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Notorious Nineteen

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I started this book with a lot of hope. But ultimately, it was the same as the earlier books. This book is not great. It is more of the same, but it does have a few laugh out loud moments. I feel like I should explain where I am coming from on this series. I don’t happily or easily give this book a low rating. The Stephanie Plum series now has 19 regular novels and several “in between” novellas. The first book was published in 1994 (1994!) and Ms. Evanovich is still writing about the same character — Stephanie Plum, bail bondswoman. While Stephanie’s clothes may have changed and the accessories she carries are different since the first books, Stephanie is surprisingly the same character she was in the first book, with small changes. Stephanie hasn’t aged, she hasn’t matured, she eats the same foods, has the same hamster as a pet, has the same familial relationships and the same job. 19 years later and the character is static. I am a long time reader of this series, while not having started in the 1990s, this series is one of the first series as an adult that I read and one of the first books in audio that I listened to. To be fair, I moved on to other series and was excited to learn that there were more to books than classics, literary fiction, mysteries and crime fiction. I can attribute my learning that lesson to Janet Evanovich. I will always love classics, literary fiction, mysteries and crime fiction but I am a woman that likes variety in her books and I am constantly genre jumping.I began listening to the Stephanie Plum series around 2004. I was hooked after the first book – light, funny and unlike anything I had been reading all of my life. I would rush to the library and look for the next in the series and within weeks I had read/listened to all the available Stephanie Plum books. Then, I began waiting for the new releases in the series and buying them in hardcover. Janet Evanovich didn’t disappoint. She published a new book every year and often released season novellas involving Stephanie Plum. I bought them all. All. Brand new and in hardcover. My relationship with Stephanie Plum is one that I invested time and money in. I kept hoping, wondering — would Stephanie make a choice? It had to be Ranger, right? Right? He IS the fantasy, isn’t he? What would Lula do in the next book? Would Stephanie ever learn how to shoot her gun? Would Lula ever lose weight? Would Stephanie ever choose a guy? Would Stephanie ever have more sex with Ranger? And my waiting for the answers to these questions spanned years, a decade, and my waiting marked a decline in my interest in this series. Herein though, lies the problem with this series. Stephanie never makes a decision. Stephanie never matures. The original depth and quirkiness of Stephanie and the side characters, like Grandma Mazur and Lula, have become caricatures of their original characters. It is almost as if somewhere around book 13, Ms. Evanovich decided to focus on only the elements of her characters that she thought readers liked and the result was characters without any depth and who merely repeated the same actions over and over again. Lula wants — fried chicken. Grandma Mazura wants — some action and tries to get it by attending funeral homes. Stephanie’s mom is — an alcoholic (when did that happen?). Ranger says “Babe”, all the time and has a lot of cars. Morelli is — horny, likes to eat and wants Stephanie to quit her job. And during all of this, Stephanie wants two men, sucks at suspect apprehension and continues to have her best relationship with her hamster Rex. She continues to attend family dinners where pot roast, stuffed peppers, meat loaf, roast beef and other old fashioned standards are served. So around book 13 or 14 I stopped buying these books and started checking them out from the library. I stopped having hope and excitement for each book and started realizing that each book only brought the same story again and again and again …… It wasn’t that I didn’t like these themes, because I do, I did. But the constant repeat of the identical themes and story lines in each book was boring and frustrating.I did not finish Smokin’ Seventeen (2011), I just couldn’t. So I put it down. And I didn’t read Explosive Eighteen (2011). So I cannot tell you if Notorious Nineteen is better than the last two books. What I can tell you is that it offers nothing new from the other Plum books and I was able to read it without confusion having not read the previous two books. I knew who the bad guy was and why he was doing it. From the beginning of the book, I knew what happened to the missing bond target. So what does Notorious Nineteen offer readers? Bob steals Morelli’s food. Grandma wears funny clothes. Lula eats a lot of food. Grandma wants to help with the investigation. Ranger calls Stephanie “Babe”. Several times. Stephanie is not good at being a bail bondswoman. Inconceivably, Ranger hires Stephanie to help him with a dangerous job. Does Stephanie bring her gun to this job? Nope, she leaves it at home. Stephanie’s mom drinks a lot. Stephanie’s dad seems uber focused on fried chicken. Stephanie is late on the