Category Archives: reading

Not Quite Failing. Ish.

Remember how I was all about using this for accountability on my reading goals, how I was going to get regular content out of it all? *sigh* Yeah, me too. I blame the fumes of “thank goodness 2016 is over” for that youthful optimism.

The good news is that in spite of “blog regularly” being a fail, my own personal diversifying challenge is still holding up.

#ownvoices – I went the YA path for this one since my work YA/juvenile reading challenge was still underway, reading Diverse Energies, a collection of short dystopian stories with an emphasis on diversity in both authorship and setting. I went into it warily, not because short story collections are hit or miss (it’s a feature of the genre that I’m aware of), but because after the end of the Divergent trilogy, I threw the book across the room, lamented the hours I lost to it, and declared YA dystopian lit DEAD to me. Dead and buried. Deep as I could go. But this collection… well, it didn’t give me a hankering to read about another simplistically divided society with a (typically white) Chosen Teen to save it, but I enjoyed it, which is an acceptable enough outcome. Standout stories to me were the ones from Malinda Lo and Ken Liu, both very different in tone and content, but good enough to make me seek more of them out, and I went on to read Lo’s Ash per a friend’s recommendation and loved it, so hey, bonus points.

New or forthcoming – This title was a newly released one, Ellen Klages’ Passing Strangeone of Tor.com’s novella line. This story sucked me right in, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected. It opens with a compelling framework, that of an older woman retrieving a hidden and valuable painting from a hidden tunnel hearkening back to Prohibition days before quietly dying. And then we get to the heart of the story, which seems like a love story against the backdrop of 1940s San Francisco, following a core of several women, including Helen, the woman from the introduction and Haskel, the painter of the valuable work. There’s an initial whisper of a hint of magic, but it fades away, leaving a story that feels more like historical fiction as Haskel meets and falls in love with the lovely Emily, a singer from the local club, known, among other things, for being “a haven for women who loved each other could meet in public without fear or the shame of sidelong glances from ‘nice’ ladies.” Things are going lovely, for the most part, until someone from Haskel’s past shows up, and disaster threatens to unravel everything.

passing strangeAbout two thirds of the way through, I looked up from the book in surprise, wondering why it was classified as a fantasy since I hadn’t really seen much magic. Oh, it had been hinted at in a couple places, crept into the occasional conversation, usually contrasted against science in the process, both otherwise quietly unacknowledged. And then everything came together. I had been lost in the atmosphere and the air of forbiddenness foreshadowed in the reference to Prohibition in the introduction, that I had forgotten there was supposed to be magic. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of narrative unevenness, or simply a testament to the author’s compelling homage to San Francisco and the people who found sanctuary there. If you like immersive atmosphere in your fiction, give this one a try because it has that in spades, and if like me, that gorgeous cover piqued your interest, definitely pick it up because… I’m not going to spoil anything, but it’s a marvelous reveal when you realize what’s happening.

Different genre – I thought at first this might be a bit of a cheat to count Mixed Vegetablessince manga is really more of a form than a genre, but it’s really a story that isn’t in my typical wheelhouse to begin with, so we’ll count it. Look, I’m a reader of romance, and it’s my go-to when things get heavy and I want the assurance of a happy ending, but even then, I like a bit of angst burning in the background. So this story was, overall, much fluffier than I normally would gravitate toward, plus, well, cooking has generally been a chore to get through for me, not a creative process with its own merits, so the foodie angle of this romance was a tough sell to begin with. I tried a volume, and it was cute, but nothing that overwhelmingly drew me in. I’m not the reader for it, but the next time I see someone with an armful of romances and foodie-themed reads, I know the perfect thing to hand them.

And that was February in expanding my reading horizons. March was a near miss with a reading slump and crafting slump and, really, overall lapse in anything remotely resembling productivity, but I’ll have that post soon. Spoiler: even though I barely got any reading done (relative to my usual reading pace), I still managed to meet my goals, and I’ve got a theory on that I’ll talk a bit more about…

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(Maybe not actual bunnies)

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Project Intentional Reading: January Checkin

As I mentioned, my goals this year include monthly requirements intended to diversify my reading. January is done, and it was a resounding success.

