Monthly Archives: February 2017

In order of reading, but also the first one is the least whelming.

1292826TULIP FEVER — Deborah Moggach

Ugh, period piece drama that needs to have a little more oomph to convince me it’s good literature.  Okay, sorry, it is a fun premise (Amsterdam during the tulip craze of the 1600s, unhappily married woman starts affair with the artist painting her portrait), but the way the novel is structured is underwhelming.  Each chapter changes POV, which is fine, but some of the characters didn’t need to get voiced as often as they were.  I was much more intrigued by the sections that weren’t focused on a character, but on the painting itself.  That was fun.

I read this one because it’s going to be a movie with Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz and let me tell you, I think the movie is going to be 200% better than the book.  It’s the kind of story that needs to be told visually because so much of the drama is based on painting.  Overall, it’s a quick read, and relatively harmless, but nothing that makes me scream “YES READ THIS PLEASE.”  It’s more like, “Oh, that’s nice.  The trailer looks good.”

(No, seriously.  The trailer looks GOOD.  Check it out.)

30688435EXIT WEST — Mohsin Hamid

Really quickly on this one, a rep brought an ARC and suggested it to a coworker, who then said I had to read it.  If this book doesn’t get nominated for some award this year, I’ll eat a bowl full of Brussel sprouts.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a gorgeous (and brief) novel about a man and a woman who fall in love in a dangerous country, then try to escape the dangers of their home by venturing through doors.  It’s politically poignant, and simultaneously magical in the fairy-tale-like structure.  This is the kind of book you read in an afternoon but think about long after.  And seriously, it’s going to be up for an award, I’m sure, and deservedly so.

616nyvwmpl-sx316THE APPRENTICE WITCH — James Nicol

So after A Conjuring of Light and the astonishingly magical world of Kell and Lila, it’s hard for me to start up another fantasy, but we received an ARC for a new young adult novel that was getting great reviews, so I tried it.  The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol was originally published in the UK in July 2016 and is coming to the US this July.

Arianwyn is a young witch who has failed her final examination.  While her school nemesis is assigned to a special position, Arianwyn is sent to Lull, a town with doubting villagers and magical creatures.  Arianwyn makes some friends and discovers that the magic inside of her might be more than anyone believed possible, but there might also be a darker magic lurking in Lull…

Overall, this was a sweet book.  Arianwyn is a fun young witch and the friends she makes in Lull are charming.  I think my main problem with this was just that there is so much to develop but, as a young adult novel, the length is limited.  If this does become a series, I can see how it could develop and I’d be interested enough to give book two a shot.

To be fair, I also have to say that another thing that influenced by reading of it was a conversation with my manager.  I had looked up reviews online and told her that it was doing very well and that we should order at least one copy for the store; when she spoke with our rep, she ended up ordering a display of the book because it was getting great reviews and the man who got this one also signed J.K. Rowling at Bloomsbury.

Talk about high expectations.

It’s not even that anyone compared the book to Harry Potter, but the simple fact that I was told that the person who saw the awesomeness of HP picked this one taints my way of reading.  The plain truth is that it’s a delightful book and has a lot of potential, and I would give it 4.5/5 stars.

Recommended for 8-12 reading levels (but I’d lean toward 9-10ish because it’s that same kind of interest as HP — young magicians with something to prove to the world and all that), and worth a read.  I think it’s especially good that it’s due out in July because it’s a great summer-y kind of book.

And that concludes the brief wondrous blog entry of the Honest Reader.  I’m currently working on Ron Chernow’s Washington, so updates might be infrequent due to me being crushed by 900+ pages of delightfully researched and written history.  Wish me luck.

Happy reading!

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A Conjuring of Light


Guys.  Guys.  GUYS.

It’s Tuesday, February 21st.

Today was the release date for V.E. Schwab’s final installment of the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, A Conjuring of Light.

And right now, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say about this book.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a delightful, fantastical romp.

A Gathering of Shadows is adventurous and action-packed and everything exciting I wanted in a story.

A Conjuring of Light is perfection.

