Exorcising DNFs: #3

Well, dear readers, here we are again: with Miss Bates’ accumulated DNFs. Her tolerance is low as she chases the sigh-worthy romance read. Sometimes, as evident in this latest DNF post, she ventures outre-genre; it’s much much harder to please her when her preferred narrative arc is missing. The rest, romances that didn’t work for her. She’s also tapped into a few “it-was-okay” reads lately: she’s a tad disheartened, but will persist. The next winner is around the corner …

Let_Sleeping_Dogs_LieBefore Miss Bates returned to reading romance after a 35-year! hiatus, she read murder mysteries, the majority of them cozies. Miss Bates is squeamish and violence resulted in insta-DNF, even if she’d read far into the novel. Once in a while, she’s nostalgic for the mystery genre and dips her toes into its waters. There’ve been successful forays, such as Amanda Flower’s Appleseed Creek cozy series. Her latest venture, the ninth volume in Rita Mae Brown’s foxhunting-set mystery series, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, was disappointing. Brown’s series is perfectly satisfactory to its readers: it’s adeptly written and fulfills their expectations of the genre. Miss Bates abandoned this mystery novel, though she recognized its qualities, because she was bored. Maybe she came to it too late: after nine books, there might be series fatigue. What put Miss Bates off were introductory pages upon pages: several summarizing the characters; some describing and naming the foxhounds; several naming and describing the horses; and, more naming and describing foxes, birds, and house pets! THEN, TO FOLLOW: TEN PAGES OF FOXHUNTING GLOSSARY. To give credit where it’s due, Brown’s protagonists are in their 70s and the hint of romance is inter-racial: all of which Miss Bates thought pretty cool. But she was still bored. She’d say that in this case, it’s a matter of “It’s me, not you;” her relationship with the long-running cozy mystery series may be over … though she’d welcome another of Flower’s Appleseed Creek novels, maybe because the romance thread is so strong and appealing. Who knows? Miss Bates, like most readers, can be maddeningly fickle. (Rita Mae Brown’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, published by Ballantine Books, is available in your preferred formats, at your favourite vendors. Miss Bates, ungrateful wretch that she is, received an e-ARC, from Ballantine Books, via Netgalley.)

Love_Without_EndMiss Bates gives inspirational romance a wide berth (and narrow one to PNR; we all have our quirks). Every inspirational romance title she picks up may contain that perfect combination of love, ritual, romance, desire, and faith-commitment. Could her expectations be too high? Certainly, Robin Lee Hatcher’s Love Without End left much to be desired. In concept, there was a lot to like: interwoven historical and contemporary narratives, a divorced, single-dad hero, widowed, single-mother heroine, and a setting in the beautiful mountains of Washington state. Chet Leonard, horse breeder, father of two (and the tragic loss of one) meets Kimberley Welch, when she moves to the community of Kings Meadow with her teen-age daughter, Tara. Tara has been gifted a horse and Kimberley wants her to keep it and learn to ride, but can’t afford either. She appeals to Chet; and Chet, to save Kimberley’s pride, asks Tara to work at the ranch in return for the horse’s keep and riding lessons. Woven into Chet and Kimberley’s present-day story is the 1944 and thereafter story of Anna McKenna who, escaping an abusive cousin after her parents’ deaths, brought the first breeding horse to Chet’s grandfather’s ranch when his grandparents sheltered her. Anna is moral arbiter and set up to guide Chet, Kimberley, and everyone around her to love of each other and the Lord. There was potential here, but Miss Bates couldn’t warm to the stilted narrative. The dialogue was stiff and unnatural: everyone sounded so darn virtuous! These were not flesh-and-blood people – and they certainly didn’t have much going in their nether regions – but one-dimensional cut-outs who sounded like they belonged to Leave It To, Beaver. The characters’ saintliness left Miss Bates indifferent; the writing, so frightened of any deviation from some mistaken notion of white-bread perfection, couldn’t rise above to take any risks … in characterization, or themes. Except for Chet’s ex-wife, who stereotypically was the Evil Witch-Mother who abandoned her children and grieving husband. She certainly doesn’t get to tell her story. The horses seemed interesting though and no glossaries were provided. (Robin Lee Hatcher’s Love Without End, published by Thomas Nelson, is available in your preferred formats, at your favourite vendors. Miss Bates sheepishly admits to receiving an e-ARC from Thomas Nelson, via Netgalley.)

