My Lady Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

I’ve been nuts about the Tudors for years. My collection of both fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudor clan (especially Henry VIII) has grown pretty substantial over the years. I had come across this book on social media a few times, but really had no idea what it was about. Based solely on the cover image and title, I made the guess that we were dealing with a YA historical fiction about the doomed Lady Jane Grey. And I definitely wanted to read it. However, it had a few surprises waiting for me.

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Well all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Courtesy HarperCollins.

I was partially right. The book IS about Lady Jane Grey. Turns out, it’s an alternate history. And has three authors. I was immediately skeptical (Three authors? Alternate history? Would this be a total carriage wreck? ), but decided to go ahead and press onward. This may be been partially due to the fact that I forgot I had the book on my library app. With only until 38 hours before it was due back. Challenge accepted.

Worth every minute. This book was so much fun. I also finished it with probably 10 hours to spare. Winner.

“How,” you say, “can a book about a teenager who gets her head chopped off possibly be fun?” Alternate history, people. It’s not exactly a true story. Take what you already know about Lady Jane Grey, add some magic, some modernized dialogue and TONS of pop culture references, and viola! You have My Lady Jane. This one is definitely going to take another reading for me to catch all of the pop culture references that were going on here. The Princess Bride, Monty Python, heck, I even caught a Jaws reference. I’m certain that there are others I missed.

So, the basics: It’s 1553 and sixteen year old King Edward VI is dying. Lord Dudley convinces him to replace his sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession with his bookish cousin and childhood friend Lady Jane Grey. One hasty marriage later to Gifford Dudley, the younger son of Edward’s chief minister, and Jane becomes the Queen of England after Edward’s death. She was queen for nine days until the Privy Council switched sides and Mary took back the throne.

The first part of the story more or less follows history here. Beyond that… well… you’ll just have to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The extra good news is that the Lady Janies (as the authors call themselves, I love it!) have at least two more books planned rewriting the history of two more Janes from the past! How great is that?!?

For fans of history, the Tudors, fantasy or fun, this is just a no brainer.

The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)

There’s a monster in our wood.
She’ll get you if you’re not good.
Drag you under leaves and sticks.
Punish you for all your tricks.
A nest of hair and gnawed bone.
You are never, ever coming…

Fairfold is a town in between the normal world and the world for faerie. The townspeople have lived side-by-side with the Folk for years, a dangerous balance. Locals are generally safe, but tourists have been known to disappear. Hazel and Ben have spent most of their lives navigating this strange, beautiful, sometimes deadly place and they understand the dangers better than most.

In the woods there is a horned boy lying asleep in a glass coffin. For years he has lain there, an object for tourists to gawk at and the teenagers to have parties around. Both Ben and Hazel have spent years pouring their secrets and dreams to the horned boy. One day, the coffin is shattered and he wakes up. This one act changes everything irreversibly. Now, Hazel finds herself being the knight she always wanted to be, but at what cost?

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Image via Hachette Book Group

We should know after The Raven Cycle I love dark and dreamy. This was loaded with both. Fairfold is like living in a dream on the edge of a nightmare. These are not sweet peaceful faeries from childhood stories, but tricky creatures with little regard for human life. Even the monster is beautiful and horrifying. Holly Black did an amazing job of blending together the modern world and the world of the faerie almost seamlessly.

Hazel, to be blunt, is a total badass. There is romance brewing here, however, it is Hazel, not Jack, Ben or Severin that is the hero. It’s not that the guys aren’t great characters; they are all strong, solid characters with fascinating stories. This isn’t just your run of the mill fairy tale with a damsel in distress. Hazel is not content to sit back and let the guys solve her problems, instead she takes matters spectacularly into her own hands.

I also found Jack to be a particularly interesting character. He is a changeling, one of the fae, but raised by humans. Like the family of his birth, he has many secrets, but still walks a fine line between the world of the Folk and the human world.

And did you see that cover? Gorgeous!

Holly Black is not an author I was previously familiar with, but you can be sure I’ll check out more of her books in the very near future. So glad I stumbled upon this at the library.

