Review: The 24-Hour Cafe by Libby Page

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Welcome to the cafe that never sleeps.
Day and night, Stella’s Cafe opens its doors to the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It’s a place where everyone is always welcome, where life can wait at the door.
Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They love working at Stella’s – the different people they meet, the small kindnesses exchanged. But is it time to step outside and make their own way in life?
Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Cafe, where one day might just be enough to change your life …

Libby Page really doesn’t let me down! I loved, loved The Lido by her when I read it last year and I’ve been putting this one off for a while for some reason. I actually picked this one out in my first ever TBR game on my BookTube channel – my TBR mini golf game! You can check the video out here for my July TBR. I’m so glad this one came up in the video because I think the reason I have been putting this off is because I liked The Lido so much and I didn’t want to not like this one as much. And I have to admit, I didn’t quite love this one as much as The Lido, but I did still really love it.

Although this one follows two waitresses in a 24 hour diner opposite Liverpool Street station, it was the customers that really captured my heart. Working in retail, I completely understood the way the customers were portrayed and I find it fascinating knowing someone you have a very brief interaction with has their own complicated life. This book looks individually at these characters, their passions, problems and relationships. The way these people were interwoven in the story felt so graceful and effortless.

I also loved how this book followed the friendship of two women rather than a relationship, which felt like a bit of a change! Their friendship becomes messy and complicated but felt authentic and I could completely understand why their pathways were heading in the way they were. I also loved how this book was set over 24 hours – I always find books set over a few days are so masterful (I don’t know how you can write a whole 400 page book over just 24 hours and it still be entertaining!) and fast paced.

My only small complaints are the fact it took me a while to get into this one and that I did mix up the two main characters (waitresses) initially, as they have similar interests. However, once I got over halfway through I really didn’t want to put it down. I read the second half in just over a day and I quickly fell in love with all of the people in this one. Some of the scenes were so heartfelt and heartwarming, I ended up so emotional. I admire Libby Page so much for being able to make me cry from a scene with characters we only met a few pages previously. I was properly crying while reading a certain scene with a couple, tears falling off my face and onto my chest. It was just so wholesome and lovely.

Although this may not have lived up to The Lido, I still really, really loved this one and I can’t wait to read her newest release, The Island Home!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Bright & the Pale by Jessica Rubinkowski

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Seventeen-year-old Valeria is one of the only survivors of the freeze, a dark magical hold Knnot Mountain unleashed over her village. Everyone, including her family, is trapped in an unbreakable sheet of ice. Ever since, she’s been on the run from the Czar, who is determined to imprison any who managed to escape. Valeria finds refuge with the Thieves Guild, doing odd jobs with her best friend Alik, the only piece of home she has left.
That is, until he is brutally murdered.
A year later, she discovers Alik is alive and being held against his will. To buy his freedom, she must lead a group of cutthroats and thieves on a perilous expedition to the very mountain that claimed her family. Only something sinister slumbers in the heart of Knnot.
And it has waited years for release.

Firstly a big thank you to Amy for the gorgeous Fairyloot copy I own! I adore the edition and I’m glad I got around to reading this quickly – although it felt strange reading a polar fantasy in the middle of the hot weather we are having right now in the UK. I actually read this one on audio as I didn’t have many books left on Scrib’d and this one captured my interest!

Sadly, I actually ended up having quite mixed feelings about this one in the end. Although I can safely say I quite enjoyed it, there was just something there that didn’t quite click for me. There was a lot to like about this one, but I also found myself not caring about the story and characters as much as I wanted to – even in the most emotional scenes in the book.

Fear the mountain, my dear. Fear the dark depths and the cold halls. Fear the call. 

I did like the plot of this one, but I found some of it a little predictable. Some of it did feel quite unique, including the Russian folklore aspect, which I feel like we don’t see much of in YA fantasy. I have heard this may be a retelling, although it felt more generally inspired than a full retelling. I also felt like the atmosphere was one of my favourite parts and I really liked the general feel of the setting and surroundings.

I liked the characters, but as with a lot of this book, I just liked them. I did root for the main characters and I enjoyed the found-family aspect of the group. However, I honestly feel like I’m running out of things to say because I just…didn’t feel as much for any of this book than I wanted to.

For when the mountain sinks its teeth into you, it will never let you go.

So overall, this definitely wasn’t a bad read, and I certainly enjoyed it – it just also fell flat and felt really disappointing in some ways. I’ve recently found out this is a going to be a duology, and I think I may re-read the physical version of this when the second one comes out.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Furies by Katie Lowe

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In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.
After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.
While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.

Okay, wow. I didn’t have many expectations going into this, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so dark or graphic as it turned out to be. I listened to the audiobook of this, which I actually really liked and felt the narrator fit the story really well – but did leave me completely enveloped in the darker scenes.

