The Futile Tirade Against Time | Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

This novel emanates the subtle horror of perceived senility. Old age makes Death less abstract but no less terrifying. A group of elderly friends begin receiving ominous phone calls stating “Remember you must die.” Is their relativity to death creating a mass hallucination or is something more sinister afoot? Or maybe their collective distrust of the minds of themselves and their friends combined with eccentricities hardened over many years is the spark that creates an entirely esoteric evil?

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Spark is brilliant and this novel is exemplary of her exuberant talent. This novel seeped into my brain. Her words, water to the plant she was growing inside my head. I begun to acclimate to the stifling dread surrounding this group of elderly people. It was scary to see how the treatment and disbelief of those in advanced years opens the door to manipulation and control. It was just too easy.

The phone calls served as a focal point to examine the complexities of this friend group. Their mixed reactions to the calls illustrates the intricacies of their personalities and the various powers at play. I especially enjoyed the idea that the phone calls were from “Death”. The calls weren’t necessarily ominous; the caller is merely stating a fact. There is no apparent threat. Yet their relativity to the long sleep, and the increasing number of their friends that are reaching the end of their time, bubbled dread and paranoia to the forefront of their lives. They were forced by the unseen hand of fate to confront the futility of fight against the end of  their days. It is a harsh reality to be reminded that it is not “if” we die, but “when”.

Whilst this is not the first novel I have read with elderly protagonists, it is definitely one of the finest. Spark does not remove these character’s autonomy or complexities without it being a concerted effort to create a story. These are people who happen to be in the unique circumstance of old age. They are losing respect, health, and breadth of life but they are still motivated to live, whether for good or evil. Spark has an undeniable pulse on human nature, as if she’s already lived infinite lifetimes. Spark’s portrayal of old age ignited a growing suffocation that only released at the close of the novel. She roots her climate in fundamental fears and lets it grow and fester. She is undoubtedly the queen of subtle horrors.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but believe it deserves to be read multiple times to be able to get a steady grasp on everything Spark is trying to achieve. Whilst I got quite a bit out of it from my first read-through, I reckon I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg.

This was my second book of Spark’s and judging by how much I enjoyed this, and The Driver’s Seat, I am keen to read more, or all, of her publications. If you have any suggestions of which one to read next, please let me know in the comments.

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100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell | Review

In the wake of Trump’s presidency, Hannah Jewell sets out to shine a light on the women lost by the spotlight of history that has prioritised the stories and lives of men. Jewell recognises that women have not held the same laurels in history as their male contemporaries and this in itself does not preclude worthiness or merit. We all, hopefully, have developed coping strategies and outlets to deal with Trump’s presidency and the ignorance and bigotry that has been ignited since his inauguration. This book is Jewell’s outlet, but it is so much more than that. She delivers these women’s stories with an unending wit that is pure pleasure. Reading this was cathartic, reviving, inspirational, and necessary.

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Whilst reading through the impressive list of women, I realised how many I had never heard of before. After finishing the book, I shared Jewell’s rage that these women’s stories were not more commonplace. How did I not know of Noor Inayat Khan, a brilliant spy against the nazis? Or Jayaben Desai, who led strikes against British factories? And why is there not a trilogy of movies about Ching Shih, the Chinese lady pirate who was so bloody fearsome she stopped everyone in their tracks? Or Julie D’Aubigny, who lived hard, fast, and awesomely? So many of the women in this book are deserving of some serious attention that it seems negligent that I can’t turn on Netflix and find a documentary about them. These women are all so interesting that I can’t help but want to know as much as possible.

This book is fuelled by rage at the current state of feminine (dis)empowerment. Jewell wields her rage to create something truly powerful. These women’s stories deserve the limelight that history has failed to shine on their gloriousness. Jewell’s playful tone, laden with sarcasm, presented these “nasty women” with 21st century grace. Dripping with acrimony, irony, and swears, this book offers more than just 100 mini-bios but a biting commentary on the failure of both history, for dishonouring the memory of these women, and contemporary society, for breathing life into rampant misogyny. Her words force us to remember the women that were a force for good throughout history, whilst reminding us that their work is not yet done.