rent. Stephanie is hot for Ranger. Morelli is horny. Grandma and Lula are almost interchangeable. There is humor based on old people, short people and fat people. Stephanie wants to get married and (again) notes that Ranger is not the marrying type. There is some sort of oddly placed acknowledgement that the food they are eating clogs arteries and at least once, Stephanie opts to have a salad. And some odd philosophizing by Stephanie where she wonders if carrying guns and using guns is contributing to violence. I say these things are odd, not because I disagree with the sentiments but because they are just sort of inserted in. The best moment of this book is a scene at a nude beach involving Lula, Stephanie and their bond target that they need to apprehend. I admit to laughing out loud several times during this scene. Thank you Ms. Evanovich for that nudey beach scene. There are three car bombings/fires in this book. Not just one, but THREE. Ranger’s reaction? He says, “Babe” and provides a new car. Remember Joyce? Remember why Stephanie’s marriage fell apart? Well, I think Stephanie forgot. She is now in a relationship with Morelli yet kisses Ranger and lets him fondle her breast. Let me be clear. Ranger is my preferred “hero” in this series and I have no problem with a character who makes her own sexual choices but that is not what Stephanie is doing. She makes a choice to be with Morelli, he believes they are seeing each other exclusively and she just drifts into Ranger’s arms (while on a job) — without making a choice because his hotness apparently overwhelms her.Ms. Evanovich, I know you have a successful formula with these books. Fans have enjoyed this series now going into its third decade. Thank you for everything you have given us. But please, please let’s have some story line advancement here. If I wanted to read the same story again and again, I would just pick up an older book in the series. As it is, I won’t be back until I hear from other readers that the next books in the series (because I know there will some) have some character progression.Readers who were happy with the last few books, will likely enjoy this book. Readers who have been frustrated with this series should probably give Notorious Nineteen a pass.
The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil

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There is a lot about this book I enjoyed and (initially) liked. The literature, historical and mythological references. The attempt to incorporate science and theories of evolution in a supernatural tale. The settings all over the world; the setting in libraries and discussions of ancient texts. The lead character is a strong woman, athletic and independent. But there was so much about the book that derailed it for me from these little jewels. I feel bad in not liking this book as I know so many people love it. This book is too long for the story being told. It should have been edited down and shortened. The descriptions of food, scent and appearances of people are just too detailed and drag on endlessly. The descriptions of clothes and in getting ready to go places really do not add anything to the story, in my opinion. I hated how the author described Diana’s (the lead’s) hair and eye color. I don’t understand how a person’s eyes can contain all colors or a person’s hair contain all colors. I likely could have ended up liking this story if it hadn’t employed one of my most hated themes. I really really really hate when male characters treat the heroine like she is a child – telling her what she needs to eat, when she needs to eat, when she should sleep, insisting on naps (blocking her exit from rooms because he believes she is too tired, warning her that an activity will be cut short if he sees her looking tired) and deciding for her what behavior is safe or not. I don’t find this level of control endearing or sweet, I think it is obnoxious. My father didn’t even do this to me when I was a teenager and I do not think there is anything romantic about a love interest doing this. I love historical rooted stories and stories about ancient secrets and I love stories set at universities. But I really get tired of stories where the hero knew all the famous people ever and only studied at the top most elite schools. Granted, a vampire that has lived 1500 years isn’t realistic so why should I expect a more common life for him? I just get tired of this trope. There are more universities in the world outside of Harvard and Oxford, plenty of good researchers and professors work at these and it would be just as interesting to have a story set at a different school. The same could be said for an ancient being, how likely is it that he knew every single famous scholar – Machievelli, Darwin, Newton, etc.? What about the common people, what about all of the other people in history whose tales didn’t survive to be retold? I know I am getting too serious for the type of book this was, but it just missed the mark for me. It is sad that it ultimately let me down, because the first 25% started off so strongly and I was hopeful that I would end up loving this book. I won’t be reading the sequel. I do see where this book would appeal to other readers, it just wasn’t for me.
