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Review: Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsLia’s long-time best friend, Cassie, has just passed away in a hotel bathroom. Though they haven’t spoken in months, Lia feels Cassie’s loss very strongly, especially because Cassie called her 33 times the night she died. Cassie starts visiting Lia, insisting she’s fat and telling her to eat less. Lia, already anorexic herself and sliding back into it after two hospital stays, has no plans to recover, and does everything in her power to deceive her father, stepmother, and mother that she’s still gaining weight even though she’s starving herself to stay thin. As Lia continues to deprive herself and exercise away the imaginary calories, she finds herself alternating between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a true wintergirl.

Wintergirls has long been on my wishlist, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy read. I’ll never forget going to a camp for teen Catholics and having every girl in the small group but me – all healthy, beautiful teenagers -confess to either having purged or having starved themselves. It was devastating. Lia’s struggle is an unflinching look at this mindset and what really may be going on in the mind of a girl with anorexia.

As readers, we know Lia is absolutely killing herself. The symptoms are obvious, as she starts to lose touch with reality, her memory slipping, her period ending, her obsession with yellow globules of fat and calorie counting. She tries to eat less than I eat in one meal for the entire day, and if she can manage, stays even below that. It’s also difficult to take because Lia self-harms and it’s absolutely painful to read about someone feeling so bad that she must injure herself to feel better. It’s difficult, but I think it’s so necessary, because an understanding of what goes on in the minds of people feeling like this can help us to get past the society attitudes which push them in that direction.

Lia’s anorexia is not down to one thing, but she’s pushed into it by a variety of factors, such as people insensitive to her growth as a young adolescent, a broken home, and a mother that she feels is never happy with her. Her equally unhappy best friend Cassie helps her down the path. It’s heartbreaking to read Lia’s struggles, how badly she wants to eat but how she won’t let herself, and even the pain she goes through when someone does force her to eat more like a normal human being. I can’t even imagine feeling like that and the book brought me to tears more than once.

The other thing most striking about the book is that Lia is a teenager in a very real sense. She’s needy in some ways, independent in others. Eating is very obviously the one thing in her life she can actually control – she can’t fix her parents’ marriage, she can’t get her mother to accept her, she can’t even get the grades that are expected of her. The only thing she can ensure she wins at is becoming thin, and that’s what she does. How many teenagers fall into this same trap? How many are killed by it? It hurts just to think about.

Wintergirls is a must-read. This is a heartbreaking book about a problem that is very, very real. Anderson outdoes herself once again, something I think I’d better expect next time.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Amazon Vine.

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Review: Tom Thumb, George Sullivan

This is the remarkable true story of General Tom Thumb, in actuality Charles Sherwood Stratton, a small man who became one of P.T. Barnum’s most successful actors and exhibits.  Stratton, an average sized baby, virtually stopped growing when he was six months old to become one of the smallest men in the world.  Barnum discovered him at the age of only six, but put his age up so he’d look even tinier.  Tom traveled the world, married a beautiful fellow tiny lady, and became a world sensation.  It’s a shame that he’s been forgotten, as this tiny man’s fame in his day was only matched by modern celebrities.

This was a great book; it’s designed for younger audiences and is a fantastic non-fiction introduction to the world of the early circus.  To some extent, Tom Thumb was exploited, but he was made very rich in the process, and as the author says, genuinely enjoyed acting parts for most of his life.  When he became an adult, he seized upon traditional wealthy male pursuits like yachting, which his fame allowed him to do.  He even managed to marry fellow dwarf Lavinia, who outlived him and achieved some fame of her own. The book really made me question how exploited Tom was; he was a small man, but it appeared to be his choice to continue touring or to take his wife touring, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy acting. He was pushed into it as a child but it was his choice to continue. As for his wife, she had a normal childhood and chose the career which exploited herself. Clearly gawking at little people is wrong, but Tom and Lavinia thought of themselves as performers and lived the high life due to their careers.

