Posted in Books, Deep Thoughts

The Bible

Holman Study Bible: NKJV Edition, Jacketed HardcoverHolman Study Bible: NKJV Edition, Jacketed Hardcover by Anonymous
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the first time in my life, I actually stuck to a New Year’s Resolution. January 1st of 2016 I vowed to read my Bible all the way through by December 31st. I’ve made that same vow almost every year for the past twenty years (holy crap, I’m getting old!), but I’ve never succeeded. I’ve read every page before, but never all within twelve months. But 2016 was my year! I managed to read through the Bible in a year for the first time in my life. And with a day to spare, no less!

I don’t feel that I can really give the Bible a review. What I can do is tell you what it means to me. I was raised on a diet of Bible stories from before I could separate the meaning of the words from my mama’s soothing voice. Scripture has been there for me since I became a Christian when I was six years old. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat from a bad dream. Flipping open my Bible to a Psalm never failed to drive away my nightmares. When I got made fun of in school or went through a breakup, the Bible was my refuge. As I got older and went through hard times, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, when we found out that we would never be able to have children, I found God’s comfort in its pages. I have never had to go through life alone, and that is all due to Jesus, who I was introduced to through this book.

The Bible is a mosaic, housing between its covers everything from poetry to prophecy, epic battles to the ultimate Sacrifice. Is it hard to read? Sometimes. I struggle with the genealogies and laws as much as the next person. But anytime the Bible is approached with an open heart and mind, God speaks. My granny was the daughter of a moonshiner, and was forced to drop out of school in the second grade. She never truly learned to read or write. But somehow, she cold pick up her Bible and read without stumbling over a single word, because she believed that God was bigger than her illiteracy. And He proved Himself to her and to me, time and time again, through the pages of His Word. It’s God’s love letter to us, and I will never take my easy access to it for granted.

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The Night Circus

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this book 5 years ago when it was first published, and I absolutely adored it. The writing was stunning, and up until that point in my life it was the prettiest book I had ever read. I remember thinking that the Circus was breathtaking, and that I wanted to run away from college and live there forever. (As long as I could take my husband with me, of course.) The memory of Morgenstern’s writing has stayed with me, and I’ve recommended it to at least a dozen people since then. Because I had such good memories of the book, I was very hesitant to reread it. What if it didn’t hold up? I’ve read hundreds of books since 2011, so what if the book I thought was so lovely then wasn’t as lovely the second time around?

Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. The prose was just as poetic as I remembered, the descriptions just as vibrant. I could smell the caramel and popcorn, feel the coolness of the Ice Garden, see the brilliant red of Widget and Poppet’s hair and the revéurs scarves against the stark blacks and whites and grays of the tents and performers. Reading this book is like stepping into a work of art. If the book was a painting, the scene itself was lovely, but I’m pausing and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the brushstrokes, as well. I could write of plot or characters or romance, but to me the whole purpose behind the story is the beauty of the setting and of the prose itself.

That being said, I can completely understand why some people aren’t fans of this book. For a book that claims to revolve around a magical battle to the death, there is almost no action. Very little actually happens in the book. And many of the characters are hard to connect to, because they’re written so prettily that they seem more like sculptures than flesh. I felt like Bailey, Poppet, and Widget were the exceptions, and were meant to be the exceptions. This Circus might not be for everyone. But, if you go into this book expecting beauty instead of action, I think you’ll find something exquisite.

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The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been struck speechless. I’ve loved Sanderson’s books in the past, but this one completely blew me away. I really wish I could give The Way of Kings a sixth star. It has supplanted The Name of the Wind as my favorite fantasy novel of all-time. Rothfuss is still high-prince of my heart, but Sanderson reigns as king. Kvothe is an amazing, beautifully written character, but he doesn’t hold a Stormlighted-sphere to Kaladin. (Also, how can I not esteem the sheer amount of writing we get from Sanderson? Rothfuss is a craftsman, without a doubt. His writing is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. But Sanderson’s work ethic earns him my respect and my gratitude.)