#OwnVoices

The first category I dove into was #OwnVoices, that is, stories written about characters of some minority background, by authors of that background. January’s Own Voices read fulfilled both my own reading goal and a work challenge.if-i-was-your-girl

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a young adult novel following protagonist Amanda Hardy as she adjusts to a new school, makes friends, and falls in love. She’s also transgender. Now, I tend to like YA problem novels, filled with angst and feels… and this… wasn’t. It was a sweet story of friendship and first love that didn’t ignore the threats facing trans women, but it also didn’t focus on the angst. I was pleasantly surprised by this, heartened that a book like this exists for teens who may previously have not seen their experiences reflected in novels, or perhaps worse, only seen them cast in the light of tragedy.

 

 

New or Forthcoming

when-dimple-met-rishiBookRiot lists are dangerous for my to-read list, and this list of “Faces of Color on 2017 YA Books” made my to-read pile explode. From this list, I was able to get Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, courtesy of Eidelweiss. It doesn’t come out until May 30 of this year, but I can’t wait to squee over it with other readers when it does. The story deals with a topic that I haven’t seen much in YA lit—that of two Indian-American teens whose parents try to throw them together in an arranged marriage. Needless to say, this does not go over well with heroine Dimple, who faces uphill battle enough being taken seriously as an aspiring STEM professional without her overbearing mother focusing on her marriageability; Rishi is more open to the suggestion, old-fashioned and romantic without being conservative. The “arranged marriage” conceit may raise some eyebrows, but Dimple’s consternation at it will quickly draw in sympathy, and the day-to-day concerns of their shared summer program project are familiar ground for the genre. I did find myself wishing the secondary characters had been a bit better developed, but on the whole, this book left me smiling.

Non-typical Genre

true-gritOf all the categories, this one had me dragging my feet the worst, and really, it was my own fault, locking myself into what exact book it had to be. My library’s winter reading program theme this year is books-to-movies, so I decided to read Charles Portis’s True Grit for both the program and this category, since westerns are emphatically Not In My Wheelhouse. I’d started listening to the audio book a few years ago and got maybe halfway done, so this was going to be the year I did it, I vowed. And… it was pretty good. I don’t really like westerns, but I do love stories with fierce female protagonists, and Mattie Ross has moxie in spades. Her droll, driven voice made this revenge quest quite enjoyable, and I’m glad I got back around to it.

 

That was month one of my personal reading challenge done. February is well under way, though again, I find myself flying through #OwnVoices and New/Forthcoming categories and balking at atypical genre, so I think that area needs a bit more effort on my part.

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On reading challenges

Every year, I eyeball the various reading challenge lists that go around. They should absolutely be my catnip since I live a life surrounded by books. Fundamentally, I think they serve a valuable purpose in providing a structured framework for people who want to read outside their normal boundaries. And can I say, for the record, that Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge for 2017 is woke, and I love it?! But I’m not doing it, or any other pre-specified challenge this year. Not exactly.

I work in a library. I am surrounded by books every day, and to the lament of my to-read list, new books that I want to read constantly cross my path, so my to-reads are in a constant state of flux. I’m also notoriously stubborn, and the moment a task feels like homework, I’m checked out (yes, librarian pun intentional. You’re welcome). Because of these things, I’ve determined three flexible categories intended to serve my own specific needs.

With a to-read goal in 2017 of 110 books, averaging about 8 books a month, I have figured out that three “challenge” categories a month will give me structure, built-in-deadlines, and enough room to read whatever else crosses my path without feeling like my reading is dictated by external parameters.

