Blog Tour | Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1) by Emily A. Duncan

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ARC given to me by my kind friend – Lilly at Lair of Books!

“If you fall to him the war will be lost. You have to live, Nadya.”

I’m going to be really honest with you all; I feel like Wicked Saints is the book of my heart. From the lyrical writing, to the cold atmosphere, to the beautiful themes, to the characters that I’d already be willing to give my life for; this book just felt like it was written for me. This debut fantasy, all about blood magic and a cleric who can speak to all the gods (be still, my wishful D&D heart), blew me and my expectations out of the water.

The author very much pulls from Russian and Polish inspiration and we get to see two countries, the Russian inspired Kalyazin, and the Polish inspired Tranavia. There is also the desert lands of Akola, which we meet a few characters from, but I think the land will be explored much more in later books! But we quickly see how differently the first two places view religion, and how both nations are willing to do whatever it takes in the name of their beliefs. These two countries are warring, and the author never shies away from that, but they are also beautifully woven together to create such an immersive and captivating world and setting.

“Cannons only meant one thing: blood magic. And blood magic meant Tranavians.”

But this tale starts out with a girl who has lived and hidden within the protection of a monastery’s walls her entire life. She has a power unlike any other, and it is her people’s hope to not only restore the faith of the gods, but bring them back into power. Yet, there are people who are willing to do anything to make sure the gods and their religion(s) stay silenced forever. And one night, the girl’s monastery is brutally attacked, and she and her friend barely escape with their lives, while everyone else stayed back to ensure they could run away. Yet, the war commander prince notices that this girl is not among the dead. The girl, desperate to live and to not have the gods be silenced, is willing to do anything it takes to live. Even if that means getting help from a powerful rebel mage, who is harboring many secrets of his own.

“The girl, the monster, and the prince…”

Nadya – The cleric who can speak to all of the gods.
Malachiasz – A blood mage, who believes he is a monster.
SerefinBisexual icon. Also, a blood mage prince of one of the most powerful realms in this world, but the king is trying to ensure that no one can contest his power, while also wanting to use his son as a martial pawn. He also has a visual impairment and is unable to see out of one of his eyes.

(Breathtaking art by Therese at warickaart!)

And all three of these characters? As morally grey as they come. And they all equally stole my heart. Okay, maybe I have a little bit of a soft spot for Serefin, but I can’t help it, okay? But there is more disability and sexual representation with some of the side characters, and many characters of color. I am truly in love with all the side characters, and I can’t wait to see them develop even more, but Ostyia was easily my favorite and the author confirmed she is a tiny murder lesbian, and I’ve never read anything so perfect in all my life.

Okay, I’m going to spend a little more time talking about Nadya because I truly was obsessed with how the author crafted religion and the saints in this book. First off, I’m Catholic, so you know that I fuck hard with saints, anyways. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have played probably over a hundred D&D campaigns in my life, and I swear to all the gods that I have probably rolled a cleric at least 50 of those campaigns. Seriously, teenage Melanie (and her Pathfinder loving friends) was obsessed with Sarenrae. But reading a book about a cleric who could speak to ALL the gods, and harness their powers if they allowed it? I am quaking. Also, the banter between Nadya and all the different gods, all of whom have very different personalities, was probably my favorite element of the entire book.

Again, this is a very dark book and I implore you to read my trigger and content warnings listed down below if you are on the fence if you are in the right headspace or not. But one of the major magic systems in this book is blood magic, where people will use their own blood (most of the time, freshly cut) and merge it with pages of a spell book to be able to wield their prepared spells and harness their magic. I loved this. I loved this so much. It is something that I feel you see so much in D&D and videogames, but never in literature and I really think it was expertly done and completely made the book for me.