I tried to read this as slowly as possible, savoring every character’s perspective, every plot twist, every revelation. But alas, it was still over far too soon. I know that I have the second volume lying in wait on my shelf, but I think I’ll wait a month or two before I consume it, so as to give this delectable novel time to fully digest before diving back into the world of Roshar. I’ve read a plethora of fantasy novels, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a world more unique or skillfully woven than Roshar. Sanderson should be applauded for that creation alone.

But that’s not all he gave us in the first volume of what I truly believe will be the greatest epic fantasy series of our generation, if not of all time. Sanderson gave us a cast of incredibly varied characters with believable inner turmoil and motivations. He gave us (yet another) unique, multifaceted magic system, backed by a similarly unique and multifaceted religion. He gave us a new view on the roles of women in fantasy, making literacy and scholarship and invention feminine arts. He even gave us completely original flora and fauna. And included sketches from the hand of one of the central characters! Is there anything this man can’t do?

I don’t want to get too into the character development present in this book, but I will say that, despite the strength of Sanderson’s world building, the characters are what made the story really come alive. He gave us Szeth, the tortured assassin; Shallan, the artist-turned-scholar with ulterior motives; Jasnah, Shallan’s incredibly gifted but heretical sponsor; Dalinar, a lighteyed high-prince and follower of the Codes, which sets him at odds with his peers; Adolin, Dalinar’s eldest son who questions his father’s decisions but adheres reluctantly; Navani, the widow of the fallen king; Wit, whose shroud of mystery and intellect make him a misfit; and, finally, Kaladin, a soldier with the hands and demeanor of a surgeon, with shoulders bowed beneath the weight of the world.

There were incredible battles in this book. Incredible plot twists. Incredible characters as mentioned above. Simply incredible storytelling. I know this review has pretty much been blathering praise and little else. But I don’t know how to say anything more about The Way of Kings without giving something special away, and I want anyone who chooses to read it to be able to mine all of those treasures for themselves. But I will say, if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre, don’t let the size of this tome intimidate you. Every page was a jewel well worth reading. You would be doing yourself a disservice by not reading this wonderful book. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next. Thank you, Mr. Sanderson, for crafting such a beautiful addition to the genre.
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The Bookshop on the Corner

The Bookshop on the CornerThe Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love books with all of my heart. Most kids sleep with stuffed animals, but I slept with some book or another even before I could read them for myself. I was born with an intense love for words and the worlds that writers can craft with them. Because of that fervent adoration for all things books, I delight in finding books about books. Sadly though, more often than not the books-about-books that I pick up tend to leave me disappointed. There are a few exceptions, of course; The Shadow of the Wind, The Neverending Story, and Inkheart being a few that made me so happy that my heart felt as though surely it would burst. But others, such as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Fangirl, and this one, all left me feeling unsatisfied.

The first set of books were truly odes to the power of books. Books were conveyed as important, friends to be treasured and revisited as often as possible. The second set of books I listed started out that way. But, eventually, books cease being viewed as treasures and are viewed instead as crutches, things only clung to by those who are truly living their own lives and thus have to live vicariously through the stories of others. I disagree with that view of books vehemently. Yes, books are a safe place to turn to when you’re lonely or in pain. I can logically agree that books are sometimes used as crutches to help us get through life. My problem with that line of thinking is this; what on earth is wrong with crutches?! I would rather have something to lean on that helps me walk steadily and securely through my life than hobble because I’m too proud to use a crutch. Besides that, in the words of George R.R. Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Now, onto the actual book I’m supposed to be reviewing. The Bookshop on the Corner was really cute, especially through the first half. Nina, our main character, was faced with a huge change in her life, and she made the most of it by embracing her love of books and her dream of fostering that love in others by opening her own book shop. Her bookshop wasn’t conventional, and neither was the community she moved to in order to open it, but it suited her well. She had a cast of cute and sometimes crazy friends and patrons who for the most part were incredibly supportive. Nina’s favorite thing in the world was literary matchmaking, pairing a person with the perfect book for where they were in their life. That is, until love derailed her life. (Those of you who have read this, I hope you liked my pun there!) And that’s where the book let me down, where it shifted from a love story about books to just being a love story with a few books scattered here and there. And the love story was my most hated trope, a love triangle. Both guys were cute and all, I just can’t stand love triangles for some reason. They make my lip curl. Also, I’ve become spoiled to the phenomenal writing found in fantasy nowadays, and the writing in this book fell flat for me comparatively. This story was light and cute and sweet, but it just felt like consuming empty calories.