A few highlights of the book; number one were the pictures, which were plenty.  It was fascinating to look at Tom in his various guises and see real life evidence that he actually existed.  The pictures really put the narrative in perspective.  The author also included newspaper clippings and photos of related acts and people, so I was never left wondering about what something looked like.

I also really loved Tom’s trips around the world.  Barnum’s marketing talents in an age before marketing became a proper profession were simply amazing.  He got Tom, who was at first unknown in Europe, in front of kings and queens the world over by the end.  He became so famous that they actually asked to see him and his carriage was mobbed in all corners of the globe.  That’s celebrity for you, and Tom had it in spades.

Naturally, I also loved the historical picture of the time that the author depicted.  Things like Tom’s terrifying railroad journey to California because of Native Americans, the fact that Barnum collected curiosities and put them in something he called a museum, the elaborate fanfare of Tom’s wedding, all put his story into perspective beautifully and gave me an amazing mental map of the time period.  Tom’s dwarfism was likely caused by the fact that his paternal and maternal grandmothers were twins; if so, it’s possible that he could have grown to a normal height today, which made me sad for him.

This was a wonderful book about a person who doesn’t get enough attention these days; I’d never heard of Tom Thumb until I read this book, but now I’m glad I have.  Tom Thumb is recommended for older and younger readers alike.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review via Netgalley.

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Review: Some Girls Are, Courtney Summers

Being the best friend of the most popular girl in high school means a lot, and for years Regina has held that coveted position. She and Anna have played a leading role in the game of high school popularity for years, naming and shaming at will. One evening, however, changes everything; Anna’s boyfriend nearly rapes Regina and she goes to the wrong person for help. Kara advises Regina to keep quiet and promises that she’ll keep the attempted rape a secret. Kara has always wanted to be Anna’s best friend, so what better way to achieve that than telling Anna that Regina slept with him instead? With that one stroke Regina’s popularity is destroyed and she becomes an instant outcast. Full of rage, Regina strikes back at her former friends, but in the process realizes she has quite a bit to learn about the type of person she wants to be and life beyond high school cliques.

I bought this book right away after reading Fall for Anything, which completely swept me away. I was not at all disappointed in Some Girls Are, which transported me instantly back to that peculiar high school world, so unlike real life, so incredibly unimportant after it’s over, but absolutely critical while you’re living in it. My own high school was not nearly this vicious, thankfully, but it did have its share of socially segregated people, and there were always rumors floating around about someone or other. It’s a world I wouldn’t like to return to and so I genuinely felt for Regina when her world started to tip on its axis, especially after the horror that happened to her with the attempted rape.

For me, the book was all the more affecting because Regina herself is definitely a mean girl. She has formerly made other girls feel bad about themselves, even leading to a suicide attempt. While she does occasionally feel guilty over it, she’s more concerned with her own situation. It sounds like she’s easy to hate, but she surprisingly isn’t, and I’d definitely chalk this up to Summers’s writing skills. Regina knows she’s been awful, and as she gets to know the people she’s been awful to, she regrets it. Her choices are to destroy someone else or be destroyed – and knowing how terrible that destruction is, her choices start to make a sick sort of sense. As a result, I felt very sympathetic towards her despite her behavior, and I genuinely felt hopeful for her by the end of the book. She starts to realize that she cares about people and that they matter more to her than her reputation or the horrible things her former friends do to her.

Some Girls Are was another fantastic read from Courtney Summers. I now can’t wait to read her first book, Cracked Up to Be, and I will be eagerly waiting for future releases. Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Thoughts on Rereading Anne of Green Gables

The first of my epic rereads of 2011 is Anne of Green Gables. Rather than going for a stricter review format, I thought it would be more fun and more likely to succeed if I just wrote my thoughts down. Luckily, this book fits that perfectly and has had my little brain working since I finished it. I can also completely spoil the suspense by telling you right now that I adored this book, one of my ultimate childhood favorites, just as much as an adult.