I feel like I should talk about the romance, since I see many early reviewers not loving it as much as I seemed to. I always thought Nadya was the star of this book, regardless of who she was developing feelings for. I mean, you all know I always fall in love with the one the main character doesn’t pick, so there is that, but I still loved the romance in this book. Also, I kind of hinted a bit about this in the character breakdowns, but when Serefin was following the king’s wishes to find a marriage? I was invested, friends. Too invested, probably. But during all the situations, the angst almost killed me, in the best way possible, and I can’t wait to see where the author takes everything in book two. It was the perfect slow burn feeling, while giving us so many breadcrumbs that all tasted delicious.

Overall, this book just had too many things in my personal wheelhouse for me not to completely fall in love with it. I mean, I originally heard this pitched as “a gothic Joan of Arc” and I knew from that moment my life was going to be changed. I think Emily A. Duncan has really crafted such a unique story, and such a beautiful debut and start of a series. I can’t wait to see what comes next, especially because the end of this book truly slayed me and every emotion I have ever had.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and Trigger Warnings for self-harm (both as a magic system, and talk of self-harm in the past), torture, parental abuse, abandonment, abduction, a lot of alcohol consumption (maybe addiction), gore, violence, and war themes.

Buddy read with Jocelyn at Yogi with a Book! ❤


 

March 2019 Book Haul

Haul3
Hey friends! I hope you all are having an amazing end to March! Even though I’m not sure how we are even at the end of March… but regardless, I got some pretty cool books this month! And publishers (especially romance publishers) were too dang kind to me, and I truly am going to be living my bookish romance dream life this Spring!💖


PURCHASED BOOKS:

The Weight of the Stars | Review: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Near Witch
The Shadowglass | Review: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Steel Prince, Vol. 1 | Review: ⭐⭐⭐
The Priory of the Orange Tree


EARCS FROM PUBLISHERS:

Aurora Rising
The Right Swipe
The Dragon Republic


PHYSICAL ARCS FROM PUBLISHERS:

You Must Not Miss (Thank you Kayla!)
Wilder Girls (Thank you McKinlay!)
The Wedding Party
Girls with Sharp Sticks
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune
Waiting for Tom Hanks
The Red Scrolls of Magic | Review: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Thank you Heather!)
Mrs. Everything
Swipe Right for Murder
Holy Sister | Currently Reading



And that’s all of them! Holy moly, this was a much bigger haul than I anticipated! But I am so thankful and so privileged. I hope you all are having an amazing day, and let me know a few bookish acquisitions you got this month! Happy reading, loves! 💖

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Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

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My best friends got me an ARC of this and I love them more than I have words to express! (Thank you so much, Madalyn, Chelsea, & Jane!)

“It is a shame what is happening in this country. And it is a shame that the Church has been so quiet. That all of us have been so quiet. That the world has been so quiet.”

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and even though I didn’t love it the way that I truly thought I would, I still am going to boost it forever and always because there are a lot of good and important things in these pages, and a lot of things that Americans (and other people not living in the Philippines) need to be educated on.

I don’t want to make my review about me, but just a little information in case you do not follow me or my reviews; I am Fil-Am, and biracial (white and Filipino) just like the star of this book. I also was raised in Michigan and was accepted into The University of Michigan like the star of this book. My father was born in America, but my grandparents did immigrate here from the Philippines as adults. My family are for sure, without question, “Americanized” but I still grew up embracing my Filipino culture and being proud of it. Also, all of my grandma’s family is still living in the Philippines, and she visits them frequently, sometimes alone and sometimes with us.

Regardless, I just wanted to say all of these things to help you realize how much I was anticipating this book. Also, that my heart breaks daily over the war on drugs and the blood that President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies have spilled. Most Americans are not aware of the death toll (or the hidden numbers) that is because police and even regular citizens are allowed and encouraged to kill civilians who are said to be using and selling drugs. From public executions to make examples of people, to children dying and being labeled carriers, to more innocents dying but having drugs planted on them after their death, I don’t even have words for how sick I feel just even typing this paragraph. And so many families are left with heartbreak from loss and not knowing what has happened to their loved ones. And the fear that speaking out can literally cost them their lives.

“So the drug war continues. The body count rises.”

