The Black Moon #BookReview

The-Black-Moon

The Black Moon is Winston Graham’s fifth novel in his Poldark series. He wrote the first four books at a younger time of his life and decades later when he was older he resumed the Poldark series and completed it with a total of 13 books. I adored the first four books of the series,  so much so that I gave up watching the BBC adaptation because it fell short of my expectations and so much shorter than the books.

I prefer the original Poldark, which is a nuanced character but still very reliable as to his reactions. The BBC Poldark, I found, was altogether too extravagant and emotionally unreliable, not at all like the more guarded and passionately committed Poldark of the books.

Having said all of this, I was reticent to continue with the Poldark series after having finished the first four books. I had this fear that Winston Graham would not be able to do his characters justice because of having continued the series at a later point in his life. This was an unfair assumption on my part, I should have never doubted the artist, who was after all the creator of these characters.

One of the things that breaks my heart about Poldark–and it’s not such an obvious thing in the narrative–is how his station changes throughout the books. He’s a gentleman and a true aristocrat, really, in the first book, and to say that he declines due to the plays of fate and as a result of his own choices throughout the rest of the books is too much of a harsh statement, but perhaps not so far from the truth.

Not because of Demelza, his wife of low birth but of a giving, loving and noble heart. No, not because of her. Demezla is Poldark’s salvation in many ways. But because of himself. We see this throughout the first four books, how Poldark makes a bad decision after another, and how his obsession for Elizabeth, his first love, never dies and serves only to bring him further sorrow. Instead of building himself as a nobleman, it seems he’s fighting the whole world, and this is Poldark’s main flaw. He is so well educated and has such an outstanding character, yet time and again he makes rash, impulsive decisions which only serve to belittle him in the long run.

THE BLACK MOON, thankfully, does not continue this trend. Here we see a revived Poldark, an older and perhaps wiser Poldark in many ways, though he still continues making risky decisions (but this time, they only bring about happiness and good for others, thank goodness). His pesky love for Elizabeth is subdued, but I’m afraid it’ll come to life once again in the next book (I am certainly not looking forward to that). A calmer Poldark, and also, too, a wiser and older, more knowledgeable Demelza. It’s a treat to see them grow together and to witness their interactions and their marriage, which are my favorite parts of the books.

I am looking forward to continuing this series. If, perhaps THE BLACK MOON does not live up to the passionate and relentless nature of the first four Poldark books, it is a treat nonetheless in the sense that it gives the reader a chance to breathe and to inhabit this world, this english Cornwall, and even grow more attached to it than we first were. I will decidedly continue the series and look forward, if not to the heartbreak that the coming books will deliver, to the reaction of the characters to what happens.

Poldark is all about the actions and reactions of characters and the consequences this has on their lives, for ill mostly, throughout the rest of the series. So it is heartbreaking, but also redeeming, because of the open-heartedness and nobility that some characters choose to exhibit throughout these circumstances (namely Demelza, the jewel of the story, but also Poldark in no small measure thanks to her influence). I am eager to see this story through.

Rating: ****

The Bone Queen #BookReview

bonequeen

I was not familiar with Alison Croggon’s epic saga “The Books of Pellinor”, so when I picked up The Bone Queen, which is a recently written and published sequel to the 4-book “Pellinor” series, I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately for me, though, since the book is a sequel I was introduced to the characters and their stories without feeling like I was missing out on key information.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the writing. I have been yearning for deeper fiction for a while now, specifically deeper fantasy, having gotten tired of the commercial and easily digestible fantasy books that are all the rage nowadays. I definetely got what I wanted. The writing is beautiful, some might perhaps find the pace a bit slow in the beginning, but I personally relished the chance of losing myself in the beautiful narrative and the carefully-constructed words.

The fantasy in this book is not only deep and soulful, but also somewhat scientific–without losing the intuitive edge that makes magic and fantasy so alluring in stories. It pulled me in right away, and didn’t let me go until the last page. Magic and the state of a person’s soul is intimately related in this book, so whatever level of spirituality you’re at directly influences the amount of magical talent that is latent within you. Hence, the most talented magicians are usually people with well-developed and articulated souls, masters in a way, which all reminded me a bit of the jedi order without feeling like it was a complete rip-off (because it’s not, at all. There’s no light-sabers, for starters).