League_Of_Her_OwnMiss Bates is a whiny-poopy mess in these DNF posts and certainly more so in this penultimate quibble. THERE IS TOO MUCH BASEBALL in Karen Rock’s A League Of Her Own … which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, especially if you like baseball. But Miss Bates is Canadian: give her Rachel Gibson … the sound of skates swishing over ice, handsome missing-toothed brawlers, shimmy in back yards, street hockey, poetry on ice, folks, deep dark hatred of rivalries among the Original Six (can you name the Original Six?), but baseball, that most lackadaisical of sports, all that green and where are they running to/from? This is NOT a good reason to DNF Rock’s contemporary closed-bedroom-door romance, but Miss Bates skimmed the baseball/softball bits and grew wearier and wearier. If the characters, their attraction and conflict, had held her attention better, then she would’ve stuck with it. But Rock’s A League Of Her Own suffers from what Miss Bates calls woe-is-me syndrome: in this case, hero and heroine possess such a litany of badnesses in their back-stories that it’s difficult to believe any one person can be so hard done by. Heather Gadway returns to North Carolina to manage her father’s Triple-A Minor League (hey, Miss Bates takes notes) baseball team when he suffers a heart attack. She finds an economically depressed town and a team about to be sold off, unless she can salvage it. Her pitcher, Garrett Wolf, may be her best chance to do so, if not for certain reasons behind his comeback that can return him to a bad place. Woe-Is-Me-Heather comes complete with a father for whom she can never live up to his ideals, a pill-addicted-mom she hasn’t seen in years, the same mom who nearly killed her in a car accident when she was 13, a woman trying to manage a man’s team in a man’s world … and, if all of that isn’t enough, a speech impediment. Garrett Wolf ‘s version of Woe-Is-Me comes with an addiction to the bottle and a hard-won, but tottering sobriety, a promising career down the tubes, his last chance to make it to the minors at 27 … and, if that isn’t enough, a sad sad back-story as a foster child. (Garrett turned Miss Bates right off from the get-go because he’s a prig who shames come-on girls in a bar. He sees Heather, on the other hand, as a fresh-faced “good girl.”) Nevertheless, Rock can rock some prose, though her dialogue is stiff. If Garrett didn’t have a stick up his butt, but sported a hockey stick, Miss Bates might have stuck with this baby. (Karen Rock’s A League Of Her Own, published by Harlequin, in their Heartwarming line, is available in your preferred formats, at your favourite vendors. Miss Bates, Her-Name-Is-Mud, received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.)

Fonseca_FuryMiss Bates is a sucker for a bad-girl gone good (even more so for a good girl gone bad, but you take what you can get). That led her to Abby Green’s Fonseca’s Fury. It’s standard HP fare plot-wise and Miss B’s all about suspension of disbelief when it comes to the overwrought fantasy-world and heightened emotions of this category. There’s nothing new in Fonseca’s Fury: bad-girl-party-girl Serena dePiero was dancing up a storm with her sinuous limbs when she apparently planted drugs on Luca Fonseca, which saw him arrested and jailed. A year later, she appears as an aid worker in Luca’s Brazilian company, Rosecca Industries and Philanthropic Foundation. ‘Cause nothing says alpha-taming ahead than capitalism with a heart. Serena’s family, on the other hand, hails from some super-old money: “their vast family fortune stretched back to medieval times.” ‘Cause only a feudal heroine can foil this bazillionaire hero.

Miss Bates takes HPs in good fun, but Green’s novel ended at chapter two for her because the writing put her off. There was excessive “spurting” and not where it counts. When Serena saw Luca again after their drug misunderstanding: ” … she felt a spurt of panic” … oops, thought Miss B. Sometimes, “spurts” are slow-moving: “For a big man, he moved with innate grace [not learned, folks] … incredible quality of self-containment oozed from every pore.” “Spurts” also come (sorry!) in the form of “spats”: “he spun around and spat out tersely,” “He’d spat out, ‘Damn you, Serena.’ ” There’s adjective overload: “he stood out … by dint of that preternatural stillness and the incredible forcefield of charismatic magnetism.” Not just any magnetic forcefield, but the charismatic kind. Redundancies run amok: “Serena had been stupefied. Transfixed with shock.” She may be catatonic. Some sentences are bizarre, “The woman in front of him now looked pale, and as if she was going for an interview in an insurance office.” What?! There’s pointy-end imagery: “Serena knew well that there was enough truth behind the headlines to make her feel that ever-present prick of shame” and Luca too gets his own arrow, “The fact that she had gone paler [she’s translucent at this point] was something that Luca didn’t like to acknowledge that he’d noticed. Or his very bizarre dart of concern.” The spurts, by chapter one’s end, have increased intensity: “her soft mouth yielding to his forceful kiss, exploded into his consciousness and within a nano-second he was battling a surge of blood to his groin” (yuck); also, blood “flow” results in ALL of Luca “hardening”: “Luca had felt the blood flow through his body, hardening it, and he drawled softly.” Hard-Body-Soft-Drawl Hero Syndrome. Incurable. Also, it may explain his “preternatural stillness,” he can’t move. (Abby Green’s Fonseca’s Fury, published by Harlequin, is available in your preferred formats, at the usual vendors. Miss Bates, Hides-Her-Shame-Under-A-Reader-Rock, received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.)

