Review: CINDER by Marissa Meyer

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Confession: I am a huuuuuge fan of fairy tale retellings. The idea of taking such a well-known, beloved tale and keeping its heart and frame while reframing the story in a way that makes the readers rethink what they previously knew… Mmmm, shivers of delight. I particularly like retellings told from another (preferably minor) character’s perspective, but I was eager to give Cinder a try anyways. I mean, look at that cover. Just LOOK at it!
Continue Reading →

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A Love Letter

Dear Ms. Megan Whalen Turner,

I love you. Please don’t be creeped out, but I love you. You are the Mount Olympus to my Death Valley, the VY Canis Major to my Sol (and I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about, you clever lady). Your genius and verve soar to the greatest magnitude, and I am in awe.

I first became acquainted with you in the children’s section of my local library. A simple spine caught my eye, emblazoned with yellow type that read The Thief. Thieves were interesting, so I picked it up and took it home with me. I read the entire book in one day, certain even from the beginning that this was no mere children’s book and that I would become good friends with your Gen. Then I reached the end and yelped out loud.

You tricked me, dear lady! You tricked me completely! Only the great Dame Agatha Christie has ever fooled me so thoroughly, and you managed to achieve her greatness in only one book.

For months, I returned to my favorite scenes. For months, I argued with Gen over this or that, just because I could. Then I went back to the library to borrow the book again, and my heart nearly burst with joy.

Not one, but TWO new books awaited me! TWO new adventures with Gen. TWO fresh opportunities to be tricked and deceived. It was like winning the lottery twice over.

I went home and devoured Queen of Attolia, falling in love all over again with tricky Gen, savvy Magus, staunch Eddis. Where The Thief kept my riding high on adrenaline, Queen dragged me down into the depths of pathos only to ride high once more in the thrill of the con. I thought I had you figured out, O Gen.

Then I reached the end and nearly threw the book against the wall, so excited was I.

On to the third book! On to The King of Attolia! But what was this? A new narrator? Who was this impostor, this Costis? Silly boy, to despise Gen so. Interloper, begone! But he was fixed, granted his position by your pen. Slowly, he told his tale; haltingly, like a fool who believed himself wise. He knew nothing!

But, as I read, I realized I knew nothing either. You teased me cruelly, making me despair for Gen and his sudden impotency. He was trapped, our tricky thief, like a dog in a kennel cage. How could you treat him so unkindly? He was our hero, our victor. But instead of respected and praised, he was treated with scorn by those who should fear him most.

And then… and then… How could I doubt you? I reached the denouement and crowed aloud. YES! Yes!  This is our Gen, conqueror of all! So crafty! So wise! Basileus?, I scoffed. Annux! Yes, Annux, indeed! You and Gen both, rulers of all. You tricked me thrice, long after I should have been able to catch on.

Now your fourth book sits on my shelf. From a foreign country, I ordered it, underwhelmed by exotic locales and breathtaking vistas when I knew that the wiles of Gen awaited me at home. I read it once. I rejoiced. Sophos, dear Sophos, friend and companion. A tale of love, of woe, of betrayal and triumph.

I read it once and was pleased. A satisfying trick, a satisfying tale, satisfying most in the promise of more. But I know that my pleasure has only begun. For I have read it once and no more. When I return to your words as a dying traveler returns to the oasis that gave him shelter, I shall lap up your words again. I shall discover new jewels in your tale, new tricks hidden in shadows that I hadn’t noticed before. My appreciation will blossom anew.

I love you, Meghan Whalen Turner. You have given me a series brimming with joys and sorrows, love and loss, trickery and deceit. You have given me Irene. Magus. Sophos. Helen. Pol. Costis. Moira. Gen. Dear, dear Gen. Annux is he, and Annux are you. You conquer without mercy all who read your words, and gladly am I conquered.

Love,

Shelver 506

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Review: UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi

UNDER THE NEVER SKY, Veronica Rossi, HarperTeen

Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive.
A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky. 

UNDER THE NEVER SKY is a dystopian third-person dual narrative. To be honest, when I read the description, I wasn’t very interested. I hate switching to different perspectives, the whole girl-from-a-supposed-utopia-goes-to-the-wild trope is getting a little old, and I figured I knew exactly how the relationship between the two characters was going to play out. He’s a jerk, she gets feisty, aw he’s a wounded soul, smoochie smoochie smoochie, the end. I was right… and I was very, very wrong.