The Line Between Us (Kate Dunn) + Giveaway!

I received a copy of The Line Between Us for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Endeavour Press

Ifor Griffith lost both his father and older brother to the Great War. In time, his mother soon convinces him to give up his grammar school education to take a job as a gardener’s boy on the large estate near his Welsh village, where his father used to work as gardener. It is there that he meets and falls in love with Ella, the daughter of the house. This is at a time when status carries great meaning and Ifor knows that nothing can come of their mutual affection. While Ella is away on the continent, he eventually marries Jenny, a librarian.

It’s far from smooth sailing after that, with his longing for Ella a constant in his mind. In time, Ifor enlists to fight in World War II. When the ship requisitioned to rescue him and others from France is bombed by the Germans, it’s his determination to see Ella again that keeps him alive. Will he make it home and tell Ella how he really feels after all these years? Will they life happily ever after?

For starters, this is not a happy book. It’s pretty spectacularly depressing.  I know it sounds strange, but that’s a good thing, in this case. Sometimes a girl just needs a good tear jerker.

It took me a little bit to get used to the writing style. It’s almost as if Ifor is writing a letter to Ella, detailing his life. Once I got used to it, the writing is very evocative. The opening scene, in particular, is amazingly described.  The entire book is just lovely. Sad, but beautifully told.

Ifor himself is a wonderful character. It was impossible for me not to feel for him with everything he goes through in his life. Ella was harder for me to get attached to. She came over as spoiled. It was only through Ifor’s longing for her that I developed any real warmth for her. I liked him, so therefore, I liked her a little more. The supporting characters are great and really helped to fully flesh out the story for me. Mr Brown was a particular favorite, one sure to hit you right in the feels, too.

This story is inspired by the sinking of the Lancastria. This was a story I was unfamiliar with until I read this. It’s only been fairly recently that the story has really been told and I really suggest reading about it. It’s sad and fascinating.

I wasn’t sure going in that I would enjoy this book. Unrequited romances aren’t really my usual thing. But, I am very pleased to say that despite it’s melancholy subject matter, it was very enjoyable. If you need a beautifully written tale with a healthy dose of mournful, you should definitely check out The Line Between Us.

Almost as awesome? A free ebook from Endeavour Press for five lucky winners! They are the very cool publishers of not only The Line Between Us, but also of Busted Flush (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) and many others.

Free ebook from Endeavor press!

The Graces (Laure Eve)

To keep things nice and legal: I received a copy of The Graces from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. That did not affect my opinions.

Looking for Mean Girls, but darker and with a twist? Have I got a book for you.

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Image via Abrams Books

The Graces rule the school. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are the be all, end all of high school: wealthy and beautiful, suspected to be witches, they are popularity itself. River is none of these things. Poor, lonely and unpopular in a new school, like everyone else she would give anything to be a part of the Grace’s circle. But, once she finds herself inside, all is not what it seems. Something dark is cultivated that none of them could have imagined. And when things go wrong, the results are tragic.

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from this book when I started, magic and everyone lives happy ever after, I suppose, but what I got was something else entirely. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. It was fantastic actually; it just wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. No silly love-of-my-life teen romance here.

When I first began reading, the worshipful attitude surrounding the Graces was a little off-putting. I mean seriously, how great could they really be? It makes a certain amount of sense, given that River is new and lonely, but even then it seemed a little excessive. However, it did eventually become clear to me why exactly she holds them in such an exalted status. I can’t tell you why, it gives too much of the twist away.

I don’t know that I can really say that the characters are totally realistic, at least not at first. River seems to be, initially, with her lonesome desperation to be a part of the popular crowd. But things don’t stay that way. I was never at her level of obsession, but I can certainly commiserate: there was a time in my life when I would have loved to have been a part of the “in” crowd (it turns out the crowd I was actually in was FAR better than the popular crowd. But that’s a whole separate story). At first the Grace’s themselves don’t seem very real, they seem like an ideal. As time goes on, however, there this a little tarnish to that ideal, which does make them seem more like mere mortals. But, just like River, I couldn’t help but want to get closer to them.

