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Book Review: Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

25265574Title: Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

Author: Mark Vanhoenacker

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel

Publication Date: April 2015

I try hard to remember that this is an unusual experience of the world – to have stood on the earth there, then there on it and there; then suddenly to find myself alone on an ordinary afternoon, quietly washing it from my shoes.

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Review

Skyfaring is a memoir of author Mark Vanhoenacker’s experiences of aviation, from his interest in flight as a child to his journeys through the skies as a qualified pilot.  I must admit that the book was a complete surprise for me.  I suppose I started out with some vague notion that it would be a very to-the-point and factual book for the most part, full of complicated terminology and technical descriptions, but I was quite wrong.

Vanhoenacker is an exceptional writer, and his resume is no less impressive – leaving a career as a management consultant, he trained to become a pilot, and now works as a Senior First Officer for British Airways.  He is also a columnist, and his writing ability is clear.  Skyfaring is nothing less than a work of poetry, and he manages to make flying sound almost romantic; I actually forgot at times that I was reading non-fiction.

Paired with this freedom is the opportunity to come to know the cities of the world well, and to see so much of the land, water and air that lie between them.

I have never dwelt too much on flying – I’ve always tended to have my feet rooted firmly on the ground, I think!  But Skyfaring made me wonder why I never thought about it more.  In particular, I thought the paragraphs about restricted airspace were fascinating, especially the Tower of Silence near Mumbai.  I never considered that the skies would also have their own rules, codes and boundaries.

Of course, nothing is perfect.  My one real criticism of the book is that I wish that each topic was elaborated on just a little bit more – Vanhoenacker was quick to flutter between experiences, and actually if you were to strip away a lot of the descriptive, fancy language, the actual real substance of the book was half the number of pages.  He never seemed to stay long enough on a story for me to get a true sense of the experience.  This also extended to the paragraphs about restricted airspace which I was talking about above – I would have loved to have read more about it, but the topic moved swiftly on.  What is there though is exceptional, and it was still very enjoyable to read.

On the whole, Skyfaring was an absolute pleasure to read – educational, fun, poetic, it is an impressive piece of non-fiction.  I wouldn’t think twice about picking up another of Mark Vanhoenacker’s books – whether it be about flying, or anything else, I’m sure it would fill any reader with as much wonder as Skyfaring did for me.

Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)

Emma

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September 30, 2016
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September Book Club Introduction: Skyfaring

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This post is up a tad later than usual as (appropriately, considering the book) I have been on my travels again.  I’m currently writing this from Cornwall, and will be sure to do a post about all the great places we visit whilst we’re here!  Of course I’ve packed my copy of Skyfaring, despite the fact a hardback book takes up a quarter of my backpack space – that’s Book Club dedication for you.

Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

Skyfaring

Goodreads | The Book Depository


Summary:

Think back to when you first flew. When you first left the Earth, and travelled high and fast above its turning arc. When you looked down on a new world, captured simply and perfectly through a window fringed with ice. When you descended towards a city, and arrived from the sky as effortlessly as daybreak. In Skyfaring, airline pilot and flight romantic Mark Vanhoenacker shares his irrepressible love of flying, on a journey from day to night, from new ways of mapmaking and the poetry of physics to the names of winds and the nature of clouds. Here, anew, is the simple wonder that remains at the heart of an experience which modern travellers, armchair and otherwise, all too easily take for granted: the transcendent joy of motion, and the remarkable new perspectives that height and distance bestow on everything we love.


Author Bio:

Taken from his website, I really liked the informal tone of Mark Vanhoenacker’s bio:

I like writing about science, culture, flying, the unexpected, and the places I find myself. When I’m not writing, I’m usually on an airplane.

Skyfaring is my first book.


First Lines:

I’ve been asleep in a small windowless room, a room so dark it’s as if I’m below the waterline of a ship.


First Impressions:

I’m definitely looking forward to reading some non-fiction again.  The cover of my version is a bit uninspiring but the premise sounds good – I’ve never read anything like this before.  I’ve never really thought all that much about the life of a pilot, but I’ve become so inspired by travel over the last few years so I think it will be really interesting.


Be sure to check out Book Club co-host The Geek Undergraduate’s first impressions of the book too.  I’ll be sharing thoughts and book quotes on Twitter throughout September, and posting a halfway checkpoint post on the 15th.  Join the read-along, and share your thoughts with us too!

Happy reading!

Emma

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September 1, 2016
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Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Murakami

Norwegian WoodTitle: Norwegian Wood

Author: Murakami

Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural (Japan), Romance, Contemporary

“Only the dead stay 17 forever.”

INFO | Goodreads

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review

I will start by taking back everything I ever said about Murakami before picking up this book.  My experiences of The Strange Library left me so underwhelmed that I had almost written him off, but after being gifted a copy of Norwegian Wood by my brother, I thought it was worth trying his work again (especially as I had now been to Japan, and I had Emily at The Geek Undergraduate as my reading companion).  And I’m so glad I did.