Almost every little girl who loved to read knows this story; orphan red-headed Anne is sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert by accident. They wanted a boy to help out on the farm, but found themselves with a talkative, dreamy wisp of a child instead. After a day’s acquaintance, and knowing Anne’s dim future prospects, neither Marilla nor Matthew can bear to send her back, so they decide to keep her, leaving Marilla, an old maid, to raise a girl child on her own.

I must have read this book countless times as a child. It’s always been one of my favorites, but I haven’t read it in at least ten years. The number just went up and up as I got older. I’m not sure what drove me away from reading this one as a teenager; I suspect it may have been my early high school love affair with romance novels. Regardless, it was certainly high time for a reread, and the combination of my new Kindle and the excellent Gutenberg project meant I could have the entire series at my disposal whenever I wanted. I never owned the whole series as a kid, though I always longed to, and it’s nice to finally have that sense of completion. Since I don’t have to haul the entire series over the pond to read it, this is much more convenient for me.

Anyway, on to the book. As I mentioned earlier, I completely and unreservedly adored it all over again. There are so many reasons to love it, but naturally the foremost is Anne herself. Vivacious, dreamy, and incredibly intelligent, I think every little girl can see something of themselves in her. She is not only all of us, but she becomes all that we’d like to be, something I never really picked up on reading the book as a kid. She may not be beautiful, she may make mistakes, she may use big over-dramatic words, but she is incredibly loveable and no one can resist her copious amounts of charm. I know I wished to have so many friends at that age; I had some, but never the situation where my best friend was right next door and available to play every day. Anne is so very girlish, longing to have lovely dark hair, dresses with puffed sleeves, and an absence of freckles. She’s easy to relate to because most of us feel like ugly ducklings at 12 and 13; they are such awkward ages. Anne’s trials can help young girls who are similarly not allowed to wear the latest fashions accept that this is a simple reality, and that such rewards will come in time.

What was most interesting was how I remembered the book. I knew some of the big events that were going to happen, but I managed to mix up part of this one with the next, so I kept expecting a few things to happen only to find that they didn’t! Obviously I read Anne of Avonlea more than I thought I did. But even as I remembered where the story was going and what pitfalls were along the way, I also rediscovered so many things and found myself enjoying the journey far more than I would have expected. The entire book is something of an idyll and gives the reader a feeling that the past was a wonderful place. Even though, as I mentioned, Anne has her faults and makes mistakes that cause her to suffer bitterly, most of the book has a rosy glow about it. Life has issues, but they are never insurmountable so long as one is good and honest and does her best. There are always friends, and dreams, and hard work can make these dreams come true. Even that irritating boy you thought you’d always hate can turn out to be a friend. In this respect, it really is the perfect book for a little girl, and I know if I ever have one of my own, my own paper copy will be hers to hopefully cherish as much as I did.

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Review: All That’s True, Jackie Lee Miles

Andi is a young girl from an upper class Southern family. Years ago, she would have been a proper Southern belle, but for the moment she’s struggling to get over her brother’s death from drugs and the realization that her father is sleeping with her best friend’s stepmother. With all the awkwardness of an early teenage girl, Andi imagines herself to be in love with a number of boys, struggles through difficult issues she’s too young for, fights against wearing a child’s dress for her big sister’s wedding, and charms everyone in sight with her genuine kindness and good will.

This is such an incredibly sweet coming of age story. Andi visibly matures as the novel goes on. She’s faced with tough dilemma after dilemma – her brother’s death, her father’s infidelity, her mother’s alcoholism, even her best friend heading to boarding school. But she handles it all, even when she thinks she’s not able to, and is an absolutely adorable character. Her voice is so true to teenagerhood that some of her thoughts could easily have come out of my own head at that age, even though not nearly so many atrocious things happened in my early teenage years. She’s a drama queen and overimagines everything, but don’t all teenagers?