Broken Harbor: A Novel

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Tana French could write an obituary and I would read it. I would, in fact, hunt down the newspaper just so that I could read it. Ms. French's books are the sum of almost everything I love in fiction -- flawed characters, seriously messed up pasts, conflicting moral questions, interesting settings and subtle social commentary. I believe French's writing could be easily categorized as mystery or thriller, but I think putting French's books in those boxes is misleading and doesn't do her books the justice they deserve. Tana French writes about characters, she solidly develops them, lets you peak into their lives and then as you are leaning in to get a good look - you tumble into the characters' lives and storyline completely. Reading her books is an experience.Like most fans, I waited excitedly and curiously for over a year for Broken Harbour. The main character in Broken Harbour is "Scorcher" and he was introduced in French's last book Faithful Place. Just an aside (but an important one!), it is not necessary to read Faithful Place or any other book by French to understand and enjoy Broken Harbour. Scorcher was not an important character in Faithful Place and he seemed, rather distasteful. So I waited to see what Ms. French could do to make me want to read about him. But I never doubted that she would. I was right to not doubt, I could not put Broken Harbour down. I wanted to quit my job and my family and just read and that is the magic of Tana French.Broken Harbour is darker than the first three books she has written, which I did not think was possible. Like Faithful Place, the book deals with family dynamics, economic struggles, and career pressures. Scorcher is not a likeable guy. He is rigid, he lectures subordinates, and he lives by a very strict way of life -- there is no compromise. The upside to his character is that he judges himself as harshly as he judges those around him. He never lets himself take a break from any of his tough rules. Little by little as the murder investigation deepens, the reader learns more about Scorcher's past. There is very little that is shocking about childhood stories and said tales of painful memories, but Scorcher's tale is sad. And his method of dealing with his pain is in the end, understandable.Okay, take a look at the cover of the book -- the lone and empty tricycle by the beach. Eerie? Sad? Yes and even scary. Broken Harbour had me spooked in the beginning to go to bed. The story is introduced with a horrific crime that has taken place in a very eerie setting. The setting is that of a building development that was never completed due to the economic turn-down. Only a few families live in the one or two completed homes among a skeleton of abandoned construction along the coast of Ireland. Stresses of job loss, disappearing social status, marital pressure and loss of sanity work to make every layer of this story heartbreaking, exciting and slightly scary. Not scary in the Stephen King or Halloween horror movie sense; but scary in the sense that wow, that family could be mine. I could lose my job tomorrow and where would we be? Tana French brings some very real economic realities to the forefront and weaves them together to create a rich and frightening tale. I highly recommend this book for fans of Tana French, psychological thrillers, mysteries and character driven stories. You will not regret it.
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Alif the Unseen

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Have you ever traveled to another country or place with a different culture and wanted to be more than just an observer? More than just a tourist? When I travel, I have this mindset that I want to go and take in, not judge or compare and not think — oh in the US we would do this. I want to just be and try to pretend I am a local. This is really hard to do, but I try to challenge myself to do this. In the fantasy and urban fantasy genre, there are not many books that take place in what we call the “middle east” and there are even fewer books where the protagonists are Muslim. There are some authors beginning to write fantasy and urban fantasy books set in non-Western settings. But the western setting or western characters are definitely the majority. Alif the Unseen is a book in which the reader is allowed to travel to a an unnamed and fictionally created Middle East city/country and be a local; Alif allows the reader to exist and act and not judge or compare. The main characters are residents of the fictional middle eastern city and thus the story and the world are seen through their eyes, not the eyes of a Western tourist. Alif the Unseen was an experience, it was definitely a great read but it was more than just a read. Computers and the internet are huge factors in our modern world, but the idea of the computer and the internet playing a key role in the fantasy aspect of book is virtually untouched in fantasy and urban fantasy books. Some have touched on it tangentially, for example the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant where the characters are bloggers. But what I mean, is that where the computer and the internet are components of the world building or perhaps characters on their own — Ready Player One of course comes to mind as an example of this. Ms. Wilson’s book takes the computer and internet world and fashions it into part of the world building in her fantasy setting.Alif the Unseen is an adventure and self-discovery tale, as so many fantasy stories