Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis

Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Sign up for the spelling bee? No way!

If there’s one thing 10-year-old Texan Sophie Washington is good at, it’s spelling. She’s earned straight 100s on all her spelling tests to prove it. Her parents want her to compete in the Xavier Academy spelling bee, but Sophie wishes they would buzz off.

Her life in the Houston suburbs is full of adventures, and she doesn’t want to slow down the action. Where else can you chase wild hogs out of your yard, ride a bucking sheep, or spy an eight-foot-long alligator during a bike ride through the neighborhood? Studying spelling words seems as fun as getting stung by a hornet, in comparison.

That’s until her irritating classmate, Nathan Jones, challenges her. There’s no way she can let Mr. Know-It-All win. Studying is hard when you have a pesky younger brother and a busy social calendar. Can Sophie ignore the distractions and become Queen of the Bee?

This is a wonderful little book that really captures the character and interactions not only between schoolmates, but also with siblings. I have a younger sister and can remember the love-hate relationship we had as we were growing up.

I especially liked the message about working hard to achieve your dreams. This is, I think, a message that all children need to hear. They also need to see that in life, not everyone wins. There was a winner and there were losers…that’s life and a good lesson.

Sophie is a well-developed character and the other characters, although not as developed as Sophie, are fully drawn and not just stock characters. The setting of Texas also serves as an extra character, and the author does a wonderful job introducing us to the area and making this reader feel like she was actually there.

Strongly recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Abomination by Jane Dougherty

Abomination by Jane Dougherty
Book One in the Pathfinders Series
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (210 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

As the end of the world begins, Carla and Tully hurtle through a wormhole five years forward in time­—to find they haven’t missed the Apocalypse after all.

Carla and Tully are picnicking in the quad of their international high school in central Paris when the end of the world begins. They are sucked into a wormhole that spits them out five years later to find that the world is a freezing desolation but still hanging on, waiting for something even worse to finish it off…the something worse turns out to be the Burnt Man and his horsemen.

Taken prisoner by the Flay Tribe to their lair in the ruins of a shopping mall, Tully is forced to become a warrior, while Carla joins the other girls as a kitchen slave and comfort woman.

Tully might like the idea of playing soldiers, but Carla knows what is waiting for the girls when the food runs out, and it isn’t pleasant. The supermarket holy man’s vision of the return of the Burnt Man and his demon friends drags Tully back to reality—when the four fiends are reunited, the Apocalypse will really begin. Carla and Tully don’t plan on being there when that happens.

But in this post-Abomination world where only the young and brutal have survived, where food and fuel are running out, and the climate is plunging into another final ice age, there is nowhere to run—except down another wormhole, with no idea of what might be waiting for them at the other end.

When the end of the world comes, is it lucky to be alive through the chaos or is it better to jump ahead a few years?

Abomination is the first book of the Pathfinders Series and sets the stage for the excitement of the end of the world. The story follows Tully and Carla as the beginning of the end of the world occurs-from volcanic eruptions to massive earthquakes. Tully and Carla find themselves trying to survive the falling building and tumble through a wormhole that places them five years in the future where the last remnants of humanity scramble to form tribes and try to survive in a desolate world.

The story takes place in a dark and foreboding world; one where fear, treachery and power struggles are a daily occurrence. The arrival of Tully and Carla shift much of the day to day lives of those who have lived in this world for the past five years and cause a minor ripple in the power held by those currently.

The author adds great description and paints a clear picture for the reader to understand how the world views have shifted. The dialogue between characters is clear and believable while the actions that the characters take follow the course of the change of humanity’s mindset. The author plays on the last bits of humanity and draws the reader into realistic ethical questions regarding the way the future will play out.

The only parts that may be confusing for some readers would be the storytelling of the past five years where some is narrated in first person view by a specific character and some is told in real time dialogue.

The overall story telling is great and the plot is very plausible; this is one series of futuristic events and time travel that you do not want to miss!

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless by Sarah Bannan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (321 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Cholla

When Carolyn Lessing moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the juniors at Adams High. Gorgeous, stylish, a great student and gifted athlete without a mean girl bone in her body Carolyn is gobbled up right away by the school’s cliques. She even begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a make-out video of Carolyn and Shane makes the rounds, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut in an instant, with Brooke and her best friend responsible for the campaign.

Carolyn is hounded and focused on, and becomes more and more private. Questions about her family and her habits torture her. But a violent confrontation with Shane and Brooke in the student parking lot is the last attack Carolyn can take.

A novel to drop us all back into the intensity of our high school years, WEIGHTLESS is a startling and assured debut.

