Monday, 29 April 2019

Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson | Blog Tour



Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson
Published by Duckworth
Release date: 2nd May 2019
Source: Duckworth, paperback advance reading copy.


It’s 1928 and Stanley Spencer arrives in a quiet Hampshire village ready to create the commission of a lifetime. Hired as his housekeeper, Elsie quickly becomes so much more: a muse and a friend for whom he develops a deep, lifelong affection. A joy in the ordinary things bonds them, a simple love of life which is crucial to Spencer’s art but which his wartime experiences and growing celebrity have all but destroyed.

Elsie becomes a vital part of the Spencer family, sharing in the creation of Spencer’s masterpieces and the daily dramas of his life: his marriage to the painter Hilda Carline and the artistic rivalry between husband and wife; the continuing impact of the First World War on all their lives, and the scandal over Spencer’s personal and artistic attitudes toward sex. As the years pass, Elsie does her best to keep the familytogether even when love, obsession and temptation seem set to tear them apart...

Spencer painted the women in his life with a combination of ruthless honesty and nostalgic idealism, but their voices are tantalisingly absent from history. Stanley and Elsie turns the tables and gives full lives to the women who shaped Stanley Spencer’s life.

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson and I'm so excited to share my review with you. Based on the life of the artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Stanley and Elsie is a fascinating look at art, the wounds of war and Stanley Spencer through the eyes of the women in his life.

Writing fiction about art is almost the ultimate test in descriptive writing as the goal is clearly to get the reader to not only be able to visualise the art as they read, but appreciate the technical detail and the feelings that a particular piece evokes. In this way, Nicola Upson has accomplished something extraordinary. I felt like I was standing in Sandham memorial chapel (the building filled with murals on everyday life during WW1, painted by Spencer) along with Elsie, seeing Spencer's vast and distinctive depictions of war memories.

I really enjoyed the reflections on finding joy in the everyday, mundane tasks and it made me pause and think about my mindset when it comes to work and daily life. I agree with Spencer's idea of there being something heroic in the everyday, of keeping on despite everything, and cherishing the peace of mundane moments. This is something that I also found within the novel, reading about the life of the Spencers. I love the comfort that historical fiction brings, especially books that spend time on the day to day lives of people in the past. The simple joy of seeing how people lived their daily lives, their tasks and homemaking, their view on hard work and holidays by the seaside.

Nicola Upson did such a fantastic job with the setting of the novel that the Berkshire countryside felt almost like another character, and it made me feel a connection to a part of England that I haven't yet visited. There is some beautiful writing on nature, weather and the changing of the seasons, which I particularly appreciated. 

Stanley and Elsie is a cosy book which deals with some big and uncomfortable topics whilst also being a comfortable and relaxing read. It has a slow burn of atmosphere and is a fascinating insight into the emotional and domestic life of a distinguished artist.

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Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and is most known for her series of novels featuring real-life crime author and playwright, Josephine Tey. 

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Thanks to Duckworth for including me on this blog tour and providing an advanced copy of the book. Don't forget to head on over to the other stops on the tour!



Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Celebrating Shakespeare Day with Viking | Shakespeare's memorable quotes

This post contains items that were gifted from Viking. This is not a paid-for post.








Today, April 23rd, is Shakespeare Day. Despite being written over 400 years ago, Shakespeare's works are still celebrated the world over. He introduced phrases that we still use today and he wrote with a wit still unrivalled.

To help me celebrate Shakespeare Day, Viking kindly gifted me some beautiful stationery and I decided to practice my calligraphy with some of my favourite quotes from the bard. I started hand-lettering with brush pens about two years ago and it's something I've been practising over time but using a proper calligraphy set was a new challenge for me! 






This beautiful feathered calligraphy pen came with six different nibs and I had so much fun trying out the different styles. What do you think of my efforts?















Viking stock an enormous range of products online, so whether you're stocking up for school or work or you just want to get creative, they've definitely got something for you. 

This post is not paid, Viking gifted me a box of stationery with the intention to get creative with their products. I genuinely think they're a great company and really like the range of products they stock. 

I really enjoyed getting creative and celebrating Shakespeare with these calligraphy quotes, which is your favourite?

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden | Giveaway!


Today is the publication day for the fantastic third book in Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy: The Winter of the Witch! I'm so happy to be taking part in the blog tour for Winter of the Witch, I'm going to be sharing my spoiler-free review and stay tuned to the end for a giveaway!

There is a battle raging over Moscow, Old Gods and New are vying for control of Russia and it's people. Vasya is at the centre of this conflict, desperately trying to save both the human and magical worlds of Russia and the Winter King, who is fading in the creeping heat of summer and battle. But she might not be able to save them all.

