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Review: The Way Back by Kylie Ladd

The Way Back
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All she wanted was to escape. But why does she still feel trapped. A gripping psychological drama by the author of Mothers and Daughters and Into My Arms.

Charlie Johnson is 13 and in her first year of high school. She loves her family, netball and Liam, the cute guy who sits next to her in Science – but most of all she loves horses and horse-riding. Charlie’s parents have leased her a horse, Tic Tac, from the local pony club, but one day they go out for a ride in the national park and only Tic Tac returns…

Four months later, long after the police and the SES have called off the search, Charlie is found wandering injured and filthy, miles from where she was last seen. Her family rejoice in her return, but can anyone truly recover from what Charlie’s been through? When a life has been shattered, how do you put the pieces back together? 

I’ve read a lot of police procedurals and psychological thriller/suspense novels about the race to save someone from an abductor or a vicious serial killer. This isn’t one of those sorts of books.

Instead this book is more focused on the ‘after’ – the what happens after a young teenager is taken against her will and held captive for almost four months in a remote area of a national park by a reclusive and troubled man. That Charlie would return isn’t a question when the reader picks up this book (unless you don’t read blurbs, but in that case you’re probably not reading reviews either) but it’s more how she will return….mentally. How will she cope with what has happened and be able to move on? How will her parents and brother deal with what happened to her while she was taken and the resulting media frenzy that always accompanies such a thing.

Charlie is a horse-mad teenager who spends most of her free time at the stables where she leases a pony named Tic Tac. She’s just started high school and is struggling through the newness of that, of being a high schooler and the negotiating of new friendships, boys, etc. Charlie is a really strong character, she never stops fighting, despite the fact that she is the one in the position of victim, of vulnerability, of relying on someone else who is keeping her captive for the very basics to keep her alive. Still though, she is thinking, trying, planning even as she’s being beaten down and trapped and starved. She backs herself time and time again which for a 13 year old girl was amazingly brave.

Charlie’s parents experience an utter nightmare and the ways in which they cope with her disappearance (or the ways in which they don’t cope, I suppose) were quite fascinating to read about. Charlie’s dad is a fireman, a man of action and he never stops. He spends hours searching, making posters, just constantly doing things in order to get through the days where she’s missing. I found it really easy to put myself in their place, to examine what I would do in such a situation. To be honest I don’t think I’d be the active, always doing things type, always certain that there was still hope. I’d probably the one that fell apart but I guess that would work in my favour, as this book bitingly observes the Australian public like their women openly messily grieving, sobbing in public on television and looking like shit. No calm Lindy Chamberlain or even Rosie Batty types thanks – that makes people uncomfortable because they’re not doing grief “right”.

The role of the media in this book deserves a mention. The media can be a useful tool in a missing persons case in getting the word out to a huge number of people. In the current climate, social media and the immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle means that precious little time is wasted. Photos can be circulated state wide in moments and everyone is walking around looking at twitter or facebook – you don’t even have to be near a televison or watching the news. But the media is very much a double sided sword because they can also be incredibly invasive and unkind in some of the things that go to print, especially when they can’t get their hands on an exclusive story. Some of the media-related things that occur in this story are horrible – psychologically damaging to someone already psychologically damaged. It’s a frustrating element that I think people might not really think about – yes the person is home. Life can go back to “normal”….but it can’t. Because there are so many things that are preventing it from going back to normal and just one of those things are the media packs camped out on the lawns/at the front doors and the stories appearing in various glossies about “What Really Happened!” except they don’t really know what really happened and mostly what’s inside will be whatever some “source close to the family” made up that day. This book is such a thoughtful examination of the after (the title after all is, The Way Back) and it made me think about how detrimental it all must be to continue seeing versions of what happened, some of which bear little or no resemblance to the truth, everywhere you go for people who go through things like what Charlie and her family did. And it’s not just limited to abductions or cases where children are missing but anything really newsworthy. It makes it even harder to return to some sort of ‘normal life’.

I really enjoyed the characterisation in this – Charlie and her more introverted older brother Dan, their mother Rachael who balances hovering somewhat protectively with a full time job and the fireman/stay at home father Matt who is less concerned about homework and asking how things are going. The relationships were intimate but also realistic: the comfortable marriage not without its issues, the breakdowns, the love, the grief. All of the emotions were so well nuanced and made it so easy to connect with both the people and their stories.