  1. Read at least one book per month of #OwnVoices, because we need diverse books. I am uniquely positioned to signal boost great books or underappreciated books from underrepresented perspectives, but I’m not doing anyone any favors if I’m not aware of what’s out there. My Twitter feed is a great way to follow the conversation, but I can do so much more if I’ve read things and can sell them that way. I also want to be conscientious about how I talk  about these titles, too. I don’t want to fall into the trap of making diversity sound like something that should be consumed, like vegetables, because it’s good for you–I want to signal boost stories because they’re beautiful, heartpounding magical journeys with the strength of family love at the heart of it, or sweet YA stories of friendship and first romantic love.
  2. Read at least one new or forthcoming book a month. I actually did much better last year than I’ve done in the past, but this is also an area that needs conscientious work since it’s so easy to get caught up in, well, getting caught up with all the things that have already been published that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I was finally able to participate in LibraryReads‘ year-end best of list last year, and I’d like to do so again this year, with the hope of helping bring more attention to the speculative fiction that I adore. I also have a veritable cache of delicious books waiting on my Kindle from Netgalley and Eidelweiss, but e-books are a format that is not my primary way of consuming books, so I need a bit of a nudge there. This also includes reading more of the “it books” that take library hold lists by storm, just to better know what the fuss is about.
  3. Finally, I vow to read at least one book a month that is not in my usual reading genres because it’s important for a librarian to be widely read, and I tend to read deep in several genres without branching out much, left to my own devices. I’m trying to decide if it’s cheating to allow myself to use book club books for this category since they’re titles I’ve already committed to reading and what I choose for them is rarely what I would choose for myself. I think, in the spirit of this challenge, it would be cheating, but I’m leaving myself a little wiggle room in the event of the occasional hectic month.

And that’s what I’ve got. I’ve knocked out two categories this month already and the only thing holding me back from the third is waiting for my library’s adult winter reading challenge to start since the book I want to read is on theme but can’t be read before January 15. I’m going to try and do end-of-month reading wrap-ups, both to keep me accountable and, honestly, to have ready-made blog content. Here goes, 2017.

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2016 in Review

By many accounts, 2016 seemed like the year that wouldn’t end. The phrase “dumpster fire” comes up frequently in relation to it. And it certainly wasn’t without its share of awfulness. It becomes very easy, though, to overlay the big arc of things over personal triumphs. But when one of my friends issued a challenge to list off good things that we’d experienced last year, I realized I had a growing list of accomplishments and things to celebrate.

The biggest one, the first thing I’m likely to boast about when given half a chance, is completing NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It took about another 20 days and another 20k words past the end of November, but I completed my first long piece of writing in… ever, really.

I don’t know that I would have done that if not for the spark to revisit writing that was kindled with attending WorldCon and a local sci fi con in 2016 and chatting with different authors, sitting in on panels with so much speculative food for thought. My to-read list grew, but more than that, I’ve realized there is a conversation to a genre, one that I’d like a seat at eventually.

I still have so much to learn with the craft of writing, but I know one thing already: it can’t edge out my time for other crafts. The ability to make yarny things is important to me, and in spite of my crafting grinding to a near halt in November with drafting a novel, I still managed to make a ridiculous number of shawls and burn through about 15,000 yards of yarn, after revising my goal up from 10,000 in September. I didn’t get around to really learning to use the spinning wheel my dear husband gave me for our anniversary, but that’s right at the top of the list for this year.

One of my annual goals is to read 100 books, something I managed to first achieve in library school, of all places. I guess grad school can unlock reading superpowers. I’m sure that goal will creep upward with time, but for now, it’s a comfortable, achievable goal that I’ve met for the last three years running. Pretty proud of that one. I was able to participate in Library Reads top 10 books of the year for the first time, having made a goal to better keep up with current publications. I plan on a few end-of-year reading retrospective posts, too. Soon. I’ve got some more librarian- and personal-development-oriented goals in mind for next year, which I’ll also share.

Oh. Yeah. Library school. I finally finished that. I think it’s testament to the self-actualization and branching out of personal goals that this year has brought that it’s consistently something that falls mid-list of achievements rather than first. Am I officially using it yet? No. But I’ve got my eye out for opportunities, and while my dream job at my former library system didn’t pan out, there will be other opportunities. And hey, people rarely get the dream job right out the gate. One thing that is awesome about my current job? One of my long-distance friends is now my coworker, and that’s pretty cool.