In 2018, I read the whole of the Winternight trilogy, something I don't often do. I tend to start fantasy series and then trail off at some point, but this one had me gripped throughout. It turned out to be a five star series for me and one of the best I've read. I think the main reason for this is that it has such a great balance between character development and plot. I generally prefer character-driven novels but I get a bit frustrated when the accompanying plot is badly paced or non-existent. The Winternight trilogy has such strong characters who get you really invested and a well balanced plot which drives excitement and tension at just the right moments.

The Winter of the Witch is a really strong finale to this wonderful series. It maintains and builds on the folklore and spirit elements that were so present in the first book and made the second book so gripping, to create a fantastic, emotional and exciting final journey with so many unexpected twists and turns along the way.

One of the things I love most about this series is the sweeping range of settings across medieval Russia; the scenery was ever-changing across the course of the three books. From rural village life with lush descriptions of the nature which is almost a character within Vasya's home of Lesnaya Zemlya, to the high walls of Moscow, the dark forests of Midnight and the crackling fires of battle camps. The reader always feels completely immersed in this world as no matter the landscape, it is deftly described and fully realised without hitting you over the head with it.

Vasya is one of the best protagonists I've ever read. She could have so easily been a  manic-pixie-dream-girl or stereotypical chosen one but instead she is complex, flawed and brilliant. There were times I questioned her decisions, felt frustrated with her or urged her to take another path, but that is what makes her so real and human and an ultimately convincing character. I also really liked that romance was an undercurrent in these books, bubbling under the surface with just enough angst and emotion to invest in, but not distracting from the main story or Vasya's character development.

Vasya is firmly cemented as one of my favourite fantasy heroines of all time. Her character arc is incredible yet entirely convincing. I wholeheartedly adore her and I already can't wait to go back to this series for a reread and spend more time with her, watching her grow into the incredible woman she is in The Winter of the Witch. 

On my Instagram I described this series as epic and quiet at the same time and I think that's exactly what I love about it. It's sweeping enough to be exciting and to carry you fully into another world but it's quiet and charming enough for you to hold it close to your heart and feel like it's yours. This series felt like coming home to me, it felt like everything I'd ever wanted in a fantasy and I'll always hold it close. Read the Winternight trilogy, you won't regret it.

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With the help of Ebury, I'm running a giveaway for a finished copy of The Winter of the Witch over on my Instagram! Head to the link below and read the caption for details on how to enter.

View this post on Instagram

πŸ“šπŸŽ GIVEAWAY! πŸŽπŸ“šHappy book birthday to The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden! My blog is today’s stop on the blog tour, head to the link in my bio to read my spoiler-free review. - To celebrate publication day of the third book in the Winternight trilogy, I’m collaborating with @eburybooks to give away a finished copy of The Winter of the Witch (swipe to see the gorgeous finished cover) to one lucky winner. - To enter: 🎁 Like the post 🎁 Follow me @sarahschapter 🎁 Tag a friend in the comments who might like to enter - Extra Entries: 🎁 Tag more friends (one comment per tag, up to five comments) 🎁 Comment on my review post (link in bio) 🎁 Share this post on your stories and comment when you’ve done this. - UK and Europe entries only. Giveaway ends 23:59 GMT on 16th January 2019. This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram.

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Also, don't forget to catch the other stops on the blog tour:



BLOGLOVIN | GOODREADS

I was provided with a review copy of The Winter of The Witch from Ebury in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my thoughts on the book. 

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Reviewing the Costa Novel Shortlist*

This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own.


This month I've been working with the Costa Book Awards to review the Novel shortlist ahead of the category winners announcement on the 7th January. I've spent the month reading the four shortlisted novels: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, Normal People by Sally Rooney and From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan. I'm here today to give you my reviews and share my own prediction for the category winner.



The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
A slow-building character-driven novel with a pacy plot towards the end, The Italian Teacher begins in Rome, 1955, at a party to celebrate Bear Bavinsky. Bear is an artist with a magnetic, larger-than-life personality who seduces everyone he meets. His tendency to burn any work he is not entirely happy with creates an air of mystique and grandeur around the surviving works - making him a cult figure in the art world. But this isn't Bear's story, it's his son's - Charles 'Pinch' Bavinsky. As we read from Pinch's perspective, we begin to see Bear as an egotistical nightmare of man, who doles out rare and limited affection to his many scattered children, which they crave like a drug. The Italian Teacher explores all kinds of toxic relationships, between father and son, man and woman, artist and art.