Another clever, amazingly well written book from Kylie Ladd examining the intricate thought processes during an unthinkable event from every angle surrounding it.

8/10

Book #130 of 2017

The Way Back is book #42 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Mothers And Daughters – Kylie Ladd

Mothers And DaughtersMothers And Daughters
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2014, 341p
Read from my local library

Fiona, Caro, Morag and Amira all met when their children began school together, almost ten years ago now. Fiona, Caro and Amira all have daughters – Bronte, Janey and Tess. Morag is sort of the odd one out, having twin boys, the only experience with girls being her rebellious sixteen year old stepdaughter. Fiona, Caro, Morag and Fiona’s daughter Bronte and Caro’s daughter Janey are all travelling to remote Western Australia to visit Amira and her daughter Tess. Amira and Tess moved to an Aboriginal community at the beginning of the year, about nine months ago and they haven’t seen each other since. Each of them are looking forward to catching up with Amira and Tess and for Morag this is her first real holiday ‘alone’. No husband, no twin boys, no younger son and no stepdaughter. Or so she thinks.

But this holiday is not entirely like some of them expected. The community where they are staying is far removed from what they term as civilisation. It’s a dry community, although private drinking may be conducted discreetly. It’s oppressively hot, the sun can burn in minutes and also they’re forced to deal with each other’s company perhaps more than even good friends should on holiday. In such an isolated place there’s no where to go to escape each other’s differing opinions and the fact that no one stays the same forever. Bronte and Janey are no longer friends, as they were in childhood and they also find Tess much changed from when she left Melbourne. When Morag’s teenage stepdaughter arrives it adds even more to an already volatile pot.

Mothers And Daughters is Kylie Ladd’s fourth novel, revolving around a very different mix of mothers who became friends when their children all began prep (kindergarten/first year of school) together. Now those children are fourteen and much has changed. Bronte and Janey now go to different high schools and aren’t particularly friends anymore. Bronte is cripplingly shy, awkward in herself whereas Janey trains for the state swim teams and is definitely more outgoing, ready to grow up before her time. Tess has been changed by her move to the Aboriginal community, her world no longer revolving around facebook updates and who is doing what. She has thrived there but it also means that there’s somewhat little to connect her with her former friends, although Bronte is eager to learn everything about the community, especially the Aboriginal art.

This is an interesting exploration of the mother daughter relationship as well as the friendship formed in the classroom, both for the children and the adults. I don’t have a daughter, I have two sons and I have to admit, this book made me briefly glad that I don’t. Fiona is abrasively harsh on her shy daughter, loathing her awkwardness and her tendency to introvert all the while not realising that she does negative things for Bronte’s already fragile self-confidence. Fiona is the character I liked the least – she spews forth the sort of negative views that it’s sad many Australians still hold today, which is bad enough but the way in which she expresses herself is even more distasteful. I expected someone, perhaps Amira to pull her up on the way she talks but this is only ever done in a sort of laughing ‘Oh, Fiona!” sort of way, like, what is she going to come out with next? Ladd holds a mirror up to white hypocrisy with Fiona denigrating the Aboriginal tendency to have problems with alcohol, all the while hocking into her third bottle of Chardonnay for the night, or after she’s vomited up a dinner of alcohol into the bushes. Because Fiona drinks in a “civilised” setting, ie with dinner, with alcohol she can well afford, proper wine and spirits, it’s ignored that she either has a problem or is well on the way to having one. A borderline functioning alcoholic who seemingly drinks to escape the misery of her marriage and the life she has now found herself in, I could have perhaps sympathised with Fiona if she didn’t tend to throw words like “boong” around with such careless abandon.