The story also took a darker turn than I was expecting. With a lot of YA novels they are obviously dealing with apocalyptic scenarios. This one did not, exactly, so I was not looking for events to go where they did. I loved it. So much better than a bunch of lovey-dovey nonsense.

On a side note, you should definitely check out Laure Eve’s website. There is a Spotify playlist just for The Graces and all sorts of other goodies.

I have to recommend this one. It kept me coming back anytime I had to put it down to live in the real world. I definitely would love to see more of the Graces! You can preorder it now and it will be released September 6!

Labyrinth Lost (Zoraida Cordova) + Giveaway!!

As usual, I will mention that I received a free copy of Labyrinth Lost from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. That fact did not affect my opinions.

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Sourcebooks

For Alex and her family, magic is part of life. She is a bruja and the most powerful witch in her family for generations, but she would give it all up to be normal. When she attempts to banish her powers during her Death Day ceremony, things go terribly wrong and her entire family vanishes.  She is forced to travel to Los Lagos, a realm in-between with handsome and complicated brujo Nova who has an agenda all his own, in order to get them back.

Anyone who knows me well could have told you I would have picked up this book initially just on the cover alone. I love sugar skulls. Again, I know, I should probably not pick books based on the cover. I can’t help it, I pick wine the same way. Fortunately, Labyrinth Lost really delivers.

I think that it’s not much of a stretch for many of us to identify with Alex’s desire to be normal. She is different in a world that doesn’t always value the unusual. Being unusual myself, I find her very relatable, except for the whole magic thing. I, much to my chagrin, have yet to discover my magical powers. I liked that it was clear from the beginning, even though she didn’t always appreciate it, that she had the love and support of her family. It was easy to see why she would risk her life to save them.

And what is a book about a journey with out good traveling companions? I think that both Rishi’s unwavering friendship and Nova’s dark mysteriousness and strength helped ultimately shape Alex into someone confident and powerful. Rishi is a great character, but I like complex and mysterious, so Nova really appealed to me. Is he good or bad? Is he some combination of both? Read and see.

Los Lagos is suitably creepy and full of mystery and magic. It’s like a combination Limbo and Wonderland. On Zoraida Cordova’s website there is a map, if you’re into that sort of thing. I am. It also will tell you more about her other books… but that’s another post. I’ll be reading them all, soon I hope.

For me, this reminded me quite a bit of the Beautiful Creatures series, the last book in particular. For those keeping score, that’s a good thing. I loved those books.

In even better news, this is only the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, so there will be more! More Alex and Rishi! Hopefully we’ll find out even more about Nova! Yay! I know I needed another series to read like a hole in the head, but I just can’t seem to stay away from them.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6, and I definitely recommend pre-ordering a copy. For fans of Beautiful Creatures, or  just YA in general, I think it’s one you won’t want to miss.

Finally, to get a little extra into the spirit of Labyrinth Lost, I created a wreath based on the book!

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Want to win the wreath? Enter the giveaway below!

Labyrinth Lost Wreath Giveaway

Busted Flush (Brad Smith)

I received a free copy of Busted Flush from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

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Cover image via Endeavor Press

Dock Bass hates his job and is none to fond of his wife these days. After he learns from a lawyer that he’s inherited some property near Gettysburg, he’s more than happy to make a change. While renovating the Civil War era property he stumbles upon a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia. This includes a recording that might not only have predated Edison, but that might have the voice of Abraham Lincoln. It doesn’t take long for his tranquility to shatter when he is overrun with reporters and opportunists who all want a piece of Dock’s discovery. Can he stand up in the face of this onslaught?

It took me a few chapters to really warm to Busted Flush. The premise was an interesting one, but it started slow. But, after that I really get hooked. By the end, I couldn’t read fast enough, because I just HAD to know how everything was going to turn out. It was full of twists and turns that left me guessing until nearly the last page.

It didn’t hurt that the Civil War was involved. I obviously studied it as a kid in school, but recently got interested again after re-watching Ken Burn’s Civil War (which is amazing, if you haven’t seen it. And on Netflix. Just sayin’.). It isn’t set in the Civil War, but in modern Gettysburg, PA, and the history is a major focus.

