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Book Review – Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Sister Wife

Book Description:

In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands.

Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in. Perhaps it’s because of Taviana, the girl who has come to live with them and entertains Celeste with forbidden stories, or Jon, the young man she has clandestine meetings with, or maybe it’s the influence of Craig, the outsider she meets on the beach. Whatever it is, she struggles to accept her ordained life. At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family. Celeste watches as Taviana leaves Unity, followed by Jon, and finally Craig, the boy who has taught her to think “”outside the box.”” Although she is assigned to a caring man, his sixth wife, she is desperately unhappy. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?

Torn from the headlines and inspired by current events, Sister Wife is a compelling portrait of a community where the laws of the outside world are ignored and where individuality is punished.

*

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka is a thought-provoking book about the experiences of three young girls who belong to a polygamist religious sect called The Movement. In this isolated rural community of Unity, the Prophet’s word is law and strict obedience is expected (especially from women and children). Girls are brought up chaste (and uneducated!) – their only destiny to be a ‘child bride’ turned ‘sister wife’ or ‘plural wife’ whose grace are measured by their obedience and fecundity. It’s a world totally estranged from mine – so I was very curious when I started reading it. I thought Sister Wife was well-written (just don’t read the Epilogue!) and it certainly grabbed my attention (not to mention stirring up some strong emotions in me!)  I couldn’t help but think about the young girls and women who do belong to such sects in real life.

Sister Wife  is told from three separate first person POVs  (14-year-old would-be rebel Celeste on whom the story is concentrated on; her devout 13-year-old younger sister Nanette who is a  ‘true-believer’ ; and 17-year-old Taviana –  an ex-prostitute turned new The Movement disciple). The conflict in Sister Wife starts off when an increasingly rebellious Celeste develops doubts about her being assigned to an older husband when she turns fifteen. Her ‘impure thoughts’ aren’t helped by a burgeoning relationship with Jon (another Unity teen who is himself questioning his faith.) In contrast to Celeste, younger sister Nanette welcomes the attentions of an older man and can’t wait to be a bride herself. Their friend Taviana isn’t 100% sold in the tenets of The Movement, but she’s so grateful for the temporary safety she has found within its confines that it’s a crushing blow when she is asked to leave. I did like Ms. Hrdlitschka’s approach of having all the different perspectives presented to the reader, although it was confusing for me at first to distinguish between the characters as their voices were so similar.

Given the subject matter of the book, I didn’t really expect a happy ending. Ultimately, there are very little options open for a fifteen-year-old Unity girl who has only known that kind of life. There were many instances in the book  that were just infuriating, but in the end, I understood why the girls made their choices. Which leads me to why I was so disappointed when I read the Epilogue – it was a total copout, completely turning the entire story on its head. Instead of the relative realism of what came before, the Epilogue presented a Disney-esque ending where everybody (and I do mean EVERYBODY) inexplicably ended up with a happy ending. I felt like if the author wanted that as the real ending, then she should have written a sequel and shown us how the characters reached that happy point.

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka from Orca Book Publishers is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition and Paperback.

It is also available as an eBook at B&N, Kobo Books and Apple iBookstore.

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Book Review – Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner by Dalya Moon

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

It’s 1988, and Charlie Woodchuck is the most minor of niners. At thirteen, she’s the youngest girl at Snowy Cove High School, and so clueless, she wore leg warmers and acid-wash jeans on her first day. Big mistake! Almost as big a mistake as signing up for a boys-only shop class. Doy.

Just when she thinks the first week of high school can’t get any more weird, Charlie discovers she may be adopted. According to her Science textbook, her eyes should be blue, not brown.

Now the girl with the boy’s name will have to use her detective skills to uncover the mystery of her identity. She’ll need the help of best friend Stacy, expert blackmailer, and new friend Ross, expert class clown.

Before the year ends, Charlie will face down the biggest bullies of all: the all-powerful members of Snowy Cove’s School Board. The Board doesn’t like what Charlie’s been up to, and they’re all out of doughnuts.

*

It’s my first year at Snowy Cove High, and I want to be more than just another minor niner.”

Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner by Dalya Moon is a deliciously nostalgic coming-of-age tale that chronicles a young girl’s first year in high school in the 1980s. If there’s anything bad I can say about this book, it’s that there’s just a bit too much plot crammed into such a short book (just 175 pages). But otherwise, I absolutely loved it, including the snarky main character of Charlie (and would have no qualms recommending it to young readers in the same breath as a Judy Blume book, for example). And yes, that is high praise from me 🙂

During first day of classes at Snowy Cove High, thirteen-year-old Charlie Woodchuck decides that this year, she wants more than the blank caption she got in last year’s yearbook. This year, she’ll be known  as “the rebel” and that’s why she impulsively signs up for a gender-segregated Woodshop class just to buck the system. Well, that minor act of rebellion becomes the flying start to Charlie’s roller-coaster year in the 9th grade.  Not only does Charlie have to deal with unexpected pressures and harassment at Woodshop class, her world is rocked hard by Science homework that unwittingly opens a Pandora’s box of questions about her ‘real’ place in her family. Throw in her best friend Stacy finding new friends plus being the butt of dorky class clown Ross’ jokes – well, the only bright spot in the 9th grade so far would seem to be the dreamy new boy Sky (who does talk to her every now and then, not that Charlie’s counting).

Charlie is a wonderful main character – she’s smart, funny and endearing, and I didn’t even mind that the story is told from the first person POV present tense (which I usually hate), but debut author Dalya Moon makes it work. I would’ve loved to have a best friend like Charlie when I was a kid. The final chapter in the book reads like a poignant epilogue, and I thought that the yearbook caption that Charlie does end up with (which I won’t spoil!) perfectly summed up her year of growing-up. Great job with your first book, Ms Moon.

Set in 1988 to 1989, I also think the book would be a good opportunity for moms to bond over the 80s with their tweens. It is chock-full of references to 80s pop culture – from the hair, to the make-up/fashion, magazines, movies and posters of movie stars that teenage girls put on their walls (Yes, dear, Johnny Depp was as cool in the 80s as in the new millennium). I only wished there were more music references to complete the picture. (Oh, and I also wished that the author had added an 80s slang dictionary just to explain the odd phrases in the book)

I highly recommend Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner – grab it for the young reader in your family and enjoy the story with them 🙂

Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner by Dalya Moon (Self-published) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition and Paperback.

The eBook is also available at B&N and Sony.

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Book Review – The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris

December 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

Avery James has her life planned out: this summer she’ll work with a humanitarian program in Costa Rica, next year she’ll graduate at the top of her class, and after that, college and medical school. Perfect, planned, total order.

The only problem: getting the rest of the money she needs for the trip before the deadline. Hannah Cohen, her biggest competition for the valedictorian title, makes an unexpected offer: If Avery can win over Zac Greeley and make him break up with Hannah before the end of the school year, a check for five hundred dollars is all hers. Faced with the prospect of spending yet another summer working as a giant hot dog, it’s an offer Avery can’t refuse.

Zac is nothing like Avery expected. Within his chaotic world of midnight slushie runs and spontaneous dance parties, her total order is quickly falling apart while Hannah seems poised to get everything she wants. But just how much is Avery willing to give up for the perfect, planned life?

*

I have to say that Shana Norris’s self-published book The Boyfriend Thief is a pretty good read. I think it’s a good option to consider if you’re looking for a book for a younger girl who wants something that’s quick & easy to read. It has a good mix of drama & humor plus some non-preachy life lessons, and it’s written in such a way that the author managed to elevate the book above what you’d expect from the cliché plot. You know, the one where someone makes a bet (or is hired to do the job, as in this case) to make someone fall in love with him or her, but pretty soon, it’s no longer just a case of pretending …

Yeah, it’s a familiar story, but I found myself really enjoying The Boyfriend Thief. And I even started off not liking the narrator (Avery) at all in the first chapter (since she came off to me as entitled, uptight and whiny!) But then, as the story went on, Avery really got under my skin. I liked how the author was able to show that Avery’s struggle to show the perfect front was just her covering up for the lonely girl within her who just never felt good enough. By the time I reached the part where everything blows up in Avery’s face, I was really pulling for things to turn out alright for her in the end. And it’s not just Avery – I thought that Ms Norris did a good job with her teenage characters – they have much more depth to them, and a lot of the kids don’t turn out as I expected from when I first met them, particularly Avery’s frenemy Elliott. The dialogue does need a bit of work (the kids sounded younger than sixteen), but I could overlook that.

