3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction

Book Review: Foe by Iain Reid

★ ★ ★
Foe is described as a “taut, psychological mind-bender” and while that is fitting, for me it was more of a slow burn, character driven story that is centered around relationships and isolation. It had that uneasiness within the first couple of pages that never leaves long after you’ve finished reading it. I cannot discuss too much into the plot, and to be honest, not much actually happens in this story—it relays a lot on dialogue and the thoughts of one character, our main protagonist.

Junior and Henrietta live a quiet life in solitude on their farm. One day a stranger from the city arrives with news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel to space. Henrietta won’t have a chance to miss him though, because she won’t be alone, she will have company that’s already been arranged.

The chapters are short, some less than 2-pages, which I personally like because it makes the story feel like it’s progressing quicker and I can get through a handful of chapters in one go when I’m reading during free time throughout the day. I also found it a well fit for this type of novel due to the lack of events that went on and how this was heavy on inner monologue.

I am torn between a 2 1/2 or 3-star review because while this was lackluster in areas due to not much taking place and seemed to drag on despite being a relatively short novel, it ended on a surreal note that left me as a reader stunned. It was a predictable ending to some, but not one that I had in mind or thought about once while reading the story. The protagonist, Junior, offers a rather distorted narrative due to his troubled psyche and the strain this unwelcoming event has caused on their quiet, isolated farm. There is an unsettling feeling surrounding the surprise guest that seeps into the energy of the farm, and that makes it difficult to analyze the situation and piece together the unknown due to the complexity and uncertainty that builds.

If you are someone who enjoys thrillers with some science-fiction, or just an intriguing, keep-you-guessing quick read that you can read within a day or two, I would say pick up Foe and see for yourself. If you have read it, tell me your thoughts! Did you expect the ending or were you just as surprised?

Synopsis


“In Iain Reid’s second haunting, philosophical puzzle of a novel, set in the near-future, Junior and Henrietta live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with alarming news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Henrietta won’t have a chance to miss him, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company.”

Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press

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3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: Northwood by Maryse Meijer

9781948226011★ ★ ★

Northwood is a novella told in beautifully written passages and free-verse poetry, about an artist who flees to the woods to pursue her artwork in isolation. What begins is a tainted, violent love affair with a married man—and the struggle between desire and obsession, and the brutal nature of intimacy. Meijer has crafted an eerie fable that combines fairy tales, mythology, horror, and mysticism into a strange and memorable experience. Fans of Grimm fairy-tales or Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, Northwood is the next book you need to add to your list.

I found this to be not just a haunting story, but a riveting journey of a relationship that is conflicted when pain becomes pleasure, and seeking it out desperately despite the risks and impact it has not just physically, but mentally. Meijer creates world-building that is vivid and captivating, with complex and mysterious characters. I found that as the story progressed, the descriptions and character’s mental stay show obvious signs of wither and become disorienting, as the obsession, violence, and desire conflicted and immersed with one another.

Between the beautiful, fiery prose and free-verse poetry and the exquisite style of white-on-black text bound in a vibrate red hardback, this novella is a piece of art. Meijer’s writing is bold and atmospheric, it brings light to emotions and experiences—despair, brutality, desperation, love, vulnerability, and healing—unlike any other written word I have come across.

Synopsis 

Part fairy tale, part horror story, Northwood is a genre-breaking novella told in short, brilliant, beautifully strange passages. The narrator, a young woman, has fled to the forest to pursue her artwork in isolation. While there, she falls in love with a married man she meets at a country dance. The man is violent, their affair even more so. As she struggles to free herself, she questions the difference between desire and obsession—and the brutal nature of intimacy.

Hardcover, 102 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Black Balloon Publishing

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Thank you to Sarah from Catapult for sending me a copy.  I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own. 

3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction

Book Review: Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

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★ ★ ★

When I saw that Claire Fuller was releasing another novel, I could not contain my excitement and contacted the publisher for an ARC, so first and foremost, thank you to Tin House Books for kindly sending me a copy. I’ve had to restrain my thoughts for this review for months now, so I’m glad I can finally share with everyone because Claire Fuller is one of my favorite author’s and Bitter Orange is her latest gem.