I’ll admit, after the cliff-hanger of Gathering, I wasn’t sure what would happen in Conjuring.  I had suspicions, of course — I’d be a pretty terrible English major if I didn’t go through my catalogue of plot devices and twists while I’m reading a book — but I didn’t know how it would all play out.

And you know what?  I’m glad I didn’t guess every twist that happened.

The events of the first fifty pages or so was what I expected from the first probably third of the book, but that’s what makes it so wonderful.  The characters and their decisions are complex, and this is not a fairy tale that can be pared down to an easy-to-digest adventure.  Instead, there are more steps to defeating evil than simply joining together a trio of unlikely heroes and letting their desire for good to win.  There are betrayals and love and acts of compassion and acts of violence.  There are mysteries that can be solved, and mysteries that shouldn’t be.

And it all comes together in this novel.

Although I’ve been known to cry at a lot of things, especially movies, books take a lot to make me actually tear up.  I’ll make noises of distress or joy, and sometimes I’ll get a little tight-chested.  Harry Potter makes me weep like a child, pretty much regardless of which book I’m reading.  Tell the Wolves I’m Home brought me to heaving sobs that I couldn’t shake for a good five minutes.

Conjuring didn’t make me sob, didn’t bring tears streaming down my face, but the last twenty pages were so perfectly aligned to what I hoped would happen, what I felt would be right in the course of the plot, that I couldn’t help tearing up.

There’s a line in Darker from Lila (who is one of the most fantastically badass characters, male or female, that I’ve had the pleasure to read) that I love:

“I’m not going to die,” she said.  “Not till I’ve seen it.”

“Seen what?”

Her smile widened.  “Everything.”

In a series of books that I began based on the beauty of the cover and the promise of magical Londons, I feel that Schwab has given me a whole world into which I can dive again and again and the world she created exists as truly as Middle Earth and Hogwarts and Narnia.  It’s gorgeously done, and I feel, at the end of Conjuring, as though I have seen everything.

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A Gathering of Shadows


Guys.  Guys.

I did it.

I finally read it because A Conjuring of Light comes out on Tuesday.


I’m pretty sure this is the best fantasy to be written in the post-Harry Potter world.

I’m pretty sure it’s ranking among my all-time favorite series.

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary writers because the way she writes is so natural and so utterly magical.  When I read A Darker Shade of Magic last year, it was (being perfectly honest) because I thought the cover was cool.  And the description sounded okay.  And I’m a huge fan of London, so I’m willing to give most anything featuring my favorite city in the world a try.  And plus, this had multiple Londons.

But I was sold when I discovered Kell had a magic coat.

I know, it’s stupid, but it’s that kind of detail that makes me love Schwab’s writing.  Kell, as a traveler between different worlds, must fit in amongst the dwellers of Grey London, White London, and his own Red London.  So it’s fitting that he has a magic coat that can transform to suit his location.  And the fact that it works by him turning it inside out — I fell in love.  In a way, it reminds me of Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, not that it becomes a character, but that it helps the character develop in astonishing ways.

Seriously, I was sold at a magic coat and I read that book in two sittings.  I couldn’t escape the world Schwab created and I didn’t want to.  But the trouble was that I found this book when the second had just come out and the third was on the horizon.  So I put A Gathering of Shadows aside and promised I’d read it sometime, but knowing I wouldn’t touch it until the third was in sight.

Then there was a date for A Conjuring of Light.  And still I waited.

And then, yesterday, I started Gathering because this Tuesday the third and final book will find its way into my hot little hands and I will spend all day reading it because I want to get sucked into Kell’s Londons again.

It’s a hell of a cure for the book hangover I was left with after The Once and Future King.

In Darker Shade, you tumble headfirst into a world in which Kell is one of the most gifted magicians in Red London and one of the smugglers of goods into Grey London while he travels to deliver royal messages.  But then a magic that shouldn’t exist starts making its presence known, and Kell, along with Lila, a girl from Grey London, must find a way to protect his home from a London that shouldn’t exist.

And that’s putting it really terribly because it’s astonishing and exciting and full of mystery and badass women and handsome princes and lost cities and found cities and everything you could wish for in a fantasy novel.

