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We stand in the sun and look back in our tracks
An image of self in grays and in blacks
Laughter and joy hold us in their sweet thrall
But even in wonderland shadows must fall

Book Review: “Crimson Bound” by Rosamund Hodge

February 19, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I was really eager to read “Crimson Bound” after having read Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty” and “Guided Ashes.” There were a number of things in those books that made them really stand out: characters you didn’t expect to empathize with but did (and vice versa), challenges brought on by the unanticipated consequences of deals made with an clever spirit, a tightness to the stories that kept the action moving and a certain kind of intimacy afforded by the use of fairly small casts. And while much of that was present in “Crimson Bound,” it didn’t seem to fare as well this time.

One thing I was surprised to find is that this book does not take place in the “Cruel Beauty” universe in spite of the similarity in the titles and the book cover designs. Instead, “Crimson Bound” takes place in an alternate version of middle-ages France. In this world there exists a Great Forest which seems to exist in a slightly different dimension. It was a concept that in someways I found a bit difficult to grasp because the rules by which it worked seemed unclear. Apparently, if you go far enough into the woods, you may find yourself in this magical Forest, and creatures from the Forest can cross into the real world and interact with humans at any time. There are also areas of the Forest that reach into the areas humans inhabit, but only those who have been Bloodbound or Forestborn can actually see it there. The Bloodbound are people who were marked by one of the Forestborn, after which the must kill someone within 3 days or die. If they do kill someone and become Bloodbound, they will have increased strength, speed, stamina and healing, and will find themselves being pulled to give themselves over completely to the Great Forest. One they do that, they become Forestborn themselves, in essence losing their humanity and becoming wild humanesque creatures.

When we meet Rachelle, our heroine, she is training with her aunt to be her village’s next woodwife – a wise-woman who can make medicines and is able to work charms that help protect the people of the village from the dangers of the Great Forest. When we jump ahead a few years, we find Rachelle has become one of the Bloodbound and has entered the King’s service which protects her from being killed by fearful townsfolk. She seems to have an on-again/off-again thing going with Eric, her superior officer, and is assigned to be the bodyguard to the King’s bastard soon, Armand, who was marked by a Forestborn, but neither killed anyone nor died. As a result, he is viewed by many villagers as something of a saint or miracle-worker. Rachelle has also learned that the Devourer – an evil creature most consider to be a myth – will be returning soon to swallow the sun and moon, plunging the world into darkness, unless someone can find one of the only two swords in the world that can kill it. Of coerce, Rachelle is determined to be that someone.

This is a much more complex story than Hodge’s previous books, and sometimes it almost feels like there’s too much going on. The biggest problem I had, though, was with Rachelle. She is deeply burdened by guilt and lets that guilt determine how she thinks others see her, often leading her to see genuine fondness from someone as mockery and dismissing kind words and actions because she feels unworthy. Unfortunately, this causes her to sometimes trust the wrong people – or worse, mistrust those she should rely on. Her tendency to wallow in her self-disgust also keeps her from noticing things about people around her that – once revealed – are things you’d expect her to have at least suspected, if not intuited, much sooner. And even though she’s a strong, determined young woman who can more than hold her own in a fight, she frequently seems unable to make up her mind or stick to a decision once she’s made it. This leads to a number of scenes feeling repetitive. Had Hodge made her less wishy-washy, much of the apparent repetition could have been avoided and the story would have been much tighter.

In spite of the complaints, however, the book’s not all that bad. While reading the book, it was only the repetitive nature of some of the scenes that I found irritating. The rest of the issues really only surfaced when I was reflecting on it after having finished it. And she did add some interesting touches that I really liked – in particular how she wove the Norse legends of Tyr and Zisa and the Fenris wolf with the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tail. The Fenris wolf in Nordic lore is a very big, very bad wolf, indeed, and having him symbolically represented here by the Devourer is a nifty way to tie the two stories together. We learn about Tyr and Zisa as there story is sprinkled between events in Rachelle’s life, and it all dovetails very nicely into a good conclusion.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the book. What it does well it does quite well, and I had no trouble finishing it. In many ways, though, it feels a bit like how someone’s first book might – bursting with ideas that might have worked more smoothly with a bit more restraint. Still, it’s worth reading, and I’m looking forward to what Ms Hodge comes up with next.



