain that two people on his ship were Crippen and Ethel Clara LeNeve, Crippen’s secretary and lover, disguised as a father and his teenage son.  

Larson sets the background in a description of Marconi’s obsessive efforts to figure out how to communicate through what people then called the “ether.” Marconi was not a scientist and had no formal schooling, but his curiosity, hunches and persistence put him ahead of others in the scientific world. He had plenty of competitors and just as many skeptics, whose jealousy made them bitter and prompted some to do whatever they could to thwart his progress. Marconi’s obsessive drive despite setbacks and his strange personality (isn’t that what makes inventors who they are?) put him on top, however, and in 1909, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his accomplishments.

I knew the basics about Marconi, but I hadn’t heard of Crippen and the North London Cellar Murder investigation of 1910. It’s a well-known case, however, and has been portrayed on stage, in books and on screen. Crippen was an American homeopath and an ear and eye specialist who sold over-the-counter remedies. After his first wife died, he married Cora Turner, an aspiring opera singer. When the couple moved to London, Cora adopted her stage name, Belle Elmoore and Crippen began hawking remedies. While Belle was a voluptuous and sexy flirt and very social, Crippen was of slight build and wore thick glasses that accentuated his protruding eyes. He was exceedingly mild-mannered and yielded to her every wish. And although their friends wondered about the unlikely couple, most thought they were happy. They weren’t. Belle went through money like water and ordered her husband around. Crippen began an affair with his secretary, Ethel LeNeve.

One day, Crippen announced that Belle had left him for a lover in New York, then later said she’d taken sick and died. When Belle’s friends began to question him and took their concerns to Scotland Yard, Crippen disappeared with LeNeve. The hunt was on.

I enjoyed Larson’s account of Marconi’s inventions and of Crippen, Belle and Ethel. Larson is a talented and entertaining writer and the result of his extensive research is a story that both flows easily and ties the two narratives together in an interesting way. Modern investigations would have been much more thorough and accurate, but forensics of the time were surprisingly inventive. The case attracted worldwide attention and many wondered how such a likable guy could have committed such a gruesome crime all by himself. Also interesting was LeNeve’s role, if any, in the plot. You’ll need to read the book to find out the rest, but there’s plenty to think about!

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