A hazy, hot summer read about a woman on her last days, looking back on her life and recalling the memory of summer 1969 where she lived with a mysterious couple in a decaying English estate in the countryside. Frances is the sole narrator for Bitter Orange, one who makes for an unreliable storyteller, which I enjoyed for this. The novel had a very blurry feel, almost like a dream sequence, because of Frances being an unstable narrator and not knowing if what she is saying is true or accurate because in the present day her memory is fading—and even through her recalling that one summer, she appears as a naive and awkward individual which made for a complex and intriguing main character.

Unusual things begin happening around the estate and we do not know if it is haunted, if it’s in Frances’ mind, or if the newly arrived couple who’ve caught Frances attention has something to do with it because they are a strange couple and Frances becomes quite obsessed and with that comes blurred lines and might induce some delusional behavior. Claire Fuller writes beautiful prose that is always atmospheric and eerie, and this was no exception. While this almost feels suffocating and cloudy, almost like a scorching hot humid summer day, it would make for the perfect fall read because of that disoriented and foggy perspective about what went on during the summer of 1969.

Synopsis 

From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them—Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she’s distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.
To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.
But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Tin House Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey

bookcover★ ★ ★

Blind River is a town you would not want to be caught in but makes for the ideal atmospheric thriller that everyone should be reading this fall. Gale Massey takes you to a small town in America where we focus on the Elders family—Jamie Elders is nineteen-years-old, trying to escape from the small town of Parsons, New York and away from her family’s reputation after her mother’s conviction. One choice leads to her landing in a large debt to her uncle, Loyal, which continues to unravel and put her in even more danger after he demands she clean up a mess one night—disposing of a dead man and covering up his connection to the town’s powerful judge.

A slow burn for me, but still, I enjoyed the entire story. I found Massey’s style of writing easy flowing, with rich and detailed world-building behind this character-driven story. The protagonist, Jamie, is not the only complex character in this novel, and I liked that each character had layers, even if they were rough and gritty and people you would not want to encounter in real life. You really end up rooting for Jamie, even with her mistakes and questionable choices, because Massey brings a connection between the reader and main character, who is trying, despite her rough upbringing, to have a better life for herself away from the grim small town.

I am not a card player, so the terminology was often overlooked and I found myself skimming those sections, but that wasn’t really a negative on the book, because I can see as a reader why it was incorporated. This was leaning more on a 3.5 star read for me because I did really enjoy it—it just wasn’t a favorite, but I do recommend it—it held my attention, and I was intrigued by the premise and what was the outcome. You can tell it was well thought out when it came to the book as a whole with characters, setting, and premise in mind, and was executed strongly with beautiful writing.

Synopsis 

Everyone says the Elders family are nothing but cheats, thieves, and convicts—a fact nineteen-year old Jamie Elders has been trying desperately to escape. She may have the natural talent of a poker savant, but her dreams of going pro and getting the hell out of the tiny town of Parsons, New York are going nowhere fast. Especially once she lands in a huge pile of debt to her uncle Loyal.
At Loyal’s beck and call until her debt is repaid, Jamie can’t easily walk away—not with her younger brother Toby left at his mercy. So when Loyal demands Jamie’s help cleaning up a mess late one night, she has no choice but to agree. But disposing of a dead man and covering up his connection to the town’s most powerful judge goes beyond family duty. When it comes out that the victim was a beloved athlete and Loyal pins the murder on Toby, only Jamie can save him. But with a dogged detective on her trail and her own future at stake, she’ll have to decide: embrace her inner criminal, or defy it—and face the consequences.