I also really liked how Ms Norris showed us how the friendship-romance developed slowly between Avery and Zac (the guy she was supposed to be the ‘boyfriend thief’ for). It didn’t feel forced at all, and they were really cute together. Besides, I really can’t think why any teenage girl wouldn’t like Zac – he’s funny, kind, smarter than anybody gave him any credit for, and actually pretty cool in a not-rockstar-way 🙂 I think that Zac would really appeal to the tween readers.

The author also scored points with me for how she was able to show Avery and Zac dealing with  family and friend issues without taking away from the plot. I think a lot of kids would be able to relate, and might take away some lessons without feeling preached at. The ending is a bit corny, but hey, it was corny-cute at least 🙂

The Boyfriend Thief by Shana Norris (Self-published) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Sony, Apple iBooks and at Smashwords.

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Book Review – The Litigators by John Grisham

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

The partners at Finley & Figg—all two of them—often refer to themselves as “a boutique law firm.” Boutique, as in chic, selective, and prosperous. They are, of course, none of these things. What they are is a two-bit operation always in search of their big break, ambulance chasers who’ve been in the trenches much too long making way too little. Their specialties, so to speak, are quickie divorces and DUIs, with the occasional jackpot of an actual car wreck thrown in. After twenty plus years together, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg bicker like an old married couple but somehow continue to scratch out a half-decent living from their seedy bungalow offices in southwest Chicago.

And then change comes their way. More accurately, it stumbles in. David Zinc, a young but already burned-out attorney, walks away from his fast-track career at a fancy downtown firm, goes on a serious bender, and finds himself literally at the doorstep of our boutique firm. Once David sobers up and comes to grips with the fact that he’s suddenly unemployed, any job—even one with Finley & Figg—looks okay to him.

With their new associate on board, F&F is ready to tackle a really big case, a case that could make the partners rich without requiring them to actually practice much law. An extremely popular drug, Krayoxx, the number one cholesterol reducer for the dangerously overweight, produced by Varrick Labs, a giant pharmaceutical company with annual sales of $25 billion, has recently come under fire after several patients taking it have suffered heart attacks. Wally smells money.

A little online research confirms Wally’s suspicions—a huge plaintiffs’ firm in Florida is putting together a class action suit against Varrick. All Finley & Figg has to do is find a handful of people who have had heart attacks while taking Krayoxx, convince them to become clients, join the class action, and ride along to fame and fortune. With any luck, they won’t even have to enter a courtroom! It almost seems too good to be true. And it is.

The Litigators is a tremendously entertaining romp, filled with the kind of courtroom strategies, theatrics, and suspense that have made John Grisham America’s favorite storyteller.

*

A tremendously entertaining romp” indeed! That describes John Grisham’s latest  The Litigators to a T. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun reading a John Grisham book, but with his latest, Grisham definitely pushed all the right buttons for me. I practically inhaled this in one sitting (and laughing like a maniac every now and then to boot!) Don’t expect a hard-boiled courtroom thriller (even though tort case(s) do figure strongly in the story) – The Litigators doesn’t take itself seriously at all – it’s funny, satirical, almost fairy-tale like, really, just with lawyers.

32-year-old David Zinc is a bit too young to be having a midlife crisis, but in one memorable day, he quits his highly paid (if life-energy draining) job as an international finance law associate at the high-flying lawfirm Rogan Rothberg to stumble onto a new life as a rookie street lawyer at the “boutique firm’ of Finley & Figg (starring the already quietly defeated Oscar Finley and his still defiantly scrappy / dreamy partner Wally Figg). Idealistic David’s new digs at work may be a bit of dump, but he does get a new lease in his life (and at least his wife is amazingly supportive). Before you can say boo, however, Finley, Figg and Zinc find themselves in line for a  potentially huge windfall, riding the coat-tails of a torts lawsuit against the big Pharma company Varrick whose billion $$$ cholesterol drug may (or may not) be killing people. The objective : reach a settlement without ever stepping foot in the courtroom. The problem :  nothing goes as planned and Finley, Figg and Zinc are suddenly in way over their heads. And that’s when the fun starts 🙂

