Banned Books 2017 – JUNE READ – Saga Volume Two (Chapters 7-12) – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Published June 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

From award-winning writer Brian K. Vaughan (Pride of Baghdad, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, Done to Death), Saga is sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the universe. Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and horrific monsters, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters her strangest adventure yet… grandparents.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the sixth banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

JULY – The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

AUGUST – Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

SEPTEMBER – Scary Stories – Alvin Schwartz

OCTOBER – ttyl – Lauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of Earth – Kim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

Saga Volume Two (Chapters 7-12) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

First published: 2013

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2014 (source)

Reasons: anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As a relatively recent release my answers for this and the next question are going to be pretty much the same. This month, like last month we’re looking at a book where the focus is mainly on illustrations with few words in comparison. UNLIKE last month, this graphic novel is very, very different. Let me get this straight. I don’t agree with banning or challenging books on any level. I love to get angry about why books are challenged/banned especially when the reasons for doing so are just damn stupid but you know when you read something and you can kind of see why some people might have had issues or been offended? This is the wonderful world of Saga. It doesn’t offend me at all (I’m not easily offended!) but I have been slightly taken aback at some of the images, although I must insist that the art is absolutely stunning and something I can look at for a long time (erm…perhaps unless it’s a very naked, quite terrifying giant monster).

CHRISSI: I actually laughed out loud at Beth’s comment about the naked, giant monster as I nearly took a picture of it to send to her as I was reading it. I agree that it’s easy to see why Saga is challenged. There’s some quite graphic pictures and some very strong language. I don’t think you’d expect that when you pick it up, if you go into it not knowing the controversy surrounding it. I’d totally agree that it has some beautiful images though. The illustrations are stunning… it’s just not for the easily offended (or children!)

How about now?

BETH: Most of the reasons for challenging Saga are completely correct, I hate to admit. Yes, it has explicit sexual content, nudity and offensive language. However, I don’t really agree with the anti-family message. Our two main characters have a small baby, Hazel and are very much together even though they are all “on the run.” Plus in this volume, the grandparents come into play which does show quite a strong family unit, especially when I consider the role of the grandfather in this volume. Also, unsuited for age group. Hmm. Well, it just depends where you make this graphic novel available to be perfectly honest! If it’s in the primary school library that’s a different kettle of fish entirely and completely inappropriate I agree. But if it’s in the local library adult section for teenagers to find for themselves I don’t think that’s too terrible.

CHRISSI: I understand why it’s challenged. I do. I don’t like admitting that, but I do understand why it is offensive to many. I think there should be the opportunity for it to be found in the right places. Like Beth said, a local library would be fine but in a education setting…not so much!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: We looked at the first volume of Saga in our Banned Books for 2016 – please find our post HERE. It had been a while since I read the first six chapters so I did re-read them before embarking on Volume Two and I remembered just why I enjoyed it the last time. As I mentioned before, the art is simply gorgeous and really intricate but the story is also intriguing and makes me want to keep on reading. I’ll certainly be continuing the series and am looking forward to Volume Three!

CHRISSI: Unlike Beth, I didn’t reread the first volume. I went into it cold and luckily remembered a lot from the previous volume. I really enjoyed this volume, possibly more than the first. The artwork is beautiful and I’m intrigued by the story. I can totally see why so many readers are lapping up this series of graphic novels.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!

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Join us again on the last Monday of July when we will be talking about The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) – Alison Weir

Published June 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by bestselling historian Alison Weir, author of Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, is the second captivating novel in the Six Tudor Queens series. An unforgettable portrait of the ambitious woman whose fate we know all too well, but whose true motivations may surprise you. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry’s Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

SIX TUDOR QUEENS. SIX NOVELS. SIX YEARS.