30 thoughts on “Exorcising DNFs: #3

  1. Oh Miss Bates, thanks for a laugh at the beginning of the week! Giggling at my desk about Fonseca’s Fury – even the title sounds like foreshadowing of the writing after reading your commentary! I also have to register my approval of your Rachel Gibson mention. IMO, she is the best writer of pro-athlete themed romances out there.

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    • Glad to have offered a laugh! I must admit I even made myself chuckle here and there while I was writing this.

      Rachel Gibson’s hockey-set romances were some of the first I read and I still remember them fondly. I love her take on the game. She and Molly O’Keefe do hockey well!

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  2. I see (on the little twitter sample on the right) that you are puzzled at the popularity of your DNF posts. I’ll hazard a guess: it’s because Ms Bates is very articulate without being overly snarky or dismissive, about what doesn’t work for her.

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    • Oh, thank you: I certainly hope so. I don’t set out to be deliberately snarky, just to say “Sorry, this didn’t work for me!” I hope that as my click-happy NG finger is tamed, I’ll be writing fewer and fewer of these posts. I”m glad to say that I’ve been requesting the tried and true authors lately. Which is too bad because I do like to try a new-to-me author once in a while, but I’ve been burned one too many times.

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  3. I second what azteclady said and thank Miss Bates for sharing her sparkling wit and humour in this hilarious post. I suspect I’ll be giggling all day over some of these lines.

    Also, I could not have expressed my feelings about baseball so well: “baseball, that most lackadaisical of sports, all that green and where are they running to/from?” Hee hee. Hockey, on the other hand . . . (we are so very Canadian). And I am at a loss for words about Hard-Body-Soft-Drawl Hero Syndrome *snicker*.

    Is it any wonder your readers love these posts? I think not. You would make Austen proud!

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    • Aw, thank you! I do get a kick out of writing them. I don’t start with snark, but I devolve there when I think about how ludicrous some of these are. So, Fonseca’s Fury was an overwritten mess, for which I lay blame on editing as much as the author’s choices.

      As for baseball, really I just don’t get it: why watch a huge square of green with a giant mitt and rolling pin when you can watch perfectly-proportioned cool dudes swish up and down the ice at neck-breaking speeds!? Hockey rules … and we are so terribly Canadian when it comes to our beloved national obsession. And in Montreal … well, it’s a religion. U. de Montreal offers a course on the Habs … in the theology department!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m glad I can make you laugh!!! 🙂

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  4. I’m a fan of Rita Mae Brown’s furry-headed series like the foxhunting series featured here and Mrs. Murphy series, but after twenty books or so, the Mrs. Murphy series is played out. The problem here may be the lengths to which she goes to make sure new readers know what’s what as well as possible burnout. I’ve read the first six or so of the series and like it very much, but then again, I don’t mind the anthropomorphic animal characterization that goes on her books.

    So which do you have less patience for: inspies or PNR? Whatever your answer, PNR scares/turns me off too. I can better tolerate it in m/m, but even then there are some things I avoid, like fated mate tropes.

    As for the broken family theme of Love Without End, Megan Hart does this better than almost anyone I know. Since her writing skews more toward erotic romance crossed with the dreaded women’s fiction (she writes mostly for MIRA, Harlequin’s women’s fiction imprint), her books still might not be for you, but if you don’t mind skimming the sex scenes, she does a great job of depicting real people with real flaws in a way that doesn’t demonize even the worst of them.

    Oh man, I am so over using abuse and angsty backstory as a substitute for characterization or as fodder for conflict. Some writers can make it seem organic, but most don’t.

    As for Fonseca’s Fury, I’d like to know why Serena planted drugs on Luca. What did he ever do to her? I would probably have had to read or skim at least far enough to figure that out.

    BTW, next time we correspond via e-mail, I have to remember to ask for mystery recs, cozy or otherwise. Thank you for another wonderful glimpse into the world of DNFs! I just DNF’d one of the most revered books of 19th century literature (George Eliot’s Middlemarch), so don’t feel bad.

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    • You’re right about the RMB: the moment I started chapter one, after wading through that insane glossary, I liked the wit and the prose was nice and smooth. But I felt like I was way too late to the party!