The official description quoted above does the book a great injustice. The best taste of the book comes from my favorite quote, found on page 125: 
“Do the clouds ever completely clear?” she asked.
“Completely? No. Never.”
“What about the Aether? Does that ever go away?”
“Never, Mole. The Aether never leaves.”
She looked up. “A world of nevers under a never sky.”
She fit in well then, he thought. A girl who never shut up.

That’s Aria, inquisitive to the point of irritation, intellectually curious, artsy, and poetic. And that’s Perry, rough, blunt, and dry.


The book opens with Aria. Unfortunately, it also opens with a heaping handful of other named characters that I wasn’t inclined to care about. Because of the description, I knew she was going to be exiled at some point, and seeing as the first scene is about a group of teenagers about to do something mind-boggling risky and stupid, I figured this “something” was going to be the impetus for the exile. I’m not going to put spoiler tags around that, because it’s a bit of a no-brainer. And since I knew she was going to be exiled and therefore unlikely to see any of these other teenagers again, I REALLY didn’t care who they were.

Luckily, Rossi finds her stride fairly quickly. The unimportant teenagers are a teensy bit important, because the lead teenager, Soren, is Aria’s link to finding her mother, with whom she lost contact several days prior. What’s supposed to be a fact-finding mission disguised as a rollicking good adventure in a forbidden area soon devolves into something primal and savage. Tragedy and mayhem ensues, leading to Aria’s rescue by a mysterious Outsider who then disappears, and ends with Aria’s banishment.

That synopsis might seem a bit dismissive, but only because it is. Aria is fine in her own right, but my heart beats for Peregrine (aka, Perry), the hunky Outsider who saves her not only in the teenage mayhem but also when he finds her exiled and trapped in the middle of an Aether storm. Despite their mutual distrust of and disgust for each other, the two reluctantly join forces to help Aria return home – Aria to clear her name and find her mother, and Peregrine to save his nephew, who was kidnapped by Dweller soldiers.

And snap diddley, does it take off from there! By switching back and forth between perspectives, each character serves as our eyes into a world we don’t understand. Through Aria, the girl who finds the Aether fascinating and the fact that fingernails can grow bewildering, we learn about the world inside the pods and the Matrix-meets-Genetics-101 reality she thinks of as normal. Through Perry, younger brother of the tribe’s Blood Lord, we learn about the harsh, unbending reality of the outside, where madmen and cannibals roam and a chosen few wield almost supernaturally enhanced senses. Each knows of the other world only what they’ve learned through legend, which can carry a shocking degree of truth amid the lies.

There were details that irritated me. The very fantasy-like Aether and its effect on Outsiders is never really explained, though the world of NEVER SKY is supposed to be a future version of our own world. Also, Rossi serves up some common stereotypes (of COURSE the heroine of the story can sing like an angel; of COURSE the hero has a rare and valuable skill set) that make me grit my teeth every time I see them in a book. However, the negatives are more than counterbalanced by the positives. Charming and charismatic cannibals that have an established reason for being cannibals? Check! A Jacob-and-baby-in-Twlight type of bond that is NOT solely romantic? Check! A character named PEREGRINE?! Check! (Although I did mumble “Fool of a Took” in certain sections.) Best of all, like other clever authors before her, Rossi shows she is unafraid to kill off a character just because it is expected that she won’t.

While the story was in part predictable (the relationship model I expected between Aria and Peregrine? Yeah, it was pretty much like that), Rossi managed to avoid a purely stereotypical ending and left enough valid, compelling loose ends (both plot-wise and character-wise) that a sequel is inevitable and welcome. I look forward to meeting an ever-maturing Aria and an ever-hunky Peregrine in their next episode of their continuing adventure, as well as their array of supporting characters (I won’t mention names, as I’ve already mentioned that she does kill off someone(s).)

Points Added For: Charismatic cannibals (I squee with joy just typing it), hunky boys who genuinely love kids, main characters older than the obligatory 16, pyromania, sensible Jacob-and-babying (here called “rendering”), characters with cool names, “fables” that actually have some truth to them.

Points Subtracted For: Unimportant minor characters (Brooke, grrrr), super-Aether in an otherwise realistic world, missing/dead/abusive parents, girls whose main claim to fame is singing.

Good For Fans Of: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hunger Games by Susanne Collins, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (I view the Dwellers as ancestors of both the Eloi and the Morlocks).

Points For Parents: Mild-to-moderate language (semi-frequent use of the word b*stard), non-explicit sex, non-explicit supposed attempted rape (nothing graphic and no actual rape), violence.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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Book Cover Awesomeness

Here I am, your benevolent dictator, to give out something FUN and something FREE. That’s right, fun AND free! Granted, this fun and free thing is not of my own making; I am not that fantabulous (and yes, that’s a word because I say so, so stop picking on me!). However, these three ladies ARE fantabulous.