Patron Saints of Nothing follows a boy named Jay, who was born in the Philippines to a Filipino father and American mother, but his family moved to The United States under the pretense of having a better life for their children. Yet, when Jay lived in the Philippines, he was very close with his cousin, Jun, and they have kept up writing letters back and forth to one another their entire lives, even though Jay hasn’t responded in a little while. Heartbreakingly, at the start of this book Jay finds out from his parents that Jun has been killed because of the war on drugs.

Jay cannot for an instant believe that Jun would ever use or sell narcotics, and after a mysterious Instagram message, he asks his parents if they would be willing to allow him to go back to the Philippines to reconnect with Jun’s family after his death. And his parents agree and send him out so he can travel between a few family member’s homes, and that he can reconnect with half of his culture that he has been neglecting. But once Jay arrives in the Philippines, he realizes that there is a lot more to Jun’s death than what meets the eye, and he feels an immense need to get to the bottom of his death and what really happened.

Okay, so I love this premise more than words. And I really did love seeing things through Jay’s eyes and how he felt like he was completely missing out on a culture that he has been away from for so long. From being very aware of his lighter skin, to having a hard time picking up Tagalog, to realizing how fucking privileged US citizens are and getting called out on it; this book has a lot of good and a lot of important themes, and I truly wish I could put it in every American’s hands.

But, sadly, a lot of things I just really didn’t like. And again, everything I’m about to say, please take it with a grain of salt. Closer to release, I plan on boosting so many of my beautiful Filipino reviewing friends’ voices, because their voices are what matter. They not only have to live under Duterte, they will know an authentic Filipino living experience way better than me and any trip I could take with my family, or any whitewashed news article I can read.

I just really disliked how Jun’s storyline, and all the tips and clues Jay was following, ended. And just in general, I really think we should emphasize how just because someone sells drugs or is a drug user, they are still worthy of life and shouldn’t be killed. I mean, yes, it is terrible that children and innocents are dying every single day over this drug war, but it is also awful that people using drugs are dying, too. Sometimes I truly felt like this book, and Jay’s actions, felt very middle grade and very surface level, and we never went past the surface and truly got to see and talk about the horrible things that are taking place. And I’m not saying it is ANY Filipino’s job to educate people on the war on drugs or anything about their culture, but I just feel like had the opportunity to really go there, especially based on the book’s premise, and I was left a little unsatisfied.

Next, I really hated the little romance in this book. Like, I’m never going to be here for grey area cheating in general. But I’m really not going to be here for a seventeen-year-old and nineteen-year-old either. Like, I get that it is legal in a lot of places, and I get that it is only two years, but I just don’t like it and it makes me feel skeezy while reading. Especially with Jay admitting she is part of the reason he makes the choice he does at the end of the book.

And, even though this book is supposed to be set in present day, I feel like a lot of the video game references were really dated. And even though this is such a minor element of the book, it is brought up so many times throughout this novel. And each time I kind of was side-eyeing. No one would refer to Sylvanas as the Queen of the Forsaken, especially not in 2019. I mean, do teenagers really still play World of Warcraft? And acting like people have physical video game collections in 2019, when everything is digital? I don’t know, it just really pulled me out of the story at every mention.

Overall, I am just a little bit disappointed. I still think this is an important read. And I still think seeing a biracial American get in touch with a culture he has felt very out of touch with is really important. And I’m always going to be here for it, truly. I would also die for Jay’s titas right this very second. There is also another mention of a f/f relationship in this book too, and I’m always here for seeing positive sexuality representation in life, but especially in the Philippines. And again, I’m feeling really bad already about writing this review, so I hope you respect my feelings, but I also hope you remember that I am very white passing Filipino who has never actually lived in the Philippines and I haven’t been to the Philippines since Duterte’s election. But if you are a Filipino reviewer, I would be honored to boost your review for this if you link it below!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and content warnings for loss of a loved one, talk of animal death, talk of drugs and addiction, police brutality, talk of human trafficking, grey area/emotional cheating, and assault.