I loved the front row seats we got as Grisham shows us how a big class-action suit unfolds, but the heart and soul of the book for me were his wonderfully flawed characters. No one is really the big bad here, and everyone has a kernel of likability. Stealing the show was the hopeless gold-pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow-chasing Wally who crashes and burns (repeatedly) in spectacular fashion, but of course, given that this is a Grisham book, it’s the idealistic genuinely good-hearted David who carries the day in the end (in a very satisfying way too!).

With The Litigators, I feel good about being a Grisham fan again, and I really recommend this as a fun, light and humorous read with a lot of heart. Grisham obviously didn’t take himself too seriously while writing this, so let’s just enjoy this in the spirit it’s offered! If you ever enjoyed any of Grisham’s work in the past, don’t miss this one. If you’ve never read Grisham, this is a good place to start 🙂

(P.S. Please let this be a movie in the near future! I have in mind John Cusack as David, Nathan Lane as Wally, Alec Baldwin as Oscar – what about you?)

The Litigators by John Grisham (Doubleday) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover edition, Paperback edition and Audible audio edition.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo books

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Book Review – The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Book Description:

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011

What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.

Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne. Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be. Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

About the Author

TOM PERROTTA is the author of six works of fiction, including The Wishbones and Joe College. His novels Election and Little Children were made into acclaimed and award-winning movies.

*

 “An indiscriminate Rapture was no rapture at all.”

Every so often, we hear about some fundamentalist Christian leader proclaiming that so-and-so date is the expected date of the Rapture. But then the day passes by uneventfully, and oops, everyone is still around. Facepalm!  😉 But what if one day, a Rapture-like event does occur and millions of people just disappear? And what if the “Rapture” comes like a slap in the face of the believers – instead of God’s chosen believers being taken up, there’s no rhyme or reason for how people are chosen – young, old, good, bad, believer or unbeliever, sinful or not – it’s almost like a cosmic lottery took place and a random sampling of people were chosen. How would those left behind react or cope in the aftermath? That’s the thought-provoking premise that Tom Perotta takes on in his book The Leftovers (which takes place three years after such an event).

When I read the prologue for The Leftovers, I thought it was going to be a tragicomedy, but unfortunately, it turned stone-cold serious quickly. It’s a pity since I think the book would have worked much better if there were some dark humor worked in. The book is actually well written, with a very intriguing premise, but damn if it wasn’t completely depressing to read (and a bit dragging too). I know one thing, I sure don’t want to live in Tom Perotta’s post-Rapture world. At least, in Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series, people have something to strive towards before the end (I’ve never read that series, but I think that’s the point of the Mr LaHaye & Jenkins). But in Perotta’s world, you don’t even have that, you’re essentially left in limbo – what do you do in a world where sure, the Pope was taken up (surely expected in the Rapture?), but so was Vladimir Putin (surely no saint?) and so was some random Latin American tyrant (definitely a sinner, right?). So, what’s the point of it all? No wonder everyone fell emotionally and psychically apart, illustrated particularly in one minor character –  a  bitter pastor who (feeling betrayed by God) completely derails post-Rapture (come to think of it, I would have much preferred if the book had concentrated on the priest’s more interesting story instead!)

I wished that Mr Perrotta had given us a glimpse of what’s happening in the big picture instead of just concentrating on one family (the Garvey’s) so much, mostly because I just couldn’t identify with any of the main characters. It’s hard to remain absorbed when you don’t particularly care what happens to the characters. There’s the dad Kevin (the new mayor of Mapleton) who’s determinedly cheerful and even more determined to move on, the mother Laurie who can’t move on at all, and falls into apathy (and a cult), the son Tom who also gets sucked into a cult (or two), the daughter Jill who seeks comfort in sex, alcohol and drugs … it’s only Laurie who actually ended up being a more interesting character for me – what with her involvement with the cult Guilty Remnant developing sinister overtones (and thus, adding a bit of suspense to the story where there was none). Unfortunately, I really loathed Laurie at the same time – for being such a defeatist and just helplessly inviting tragedy into her life and home (IMO she’s the reason her family turned dysfunctional).