What did I think?:

Alison Weir has been for the longest time now in my eyes, the queen of historical non-fiction and I was delighted when she began writing historical fiction especially as her new project is focused on one of my favourite time periods in history – the Tudor period in England. This will take the form of six novels over six years, one for each wife of the inimitable Henry VIII. The first book, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen came out last year and was utterly brilliant so I was incredibly excited to be approved by NetGalley to read the second novel, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession when it was published in May of this year. Thank you so much to them and the publishers, Headline for this opportunity and for a copy of the novel in return for an honest review.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession was everything I was hoping it would be coupled with being a huge surprise and delight to read. Drawing on new research available, the author shows us a different side to Anne, certainly a shocking turnabout from how she is often portrayed in history. It’s true that Anne Boleyn doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. She embarked on an affair with Henry VIII while he was still married to Katherine Of Aragon, an affair that continued for many, many years and led to a number of upsets and permanent changes in England as a result of their relationship, particularly in Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic church. Henry was finally set free of the shackles of his marriage to Katherine, which he had become convinced was an abomination in the eyes of God as she had been originally his deceased brother Arthur’s wife. These shackles were not removed willingly however by Katherine, she was determined until her last breath that she was the true Queen of England and their marriage was right and lawful and it was only her death that allowed Henry and Anne to become (legally) husband and wife.

It is not too long however before Henry once again begins to question the validity of his marriage with Anne. She has given him one child, Elizabeth but no male heirs that he was so desperate for and certain that Anne would provide. Then the rumours start to circulate. From musicians in Anne’s chamber, to old flames and even her own brother, Henry is persuaded into believing that the innocent girl he met and fell in love with may not be so innocent as he thought.

I’m presuming we all know how the story ends? I have to say, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still felt an odd sort of hope of a reprieve for Anne at the very end. It’s quite silly really, especially when I have read a couple of different accounts (fiction and non-fiction) of the events and it ends the way it truthfully did all those years ago. However, I became so attached to Anne as a character that it was hard to let her go at the end. She was a flawed, stubborn and sometimes quite precious person but I admired her ambition and determination and the way she took quite a feminist stance on a few issues, entirely alien at that time of history, something I had no idea about and found a very welcome addition to the story. Let’s just talk about her opinions and feelings towards Henry as well? Let me just say I did not see that coming! In other accounts I have read, Henry and Anne are both deeply in love with each other. So, to have it suggested that this may not necessarily have been the case was fascinating and very exciting to read as a result. Alison Weir exhibits a true mastery in re-telling the stories of the Tudor reign and her Six Tudor Queens series is really exceeding all my expectations. Do I really have to wait a whole year before reading about the next wife, Jane Seymour?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published June 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth all about?:

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of those classic H.P. Lovecraft stories where there are strange goings on in a small town being investigated by a unnamed narrator who becomes horrified with what he discovers.

What did I think?:

It’s no lie that the H.P. Lovecraft stories I’ve read so far for my Short Stories Challenge have been decidedly hit or miss. It’s got to the point now where I approach the next story extremely tentatively as I’m never sure exactly what I’m going to get! In some ways, the author is completely predictable. Take the synopsis for instance, so many of his short stories (or the ones I’ve read so far) seem to be based in small towns that have other-worldly happenings/inhabitants. In this way, The Shadow Over Innsmouth is exactly what I expected from H.P. Lovecraft. However, I did enjoy the small twist in the tale at the end which was slightly less predictable and therefore much more appreciated.

The town of the moment is called Innsmouth and, as usual, we have an unnamed narrator fascinated with the history of the town, the reasons why so many people avoid it if they possibly can, the hostility of the native townspeople and, most importantly, the odd events that have been occurring for many years now that have resulted in the local populace having a very strange “look.” Our narrator decides to visit the town, curious to be face to face with the surroundings and the peculiar people that live there. He even meets up with one of the local drunks and after loosening his tongue with some whiskey, begins to find out many things that may make him wish he had never asked in the first place. Rumours of alien, sea creatures that demand human sacrifices, strange jewellery that both disgusts and intrigues him in equal measures and the consequences of man’s greed when they make deals with malign, evil creatures.