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Book Review: “Ignite” by Erica Crouch

February 17, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Ignite (Ignite, #1)Ignite by Erica Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review

I read the prequel novella – Entice – for this series a couple weeks ago and was blown away – not just by author Erica Crouch’s ability to write stunningly beautiful prose, but also by her ability to weave a new telling of the story of the Fall of Man – including some serious theological concepts – into a paranormal romance that never felt overly heavy or preachy. And even though Entice is technically the second book in the series, it does a great job of setting up the world for the Ignite series, introducing us to the main characters, establishing how this version of the world works, helping us to understand the bond Pen and Azael share – and why she would follow him into Hell, even when she wasn’t sure if that’s where she truly belonged. I wanted to bring this up to encourage you to read Entice before reading Ignite. Even though it was published second, I found that what I had learned from Entice really enhanced the story in Ignite because of how well it set the stage for this truly extraordinary story.

As Ignite opens, we find the Pen and her twin brother, Azael – both demons – finishing up an assignment to collect a soul for Lucifer, when they are shocked to run into a young – and apparently quite new – angel claiming to be the archangel Michael, whose death they had witnessed centuries before during the war between Heaven and Hell.

This new Michael has the silver-feathered wings of an archangel and he carries the archangel sword that belonged to the original Michael – the only archangel sword known to exist. But, as Pen discovers while talking with him, he has no memory whatsoever of his previous life or of the time his soul was held captive and tortured for centuries by his brother, Lucifer. Instead of the arrogant, self-assured Michael of old, who was completely loyal to Heaven and never questioned anything, this new Michael is surprisingly innocent – and even more surprising, he’s asking questions – a lot of questions.

Soon Pen finds herself tasked with either convincing Michael to join the forces of Hell or kill him, while Azael is sent on a mission of his own, and this is where the book
really began to shine. As Pen and Michael interact, the affect each has on the other is profound. We begin to see the vulnerability Pen tries to keep hidden and the strength that this new Michael initially appears to lack.

What I love most about “Ignite”is that it’s an escapist, romantic fantasy that still has the ability to make you think. Pen and Michael are both searching for where they each truly belong. They’ve always been taught that everything is either black or white but are now doubting if that is really how it works.

Their conversations about what – if anything – might lie between those extremes is beautifully handled. Author Crouch provides a lot of good thoughts through Pen and Michael’s dialog while providing room for readers to form their own opinions.

There are many other aspects of the book that I also loved. With one exception, Crouch does a wonderful job of avoiding most of the more annoying cliches of romance books – and even in that case, she doesn’t drag it out overly long. I understand why she did it as it sets our characters up to be where they needed to be for the book’s climax, but I think she could have probably found a more creative way to get to the same place. Her prose continues to be gorgeous. The way she describes locations let me not just see the place in my mind, but to feel the atmosphere, hear the background sounds and sometimes even catch its scent for a moment.

She takes just as much care with her characters. The romance is sweet and the changes Pen and Michael go through as a result of their friendship are well-paced and believable. Likewise, while Azael plays a much more limited role in this book than he does in Entice, the growth he undergoes while working separate from Pen is handled well and helps emphasize just how close the siblings have been.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, which some may find annoying, but in this case, the story has earned the right to leave us hanging for a bit, and I am truly eager to see what’s next for Pen, Azael and Michael.



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Book Review: “Sisters of Blood and Spirit” by Kady Cross

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Sisters of Blood and SpiritSisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I had just recently finished reading Kady Cross’s “The Strange Case of Finley Jayne when I noticed her new book, “Sisters of Blood and Spirit” was available as an ARC, so I quickly requested it and was quite happy when I was approved for a copy. I’m even happier now that I’ve read the book.

I love the premise: Lark and Wren Noble are twins, and like many twins, they have aa special bond. There’s is a bit unusual, though, because Wren was stillborn, but her ghost has remained connected to – and grown up with – her sister. While Lark loves her sister and loves having her around, it has made life difficult for her in many ways. Because almost no-one else can sense Wren’s presence, when Lark says something to her, looks at her or reacts to something Wren has said, most people think she’s nuts. As a result, Lark has been bullied and ostracized most of her life. Even her parents don’t want to have anything to do with her, so she lives with her grandmother – one of the few who can sense Wren – instead.

Lark soon learns that some of her classmates had trespassed at an old, shut-down asylum with a reputation for being haunted. The reputation is well-deserved, and the teens have attracted the attention of a particularly malevolent ghost. They ask her and Wren for their help in getting free of him and the sisters agree to do what they can, which leads us to the main action in the story.

There are a lot of things I really liked about the book. Ms. Cross is smart by not trying to explain how it is that Lark and Wren have the connection that they do – or why Wren ages wham most ghosts don’t. It feels realistic that the girls would just accept the situation – they’ve been that way since birth – and avoids cluttering up the story with needless metaphysics.