Sarah Bannan’s deft use of the first person plural gives Weightless an emotional intensity and remarkable power that will send you flying through the pages and leave you reeling.

No one ever said that high school would be easy, but it’s extra difficult when you’ve been transplanted from a boarding school in New York and dropped right in the middle of rural Alabama. Just ask Carolyn Lessing, a beautiful, popular girl that everyone wants to be friends with. That is, until she does the unthinkable and suddenly the whole world is against her. What’s a girl to do when you’re the one that everyone loves to hate?

Carolyn Lessing was living a happy life in New Jersey until her mother gets promoted and they move to Adamsville, Alabama, a rural old-fashioned sort of place that is the opposite of everything she’s ever known. At first, it all seems so easy because everyone wants to be the new girl’s friend. But once Carolyn starts dating the star of the football team, it all starts to come apart at the seams. What begins as simple gossip soon escalates to much more – harassment and outright bullying of Carolyn by Adams High’s elite.

The most intriguing part of this novel is the narrator. Told from the perspective of ‘we’, the narrator is the eyes and ears of the entire school, the collective student body in so many ways. The narrator is constantly saying things like ‘if we had only known’ and ‘or at least that’s what we heard’ and it gives you great insight into how information and rumors spread through a group of teenagers.

It makes me intensely sad and discouraged to think that this is the way that high school is in today’s world. Having two teenaged daughters, this novel hit me in a very real way. Are teens so clueless that they can’t see that their actions hurt others or are they so insulated from the fallout due to the internet that it doesn’t affect them? Weightless raises many questions along these lines and I honestly feel it’s a book that both teens and parents need to read in today’s world of social media and instant gratification. In a lot of ways, Weightless is a frustrating and aggravating book. But on the flip side, it’s eye-opening and encouraging as well. You have to hope that the kids in this story were altered by what transpired in their school and maybe, just maybe, the changed for the better. I highly recommend this to any teen struggling to do the right thing and every parent trying to help their kids make the right decisions.

The Tower and the Assassin by J F Parcher

The Tower and the Assassin

The Tower and the Assassin by J F Parcher
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (174 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Aloe

What started out as a simple trip to dusty, boring museum has become more than Tom Vogenson had bargained for. After a fateful encounter with a mysterious artifact, he finds himself kidnapped by a society of wizards and transported against his will to a world on the verge of reviving a centuries old war. While learning about his unique and mysterious abilities, he is also targeted for death by a mysterious kingdom of assassins who fear his powerful presence may upset their secret plans. Adding to the complexity, Tom finds himself forging a relationship with a young girl, who may or may not be the unwilling tool of the assassins herself. In order to save himself and his new friends he will have to master his newfound powers and figure out friend from foe, before its too late.

He’s getting really tired of walking around San Francisco with his cousin. After all, they had a car available. Why walk? Pretty soon, he’ll have more to concern him. An innocent guided tour of an old building is pretty boring until he looks in the mirror. He sees more than himself in that mirror. And he’s soon sent through another door that takes him away from his world…

This story moves fast and is exciting. The author does a very good job of weaving his words and drawing your attention. Young adults should really enjoy the storyline. I’ve just finished reading this book and am already to read the next one!

Tom doesn’t understand where he is, how he got there, or what he’s supposed to do now that he’s there. He quickly finds out this is a world where life doesn’t count for much. While waiting for the person to transport him to the Tower, he witnesses a fight where a young woman is killed. He even manages to get involved when he shouldn’t have. That’s a not a good start.

He has new skills to learn, new friends to make and new enemies all in the first day. He’s haunted by the girl he saved but she’s an assassin and he can’t even speak to her. She’s from the other side. She manages to let him know they have a chameleon in their midst. But every time he runs into her, there is a fight around them and bad things happen. He wants to be on the side of right, but how does he know which is right? Murdering people is obviously bad. She doesn’t seem to be like that, though. Is that because he doesn’t want to see her that way?

It starts out as training and escalates to war before the story ends. You’ll find yourself flipping pages and wondering where the author is going next. I’m anxious to read the next installment in this series. It grabs you and you want to know how it’s going to all work out or if it won’t.

Killer Instinct by S.E. Green

Killer Instinct by S.E. Green
Killer Instinct by S.E. Green
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Action/Adventure Contemporary Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (272 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Lupine

​She’s not evil, but she has certain… urges.

Lane is a typical teenager. Loving family. Good grades. Afterschool job at the local animal hospital. Martial arts enthusiast. But her secret obsession is studying serial killers. She understands them, knows what makes them tick.