The characters are well-developed, and not only that, but they’re mature. They have a degree of self-awareness that I have missed seeing in the characters of recent books (what with their irritating naiveté and emotional immaturity). This doesn’t mean that the characters in The Bone Queen don’t have flaws. By all means, they do, even the most spiritually advanced magicians have some very real and serious flaws, it would be unrealistic if they didn’t. But these flaws are approached and dealt with from a mature place, through mature perspectives, and this is what marks the difference in this book.

If I have one qualm it would be the pacing of the plot. Nothing major happens for a while, which is all right because the narrative and the characters push the story forwards anyways, but then everything happens so suddenly in the last third of the book that I was left struggling to keep up with this rapid change of pace. What’s more, the conflict is resolved so swiftly in the last chapters that it felt somewhat anti-climactic.

I definetely want to buy and read the rest of the books in The Pellinor Series, which were written approximately 10-15 years ago (the first book, “The Gift”, was published in 2003). What’s more, I would like to make The Pellinor Series part of my print collection, starting with The Bone Queen which I serendipitously bought as a paperback. I usually read from my kindle nowadays and am in the process of donating a large number of my print books to free up space in my print library. I only want to keep the print books that I really like, the books I would like my children to read someday, and the books which are timeless classics. Everything else just takes up space. But The Pellinor Series, I believe, would stand the test.

I recommend this book to any fantasy fan that is interested in a deeper system of magic than what is currently displayed in the popular, recently published fantasy books of today.

Rating: ****

#BookReview FROSTBLOOD by Elly Blake

frostb

YA high fantasy

I am a huge fan of fantasy, it doesn’t matter if it’s adult fantasy or YA or MG, it is absolutely my favorite genre as a reader (and writer) and I will eagerly read any category it is in. That said, I have had trouble finding good fantasy as of late, and YA fantasy in particular is filled with the same tropes, themes, plot points, and conflicts, to the point where it starts to get repetitive and one book blends into the other.

“Frostblood”, by Elly Blake, is not entirely excluded from this phenomena. There is a chosen one; a boy which starts off as a rival of sorts but ends up morphing into a romantic love interest; an arena of gladiators which is sort of reminiscent to “The Hunger Games” where only one comes out alive; and a far-off land divided into different factions that are branded by their abilities.

But even though this book is not entirely fresh, it doesn’t mean it’s not good. The best part of the story, for me, was right in the middle, when the romance actually starts to develop, which I found touching and well-done. The character of the boy was fleshed out to perfection, and even though the protagonist, Ruby, was oblivious to his family roots, it’s something that an attentive reader can predict basically almost after the first third of the book is over. Which is why the climactic moment of the book doesn’t feel so climactic in the end, but rather predictable, and Ruby seems naïve for not having figured it out.

Ruby not seeing this big revelation coming is something that can be traced to her age. Characters in YA novels are so immersed in their own feelings and thoughts that they are hardly attentive to other character’s intentions/backgrounds/feelings, which makes most of them seem either naïve, self-absorbed, bad observers, or a combination of the three. Ruby also suffers from this.

Even though I mentioned that the boy’s character was fleshed out to perfection, I have to add that he undergoes such a change towards the end of this book that it’s hard not to think of it as character assassination up to a point. He goes from being this reserved, controlled, icy warrior to a boy completely subdued by his romantic feelings for the main character. Of course we can attribute this to true love, but it would have been nice if some of the “frosty” elements of his character wouldn’t have been completely wiped out by the end of the novel.

Another point I had trouble with was the introduction of new characters in the middle of the novel. Having met them later on in the story, it’s hard for me as a reader to connect with them or even care whether they live or die. Some characters also felt boxy and stereotypical, while others were so unpredictable to the point of being incomprehensible to me. When one of these characters dies and another is devastated by it, I failed to connect with the character’s feelings of devastation, because there was no build-up in this relationship for me to care about him losing a person so close to his heart.