The best, and most adorable, example of this is her habit of imagining herself in love with a few boys and men throughout the course of the novel. In one particularly charming situation, she’s convinced herself that she’s in love with a soldier who is off at war. She writes him letter after letter, not really noticing that he’s not writing back – and then his mother comes over with the news. He’s been injured, not fatally, but in his hands. Andi is devastated and blurts out that he and she were going together, only to be told that he’s actually engaged. What a mortifying and devastating moment for a thirteen year old!

Something else I sincerely appreciated about this book was Andi’s faith. It’s never pushed on the reader, it’s simply presented as a component of her personality. It underlines quite a bit of what she does, like volunteering at a soup kitchen and reading to elderly people, and her faith remains a lodestone for her. It seemed refreshingly real to me, without the author preaching to us in any way. It’s another part of Andi’s life, not everything to her. She even complains about being an altar server, just like I did when I had to be one as a child.

All That’s True is a great, engaging read about a teenager coming into her own. As she comes to realize things about her life and develop her personality fully, we can’t help but fall in love with her and eagerly go along for the ride. I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers and adults everywhere.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from the publisher.

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Review: Delirium, Lauren Oliver

In Lena’s world, love is a disease. Called “deliria amor nervosa”, the disease has a myriad of symptoms and is generally blamed for all the world’s ills. Things are better since a cure was found, or so they say. Lena believes them wholeheartedly and can’t wait for her procedure, scheduled to happen for everyone on their eighteenth birthday. With just months to go, Lena prepares meticulously for her interview and is diligent about staying away from boys, preferring the company of her best friend. But when she and Hana sneak past a fence, she meets a boy, Alex, and though he has the mark of the cured, Lena’s worldview begins to shift in drastic ways.

What a dystopia this was. Can you imagine a world without love? I never could before and I’m not sure I’d like to again – Lena’s world is cold and forbidding. I liked the approach of this story – it reminded me of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, in that Lena just can’t wait to be like everyone else. Her mother, stricken by love, killed herself when Lena was a girl, and ever since she’s been marked with the same brush of tragedy and illness. Being cured is her only way to escape, and she never considers her mother’s last words until she meets Alex and starts to feel what love actually is.

The world itself was interesting and, I thought, fairly well fleshed out for the first volume of a trilogy. Part of me was wondering about the logistics of it all – how many cities are out there like Lena’s? Why did they still allow people to get married if they might fall in love with their spouse? But I set those concerns aside, thinking that they might be answered in the next book, and instead kept reading because I was totally captivated by the story.

I was completely swept away by Delirium. It’s almost difficult to relate to Lena at first because she is so determined to be ordinary. As she slowly breaks the mold and dares to be extraordinary, she becomes much more interesting and I found myself racing through the rest of the story to see what happens to her and Alex. Because of course they are destined to fall in love, and it’s such a wonderful and sweet romance. I could believe in them and I was crossing my fingers for them throughout the story. It really was beautiful. And the ending was something I saw coming – I am not sure now how I’m going to wait until the next volume of the trilogy is released!

In the meantime, I’ve already purchased Before I Fall and can guarantee I’ll be reading that as soon as it arrives on my doorstep. I highly recommend Delirium to anyone looking for a good, compelling YA dystopia with a passionate love story at the core.

For those of us in the UK, Delirium will be published in just a couple of days. In the meantime, here are the publisher’s website and Amazon links!

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.

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Review: Fall for Anything, Courtney Summers

fall for anythingWhen Eddie’s father killed himself, her life fell apart. She can’t figure out how he could have left her, left her mother, when they all seemed so happy. Now her mother can’t get out of her bathrobe, her mother’s best friend Beth is constantly in the house and invading Eddie’s life, and there are ever-growing boundaries between her and her own best friend Milo. When Eddie meets her father’s last student, Culler Evans, she begins to hope that he can finally answer the question “why?”, even at the expense of everyone and everything she thinks she knows.