Because she might be one herself.

Lane channels her dark impulses by hunting criminals—delivering justice when the law fails. The vigilantism stops shy of murder. But with each visceral rush the line of self-control blurs.
And then a young preschool teacher goes missing. Only to return… in parts.

When Lane excitedly gets involved in the hunt for “the Decapitator,” the vicious serial murderer that has come to her hometown, she gets dangerously caught up in a web of lies about her birth dad and her own dark past. And once the Decapitator contacts Lane directly, Lane knows she is no longer invisible or safe. Now she needs to use her unique talents to find the true killer’s identity before she—or someone she loves—becomes the next victim… ​

The book had me from the beginning to the end, and I ended up reading all in one night because I was so interested in what was going to be the end result of the story line. That’s a plus for me, because I usually end up figuring out everything in the middle of the book, or I’m at least super close to what I had thought would happen. This book had an ending that I wasn’t ready for or willing to accept, but it certainly kept me hooked.

Lane was a very interesting character, and I really liked reading about her because I found her way of thinking to be much different than what the average female protagonist would be thinking about. She’s very rational most of the time, which is nice to see. She keeps her head on straight and doesn’t really let others get in her way when she’s angry at someone. ​Even though she has the makings of a serial killer, she doesn’t completely fit the profile and I think that keeps her sane some of the time when she realizes that she’s still human. She rarely overreacts to stupid situations and when she does respond to something it’s usually with bitterness or bluntness. She is something very different than anyone else I’ve read about.

The plot is great, and the twists and turns in the mystery of who the Decapitator might be is really enthralling, but I struggled with the love interest part of the story, because I think Lane’s idea of love is a little off kilter, since she never really develops anything and tends to use people and toss their feelings around to get what she wants. I think that relates back to the type of person she is, though. Since she’s pretty much devoid of emotions I doubt she knows what it actually feels like to love someone with all your heart. Her brother is pretty much the only exception to that, since she treats him like he’s an angel.

All-in-all an exciting, well-written book with a unique protagonist for the genre.  I can’t wait for the next book!

Two Brothers: Origin (The Ramtalan Trilogy Book 1) by Sofia Diana Gabel

Two Brothers: Origin (The Ramtalan Trilogy Book 1) by Sofia Diana Gabel
Publisher: Escargot Books and Music
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (385 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

What teenage boy doesn’t want to fit in and have friends? That’s what Argus Dachel, 17, wants more than anything, but because he’s half alien, a New Breed, that’s not as easy as it seems. And it sure doesn’t help that he and his brother, Tai, are being pursued by a secret government agency. To top it off, now in their senior year at public high school, both boys risk exposure when Argus uses his extraordinary strength to defend himself against the school bully, falls for 16 year-old Lola and then learns that New Breeds are set for extermination by another group of hostile aliens. As government agent Max Jackson gets close to discovering the brothers’ identity and the hostile alien forces close in, what chance do Argus and Tai have of survival?

Argus and Tai Dachel are seventeen-year-old fraternal twins who have been homeschooled most of their lives by their Aunt Celeste. Their parents died in a horrible boating accident when they were small. But now, Aunt Celeste has decided that they should attend the local high school for their senior year, as a way of getting to know others. However, very quickly strange things begin happening and the boys learn that they are half alien, with special powers. Before they can even absorb the fact that there are Ramtalans living on earth, and that there are other New Breeds like them, they are pursued by an agent from a secret government agency, and tormented by a school bully.

The characters of Argus and Tai are well defined and very believable. They are typical teenage boys with a healthy dose of rebellion and impulsive actions. Even though they are twins, they also have very different personalities, with Argus being more protective and Tai quicker to act violently.

The action is fast-paced and there are a number of points of view given, keeping things moving quickly. I really liked the basic premise that aliens arrived on earth fifty thousand years ago and have lived peacefully, integrating with humans ever since. But now there is a group of Ramtalans who think that all New Breeds should be exterminated so that they can take over the planet.

The details surrounding the Ramtalans on Earth and the existence of the New Breeds seems very well thought out and I had no trouble at all believing in their existence. Aunt Celeste is an interesting character, and it is clear from the beginning that while she may not actually be Argus and Tai’s aunt, she cares deeply for them and truly has their best interests, as well as the wishes of their mother, in mind. She will do whatever it takes to ensure that they have a good life.