The characters are brilliantly and clearly drawn, with quick, witty dialogue. They are all distinct and quirky. Dock’s taciturn silences are nicely balanced with his wit. Others you’ll love and some you’ll love to hate. No perfect characters here, they are all flawed, which makes them wonderfully realistic.

Busted Flush is clever and funny, a wonderful way to add a little excitement to a lazy summer day. A quick scan of Brad Smith’s website suggests his other books will probably be just as interesting.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne)

Ah, Harry Potter. One of the great loves of my life.

Image courtesy of Scholastic
Image courtesy of Scholastic

This will actually be a pretty short review, simply because to write something longer would run the risk of spoilers. I don’t want to be that jerk.

For those of you who have been living a deep, dark hole for the last year or so, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth Harry Potter story, in the form of a script. But please, don’t let that deter you, it is still just as magical as the original stories.

The script format is weird at first, but it didn’t take to long for me to fall into the rhythm of it. Did I like it as much as I would have a regular book?  I can’t honestly say that I did, however, it was still enjoyable. I just felt more disconnected to the story that I would have with a more traditional format. It doesn’t give you the same glimpse into the character’s thoughts and emotions.

That being said, it was still full of delightful surprises for any fan of the series. It took multiple turns that I wasn’t expecting. The original characters still felt comforting and familiar. It was like seeing an old friend after a long absence. But now, they are all grown up, with grown up concerns. That’s something I think people need to keep in mind here: 20 years have passed. They have children, the world is a different place than it was in the original books. These are not flawless heroes, but humans. I liked that in particular about this play.  There were also plenty of new characters to fall in love with.

I know many are torn: this is a play, it’s meant to be seen. I agree with that. However, living in the middle of Missouri, it’s not likely to be showing near me anytime soon and my budget does not allow me to travel to it. If I couldn’t imagine the visuals, I wouldn’t be much of a reader anyway, and the stage directions really helped build those visuals in my mind. Although, there was still a fair amount of wondering exactly how they will pull some of those things off on stage. I still plan on trying to go see the play as soon as I am able.

As a voracious fan, I couldn’t stand to wait any longer to find out how this story would develop. I think it was well worth it. It brought a certain sense of closure to some things. And I know J.K. Rowling has said this is for sure the end of Harry Potter, but I can’t help but fell this left some wiggle room for more. A girl can hope, anyway.

And I shouldn’t even have to say so, but please, PLEASE don’t post spoilers. I will delete your comment and wish for unpleasantness to befall you.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest (Melanie Dickerson)

I really wish I had done some more research before picking up this book.  I found it on my library’s app as one of the books recommended for me.   I saw a pretty cover.  I saw what looked like a YA fairy tale.  I snatched it right up.

Random forest picture: more interesting than the book.
Random forest picture: more interesting than the book.

As it turns out, this is apparently for adults.  I did not get that reading the book, I picked it up from reading reviews on Goodreads.  It’s also Christian fiction, which is not a deal breaker, but not my top choice nor what I expected going in.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest is a sort of mash up between The Swan Princess and a gender swapped Robin Hood.  The beautiful Odette poaches deer from the Margrave of Thornbeck’s forest in order to feed poor children living along the city walls.  She meets and falls for the handsome Jorgen, who just so happens to be the Margrave’s forester, and is charged with keeping poachers out of the forest.

So, where to start here?

Both of these characters are just so wholesome and sweet they make my teeth hurt.  Even the villains of the piece (whose identities I won’t spoil, just in case you have a real hankering to read this one) aren’t really that bad, for the most part.  Odette and Jorgen don’t really seem to have any flaws.  Even Odette’s  law breaking ways are entirely altruistic.  Ugh.  They are just beautiful and perfect and painfully boring.  I kind of hated them both.

Even though this is supposed to be a medieval setting, you only sort of vaguely got a sense of that.  All of the focus seemed to be on the characters and how great they were that the rest of the setting was sort of superfluous.  Aside from the occasional German word thrown in, this could have been set almost anywhere European-ish pre-1900 or so.  She does describe the clothes, if Odette or Jorgen are wearing them.