For my own reference I wanna list some of the women that really stood out to me, though all of them deserved their stories told. In order of appearance -> Sappho, Empress Wu, Ching Shih, Annie Jump Cannon, Hedy Lamarr, Phillis Wheatley, Nellie Bly, Louise Mack, Beatrice Potter Webb, Marie Chauvet, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida B. Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Annie Smith Peck, Jean Batten, Julie D’Aubigny, Njinga of Angola, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Lillian Ngoyi, Miriam Makeba, Te Puea Herangi, Wallada Bint Al-Mustakfi, George Sand, Gladys Bentley, Coccinelle, Josephine baker, Noor Inayat Khan, Nancy Wake, Irena Sendler, Olympe de Gouges, Juana Azurduy, Luisa Moreno, and Jayaben Desai. I need docu-series of AT LEAST this list of women. But keep them coming because I will never tire of tales regarding wonderful ladies.

The Currency of the Truth | Feed by Mira Grant

Imagine the United States in 20 years time. Is your mind filled with the hopes of medical and technological advancements that have improved the lives of everyone? In a perfect world, these hopes would be goals, but we all know that this world of ours is flawed to the core.

7094569In Feed, Grant imagines the U.S. after surviving a zombie apocalypse. This is post-apocalyptic world like none other I’ve read. The government survived and the average citizen’s way of life has comfortably adjusted to the constant threat of zombies and their infection. This world was a refreshing take on the genre as it definitely instilled more hope in humankind’s acclimation to disaster than most post-catastrophe imaginings.

The story follows Georgia and Shaun Mason as they become the first bloggers to be a part of the official press for the upcoming presidential election. They are thrust into the world of politics and they have been tasked with more than what they bargained for. Before too long, they are beginning to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to kill more than just themselves.

Whilst Feed is a fast-paced romp with enthusiastic characters and a thrilling plot, what sold me was the commentary made about the media. Conspiracies and lack of trust in the media were more infectious than the zombie virus. This is surprisingly apt since this book was written before the scourge of “fake news” that erupted around the 2016 presidential election.

In this world, traditional sources of media had let the public down at the beginning of the zombie virus outbreak. This led to bloggers becoming a more trusted news source. Bloggers went out into the world that everyone was afraid of and figured out how to survive, or died trying. Their bravery and quest for the truth made them famous as many relied solely on the internet to know the goings on of the world.

Since this book is set around a presidential campaign, it wasn’t hard to see the relevance of this book regarding the trust of the press during and after the 2016 election. I found it utterly fascinating how bloggers, who were steadily gaining significance in the world of news, filled the glaring holes left by traditional sources of media. Bloggers literally defined their legitimacy by consistently proving that they were worth their merit. The backdrop of faithlessness in traditional media promoted the image that bloggers were the ultimate truth crusaders. The traditional newsroom had no place in this brave new world. It was only those willing to risk it all who could be trusted with delivering information that could potentially save or end lives.

Whilst we have not seen a steady increase in blogger legitimacy in the eight years after Feed was first published, there has been a noticeable decrease in the overall trust in our media sources. Over the last few years I have become overwhelmingly distrustful of headlines and mainstream news sources. If I can’t know their biases upfront then I have trouble putting faith in the information they are trying to sell me. I find myself cross-referencing sources to illuminate subtle prejudices and locate a clearer version of the truth. I personally don’t have a lot of faith in traditionally media sources because the veins of their financial lifeblood is shrouded by the veil of large companies, which leaves consumers blind to their purpose. 

Bloggers tend to have clearer purpose. They are likely to be driven by a passion for telling the news or for plugging their opinions. The longer you invest in a blogger’s content, the clearer their purpose becomes and the foundation of trust can start really settle down. This happened for me when I first started watching Philip DeFranco on YouTube. He is relatively transparent with his business and opinions so that even when we disagree on certain topics, which happens every now and then, I can still rely on the information to be certifiably honest. This doesn’t mean that I believe every word that comes out of his mouth, but because I have watched him for many years, there is an existing faith in the quality of the information. Over time, this has led me to trust him as a source of media over traditional, mainstream sources.