The relationship between the teenage girls proves just how cruel they can be. Janey has been spoiled and overindulged from birth, always told that she’s perfect, clever and beautiful and it seems that she’s been able to glide through life with very little in the way of consequences for her behaviour. The way she acts in this book is horrifying on a couple of levels but the cruelty of what she does to Bronte is perhaps the worst. I feel as though no one particularly dealt with this very well, least of all her own mother who was vague and seemed to think saying sorry was perhaps enough. When one of the others asked what punishment Janey would receive, it was like it hadn’t even occurred to Caro that there should be a punishment. At least Janey’s behaviour did eventually lead to Bronte taking the first step in standing up for herself and hopefully that gave her more confidence in herself and paved the way for not only a better relationship with herself but also with her mother.

I know Kylie Ladd lived in Broome for a year and I think it’s a brave choice to tackle the social issues she does in this novel. I loved the setting – Broome has long been a place I want to visit and I found myself somewhat enchanted by the community Amira and Tess have moved to, loving the stories that are told by the locals, even when some of them are painful and sad. We have a long and troubled history with the indigenous population and even though improvements are made each year, there’s still a long way to go and still a lot of attitudes to change. The women were an interesting mix, proof that kids can bring together unlikely people and create a lasting friendship. I probably identified the most with Morag. I’m not from overseas but I do live far from where I grew up and have hostile stepchildren – far more hostile than Morag actually experiences! Time away from my kids is also incredibly rare, in fact I’ve been away alone once in six years so I could definitely relate to her feelings about that and how she felt when her husband informed her that her stepdaughter was arriving.

Even though I often didn’t enjoy the characters, I did enjoy this book and the themes. Relationships between mothers and daughters are often troubled and hard to capture but I think Ladd has done an excellent job, as usual, in portraying the complexity, especially with many different characters.

8/10

Book #215 of 2014

AWWW2014

Mothers And Daughters is book #80 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Into My Arms – Kylie Ladd

Into My ArmsInto My Arms
Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin
2013, 352p
Uncorrected proof courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com

Skye is an artist, working at a primary school to create a mosaic when she meets Ben. It’s like nothing she’s experienced before and Skye isn’t exactly a stranger to impulse behaviour. But everything with Ben is different – the pull, the attraction that they both feel towards each other seems to trump everything else in their lives. Skye ends her two year relationship in order to be with Ben when it became obvious that all she wanted was to be with him. For a while they experience perfection together – everything is easy, everything is blissful.

Until it isn’t.

What happens next neither of them could have ever imagined. Both of them are wiped out by their discovery and the subsequent separation. Ben quits his job and disappears and Skye retreats back into her art as she prepares to welcome in changes to her life. But she isn’t the same person anymore, she’s not there like she used to be and neither is Ben. They both have a long way to go before they can begin to get over this and accept the hand that life and fate has dealt them both.

But it’s impossible to stay away forever and when their paths cross again, Ben and Skye have to renegotiate their boundaries. Into My Arms is a powerful novel that tackles a controversial phenomenon  It’s about love, it’s about obsession, it’s about finding your soulmate, that one person you’re supposed to be with and having it all go hopelessly wrong. It’s about the power of family and the ties that bind and bring people back together, even after the most terrible secrets have broken them.

This is Australian author Kylie Ladd’s third novel and those who have read her previous work will be familiar with the way in which she tackles relationships. In After The Fall, she chose friendship and how it and marriages were splintered apart by infidelity. In Last Summer she explored the way in which a tight group of friends dealt with the tragic and sudden loss of the larger than life character that glued them all together. And in this book, well, I can’t tell you exactly what she delves into because the reveal is an intricate part of the storyline and best uncovered as you move through the narrative. Some readers will guess before the reveal, some will not but it doesn’t matter. Either way, this story sucks you in and holds you in its power.

When Skye meets Ben, she’s already been in a relationship with Hamish for several years. It’s satisfactory to her and she already knows she’ll say yes if and when he proposes. But all of that is blown away by her feelings for Ben, which surge up immediately upon meeting him. The connection between them is so tangible it should almost be visible, binding them together. Skye moves away from her life with Hamish, towards a life with Ben without a backward glance and the two of them embark on a journey together that’s cut short in the most devastating of ways. I love the way in which Ladd brought them together so passionately and then wrenched them apart.