are. It is set in a modern world, where computers, the internet and cell phones play a part. But woven in to the tale, are elements of arabic mythology of jinn, shape shifters, demons, vampires, and alternate worlds that exist just on the other side of the air we breathe.The richness of Alif the Unseen is in the descriptions of clothes, food and social interactions. Social mores and customs are mentioned, but not overtly criticized it is just a matter of fact expression of how life is. Underlying the story is a very subtle criticism of racism, xenophobia, classism, monarchies, powerful and censoring governments, religious judgment and condemnation, and gender discrimination. Ms. Wilson, though, doesn’t present these criticisms as a polemic but more as characters reacting to situations and unfairnesses that they experience. And remember, the readers are there not as Western tourists, but as a local who lives there and is an active participant in the culture. Faith and belief are a key part of this story. The characters are believers and their faith gives them strength and courage. I do admit that expressions of faith make me uncomfortable, but in the end Alif the Unseen is not preaching but expressing.For awhile now, I have been interested in the push of ideas and the gentle rub of potential change in the Middle East driven by young people, Alif the Unseen touches on this very interesting topic — a subtle revolution and resistance taking place on the internet. If you crave romance, there is a very sweet romance and references to sexuality while not overt they are obvious. Alif the Unseen is not perfect, but few books are. There are slow parts to this book, parts that I wish were edited out. But overall it is a great read and I highly recommend it.I recommend Alif the Unseen to anyone who enjoys fantasy, urban fantasy, computer based adventure, fairy tales and/or stories about young people trying to make things better.
Off the Grid: A Monkeewrench Novel

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Monkeewrench is one of my favorite lite murder mystery series. It is funny, has engaging characters that I care about and which actually change over the course of the books, and the mysteries are not overly gruesome but are interesting. The series is written by a mother daughter team and typically most books are situated in Minnesota or northern Wisconsin. Being from the midwest, I love the setting. I can relate to it. Off the Grid is a book that I read, even though I had listened to the audio versions for the first five in this book. And I wish I had waited to listen to the audio book of Off the Grid. I think it is difficult to switch mid-series to print if it is started in audio. Having written that, I will say that I enjoyed the first 1/2 of Off the Grid immensely. I think I even enjoyed it more than the earlier books in this series that I listened to. The book starts off with a literal bang. Book #5 ended with a complete game changer. Grace decides to make some improvements in her life and she leaves. I don't want to spoil anything if you haven't read #5, so I will just say -- she leaves at the end of #5 and #6 starts off with Grace's new life. But like the entire Monkeewrench series, Grace can't escape from murder and mayhem and so she is immediately fighting for her life and plotting to save the world. Off the Grid is fast paced and changes back and forth between the various characters that make up the series. There is the typical humorous exchanges with Leo and Magozzi. The impressive wardrobe changes of Annie and the funny comments and antics of Harley.In Off the Grid, the entire gang is on the run (eventually). I enjoyed the change of location but ..... I didn't buy into the mystery. I am not going to spoil the what and the who of the story, but I will say I just don't believe in the threat and the scariness to the level it happens in Off the Grid. And yes, I know this is fiction but it was distracting to me. I am guessing it is hard to come up with complicated murder story lines that continue to affect the same characters and need to be solved by computer hackers. These authors have carried this storyline off successfully for multiple books. and they continue to be enjoyable. So in the end Off the Grid was fun and enjoyable. A definite 3 star book. Nothing to get excited about, but for fans of the series it shouldn't be missed.flag
Black Heart

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This is more of a review of this series. So this series is a unique, but a growing subset, in the young adult paranormal genre. The uniqueness being female authored with a male protagonist as the hero and a dark dark world. The lead in each of these books is the same teenaged boy - -Cass. I would compare it to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride, or Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. There seems to be a desire on the part of the paranormal reading crowd to read about male protagonists, so these books are definitely finding their niche readers. Cass was born into a crime family, not a powerful one but the world in this series is divided into two parts: those with magical abilities and those without. People fear those with magical powers and due to unfair legislation, fear of people without magic, internments and round ups those with magical abilities are segregated in lifestyle from those without powers. Everyone wears gloves. All the time. Why? The abilities people have (just one – the magic workers have just one power each) are not fun and nor are the powers nice but instead, the