I don’t think I can do this book justice in a review. It was such an all-consuming experience, a complete cascade of grief, hope, and love, that I genuinely don’t think I can express the effect this book had on me. Needless to say, I was totally wrapped up in Eddie’s experiences. At times, I wished she could have been more forthcoming – that all of the people in the novel could say what they really wanted to – but conversations in real life are difficult, too, and I didn’t think the author could have done a better job portraying real people suffering.

When Culler comes into the picture, I could completely understand Eddie’s desire to know, to understand. A death, especially a suicide, makes us question what happened, and in our grief, it can be so easy to get lost in that question. I was worried for her, dealing with an older boy who could hurt her so easily, and at that moment I realized just how wrapped up I was in this book. I didn’t want to put it down for anything, I just wanted to see what happened and whether Eddie managed to find the meaning she so craved.

Amidst all of this are the usual teenage dramas – because at the heart of it these characters are distinctly teenage even when their lives are turned upside down. Eddie still wants to be with her friend, Milo, even though he won’t tell her essential facts about the night her father died. His ex-girlfriend still manages to get in the way of their friendship. And she still sometimes goes out to parties, where occasionally she feels a spark of normality. She’s changed but she’s still recognizably a teenage girl, which gives us hope that she will find answers and return to enjoying her life eventually.

Fall for Anything was simply an incredible book. Beautifully written, with realistic characters and an absolutely gut-wrenching storyline, don’t miss this if you enjoy contemporary YA. And let me tell you, I have Some Girls Are on my shelf and I cannot wait to get to it now.

I am an Amazon Associate. Many thanks to the author and publisher for sending me this review copy!

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Review: Looking for Alaska, John Green

looking for alaskaMiles has lived a fairly lonely life throughout school when he decides to go to the same boarding school his dad went to, Culver Creek, to finish out his high school years. Rather than spending all of his time researching the last words of dead people, Miles wants to live, to experience his “Great Perhaps”. And on arrival, he almost immediately starts to, as his roommate instantly befriends him and introduces him to a friend, Alaska Young. Miles has never met a girl like Alaska – a clever, funny, beautiful girl, always living on the edge and taking risks. Starting out on a countdown to a mysterious event, Looking For Alaska is suspenseful, heart-breaking, and completely real.

John Green is famous around the blogosphere for writing real teenagers with real emotions, and I found nothing less than that in this book. At the very beginning, I found myself immediately drawn in; we start off at Miles’s going-away party, which no one but his parents and two awkward acquaintances attend. How could I not relate to a geeky boy that loves history and struggles to make friends? He’s pragmatic, clever, and funny, and when he met people at his new school right away, I was already his enthusiastic cheerleader.

The story only got better. I’m a big fan of boarding school and even house party stories. When you get lots of characters living together at once, fireworks happen, and they quite literally do so here. There are so many interesting dynamics going on, from pranks to friendships to the traditional high school hierarchy. Each character was quirky and distinct in some way, so I never lost Miles’s friends amongst the crowds. Miles is speedily renamed “Pudgy”, which quite effectively marks his separation as a kid with only adults for friends and a kid who is ready to be a teenager.

And now we get to the point where we talk about spoilers, albeit vaguely, so look away if you haven’t read this book. This is one that I believe is given away on the American cover, but not on my British one. I have one notable incident later in the book that struck me as incredibly true to life and, I think, illustrates very well why John Green is so beloved for writing real teenagers. After a death occurs, a peripheral character comes to Miles, convinced that she’s had “a sign” from said person. Miles doesn’t want to hear it. This character had never related to the one who died in real life, and while he was really suffering, he just wasn’t interested. Instead, he’s annoyed.

This is something which has always bothered me about other people’s reactions to my brother’s death. People who wouldn’t have given him the time of day in real life were torn up about his death, and it’s always bugged me that it wasn’t him they were upset about, it was the confrontation of their own mortality. I always felt that they should have shown something when he was alive. And here John Green has illustrated precisely this. The other characters don’t care about the person who died. They’ve just realized that they themselves will die, and are reaching out for signs that it’s not so bad. What a uniquely teenage experience this is, that realization of death, and what a magnificent job Green did depicting it.