I really enjoyed Rachman's exploration of the art world. I don't read a lot of books about art and it's something I used to really love. I know a bit about famous twentieth century artists so the references peppered throughout were quite fun for me and it was really interesting to learn a bit about how the art world works. Rachman's reflections on the importance of status and character in the art world were really thought-provoking and I found the consideration of how we leave a mark on the world and others' lives really quite moving.

The main character, Pinch, is kind of unlikeable but that isn't a downfall for me. I don't mind feeling frustrated with a character or questioning their decisions as long as I can still empathise or connect in some way. I found myself growing fond of Pinch, despite his huge flaws, because I could see myself in parts of him. The Italian Teacher is a portrait of vulnerability, loneliness and compromise who makes the reader consider what makes a life well lived.



The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Trojan War from the women's perspective. It is historical fiction in a time that we see as so far removed from our own yet the fear and horror running through it unfortunately has such relevance today. The Silence of the Girls is brutal, it is about as far away from the romanticisation of Trojan war retellings as you can get. The women are slaves, prizes for the man who slaughtered their families. Their treatment is appalling and the book doesn't allow the reader to forget this. We read from the perspective of Briseis, whose city was sacked and family murdered by Achilles and the Myrmidons, who is then taken as slave and Achilles 'prize'.

I was a little surprised that Achilles had quite so many of his own chapters in a story that is conceptualised as being focused on the women. Achilles was presented as a complex character and humanised to an extent but his brutality and complicity in the enslavement of women was never shied away from. I did appreciate that Achilles was a fleshed out character with emotions rather than just being a one dimensional villain, this human aspect of him made his brutal actions more despicable. I also appreciated that Achilles' POV was told in third person to Briseis' first person. However, I do wish there was more of Briseis, what we got of her was so raw but her story felt a bit undeveloped. In a book focused on the women it is a little strange to feel like Achilles is the more developed character - but perhaps that's the point.



Normal People by Sally Rooney
Probably the most hyped book on the shortlist, Normal People is quite a stunning read. Sally Rooney's prose is stark, even harsh, in places, yet even as someone who loves lush description, I fell for this book. It's a love story without being a romance and is moving and frustrating in equal parts. It's about how the unsaid things can twist a relationship and the people within it. Rather than hook us in to root for the couple or entertain us with their romance, Normal People presents the raw truth of the youthful experience of a relationship, complete with awkwardness, awe, pain and external pressures. The emotions within are so accurately depicted; it's almost shocking.

An issue I had that I've not heard many speak about is that it felt like modern historical fiction rather than a current portrayal of youth. I think because the characters attended university between 2011 and 2014, the exact years I did, I was subconsciously comparing and their vastly different experience threw me off. This is most likely a fault with me rather than the book but I felt it had quite strong 80s/90s/early 2000s vibes rather than current day eg. they wrote each other lengthy emails, which wasn't really something we did in 2012. It's nitpicky, but it did throw me out of the story a little too often and therefore affected my feelings about the book.

Overall, Normal People is a compelling, emotionally jarring read that cuts to the core of human relationships.



From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
This was my first time reading Donal Ryan's writing and I was absolutely blown away by it. The expression of emotion in his writing is beautiful and almost lyrical but feels raw and cuts deep. There were times when I was reading this that is almost painful and so real. From A Low and Quiet Sea is told from the perspective of three very different men whose stories crash together at the end in unexpected ways. Donal Ryan's command of structure and interweaving detail is excellent and so much is conveyed in less than 200 pages. Like the others on the shortlist, this is very much a character-driven novel, which I usually prefer anyway. Donal Ryan does weave story and plots together in such interesting ways but the stars of the show are the complex and vivid characters whose inner lives we come to know through exquisitely constructed sentences. From a Low and Quiet Sea reflects on empathy, familial strain and how the past echoes through the present. It was a real joy, and an ache, to read.

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So there we have it, my thoughts on all four books in the Novel category. Honestly, I think they are all fantastic in their own right so it's quite difficult to choose a winner. I have a feeling that Normal People may win because it's just been so hyped, but my personal winner is From a Low and Quiet Sea, it moved me the most and it's definitely made me want to pick up more of Donal Ryan's work.

The winners of each of the five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's, will be announced this coming Monday 7th January and the overall winner will be announced at the awards on Tuesday 29th January.

BLOGLOVIN | GOODREADS

*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

My December TBR feat. Costa Book Awards 2018*

This post is a paid collaboration with Costa. All words, images and opinions are entirely my own.