Post-2016 election, consumer discretion regarding their trust in news sources is a necessary skill to survive our brave new world. We may not have had to deal with a zombie outbreak but the world of news have drastically changed since the election. As media consumers in 2018, who undoubtedly wish to mentally survive the scourge of “fake news” and the most disastrous U.S. election, it is our prerogative to become both discerning and critical of the media we place our trust in. We need to prioritise the value of our trust to avoid becoming infected with lies, hate, and faithlessness. 

Feed was an excellent read that inspired some thoughts about the current state of the truth in our news sources. The main plagues in Feed are present in our modern society and it seriously shouldn’t take a zombie virus outbreak for us to realise the imperfections of our world. Feed reminds us that regardless of these societal flaws, the truth is out there for anyone brave enough to seek it.

Are you brave enough to seek the truth?

Don’t wait for the end of the world to find out.

Rating – 4.5 stars

Weekly Wrap Up | 15th July

In lieu of a video that I’d wanted to make but lacked the energy to do, I am here to wrap-up and give mini reviews of the books I was able to finish this week. I finished two books this week and I enjoyed both to varying degrees.

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The first book I finished was Golden Son by Pierce Brown, which is book two in the Red Rising trilogy. I will try and keep this review spoiler-free for both Golden Son and the first book, Red Rising.

Golden Son continues the story about a year after the events at the end of Red Rising. Darrow is trying to maintain power and influence in the world of the Golds when everyone is out to get everyone. It’s a kill or be killed atmosphere that Darrow must navigate if he is to realise the revolution that the Sons of Ares wish for.

I enjoyed Red Rising but my main gripe with it was with how the pacing impacted my ability to connect with the story and characters. Golden Son’s pacing issues felt more severe and I found it hard to connect with what was happening. The story started off with a bang, which was a little disorienting since there was a decent gap between the end of Red Rising and the beginning of Golden Son. I felt flustered in trying to get a grip with who and what was happening that I never quite got over. The book seemed to introduce something intricate and intense but then simmer down to boardroom politics or Darrow whingeing, and this gear shift created a lingering sense of disconnect from the wold Pierce Brown had created. This meant that for most of the story, whilst still fun but occasionally slow and boring, I really couldn’t care. A bit unfortunate considering how epic of a story it actually is.

I did enjoy this book. The gala scene and ensuing chaos was pure excellence. The intensity of that scene carried me onwards to what turned into a fantastic ending. When I finished the book, I was left staring into oblivion with my beating heart in my mouth. For a book that I had felt mostly passive about, that ending shook me to my core.

The last third of the book redeemed itself. Darrow began to assess himself and become vulnerable with the people around him. This made it possible for me to begin to care about his plight like I hadn’t been able to yet in this series.

Though I started to feel more connected to Darrow towards the end, I really stuck with this book for Sevro. Knowing more about him and seeing him be his wicked, goblin self. He is truly a character like no other and it’s gorydamn awesome.

I feel Golden Son fell into the trap that most second books in trilogies fall into; it was a bridging story that left a lot to be desired. Even though it fell into serious lulls, the exciting parts were extremely intense to the extent that it makes the book enjoyable for all its flaws. I am excited to read the next and final part in this story.

Rating – 3 ½ stars


people in treeThe other book I finished this week was The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. I had picked this one up after having my heart ripped out by A Little Life. I knew these novels would be different, thank goodness, but they are both smart novels, and upon finishing this one, I am eager for any new releases by Yanagihara.

The People in the Trees is a fictional memoir of Norton Perina, the doctor who “discovered” that a mysterious Pacific tribe had utilised the properties of a native turtle to unnaturally extend their lives. After becoming famous for his scientific discovery, he spent the rest of his life taking care of his adopted children that are from the island. Having been convicted on pedophilia charges, his memoir is written whilst he is in prison and is edited by a close friend who has remained steadfastly loyal. He recounts his life before, during, and after becoming famous for discovering the turtle and proving its magical properties.

The thing that struck me about this book was the perspective. It was utterly fascinating. The novel opens with a preface from the friend who is editing his memoir. His friend details how Norton’s life was “unfairly” destroyed by the criminal charges. This preface magnificently sets up the perspective the novel is intended to be understood through. In my opinion, this technique was masterful and reflective of Yanigihara’s erudition. I am literally stunned that this is her debut.

