Once & Future (Once & Future, #1) by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

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ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

“Buried in the trunk of the thousand-year-old oak was a sword.”

I have a very big soft spot in my heart for Arthurian legend and I will never turn down a retelling of the epic tale. And when I heard that we were going to get an ownvoices series, written by a couple, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. Also, Morgana is one of my favorite villains of all time, and I actually think Once & Future is one of my favorite interpretations of her, ever.

King Arthur is a story about a king who was betrayed by the people he loved most in the world. He was trained and befriended by a wizard named Merlin, who helped guide him to become the king his people needed. He tried to fight for his people, and do what he believed was right for them, but in the end it was not enough for Camelot or his Knights of the Round Table.

Once & Future completely takes that tale and turns it on its head, making something really unique and really fun. Merlin and Morgana are magic wielders who sleep while waiting for the next Arthur to come and free Excalibur and to free them from their slumber, so they can try to change the world for the last time. This time, Arthur (42) is Ari, a girl who was rescued and adopted at very young age, but carries the scars (both externally and internally) of a past she can’t remember.

“Find Arthur
Train Arthur
Nudge Arthur onto the nearest throne
Defeat the greatest evil in the world
Untie all of mankind”

This book has so much good rep, that my queer heart was honestly living its best life while reading this entire book. From sexual and gender representation from all over the spectrum, to representation for disabilities, to mirroring the refugee crisis, to talking about how colonialism is a very real and very sad thing, to how important and simple it is to ask someone their pronouns and not to just assume. This is a very inclusive and very heartwarming book, truly. And so much of the rep I’m about to talk about is also ownvoices representation, and I believe this book should be completely celebrated upon release, because it is going to let so many kids see themselves in the badass SFF retelling of their dreams.

Ari – From Arabic descent, a refugee, and either pan or bi. (everyone is saying she is pan, but I didn’t read that word in my ARC copy, so… I’m not sure if it was added or not, but as a pan person you all know this would mean the world to me, so *fingers crossed*)
Kay – Ari’s big brother (adoptive)
Merlin – Wizard, aging backwards, gay, and set to train Ari.
Morgana – Also has a mission, but it might not be what Ari and Merlin want.
Lam – Black, gender fluid, missing a hand, and Kay’s bff.
Val – Black, Lam’s sibling, pan or bi.
Gwen – Pan or bi, and the new queen.
Jordan – Ace, and the black knight that protects Gwen. (Jordan is easily the best character, imo)

And this full (and super queer) set of characters come together and truly create a fun and fast-paced story where they are trying to push back against the Mercer corporation, who have a monopoly on the entire universe. But this book is truly about oppression, and how these kids are fighting a system that was built to keep them down. This may be a Sci-Fi retelling, but the parallels are so very real. And the unequal power distribution is a very real problem that impacts marginalized voices in every single walk of life.

Okay, but on to the not so great. I felt like this story really jumps around too quickly. It makes it hard to actually care about the characters and their situations, especially the side characters. And the time-frame feels very disjointed and abrupt because of the way the story is told. And, again, it makes it really hard to feel things, because the reader is just jumped to the next thing. Also, this has a trope that I personally really hate; where siblings have feelings for the same person, and it really hindered my reading experience.

“To wonder why your heart has turned into a hurricane and how love could be possible when you’re supposedly a cursed, dead king in the presence of a very powerful, very alive queen.”

Overall, I did enjoy this one, despite the trope I really dislike. But I still completely recommend this one and will support it with my voice completely. Also, this book is so sapphic, and the main f/f storyline and the side f/f of Ari and Kay’s moms really warmed my heart, too. And the m/nb romance also put a big smile on my face. I just think this story is so much fun and so unique and I honestly can’t wait to see where the authors take it with the second book.

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

Content and trigger warnings for abandonment, talk of plague, talk of past rape, animal death, suicide, loss of a loved one, and war themes.