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A Christmas Carol

A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is there any story in literary history that has been adapted more often than A Christmas Carol? If you can think of one, please let me know. Between plays, movies, television episodes, books, and radio, Dickens’ short Christmas morality tale has been adapted literally hundreds of times. Something about the story has resonated with audiences for over 170 years, and shows no sign of growing irrelevant any time soon. I think Dickens managed to say well something that all of us feel deep inside ourselves; Christmas is about giving with an open heart.

The name Ebenezer Scrooge has become synonymous with being miserly, tight-fisted, greedy, callous, uncaring, and perhaps most of all, being resentful of the Christmas season. How often have you heard the term “Don’t be a Scrooge” during the month of December, sometimes aimed at others undeservedly? That being said, Scrooge deserved that application of his name, undoubtedly. At the beginning of Dickens’ tale, he’s one of the most unlikeable central characters in literature. But Christmas is a season of second chances, and one such change to change is granted to Scrooge. He’s taken on a wild ride on Christmas Eve, a ride I’m sure most of you are familiar with. Through the aid of three Spirits, he is shown Christmases from his past, the Christmas of the present, and the Christmas he will earn in the future if he doesn’t mend his ways.

But mend his ways he does! I can’t recall any other character in literature who turned his life around so completely as did Ebenezer Scrooge when he woke on Christmas day. And he maintained the true Spirit of Christmas until the end of his days, we’re told. He didn’t need to be reminded again of what was truly important. The Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future did their jobs well. But we as the audience tend to forget the true meaning of Christmas, letting it get lost in the shuffle and commercialism that accompany that most wonderful time of the year. Maybe that’s why people keep coming back to Dickens’ story and retelling it in so many different ways. Scrooge no longer needs reminding, but we do. And so his story will always be relatable, whether we prefer our Scrooge in the form of Patrick Stewart or Bill Murray or Scrooge McDuck. Dickens reminds us that Christmas is a time of giving and miracles and appreciating those around us, and that message will always resonate.

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A Little Princess

A Little PrincessA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books don’t hold up well over time. Others improve with every reading. This is a book that is firmly in the latter category for me. I liked this book a lot when I was a child. I love it as an adult. Maybe I’ve grown to adore this book because, as I age, the premise of the book and the lessons it teaches strike my heart harder. I’ve never experienced highs quite as high as those Sara Crewe experiences, and I’ve never suffered through lows quite as low as Sara is forced to endure. But, like everyone, I have experienced triumphs and tragedies. The more I go through in my life, the more I respect little Sara Crewe, a little princess if ever there was one, and how she handled everything both happy or horrific that life threw her way. She always carried herself as the little princess she pretended to be, whether dressed in tattered rags or extravagant riches. She shared what she had with those less fortunate, even when she didn’t really have enough for herself. Sara endured. And if Sara can endure, so can I. My story can be her story in the disguise of my times, hidden within the setting of my life.

“Everything’s a story – You are a story – I am a story.”