This is such a clever book from beginning to end. It’s also a book that tells you the ending that you can’t have, rather than the one you can – what you don’t know is how it will resolve. Although Skye and Ben are separated, some time down the track they are brought back together when one of them needs help from the other. I have to wonder what happens to these characters after the book ends. I know a book has really resonated with me when I find myself pondering the fate of characters of books I’ve read when I’m doing menial tasks. I found myself thinking about Skye and Ben a lot and how much it would be possible for them to embrace their new relationship.

Ladd has already written two well received books and has won admirers for her deft style in really rounding out her characters and the way in which she embraces a gritty issue and strips it bare. I think that for me, this could be her best work to date. She embraces more, such as a foreign location and peripheral characters such as Ben’s family who don’t appear in the novel too much, but who are nevertheless just as well written and fleshed out as the main ones. She gives the reader space to come to terms with what she’s portraying and also a little bit of time to think. I remember when I finished After The Fall I wanted to sit down and ask her a specific question about the last page (which I later did when I was fortunate enough to meet her at an event that raised money for charity) but this novel makes me want to sit down and ask her a dozen questions. And that’s not a bad thing at all, quite the contrary. It’s the testament to the strength of these characters and how they’ve ingrained themselves in my mind and how I want to know more. I want to read more.

8/10

Book #100 of 2013

AWW2013

Into My Arms is the 43rd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

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Last Summer – Kylie Ladd + SIGNED Giveaway!

Rory Buchanan had it all. Captain of his local cricket club, he was the centre of it and of many people’s lives. The life of the party, the glue that held it all together. He had a good marriage with a wonderful wife and two sons. A successful business and a beautiful house. His friends and family idolized him.

When Rory dies at cricket training from an aneurysm of the aorta, the people left behind in his life are devastated. His sister and wife struggle to make sense of it. His friends from the team struggle without his leadership and drive, his enthusiasm for the game. In several cases he was why they were there, why they were still playing. And this larger than life character is now gone, leaving behind a group of people who are struggling with his loss and unsure of how to go on, which direction to go in.

Last Summer is told from nine different perspectives – the people who were closest to Rory and who are most affected by his death. There’s Nick, Pete, Joe and James – all members of the same cricket club, and their wives, Laine, Trinity, Kelly (also Rory’s sister) and Anita as well Rory’s widow Colleen, taking turns at the narrative. They are all vastly different people and their ways of dealing with the grief, or in the case of some, the grief of others, are all different as well.

Last Summer is an observation of family life. Of tragedy. And everything that comes in between. Given its geographical setting and the revolving narrative, comparisons to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas were inevitable. I read The Slap back in April for Aussie Author Month and although I didn’t exactly like it, or relate to it, I thought it was definitely an interesting and powerful piece of writing. So is Last Summer. But it also has the added bonus of being a much more enjoyable and accessible read. And I could relate to the characters a good deal more easily.

The book opens with one of the better ‘hook lines’ I’ve come across in recent times… “They were making love when Rory died” and from that point on, putting this book down is not an option. The characters are all refreshingly regular, the sort of people you might work with, or live next door to. Some are more sympathetic than others but one of the interesting features of this book is the way that Ladd manages to slowly shift the way you feel about certain characters as the book progresses. Uptight and unlikable characters suddenly grow and change and become people in which you can identify with.

What really strikes me about this novel, is the incredible portrayal of family dynamics. Ladd is a psychologist who will tell anyone that asks that she’s a voyeur…she likes to watch people. And that shines through in her writing. The families in this novel differ, but the one thing that remains constant is the accuracy with which they appear on the page – from married characters Pete and Trinity, dealing with Trinity’s issue of being adopted and whether or not to track down her biological mother and their rebellious teenage daughter, to Rory’s grieving widow Colleen, struggling to make a life for herself and her boys after the devastating death and some unexpected news that rocks her world.

There’s a simplicity in this story that is beautiful – the narrative is uncomplicated and smooth flowing, despite the different changes in view. The families and marital relationships are easily kept straight, something that contributes to the fast pace at which you can get through this novel! At its core it’s about a group of people grieving the loss of someone in his prime, a man they admired and loved and how that one thing ripples through their lives, no matter how differing those lives are. Not everything they do revolves around the loss but their acts and words are touched by it and it creates divisions, fractions within a group that were perhaps not there before, or too well hidden. Without Rory it seems,  people see fit to act differently – to leave behind the normal, the mundane of the previous life, the life that contained him. It’s like a wake up call to make changes, to grasp what is in front of you because tomorrow it (or you) may not be around to take the opportunity.