This book is the darkest of dark academia I have read. It takes all of the murder mystery elements and makes them more visceral and gruesome than I ever expected. The best part of this book, in my opinion, was the writing. I loved the writing, and I think it was probably the only part of this book I truly fell for. It almost read like a modern classic, lilting and atmospheric and perfect for the story. The writing just worked for me, and I feel like the audiobook only enhanced this with the narrator.

Every breath, every moment, possessed with an illusion of glamor, of filthy decadence, purely because it was ours,

Everything else, however, I have a lot of mixed feelings about. Our main character, Violet, left me feeling infuriated for most of the story. She never learns how to say no, how to take control of her own situation or how to stand up for herself. But I couldn’t stay mad at her forever – I was more frustrated with the fact it was so easy for her to fall into this trap of impressing the popular, enthralling group of girls known as The Furies. I didn’t appreciate the decisions she made, but I also felt angry at the fact her naivety left her exposed and vulnerable.

The plot felt a bit all over the place, and I never quite knew where the end goal of the story quite fell. Even when I did figure out the next ‘goal’ to the story, it came and went in a blink and I felt like I’d been left to wonder where we were heading. It was a bit like being left to feel around in the dark, grabbing strings and hoping they would develop into a real narrative.

we two our own radical world, a star collapsing inward and bursting, gorgeous, in the dark.

This book was twisted and honestly, screwed up. But I can see the message it was trying to portray and I loved the writing, it was just sadly let down by the plot and characters in a lot of ways. It’s the kind of book I can definitely understand why people like it, but I wouldn’t want to necessarily recommend it to anybody due to the dark nature of the topics.

CW (just some off the top of my head, this book was very graphic overall so beware!): sex, sexual assault, drug use, alcohol use, murder, gore

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Last Beginning (#2) by Lauren James

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Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives.
But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?
For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future, and failure could cost the world everything.

Not only does this book complete my reading of Lauren’s entire collection of novels (until Green Rising is released very soon!), it is also my 100th read of the year! 100 books was my Goodreads goal for 2021 and is also way more than I have ever managed to read in a year (I think my highest is around 85 in 2020). The fact I have reached this goal in the middle of July astounds me and I wanted to mention it here – my boyfriend also mentioned the irony of this book being called The Last Beginning and being the one to make me hit my goal.

It’s been years since I read The Next Together and I was a little worried going into this one without having read the first one recently. However, this one follows the main characters from The Next Together’s daughter, 16 years on. And luckily for me, she has an entirely different story allowing me to pretty seamlessly carry on.

I can remember thinking I’d been turned inside out.

Every Lauren James book I read astounds me with the sheer creativity of it. I could never even begin to think up the kind of worlds she seems to – worlds that are so different from our own but also have such a lovely familiarity to them. In this book, we follow Clove as she tries to find out why her birth parents appear over and over again throughout history. Her adopted parents are working on a time machine, which she uses to meet all of these variants of her parents. I really love the time travel theme and felt like it allowed us to explore different time periods really well, with all of them feeling authentic and believable.

The writing was so quick to read and once I picked this up, I found it hard to put down. I love how easy the writing was and this is definitely something I find across all of Lauren James’s work. The characters were also really likable and I love the family element and the relationship was so sweet and had such a lovely moral. The only problem I was how immature Clove could be, especially at the start of the book, and it made the whole book feel a little too young for me.

Kind of like the first time I saw you.

Once again, big up Lauren James for writing about women in STEM, having powerful female leads and a sapphic relationship! I really enjoyed this one and it got better and better as it went on.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Blog Tour + Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

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Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.
A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Thank you to Penguin for having me as part of this blog tour and for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

To be completely blunt, I wasn’t 100 percent sure this was going to be a book I enjoyed. I have read some brilliant adult contemporaries in the past few years, but I’ve also read a few I didn’t enjoy at all. And this sounded in some ways similar to the one’s I didn’t enjoy as much, so naturally I was a little hesitant. However, I am very happy to say I absolutely loved this book. It was bold and beautiful and confident without being abrasive or brash – striking a perfect balance that I just didn’t expect.

We follow Nina Dean, who I found to be a likable character from the second page, when she visited Hampstead Ladies Pond (I love outdoor swimming so I loved this instantly). I always find I enjoy books so much more when I actually like the main character and want the best for them – and I really did with Nina. She felt honest and relatable, a real and imperfect character with her own troubles and mistakes.

Maybe friendship is being the guardian of another person’s hope.

I found the pacing slow at first, but after around 150 pages I couldn’t put this book down and finished it the following day. The plot really picks up and I just wanted to know what happened to Nina and those around her. The writing was absolutely brilliant and may be my favourite part of the book as a whole – it was easy to read but had some real depth and honest discussions I loved reading.