I don’t want to say much about the story, though I know it’s a classic and thus the plot is probably already known to anyone who reads this review. If you haven’t read this book, please do. It’s short and it’s lovely and it reminds readers that the way we view ourselves and the actions spawned from that view truly matters. It also reminds us to see others as people, no matter their station in life, and to give freely. Is there any better way to wrap yourself in Christmas spirit than by remembering to give unto others as Christ gave to us? That’s what Sara Crewe’s story does for me.

“If nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart. And though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that—warm things, kind things, sweet things—help and comfort and laughter—and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

Merry Christmas. May you remember the true reason for the season. And if your memory should fail, let little Sara Crewe remind you.

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A Portrait of Emily Price

A Portrait of Emily PriceA Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just because something is broken doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. Emily Price is an art restorer, and a very talented one, at that. If something is broken, Emily is going to do everything in her power not only to fix it, but to make it even more beautiful than it was before, because fixing things is just what she does. But when Emily falls in love and extends that “I can fix it!” attitude to include her husband’s Italian family, chaos ensues.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, more so than any of Reay’s books since her first, Dear Mr. Knightley. It was sweet and uplifting and just the mental palette cleanser I needed after last month’s heavier, darker reading. Reay writes Christian romantic fiction with large doses of humor and classic literary references. Her second and third novels both fell kind of flat for me, but I really loved Dear Mr. Knightley and so decided to give her newest book a try. I’m glad I did. Emily was realistically flawed without being unlikeable, and her Italian in-laws were a beautiful mess. I loved Ben so much; he reminded me of my husband. In fact, almost every character in the book reminded me of a family member or close friend, or in one case a friend’s mother.

And the art in this book. Wow. I’m not the biggest fan of visual art in literature, because I generally have a hard time visualizing the paintings or sculptures or whatever other art forms are being described. But I could see Emily’s restoration work her own paintings in my mind’s eye. They were incredibly well-described without becoming monotonous or boring. I also learned a lot about art restoration techniques without feeling like I was reading a textbook, which was enjoyable for me. And the Tuscan setting was gorgeous. I could feel the sunlight on my face and smell the bubbling pasta sauces. I’ve always wanted to visit Italy, and this book reawakened that desire.

The characters, art, and setting were all wonderful. But what I really loved was how seamlessly Reay added in her faith elements. They never felt forced or heavy or trite. Faith became real to Emily throughout her story. She learned that there were some things that she could never fix. But that didn’t mean that Jesus couldn’t fix them for her. All in all, this was a lovely Christian romance that taught me something about the power of art and the strength of families. And, even when the art fades and the family is broken, there is nothing that Jesus can’t restore.

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Three Dark Crowns

Three Dark CrownsThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three Dark Queens
are born in a glen,
sweet little triplets
will never be friends.

Three dark sisters
all fair to be seen,
two to devour
and one to be Queen.

I was conflicted about this book before I even cracked the spine. On one hand, I had read and enjoyed another book by the author (Anna Dressed in Blood), and the premise sounded interesting. On the other hand, Young Adult novels are very hit-or-miss for me, and the premise sounded morbid. Also, I’ve read incredibly mixed reviews. But it was short, so I decided to pick it up between buddy reads.

I did like it, I just didn’t love it. It was interesting and different enough from other books in its genre that it didn’t blur for me. The triplet queens, Katherine the Poisoner, Arsinoe the Naturalist, and Mirabella the Elemental, were unique from one another, with their own personalities and failings. Each had their hardships, some of which were terrible, but were also blessed with good friends. I actually though Jules, Arsinoe’s incredibly powerful naturalist friend, would make the best Queen, even though she was not one of the triplets. She was one of my favorite characters until a love triangle popped up later in the book, at which point her character weakened for me. Besides the characters, I thought the plot was fairly unique, or at least not as done-to-death as some YA plots. And even when I did come across something that annoyed me, Blake’s writing style was good enough to spur me on, and I read the book in less than twenty-four hours.