Norwegian Wood takes us back in time to the university years of our protagonist, Toru Watanabe, as he battles with love, loss and identity.  Struggling to overcome the death of his best friend as a teenager, Watanabe is torn between Naoko, a girl from his past with ties to his late friend, and Midori, a quirky, fiery personality who offers him a different kind of future.  The book deals with an enormous range of issues, including mental and physical illness, and shows how wonderful, painful and unpredictable life can be.  As the translator, Jay Rubin, says in his note at the end of the book, “It is by no means “just” a love story.”

“You mean I’m really OK just the way I am?”
“I don’t know how you could change, so you must be fine the way you are.”

Watanabe was an exceptional narrator.  He offered witty dialogue and fascinating internal monologue in which he was honest and philosophical about the world around him.  And yet I often felt quite detached from him; he plays a passive role in his own life, and most of the plot is driven by the personalities around him – the crazy Midori, the charismatic Nagasawa, the vulnerable Naoko, the musical Reiko.  When alone, Watanabe tends to read, think and sit in coffee shops, but these characters drag him out of his comfort zone and push the plot along.  It is only really near the end of the book that he is forced to make decisions on his own, building up to an ending that left me quite shaken up!

I can’t recall the last time I read a book with such well constructed characters.  I kept thinking to myself, “how did Murakami even create these people?”  I would love to know if they are based off real people, because some of them – Midori and Nagasawa in particular – are so extreme and intrinsically realistic that they could only reflect real life personalities.  I felt the same way when reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and there are a lot of similarities between the two books – Nagasawa would no doubt be at home alongside that unusual, rich group of Classics students.  Both novels deal with characters of great intelligence, and I think this very much a reflections of the authors themselves – I think Murakami must be quite a remarkable man to have written such a book.

Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.

My only criticism is that at times it felt fairly obvious that it was a translated text – certain parts did not flow as well as others, but it didn’t particularly detract anything from the reading experience.  If anything, it added a sort of authenticity to the fact the book is based in Japan, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction to see references to places I visited on my own trip to Tokyo.

I think Norwegian Wood is a book I will carry with me for a number of years, and I am thrilled to know there are many more Murakami books waiting for me to read (plus, I just realised I can now tick one more off Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list).

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Emma

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August 31, 2016
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Book Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah CrossanTitle: One

Author: Sarah Crossan

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

‘Deep down everyone wants to be a star and normal is the road to nothingness.’

INFO | Goodreads

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review

Conjoined twins Grace and Tippi share everything together – they can’t imagine it any other way.  But when their health becomes at risk, being apart might be the only thing that can keep them together.

Beautifully moving, One is a truly epic piece of contemporary fiction.  Told from Grace’s perspective, the book offers a wonderfully realistic insight into what life is like for conjoined twins.  The best thing about the story is how the one thing everyone thinks is the worst thing – being conjoined – is really the girls’ smallest concern.  They have much bigger problems – school, relationships, their dysfunctional family.  It really challenged my assumptions in this way.  That isn’t to say the girls don’t have issues of their own to face – the hardest decision of all must be made by Grace and Tippi, a decision that put me on the edge of my seat for much of the book.

I liked that Tippi and Grace, although always together, had very distinctive personalities.  Grace is quieter and bookish, whereas Tippi is much more outspoken.  The yin and yang of the twins’ personalities actually reminded me a lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s Double Act, which I remember finding fascinating as a young reader.  It is immediately clear that Sarah Crossan has done a lot of careful research to be able to approach the topic with such sensitivity – she certainly does it justice.  In fact, she states at the end of the novel that her characters were based on two real life sisters.

What really makes One stand out is its unconventional format.  The words run down the page like verse, making every word more significant and powerful and making the one page that diverts from this rule completely devastating… there’ll be no spoilers here though!

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Emma

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July 31, 2016
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Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars ReviewTitle: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Fiction, Teen, Fantasy, Adventure

“All things have a cycle…a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back.”

INFO | Goodreads

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review

When the tyrannical Governor’s young daughter goes missing, Isabella feels it is her responsibility to bring her back.  Disguising herself, she manages to join the Governor’s search party, navigating the group through the Forbidden Territories with her cartography skills passed down to her by her father.  But Lupe’s disappearance isn’t the only concern – a darkness is sweeping across the island, one that can be traced back a thousand years, to a fire demon who is finally stirring from his slumber.

Aesthetically, you couldn’t ask for more from this book.  My edition had colour maps on the inside pages, and every single page of the story itself was illustrated with ink drawings.  It really brought home the cartography element, something that I thought was original and fascinating to read about.