There was something in the writing that just made me feel so connected to Nina, it made me cry (and I mean tears running down my cheeks!) but also made me laugh. It is so rare I find a book that makes me properly laugh, but this one did. It made me chuckle over and over again, and I applaud the writing for that! It also made my heart drop and brought a sick feeling to my stomach when certain things happened in Nina’s life that I just felt so emotional over.

I also love how this book was feminist without being men-hating. I have read books before that felt like they crossed that line and I didn’t appreciate it – Ghosts, however, appreciates both sides of a story and brings in both successful and unsuccessful relationships. It was the balance I really wanted from this book. The relationships felt so real and were another reason I felt so connected to Nina, especially the difficult relationship with her parents (it was a scene between her and her mum that made me cry).

Leave it with me and I’ll look after it for a while , if it feels too heavy for now.

This book was a really pleasant surprise and there is honestly so much to love about it. Despite the slow start I found it so engaging and brilliantly written. An emotional but funny and uplifting read all at the same time!

★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

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Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.
Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will their special talents be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?

I have to admit, this is exactly what I wanted House of Hollow to be. Both have parallels, but this was much more what I expected (and wanted) for the trope of ‘girl goes missing and could be in a place nobody can reach her’. Even though the trope was similar to others I’ve seen, this book was so unique in it’s premise and plot itself, which I loved. It felt like such an oddity of YA, and breaches a gap between contemporary and magical realism, giving off a spooky feel.

I really liked the atmosphere and felt it was portrayed really well. I definitely had goosebumps in places and felt slightly spooked by the scenes in this book, which beautifully showed the thinning of the veil between our world and somewhere else. I really enjoyed how much tarot played a part in the story and the fact it is set in the real world makes the story easy to follow.

The characters were so diverse and I really liked the friendship dynamic. I think my biggest struggle was sometimes how much I disliked the main character, Maeve, who occasionally felt very immature in her actions and the way she spoke to people around her. Although she did grow throughout the book, I did sometimes struggle to like her character. However, I loved the side characters and the way all of their stories intertwined and they all had different plots working alongside each other. Each character had their own struggles and demons but they came together to fight as a team.

One of the main characters spends this book exploring his gender identity, which I really enjoyed reading about and sparked some really interesting and important conversations between the characters. The entire cast felt very diverse and it was great to see a non-binary side character, although I found the main character still presumed the genders of others, which felt a little backwards in places. I did really like the romance, however, and seeing how the two characters communicated with one another and had a level of understanding I didn’t expect really warmed my heart.

This book is set in Ireland, which I really liked. It also felt like it played a key role in the story, including discussions of the Catholic Church but also the folklore of Ireland. This brought out some really interesting and important topics that I definitely wasn’t expecting to come up.

If you’re looking for a quirky and atmospheric creepy YA, I would really recommend this one. I can see how this is only the first one in a series and I’m looking forward to seeing where Maeve’s story goes!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Here is a novel, glamorous, ironical, compassionate – a marvelous fusion into unity of the curious incongruities of the life of the period – which reveals a hero like no other – one who could live at no other time and in no other place. But he will live as a character, we surmise, as long as the memory of any reader lasts.
It is the story of this Jay Gatsby who came so mysteriously to West Egg, of his sumptuous entertainments, and of his love for Daisy Buchanan – a story that ranges from pure lyrical beauty to sheer brutal realism, and is infused with a sense of the strangeness of human circumstance in a heedless universe.
It is a magical, living book, blended of irony, romance, and mysticism.

It has been years (and I mean, years) since I finished a book and then just started it again immediately to re-read it. Although in this case it didn’t happen in quite that fashion, as I read the physical format and then switched to the audiobook for an immediate re-read. Although there were parts I enjoyed about my first attempt, I found re-reading this on audio gave me a new found appreciation for the book. I buddy read this one with my boyfriend (our first buddy-read!) and although we have yet to discuss our full thoughts and feelings, it’s been really enjoyable to read something together.

The Great Gatsby is a study of New York in the 1920’s, and all of the opulence, extravagance, decadence and pure drama that comes with it. I found the characters largely unlikable but also absolutely fascinating to read about, their relationships with each other fueled by infatuation and lust.

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies,

I found the writing compelling and humorous, something I didn’t notice until my audio re-read, which put emphasis on lines I otherwise skipped over. Some of the writing is so poetic, beautiful and almost lyrical, including the quote in this post which remains to be my favourite. Other lines made me chuckle out loud with their brashness or ludicrousness.

I loved the way this book took the concept of the American Dream and turned it on it’s head, instead showing that everything is not always as it seems, and behind closed doors anything could be going on. I found myself intrigued over and over again by the actions of each character, wondering about their drives and motivations – usually wealth, greed and lust.