But there were things that annoyed me. Love triangles are my bane. I hate them. Which is one of the reasons I don’t typically like YA, though there are exceptions. Also, when one leg of that triangle has a solid foundation but the other is insta-love, I can’t help but roll my eyes and groan. Another of my pet peeves was also set off by this book; it’s the first of a series, or at least has a sequel, but doesn’t advertise that fact until it ends with a cliffhanger. I have no problem with duologies, trilogies, or series. In fact, I love them! But sometimes I pick up a book simply because it’s a standalone, and I don’t want to make a commitment in that moment. But books like this and The Wrath & the Dawn and others appear to be standalones until the last page, and that infuriates me. If they would just slap the words “Book One” on the front, I wouldn’t feel betrayed or tricked into a commitment that I didn’t want to make.

End rant.

Anyway, the book was fun, but it had its issues. Be aware going into it that there will be a love triangle, and that it’s not a standalone. Other than that, I hope you enjoy this book, should you pick it up. And if you read primarily Young Adult novels, I think you should give this one a try.

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Warbreaker

Warbreaker (Warbreaker, #1)Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my first buddy-read with royalty: Lady Luna, Marquess Mary, and Prince Petrik. Love you guys!

I feel sated. I had high hopes for Warbreaker, and those hopes were far surpassed. I cannot comprehend the mind of Brandon Sanderson. How does he come up with such complex magic systems, layered religions, and multifaceted characters? Not just once, but multiple times in multiple different universes? I know that they’re all part of the same Cosmere, and I can’t wait for more information about what exactly the Cosmere is and how everything connects to be revealed. Fantasy is my favorite genre. I came to it a little late in the game, and there is a multitude of authors whose works I’ve yet to read. I’ve picked up books by Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, and other founding fathers of the modern fantasy genre, but that was before I had any true interest in fantasy and I didn’t stick with them. I’m sure I’ll give them another try one day. But Sanderson grabbed me from page one of The Final Empire. And he still hasn’t let me go. With the rate of his fictional output, I don’t think he’ll be letting me go for a long, long time.

Now, on to Warbreaker itself. I don’t really have words for how much I loved this story. The magic system depended on Breath, with which each person is born. However, a person’s Breath can be given up to another without causing death to the giver, resulting in those who stockpile Breath. With a plethora of Breaths come various Heightenings, each of which affects the bearer different. The First Heightening allows one to sense the auras of others, the next gives perfect pitch, and on and on they go. Those who reach the Fifth Heightening are ageless, and can live forever. Those with a multitude of Breaths can also Awaken inanimate objects and Command said objects to do their will. Breath can even be used to Awaken and Command Lifeless, which are basically non-decomposing zombies. There’s another way to live on after death, however; if a person died a particularly heroic death, they could come back as a Returned, otherwise known in Hallandren as gods. But becoming a god comes with a price.

The magic system and religions were incredibly interesting, but they would have fallen flat without such an interesting cast of characters backing them up. Siri and Vivenna are sisters, princesses from a kingdom of grays and beiges where humility is their greatest calling. One sister embraces her duty, becoming exactly what her country needs her to be and training to become the wife of the God King, the ruler of her kingdom’s greatest rival. The other sister shirks responsibility and runs wild, basking in the freedom of her unimportance. But a decision is made that changes to lives of both sisters forever. In my opinion, these sisters are the backbone of the story. That being said, there is a host of other amazing characters: Lightsong, one of the Returned who doesn’t believe in his own deity; Llarimar, Lightsong’s high priest who has enough faith for both of them; Denth and Tonk Fah, mercenaries with a sense of humor; the God King, larger than life and mysterious in his silence; Vasher, an Awakener with incredible skill, a murky past, and less-than-perfect people skills; and Nightblood, Vasher’s talking, bloodthirsty sword. Such a varied and interesting group of people!