We're well on our way into the festive season, expecting some snow flurries this week and the Christmas break is tantalisingly close - so what better time to curl up with a steaming mug of coffee and a good stack of books? This month I've got a very special selection of books picked out because I'm thrilled to once again be working with the lovely folks at Costa on the Costa Book Awards 2018!

The Costa Book Awards have been going since 1971 and the reason why I love these awards in particular is because they celebrate the most enjoyable books with a wide appeal, the books people really *want* to read, instead of feeling like they should read them. These awards are completely unpretentious, they just celebrate having a good time whilst reading - and I'm all about that!

The shortlisted books are all from authors living from in the UK or Ireland and are spread across five fantastic categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's, so there's something for every reader. I'm going to be reading the four shortlisted books in the Novels category before the category winners are announced on the 7th January - and I can't wait to get stuck in!

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
Beginning in Rome in 1955 we see the great modern painter Bear Bavinsky, surrounded by admirers, but this story is not his. It's his son, Pinch's. We follow Pinch over the course of his life as he attempts to live up to his great name but finds a life marred by twists, compromises and pain. Yet Pinch will enact an unexpected rebellion that will forever leave his mark upon the Bear Bavinsky legacy.

With Bohemian Rhapsody being my favourite film of the year, the 70s and 80s are periods I'm really keen to find out more about and this book starts in the mid-50s and spans the next thirty or so years so I'm really excited about that. I love stories that cover longer periods of time and this seems to be almost a Bildungsroman which is right up my street. Having studied and had a passion for art in the past, I'm also interested to read about the art world of this time period.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis's old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she's not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters. This novel seeks to break the silence of these forgotten women in history.

We learn about the Trojan War as children, but it is always a man's story. We don't hear of the women whose lives were torn apart. I think this one is going to be quite brutal but I'm definitely ready for it. I want to hear what these women's lives were like and hear them tell their story, even if it's heartbreaking. There's been a bit of a buzz about this one on booktube and Twitter so I'm keen to see if it lives up to the hype.


Normal People by Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne have grown up in the same small town in Northern Ireland, but have led very different lives. Connell is popular where Marianne is an outcast. Connell's mother works as a cleaner for Marianne's family and when the two strike up a conversation one day, something that will forever change the fabric of their lives begins.

This is the only one of the shortlist which I've already read and I really enjoyed it, whilst also having a lot of complicated thoughts and feelings about it. I'm going to share my full thoughts in my review post but for now let's say that it's a love story without being a romance and it will suck you in completely.

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war. Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe. John’s past torments him as he nears his end. From war-torn Syria to smalltown Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.

I've heard such great things about Donal Ryan's writing so I'm going into this with kind of high expectations but I'm sure it'll meet them. I love stories which bring several separate characters together in an interesting way and it seems like this is going to be an emotional story. I feel like I might need the tissues for this one!

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So there we have it, the four shortlisted books in the Novel category of the Costa Book Awards 2018. I'll be reading them over the next couple of weeks and putting up a review post with my prediction of the winner just before the announcement on the 7th of January. Keep an eye on my Instagram too for some snippets of reviews as I read them!

Which of these books are you most excited to read? Let me know in the comments!

BLOGLOVIN | GOODREADS

*This post is part of a series of posts that are sponsored by Costa. All words and images are entirely my own and 100% honest.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Recent Reads #6: China Rich Girlfriend, Penguin Mini Modern Classics, I'll Be Gone in the Dark



May has been another great reading month, I've read six books so far and am hoping to finish my seventh before the month is over. It seems like summer is here and I've been really enjoying sitting out on the balcony with a book and a cold lemonade - long may this continue!


China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan | ☆☆☆☆
This is a sequel, so no synopsis to avoid spoilers!

In my last recent reads I reviewed the first in this series, Crazy Rich Asians, which I absolutely loved. I decided to listen to China Rich Girlfriend on audiobook as it's a bit of a chunker and I couldn't bear to put it down so this helped me get through it a lot faster. I really recommend the audiobooks for this series, the narrator is so engaging and nails the humour so well. China Rich Girlfriend was just as hilarious as the first book in the series. Kevin Kwan outdoes himself with the heavy satire, bordering-on-ridiculous drama and stunning descriptive passages. I love this series because each book is a hilarious rollercoaster ride but they also have some truly heartfelt moments. Stay tuned to the next recent reads for the finale: Rich People Problems.