This is the first book in an exciting trilogy. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (480 pgs)
Age: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

What if you could fix your mistakes? Samantha Kingston gets that chance. A high school senior, Sam is a popular girl. She’s also a mean girl. On Friday February 12th, she goes to school like any other day and ends up dying that night after a party; except she wakes up the next morning only to do it all over again. Sam soon realizes that she must change her mean girl ways to stop the never-ending cycle of Friday the 12th. However that realization is easier said than done and it’s not always easy to stop the tide of peer pressure and selfishness most teens are inflicted with. Sam’s determined to try though and become a better person, if for no other reason than to move on from that single repetitive day.

Before I Fall is Lauren Oliver’s debut novel. I’ve read almost everything else Oliver has written but didn’t realize this was her first novel. Initially I was really unimpressed. I figured the story was basically a Groundhog Day retread where the mean, bitchy teen must learn to be a better person to move on. And it’s basically that in a nutshell. What makes the story really stand out is the superior characterization and effective writing. Although the plot is somewhat basic – the day is played out over and over as Sam learns the consequences of her casual cruelty and mean girl ways – the characters really shine in their complexity. It’s a testament to the author that she manages to show the complicated nature of teenagers without alienating readers given how unlikable the main characters are.

Sam really is a mean girl. She’s a weak willed follower, happy and confident in her popularity and inflicts countless sources of cruelty on those around her. She’s self absorbed, selfish, not the most intelligent, and believes that her popularity somehow makes her a more worthwhile person than those that aren’t as popular. Her narcissistic and self-entitled view of the world is reinforced in her rationalizations for nearly the entire book. She is not a likable character. However the author takes pains to show that she’s just a teenager, complicated, flawed but capable of change. This is where the story shines. It takes four teenagers (really just Sam and Lindsey are the important characters) and shows how they can potentially change. At the same time it allows the reader to really reflect on the flaws within each person and how our own selfishness is reflected in minor cruelties we don’t even notice.

I’m not a fan of preaching books. I don’t want to be lectured at while reading a book. That’s the real genius of this book. It allows introspective contemplation about the nature of people, all people both good and bad, and how that relates to us as individuals. Sam can’t even begin to atone for all her mistakes and past problems within the span of seven repeat days but she learns why her actions were not acceptable and she truly wants to change by the end. The progression and growth is stunning and well worth following. Additionally I listened to the audio book and the narration is phenomenal. I highly recommend the audio version and I was overall happily surprised that this book was that good. It’s not perfect and the main narrators are tough to sympathize with but it’s really about the development and progression. It’s a lesson that humanity is flawed and people’s motivations are always more complicated than they seem. It’s not an excuse for poor behavior but a reflection of everyone’s own demons.

Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay

Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to Peaceville, population 2067 and rising…from the grave…

Luke Chester has had enough. He’s the school geek, the girls laugh at him, he’s lost his dead-end job at the pizza place, and in the midst of the world’s messiest divorce his parents don’t even know he exists. An overdose of his mom’s tranquilizers and a stomach full of whiskey should solve all his problems…

But they don’t. Instead, Luke finds himself booted out of the afterlife for not dying a natural death, with nowhere to go but back to his recently vacated corpse and reality. How the hell is he going to pass for one of the living without someone trying to blow his brains out for being one of the undead?

And it just gets worse. He’s got to fight his own desperate craving to consume the living, evade the weird supernatural hunter who’s having a field day with the new undeads rising, and there’s this creepy black shadow following him around. Add to that the distraction of female fellow undead Annabelle burning to avenge her own murder, and clearly there’s no rest for the wicked. Jeez, all he wanted to do was R.I.P.

Not everyone gets a second chance, but Luke is one of the lucky ones.

What I found most interesting about Luke was how quickly his biggest personality flaws showed up in the first few scenes. I prefer reading about protagonists whose weaknesses are serious and can’t be easily overcome because it leaves so much room for character development. This book definitely gave Luke plenty of room to grow and change in his afterlife. For that reason alone, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the author will consider writing a sequel. There is room for it if she decides to do so!

Two characters regularly shifted between a close, platonic friendship and a romantic relationship. They were well-suited for either option, but I would have preferred it if only one was emphasized. It was a little confusing to move back and forth between the two so often in a story this size. There wasn’t enough time in it to explain exactly why these characters were conflicted about what kind of relationship they wanted to have with one another because there were so many other things going on at the same time.

The pacing was excellent. I had a hard time taking any breaks from reading it, especially later on when the tension reached its peak. While I would have loved it if this tale was twice as long, the length the author chose worked incredibly well for her premise. She struck a good balance between giving brief glimpses of Luke’s past and pushing him further ahead on his quest before time runs out.