Sarah Enni, Tracey Neithercott, and Erin Bowman are three superbly clever book nerds with an eye for a niche market. Sparked by a “Go Away, I’m Reading” pin from etsy, they began to discuss the irritation felt when rudely yanked out of a good read by a well-meaning friend/relative/stranger on a bus.

This irritation is something I have discussed with my mother and sister just recently. What is it about having one’s nose in a book that seems to invite any Joe Blow to start up a conversation? Yes, sir, the weather is a bit warmer than normal; no, ma’am, I don’t want to see a picture of your dog. Can’t you see that I am in the middle of battling zombie griffins and am only six pages away from freeing the prince?! Oh… no, I don’t suppose you can. All you can see is the cover of a book.

Well, these three genius women have come up with a solution. TADA!

Set #1, by Erin Bowman

Set #2, by Tracey Neithercott
Set #3, by Sarah Enni

Just take one of these handy-dandy covers, pop it onto your book, and voila! Naggers be gone! Should one still approach you, all you must do is give your politest smile and gesture at the cover. Not only were the ladies clever enough to make such wonders, but they’re generous enough to put the printing instructions on their respective sites for the humbled masses (that’s you and me, folks) to print and use, free of charge.

Sarah Enni’s set is my personal favorite, so I’n linking to her directly here, but her site has links to the other sets as well. Print away and leave me be. Can’t you see the prince is about to be oh-so-grateful for my heroics?
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Review: SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi, HarperTeen

“You can’t touch me,” I whisper.

I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him.
He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him.
But things happen when people touch me.
Strange things.
Bad things.
No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon.
But Juliette has plans of her own.
After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever.

SHATTER ME is a first-person narrative from Juliette, a seventeen-year-old girl from an Orwellian future, who is locked in solitary confinement to protect others from her lethal touch. Now really, if that fact alone doesn’t grab you, I doubt anything in this review will convince you otherwise, but I’ll try.
According to Juliette, her lethal touch (she causes excruciating pain and eventual death in whomever she touches) has been with her since she was an infant, causing a lifetime of alienation and isolation. She is treated either as a freak or a nonentity, both at home and at school, culminating in her solitary confinement after she accidentally touches and kills a stranger.

264 days later, she is given a roommate, a smokin’ hot boy named Adam. Eventually, we learn that Adam is a face from her past, and it’s no accident that he was placed in Juliette’s cell. As the story unfolds, Mafi, through Juliette, tosses us other tantalizing details, such as descriptions of the Big Brother-esque ruling class called The Reestablishment, whose local leader, Warner, is responsible for arresting and confining Juliette.

Warner is also the one who releases Juliette (into his own custody, of course) and tries to persuade her to use her power for the good of The Reestablishment. In his own way, Warner is smokin’ as well (isn’t that always the way?), but he dreams of power and control, even as he seems to crave Juliette’s company for her own sake and yearn for a way to show his new captive how thrilling power over others can be.

So now Juliette has to choose – Adam or Warner? Established power or rebellion? Her choice would be easier if she knew whom she could trust, including herself.

Juliette is a nutcase, and I love her for it, and I love Mafi for letting Juliette find her voice. The prose is distinctive with its stream-of-consciousness, rambling careful wording, babbling fears, and obsession with numbers. The book is her journal, her thoughts as things happen, and as quickly as the thoughts come tumbling out she goes back and carefully edits herself, allowing us a look at things her character would truly never say but would still think. These edits, as well as Juliette’s fixation on numbers and counting, are her attempt to control herself and her world, or at least what little she can, as she never can control the power of her touch except through isolation. When a voice is true and consistent, I find myself thinking with that voice long after I’ve walked away from the book, and Juliette was in my head from start to finish.

Warner is probably the second-most fascinating character. He’s the villain, the Hyde to Juliette’s well-meaning Jekyll, but Mafi allows him moments of humanity that lend him a depth that Adam lacks. Optimist that I am, I would be thrilled if he found his own (at least partial) redemption by the end of the trilogy, but I will nevertheless be happy to follow him down his crooked path wherever it may lead.

Overall, Mafi receives solid marks for this story. The premise is interesting and the story is addicting, even if the ending falters into somewhat familiar territory. For those who enjoy the angsty, pathos-ridden, somewhat unrealistic romance found in Twilight, this book is for you. I am not one of them, but I will wait for the sequel with interest for the sake of Juliette, the fascinating little freak superhero.