This is a good story, and I commend Blake for having completed it so successfully and tying up all the loose ends. The mythological aspects of it are also interesting, what with the gods and demons which turn out to be more real than Ruby, or I, ever expected them to be, which I’m okay with. This is a fantasy after all. However, this book could have stood alone. There is a sequel coming out, and I understand the whole story is a series, when it could have ended perfectly there and then (with a few minor tweaks and perhaps a chapter or two more to wrap up the story), making it a legit stand-alone fantasy book without the need of any continuation.

Rating: **

How the publishing industry botched New Adult

new adult

About five years ago a new trend took over the publishing industry. It was called NEW ADULT. For those of you unfamiliar with this trend, “New Adult” was a new age category for readers approximately 18-25 years of age. The characters of said books were usually within this age range as well.

The category was initially intended as a stepping stool between the Young Adult category for readers age 12-18 and the adult category for readers age 18+. The reasoning behind New Adult was that many readers (myself included at the time) appreciated the distinction between between the “adulthood” of your late teens / early twenties and the other type of adulthood, the one that sets in after you hit 25 and have a more stable life and bigger responsibilities (for most of us at least).

Because let’s face it, the “adulthood” of your college years is not the same “adulthood” of your post-college working years. And literature should be able to reflect that. Or at least, that was the hope.

When New Adult took off, I was very excited. To be honest I envisioned a ton of new fantasy books with characters between this age range. I thought it would be very interesting to mix the elements of fantasy with the mindset and viewpoint of characters in their early twenties… which are adults but have not wholly figured things out yet and may still be grappling with issues like dealing with new responsibilities and the like. This translated into a fantastical setting might yield something interesting.

I envisioned New Adult science fiction. New Adult dystopia. New Adult historical. New Adult contemporary. I envisioned a whole new world of possibilities… because that’s what an age category is, right? It’s a category to fit in a whole bunch of genres. Just like there is YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA dystopia, and adult fantasy, sci-fi, etc… There should have been New Adult everything.

Sadly, that was not how our poor fledgling New Adult was treated.

What sparked off the New Adult trend was a couple of bestselling self-published romance books. So naturally, literary agents and publishers of the industry decided to buy and publish ONLY (or mostly) New Adult romance, because they wanted to capitalize on the trend. Their vision didn’t extend to beyond this or to what the category could become. So from its begginings New Adult was not treated as an age category, but as a genre. Or rather, as a sub-genre… of Romance.

Obviously in a couple of years the market became saturated with New Adult, which became equivalent to “Romance between people in their early twenties”, and the trend died off completely. The Age Category, which was never treated as such, was effectively killed.

My urban fantasy book The Sun Child features a 22 year old protagonist grappling with the morality behind having the power to heal and kill others at will. In my mind this is a perfect example of one of the many ways New Adult could have expanded as a category, but didn’t, because of a short-mindedness that spread within the industry. So I label my book Adult for commercial purposes, though I would have liked to label it New Adult.

And that’s the sad story of how the publishing industry botched New Adult.

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#BookReview A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

shade of magic

Fantasy

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab is a gem of a fantasy in a sea of over-hyped books with the same used and reused tropes and unrealistic characters. Schwab’s fantasy is none of this, and it shines with its brilliancy and gives this reader a much needed breath of fresh air.

The characters are original—from spoiled yet brave Kell to ruthless, cunning and funny Lila—the setting is so rich that it’s quite easy to suspend your belief and get lost in this tale of the four Londons, and the plot and pacing moves ahead with breathtaking speed. This story has tight writing, entertaining plot, and engaging action from the beginning to the end. I would have liked some scenes to be more drawn out, but no matter. I can forgive this. The plot must move on.

Kell, the main character, is to die for. I don’t think I’ve read a book with a male main character that is just the right degrees of tough and soft, the right balance between cutthroat and sensible, and spoiled yet deeply realistic. The bond he has with his brother, Rhy, the Prince of Red London, is also just the right amount of touching without bordering on being cheesy. Kell is an immensely likeable character, one of those characters that the reader can’t help but love, like Harry Potter, or Gandalf. Only Kell is neither a boy nor an ancient wizard, but a man in the prime of his life.

But that is not all. Lila, the girl in the story, steals the show. What with her dreams of adventures and being a pirate, this cutthroat girl is a little more “fringe”, or a-lot more “fringe”, than Kell, and the story is made all the brighter for it. She is not afraid to fight, she is not afraid to kill, and she listens to her gut, even if her gut impels her to walk right into the most dangerous setting she has ever encountered in her life. Reading her and following her around in the story was an absolute treat.