Gathering is an extension of the true magic of Darker Shade.  Kell is facing his demons alongside his princely brother, Rhy, and Lila has joined up with… let’s say “privateers,” only because they have letters of marque.  Allegedly.  And everyone is going to come together again because it’s time for the Essen Tasch, the Elemental Games.  (Think March Madness but with magicians and three nations who all want to show off their skills.)  Trouble is, that dark magic that threatens everything Kell loves hasn’t exactly disappeared…

And dude.  So good.

There’s something for everyone: magic, pirates, romance, disguises, battles, constructive angst, brotherly love, brotherly hate, twists and turns and everything in between.

I really, seriously, honestly cannot recommend this enough.  It’s because of the first book that I picked up her teen book This Savage Song (which was also AMAZING) and the reason her novel Vicious is also on my list of “must reads.”  But this second book is the reason I will read anything she writes, because it cements my belief that she weaves magic in her words, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book like that.


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“I have learned, and been happy.”

Okay, so I just finished T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.  And oh.  My.  Gosh.  SO GOOD.

I think I’m probably the only person who took the classes I did and somehow never read this.  And when I mentioned I hadn’t read it to my dad and my sister, they both responded with


And now I see why.  It’s amazing.  And I seriously can’t believe that, as much as I love Arthurian legend and mythology and all of that, I’ve never tried it.  But here are four reasons why it’s pretty much the best.

  1. Book One: The Sword in the Stone – Merlyn, Archimedes, young Arthur, adventures and magic and animals… perfection.
  2. Book Two: The Queen of Air and Darkness – Arthur on the throne, family drama, intrigue and betrayal and battles and Morgause… intense.
  3. Book Three: The Ill-Made Knight – Lancelot and Guenever and quests and chivalry and even though you know what’s going to happen and you really want to hate the characters that are hurting each other you can’t because they’re human and you understand what they’re going through… amazing.
  4. Book Four: The Candle in the Wind – The end of it all, Mordred and justice and politics… devastating.  Mainly because it’s the end.

I’m not going to say this was the easiest book I’ve read, but it’s the most fun I’ve had in a while.  Mainly because the legends I thought I remembered were reimagined, expanded, and made better than I recalled.

Also, while I think Book One was my favorite because it was so magical, the transition to the bleak final book makes me think of Harry Potter.  When I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’m caught up in the magic and the wonder of Harry discovering magic and Hogwarts, meeting Ron and Hermione and Hagrid and even Malfoy, the horror of finding Voldemort and the knowledge that he will always be there.  But when I keep reading the rest of the series, I’m reminded that, as Harry ages, his challenges become less easy to meet, his world more cemented in reality.

In The Once and Future King, Arthur follows the same course.  Book One is dedicated to his lessons with Merlyn and the magic of knowing that this boy is destined to be a king makes everything simultaneously fun and tragic.  By Book Two, Arthur is a young king and you can’t help but sympathize with his struggles as he tries to unite his country (and the sons of Morgause are so hard to hate when you think about how twisted their upbringing is…).  Books Three and Four were hard to get through, only because I knew how the legend ends and characters like Lancelot and Guenever (whom I have always disliked) became so human it was difficult to hate them.  Real life is complicated and people are more than good or evil, and I think that is the greatest strength of this novel is White’s ability to not only develop characters in a sympathetic and realistic manner, but also his insertions of a modern perspective lend reminders of why we should keep reading this book.


Two of my favorite quotes were from Book One, and I share them now as a reason to pick this book up.

First, when Kay is going to be knighted and Merlyn tells Arthur that his lessons are at an end.  The Wart’s simple answer just about brought me to tears.

“By the way,” added the magician, stopping in the middle of his spell, “there is one thing I ought to tell you.  This is the last time I shall be able to turn you into anything. All the magic for that sort of thing has been used up, and this will be the end of your education.  When Kay has been knighted my labours will be over.  You will have to go away then, to be his squire in the wide world, and I shall go elsewhere.  Do you think you have learned anything?”