It also feels realistic that – given Lark’s history, she’s skeptical when the other kids tell her they want to be her friends, and it adds a bit of poignancy to their attempts. Another nice touch is that Wren has some familiarity with pop culture, but also has some gaps, especially when it comes to various figures of speech. It makes sense because even though she spends a lot of time with Lark, she does reside in the Shadow Realm and isn’t totally immersed in the culture of the living.

It’s interesting to see how Lark changes as she begins to gain aa bit more confidence – helped along, in part, by some light romance – and how that affects Wren

Unlike “Finley Jayne’ this novel is set in contemporary times, and has no steampunk elements to it. It’s an excellent story, and if Ms. Cross ever feels like checking back in on the sisters, I’ll be happy to tag along.



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Book Review: “Destruction” by Sharon Bayliss

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Destruction (The December People, #1)Destruction by Sharon Bayliss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharon Bayliss’ novel “Destruction” is the first book in her new series “The December People.” The series name refers to the Vandergraff family, who are all dark wizards, and the book features one of the more interesting systems of magic I’ve come across.

In Bayliss’ world, magical people don’t choose the shade of their magic, and it doesn’t reflect the moral quality of the mage – though if dark magic is overused, it can allow the darkness in a person to take over. A wizard’s magical color is determined by what “date” on the solar calender their magic represents. There’s no explanation for how that date is determined – it’s not the same as their birthdate – but how it’s determined doesn’t really matter. Magic that represents days in the summer is “light” magic, winter magic is “dark” with spring and fall representing various shades of “neutral.”

The story opens when David Vandergraff gets a call telling him his children – who he’s been searching for for years – have been found. While he’s thrilled to have finally found them, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing. His wife knows nothing about these kids (nor do the there children he’s had with her) and their ages are such that they were obviously born after their marriage. But he goes to pick up the son and daughter he hadn’t seen in years, knowing he’ll have to face the repercussions eventually. What those repercussions involve, however, is something totally unexpected. Because of their return into his life, he finds out that not only they are dark wizards, but his entire family is. The reason he hadn’t known it was because his wife had removed all of his memories having to do with wizardry.

There are several things I really loved about this book. First and foremost, it’s not a book about one unprepared, reluctant hero facing an impossible battle of good and evil. While David may be the main character, the story is very much about the family as a whole and how they deal with all of the changes they’re facing. How do his wife and their children deal with not only having two more kids move in to the house, but also the betrayal those children represent? How does he handle the news that not only is he a wizard, but that his wife had messed with his memories about it? What happens when one of the children seems to be letting his dark side get the better of him? And while he’s trying to deal with all of this, his business falls into serious financial trouble.

Given all of those issues, Bayliss makes the smart decision to not have the family trying to fight against some huge outside force. There’s a brief episode near the end where they have to deal with an outside threat, but otherwise all of the drama is focused on what the family is going through, which gives the story a strong emotional impact.

By the time I finished “Destruction” I really wanted tho see more of the Vandergraff family and find out what happens when they are faced with an unexpected threat. Fortunately, the sequel to “Destruction,” “Watch Me Burn,” it’s available, and while I didn’t found it to be quite as strong, it’s still an excellent book.



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Book Review: “Watch Me Burn” by Sharon Bayliss

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Urban Fantasy

Watch Me Burn (The December People #2)Watch Me Burn by Sharon Bayliss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing “Destruction,” the first book in Sharon Bayliss’s “The December People” series, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the follow-up as an Advanced Review Copy (in exchange for an honest review.) I enjoyed the book quite a bit and recommend it, but I have to say it wasn’t quite as good as “Destruction.”

I think much of that was due to the way the first book focused primarily on introducing us to the Vandergraff family and the world they live in. By having the narrower focus of setting the stage for future stories and letting us see how the family interacts with each other and reacts to the changes they face just made for a tighter narrative.

In “Watch Me Burn,” the family have adapted to their new circumstances and are going about living their lives when David hears that a local girl has gone missing. In fact, the news of her disappearance seems to be following him around, as he keeps running into reminders of it. Knowing that when someone casts a spell they can’t always predict how the spell will bring about the desired results, and that sometimes a spell will “decide” that a certain person needs to be part of the process, David comes to believe that the missing girl must also be from a wizard family, and the spell her parents cast has decided it needs his help.

It turns out that his daughter Emily has met the girl previously, and when she discovers the girl’s bracelet in the family car, she decides she needs to help investigate as well. Things quickly get complicated when it seems one of the Vandergraff boys may know more than he’s letting on, another girl disappears, and Emily finds herself falling for a boy who just might be trouble.