I have immense respect for the work that Sanderson puts into his books. They build slowly, giving the reader time to become invested in the lives of the characters, but the last hundred or so pages progress at breakneck speed, with plot twists on almost every page. And the most wonderful part is that the twists are so unexpected! I’m fairly good at predicting the outcomes of books, but I’ve yet to predict anything written by Sanderson. I think one of the reasons is that he’s not a third-person omniscient writer. He never implements heavy-handed foreshadowing that spoils the surprise of the story. Sanderson even utilizes characters to explain his magic systems and religions instead of explaining them himself, which makes them so much more interesting. As far as I can tell, Sanderson is an author with a deep respect of the intellect of his readers, and he refuses to spoon-feed them anything. (Also, he’s the most prolific fantasy author, in my eyes; he shows his readers love by working incredibly hard to get us new books as quickly as possible!)

One day, I’ll reread the other Sanderson books I’ve read up until this point and give them the reviews they deserve. In the mean time, I’ll add this to my special bookshelf where all of my favorites reside. Because that’s what Warbreaker is, without a doubt; a new favorite. I can’t wait to dig into more of Sanderson’s work. Stormlight Archives, here I come!

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The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full review now posted below!

Every time I hesitantly open a non-fiction book I think, “Maybe this time. Maybe I won’t hate this one.” And every time, I’m wrong. On the one hand, since History is one half of my dual B.A. Degree, I find the material interesting and respect the research that went into writing a book like The Devil in the White City. A book such as this one required tremendous time and dedication to write. How could I not respect that level of effort? On the other hand, I was bored to tears. Or to slumber. Either way, I had to muscle my way through it.

Half of this book was the tale of America’s first serial killer, which I thought would be fascinating. But Holmes was no Jack the Ripper and, while interesting, wasn’t as compelling to read about as more brutal, hands-on killers. I know that sounds incredibly morbid, but it’s true. He was a fascinating fellow, but a bland killer. The building of the World’s Fair held in Chicago would have been much more palatable (for me) if it had been shortened to merely the highlights. Burnham was a self-made man who secured his future through that Fair, but he and his compatriots were not captivating enough to demand half of a four-hundred page book, in my opinion. I got incredibly bogged down in the details of the architecture, though the Fair sounded absolutely breathtaking. At the risk of sounding childish, I wish there had been more photographic representation of the Fair and less mind-numbing description.

There were two parts of this book that I really enjoyed, the first being learning about various inventions unveiled at the fair. I was aware of Cracker Jacks and the Ferris Wheel being unveiled at the Fair. But who knew that zippers and Wrigley’s gum and Aunt Jemima’s Ready-Made Pancake mix all got their start at the world’s largest gathering up to that point in history? And bless whoever invented the automatic dishwasher, which was also unveiled at the Fair. I don’t know about you, but that’s an invention that I’m incredibly thankful for.

I also really enjoyed learning about Detective Geyer, the Pinkerton man who finally brought Holmes to justice. Geyer’s dedication to finding the missing Pitezel children, Howard, Nellie, and Alice, led to the uncovering of Holmes’ other dark deeds. The majority of Americans followed the case religiously, and Geyer became America’s Sherlock Holmes. I love anything Sherlock related, so that make my little nerd heart happy.

Did I enjoy this book? Bottom-line: no. It was interesting on an intellectual level. I learned a lot. It gave me fodder for future lulls in conversation. But it wasn’t entertaining, and I read to be entertained. I’m an escapist, after all. Larson should be applauded for his hard work, but his book read like a dissertation to me. Most non-fiction does. And I can never seem to make myself enjoy reading anything factual. Now, if something is based on reality, I can get behind that. On occasion, anyway. But unless there’s magic and swords and a plethora of events that could never actually happen, I just don’t have much interest. That’s not to say that I don’t like truth in my fiction. In my opinion, the best fiction proclaims some truth that often gets lost in the shuffle of real life. Give me dragons with morality. Give me fairytales that jump of the page and whisper veracity in my ear. Give me fantasy that proclaims something. It moves me more than nonfiction any day.

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