I recommend this book to any fantasy reader out there. Really, any of you, whether you enjoy epic fantasy, urban fantasy, high or low fantasy, just fantasy in general. It will not disappoint. I am very much looking forward to reading the second and third installment of this series.

Rating: *****

Previous review: HUNTED by Meagan Spooner

Coming up: THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen

#BookReview HUNTED by Meagan Spooner

hunted

YA fantasy/ fairy tale re-telling

HUNTED by Meagan Spooner is a re-telling of the classic story of The Beauty and the Beast set in Russia somewhere around the 1200’s. I was expecting to like this book, and I did, even though I haven’t read much fairy tale re-tellings. It started off a bit slow and didn’t really get going until about 25% of the way through. There was a-lot of backstory and scenes I felt could’ve been reduced or cut out at the very beginning to make the pacing a little bit tighter, but then again all of the pieces fell together to form a neat little picture by the end of it all, so it’s hard not to see this book as perfectly complete the way it is.

I liked the Fairy Tale background of it all and the way the main characters seemed be in tune with a magical or spiritual world in the deep woods that is just outside the reach of the rest of the characters. The fact that it was set in snowy Russia also gave the story the perfect ambience for the plot to develop.

The beast was my favorite character, he felt so human throughout the entire story that my heart broke for him in almost every scene he was in. Beauty was a relatable character, if at times she fell a little flat and repetitive in terms of her feelings. Discovering the true identity of the beast was also a nice treat within the story and perfectly in tune with its Fairy Tale background.

I wish there would’ve been a little more romance. I’m usually all for toning down the romance in YA, but this time I wish it would’ve been turned up. By the end of the story, while it was clear the beauty and the beast loved each other, it didn’t necessarily feel like romantic love, but a love between two kindred spirits who don’t really feel like lovers, just like really, really good friends.

Because of the Fairy Tale background and the original spin to this classic story, I give it four stars. Because of the lack of romance and the somewhat slow beginning and repetitive feelings of the main character, I don’t give it the full five stars.

Rating: ****

Previous Review: WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke

Coming up: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

How I overcame my Night Terrors/Sleep Paralysis

sleep paralysis

I want to share this experience in case anyone has suffered or is suffering from something similar to sleep paralysis and/or night terrors, and explain how I managed to solve this problem without the intervention of any psychiatric treatment.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was 13 years old when it first happened. I’ll never forget it. It was night-time, I was tucked inside the covers of my bed, on my way to sleep, dozing off… and suddenly I felt it. A complete body lockdown. My mind was awake—fully conscious, fully aware—but my body was completely asleep. My eyes were a little bit open, so I could see the room around me. I tried moving my arms, nothing. My legs, nothing. I began to panic… I even thought I was dying at one point.

And then they came.

Several dwarf-sized creatures with black bodies, bright eyes and big mouths with white, sharp teeth appeared out of nowhere and started dancing around my bed, laughing at me, mocking me, making fun of the fact that I couldn’t move my body. They’d jump on the bed and get really close to me, without actually touching me, and then jump back off.

I started screaming… and no sound came out. I couldn’t scream with my voice, my body wouldn’t respond to my will, but I could hear myself scream in my own mind, and this seemed to trigger the creatures. One of them jumped on top of the desk in front of my bed and set a Bible on fire. It wasn’t a physical Bible… it was the Image of a Bible that the fucking black creature conjured up, a red book that had BIBLE written on it in golden letters on its cover. He set fire to it and then just stared at me, smiling, with its huge mouth and pointy teeth.

I was desperate at this point. I tried screaming again, hoping it would work this time and that my yells would attract my parents to my room who would somehow save me from this… but once again, the screams were only in my mind. I was alone with these creatures… totally and utterly alone.

Panicking, I willed and willed and willed myself to move, but nothing happened. The creatures were getting rowdier. They were running around the room laughing and dancing around the burning Bible. Feeling totally helpless, and not knowing what would happen, I surrendered to everything and started to pray. I started repeating the Lord’s Prayer in my mind over and over again, like a mantra.