Of course (perhaps predictably) the bus that is supposed to take our narrator out of the town that evening breaks down and he is forced to stay in the local hotel. You can probably guess at what happens. He hears, sees and witnesses a number of crazy and frightening things that leads to him running quite literally for his life in desperation to escape the town and its alien inhabitants. It’s true we always know he’s going to escape successfully otherwise how would he be telling us the story? Yet, there was something right at the end that did surprise me and that I wasn’t expecting which made me look back on the story with perhaps different eyes than I would have done. Obviously, the narrative is flowing with Lovecraft’s flowery, explosive and over-descriptive vocabulary which is always quite fun to mull over but for me, the creepiness of the creatures never really worked. They are described as frog-fish beings (and at one stage while chasing our narrator they HOP) which I’m sorry to say just had me in hysterics rather than having the effect I’m sure was intended. Oops! However, I do rate this story higher than others in the collection for the idea behind it and the unexpected ending.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

 

Black Water – Louise Doughty

Published June 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

John Harper lies awake at night in an isolated hut on an Indonesian island, listening to the rain on the roof and believing his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of something he’s already done.

In a local town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own troubled history. They begin an affair – but can he allow himself to get involved when he knows this might put her at risk?

Moving between Europe during the cold war, California and the Civil Rights struggle, and Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the decades of military dictatorship that follow, Black Water is an epic novel that explores some of the darkest events of recent world history through the story of one troubled man.

Black Water confirms Louise Doughty’s position as one of our most important contemporary novelists. She writes with fierce intelligence and a fine-tuned sense of moral ambiguity that makes her fiction resonate in the reader’s mind long after the final page has been turned.

What did I think?:

Like many other people I’m sure Louise Doughty had me absolutely captivated with her last novel, Apple Tree Yard so when I saw Black Water, her latest story floating about on Twitter I knew I had to try and read it as soon as possible. A huge thank you to Sophie Portas and the lovely team at Faber & Faber publishers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. I am going to be really honest and admit I was slightly disappointed with Black Water although it was still an enjoyable novel! Was I expecting another Apple Tree Yard? Perhaps I was and my expectations were stupidly high for her follow up. Black Water is quite a different beast of a story – quiet, relatively slow paced yet quite menacing and shocking in parts but I did appreciate how completely different it was in comparison to her last novel.

During the narrative, we become immersed in the present and past life of one man, known as John Harper but his birth name is actually Nicolaas, mixed race son of a Dutch woman and Indonesian man whom the Japanese cruelly decapitated when John/Nicolaas was quite young. John hasn’t had an easy life. There are many dark moments both in his childhood which we learn about in detail and when he becomes an adult and begins working for a shady agency operating in Indonesia in the 1960’s. When we first meet him in the late 90’s, he has returned to the island of Bali in some sort of disgrace and is determined that he is merely a sitting duck, waiting it out until his own people want to “get rid” of him because of his past misdemeanours. While he waits, he becomes involved with a woman called Rita who he unburdens some (yet not all) of his life story to and begins to feel some sort of happiness and hope again. We, the reader however know exactly what has happened to John in his life and the weight of what lies on his shoulders – who knows how it will all turn out?

So, when I started this book I did feel some trepidation. The narrative flits back between a number of time periods, the present time (1990’s), the time of John’s first tour in Indonesia (1960’s) and John’s early childhood (1940’s). We begin at the present time and I have to admit, I really wasn’t enjoying this portion of the story at all. At this time, I couldn’t sympathise with what John was going through and he came across as slightly unlikeable and not a character I felt I wanted to get to know. Then we go back in time and Louise Doughty, all is forgiven. The parts set in John’s past (when he was Nicolaas) were absolutely fantastic, thrilling and even heart-breaking at points. You really get a sense of why John is the way that he is although I could never quite understand or condone what he was doing in Indonesia or accept the horrific incident that he constantly berates himself for in the present time. Also, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his relationship with Rita and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if their story was necessary for the novel? Compared to Apple Tree Yard, this is a slow burner of a novel but it is certainly worth it to get to the historical parts of the narrative which I thoroughly enjoyed. Finally, I know relatively little about the political situation in Indonesia in the 1960’s and it’s always fascinating to learn more about a period of history that you’ve previously been completely ignorant of.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Talking About I See You by Clare Mackintosh with Chrissi Reads

Published June 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

You do the same thing every day.

You know exactly where you’re going.

You’re not alone.