I also enjoyed the mythological elements of the story, and liked that for much of the book it is unclear whether or not the stories Isabella has heard about as a child have any truth to them.  I would have liked to have seen even more of the fantasy elements come to life – the Tibicena were really exciting, but the scenes with Yote seemed quite brief despite such a build up.

There were a few things lacking for me, unfortunately.  Isabella’s narration comes across as very young, and I’m not sure who would read this book and relate to her voice – I know thirteen year olds who would find her too immature.  Also, I wasn’t really convinced by her friendship with Lupe.  Considering they were best friends, I didn’t feel any real connection between them, and spent a lot of time arguing instead and being annoyed with one another.

I also felt for similar reasons like it wasn’t clear whether anything was going on between Pablo and Isabella – I sensed that she viewed him as more than just a friend.  Was there a spark between them, or just a brother-sister thing?  I was quite disappointed in the end that nothing was developed either way.  However, I appreciate that the book is not a romance – it was nice to see qualities such as friendship, family and inner strength taking priority, and in that sense it carries a good message to younger readers.

Overall though, it was a nice little read.  I’d certainly read a sequel if ever there was one, but I disagree with Goodreads defining this as part of the ‘Young Adult’ genre, despite some themes of violence, and the ending which is quite dark.  So, I wouldn’t know who exactly to recommend it to, but if you’re a fan of myths and magic, there might be something for you in this short fantasy novel.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆ (3/5)

Emma

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June 30, 2016
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The Girl of Ink and Stars: Halfway Checkpoint

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It isn’t too late to join us for this month’s read-along!  Click here to catch up with the Introduction post, and read The Girl of Ink and Stars with Wandering Words, The Geek Undergraduate and special book club guest, The Teacup Library!

The Girl of Ink and Stars - Book Club

Reading Status: Chapter Ten

It’s been fifteen days; I was sure I would have been finished with this book by now.  Chapter Ten is just under halfway through, and the action is just beginning!  I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the book is paced, as the first third of the book is very much about setting the scene.

Visually, this book has been a delight to read, and the novelty of the drawings on each page has yet to wear off.  I love reading about the cartography elements too – I’ve never read anything with this sort of skill set in before.  I think it is very poetic and beautiful.

Due to the nature of life on the island, the characters are very secretive – this makes it hard to know who to trust, and even who is good and who is bad.  I have a few theories about characters and stories, but I’ll have to keep on reading to see if I am right or not.  I’d also say without a doubt that this is aimed at younger readers (early teens), but that hasn’t affected my levels of enjoyment at all.

How’s everyone else getting on with reading?

Emma

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June 15, 2016
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Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Genre: Fiction, Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy

First Published: January 2016

“When the world turns chaotic, we must be the better part of chaos.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_Summary

(From Goodreads)

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

_review

I’ll be honest upfront here – I couldn’t finish the book.  I felt so completely uninterested in the events and character’s lives that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

My fear since I first heard about this book was that there were just too many genres being crammed in at once – science fiction, magical realism, romance (is that what that was?) and dystopian. I just don’t think it worked.  The premise was excellent, but the execution was poor.  I have to be fair and say I felt things picked up a bit somewhere in the middle of the book, but on the whole I do unfortunately have a big list of criticisms for this one.

One of the things that also appealed to me was that the book was advertised as being for adult readers.  Having now read it (as an adult) I feel it was written in a style more appropriate for young teens.  Perhaps themes of violence and sexual references have resulted in it being labeled as ‘adult’, but I am not convinced it should be considered anything more than ‘teen’ for its writing style, even if it does go off at technical tangents sometimes:

Not for the first time, Laurence thought this was one of the annoyingly incommunicative features in the English language.  Much like the inability to distinguish between “x-or” and “and/or,” the lack of delineation between “x-we” and “in-we” was a conspiracy of obfuscation, designed to create awkwardness and exacerbate peer pressure—because people tried to include you in their “we” without your consent, or you thought you were included and then the rug got pulled out from under you.

I’ve never seen so many unlikeable characters in a book before!  Some were so unbelievably horrid that I couldn’t help but imagine Theodolphus (the assassin) resembling some kind of cartoon villain not unlike Gru from Despicable Me.

“I don’t deserve this ice cream,” he kept repeating with each bite until he started crying. “I don’t deserve this ice cream.” He sobbed.

As kids, the protagonists suffer from awful relationships with their completely irrational parents, who put no effort into actually having any level of communication with their children about why they might be misbehaving.  Poor Patricia also has to tolerate a truly evil sister tormenting her and her beloved animals.  Laurence and Patricia are bullied at school too, and picked on by teachers.

I can’t deny there are a few merits, though not many. There are a few good quotes now and again and some thought-provoking and occasionally funny conversations between Patricia and Laurence.  I’d love to say I’ll read it to the end, but I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back, and there’s still 50% to go.