      I absolutely have bupkis patience for PNR: it might have something to do with one of the first romances I read, a Christeen Feehan, with a feline shifter hero … who bounced and spurted all over the heroine. It really traumatized me and I never wanted to read another one. But I did and the next one I read was a Lora Leigh Breeds: well, my trauma was complete then. I just can’t with the creatures and shifters … it’s not a world I want to enter when I’m reading and it just feels so fake to me. I’d defend your right to write and read it though. And if a trusted reviewer would rec something, I’d try it again … maybe. As for inspies, I think most of them are difficult for me to like because their politics and agenda show through and they’re so often too Polyanna-ish, or too judgemental, or too narrow in their world-view. But I’m always willing to try another one because I have the Pollyanna-ish dream that a diversity of faiths and non/atheist/agnostic viewpoints will be portrayed. And that the protagonists will not be devoid of body parts, or as Archie Bunker used to say about angels, “They’re smooth” from the waist down.

      As for the drugs on Fonseca, I’m not sure: but there’s probably a Big Mis: given everything that went on, I don’t doubt it.

      I loved your long, lovely emails! Will answer second one soon!

      Wow, DNF for Middlemarch! I’m impressed.

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  5. Miss Bates–entertaining as usual. Like azteclady above, I enjoy how you can let your disappointment be known without being mean or snide.
    I continue my sad trend of DNFing 4 books for every one I read. For a few, the latest book in a series proved that I was through with the series, even if the author isn’t.
    Re: inspies–I find that I can tolerate the real oldies (Grace Livingston Hill, for example), but I have a real hard time getting into any of the modern writers.

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that your read have been more disappointing than pleasurable 😦

      I think I understand why Livingston Hill is preferable to the more recent inspies: I remember when I first read her that she just really knew how to speak theologically. It was truly Christian fiction, even though many people might find it alienating today.

      I hope your next read is a great one!

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  6. I too have been wallowing in DNF misery. Two recently released Big Books I’d been waiting for went bad on me, one right after the other.

    Last night I found comfort in Rachel Gibson’s Simply Irresistible, my absolute favorite Chinooks hockey book. Next up See Jane Score then maybe I’ll run through the whole series again.

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    • Aw, I’m sorry to hear it. Yuck. Hate when that happens. At least my DNFs weren’t preceded by anything other than mild curiosity.

      I love the Rachel Gibson books; my favourite is Any Man of Mine.

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  7. Oh the dreaded “saintly” inspie characters. I do like inspirationals as a change of pace, but there’s nothing more annoying than reading about goody-goody types. Hatcher wrote secular romance back in the day and one of the first romance books I read when I “rediscovered” the genre was Patterns of Love, a historical that is book 2 in a series. She’s since rewritten that series for the inspie market, but I’ve still got the heathen version in my keeper stash (I want to say it was published by Bantam originally, but don’t quote me on that!)

    LOL! I DNF’ed the Karen Rock book because the baseball stuff was so very, very wrong. So not only was it too much, but it was too wrong. The complete lack of reality as it pertained to the “baseball stuff” yanked me right out of the romance even before I had a chance to become invested. Which is a shame, because I’ve read other books by Rock and really enjoyed them quite a bit. I have her last two books buried in the ARC mountain that is my Kindle. I’m hoping there’s a return to form after this blip on the radar.

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    • Like any subgenre or romance trope, an able writer with a thematic vision, who creates fully-nuanced characters and natural dialogue can win me over. I like inspies, historical and contemporaries, and like to alternate reading them with others. Lacy Williams’ Christmas cowboy was a favourite last year and I know you liked it too. But when the characters are judgemental; when dialogue is stilted and when I feel like I’m being preached to, I really really dislike inspirationals.

      I read such good things about Rock’s Hometown Girl and I was really looking forward to reading this. She is a good writer, smooth and eloquent, so I’d definitely give one of her books another try.

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  8. Oh, MissB… First the baseball, then the brilliance of Fonseca’s Fury (and it kills me that all that madness was in the first two chapters)… Anyway, I needed this laugh.

    I really love a good inspirational romance, but when they’re bad, they’re terrible. (Like most religion, actually, so maybe it follows.) It’s unfortunate when an inspirational romance narrative does not seem to grasp that the ‘come to Jesus’ moment of a story is so much more powerful when the character(s) actually has(ve) the ability to make a turn, to embrace a truth. That type of narrative does not have to be restricted to conversion stories — there’s not just one lesson we all need to learn (nor do we all need to learn that lesson, let me be clear… I’m one of those many paths types) and then we’re sorted forever. If there were, why would we need stories?