Hardcover, 329 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Crooked Lane Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews, Non Fiction

Book Review: You Do You by Sarah Knight

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★ ★ ★

Sarah Knight, New York Times bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and Get Your Sh*t Together, released her latest title, You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want in November of 2017. I’ve heard a lot of buzz around her two other books but never got around to reading them, so when I saw You do You I knew that it would be my first Sarah Knight read, but certainly not the last. In the same straightforward, no bullshit approach of her previous novels, Knight talks about standing up for who you are, being selfish when it comes to what you want, need and deserve, and knowing it is okay because you have to put your happiness first. As the synopsis says… “bestselling “anti-guru” Sarah Knight has three simple words for you: YOU DO YOU.”

While I am not one who reads self-help, I was intrigued by the “anti-guru” and Knight’s quirky, funny, profanity-filled writing style–it felt like a personal conversation with a friend over coffee, after confessing my much-too-often desire to please everyone else around me. At times it did feel like it was a bit of mash-up between her two previous novels because sometimes it was noted bits were spoken about in them and included in You Do You, I think it was a great introduction into her novels by getting a bit of each in this. I enjoyed this, although some advice or insight wasn’t the most effective approach or realistic in some aspects. It was an easy, quick read that I broke down to reading a little bit each week to space it out because it isn’t a long read. It was an interesting, blunt perspective on today’s society and expectations, and essentially do what works for them.

Synopsis 

You Do You is a down-to-earth, irreverent, and no-holds-barred guide to letting go of the weight of others’ expectations and doubling down on your dreams to find real, lasting happiness.
First, bestselling “anti-guru” Sarah Knight taught you to shed unwanted guilt and obligations like a year’s worth of old socks in The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. Then, in Get Your Sh*t Together, she taught you how to set goals for the life you want and really achieve them.
Now she’s back, with her most broadly-applicable “No F*cks Given Guide” yet: helping you let go of family, social, and existential pressures to be happy with yourself and the life you really want. In the down-to-earth, warmly irreverent tone that has become her trademark, Sarah Knight helps readers find the conviction that it’s not just okay to be who you are and want what you want, but that it’s great.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 21st 2017 by Little, Brown and Company

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction

Book Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

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★ ★ ★

The Woman in the Window was receiving a lot of buzz months before its release date and I was hesitant to pick it up because I was worn out on thrillers, but I’m glad I made the decision to add it to my BOTM box because it did not disappoint. A noir psychological thriller that was clever, absorbing, and unsettling, with peculiar characters, particularly the main protagonist, Anna.

Anna Fox is a shut-in and drunk, suffering from agoraphobic after an accident that you will learn more about further into the book. She spends her days drinking wine by the bottle, watching old black-and-white movies, and neighbor watching. Until one day when she witnesses something shocking in the window of her neighbors and attempts to report it to the police. Everything begins to unravel and suddenly Anna does not know what is right–is she hallucinating from mixing the wine and various pills she prescribed? Are people conspiring against her? Can she even trust herself?

This was a fast-paced read with short chapters that pack a blow, and Anna is an unreliable narrator, illustrating the murky mind of alcoholism and mental illness, so the further along I read, the more I was conflicted and uncertain of what really happened. While one of the plotlines was obvious to me from the beginning–looking back, little hints were placed throughout with one of the characters–there was one twist nearing the end that shook me. I had to put the book down and just take a breath because I didn’t believe it.

The details and world-building were so vivid that it was like watching a movie. It will definitely be one of those books that when you reach a certain point, you’ll pause to remember all the subtle clues placed throughout the previous chapters. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Woman in the Window, and I’m glad I picked it up finally! It was a cozy-yet-dark type of thriller for me, and I devoured it in two days because it was so well-written.

Synopsis 

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.
Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.
What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Hardcover, 427 pages
Published January 2nd 2018 by William Morrow

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3 Star Reads, Adult Fiction, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

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★ ★ ★

All across social media I read praise for The Blinds and seen it was a much-anticipated release, so when I had the opportunity to read it, I couldn’t wait to get started. Set in a secret rural Texas town, Caesura, but better known as The Blinds, is populated by dangerous criminals and innocents who’ve had their memories erased so they can have a second chance at a new life with new identities. When one of the residents commits suicide, no one is surprised, but a couple months later another is murdered, and residents want answers. The Blinds is a place harboring secrets that releases chaos when agents start investigating the little hidden away community.