Friends, as always, remain awesome. This was a year full of plenty of gaming, both board games and roleplaying games, and good friends to enjoy them all with. We rang in 2016 with friends and rang it out with friends over a tabletop game, pausing long enough to take note of the arrival of 2017 before going on to win against a villain bent on destroying the world. Not too shabby.

I suppose this retrospective begets a question of “what’s next?” I’ll hold that up as a teaser for a future post. For now, happy new-ish year!

How about you? What did you accomplish this year that you’re proud of?

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Here’s to a better 2017. *fingers crossed*

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Review: All the Feels

Summer 2002 was significant to me for being the year Seether’s Disclaimer came out and waiting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to come out. I spent hours upon hours listening to that album and diving full in to the fandom life; Livejournal and Fiction Alley were lifelines to this homeschooled and very socially sheltered then-teen. I wrote fan fiction, reviewed it, and made friends through it, some of whom are still part of my life today. I know the joys and anguish of fandom firsthand, the anticipation of a new installment and the disappointment when things didn’t quite go as you hoped they would.

So I’m pretty comfortable saying that Danika Stone’s All the Feels really gets the fandom allthefeelslife. Protagonist Liv is heartbroken when Spartan, the hero of her favorite sci fi franchise, is cruelly killed off in the most recent movie. After grieving with her friends and denying it through AU (alternate universe) fanfiction, and with the prompting of a fortune cookie fortune, she decides to do something about it. With the help of her best friend, the debonair and typically steampunk-clad Xander, Liv launches a series of fan videos suggesting that Spartan lives, in hopes of creating a grassroots movement to bring back Spartan. Life is not all fandom, though, and through this, she struggles to balance school and fandom and dating and all the stress of being a college freshman.

Honestly, I could probably review this story with one word: SQUEE! I think I smiled my way through the whole story, rooting for Liv and Xander and nodding in agreement at the sense of community depicted in fandom. Nerdom has become, one might almost say, mainstream in recent years with the popularity of Big Bang Theory and new Marvel blockbusters every few months, but I haven’t seen fandom depicted this well since Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (another squee-worthy book I adored). Fandom isn’t for everyone, and Stone could have shied away from how encompassing it can be—on the one hand, it is a large portion of Liv’s social life, but on the other, she can and does let it consume her life to the detriment of academics, forming one of the important conflicts of the story.

And I have to give a shout-out to the relationships in this book as well. At the beginning of the book, Xander does have a girlfriend, Arden, who could easily be painted negatively. And she isn’t. Arden is largely peripheral as it becomes clear that she and Xander are not long for coupledom, but she’s fundamentally nice, even helping set Liv up on blind dates after a crush on a classmate ends in disappointment. The depiction of women not tearing down other women is important, and feminist, and I love when that happens in stories, especially romances. The eventual romantic relationship of Liv and Xander grows very slowly and naturally out of friendship, which is a romance trope I appreciate. (And yes, ladies, there are cute nerds out there with dashing social graces—I married one of them… #sorrynotsorry)

Overall, I loved All the Feels, but I did have a couple issues with it. It seemed to straddle the line between young adult and new adult; my library at least classified it as YA, and the way the story scales back the intensity of a few certain scenes suggests YA marketing, but I think this was much richer as a new adult story, and I wish it could have more fully inhabited that space. I want to see a wider variety of new adult stories beyond hook-up stories, and if they’re nerd-positive in addition, even better. One scene I really enjoyed was the blind-date sequence initiated after Liv’s crush on classmate Hank ends in disappointment—because she never really dated when she was younger, Liv’s expectations of romance were dashed at the first disappointment, but Xander and Arden help her to learn the dating process as a series of meetings better meant to help her determine what she does want for herself. Hell, some adults still haven’t learned that skill; it’s an important one, and it was handled with the right amount of awkwardness and humor that rang true to life. I want more of this sort of storytelling, please, publishers; perhaps I’ll have to start writing some of it myself.