Buddy Read with Imi & Ellie! ❤

Song of the Dead (Reign of the Fallen #2) by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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ARC provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Reign of the Fallen ★★★★

“I’m Odessa of Grenwyr, and the dead answer to me.”

If you’re looking for a f/f relationship to swoon over, with ownvoices bisexuality representation, and story that focuses on found family and unconditional love within healthy friendships, in a book that also has the cutest little dragon companion and filled with undead and necromancers, then please look no further than Song of the Dead

Seriously, friends, I loved this with my entire heart and soul. This is the concluding novel in this duology, the first book being Reign of the Fallen, but I am still not ready to say goodbye. Sarah has crafted something so beautiful, so powerful, and so important, that I truly hope we get to see more of these characters in the future. Especially since most of them have already stolen pieces of my heart.

In this second installment, the kingdom of Karthia is in a very different place than we originally saw it in Reign of the Fallen. Without going into spoilers, there may be new royalty, there may be new laws, and there may be new dangers that are now completely risking everything these characters have done to keep their kingdom safe.

Our main character, Odessa, is traveling the uncharted waters, discovering places she never knew, while also discovering herself and relearning what is important to her. Odessa is also trying to chart her heart and her relationship with Meredy, when they are both grieving the same person, but very differently.

This series very much touches on grief and trauma and learning to live with those two things. And how those two things may never ever go away, and that’s okay, but how you need to learn how to live with them, and how to live with a loss that may feel like it is currently impossible to live without. This is truly such a beautiful depiction, and it really meant a lot to me.

“I could never outrun myself. Without the pin, without even my name, I’d still be a fighter. I’d still be a commander of the dead. I’d still be a girl too in love with life to commit to death, even when it’s calling to me more strongly than ever before.”

Besides the mental health representation, there are many different sexual representations (including the word aromantic on page!), there are also characters of color, and disability representation (main side character who uses a cane) that I think is very well done, but I do not have any physical disabilities, so my voice doesn’t really matter on the subject! But I also feel like this book talks heavily about how important it is to not be closed off from other cultures and how detrimental the reality of that really can be. (You know, coming from a citizen whose president believes a wall will solve all their problems.)

This entire story just has so much good in it! And it is so fast paced and completely enthralling. I could read a million more books about these characters, set all over this world that Sarah has created. Hell, I could read a million more set in the Deadlands alone. I feel like this story just has so many elements and I had such a smile on my face while consuming this entire book.

Overall, this duology just means so much to me and I would literally die for the happiness of the sapphic ship in this! But from the amazing characters, to the important themes, to the beautiful prose; Sarah and these books are just a gift to the world. I truly hope you all pick up Reign of the Fallen for yourselves, and I hope you fall just as hard as I did.

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

Content and trigger warnings for addiction, talk of loss of a loved one, mention of a plague, and heavy grief depiction.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss by Kasie West

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

“I have to convince audiences everywhere that a zombie loves a zombie hunter. So far, it’s not happening. So far, the only thing future viewers care about is that I’m not someone else.”

Okay, the only other thing I’ve ever read by Kasie West was the short story of hers in Snow in Love, but I think it is safe to say that I am officially just going to preorder everything she writes from now on, because this story was also such a damn delight. And she is now 2/2 for writing the sweetest and softest boys in YA literature. I honestly just had a smile on my face while reading the majority of this book. If I’m ever in need of a feelgood book, I’m just going to turn to Kasie West’s backlist from now on.

So, basically, Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss stars a girl named Lacey who just landed a breakout role in an indie zombie film which she will co-star in with the extremely famous, Grant James! Lacey has only ever done minor acting roles in the past, but she is willing to give up her senior year of high school to move to Hollywood and to give this role all she has. Meanwhile, her father has agreed to move with her, to help give her structure. Yet, he also gives her a tutor named Donovan, who is supposed to keep her on track with the schoolwork that she is already neglecting.