powers are such that kill, powers to alter memories, powers to make people feel things that they would not feel on their own and the power to transform someone from one object into another. But in order to work their curse, the magic workers need to use their bare fingers and touch bare skin on their target - - thus the gloves that everyone (even non magical workers) wear at all times. I have trouble with stories and series where people with powers can just do whatever they want with no cost. Holly Black created a world where magic exists but it isn’t easy. Everytime a magic worker puts a curse on someone there is a “blow back”. Memory workers lose parts of their own memories. Emotion workers suffer through emotional ups and downs. Death workers have parts of their bodies die off … and on and on …There is an undercurrent of politics driven by fear throughout the series. It is not overwhelming and the politics do not dominate the plot. A question that I kept thinking is – shouldn’t the non magical people be afraid? What is a fair solution to protect the non magical people but not overly limit the ability of the magical people to live their lives? I am not sure there is a solution and Holly Black shows that tension of what it would be like to live with real threats like death workers and memory workers. So Curse Workers has some recycled cliché young adult themes: hero doesn’t know the extent of his powers, family is really out there, boarding school, boy kills off his girlfriend there is lots of blood, painful memories …. screeeeeeech …okay maybe that is not an overused cliché. What I think Holly Black did really well is set up this story in a very familiar setting but then took it somewhere most young adult books do not go. There is sex, there is drinking, there is death and sociopathic behavior and the ending of the series is not storybook at all. So the ending is anti-everything we want for our kids or our parents dream about for us but you know what? It is perfect for this series and I loved that Holly Black ended it the way she did. Now I listened to this series in audio, despite also owning it in ebook. I think I should have read it. The narration was done well, I guess ... but it didn’t grab me. I need to say thought, that the narration does not detract or take away from the story at all. Despite that, I would suggest reading this series. I recommend this book to people who enjoy darker urban fantasy stories and who are okay with a slow build in the beginning of a story.
Disappearing Nightly: Book One of Esther Diamond

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3.5 stars, but I am rounding up. Why is this author not getting more attention? Laura Resnick is a recent discovery for me Fallen from Grace Fallen from Grace suffers from a really bad cover and not enough buzz -- I think the cover turns readers away (it shouldn't, the story is great). Disappearing Nightly suffers similarly. Apparently The Esther Diamond series has quite a few books in it (5!) and she has an epic fantasy series also. But I never see Resnick's books turn up on my GR friends' TBR list. Why? Resnick is a talented writer -- she is funny and makes great observations about human beings. She knows how to slowly pull her writers in to her stories, there is no "bam" feeling with her stories and the reader is in. But that doesn't lessen the enjoyment. Lately, urban fantasy is hit or miss with me. Disappearing Nightly held my interest through the entire book and that is saying a lot for me lately. The dialogue is witty, the characters are well developed, and the world is more urban than fantasy -- but still fun. The setting is NYC among actors and various types of performers. The feel of the book is funny crime fiction that intersects with the magic world. The set up and scenes are funny and then the interactions with the characters is funny. There is a Stephanie Plum feel but with less slap stick and more substance. The characters are slowly introduced with time to get to know each one. Resnick builds her story slowly, nothing happens too easily or swiftly. What is unique about Esther (the main character) is that she is not amazingly beautiful with mad fighting skills. She is pretty average in appearance and defense skills, yet somehow she is still appealing to the man she is interested in and able to survive some encounters she gets herself into. For romance lovers there is a hint of attraction and romance, but no true satisfaction is had. This is a fun, quick read and I just don't understand why this series and author do not receive more attention. I definitely plan on reading the next one in this series. I don't have that desperate need to move on to #2, but it is nice knowing that #2 is there and I want to read it. I will leave you with a few funny quotes that demonstrate what a fun read this is:"I looked between him and the fire. 'Did you .. did you .. Is that magic?' He seemed faintly puzzled as he waved a hand holding a remote. 'No, I've switched it on.' ""Men can rarely resist a sultry beauty with tears in her eyes. Especially if they haven't yet realized she's got a penis under that tight red skirt."" 'We confront Evil.' 'Well', I said. 'Uh-huh. I see.' If someone ever tells you he's a member of a worldwide club whose mission is to confront Evil, I defy you to come up with a pithy reply on the spot.""I was letting a sexy, employed, straight single man whom I really liked leave my apartment with a brief wave and no plans for a date. It was just barely possible, I mused, that I wasn't running my life as well as I might."