Despite nearing 400-pages, The Blinds is a quick read that is told throughout a week’s time, each chapter titled a day of the week from Monday through Friday. While marketed as a thriller, I found this more as mystery-suspense with a noir western vibe and didn’t feel it had any substantial aspects of a thriller. That said, this was a dark story with a unique setting, complex characters, and overall an entertaining read that was a page-turner from the first page. There was an overwhelming dread for the characters and all the unknown that was going on within this little community they knew nothing about. As the story progressed, it felt like a plague was washing over the inhabitants and town, and I could not put it down for long in between reads because I wanted to know what was going on in The Blinds. Within the plot, there are sub-plots that merge as the story progresses until we reach the final chapter that became a little tedious but didn’t really impact my overall view on the book because it all weaved into a shocking conclusion.

Synopsis 

Imagine a place populated by criminals-people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime, or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.
For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Ecco

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

2 Star Reads, 3 Star Reads, Book Reviews, Sequential Art

Book Review: The Deaths of Henry King & Fütchi Perf

34146757

★ ★ ★

Without a doubt, this fulfilled my need for some dark humor in my life. It was just what I needed to help me get out of a book slump I was in for two weeks. The Deaths of Henry King by Brian Evenson, Jesse Ball, and illustrated by Lilli Carré. For me, this was an introduction into the creators of this collaboration, and after reading this, I looked into more of their work because I wanted more. Lilli Carré’s illustrations are phenomenal, and she quickly became a favorite artist of mine after discovering her work in this book. This is not exactly a graphic novel, but it is sort of a small illustrated book with short paragraphs and gravestone-rubbing-style art. The Deaths of Henry King, simply put, is about one character dying over and over in some grim, but comical situations.

At certain points, I would make anyone around me listen while I read a few pages because it was too good not to share. Some grim, some hilarious, and some outright ridiculous deaths. Death by a cheddar cheese wheel? Eating six and a half pounds of glass? A visit from an angel that rips his heart out through his throat? It all happens within the 160 pages of The Deaths of Henry King.

The hapless Henry King, as advertised, dies. Not just once or twice, but seven dozen times. Each death a new demise, from the comic to the grim to the absurd to the transcendent and back again. With text by Jesse Ball and Brian Evenson complimented by Lilli Carré’s macabre, gravestone-rubbing-style art, Henry King’s ends are brought to a vivid life.

Hardcover, 160 pages
September 12th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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★ ★

Fütchi Perf is Kevin Czap’s first long-form in print, told through a handful of short comics combined to assemble like an album. Set in Cleveland, in a near-utopian future, there are themes of community, feminism, and a diverse world that is accepting and letting the good flourish. It’s filled with close-knit friendships, life-changing basement shows, and a joyous artistic community. I am torn because this was close to a 3 star read but closer to a 2.5 because of some reasons that I’ll discuss further in the review–but I did like this, just not as much as I hoped. I read this not once, but twice, because I felt like the first time wasn’t enough to extract all that the comic had to offer–and still, I am a bit perplexed. It is disjointed with little story, and has a lot going on between the color palette, and crowded pages. I definitely felt a little claustrophobic while reading this, which added to the second time around reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The artwork is cartoony with a vibrant bubblegum palette, displayed in flashes of scenes, that was fitting to the setting and the idealized, euphoria atmosphere of Cleveland.

I felt like this is one of those comics that really makes you stop and question a lot on how we think, the way society is verse how we would possibly like it to be, or how other’s may envision possible solutions to real-life problems. I did love the premise of this, the characters, and all the diversity that is within it–you can feel the heart that went into crafting Fütchi Perf–but I had such a hard time really getting into it because of the layout, which did lower the rating I had in mind.