“I have learned, and been happy.”

Second, when Wart is about to pull the sword from the stone (spoiler: he succeeds) and all of the animals with whom he has spent time in his education come together in love, cheering for his success.  Throughout the whole book, love is such an important concept, and to have such a humble example (they are the animal friends of a child, after all) still makes me cry.

They loomed round the church wall, the lovers and helpers of the Wart, and they all spoke solemnly in turn.  Some of them had come from banners in the church, where they were painted in heraldry, some from the waters and the sky and the fields about — but all, down to the smallest shrew mouse, had come to help on account of love.  Wart felt his power grow.

So when you’re in the mood for an Arthurian epic, this is the one I’d nudge your way.  Just be prepared to enter the world of Arthur and not want to escape any time soon.

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…One Year Later…

It’s hard to believe I’ve been away from this blog for a year.  Like, an entire year.  And when I say “hard to believe,” what I mean is “SO SO SO SO SO embarrassing.”  I thought I would keep up with reviews and insight and blah blah blah.

We see how that turned out.

So, as a recap of the last 12 months (!!!!)…

Personal life: not much has changed, and everything has changed.  Finished the MA program, so I’m officially a Master of Literature, which is pretty cool.  Other personal things have happened, but frankly nobody cares about that, so let’s just say that things have broken and things have been repaired and somewhere along the line I just kept going.

Professional Life: Am currently on the (halfhearted) search for a new job — have already received one rejection within 48 hours of submitting my application, which was a blow to the ego.  Onwards and upwards, though, right?

Reading Life: BUSY.  My last update here (ugh, it makes me so sad that I’ve been such a lousy blogger… this is why I’ll never get famous for my online presence) was about how much I’d read so far in my Reading Challenge 2016.  I was pretty proud of myself for being at about 15/63.  Um… I completed the challenge, no sweat.  According to Goodreads, I read 121 books last year.  To be fair, there were some graphic novels thrown in (all of Saga over the course of, like, three days and it was AMAZING), and some books were really short and fluffy, but I also read all of the Hogarth Shakespeare books that have come out so far, along with very popular picks (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Girl on the Train, the Miss Peregrine series).  My greatest success, however, was the completion of Ron Chernow’s incredible biography of Alexander Hamilton.  Yeah.  I read that.  And I was, and still am, very proud of myself for it.

Seriously, I read so many amazing books last year, I’ve got to give a list of my favorites (and one quick sentence of why they’re my favorites) from the 2016 challenge.


cover-jpg-rendition-460-707The Shepherd’s Life and The Shepherd’s View, James Rebanks — Beautifully written books about the life of a shepherd in the Lake District; The Shepherd’s Life is nearly all prose, divided up by season and graced by the occasional picture, while The Shepherd’s View is a collection of photographs of a shepherd’s life with some stories attached — both are stunning.


The Miss Peregrine Series, Ransom Riggs — I mean, come on.  Read the books and see why I love them.  But don’t watch the movie and expect it to live up to anything the books created.

For the Glory, Duncan Hamilton — A lovely biography of Eric Liddell, the English Olympic runner made famous in Chariots of Fire — it focuses more on his life beyond the sport, but ties it all together with his love of running

22055262A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab — THIS IS MY FAVORITE FANTASY BOOK OF THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS.  Like, right up there with Harry Potter, no joke.  I started on a whim late one night because I liked the cover and was housesitting and I ended up staying up past probably 3 a.m. to finish because it’s so much fun.  And no, I haven’t read the second one yet (A Gathering of Shadows) because the third one (A Conjuring of Light) comes out later this month.  And I know I’m going to go through major withdrawals if I have too much of a gap between them.

A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami  — Recommended by a dear coworker, this is fun and mysterious and a perfect introduction to Murakami — I definitely want to read more of him because of this.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling — I don’t care if the format made people hate this, they’re wrong.  It’s charming and magical and I freaking love Scorpius Malfoy.  Period.