As far as the Christian aspect goes, it was only occasionally a little heavy handed.  I could live with it.  However, by the end of the book, while the wrong doers were punished (relatively mildly), there was one conversation that would have ruined the whole book for me, had I not already disliked it.  As Odette is getting ready to head to church for her wedding, she is talking to her married friend Anna.  The gist of this conversation seems to be that, as a woman, it’s ok to have your opinions, but you should always do as your husband tells you.

Can I just go ahead and say it?  BULLSHIT.  I won’t get too feminist here, but just leave it at that, except to add: good luck to any man who thinks I’m going to constantly defer to him.  I’ve had relationships end for that garbage.  I understand that this is supposed to be the Middle Ages, and that was sort of their thing, but it was completely unnecessary to the plot. I don’t like that the author, who is a woman, is pushing this crap on her readers.

I read many other reviews that said you would be super surprised by the twist in this book and would never see it coming.  Those people must not read many things with any sort of complexity, because the foreshadowing was practically a brick to the face and it wasn’t too hard to figure out where things were going.  That is part of why I never realized this book was really for adults until after I had looked into more.  It was pretty simplistic.  In fact, most YA books are way, way more complex.

Obviously, this is not a book I recommend.  In fact, it’s fairly safe to say I hated it.  Don’t read this book.  Find something interesting.

Menagerie (Rachel Vincent)

For the second week in a row, I must mention that I received a free copy of this book (through Edelwiess) in exchange for an honest review. This didn’t affect my opinion of the book.

“But if monsters could look like humans, and humans could look like monsters, how could anyone ever really be sure that the right people stood on the outside of all those cages?” (Rachel Vincent, Menagerie)

When Delilah Morrow visits Metzger’s Menagerie for her 25th birthday, she is a completely normal bank teller. After an incident at the Menagerie pushes Delilah to her breaking point, things go too far and within 24 hours she finds herself stripped of all rights, chained, considered property and in a cage, an attraction in the very Menagerie she was visiting. In a world where the “monsters” are real, her life is now worth less than nothing. But who are truly the monsters? Those inside of the cages, or the keepers and spectators at the Menagerie? Will Delilah’s spirit break, or will she break free?

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I couldn’t stop reading this book. The world within was so richly built and so easy to picture. Was it horrifying? Absolutely, but incredibly believable. Most of the book takes place within Metzger’s Menagerie. At first, it seems like a completely magical place, where you can see creatures like griffons, mermaids, werewolves, chimeras. But, it doesn’t take long to see the true horror of the place peaking through, the mistreatment and abuse of sentient creatures. Even knowing that this is fiction, its still completely heartbreaking.

This all takes place in a world where cryptids are real and considered the enemy. Families have been ripped apart by the tragedy of the Reaping, a horrible event that took place in the 80s. After that, cryptids became outlawed, they have no rights and their lives are forfeit.

While some reviews I have read said that there wasn’t enough character building to create real connection to the characters, I disagree. Claudio and Genni, in particular, are heart wrenching. Gallagher, Delilah’s handler, and Eryx, the minotaur, both keep you wondering. And while some found Delilah annoying, I love her strength and her smart ass spirit. This book is incredibly dark, but her refusal to give up, makes it seem as if there is always a light at the end of that tunnel.

I cannot wait for the next book in this series to come out. There are so many possibilities and such big hopes built up for me that even after one book I feel truly invested in the lives of these characters. I’ll eagerly await the next book.

This is only the first book in the series. It’s out in paperback in September, for those who don’t want to spring for the hardcover, the wait isn’t long. The next in the series, Spectacle is out next year.

Why I Love Books

This post is a little bit different for me, which is why I’m posting it separately from the usual Friday book review. I feel like it’s time to get a little bit personal.

I really know very few people in my personal life that read. Not those who are often too busy to read as much as they would like, but those who actively dislike reading. They do not understand at all how I can spend the money I do on books and how I can want to spend so much time on them.

I find this painful. I don’t understand how they simply don’t read when books are like air to me: a necessity for my very existence. To simply not read is completely unfathomable for me.