Daydreams and Drunkenness of a Young Lady by Clarice Lispector | ☆☆☆
Tales of desire and madness from this giant of Brazilian literature.
This is another from the Penguin mini modern classics series, which the lovely folk at Penguin kindly sent me a selection of. Overall, I found this one a little hard to get into. Clarice Lispector's writing is so unique and I definitely see the great skill in the richness and layering of motifs but I just didn't really find it that enjoyable. I found her writing quite jarring and these three little stories kind of felt like an intense fever dream, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I appreciate the artistry of Lispector's writing but it wasn't quite for me. However, this is why these mini collections are brilliant; they allow you just a taste of the author's work so that you can decide whether you want to read more.


I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle Mcnamara | ☆☆☆☆
A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer - the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade, thirty years ago, - from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

With the recent arrest of the Golden State Killer, this book has had a lot of hype lately. I first heart of it through one of my favourite podcasts: My Favorite Murder. Karen and Georgia talked about how wonderful this book is and after GSK's arrest a few weeks ago, I knew I had to pick it up.

Michelle Mcnamara's writing is what makes this book stand out from other true crime that I've read. In a case so complex (over 50 crimes scenes, over a ten year period) there is a lot to discuss and therefore a risk of a written account becoming quite dry. I'll Be Gone in the Dark completely avoids this through Michelle Mcnamara's incredible skill as a storyteller. The book has a narrative feel with Michelle's descriptive writing not only making the book truly enthralling but incredibly unnerving. There were times when I was reading this in bed at night and had to get up to make sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Michelle does justice to the upsettingly large number of victims through her sensitive but thorough exploration of the case. Michelle's unexpected death in 2016 means that the book went unfinished, but has been patched together by her close collaborators. If you think that true crime non-fiction isn;t for you, then I urge you to red this snippet of Michelle's writing and reconsider:


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What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments or tweet me!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Recent Reads #5: A Shiver of Snow and Sky, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens, Penguin Mini Moderns


April was a pretty fantastic reading month for me, I finished off a book I'd been reading for about a month and managed to get seven books read in total! I reduced my massive TBR quite a bit and even got a new bookcase so I can see my TBR more clearly, hopefully it'll shame me into reading my own damn books! Now let's get into the reviews...


In Search of Our Mother's Gardens by Alice Walker | ☆☆☆☆.5
Published in 1983, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose is a collection composed of 36 separate pieces written by Alice Walker. The essays, articles, reviews, statements, and speeches were written between 1966 and 1982.

In Search of Our Mother's Gardens is an essay collection from Alice Walker, who is perhaps best known for writing The Color Purple. I bought it in a charity shop years ago and I don't think this particular edition is actually in print anymore so it feels kind of special.

In this collection Alice writes about a range of topics from black folklore of the south to Martin Luther King, single motherhood, feminism and the creative process. The essays vary in length but each is a little gem. It is not the responsibility of people of colour to educate white people, but I did feel like I learnt so much from these essays. Reading about feminism and civil rights from a black woman's perspective at a time of such political upheaval is absolutely invaluable.

I also loved reading about Alice Walker's creative process and her reflection on writing and the research it involves.  The passion, the drive, the history and the mythology behind The Color Purple leaps out from these essays. Walker was heavily inspired by Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and I really enjoyed reading about Walker's fight to uncover Neale Hurston's fate and bring her brilliance back into public knowledge. Although this book took me a while to read (it's fairly dense), I was never bored as Alice Walker's writing is incredible.


A Shiver of Snow and Sky by Lisa Lueddecke | ☆☆☆
After reading (and loving) The Bear and the Nightingale earlier in the year, I was in the mood for another wintry atmospheric fantasy so I had such high hopes for A Shiver of Snow and Sky but sadly I was left feeling a bit disappointed. I've heard people compare this book's world-building to Leigh Bardugo and I have to say I disagree. The world-building was one of the main elements that let me down. The mythology and fantasy aspects were a little out of the blue and it was hard to feel the supposedly deep history of this isolated island.I found it very hard to connect to the main characters. There was some insta-love without much depth, as most of the relationship building happened pre-book and we were just supposed to accept this deep connection between the two when in fact their chemistry/connection wasn't developed enough on the page. The writing was a little clunky and I didn't understand a lot of the characters' motivations. This book had so much potential which for me it sadly didn't live up to.

The Problem That Has No Name by Betty Friedan |☆☆☆☆
I was absolutely delighted when the lovely folks at penguin sent over a few of their new Penguin Mini Modern Classics. This selection from Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique is an interesting look at what inspired the 'second wave' of feminism. I quite honestly am rather uninformed on this particular period of feminism and this snippet of Friedan's work made me want to read more. I'm excited to get through a few more from this collection in the coming months.

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What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments or tweet me!

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