I can safely say that I have never read anything like this book before, if that can be considered a merit; it certainly was unique. If you’re looking for something utterly bizarre, then this mix-match of genres is for you. I’m just sorry for those doing book club this month that I even picked this – I hope you all had better luck with it than I did.  Judging by the Goodreads reviews, people are either loving it or hating it. Unfortunately, I know where I stand.

Star Rating: ★ (1)

Emma

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May 31, 2016
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All the Birds in the Sky: Halfway Checkpoint

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All the Birds in the Sky

Reading Status: 22%

It is rare that I read a book and struggle to find good points.  I’m a big fan of ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say then say nothing at all’.  Then again, if I said nothing at all, there would be no book club discussion!

I just can’t get into this book at all.  The characters are unbelievable, the writing isn’t particularly great and I’m just not convinced that the combination of magic and science is really working on this occasion.  Also, Patricia’s evil sister Roberta is just too mean; it makes no sense that she is as wicked as she is!

Individually, I’ll admit the two protagonists and their stories have potential, and in particular I find Patricia’s ability to communicate with animals really interesting.  I’m just not convinced they are compatible with one another within the same book.  However, I’m only 22% of the way through – that’s more than enough time for me to change my mind!

How’s everyone else finding the book?  Do you agree with my criticisms?

Emma

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May 15, 2016
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Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

First Published: May 2015

“We need hope, or else we cannot endure.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_Summary

(From Goodreads)

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

_review

I seriously couldn’t put this book down; it was addictive, and finally I can understand what all that hype was about.

“Don’t feel bad for one moment about doing what brings you joy.”

I love a twist, and despite vaguely knowing in advance that this was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I was still surprised when the truth surrounding the Spring Court came out in the second half of the book.  I enjoyed the fact that the story reversed the overused stereotype of the young woman needing saving; Feyre taught herself to hunt and provided for her family, ultimately putting her own life on the line to save her friends and lover.  It was sexy and incredibly contemporary for a fantasy novel based on such an old story.

However, the complexity of the curse, and the very specific conditions under which it could be broken were a bit unconvincing.  It could have been simplified and it wouldn’t have taken anything away from the story itself.

It was fairly clear that Tamlin or Lucien were going to be potential love interests for Feyre, and I was looking forward to studying their behaviour and trying to guess who would be Feyre’s best match.  Then, I re-read the blurb on a whim, and it just blurted out who it would be (see summary above!).  Since it takes a good portion of the book for their relationship to develop, I was quite disappointed that such a crucial theme was revealed in this way.  Still, Tamlin was very well written, and I loved how his power had parallels with the image of the ‘beast’ in the fairy tale.

“We need hope, or else we cannot endure.”

Curiously, often the books I like the best are the ones I am most critical about; A Court of Thorns and Roses is a good example of this.  I have to be honest and admit that it took me a little while to get into the story.  I appreciate that new worlds need time to be explained, but I found the build-up to when Feyre crossed the wall a bit tedious in places.

I also found Feyre’s chemistry with Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court, a bit unsettling, and hope their connection remains as just a friendship in the sequel; she sacrificed too much for Tamlin to just be swept away by someone else.  Nevertheless, Rhysand was a very exciting and mysterious character with interesting powers, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing him again in A Court of Mist and Fury.

Overall, the book as a whole was just brilliant – the characters are unique, created with a lot of care and depth, and I found the history of war and violence between the two races very interesting.

Star Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5/5)

Who else loved this book?  Oh, and is it just me, or would Nesta and Lucien (who haven’t even met yet!) make a great pairing?  I know it’s a good book when I start matchmaking…

Check out my review of A Court of Mist and Fury here!

Emma

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April 30, 2016
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Words & Geeks Book Club: April Introduction

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April’s book is:

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Goodreads | The Book Depository

This book is so popular and raved about that I’ve been waiting for a chance to read this for ages.  I really enjoyed the last YA fantasy book we covered in book club: Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee (hmm, do I sense a similarity in the title?)  I’m running the read-along solo this month, so feel free to chip in with your thoughts on the book to keep me company!  I know most of you will have read it already!

Summary:

(From Goodreads)

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Author Bio:

(Adapted from her website)

A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.  She is also known for her best-selling YA fantasy series Throne of Glass.

First Lines:

The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.

First Impressions:

I am a huge fan of fantasy, so I just want to get started with this one.  The cover is beautiful, very typical of this genre of story, and I love the outfit the girl – presumably Feyre – is wearing.  The reviews promise a fiery and passionate romance between characters, and judging by the summary this will be a predominant theme (hooray, I love love!).


Follow me on Goodreads to see my reading progress, and check back later in the month for updates and a review!  Updates will be slow for the next week or so, as I am currently in Japan (feels pretty good to type that!).

If you want to join in the read-along, leave a comment below – what are your first impressions of the book?

Happy reading!

Emma

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April 1, 2016
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