Wild Seed

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I really don't know where to start with this review. Wild Seed is unlike anything I have ever read before but yet it was still very accessible and easy to read. I would say this book is a combination of urban fantasy, horror, historical fiction and fantasy. Butler addresses slavery, gender roles, racial issues, sexuality, and class issues so subtlety you can miss the commentary if you want to and she does this all through the lens of a fantasy world involving supernatural beings that are seemingly immortal and have various abilities from shape shifting, body snatching, mind reading, and telekinesis. Personally, I don't want to miss the commentary and I enjoy the unique view. I tend to like my urban fantasy and fantasy stories with a slice of heaviness on the side and Octavia Butler seems to be able to deliver that every time. This is the third book by Octavia Butler that I have read. I have come to expect that in reading her books I will have an escape from reality and a complete immersion into the characters that she writes. She writes characters that seem to breathe and live somewhere off the pages of her books, they are real and three dimensional. But such tangible characters come with a price, there is pain and anguish in her books and as a reader, I felt these emotions. Wild Seed was no exception. The characters witness some painful and sad events. This is not urban fantasy lite.Wild Seed is a sweeping historical story that begins in Africa with ancient powerful beings. These beings get caught up in the slave trade and arrive in the now United States. These characters seem to have limitless power. One being prefers to use her power morally and compassionately. Another being, no longer sees himself as human and is not governed by any morality. And of course they clash, both romantically and otherwise. The book is surprisingly sexual in parts and raises some really interesting questions. A shapeshifter that can take on any shape -- animal and human -- and gender -- how do you feel about it taking on the opposite gender and engaging in sexual relationships? What about while it is in animal form? The sex scenes are not explicit but they are referenced. Octavia Butler is not shy about putting her toe across the border of most people's comfort zones. I plan to continue on with the series and am excited that Butler's books are being published in e-book and audio book format.
FEVER MOON (Graphic Novel) by Karen Marie Moning, Preview

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I am not a graphic novel reader. It isn’t that I am opposed to them or I don’t like them, I just tend to be less of a visual person and more into detailed story lines. But I am going to put my cards on the table here and admit something — if Karen Marie Moning publishes it, I will read it and I will likely buy it at the first day release price. I may also buy the hardcover, the ebook and the audio version.The illustrations in Fever Moon are beautiful, detailed and worth examining for all fans of the Fever storyline. Like anything, the illustrations deviated what I had held in my mind and imagined to be Mac, Barrons, Dani, etc. I have to admit that I was bothered by what seemed to be the sexualization of Mac’s rape. The images portrayed the scenes from Fae Fever in not so much a terrifying way but in a sexual way. Also, what the heck happened to Mac’s boobs? Where they always that ginormous? And Dani was in no way an awkward teenager as described in the books, she is the opposite of awkward. I did not like these deviations. But oh well, I went with the story.Quite a bit of the story is filled with memory flashbacks or a retelling of the first four books in the Fever series. For most fans, I think they will enjoy seeing these key scenes brought to graphics. But this does amount to less of a new storyline being told. The story is interesting and it takes place before the conclusion of Shadowever but after the beginning of Shadowfever. So for those of you who have read the series, Mac knows what Barrons is. Mac and Barrons are on the search for the book but get sidetracked because a horrible thing is stalking people in Dublin. Once the story reaches the 1/2 way point, it becomes rushed and seems less developed. It does, however, come to a satisfying end (I would say of course, but we all know that KMM is the queen of unsatisfying ends!)So do I recommend this graphic novel? Well, if you are like me, I couldn’t dissuade you from reading Fever Moon no matter how I reviewed it. I don’t think Fever Moon adds anything truly new or amazing to the Fever Story, but it was nice to revisit my favorite characters. So yeah, if you are a fan then read it.
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