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation: just a website, a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that.

Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make . . .

I See You is an edge-of-your-seat, page-turning psychological thriller from one of the most exciting and successful British debut talents of 2015.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your initial thoughts before reading this book?

BETH: I was excited! We reviewed Claire’s debut novel I Let You Go as part of our “Talking About” feature and we both really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading this one. Particularly when I read the synopsis which sounded so intriguing that I had high expectations for the novel as a whole. Plus I received a copy recently from the lovely Book And A Brew subscription box people and I was trying to make room and time to read it so when it appeared on the Richard and Judy bookclub list (which we follow almost religiously) I was very pleased as I would finally have a chance to get to it.

BETH: What did you make of Zoe’s relationship with her ex-husband Matt compared to her current relationship with Simon?

CHRISSI: A good question! I actually found Zoe’s relationship with Simon to be a little bit too good to be true. I didn’t like Simon much as a character. He grated on me, for some reason! He was jealous of Matt which made things awkward for Zoe. I thought that Zoe got on remarkably well with her ex-husband. She seemed to rely on him a little bit compared to Simon. I guess when you have children together there’s going to be a connection there still, especially if it ends amicably.

CHRISSI: Did you find this book predictable at all?

BETH: No, not really to be honest. Now I’m wondering if you did? I didn’t really see anything coming, from the start of the book and the reason why women’s photographs were being used in the paper to the end of the novel and the “final reveal” where the perp is unmasked. I always appreciate it when I can’t see things coming and the author manages to surprise me.

BETH: The character of Kelly, a policewoman, is a bit of a “loose cannon,” did you enjoy reading about her story?

CHRISSI: I really enjoyed reading Kelly’s story. I actually liked Kelly. She was a well meaning character even if she was a little bit of a ‘loose cannon’. She was incredibly eager. Her heart was always in her actions and you can’t ask for more than that!

CHRISSI: Zoe is a very ordinary woman – do you think a central character in a thriller needs to be relatable to make the story work?

BETH: Great question! Hmmm, yes I do think they do but I never thought about it in that way before. A normal, relatable character like Zoe who is incredibly ordinary and has the same worries, pressures and flaws as the rest of us made me instantly like her and connect to her story more than I would have done if the character had been entirely alien to me. It made me sympathise with her predicament a lot more and root for her and her family.

BETH: Were you shocked by the final page at all? (no spoilers!)

CHRISSI: TOTALLY! This answers your earlier question to me about predictability. No, I did not see that coming at all. I can imagine that I looked like a cartoon character with their eyes popping out. Yes, that was totally me when reading that final page. I love it when author’s can shock me and Clare totally did that.

CHRISSI: Does this book live up to Clare’s debut?

BETH: Oh gosh. This is where it’s going to get tough. I Let You Go was such a brilliant read that I think it was going to be very difficult to live up to. When I first started I See You, I have to admit to being slightly concerned as it read very slow for me at the start and I kind of wondered when the action would start to kick in. About two-thirds of the way through however, I did become much more invested in the story and, as I mentioned, in Zoe’s character although I did find the ending slightly rushed. Is it as good as her debut? Not quite but it’s still a solid thriller that I’d recommend.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. Even though I felt like this book was a little slow to start, I was captivated before long and the plot twists really got me. That ending as well… superb! Clare Mackintosh is a great writer for this genre and I wouldn’t think twice about picking up her next book!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Published June 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Alice Through The Plastic Sheet all about?:

Alan and Alice have problem neighbours – they play the music too loud, they leave rubbish in the garden, they’re plastic and inhuman.

What did I think?:

Sigh. You know when you have high hopes for a story and go in feeling all excited just to feel bitterly disappointed at the end? This was the case with Alice Through The Plastic Sheet for me. From an author that I haven’t come across before with such a plethora of awards to his name (The World Fantasy Award, The British Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award…) I was expecting great things and was, unfortunately completely let down.