The creatures continued laughing, but I didn’t stop praying. I repeated this for several minutes… until finally I started hearing a ringing in my ears, and in one violent jerking motion I felt myself being ripped out of my body upwards, and into an altered state of consciousness.

I was no longer in my room, but I didn’t feel like I was in a dream, either. Everything felt way too conscious for a dream. I was in a dark space, and there were several grown men and women with white and red robes holding scribes of different sizes in their hands walking around the dark space. One by one, all of them slowly began to fade away… and then a curtain opened up, and I could see a bright white Light… and in the center of this white Light I saw a large figure on a throne… but I couldn’t see his face.

The figure on the throne spoke to me, and I’m hesitant to say it spoke about Love. Because it sounds insane, no? This meeting with the being that I don’t want to name right now for fear of sounding delusional. Anyways, it spoke to me about Love, and it pulled me closer to him, closer to the throne he was sitting on. It also spoke to me about my life, about what I would live in the future (remember I was only 13 at the time). I don’t remember his exact words, but only the general feeling. And the general feeling was of the greatest possible comfort, of the greatest possible reassurance and safety and Love.

And then I woke up. It was morning.

This was the first and only time I had a meeting with a Higher Being after one of these night terror episodes. A meeting of this kind has never happened to me again, but for the next three years, the sleep paralysis continued.

I started experiencing them once or twice a week. It was always different creatures, or terrors, that came. That was the worst thing, I just didn’t know what to expect or what would show up.

Fortunately I had developed some resistance after that first episode. If I willed my body to move for long enough… if I thought to myself: I am GOING to move my arm… I’m going to do it I’m going to do it I’m going to do it… then after several minutes of what felt like excruciating mental effort, my arm would move… and the minute my physical body woke up, the creatures disappeared. Sometimes I had to go through this two or three times a night, forcing my body awake, before finally being able to fall asleep the regular way. Other times my mind would simply shut down from the shock of these images and I would fall asleep in the middle of the hallucinations.

One time I saw hooded figures hovering above me. Their robes would float in mid-air, their faces hidden in the shadows of their hoods. These creatures would be completely silent, totally still. And then all of a sudden, one of them would dive towards my body in an accelerated motion, and at the last possible second it would swerve away. And then another hooded figure would do this, and another and another, until I was being attacked by them from all sides.

Another time I saw green tazmanian-like devils with sharp extremities that were really, really fast, and had a screeching, high-pitched voice. They were small and mean, and threatened to cut me up into little pieces with their razor-like claws.

Probably the worst image I saw was that of a dead, rotting donkey carcass, split open in half, lying next to me on my bed. Inside the donkey’s carcass… was my Mother’s dead, naked, pale body… rotting as well, her eyes open, staring directly at me. There were flies and worms and guts lying all over my bed… the combined guts of both my mother and the donkey.

It was torture, guys.

It was absolute torture.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important to state none of these creatures actually touched me. Ever. Not one single of the many creatures ever actually touched my body during these hallucinations.
I remember I used to prepare myself before going to sleep in case I got sleep paralysis that night. I would take deep breaths and mentally prepare myself to bear the hallucinations, whatever they may be this time.

I suffered this from the ages of 13 to 16. I never told my parents or anyone else about it. I didn’t trust anyone to understand. I didn’t understand myself! I thought I was turning schizophrenic and that if I said anything to any grown-up, they would make me go on pills, or lock me up, or study me, or something.

At 16, I finally made a breakthrough in solving this problem. I was studying esoterism, and came across the description somewhere of the Astral creatures that live in between the waking and sleeping states. Creatures like sucubuses and incubuses (although I never saw anything I could define as either one of those), and more.

When I came to the realization that these creatures I was seeing during my sleep paralysis episodes might be actual Astral entities and not the result of early-onset Schizophrenia, I started thinking of ways I could ward off these entities. While doing so, I remembered my first experience with sleep paralysis, and how I was yanked out of my body and into the presence of the bright being of Light, and how secure and safe I felt in its presence. This gave me an idea.