Last Summer is set in Melbourne, a city where I have lived (on the periphery) for the last 5 years now. One of my favourite things in fiction is reading a novel where the setting is familiar, where I can feel a connection to the location. I am not well traveled, so this doesn’t happen to me too often! I don’t live where the characters live but that essence of the city, the place that is known to me and understood, is still there. To me this book is Melbourne in summer – cricket games, and bbq’s, kids at the house that has a pool, New Years Eve parties, friendships and families.

The sophomore novel is always an interesting one, especially when you’ve really enjoyed an author’s debut. Last Summer ensures that the success and crafty writing of After The Fall was no fluke. If you are interested in family relationships and evolving dynamics of friendship then Last Summer is definitely a book you should be reading!

7/10

Book #111 of 2011

Giveaway of a SIGNED copy of Last Summer

Like to read Last Summer?

Kylie Ladd recently did an author talk and signing at my local library – one of a few events lately that have been organised by a local bookseller. I was supposed to go but was struck down with illness the day before so I missed out! However Kylie did sign two books for me – a personal copy and a copy to also give away to one lucky reader on my blog! So all you need to do is fill out the form for a chance to win! The giveaway is open internationally and you don’t have to follow my blog, twitter it, facebook it, write it in the sky with an aeroplane or otherwise jump through flaming hoops to win!

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After The Fall – Kylie Ladd

It’s not often I’ve read a novel on the basis of a recommendation from the author herself. Actually, this is the first time it’s ever actually happened. But when Kylie Ladd told me on Twitter that I should read her novel when I was looking for my next book to read, I thought hmm, ok! Why not? I do love trying new Australian authors and this novel is set in Melbourne, where I currently (almost, I’m on the outskirts!) live.

After the Fall is the story of two couples, Kate & Cary, Luke & Cressida. Cary and Cressida work together, so the two couples meet through that and become good friends. They are all at a wedding when suave, good-looking Luke sees Kate standing off to the side, staring longingly at the dance floor. Cary, who doesn’t dance, is outside, trying to escape the possibility of having to. Cressida is in the bathroom, so Luke asks Kate to dance. It is an innocent act that will quickly become not-so when the two kiss passionately and intensely in front of everyone, in front of their returning spouses. Cary and Cressida are forgiving of this indiscretion, probably more forgiving than I would be, but quickly there is the law laid down that there will be no more socialising. No more cosy foursome dinners and weekends away to the river.

But with Cary and Cressida working at the same hospital, they can’t go forever without the four being in the same room again. At a hospital fundraiser trivia night, Cressida is called upstairs to a patient, Cary away to fix the temperamental sound equipment. Luke and Kate take advantage of their spouses absence to rekindle what started at that wedding. This time though, there is nothing to stop them. They fall headlong into an affair, they fall headlong into love, they fall headlong into an obsession.

Infidelity. It’s a powerful word that evokes so many emotions and it’s a brave topic to tackle. To be honest, I’ve always been on a soapbox about infidelity, it’s probably best not to get me started. I don’t ever consider any excuse to be reasonable, you just don’t do that sort of thing. I thought I’d struggle to get into this book due to the topic and my feelings on it but that wasn’t the case. Actually, I read it in just over 2 hours! It’s written in an interesting way – the chapters are short, clipped, almost abrupt. They alternate points of view between Kate, Cary, Luke and Cressida so you get all four sides, but with a personal touch rather than just being told in a distant third person sort of way. They read like the characters are speaking directly to you, like you’re their therapist or their counsellor. Like they’re answering questions you have asked them. It was a very effective tool, I thought, because it places you right in there. You’re involved, whether you want to be or not! You get into each of the characters, you hear from them, you get to know them, you feel for them. And given I’m a massive voyeur who loves to peek into people’s lives, this is like story-telling gold for me.