I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

Overall, although not perfect, I did enjoy this window into the high society of New York in the 1920’s. It sometimes feels unbelievable and utterly ludicrous, but also makes for an entertaining and interesting read.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

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Linh and Bao like each other. A lot. The only problem? Their families own rival pho restaurants and hate each other’s guts, so they have to keep their relationship a secret.
But they can only steal kisses in dark alleys and the art room at school for so long. Can their love transcend an age-old feud and heal the rift between these two families? Or have these high school sweethearts bitten off more than they can chew?

Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Ahhh, I loved this book. Give me a romance with food and South East Asian culture, and I will read it. And I will probably love it. I listened to this on audiobook, which I really liked and also helped with the pronunciation of everything! I really adored the audiobook of this, which made me feel very involved in the story and I couldn’t help thinking about these characters when I wasn’t reading.

These two characters were so cute to read about and I loved that the romance was so slow burn. The way these two fall for each other just felt so authentic and real, which I think is why I loved them both so much. The side characters were also so lovely, and I like how individual they were but still played a part in Linh and Bao’s relationship.

But in anything you love, isn’t there always some bit of sadness, some essence of suffering? That, to me, is what makes art worth it. 

Linh and Bao start to realise there might be more to their families rivalry as their relationship goes on, and although I won’t say more, I will say I really liked having the mystery element to this one that definitely drew me into the story! The pho restaurants also gave way to some very interesting and deep discussions, including some about racism. These felt so gut punching and were super hard to read about but so important to include.

The writing was so compelling and easy to get into. I didn’t want this book to end, it went by too quickly. This book focuses a lot on family, family drama and conflicts. This felt really authentic and I thought all of the relationships developed naturally throughout the book.

Suffer through it—mine the emotions you keep inside yourself, face whatever’s emotionally burdensome, take control of it—then emerge reborn in the end.

Overall, there was just so much I loved about this book. It was so cute but had some real depth and discussions. Highly recommend for contemporary lovers out there!

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Weathering With You Vol. 1 by Makoto Shinkai and Wataru Kubota

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During the summer of his first year in high school, a young man named Hodaka runs away from home to the bustling city of Tokyo. Alone and exhausted, he decides to kill time in a fast food place, where he meets a young woman named Hina who happens to work there. Little does he know that Hina possesses powers that not only affect the weather, but the whole world…

There are a few people in this world that I will read anything they ever produce. Alice Oseman being one of them. Makoto Shinkai being another. I love Your Name, it is one of my favourite films in the world and I also love the light novel and manga. Weathering With You quickly became another favourite, and I read the light novel soon after the movie release. Me and Mark spotted this manga recently and knew we both wanted to pick it up, as we both loved the film so much. This is the first of 3 volumes (completed as far as I am aware) in the Weathering manga, and I read this in around half an hour. Naturally, the art style is well suited to manga due to the film being anime. I also love how some pages are completely given over to one drawing, giving big scenes the space, size and therefore impact they deserve.

Weathering with You - Kodansha
Copyright Vertical Comics 2020

I love the characters in Weathering so much, and just thinking about their friendship makes me emotional. This first volume heavily focuses on them meeting and developing their friendship, which already feels authentic and heartwarming. I also really enjoyed the slightly different insight reading the manga gives to Hodaka’s thought processes and feelings. His story feels almost slightly more raw due to this narrative, and even though only a few pieces of dialogue were changed, I felt the change.

I’m really excited to pick up the rest of this manga and it has definitely made me want to rewatch the film!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

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In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

I really wanted to like this book. It has so much hype and I know so many people love Madeline Miller’s writing. But sadly, this really didn’t hit the spot for me. I did read this very quickly over two days because I wanted to finish this before the end of June, and I’m not sure how much this changed my opinion of the book. It is definitely more of a slow burner, and I may have enjoyed it slightly more if I had paced myself over a longer period of time.

However, I do think this was more about the book itself. The writing was incredibly slow paced and really quite dense in my opinion. I found it a strange mixture of scenes I really enjoyed and could vividly picture and scenes I absolutely zoned out on and took nothing in. I just couldn’t quite grasp the writing style.

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.

I loved the character of Circe and her strength and independence definitely shines through. I didn’t appreciate the romances too much, and felt almost as if this book was just a long string of them. However, I did like the introduction of other Gods and their own stories. I definitely feel I would have enjoyed this book more if I had a better understanding of Greek mythology, as I had little to no knowledge prior to reading. I would love to go back to this one with more of an understanding of the myths themselves.

I would also like to point out there are some graphic scenes in this book, in many different ways. The one that sticks most vividly in my mind is a birthing scene, which I unfortunately stumbled across while eating dinner. I would definitely recommend looking up trigger warnings for this one and watch out for anything you may have a phobia of!

Such a constellation was he to me.

Overall, I am so sad to say this was such a mixed one for me and I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I would love to give it another go in the future, however, and will also be reading The Song of Achilles at some point!

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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