Every night before going to sleep, I would imagine a white bright Light emanating from my center outwards, from my heart outwards. I would submerge myself in the feeling that I was surrounded by protective entities of light, that I was safe and secure in their bosom, that I was taken care of, and that nothing could harm me.
What I was doing was effectively replicating the feeling I had in the meeting with the great being of Light on his throne, the meeting that had saved me from my first experience with the night terrors. I would re-create that feeling within me and submerge myself in the imagination of the white Light for a long time… and then I would fall asleep.

I did this every night. At first, the night terrors and sleep paralysis continued, but after a few weeks of keeping up with this practice, the hallucinations gradually started wearing off, until they stopped completely, and my sleep paralysis disappeared. I kept up with that practice for a few months longer, as a safety measure, and then I stopped. The creatures didn’t come back.

I still get sleep paralysis about once a year (at most), but pretty much without any kind of hallucination.

Looking back on this experience, I know there are a variety of possibilities to explain what I was seeing. I could have been experiencing some form of atavistic clairvoyance. The creatures and everything else I saw could have just been part of my shadow self.

Or, as I thought when I was 16, they could be real astral entities fucking with my mind in that in-between state of consciousness, just because they could. Actual demons psychologically tormenting me for whatever reason.

Whatever it was, it’s long over, thank god.

If anyone here has gone through something similar, or has a kid that’s going through something similar… bear in mind, in case you want to try it, that what finally relieved my suffering from night terrors and sleep paralysis was imagining a bright white light emanating from the heart outwards before going to sleep every night, combined with a feeling of trust in the protection of the Higher Powers.

#BookReview WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight

YA mystery/suspense

I decided to read “Wink Poppy Midnight” by April Genevieve Tucholke because I am a fan of her debut novel, “By the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (I am currently reading the sequel, “Between the Spark and the Burn”, and liking it well enough), and find her writing both enthralling and magical by moments. I like her as a writer and consider her to be very talented, which means I will likely read all of her work as it keeps coming out.

Tucholke has mastered a certain lyrical style that fits the mood, ambience, and themes of her stories to perfection. In this sense, “Wink Poppy Midnight” doesn’t disappoint. The same enthralling writing is still there, even though I would like to point out it felt a bit more unrealistic this time around. To a certain degree, the author needs to subtly separate his or herself, and her underlying voice, from the characters she writes and who they are. At moments, especially when it came to Wink, Tucholke’s own voice seemed to impregnate the character and the narration completely, and I couldn’t tell if it was Wink or Tucholke speaking, and this detracted from the “realness” of the character itself.

Wink shines best when viewed through the eyes of Midnight, who idealizes her, but Midnight himself I found to be a weak character, probably the weakest of the trio. I didn’t understand how he could not react more strongly to certain events in the plot, and grew frustrated with this, but I could not tell if this was just a part of his character or if it showed a lack in Tucholke’s writing and interpretation of him. Writing boys is different than writing girls, they are by nature much more aggressive and upfront, but Midnight I found to be passive, malleable, and easily manipulated, which annoyed me. However, this could just be a matter of personal taste.

The best character, the most fleshed out, and vivid, and realistic, and understandable character was by far the “villain” of the Story: Poppy. Followed by mystical Wink, and then by Midnight.

Speaking of the story, there is not really a defined plot to it, which is totally okay with me. The characters decide the events of the story, they are the ones furthering the plot along, and one character in particular is the mastermind of all that happens. There are several twists and turns, more than I could predict, which was great, because I love a good surprise.

One character is a hero, one character is a villain, and one character is a liar… or so the blurb of this book goes. What’s fascinating is finding out exactly who is who, and if any of them fit any of these labels exactly (Spoiler: They don’t. We’re all human, we’re all a mix of everything, both good and bad, and nothing is ever what it seems).

The one point, the one single point which I found confusing and which prevents me from giving this book a higher rating, is the fact that I didn’t understand the primary motive of the book’s most enigmatic character. I didn’t understand why they did everything they did… and for what reason. And frankly, if I don’t understand the reason, the aftertaste of this leaves me feeling that the character is sort of psychopathic/sociopathic, and maybe even the true villain of it all. It would have been nice to have a bit more clarity regarding this character’s motive.

Besides that, this is a fun, entertaining, and suspenseful read.

Rating: ***

Coming up: HUNTED by Meagan Spooner