It was impossible not to get swept away with this novel as it unfolded. I was amazed and yet disturbed at how easily these two characters fell into such a fully-fledged affair and how easy it was that they kept it hidden for so long. They saw each other nearly ever day, leading to their work being affected, such was their obsession, their total immersion into this affair. It brought me back to the themes in books recently read, both The Pilot’s Wife and The Post-Birthday World: how well do we really know someone? Especially when that someone is our spouse? The person we have chosen to marry, chosen to spend the rest of our lives with and yet – how well, really? Cary and Cressida seem blithely unaware of this affair as it carries on, apparently secure in the knowledge that the temptation has been removed now that the two couples do not socialise. How many people have found out their partner has had an affair and said ‘I never knew a thing’. This book shows you just how freaking easy it is for two people to fall into one. To fall into the subterfuge, the guilt (but not enough guilt to stop!), the deception, the pure thrill of the forbidden. The affair is discovered by mere chance, the discovery enough. Neither Cressida nor Cary demand the details (as I would, I have to know everything, even things that would cause me considerable pain) but it’s clear that it’s no longer the case of just a kiss anymore. It’s so much more than that now.

Despite the fact that your sympathies automatically go to the injured parties Cary and Cressida, it didn’t mean that I loathed Luke and Kate for their wrong doing and betrayal. At times, I did dislike them intensely for their cavalier attitudes to their partners, their carelessness but I was so fascinated by them and so drawn in by the story that I couldn’t get angry at the book. I did find Kate much more palatable than Luke and that the session Cressida has him attend with the therapist nails him aptly: the longed-for son, subject to adoring female attention his whole life, good-looking and with a truckload of conquests behind him. Although he intends to stay faithful to Cressida, it’s without surprise that he doesn’t. He’s shallow, self-involved and smug: ‘For seven months I was the happiest man in the world. Who wouldn’t have been? Two beautiful women whose faces lit up when they saw me, one always available if the other was elsewhere’. He shows very little remorse at all. When Cressida wants to apply for a fellowship overseas, he is quite happy to tell Kate that they’ll just be ‘on hold’ and pick up exactly where they left off after the two years of the fellowship is over and he returns from overseas. It’s that kind of attitude that has me skeptical that he ever loved either Cressida or Kate – he married Cressida seemingly because she was beautiful, well bred, and he says he loves her but he never actually shows that he loves her. With Kate, she is sick sick sick at the thought of Luke leaving to go overseas (indeed, she barely coped when she was parted from him for a week over Christmas) but Luke seems mostly unaffected by it other than being a bit angry when Cressida informs him she wants to apply. It is also Kate that forces things to a head with Luke, offering him the choice of Cressida or her and he must choose before the verdict on the fellowship comes back. She is forced into action, whereas he would’ve been happily passive.

Not only is it difficult to read this novel as a fiance (did I mention my husband works nights? Up to 3 hours away? And often doesn’t get home until after midnight (or does he???) when I’m long in bed) it’s also hard to read as a mother. Cressida works in paediatrics, with children who have cancer and the story of Emma, her first patient, woven so cleverly into this tale, is heartbreaking. Equally as heartbreaking were the scenes featuring Emma’s parents and her little sister Shura. I just wanted to scoop her up and hug her and tell her that it was okay, she was special too. And yet I sympathized so much with her distracted parents as they watched their older daughter deteriorate. I’d have read a whole book on just that family even if I bawled my entire way through it. Sick kids are my Achilles heel. And sick old people…. oh wait, this book has that too!

Is this book for everyone? No, probably not. But if you can get past the subject matter and dive in, then you’ll find yourself praying that you’ve got a lot of oxygen in your tank because you won’t want to come up for air. It’s addictive and mesmerizing and you’ll keep turning pages until you reach the ending. The pacing is quick, the style conducive to being utterly devoured. Anyone who reads my blog knows I like neatly tied up endings, they don’t always have to be happy, but I usually like to be left without questions if the novel is stand-alone. This one leaves me with plenty, and lots of reflections and I’m still mulling it over right now.

8/10

(Book #63 of my 75 Book Challenge)

**Just a note: although I read this book at the suggestion of the author, I didn’t receive it for free. I bought and paid for it myself and the my review is not written for gain in any way. It reflects my true feelings, just as any other review I’ve written where I don’t know the author on Twitter!

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