There are a few other complications as well, and this is where my only real complaint with the book comes in – there’s just almost TOO much plot for a book of its length. There’s a side story about Amanda Vandergraff trying to help her son Jude get back on the right track, and one about the lengths a wizard will go to in trying to thwart a prophecy. That second side story, had it been fully fleshed out, could have made for a very interesting – and tension-filled – central story in a book of its own. Instead, it almost gets lost mixed in with the other story threads.

Don’t get me wrong, though – “Watch Me Burn” is a very good book and certainly makes me hope for another visit with the Vandergraffs. Bayliss does some very smart and unexpected things in the book that kept me turning the pages even when my brain was telling me it was time for food or sleep. This is a series worth checking out!



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Book Review: “Court of Nightfall” by Karpov Kinrade

February 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Court of Nightfall (The Nightfall Chronicles, #1)Court of Nightfall by Karpov Kinrade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing start to a new series

I have to admit, the reason I initially picked up this book is simply because my husband’s nickname is Nyghtfall, and it made me curious about the book, so I had no real expectations for the story. I ended up liking it quite a bit. I usually have 3 or 4 books I’m working my way through at any given time, but this one was interesting, fast-paced and good enough that I read it almost straight through.

The story is set in an alternate, dystopian reality where society is primarily controlled by the Knights of the Four Orders: Templars, Teutonics, Hospitaliers and Inquisitors. In the not-too-distant past, humanity had fought a war against the Nephelim – a race of half a human / half-angelic beings that essentially function like vampires with wings – which ended with the destruction of the Nephelim. Also in the mix are humans with “parapowers” known as Zeniths. Because their powers are feared, Zeniths are socially ostracized and politically oppressed. Against this backdrop we meet Scarlett Night, her uber-cool parents and her best friend Jax. When her parents are attacked, however, Scarlett learns that not everything is at it seems, and finds that she and Jax are no longer safe. With that our story its off and running.

Though the initial setup follows a well-worn path, once the action befins, the story really starts to come into its own. The world-building is nicely done – and done without any excessive infodumps. Meeting with the heads of the Four Orders gives an idea of what each Order is like, and the general atmosphere is communicated by how people act and what our heroes observe. The history of the war its likewise presented more through dialogue without just tossing a big history lesson into the middle of the action.

I really only had a couple of issues with the book, none of which are major, but they did have an impact on my enjoyment.. I’m not a big fan of vampire stories – in part because there are just so many of them coming out these days. When I realized the Nephelim are, for all intents and purposes, vampires, I felt a bit “tricked” by the authors. I suppose in some ways its not a bad approach, since I might have skipped the book if is known that’s what they were, but it still irked me a bit. I will say, though, that the Nephelim seen to be without some off the typical vampire tropes that have led to my disliking them: They aren’t automatically evil, nor are the overly sexual. Personality-wise, so far, at least, they seem mostly like normal humans, which is rather nice.

There are several references to a Nephelim named Nyx. Most references to Nyx use a male pronoun, but at least once the female pronoun is used. Nyx is also referred to as both a god of the Nephelim and the name is also described as being “used” by their leader, so perhaps the god is one gender (traditionally, Nyx is the Greek goddess of night) and the leader is the other, but it really wasn’t clear.

Lastly, I found myself surprised when the book ended. It felt like like the players had just gotten all of their pieces set and were about to begin the game when the emcee came out, thanked everyone for a lovely evening and invited us all back in a few weeks for more.

As I said, they’re really fairly minor issues and I will certainly be tuning back in when the game continues. Overall is a fun read and I’m very interested to see where the story will be taking us.



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Book Review: “Entice” by Erica Crouch

January 12, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Entice: An Ignite Novella (Ignite, #1.5)Entice: An Ignite Novella by Erica Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

This is a really nice novella, and is part of Erica Crouch’s “Ignite” series. It’s listed as part 1.5 in the series, but it’s actually a prequel to the events in Ignite, so I read it first. Whether that will have an impact on how I perceive the next book (which is Ignite) I don’t know yet – but I do know that I’m quite eager to keep going with the series.