It’s the story of Alan and Alice, a married couple with a young son that when the story opens, seem to have a sedate, peaceful sort of life with seemingly perfect neighbours, Barbara and Eric living alongside them. Then after her husband’s death, Barbara puts the house up for sale and leaves the area, leaving Alan and Alice rather concerned about what neighbours they may be getting as replacements. They are right to feel tentative as when the new neighbours eventually move in their lives become hell on earth. Loud Christmas music is played at random points during the day and night, their dog barks constantly and viciously but when Alan attempts to go round and address the situation, he finds that their new neighbours aren’t at all what he expected. After this, their lives start spiralling out of control. Alan has troubles at work, their son becomes obnoxious and rude, their dog becomes sick with the stress of it all and his relationship with Alice starts to crumble. Are the new neighbours responsible for everything that is occurring? Or were the shaky foundations that their family is based on always fragile and liable to collapse?

Okay, positive things about this story (Yes, there are some!). I found that I absolutely had to read to the end. It was intriguing and I really couldn’t figure out what was going on so I was determined to finish it. You might know that I love a story with a bit of a quirky edge and this certainly has quirkiness – in bucket loads but I wonder was it too peculiar even for the likes of me? I think I understand what the author was trying to do by exploring relationships on the brink, the thin line between insanity and sanity and how easily you can be toppled into madness and also the aspect of the unknown, the things that make you feel uneasy but you can’t put your finger on exactly why they do. The creepiness of the neighbours unnerved me perhaps at one particular point in the narrative but I have to admit otherwise I was left pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. I didn’t have any strong feelings towards Alan or Alice as characters which left me feeling generally quite apathetic about what happened to them by the end of the story and, to be perfectly honest, just led to more confusion than resolution in the end.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Jane Austen At Home: A Biography – Lucy Worsley

Published June 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

What did I think?:

I have to admit to having a bit of a tentative relationship with Jane Austen when I was younger. I studied her novel Mansfield Park for English Literature A Level here in the U.K. and didn’t relish the process when I was doing it! However, it was only afterwards when I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility that I realised what a brilliant novel it actually was and it gave me a newfound respect for her writing. I now consider myself a devoted Jane Austen fan and was delighted when Hodder and Stoughton sent me a copy of Lucy Worsley’s new biography of Jane and the homes that she lived in throughout her life to celebrate the 200th anniversary of her death, bringing fresh insights into her character, family, hopes and dreams and how passionate she was about getting her work published.

Jane Austen At Home is a tremendous piece of non fiction. It’s obvious that the author is, in turn, also passionate about her subject and has carried out meticulous research in uncovering things that may have otherwise remained hidden from the general public. It was interesting to discover that a lot of things about Jane Austen were deliberately erased, like certain letters by her sister Cassandra or various tidbits of information about Jane’s personality – goodness knows why as it was perfectly obvious to me that Jane was a normal (albeit incredibly talented!) human being just like anyone else. She had multiple suitors and marriage proposals rather than being the lonely spinster that has been occasionally portrayed historically. Jane made the decision herself not to marry/have children in the end which was hugely brave at a time when marriage would have given her financial stability especially when at times her family was at risk of becoming impoverished.

I was also fascinated to learn about her work and her struggle to get published in more detail – how long it took, the difficulties she faced etc and was filled with admiration for her determination not to give up and the way she continued writing, in her own unique manner, refusing to change her style to conform with fashion. Of course, an author must draw a lot of inspiration for her characters from those around her but it was quite eye opening to discover who may have influenced some of her most beloved (and not so beloved!) characters in her real life situation. One of my favourite things about this biography was learning how much hardship Jane and her family went through i.e. being forced to move from her childhood home and sell her things, living in unsuitable places where she did not feel comfortable and constantly felt uprooted and their fight for financial security that was denied over and over again purely because they were the wrong sex.

If you’re an Austen fan like myself, Lucy Worsley has written a brilliant, captivating biography that really gets to the heart of what Jane Austen was all about as a person and as a writer. I was hugely compelled all the way through and even bitterly sad towards the end. Although we know Jane Austen died at a ridiculously young age it seems so unfair, being a writer of such promise that didn’t receive half the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. This was actually my first experience of Lucy Worsley’s writing and not only am I excited to see what she does next but I’m determined to re-visit her back catalogue. Thank you so much to Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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