Points Added For: Unique voice, addicting storyline, flawed baddie, twitchy protagonist, wisecracking sidekick, a touching twist!

Points Subtracted For: Unrealistic romance timeline, too-true lover, stereotypical malevolent parents, love triangle, poor cover art (That’s supposed to be Juliette? Are you joking?).

Good For Fans Of: Twilight, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, Divergent by Veronica Roth, lovers of angsty teen romance.

Notes For Parents: The following book contains moderate amounts of violence, poor teen choices, and at least one makeout scene.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

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Tribute News

I know Hunger Games madness has descended at an alarming rate as the release date nears, and I know the unaffected minority is seeking a safe place to weather out the storm.

This is not that place.

I read the first Hunger Games book a few years ago on the advice of a classmate. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be very good, because I wasn’t impressed by the synopsis she gave. I expected the book to be tortured and gloomy and probably just a bit cheesy, a la Twilight (she liked that series, too). Instead, I found myself completely lost in this amazingly kick-tuckus world with fantastic characters and believable relationships.

I could gush about the series for hours, but that’s not the point of this post. Lionsgate, the company producing the movie, has just released the second theatrical trailer. Bibliophiles around the world shouted for joy, and I could hardly consider myself a proper blogger or a proper shelver if I didn’t share for the ignorant few who have somehow escaped the frenetic social media blitz of thousands of teenagers typing “OMG!!!!1! HUNGER GAMES TRAILERRRRR@!!!!11!!1”

Wasn’t that absolutely beautiful? Several sites, including Entertainment Weekly (who always do an excellent job), have scoured each frame for clues, so I won’t rehash, but I do want to make just a few observations.

First, as EW mentions, poor Madge! Madge, the mayor’s daughter, is the one who gives Katniss her mockingjay pin in the book. However, in the movie, it seems Madge has been erased completely, as the pin is passed from Katniss to Prim instead of Madge to Katniss. I think this is a good choice. Madge is a minor character who isn’t utilized in the later books. Adding her to the movie would just be a nuisance.

Second, Donald Sutherland as President Snow still… sounds like Donald Sutherland. I had expected him to sound a bit slimier, but that will probably come in time.

Third, does Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket remind anyone else of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, especially during that breathy “I just love that”?

Fourth, in some of the District Twelve shots, does Jennifer Lawrence (the actress who plays Katniss, for the uninitiated) seem unnaturally tall? Or maybe it’s just that she’s blockier in those clothes than the average Hollywood starlet, something that I think is fantastic. Yes, Katniss is chronically underfed and superbly agile, but the woman works hard, dagnabit! Keep some muscle on those bones!

Fifth, Arena shots! Woot!

And lastly, I. love. Cinna. He was always such a gem in the books, and I’m really starting to feel Lenny Kravitz in the role, based on the few shots we’ve seen in the trailers.

Any thoughts out there on the trailer? On Hunger Games in general? This is an unabashed gushing zone, so feel free to share.


[And for those who missed the first trailer, it’s embedded below.]

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Missive to a Customer

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your patronage in our store. I appreciate that you are willing to come out on this fine evening to buy books at our establishment, even if it means leaving your wife and children to wait in the car. You spent a sum of money here that, while not extravagant, is not trifling either. But sir, I must tell you one thing that I could not while wearing my employee name tag.

Ew.

You may look in the mirror and see the same virile, young stud that you were in college, and assume that I see the same thing. Or perhaps you see more of a suave silver fox, a la George Clooney. Perhaps you note my polite smiles and assume I’m charmed by your leering looks and cheesy pickup lines.

Ew.

You see, sir, you are the customer; therefore, I am required by my boss to be unfailing helpful and courteous no matter what kind of shenanigans you pull. However, the customer is not always right. Given the scale of your delusions, I would say that you personally are very rarely right. My helpfulness is not subtle flirting; it’s my calculated attempt to keep my minimum-wage job. You may think of yourself as prime material, but I see a man who in all likelihood is a few years older than my own father.

Ew.

To recap, you see this:
George Clooney, people.com

I see this:
Old man, blogs.seattleweekly.com
You see a Don Juan; I see a skeevy guy with a mid-life crisis. You see a nice counter, perfect for leaning intimately; I see a space of cheap wood that should be much, much wider.
So please, feel free to shop with us again, but next time bring your wife inside with you.
Sincerely,
Shelver 506
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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Flying Books

I love this video. I love it. It’s already won several awards, and in my opinion, it should win many, many more. It’s a simple, wordless video, made in the same whimsical style of a Pixar short. It’s about books, which is an automatic win, but it managed to not only make me feel, but also think. Normally, when I watch a video, I analyze the style and the special effects, I laugh over the jokes, I nod over the warm fuzzies, and then I move on. But with this video, my mind began to hunt down rabbit trails within the first two minutes as if I were dissecting a novel for one of my college literature classes. [I suggest you stop now, watch the video, and form opinions for yourself before reading forward… Finished? Good. Continue.]