The friendly editor of Norton’s memoir implicitly states in the preface that he is biased towards Norton. This lets the reader know that we are only seeing one side of the story and whilst we may not agree with it, we are being persuaded to do so. The reader is constantly reminded that the memoir is edited by a close friend, so it is impossible to forget that the perspective is biased towards positivity and flawlessness.

However, as a critical reader, we know that Norton is not a great guy. He is a convicted pedophile and he recounts memories of how he enjoyed using and killing animals in lab experiments. Norton’s fragile ego is merely implied since he is the narrator and he is quite narcissistic. This conclusion is implied by the perspective, since the reader is constantly aware that the account is biased, it is implicit that every opinion or judgement requires further examination. We can’t take Norton’s word at face value because of the perspective and this in itself is an interesting technique of storytelling manipulation. It was an extremely smart way of subtly developing depth in Norton’s character.

Since the perspective is Norton’s, who is heralded as a father of scientific discovery, the idea that the pursuit of science and knowledge is promoted over the preservation of culture. This prioritisation creates an effect the resembles colonialism. Science moves in and overtakes O’Ivu, since the pursuit of science is more important than their culture or community. This theme appears boldest in the novel. The scary comparisons to colonialism implicitly illustrates the consequences of this prioritisation.

The consequence of the theoretically amoral quest for knowledge of eternal life is the actual denigration of humanity itself, as is shown in the impact of the misuse of the mystical turtle. The capture and eventual extinction of the native turtles further evokes images of colonisation. Norton does not emote regret over this, just a sense of inevitability, that he is aware that science has a right of way with the hope for knowledge. The risk of this quest for eternal life for humanity, is the loss of humanity itself.

In the same way that Norton is presented in a biased way, so is the pursuit of science. Science is like God so it is imperatively good. Any negative consequences do not in itself cancel the goodness but are brought about by the reader’s critique. They are outside science, just as they are outside the goings on of the novel. It is only through individual critique that we find flaws in Norton and his search for scientific discovery. The pursuit of science is also the silent death of innocence, which is shown in Norton’s fraught relationship with his brother and his many children. The accusation by his child shows just how innocence, and possibly karma, can rally against Norton, the pariah of reason and scientific progress. The subtly of the critique that Yanagihara set up for the reader blew my mind away. If anything, I am very impressed.

Rating – 4 stars


I quite enjoyed reading these books and especially loved critiquing The People in the Trees. It feels like a book that could be re-read for endless examination. I am glad to have read both of them.

Thank you for reading. Happy Reading!

Steppenwolf: The Multiplicity of Critique | Review

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. A sort of philosophising trip? It certainly played that part well. The writing was exquisite and perfectly encapsulated Harry’s internal conundrum. I was certainly enraptured by the magic theatre and musicality of this novel.

However, his conflict with his misplacement in civil society pertains to a specific gaze, that of the middle class white male. To some degree, Hesse was aware of this gaze (he was acutely aware of his class, but ignorant of race and sex). His descriptions of Jazz, Negroes (“primitive” and “vacant eyes”), Jews and depictions of women were products of the novel’s unenlightened breadth. The women in this story, specifically Hermine and Maria, were mere objects in this story. There is hardly any other way to describe them. I am aware that my own privileges in life enable me to be able to contextualise the ignorances and to be aware of the problems in the novel, without it deterring me from finding joy in both the novel itself and the pursuant analysis. It is exclusively through my own privileges that I can distinguish between the ignorances and what engaged me. I state this because I don’t want to feign ignorance of the harms of these evils.

I was still able to enjoy the majority of this book despite careful consideration of the fundamental biases that infiltrated the philosophy of this novel. Hesse has a way with words and there were some incredibly insightful and profound moments. I think I would like to read some critiques of this novel to further engage with what Hesse attempted to achieve.