But while filming, it becomes apparent that maybe Grant and Lacey don’t have the best onscreen chemistry with one another. Yet, Lacey is finding it easier and easier to find chemistry with the tutor who is supposed to be teaching her chemistry. *winky face* Donovan is the sweetest boy and I just loved him completely from page one. No spoilers, but the jumping on the trampoline scene? Added five years to my life.

But on top of Lacey trying to put everything she has into this zombie role, it becomes more and more apparent that someone is trying to sabotage her chances of making it big. I won’t lie, this does have a bit of a Scooby-Doo feeling mystery around the movie set, because the someone that is trying to sabotage Lacey before her career even gets started is kind of doing innocent things. Yet, I still loved that it kept me guessing for far longer than it probably should have. Towards the end it became kind of obvious who it was, but right up until that ending point, I was honestly thinking that the sabotage was someone else.

I also didn’t love the inclusion of bits of the movie script in-between chapters. I feel like we got a good enough feel of the plot of the film without those, and it pulled me out of the story (ironical enough) each time I read them. I think this book would have been stronger without them entirely, honestly. Also, there was a scene with them finding a drug dealer’s lair that I thought would come back into play and just never did and it was a little wild.

But my only real complaint was that I kind of hated both of Lacey’s parents. I totally get that she’s only seventeen, but they both just felt like crappy parental figures throughout the book. From her mom, boxing up her stuff and giving her room to an animal that Lacey wouldn’t like, even though she thought she would be coming back to finish her senior year! To her dad who decided he wanted to play a major role in her life seventeen years too late, and then force her to over exhaust and over work herself to try to have a semblance of a “normal” teenage life, after agreeing to letting her act in the movie. I don’t know, they just both rubbed me the wrong way, and not even the ending of this book justified their actions to me. But at least she got a cute and sweet tutor out of the deal.

Overall, I just loved this. It was the perfect sweet and heartwarming contemporary that I needed. I actually think this would be a perfect read for the spooky season. I mean, I wouldn’t say it is “spooky” per se, but it surrounds the making of a horror film all about zombies! And some of the moments in this book will keep you on the edge of your seat, involving the sabotage on the set. But I just think Kasie West is a master of YA Romance, and I think she is so deservingly beloved among the community. I can’t wait to see what she does next, and she 100% made a new fan from me.

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for a couple comments that are weird about food and dieting, talk of online harassment and bullying, and use of the word cr*zy.

Buddy Read with Amy & Heather! ❤

 

Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson

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“A girl from Pittsburgh came to Ellingham Academy and she wanted to see a dead body. She got her wish.”

Friends, you’d think a book that is centered around two different murders would be a lot more exciting and enjoyable to read. I know I sound harsh already, but I just really thought I was going to love this one. But I truly only ended up loving the atmosphere of the setting and the amazing anxiety rep. That’s it.

This story stars a young girl named Stevie, who just got invited to attend Ellingham Academy, a very prestigious, private school for the most gifted of children. Stevie has dreamed of being a detective her entire life and feels like this is going to be an amazing new adventure for her, because Ellingham Academy is also well known for a murder mystery that happened years and year ago, which was never solved, and one body was never found. The only thing that was found was a letter signed truly devious, which also quickly was destroyed.

Stevie thinks it will be so much fun to investigate the school (which is built into the side of a mountain, like, so freaking cool) but another murder soon happens to a person that she recently befriended. Now, she feels like she must get to the bottom of both of these mysteries, and she’s uncovering more and more secrets that were supposed to be kept hidden.

“Schools may be famous for many things: academics, graduates, sports teams. They are not supposed to be famous for murders.”

Trust me, I made that synopsis sound way cooler than the actual book. Stevie is a cool character though, and I liked seeing her dynamic with her very conservative parents, when she is in a much more liberal mindset. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Stevie has many anxiety and panic attacks throughout this story, and I honestly have never read a more realistic portrayal of how my attacks actually feel and I am still in awe of it. Like, I completely believe that this has to be an ownvoices portrayal, because it was so expertly crafted.