The story opens with a battle scene from the war between Heaven’s angels and the angels who fell with Lucifer. It is told from the perspective of Penemuel (but don’t call her that – just call her Pen) who choose to fall at the urging of her twin brother Azael, and is somewhat conflicted over her decision. Azael has no problem bowing to and “yes sir”-ing Lucifer – he’s a true believer in Lucifer’s cause, but Pen is more defiant, something that doesn’t go over too well with her new boss. This leads to a retelling of the story of the Fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Crouch’s version is original, even as it retains all of the traditional elements of the Biblical story, and the rest of the tale is quite well done. Crouch truly has a way with words and I found myself highlighting several phrases just because I really liked the way she put something. Even though this is a novella, she still manages to give us a good look at what the universe the story takes place in looks like as well as some excellent character building. The only thing keeping me from giving the book 5 stars is that there ars couple of apparent tips – one in particular that resulted in my spending about ten minutes trying to figure out what it was supposed to mean. Given that the book took only about 3 hours to read, having to take that kind of time to puzzle out a sentence made it just that much more irritating that a single typo like that would be in a longer book.

All-in-all, though, this is definitely a book worth checking out!

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Book Review: “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

January 8, 2015 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance

Cruel Beauty (Cruel Beauty Universe, #1)Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a truly amazing book. While it’s an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, it’s unlike any other adaptations of that story I’ve read. What really made me fall in love with the story is that it went beyond the idea that she just had to see beyond his beastliness to set things right, and it does so in an unexpected way. Add a few surprising turns and you have a tale that honors its source material while being an original in its own right.

The writing is very lush, making the world vivid and almost tactile, and the characters are complex. It takes a certain skill to write a book where the majority of the story only involves three characters and not have it feel like a large, empty house. Because the cast is small, there’s room to let the characters breathe and grow – and the relationship blossom – at a nicely measured pace.

This is the first book in a new fictional universe, which will feature additional retelling of fairy tale classics. Already, a novella – Gilded Ashes, a retake on Cinderella – has been published, and it shares many of the strengths that Cruel Beauty possesses, so the series shows some promise off being one to keep an eye on.



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Book Review: “The New England Witch Chronicles” by Chelsea Bellingeri

December 11, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

New England Witch Chronicles (New England Witch Chronicles, #1)New England Witch Chronicles by Chelsea Luna Bellingeri

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The New England Witch Chronicles, Book One is a tasty little confection about a girl who discovers that she’s a witch and that there are still people who hunt them. One of my favorite things about the book is that it takes its time to tell the story, giving us a chance tho get to know our heroine, Alex, and the important people in her life. We get to see her as the normal girl she’s always been hanging out with her friends, going to school, coping with a father who’s emotionally distant and sometimes borderline abusive (verbally, not sexually) and an ineffective and alcoholic mother, and – of course, given that this is a YA novel – falling in love,

The author,Chelsea Bellingeri, does a nice job with creating relationships that feel more realistic than I’ve seen in many books. The romance develops at a nice pace and avoid that kind of over-the-top grand destined soulmates that often feels so forced – especially when dealing with teenagers.

As for the paranormal aspect of the story, Bellingeri allows that to develop slowly. Alex starts having nightmares and noticed some odd things that happen when she’s upset, but she doesn’t really start thinking about possible supernatural explanations until well over half-way through the book. Yet the story never feels like it’s dragging. I found it to be very comfortably paced and I like that the story has a solid foundation for it to build on over the rest of the series.

Bellingeri also has a nicely evocative way with scene-setting. At one point, Alex goes through a tunnel which is smaller than shed like and makes her uneasy. Bellingeri describes the sensation of what Alex was experiencing so clearly that I started feeling claustrophobic myself.

The book has almost no bad language or sexual content – -aside from a few kisses – and while there are several fist-fights and a few deaths, the descriptions are not overly graphic. I would consider it ok for audiences of about 14 and older.



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Book Review: “Izrafel’s Acceptance” by Loralie Hall

November 29, 2014 | Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, mythology-based, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy

Izrafel's Acceptance: Ubquity, 1.5 - A Companion Novella (Ubiquity)Izrafel’s Acceptance: Ubquity, 1.5 – A Companion Novella by Loralie Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not as good as the first novel but not bad, either

This novella focuses on Izrafel, one of the characters we met in “Uriel’s Fall.” Since we last saw Izzy – as he’s known – at the end of that book, he’s fallen in love and is thinking about moving in with his boyfriend, though he has some reservations because he’s still not quite sure how to to explain his past and because he feels there’s something his boyfriend is hiding from him. We’re quickly thrown into the action – almost too quickly, in fact, and the the story takes off like a runner so eager to start her race that she jumps the gun a bit.

The biggest problem I had with the story is that like in the preceding novel, most of the dramatic tension comes from people simply not talking to each other. Even Ronnie, the protagonist from the first book – who was constantly frustrated because no one was telling her the full truth – can’t seem tho find a way too clue Izzy in as to what’s going on.

Still, in spite of these issues, it’s a fun, quick read and helps set up the conflict for next summer’s release of the second novel in the series.

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