First, I love the quirky Wizard of Oz nods (the bike, the house, the vortex, the lack of color). I also loved that Mr. Lessmore seemed more concerned about his novel/diary than the fact that he was swirling around in a raging vortex of death. Books in general are important, but an unfinished work crafted by your own hands? Especially in an age before computers, iClouds, and external hard drives, losing a work means never getting it back. Any attempt at duplication will always come back as a mutation.

Second, the twin despairs presented by the erased novel and the ravaged world were so incredibly poignant. In a macro sense, the destruction left by the storm is the more important, and it’s one that I understand. Hurricane Katrina (which was listed as a point of inspiration) and the tornados in Joplin captured the nation’s attention for a reason, and while I’ve had my home destroyed to that extent, I have felt that numb, stomach-dropping feeling that accompanies driving around a once-familiar neighborhood – a once-familiar city – to find so many landmarks changed or completely destroyed.

The erasure of the book is just as awful on a micro level. His words, his work, are gone. Gone. Pfft. Wiped away, just like his home. There is no USB, no backup. This is why book burnings were such horrific events in history. Books are records, be they fiction or nonfiction. The written word has power and agency, and to destroy the words is to weaken the memory, to force a mutation. In certain pockets of the reading population, there is still a resistance to digital books and e-readers. I happen to be a staunch supporter of that resistance. I don’t care who reads what how, but I will never give up my crisp pages and nice binding, nosirree. In the end, however, the medium, the casing, isn’t what matters. Mr. Lessmore still has the physical book – the pages, the binding, the thread. But he’s lost the words, and that’s what robs him of his color.

This is all within the first four minutes, mind. The rest of the video touches on so many other wonderful things – how a good book can bring back the color to a crummy day, how books can take you on flights of fancy, how they make the world better, how sharing them can in turn bring happiness and vibrancy to others, and how, in the end, your words are your last great legacy.

I can’t begin to number the times how an escape into a good book has let me return to the world with a readjusted focus (and less volatile emotions), nor can I put a price on the feeling of accomplishment I’ve felt when “resuscitating” an old book. The best day I’ve ever had at work was when I convinced a customer to buy a certain book for her nephew’s birthday. He had read everything in a certain popular series and was craving something similar yet brand new. I knew just the thing and plucked out the first book of what I believe to be the best series of all time (of all time! all time! I say in my best Kanye impression). It shared certain elements with the other series, had a particularly crafty protagonist, and was clever enough to keep a precocious reader on his toes. I was all aglow because I had been able to send a fledgling book out into the world to please someone else. My world was in technicolor.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” captures these feelings and so many others perfectly, and, like the books it gleefully promotes, I am pleased to share it with you.

So what about you all out there? What did you like about this video? What feelings/thoughts did it spark in you? Was there anything you would have changed?

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Dipping the Quill

There are few things scarier than a blank page, except for a blank page that is to be used as the Foundation for a New Beginning (fanfare trumpets and Morgan Freeman epic narration voice included). A blank page for doodling? No problem. A blank page that essentially is to be used as a scribbled thought organizer? Piece of cake. Both are meant to be used and then discarded. Even a blank page designated for a rough draft of some sort isn’t too intimidating, because a rough draft is just another doodle/thought-scribble page.

But this is one of those tricky foundational pages. This is the start of my new blog, one that I hope someone other than my parents will read. I hope to use this blog as a way to start a dialogue about books I’m reading, ideas I’m mulling over, and experiences I’m gnawing on. The frame of reference used is my work as a humble bookshelver at a bookstore. Because of my position, not only do I spend my hours talking to consumers, but I am also allowed access to far more books than I would normally be able to find. Some blogs are very, very focused on their topic, but I probably won’t be. I hope to post book reviews (both for new books and old favorites that I believe deserve more attention), talk about work (with hopefully only a smattering of complaints), discuss ideas or trends found on other blogs (see the bar on the right to get an idea of the different blogs I follow), and squeal like a four-year-old over new books not yet released.

So this is me, dipping my elegant, Victorian quill into a pot of ink, its finely carved point hovering thoughtfully over a crisp sheet of parchment as I pray that my first swoop is pleasing rather than a big, blotchy mess.

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