163560Commonwealth, Ann Patchett — If you read The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and haven’t read Commonwealth, get on it.  The Nest was fun, but the story of a dysfunctional family is told so much better in Commonwealth, mainly because Ann Patchett is an incredible writer and has written enough that you can see the difference in the craft itself.  SO SO SO GOOD.

The Gentleman, Forrest Leo — Hilarious Victorian-era novel about a man who sells his wife to the devil and must adventure to save her — but with some twists along the way.  They sell it as a “Wodehouse/Monty Python” style novel, and they’re right.  Bertie Wooster would be proud of Lionel Savage.

Walking the Nile, Levison Wood — This man is a British Indiana Jones, no joke.  He’s wicked cool, smart, and funny, and his adventure to walk the length of the Nile is incredible.  Also, it’s available in paperback.

Saga Volumes 1-6, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples — Seriously, just read these booksthe_inquisitors_tale_cover.

The Inquisitor’s Tale, Adam Gidwitz — Cute, adventurous, thoughtful — it’s a great book for 10 and up.  Set in the 13th century, three children go on a quest to save copies of the Talmud from destruction in France, and they’re accompanied by a holy dog.  It has the flavors of Canterbury Tales, but with the magic and joy of a children’s book.

Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson — Funny and touching book about Jenny Lawson’s struggles with mental illness — but even when you know you shouldn’t be laughing, she makes you find the lighter side of the situation.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler — FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY, READ THIS.  Amy Poehler is so funny and so smart and so inspiring and I just love it.

My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell — Charming book about Gerry’s life on Corfu and his discovery of his love of animals.  It’s the basis for the PBS series The Durrells in Corfu and it’s utterly delightful.  Plus, Durrell wrote lots of books about his adventures with animals, so if you like this one, there’s more.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness — Heartbreakingly beautiful.  Just read it — it’ll take you, like, two hours.  And you’ll weep.

The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman — Neil Gaiman’s collection of nonfictions is enchanting.  Pick it up and read however much, then take a break and read one of his novels, then come back.  Or you can do adult things, like laundry and cooking and your job, before you return to another piece.  He is the man.

Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow — If you’re ready to commit to a seriously intense historical book, this is the one.  Chernow is thorough but not boring, and he brings the Revolution era to life.  I liked Hamilton so much that this year I’m going to read Washington because I trust Chernow’s writing.  Even though it’s another 900 pages.  You better be good, Ron.  (Don’t worry.  I trust you.  Really.)

Still Life, Louise Penny — A great first mystery set in a quaint Canadian village.  Gamache is a lot like Poirot, and Penny is excellent at crafting the mystery and the inhabitants of the village, and you can’t help but want to continue with the series.

Three Dark Crowns, Kendare Blake — Probably my most pleasant surprise from 2016, this teen novel is the first in a series and follows three sisters in a land where only one of them will survive to become queen.  There’s some romance and some teen clichés, but it’s fun and exciting and I’m actually curious about the next installment.  And that’s saying a lot, considering how few teen books I actually get through in a year.

So much for writing a sentence about each.  Sorry.  This is what happens when I’m away for a year!  I’m sure after wading through that flood of words you want to hear an update on this year.  Guess what?  Here it comes!

Reading Challenge 2017

So far I’ve gotten 22 books finished, not all of which will be a part of my official Reading Challenge log.  And, once again, I’ve read some graphic novels, which I count in numbers but not as real accomplishments because I usually devour them in a sitting.  What books have I gotten through so far, you may ask?  Good question.  Here are some highlights.

Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy — An amazing collection of essays on writing.  He’s funny and smart and full of pop culture references, which makes it more fun.

51lfrgkbh4l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Reality Is Not What It Seems
, Carlo Rovelli — From the man whose Seven Brief Lessons on Physics was so perfectly charming, this book was actually what he wrote first and is a longer explanation of physics.  I have nearly no brain for science, but I understood a lot of what Rovelli explained, and it helps that he is an expert writer.  You don’t have to be a physicist to enjoy either of his books.