What if the future began in a small, queer, punk music show in the basement of a Cleveland, Ohio house? Romantic friendships, über-chic culture, magical solutions, kid think-tanks, and more. Fütchi Perf might not depict a perfect future, but its slice-of-life vignettes—drawn in a glorious, kaleidoscopic two-color palette—visualize a Utopian dream that seems almost real, but perpetually out of reach.

Paperback, 88 pages
October 10th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

3 Star Reads, Book Reviews, Sequential Art

Book Review: Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell

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★ ★ ★

Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and often relatable, Everything is Flammable is a graphic memoir with raw storytelling, and simple art. After her mother’s home is destroyed in a fire, Bell returns to her hometown in rural Northern California to help her mother get things in order and buy a new home. Spanning through one year and touching on issues such as anxiety, financial hardships, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell’s humor and brutal honesty unfold into a profound memoir. While certain topics in this were at times difficult to read, I think Bell captures the overwhelming and uncertainty of anxiety and just going through life with it on top of dealing with anything else that comes along.

The beginning was like an small introduction into Bell and her life, before getting into the aftermath of the fire, which I liked because it gave the readers more insight into who she is. The characters were portrayed in such a way that by the end, you want to know more about them, and where they went from there. The artwork is simple, dark, and engrossing–I actually went back just look through the pages and appreciate it. Everything is Flammable is a well crafted graphic memoir that, more me, was just the beginning look into Bell’s work, and I look forward to checking out more in the future.

Synopsis

In Gabrielle Bell’s much anticipated graphic memoir, EVERYTHING IS FLAMMABLE, she returns from New York to her childhood town in rural Northern California after her mother’s home is destroyed by a fire. Acknowledging her issues with anxiety, financial hardships, memories of a semi-feral childhood, and a tenuous relationship with her mother, Bell helps her mother put together a new home on top of the ashes. A powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, examination of a mother-daughter relationship and one’s connection to place and sense of self. Spanning a single year, Everything is Flammable unfolds with humor and brutal honesty. Bell’s sharp, digressive style is inimitable.

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Uncivilized Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

3 Star Reads, Book Reviews, Non Fiction

Book Review: Stirring Up Fun with Food by Sarah Michelle Gellar

dcd0a2cf0c9575475984233c59896bf0★ ★ ★

As a longtime fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar from back in her Buffy the Vampire days, I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest cookbook, Stirring Up Fun with Food, published by Grand Central Life & Style. I love her enthusiasm when it comes to being in the kitchen as a family, and introducing her children to food in creative ways while keeping it healthy and simple. Organized by month, there are recipes for every occasion and theme, so the possibilities are endless and kid-friendly.

In January’s section, you’ll find quiche cupcakes that are light and flavorful, perfect for on-the-go during the busy week. March offers a delicious recipe for veggie egg rolls to make-at-home rather than ordering take-out—a little more involved, but a good way to get kids in the kitchen. In June, you can prepare coconut chicken fingers that not only the little ones will love, but adults will, too—paired well with a red pepper jelly or sweet chili sauce.

Each recipe includes ingredients, directions, serving size, and small blurb. While some recipes require as little as 5 ingredients and little prep time, it makes for fun and accessibility for everyone involved. I found some recipes better than others, while some weren’t clearly focused on fun and creativity—but overall it offers a great selection of projects and recipes for a family to enjoy. It was well crafted with time and quality, and Sarah and Gia did a wonderful job. It’s creative and cheerful, a cookbook that anyone with children would love to have in their home.

Synopsis

Why stop with making basic brownies? Why not put them on a stick and decorate them? Why not take boring broccoli and turn it into a yummy cheese muffin instead? Sarah Michelle Gellar learned quickly that to get her kids to be adventurous with food, she had to involve them in preparing it. She wanted that process to be fun and help them develop self-confidence, creative thinking, and even math skills! So Sarah and co-author Gia Russo came up with more than 100 fun food-crafting ideas that take basic food preparation to a surprising new level.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 18th 2017 by Grand Central Life & Style

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.