It is precisely books like this that I love to find myself ensnared by. To be able to flex my analytical literary muscles to assess and dissect the good and the nasty. I can acknowledge the prejudice and hope to contextualise it or seek to distinguish it as noise, mere excess from the crux of the novel. But at the same time, I aim to engage with the philosophy. The philosophy that grapples with tenets of existentialism and nihilism. I can play with the ideas this novel churns out and try to piece together whether the novel is self-aware of its own flaws, or if the absence of awareness is what exemplifies the philosophy. Any conclusion, any derivation is the nature of literary criticism, the nature of the individualist experience of literature. It is an experience that I am innately enamoured by and I am glad and grateful that this book has ignited my passion.

To me, this book felt like an indictment of Harry, the eponymous Steppenwolf. The novel attempts to poke fun at the lens which Harry tries to unravel his internal war. His disconnect from society, from the experiences of pleasure or pain, was subtle parody on the intellectual asceticism, which denounces popular culture, for a culture more pure, more eternal and supposedly transcendent of space and time. Harry is his own paradox who perpetuates the things that disgust and separate him from society. The philosophical basis of this book anchored me with interest and I couldn’t help but enjoy this experience. Definitely one that I would love to return to in the future.

Quotes

This Steppenwolf of ours has always been aware of at least the Faustian two-fold nature within him. He has discovered that the one-fold of the body is not inhabited by a one-fold of the soul, and that at best he is only at the beginning of a long pilgrimage towards this ideal harmony. He would either like to overcome the wolf and become wholly man or to renounce mankind and at last to live wholly a wolf’s life. It may be presumed that he has never carefully watched a real wolf. Had he done so he would have seen, perhaps, that even animals are not undivided in spirit. With them, too, the well-knit beauty of the body hides a being of manifold states and striving. The wolf, too has his abysses. The wolf, too, suffers. No, back to nature is a false track that leads nowhere but to suffering and despair. Harry can never turn back again and become wholly wolf, and could he do so he would find that even the wolf id not of primeval simplicity, but already a creature of manifold complexity. Even the wolf has two, and more than two, souls in his wolf’s breast, and he who desires to be a wolf falls into the same forgetfulness as the man who sings: “If I could be a child once more!” He who sentimentally sings of blessed childhood is thinking of the return to nature and innocence and the origin of things, and has quite forgotten that these blessed children are beset with conflict and complexities and capable of all suffering.

There is, in fact, no way back either to the wolf or to the child. From the very start there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source.

Before all else I learned that these playthings were not mere idle trifles invented by manufacturers and dealers for the purposes of gain. They were, on the contrary, a little or, rather, a big world, authoritative and beautiful, many sided, containing a multiplicity of things all of which had the one and only aim of serving love, refining the senses, giving life to the dead world around us, endowing it in a magical way with new instruments of love, from powder and scent to the dancing show, from ring to cigarette case, from waist-buckle to handbag. This bag was no bag, this purse no purse, flowers no flowers, the fan no fan. All were the plastic material of love, of magic and delight. Each was a messenger, a smuggler, a weapon, a battle cry.

For the first time I understood Goethe’s laughter, the laughter of the immortals. It was a laughter without an object. It was simply light and lucidity. It was that which is left over when a true man has passing through all sufferings, vices, mistakes, passion and misunderstanding of men and got through to eternity and the world of space. And eternity was nothing else than the redemption of time, its return to innocence, so to speak, and its transformation again into space.

Tolstoy vs. YouTube | Book Review

29414576Tolstoy stole my heart at seventeen. Anna Karenina revived my soul and ignited a love for Russian culture that has steadily kindled for years. The premise of a modernisation of Anna Karenina as an amateur web series was too promising to resist. Unfortunately, the premise was the only consistent and worthwhile feature in this book.

I imagined I would overcome my boredom and distance from the main character, Tash, but I never did. I never felt like I knew her or any of the characters. They felt like cardboard cut-outs placed onto a set that failed to be properly developed. In addition to the overall lack of development, some of the dialogue felt clunky to the point of unrealism, which heightened my feeling of isolation to the characters.

The writing wasn’t bad per se, more unpractised or unrefined. I felt like the scenes didn’t flow together and that the plotting was nearly non-existent. The things that did happen seemed to be over the top and inconsistent with the supposed focus of the book – the web series. I thought it would focus more on that and how being an amateur and learning about your passion is scaring and exciting, but it brushed over the intricacies of filming a web series and made it out to be that Tash was already a pro filmmaker and the actors all magnificent at seventeen.