Hand a copy of this to anyone you know who secretly or not-so-secretly ever wrote fanfiction. Gift it to the Browncoat in your life still mad about only getting one season of Firefly. Hand it to your wistful romantic of a friend. Give it to the new college grad who is still puzzling through what it means to be an adult. And if any of these criteria fit you, then get thee to a library or bookstore and snag a copy for yourself.

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Review: Breaking Cat News

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by cat crazies? Been yowled at in concern when you’ve dared to be on the other side of a door from your cat(s)? Had the entertainment of watching cats go flying to various hiding spaces when the vacuum comes out?

If any of these scenarios sound remotely familiar, get thee to a bookstore and go buy Georgia Dunn’s Breaking Cat News. Collecting some of the best panels from the web comic of the same name, Breaking Cat News depicts the news-worthy events in the household of cats Lupin, Puck, and Elvis. While each cat has a distinct purrsonality—lead anchor Lupin always first to report happenings, easily excitable Elvis, and sensitive Puck—their news reports will resonate with both cats and the humans they deign to share their lives with.

Cover art for Breaking Cat News

Breaking Cat News, by Georgia Dunn

The sense of perspective in these comics is utterly charming. While we humans know well why we shut ourselves in the bathroom with the door closed, our intrepid reporters simply must know what’s happening (“Ma’am? Ma’am?”). We humans might wonder at the reasoning behind nighttime crazies, but our reports demonstrate the route (beginning on the kitchen counter and making a circuitous path through the home) and lay out the rules (a lamp must be knocked over for a competitor to qualify). Our intrepid repurrtors are baffled by the witchcraft that lets the Man appear on the other side of the glass, confused why their sick Woman doesn’t just find herself a nice bit of carpet to throw up on, intrigued by the system of cabinet caves in the kitchen, and determined to unravel the mystery of the red dot. It’s these scenarios humans see from the outside, given feline insiders’ purrspective.

Not all web comics make the transition to book smoothly (How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You comes to mind), but Breaking Cat News makes the transition nicely, with enough self-contained strips to be entertaining and a broad story arc that perceptive humans can see before the cats understand what’s happening (like the transition from YAY BOX FORT to trapped in cages in the car to SCARY NEW PLACE) as well as a few other developments.

My copy of Breaking Cat News was provided free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but I now want to pick up a copy for every cat person I know. And maybe one for the coffee table for myself. In short, cat lovers, this is a must-have.

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Review: Gemini Cell

Military science fiction and fantasy aren’t generally my subgenres of choice, but I was intrigued enough by Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell to give it a chance. My following of the author on Twitter, combined with its inclusion on this list of unconventional love stories tipped my hand from the “eh, maybe someday” list to the “sure, I’ll read it now” list.

Cover art for Gemini Cell

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

As the story opened with Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer trying to be a supportive husband to his wife Sarah but being pulled away to deal with terrorists, I had my doubts as to whether this would be my cuppa. And yet, I kept reading, devouring it in large chunks, a bit here before bed, a bit there before work, and before I knew it, I accidentally the whole thing, intrigued enough to place its forthcoming sequel on hold at the library as well. Military fiction may not be my thing, but a world with newly awoken magic and creepy reanimation of corpses into killing machines had my attention, particularly if said corpse retains enough humanity to ask questions and challenge his handlers when they withhold important information.

There’s plenty in here to keep the pages turning. I was intrigued by the dynamic between Jim and Ninip, the demon who shares his reanimated body, watching them struggle for control for their shared vessel. Ninip toes the lines well between appalling monster, spirit maddened by centuries of torment, and petulant warrior in a world that has changed since he last walked upon it. Jim too was a compelling character, a good guy in a world of terrorists and superiors with agendas not in his best interest. My only real criticism in characterization is the depiction of Jim’s wife, Sarah, who felt very much like a man’s depiction of an ideal woman (the emphasis on her being not like other women was particularly telling), but on the whole, I’m not going to complain too loudly about a character who tries to hold her own against terrorists with a canvas knife when terrorists target her home.