But another fun thing about this book is that we get to see Stevie interact with all the other kids at this private school, and they are all truly possible suspects. Yet, the reader will also be left guessing how this new murder will correlate with the one from the past that was never truly solved.

“When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.”

Going into this, everyone told me that the ending was going to kill me and probably make me the third victim of this tale, but honestly? It just annoyed me. Like, it was so far out there that I was just left completely flabbergasted. Especially after Stevie’s discovery prior to that wild ending. I don’t know, I just felt like it actually ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and for sure didn’t make me excited to pick up the next one.

Overall, this just wasn’t for me. But please take my review with a grain of salt, because almost everyone I know loves and adores this story. I also think a big reason why this might not have been a hit for me is also because I had just read A Study in Charlotte and completely fallen in love with that contemporary murder mystery. Maybe I was subconsciously comparing the two? I don’t know, but I just didn’t love this one, friends, even though I really wish that I would have!

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Content and trigger warnings for underage drinking, panic attacks, murder, and use of the word cr*zy.

Buddy Read with Alexa, Khouloud, Caidyn, Amy & Heather! ❤

 

Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

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ARC received via #arcsfortrade on Twitter!

“If you could go back and do London all over again, knowing everything you know now, would you do it?”

Friends, I wanted to love this so badly. So damn badly. Christine is not only the actual Queen of BookTube, she was one of the first channels I ever watched. She just seems so kind, and genuine, and I always feel like she radiates positive energy, and she was such a massive part of why I wanted to read Shadowhunters in the first place. But this review isn’t going to be about that, nor is it going to be a drag or me spilling the tea; this review is just going to be about why this debut was only okay for me. Even though I very much hope it works for you come May 2019! Also, please keep in mind that I have a very early ARC copy of this book. Many things could be changed upon publication!

This story centers around a girl named Shane, who has had her life completely predictated by her parents’ wants and aspirations for her. Her parents want her to study medicine and to one day become a doctor, while all Shane wants to do is read and write. Yet, she somehow manages to be able to study abroad to the UK, where she will also be able to intern as a writer for a travel magazine and, most importantly, escape her parents’ expectations.

The book is also told in two parts; the first part being set in 2011 where Shane is 20, and the next part set in 2017 where Shane is 26. But the book starts out in 2011 and we soon follow Shane during her oversea travels, and we soon meet all of her flat mates, most of which who have ridiculous names; Babe, Atticus, Sahra, and Pilot Penn. Yeah, you read that last one right. But Shane is making sure that she is going to make the most of these three months of freedom, while trying to make friendships and connections that will last her entire life.

This books just reads so personal. Like, I would even go as far as to say that I would feel comfortable as classifying this as semiautobiographical. But instead of me being interested in the story, it really took me out of it because it felt so much like Christine and, in turn, felt so damn invasive.

Like, you will not be able to read this book and not picture the main character, Shane, as Christine. From studying abroad, to being open about not making many friends in college, to *gasp* Shane’s blog name being French Watermelon, to the constant Lost references, to the endless Cassandra Clare and Shadowhunter references, to Harry Potter galore, while the character of Shane also just has a personality and the same mannerisms as Christine. This just feels so semiautobiographical. I promise, you won’t be able to not see it. And maybe that will completely make the reading experience for you, and I truly hope it does, but it really pulled me out of the story constantly.

Also, Christine constantly is trying to make you remember that the story is set in 2011 for a majority of the time. Which is fine at first, but it becomes so heavy handed and forced that it really made for an unenjoyable reading experience. Angry Birds, to Jamie Foxx’s ”Blame It”, to every popular book of that time period! It was just too much, and it really did a disservice to the story, in my opinion.

But my biggest problem with this book was the grey-area cheating and even eventual cheating (a kiss). This was truly the reason that I could never love this book or ever feel anything for the characters. Plus, the character that is getting cheated on is always villainized to look like a bad girl, when she has every right to feel threatened.