Buddy read with Madalyn from Novel Ink! ❤

Blog Tour Author Guest Post | Dig by A.S. King

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Hey, friends! I know most of you know that I’m a HUGE A.S. King fan! So when Penguin asked if I would want to ask her a question to feature on my blog…. well, I first fangirled for ten minutes, and then I replied back saying yes! And the question that I asked was who is A.S. King’s favorite character in Dig and why! 


This is a hard question to answer when a book has nine main characters and another handful of secondary ones. And because I tend to live in the gray spaces of life, the idea of “favorites” is hard for me. I’m going to answer this from the hip and see what I come up with.

I do love Malcolm. Poor kid. He’s going through a lot and I love his outlook on life, poverty, history, and the future.

I adore CanIHelpYou? because she is both so honest and so not-honest at the same time. She’s being made to live in a house she will never fit into, with a mother who is so abhorrent to her that she will do anything to get out of there, even if it’s not all that legal.

The Shoveler—he’s dear to me because he’s the one who started this whole thing. He was the first teen character to come to me and although he was stubborn and took a while to trust me, he eventually did tell me what was going on. I like how his brain works, even though it may not be the healthiest thing. I’m glad he’s aware of it. His inner-dialogue is authentic.

Oh, Loretta. I never saw her coming. I had no idea what she was about for years as I wrote, but she always had something new to show me. I feel for her. I know she lives in a sort of alternate world and I know why. And that’s sad. But she’s also so darn happy when she’s with her fleas and on stage. I just want to hug her for a year. She’s so precious to me.

But oh, The Freak. She strung me along for years. Didn’t tell me her secrets until page 350. And I love her. I love what she represents and how intensely she loves and how frank and foul-mouthed and smart she is. I can tell you that for me, she was my favorite to write, usually, and I was always excited when she showed up. Even if it made no sense to me at the time.
I should add that I do love Marla and Gottfried for what they reveal about the family as the book goes on. They are not my favorites as people, but since I wrote them very-very first, they are good vehicles for the story and I think they do their job well.

Wow. This sounds like I am reviewing cars or something.

So, it looks like The Freak wins. But only for today. Favorites are fleeting and there are too many to choose from here. But for me, The Freak is the bearer of the right news—all the right news—and she turned out to be the catalyst for so many other parts of the book. When you write the way I do, by the seat of my pants, you need at least one character to lead you. I didn’t know it would be The Freak. I couldn’t figure her out for so long. But once she told me everything, I couldn’t have asked for a better guide.

Thanks for having me on the blog and for asking me this question and making me think about this. I appreciate it! –Amy

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I am so excited to review Dig for you all! I know that it’s probably going to make my best of the year list! Also, it is officially out today! So, I hope you all are able to pick up a copy from a bookstore or the library! Happy reading, friends!

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The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Four Paths had its charms, if you could ignore the fact that it was also a monster prison she apparently had some ancestral obligation to deal with.”

This is a really hard review for me to write, because this book had some of my favorite things of all time; lyrical and beautiful writing that I could nonstop highlight, an atmosphere setting that gives me goosebumps even just thinking about, a mystery all surrounding what hides in the dark depths of the forest, and a very diverse cast of characters. Like, damn. But if this isn’t the first review of The Devouring Gray you’ve read, yes, all the Riverdale and Stranger Things comparisons are all valid. I kind of think The Raven Cycle one is a bit of stretch, but I can kind of see it. But this debut novel really impressed me, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.

But The Devouring Gray follows four teens in upstate New York, all living in a little secluded town called Four Paths. And in this mysterious forest town, four families are held to a higher standard, because their descendants were the reason the town is protected from the Beast who hunts them. And all the descendants are able to harness the powers that should be passed down through their bloodline, but only if they survive a ritual pertaining to their ancestor. But now the town is under attack, and all hope is with four teens who are the descendants that are needed for survival, yet they might not be ready to provide protection for themselves, or anyone else, just yet.