This Savage Song, V.E. Schwab — I wanted to read this because it’s Schwab and I love her from the one other book I’ve read of hers.  Again, I stayed up way later than intended to finish because WOW.  It’s an older teen novel about monsters and destruction and love and it’s, like, freaking fantastic. I’m only irritated that the second book isn’t out yet because I just want to hide away and read it.  Can I also point out that I love that this “series” (The Monsters of Verity) is only going to be the two books?  That’s such a nice change from the usual teen series.  YOU GO, VICTORIA!

I Hate Everyone, Except You, Clinton Kelly — Yes, the What Not to Wear guy.  His essays are funny and sassy and even inspiring.  It just made me love him even more than I did when he was on TLC.

Home of the Brave, Katharine Applegate — Beautiful young reader book told in poetry, it’s the story of a boy from Sudan who comes to America and is faced with the challenges of being an immigrant in the land of the free.  Even though it’s a quick read, it sticks with you.

9781101904169Rogue Heroes, Ben Macintyre — I love Macintyre.  I love every book he’s done.  This one is a little different because it’s not about one specific person or operation, but rather about the creation of the SAS, one of Britain’s most elite military groups.  The first half is full of their adventures as desert pirates, and the second half becomes much darker as the men, who have already been involved in the war for so long, come to Europe and face horrors beyond what they saw in Africa.  So well written, and really an incredible story.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline — I was disappointed in how little development seemed to take place, but I enjoyed the adventure of a video game addict on the hunt for an Easter egg.  It’s the kind of book that had moments of clarity, but is mostly a good pick for teenage boys (sorry, boys!).  I would be interested to see if the movie that’s due out sometime soon will make it more fun.

Listen, Liberal, Thomas Frank — I don’t care what side of American politics you fall on, you should read this.  You want to know how the election of 2016 came to the conclusion it did?  Yeah, Frank tells you.  And the crazy thing is, this book was out long before November 2016.  It’s like nobody cracked it open and thought he had some good points.  Which he does.

Walking the Himalayas, Levison Wood — The next adventure installment of our hero of the Nile.  Wood’s books are meant to accompany the documentaries aired in the UK (and I think on Discovery Channel at some point), but the books on their own are both great.  Himalayas is a little more focused on the people he meets than the places, I think largely because he’s in more populated areas, but it’s still amazing.  And the things he goes through to achieve his goal is just unbelievable.  Great adventure read.

Dare to Be Kind, Lizzie Velasquez — A lovely book from a wonderful person (it comes out in June).  Lizzie’s story is often difficult, but her encouragement to be kind is something I think we should all be aware of.  There were moments when I was waiting for a more explicit connection to kindness in her stories, but it’s still well worth the read if you get a chance.

I’m Your Biggest Fan, Kate Coyne — Funny collection of Coyne’s (mis)adventures as a celebrity journalist.  Some stories are cringe-worthy, some sweet, all fun to read.  It’s kind of my guilty pleasure book so far.

the princess saves herself in this one, amanda lovelace — A wonderful collection of poetry told through four sections (princess, damsel, queen, you).  I say it’s a must-read for women between 18-30, and probably lots of people outside that demographic should read it, too.  Because it’s just a good collection.  And it comes out next week!

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman — PERFECTION.  I love mythology, I love Gaiman, and the combination is heavenly.  He chooses great myths to tie together in a loose kind of novel, but manages to keep the humor and the complexity of a mythology together.  And it just came out today!


If any of the books I’ve mentioned sound good to you (and I hope at least one of them does), be sure to ask about them at your local indie.


The gorgeous edition I’m reading – part of the Penguin Galaxy collection.

This post is now getting close to the unmanageable length, so I’m going to try to wrap up quickly.  (If you’ve read this far, I’m sorry.  If you haven’t, you probably made a good decision.)  My goal this year is to be better about updating, so we’ll see how that works.  I also hope to stretch myself a little further in this reading challenge, because that’s what made last year’s so much fun.

I’m working on The Once and Future King (which I am so enjoying) and a few other little ones, so hopefully at some point I’ll have a reason to post again.  Until then, allow me to leave you with a quote from the forever-fantastic Terry Pratchett:

“If you have enough book space, I don’t want to talk to you.”

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