Also, just because this is something that is personal to me, I really didn’t like how Shane’s parents were never said to be abusive when they most certainly were. Like, the verbal abuse alone her father showed in the text, on top of the constant emotional abuse throughout the entire story, it just made me so upset and I really was disappointed when the parents were never viewed as being shitty parents. Especially at the end when they are being portrayed as good parents, just because their child was able to succeed without them. It feels and reads so very bad. Seriously, if your parents only want to love and support you when you are successful then they aren’t that great of parents.

I really loved how this entire story and book shines a light on the constant theme of social anxiety. I’m not saying that Shane makes the wisest of choices throughout these six years but seeing her live with social anxiety was something that really meant a lot to me and something that I really appreciated.

My favorite thing about this book is how it truly is a love letter about how you have to live your life for yourself. I know that Shane learns this the hard way, but I think that this is a concept that more kids need to not only hear but to let the message absorb into their hearts. I know that I learned it way later in life, and I wish so desperately that I could go back and learn that my life is only ever mine and that I deserve happiness so much sooner. And I really hope that because Christine has such a huge audience, that so many teens and young adults will be back to learn this earlier and truly live and lead the lives that they want for themselves.

And this book is a really fast paced read, that will really leave you turning the pages because you’ll be super curious where everything is going. Even though I really didn’t like the romance in this book, I was really invested with all the different paths and connections that Shane was making constantly. And I truly believe that I could have sat down, with a big cup of tea, and read this book from cover to cover in one sitting.

Another thing I liked, that I don’t want to talk too much about because of spoilers, but there is for sure a magical element of this book that I was not expecting at all. And even though I think things could have been handled better (grey area cheating), I really enjoyed how this fantastical element was implemented into the story, and it was a surprise that made me happy.

There is also a very diverse cast. Even though the main characters, Shane and Pilot are white, I feel like most of Shane’s coworkers at the magazine were people of color, and Babe is black and plus sized, Sahra is said to be tan, and Atticus is Asian, gay, and a Gryffindor (which feels like a personal attack in the best way, because… it’s me)! There is also another queer minor character who comes out because Shane takes a second to talk to them, which is meant to be heartwarming but I was side eyeing a bit.

Overall, let’s be real, people are going to one star and five star this just based on who Christine is upon release, which is never okay, but these are truly my feelings, even though I think Christine is a six star human! Even though I didn’t love a lot of elements of this debut novel, I still really appreciated some of the themes and thought it was a fun and quick read!

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for constant grey area cheating, cheating (a kiss), assault (an unwanted kiss), and the use of ableist language like cr*zy.

Buddy read with Madalyn from Novel Ink! ❤

 

Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) by Kiersten White

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“Hatred makes monsters of us all.”

Friends, I’ll be honest with you, I have been dreading writing this review. I don’t know what’s wrong with me or my reading tastes, but this series just isn’t the series for me. So many of my friends love this series more than anything and you should check out their reviews: Chaima (Muslim ownvoices), Elise, and Emily! But, sadly, I’m calling it quits and I’m not reading the third book. And if you want my honest opinion? Read The Traitor Baru Cormorant, because it’s a better version of (Radu’s storyline especially) this story.

I didn’t hate this book by any means, it’s just really a 2.5 star, middle of the road book for me. And I’m going to try to keep this review short, because I completely recognize that this series just doesn’t work for me! But this is a historical reimagining, starring two children during the fall of Constantinople, but one of those children is a genderbent Vlad the Impaler.

“The world will destroy her in the end. Too much spark leads to explosions. But your sister will destroy as much as she can before she goes out. She will go down in flames and blood.”

Lada is my favorite. She’s cutthroat, ruthless, and such a wonderful character to read about. She, to me, is the shining star of this book. Radu, is alright. I enjoyed his storyline in this book, but again, it was so reminiscent of The Traitor Baru Cormorant, but just done not as well.