“in eighteen forty-seven, a group of settlers seeking a new life in upstate New York decided to end their pilgrimage here. On this day, we celebrate the leaders of that group—Thomas Carlisle, Lydia Saunders, Richard Sullivan, and Hetty Hawthorne.”

Harper Carlisle – Missing one arm from the elbow down after her ritual to harness her powers went wrong, and holding a grudge over someone who used to be her best friend but wanted nothing to do with her after her accident. Also, her father is a predominant figure in the safety of the town. Also, also, a warrior babe who can wield many weapons.

Violet Saunders – Bisexual, just moving to Four Paths after the death of her sister and trying to learn to live with an astronomical amount of grief, while also learning that she has a hidden bloodline she never knew about. Also, piano playing goddess.

Isaac Sullivan – Bisexual, living on his own after the rest of his family died in an accident. He is also Justin’s best friend, a broody reader babe, and he has the best and most scary power of them all. Also, he was easily my favorite character.

Justin Hawthorne – The popular boy, who has the most powerful family in town, even though he feels like he must always do what his mother (also the sheriff of the town) wants, even though he is keeping a very big secret from her. Side note, I would die for his sister, May, my tarot card reading baby.

“Powers or not, he was still a Hawthorne. He would find a way to keep Four Paths safe.”

Yet, even though these are the four main characters, we have so many side characters, too! And this, in addition to the fact that the story jumps points of view a lot, I just feel like I never truly cared about any of the characters, even though I didn’t have a problem with any of them. I mean, it really is a strange feeling, because I can mentally break down that these are the four main characters, but while reading the chapter switching just makes me feel like I’m reading ASOIAF or something else that feels like we are given so many different points of view. I feel like this was the biggest factor that kept me from loving this book; I never truly got to know any of these characters because of the way the story jumps around.

Also, if I’m being honest the Beast and the Gray felt too much like Stranger Things to me, but also with not enough explanation. I obviously am here for a good mystery, but I think seeing more of this parallel world, the mysterious creature and its powers, would have really benefited the story by filling in some much-needed gaps and made the situation feel scarier and more high-risk. Like, I was honestly convinced that some type of humans or other beings were going to reside in this world! Or we were going to fully understand the powers and what this thing was capable and not capable of! I don’t know, the concept is just so amazing, but I felt really let down by the biggest risk factor of the story.

But I still loved watching all these teens learn how to find their powers and learn how to use their powers. I loved seeing them grow, both apart and together. I loved seeing all the different friendship roots; both brand new and old ones healing. I loved seeing how these four handled grief and trauma all very differently but still all very validly. And I loved to see all of these teens realize they are worth a hell of a lot more than the past mistakes of the ancestors they are forced to live up to.

“Something inside Violet had cracked the day Rosie died. There was an abscess in her chest, a gaping hole in the back of her skull. A place for evil things to slip right in.”

Overall, I really loved the ownvoices queer rep, and the atmosphere and setting were truly nothing short of amazing. I do want to mention that the main relationships in this are not f/f, but there are lots of hints at side f/f relationships! Also, even though I could never truly connect with the story, I still think there is so much good here. And I think many readers will still really enjoy this one upon release. But that epilogue ending made me audibly gasp that made my cat give me angry eyes for waking her! Is this the start of a series? Because I am totally down with reading whatever Christine Lynn Herman comes up with next, but especially with this setting as a backdrop.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for loss of a loved one, a lot of talk of death, murder, grief and trauma depictions, violence, abandonment, talk of rituals and self-sacrifice, and assault.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

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“The best way to keep a secret is to make sure no one knows you’re keeping one.”

Last call at the Nightshade Lounge is a debut, ownvoices story, staring an Asian main character, who is forced to move back to her hometown after graduating college, and is in search for work, with or without her degree’s help. Her high school friend offers her a job as a bar hand, but she soon discovers an underground network comprised of magical cocktails made by bartenders who also keep the streets of Chicago safe from hidden monsters. And, friends, I really enjoyed this unique tale and captivating story.