Of course, there’s also action aplenty, with an almost cinematic quality to some of the fights. It was a bit like reading an action movie, albeit one with more plot than many contemporary offerings. Intense fights, interesting visuals, and characters at the center of it all that you come to care about – it’s a good formula for a movie, and it works here as well too.

I have not read any of the other Shadow Ops books, but I was able to easily jump into this one without prior knowledge, and as mentioned, I plan on reading its sequel when it comes out. I’m not particularly versed in this subgenre to know how it stacks up to others, but as a reader new to it, I’m intrigued enough to give others a try now.

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That new book smell

I joke frequently that I use the library because there’s no way I could afford my reading habit, a statement that is mostly true, given a yearly reading rate spanning 50-100+ books. However, it’s perhaps less true than it once was. I’ve noticed, recently, a subtle indicator that we’re starting to get a more secure financial footing: the number of brand-new books purchased in this household is increasing.

Make no mistake–Half Price Books still gets plenty of money from us as we fill in author backlists and find new-to-us gems. But we can afford new books, and giving money to support the creative ventures of authors producing things we like is important in this bookish household.

Here are the most recent gems I’ve acquired:

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The Fifth Season, Truthwitch, and Winterwood

N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season – because I’ve always been a sucker for the end of the world, and friends I trust have raved about the world-building and touch of social issues. Jemison’s been on my to-read list since her Inheritance trilogy came out, so this seems as good a time as any to dive in without being two books behind. Plus, it’s recently been nominated for a Nebula award.

Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch – because in a YA landscape saturated with love triangles, I heard about a novel with female friendship at its core and want to see more of that. I also read highlights from the author’s Reddit AMA and was further intrigued, especially when she mentions some of her soundtrack inspirations, which I was familiar with and would love to see how someone else interprets them.

Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood – Confession: I was sold on this from the moment I saw its pirate cover art, and I didn’t need to read much further in the synopsis than “cross-dressing privateer captain” (pirates are my catnip, and woman-disguised-as-a-man is a favorite trope from my formative years of preferring adventuring shenanigans over romance in my reading). Throw in magic, and it’s sold to the lady in the black cardigan.

I love the worlds that fantasy can take me away to, bleak ones sometimes, awe-inspiring ones, beautiful ones, ones ripe with adventure and discovery–and I can’t wait to travel to these.

 

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Review: The Raven Boys

I am not, by and large, a cynical reader—I dive into most books with an expectation of being reasonably entertained, and generally, I am. Occasionally, a book blows me away—Code Name Verity is the last book that I recall that did—but now I can add Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys to that list. When the last page was done, I just sat back and basked in the ride it took me on. By blurb alone, I probably would not have picked this book up, but people I trust kept saying I should, and I’m thankful for them. Continue reading

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Review: Roller Girl

Middle-grade fiction is one of the trickier elements of professional reading for me. A picture book can be thumbed through quickly, a young adult novel will often tell a more gripping story than its adult counterparts, and adult books are just a matter of expanding genre choices. But middle-grade fiction is a weird, nebulous place between new-ish readers and young adult – the presence of chapters and length of story lead me to anticipate a more mature story than is often present, which ends up disappointing. Still, I keep trying new tales, and sometimes that stubbornness pays off.

Roller Girl cover art

Roller Girl

Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, a graphic novel, is one such rewarding read. It’s a perfect combination of subject matter, themes, and girl-positive storytelling. In many ways, the story itself is not a new one—protagonist Astrid discovers that she and her best friend Nicole are growing apart when she discovers roller derby, signs up for summer derby camp, and assumes Nicole will join her, only to find out that Nicole has a new friend, would rather do ballet, and maybe likes boys a little bit. Astrid has to make new friends, keep practicing her moves in spite of an often frustrating lack of progress, and learn to be part of a team, all while grappling with the bigger question of who she is. Continue reading

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