I’ll be honest with you, and this might be a tiny bit spoilery so don’t read any further if you want to go into this tale completely unaware of anything, but I hate love triangles where both siblings like the same person. Maybe it is because I’m so close to my brother, and would never do that to him, but it just makes for a truly painful reading experience. And the character in the middle of it? I hate them with a fiery passion already.

But what I loved is Kiersten White’s writing. Every book I pick up by the author, blows me away with one-liner after one-liner. Such a beautiful and lyrical writing style, and I gobble it up every book. And it makes me even more excited to pick up Slayer.

“Perhaps she had never stopped being that girl lost in a place where she could never have power.”

Overall, I think most people would enjoy this series. Hell, I think most people do enjoy this series. And there really are so many good themes and a lot of representation. So, for sure take my review with a grain of salt. And, again, make sure you check out the reviews of the people I linked in the top paragraph. This series just isn’t for me, and that’s okay. Mehmed is legit the worst character in the history of YA. But Nazira and Fatima are worthy of five stars, though.

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Enchantée by Gita Trelease

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ARC provided by Flatiron in exchange for an honest review.

“Remember—magic is a cheater’s game, and everyone who sees it wants to play.”

Enchantée is a book that is set in historical Paris, during 1789, but this is a version of Paris unlike any other. Yes, the French Revolution is beginning, and the people are starving and rioting, while Marie Antoinette and other aristocrats ignore their pleas. But some people in this alternative history are able to wield magic to help make their lives a little easier.

In this world, there are three different types of magic:
Magie Ordinaire – changing things
Glamoire – changing oneself
Magie Bibelot – making objects sentient

This book stars Camille, a young girl able to wield magic, but is very scared to get caught because the stakes are so high. Yet, she still turns magic into scrap metal so that they have a little money to live off of. But her younger sister Sophie is not in the best of health, and both of their parents have just died to smallpox. The only person who is supposed to be looking out for them is their older brother, Alain, who is drinking and gambling away what little money they do have.

But when Camille helps out a couple hot air balloon makers, then she finds a magical dress that is hidden away in a secret trunk, and she ends up taking her and her sisters future into her own hands and will stop at nothing to ensure their health and safety. From there, she throws herself into a world of aristocracy, filled with nobles who do not even realize the food they are wasting while people in the streets are starving.

I wanted to love this so much, friends. But sadly, it just fell so very short for me. I felt like the author was trying to cram so many important things that happened in France in that time into this book, while also trying to write her own story, and both elements just made this entire story feel disjointed and left a lot to be desired. And honestly? Even my synopsis of this book sounds a lot better than the book actually is.

I was so bored throughout. I just kept waiting for something more exciting to happen, but it never did. The twists and turns were so predictable and so lackluster. And them ignoring the gross behavior that Alain displayed made me so angry. And their constant views on sex workers made my eyes almost roll out of my head completely. Oh, and the villain was straight up from a comic, twirling his mustache, I swear!

I will say that one of the main side characters, Lazare, is biracial (Indian and French) and he does have a really good discussion about how he feels like the French never let him forget that he isn’t white. I really appreciated that. I also appreciated that Camille was willing to do whatever it took to care for Sophie. You all know I’m always here for good sibling relationships. But besides these two elements? I really didn’t enjoy this one.

I’m so sorry, friends! I do feel like I’ve been really not enjoying a lot of the historical stories I’ve read in 2018, so maybe you will enjoy this a lot more than I did. A lot of my friends have actually given this one really high praise, too. But I’m wishing you all happy reading, always.

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for degrading comments about women (I honestly feel like I read the word “whore” at least twenty times), slut shaming, physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, illness of a loved one, alcoholism, gambling addiction, loss of a loved one, blood depictions.

Buddy read with Mia at Pens and Parchment, Amy at A Court of Crowns and Quills, & Kayla at Books and Blends! ❤