I feel like I did enjoy this one more than most of the people I buddy read it with, but I was completely enthralled each time I went to pick this book up. I thought it was witty, and smart, and funny, and such a good balance of those three things.

And I loved the diverse cast! Bailey is a Chinese-American ivy league graduate. But this story also gives the reader a side character who is blind, a trans side character, Asian and Black side characters, and a sapphic side relationship. I really appreciated the author’s depiction of Bailey’s Asian family, too, because it was pretty relatable.

I also really loved how this was a New Adult novel, and it shows how badly we need stories in this age bracket, instead of just classifying college romances as them. And I loved how Bailey graduated college and then came back home to live with her parents while looking for a job with her degree, because that is such a reality for so many, but we are seriously lacking books with that representation. Coming back to your hometown after living and graduating in your college town for four(+) years is truly an experience that I think so many can relate to, and I think Bailey’s situation will truly resonate with so many. I mean, besides the whole magical cocktail bars and all that.

“Booze is universal, it brings people together, and a lot of times it results in the creation of more people. What could be more magical than something that does all that?”

Overall, I really did enjoy this and I can’t wait to see what Paul Krueger does next. Especially because his next book, Steel Crow Saga, looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in this life and the next. This was a short and unique tale that put a smile on my face throughout, and I’m so happy that I was able to read it. Also, the magical cocktail recipes throughout? I’m on a quest to make them all now.

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Content and Trigger Warnings for alcohol consumption, grey area cheating, and for racism (assuming all Asian cultures are the same, and this is always challenged).

This was the March pick for the Dragons and Tea Book Club! 🐉☕

 

When Summer Ends by Jessica Pennington

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ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“Why did we have to meet the summer before I move away?”

When Summer Ends is a really cute read that is going to be absolutely perfect for summer this year. This is a tale about two people learning who they are, and who they want to be, while also supporting one another, and maybe even falling for each other, too! But they also have to decide if this is just going to be a summer fling, because both of their lives are going to change drastically in three months! This was heartwarming and truly smile-inducing, and I think is really going to make an amazing beach read during the warmer temperatures!

Aiden – Starting pitcher for the varsity baseball team, but his true passion is drawing. He has felt an immense amount of pressure to live up to everyone else’s baseball expectations, but after a playing accident, instead of spending the summer away at baseball camp, he is going to be working at this dad’s company, River Depot. Which becomes extremely popular with tourists ever summer.

Olivia – Lives with her aunt, who just received an amazing job opportunity in Arizona, which means this could very well be the last summer in Michigan for her. Her estranged mother agrees to stay with her, while she tries to enjoy the summer working at none other than River Depot with Aiden.

And these two young adults quickly realize that they need to make the best out of these next three months of summer, because once it is over their senior years of high school will change everything.

My only real complaints are that the problems in this book really never felt like problems. They for sure felt like the set up of problems, but things always seemed to resolve quickly, and I never really felt scared about what was going to happen. And this is totally fine and valid, just not something that I completely enjoy reading. Also (and this kind of goes with what I just said), I just really didn’t love the storyline with Olivia’s mother, which was for sure such a big part of this story.

I will also say that I thought there was going to be hearing and visual disability rep in this book, which there was, but it was only temporary visual and hearing disabilities. So, I also felt a little down about that, but I didn’t have it impact my rating or anything like that. But please be warned if you are going into this also looking forward to reading about that representation.

But I loved the main characters, I loved seeing them rely on one another, I loved seeing them grow as people singularly, but also grow together, and I loved every scene with the two of them! I especially loved the Michigan setting, because there are few things more beautiful that Michigan’s lakes in the summer time, and it really made me feel like I was back home. Overall, I do recommend this one! And I can’t wait to pick up the author’s debut, Love Songs & Other Lies, very soon!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Trigger and Content Warning for abandonment, neglect, and underage drinking.

Buddy Read with Felicia, Mir, & TBR & Beyond! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!