I really loved the premise of the book; unfortunately, I thought the best part about The Leftovers was the prologue (although the ending chapters were pretty interesting too, especially that reveal about the Guilty Remnant‘s shadier aspects). I never really ‘got’ the characters, so I was mostly left wondering about the not-Rapture event. Wished Mr Perrotta had fleshed out that ‘Event” more.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin’s Press) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover edition, and Audible Audio Edition.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBookstore, Kobo books, Apple iBooks and Sony eBookstore.


For a second opinion – here’s some reviews of The Leftovers by other bloggers:

  • mallorylayne – “a great read from start to finish”
  • Stevil – “5 stars out of 5”
  • Shelf Love – “this book was well worth reading”

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Book Review – What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

July 2, 2011 1 comment

Book Description:

What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she’s actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn’t sure she likes who she’s become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.

*

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is the book that made me break my rule of ‘don’t stay up late reading a book‘. I couldn’t help it – I was hooked on Alice’s story, and just could not make myself stop and take a break for sleep. And What Alice Forgot doesn’t even fall into the typical kind of book one usually stays up late for – you know, the high-octane thrillers or suspenseful mysteries or creepy horror books. Instead, it’s a simple but engrossing story about the evolution of relationships and family ties.

29-year-old Alice Love is one happy girl – she’s pregnant with her first child, she’s in love with her wonderful husband Nick, and they’re building a new life together in a challenging fixer-upper, with her protective big sis Elisabeth’s support. Then she wakes up (after hitting her head) into a nightmare. Alice learns that it’s actually 10 years later, she has three children she doesn’t remember, her beloved big sister is now a virtual stranger, and her husband Nick (the love of her life) is divorcing her! Alice doesn’t even like her older self – apparently, shy chocolate-loving laid-back Alice of 1998 would grow up to be an uptight, gym-obsessed, overly-organized supermom cum ex-from-hell in 2008 (with really, really fabulous clothes though).

I laughed, I cried, I empathized, I too wondered with Alice at all the mysteries in her new life (why did she and Nick break up? why do they hate each other? how did she lose touch with her big sis? who is this mystery girl ‘Gina’ that everybody tiptoes around?) Like I said, I was hooked and just kept on turning the pages, wanting to find out how Alice could fix her new life, dreading but also on tender-hooks to find out what happens when she finally gets her memory back. Will 2008 Alice be changed for the better? or not?

I thought Liane Moriarty did a fab job in breathing new life to the popular amnesia plot. Through Alice’s story, it allows the reader to wonder about how she would react in her place or even serve as a way to re-evaluate where one is in life. What Alice Forgot just totally resonated with me, and it’s definitely in the top books I’ve read this year. Can’t recommend it enough! Seriously, this is a must read 🙂

(The only thing I didn’t like with What Alice Forgot were the interludes where you get to read Alice’s big sis Elizabeth’s journal and her grandmother Fran’s letters. Yes, they shed some light on the Alice’s life from another perspective, but I found them very distracting to be thrown into someone else’s life while I’m still neck-deep in Alice’s)

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition ($11.99) and Hardcover edition ($14.86).

The eBook is also available at B&N, Sony and iBooks for $11.99.

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More Free eBooks from Barnes & Noble (Now also free for the Kindle!)

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Okay, maybe I should stop ribbing Barnes & Noble about just having one free eBook a week. They’ve released two more (aside from the one I posted about earlier) – young romance and a father-son story. So hey, Nook owners (or those with Nook apps on their PC/mobile devices), check out more freebies for you!

According To Jane‘ by Marilyn Brant is available for FREE download on the Barnes & Noble site (the Kindle version would have cost you $8.79 is now FREE!). Just click here to download!

Book Description:

In Marilyn Brant’s smart, wildly inventive debut, one woman in search of herself receives advice from the ultimate expert in matters of the heart. . .

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go–sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.

Still, everyone has something to learn about love–perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .

*

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