    Well, I’ve fallen back into my habit of finishing books I’m not enjoying, so I think it’s time for me to do a “shoulda DNF’d that” post. Thanks for writing up these DNF posts!

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    • Oh dear lord, Kelly!

      inspirational romance, but when they’re bad, they’re terrible. (Like most religion, actually, so maybe it follows

      This needs to be a motto, on a shield somewhere.

      At the very least, a bookmark!

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      • I would totally use that bookmark… it might remind me to be a little more cautious in picking up my reading catnip, Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line. 😉

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        • I would also use that bookmark! I don’t understand why inspirational romances are still so bad. I keep trying to read them but usually get frustrated and . . . DNF. On the bright side, I read one a couple of years ago that certainly had things happening in the nether regions—it was downright steamy! So maybe there’s hope.

          I prefer not to read novels in which the agenda is more important than the story and characters, whether it’s a religious agenda, political, etc. Two authors I love who weave faith subtly into their novels are Madeleine L’Engle and Elizabeth Goudge (but they’re not romance novelists).

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          • What WAS your steamy inspie, I wonder? I read some good Christmas inspies this past year, in the Harlequin Historical line that I’m a sucker for. As did Kelly mention … and from some reviews at Insta-Love Book Reviews.

            I agree: I don’t like overt agendas because agendas are always there anyway by virtue of subjectivity. They really do take away from my pleasure in fiction. I love L’Engle and have always wanted to read Goudge. What’s your favourite?

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            • I don’t remember the title of the steamy inspie, but it was by MaryLu Tyndall. I recall plenty of passionate kissing, naked bodies in bed (no detailed descriptions), and post-coital bliss. Married sex, of course. 🙂

              Green Dolphin Country is the book that made me a fan of Elizabeth Goudge. I wasn’t as enamoured of her other books, but GDC is outstanding. Would love to know what you think of it!

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            • I just read a tad on Tyndall’s website and she has quite the enthusiastic Christian testimony. Her books, full of pirate adventures, look like fun. There are A LOT of them … 😉

              I just put a used copy of Green Dolphin Country in my Amazon cart: that is one obscure book … sadly, this happens all too often with older publications.

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    • Oh! And I’m currently reading Rock’s newest Harlequin Heartwarming, and there is too much bear rehabilitation. I’m sticking with it, because I like so many things about it, but I’m kind of done with the conflict about how to rehabilitate this bear. I was done 75 pages ago. Just saying.

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      • Interesting. That’s how I felt about the baseball, though Wendy’s problem with it came with a different twist. I liked her writing and would read her again … I saw the “bear” book on Netgalley, but, as a Canadian, bears and beavers are ubiquitous.

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    • LOL! I admit I even made myself chuckle writing about poor Fonseca: what I wonder about is: wasn’t there an editor there who could have helped out!?

      I’m a many paths person too: in Miss B.’s tradition, we say there are many seeds that you can plant. Same concept.

      I do love an inspie where the characters really have to figure things out and though my romance has to have an HEA, conversion can remain in the Kierkegaardian realm. And I’m perfectly happy. Much more so than the tied up with a neat ribbon, all’s well and ne’er a doubt that can enter this fort of faith. I like characters who are strong in their faith, don’t necessarily reject everything about their former selves and lives. The conversion that means this person has resolved it all is like the HEA where you can’t see how these two will have to keep renewing their love. I like happily ever after with God and the other, but I don’t like uniformity, or a monolithic sense of the MCs never experiencing another change. I’m babbling at this point, but I hope something comes through, maybe?

      I’d LOVE a “shoulda DNF’d that” post: that sounds like a potential load of fun!

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  9. I’ve enjoyed your DNF post! I’m not a fan of Abby Green for the exact reason that you articulated so well above. The quote “The woman in front of him now looked pale, and as if she was going for an interview in an insurance office.” reminds me of Paullina Simons awful The Bronze Horseman when the protags are hugging and the heroine looks up at the hero and notes that “His face was as closed as a bank on a public holiday”. Weird non-sequiturs that make me cringe.

    As for “There was excessive “spurting” and not where it counts.” Bwahahaa!

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    • Thank you, just thank you on Simons’ Bronze Horseman: I’ve tried to read that behemoth and can’t. If you want great tragic love, please read Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago and if you don’t, please read a romance! Generic you, of course.

      This poor beleaguered HP has a LOT of liquid projectiles and NONE of them where it counted!! LOL!! (Or at least not in the admittedly small sampling that I read.)

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      • It is possibly the most ridiculous book I have ever read. Its popularity baffles me but oh well! We all have different tastes. There is this cray cray IV blood transfusion scene right at the end that just about did my head in.

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