It felt overboard to introduce so many threads to such a short novel. There wasn’t enough space to explore anything fully because there was too much stuffing. The asexuality perspective was probably the fullest focus of the novel, which was surprising since it popped out of nowhere about halfway through the novel. The threads that felt undeveloped included the pressure of internet fame, ambitions and pitfalls of filmmaking as a passion, big sister graduating and moving to college, Tash’s relationship with the Harlow family, the Harlow’s dad’s battle with cancer, the Golden Tuba awards, the unexpected pregnancy, the budding flirtation, and the anxieties preceding the final year of high school.

This is starting to sound overly negative, despite the fact that I didn’t actually hate this. I just would’ve appreciated more depth on some of the threads of the story rather than a culmination of face-value plot points. What is left after the shallowness of this novel is a light-hearted contemporary that gives a unique perspective regarding internet fame and filmmaking. I adored the references to Anna Karenina and Leo Tolstoy, and Tash’s love for Tolstoy felt like genuine adolescent dorkiness. This book felt geared towards the Tumblr and YouTube generation (of which I was a part) so it wasn’t difficult for me to fall into the internet environment.

Whilst this book resembles nothing of the Russian master, the crumbs of Tolstoy make this blithe contemporary enjoyable and a unique addition to the contemporary genre with its focus on asexuality and internet fame.

Love Shouldn’t be Creepy | A Book Review

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Title: I’m Still Here

Author: Clélie Avit

Pages: 240

Catchwords: Coma, French, Non-consensual romance


I’m going to admit right off the bat, I borrowed this purely because of its pretty cover. I guess after reading the blurb, I was intrigued to see if this story could be pulled off in a non-creepy way. Yeah, I don’t think that was ever gonna happen.

At first I thought it might be due to the translation. Then I realised it’s just overall poor writing. I get that it’s drawn it’s inspiration from Sleeping Beauty, but it was nigh impossible to get over the creep factor. Since the plot is predictable, the focus was largely on the characters, yet they both felt inconsistent and very underdeveloped. It was filled with irritating cliches with little to no explanation of how it fit in with their identity.

Essentially Thibault is on the fifth floor with his Mum who is visiting his brother who he doesn’t want to see. He wanders around and accidentally goes into Elsa’s room where she is in a coma. He then proceeds to talk to her and falls asleep in the chair next to her bed. She hears him despite her coma and isn’t creeped out by this stranger who thinks he is entitled to be her friend and even KISS her. He is confronted with her ACTUAL friends, and isn’t even slightly embarrassed by his total lack of etiquette. And neither are the friends! They indulge his budding infatuation even though it is very creepy to be “drawn” to this unconscious girl.

He continues to visit her and fall in love, despite having nothing to go off about her except that she’s in a COMA. Apparently she is also inspired by him and sees him as her rainbow willpower to finally wakeup. People have been visiting her pretty consistently during the past 5 months and yet the novel sort of focuses on how he is an unwitting hero, which is kind of ridiculous. His automatic infatuation with this unconscious girl that he doesn’t even know is due to his longing for the perfect family. There is a reoccurring metaphor where he visualises his life as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book called ‘The Book in Which I am The Hero.’ Blurgh. The complete lack of consent and the total creepiness of his “love” is super unnerving. It’s also inconsistent at times which would make sense because she is really only an object to which he can project his ideals of a perfect family. There is literally one part in the book where he forgets about her for a whole week even though he is totally in love with her right?!

This book was absolutely cringe worthy with a major creep factor. Had to skim read to the end cause it was just that bad. There were other problems, such as the poor writing (it was quite bad, and this may or may not be the fault of the translation) and the unbelievable relationships between Thibault and everyone in his life. It almost felt like the author only understood communication through the lens of daily television soaps. Thibault’s habitual pineapple juice and Elsa’s glacial mountaineering characteristics felt so overtly forced into the story that they just felt like paper dolls of characters instead of people that I actually could believe in.

Suffice it to say, I did not like this book.

1 out of 5 stars