Restless in Peaceville is a smart twist on the zombie genre. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the dark side of paranormal fiction.

All the Broken Pieces by Cindi Madsen

All the Broken Pieces by Cindi Madsen
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, YA
Length: Full Length(331 pgs)
Age recommendation: 13+
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

What if your life wasn’t your own?

Liv comes out of a coma with no memory of her past and two distinct, warring voices inside her head. Nothing, not even her reflection, seems familiar. As she stumbles through her junior year, the voices get louder, insisting she please the popular group while simultaneously despising them. But when Liv starts hanging around with Spencer, whose own mysterious past also has him on the fringe, life feels complete for the first time in, well, as long as she can remember.

Liv knows the details of the car accident that put her in the coma, but as the voices invade her dreams, and her dreams start feeling like memories, she and Spencer seek out answers. Yet the deeper they dig, the less things make sense. Can Liv rebuild the pieces of her broken past, when it means questioning not just who she is, but what she is?

What starts out as a very mysterious and hidden plot eventually turns into a roller coaster of intrigue and deceit as Liv tries desperately to unravel her past after a tragic accident, claiming her memories.

I really enjoyed the plot; I thought it was the best part of the book considering how I, the reader, usually am able to guess how things will turn out, and the author kept slamming doors of possibility in my face as I kept guessing and turning out wrong. It’s a wonderfully done piece. My only complaint would be wonderfully obnoxious girl who, of course, ran the school and was the popular one. She was rather stereotypical, when it comes down to the mean girl type.

Liv was an excellent main character. She had a great development, and I enjoyed watching her try and fit back into the real world and her new life after such a little time to recover. She had curiosity and spunk that made me giggle, and she usually had a reason to cry as I hate whiny heroines. She possessed strength, especially in the end, when she finally discovered the real reasons behind her mental battles and odd dreams.

Spencer was as equally well done for a brooding teenage boy trying to erase the mistakes in his life and redo his world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about him and what he did for Liv in her destroyed life, picking up all the broken pieces and gluing them back together.

Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf

MEDIA KIT CoverArt_Citadel_ebook2

Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf
Publisher: Self
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Length: Full (562 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated 4.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Seventeen-year old Gray is descended from a legendary hero known as a Ronin and haunted by his forgotten past. He returns home to a wizards’ keep, unaware he is now labeled a murderous traitor for killing his best friend.

Now he must cross a dangerous desert full of thieves, mythical beasts, and other magical unknowns, all to return to a home that may be his demise. At the same time, a poisonous evil seeks to convert the world to their dark mantra, “strength is life, weakness death.”

Gray may have hero’s blood in his veins, but how can one kill a belief?

I’m a huge fan of fantasy novels, and this book absolutely fits the bill.

I didn’t know this was the second book in a series when I picked it up, and I admit to being confused for a bit because the action here starts right off the bat. We meet several groups of people in the first few chapters and learn about things that were clearly important to the story (like the “spark” and the ronin and more) that were a little too ambiguous for me to get immediately. However, I hung in there and got a big payoff.

The characters were so amazing and well drawn, the writing crisp and descriptive but never dull and the plot solid. The author skillfully wove in information tidbit by tidbit and kept me reading and longing for more. I didn’t realize, at first, that Gray is the lead here, because there are other characters given just as much space. I like Gray though, and he’s the reason I have every intention of going back and reading book one to catch up. He’s an interesting anomaly, as is the woman he meets near the beginning, Faye, who I really, really liked. I don’t think I was supposed to like her quite so much, but her self-confidence, smart mouth and swagger really spoke to me.

There’s a touch of LOTR here. At first, when he mentions the nine kings, I felt that was a deliberate nod to Tolkien and his nine kings (who ultimately became the ring wraiths). I wasn’t sure if I should be irritated or not, but honestly aside from their number, they are nothing like those LOTR kings.

It was interesting to watch the author merge all the various groups of people together and see how they were able to overcome much to work against defeating a common foe. The author truly created amazing characters who were real, flawed and unique, and although the plot was certainly gripping, it was those characters who kept me completely invested in the story and turning pages.

I have little negative to say here, other than the fact this didn’t stand alone as strongly as one might hope. But that doesn’t matter … book one is out there and just asking to be added to my library. Then I’ll be all caught up and waiting for the next in the series very eagerly.

I highly recommend this book (and the first) to any reader who loves epic fantasy. There is so much depth here and truly great writing. I’m never certain what to expect from self-published works but this one was clean, well written and worth every penny. It’s a book I’ll want to read more than once, as I’m certain I missed things here that will only add to the richness of the story.

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