I couldn’t say exactly what triggered this love of a lifetime for me. It’s possible that it was my mother forcing books on us while we were in the tub (a captive audience that couldn’t run away). I do know that at least a few of these books have made their way into my favorites, even now. Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner are the two I remember the most and are still just a complete comfort to me. She was the one who insisted I read Harry Potter when I dismissed it as a silly book for children. Whew. Was I wrong about that one.

I remember discovering my aunt’s old Nancy Drew books in the closet at my grandmother’s house. Today, I have a fairly impressive collection of Nancy Drew myself, including an almost complete set of the original 1930s books.

I’ve loved ghost stories since I was little. I sought out ghost story books at the library and in books stores. I was lucky to be a kid during the height of the Goosebumps craze. Now, I own a large, but my no means complete, R.L. Stine collection.

Exhibit A: Part of giant R.L. Stine collection. Behold it's glory.
Exhibit A: Giant R.L. Stine collection. Behold it’s glory.

 

Exhibit B: Well worn and much loved ghost stories from childhood.
Exhibit B: Well worn and much loved ghost stories from childhood. Yes, I know the shelf is dusty. Ain’t nobody got time for that. There are books to be read…

I recall devouring books on the Ancient Egyptians and mummies in third grade (another love I’ve had most of my life) and picking up adult novels by fourth grade or so. I always eagerly picked out a ridiculous number of books in the Scholastic book order pamphlets and at the book fairs. I was lucky to have parents who did not stifle my deep affection for books. I certainly wasn’t given all the books I wanted, but I can’t remember the reading ever being discouraged, and I was certainly indulged a fair amount.

I’m sure there was a time when I didn’t love to read, but I don’t remember it. I can’t even imagine it.

So basically, here is what I’m building to: I have anxiety. I have had it in varying degrees since I was a kid. I’ve been medicated for it, but I don’t like the side effects and these days I try to do without it as much as I can stand. If you’ve never had it, for one, lucky you, but for two, it’s very hard to explain. For me, it’s a tightness in my chest that won’t go away, I obsess over things completely out of my control, I don’t go places and do things because it’s nothing but constant worry. I can’t sleep because my brain won’t stop. My jaw hurts and I have headaches because I can’t stop clenching my teeth. And the worry. Just constant worrying over EVERYTHING in my life. When it’s at it’s worst, the anxiety owns me. I’m certain that it makes me very hard to live with.

But, when I read, I can make all of that seem peripheral for a little while. Reading makes it possible for me to be unmedicated and still function. It’s an escape. I can live in a different world and be someone else. When my reality gets bad I can read an entire series in no time at all.

I wish I could share that feeling with all the people I know who say they hate to read. When I read a really good book it is an unbelievably comforting, satisfying feeling.

It is probably a little dramatic to say that reading has saved my life, but I don’t know who I would be or what kind of shape I would be in mentally without it. Sometimes, just knowing I can read at the end of the day is the only thing that gets me through things. I have overflowing bookshelves and no space, and they are a HUGE pain to have to move, but I wouldn’t give up my collection for about anything. I’m very lucky to live with someone who doesn’t mind that I fill every available space with books (although I have been assured that should we ever move, I’m responsible for moving all of them, unassisted).

I’ve always wanted to be a writer myself. So far, I haven’t been able to make that happen. It may never happen for me, but I’ll keep trying. Someday, I would like to know that words that I have written have helped someone else in a situation similar to mine. In the meantime, this blog is the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s completely wonderful to be able to look at reading books as a job. I might never make any money doing this, but I can’t see myself stopping. I’ve had another blog before, but didn’t stick with it. It turned into work in the most pejorative sense. This blog I CANNOT WAIT to write each week. That’s job satisfaction I certainly cannot claim from my 9-5.

To those who write: what you’re doing matters so much. I would not be the person I am without you. Or my mom… who forced me to listen to all those books when I didn’t want to appreciate them. I certainly appreciate it now. And most profound thanks to a lifetime of patient and helpful librarians, and family and friends who understand when I say I want books, I really mean it.

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More books. Because: books.