Anyway, to sum up, Looking For Alaska was a fantastic contemporary YA read, a true look at what it feels like to be a teenager, with a suspenseful, emotional plot. Highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: Last Sacrifice, Richelle Mead

vampire academy

This is the sixth and final book in the current Vampire Academy series, and this review WILL contain spoilers for the first five. If you’re new to the series, read my review of Vampire Academy.

The stakes have never been higher for Rose and her friends. Rose is in prison, accused of murdered Queen Tatiana, and with the evidence against her, will almost undoubtedly be convicted and sentenced to death. The court itself is in turmoil over Tatiana’s death, still over Dimitri’s restoration to Moroi from Strigoi, and over turning dhampirs into guardian at just sixteen, instead of eighteen. A new monarch must be chosen for the Moroi world and the choices aren’t stellar. Rose must escape and find the real murderer before it’s too late.

While I enjoyed this final installment in the series, I have to say that it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d expected it to be. In large part, I suspect this is because the Vampire Academy universe will be continued in the future. Rose’s story is wrapped up, but the author has a lot of loose threads to tie together at the end. I wasn’t particularly pleased with how things went with Lissa and Jill, for example, and especially not with what happened with Adrian. We’re just left with a lot of questions and not as many answers as I’d have expected. What did happen was mostly what I expected to happen, regardless of what I actually wanted. Suffice it to say that this was enjoyable, but not my favorite of the lot. Okay, I’ll be including spoilers now, as I just can’t hold back!

What’s worse is that I wasn’t entirely sure I liked Rose at the end of the book. At one point, Adrian tells her that she’s hurt a lot of feelings and used a lot of people to get to the end, and I had to agree with him. She does use people, she gets them into trouble, and she has the ability to ruin lives. I actually would have been happier had the ending gone a different way – I hated how she treated Adrian, who I thought was actually a much better match for her in Dimitri. Sure, I was caught in that romance at the beginning, but that just wasn’t a sensible choice. I didn’t feel that he was the one for her. I wanted to believe that she was getting past it and that she’d find a new future with Adrian, but she didn’t.

After all her talk of best friendship, I thought she ended up using Lissa the most. By making her friend queen – she didn’t make it happen entirely but she certainly got into the idea and made it so it COULD happen – she took away Lissa’s young adulthood and freedom, something she’d obviously longer for in previous books. Maybe Lissa was the best choice, but primarily the goal was to delay the Moroi election, and to buy Rose time. It was selfish, although in some respects she made up for it in the end.

This was a good series, even if it didn’t end precisely how I wanted with Last Sacrifice. Recommended for fans of YA fantasy and vampires.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett

This review contains spoilers for the first three Tiffany Aching books – start with The Wee Free Men.

Tiffany Aching is finally a witch and on the Chalk, the land where she grew up and which she deeply loves. Being a witch, unfortunately, means that she’s overworked and constantly trying to do the best for everyone, even if they don’t like it. It also means that she’s ostracized, even from the people she once held dear. This includes Roland, the boy she saved in The Wee Free Men and who she thought would be her boyfriend, someday. Instead, as his father lies on his deathbed, Roland must assume the Baron’s responsibilities. But there are bigger problems afoot, namely the Cunning Man, who nudges thoughts against witches wherever he goes, and makes Tiffany endure far more hardships than otherwise would be necessary.

I loved this book. I think it’s my favorite of the series (which makes it appropriate to review today, on my birthday). It was everything that I loved about the rest, with added maturity, romance, and a feeling of completion. I’m content to leave the series here, and in a world where far too many series go on unending, I like that a lot. It could continue, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a book about Tiffany growing up, growing into the inheritance we’ve known about since the start, and even if it’s difficult and she gets into tough situations, she embraces it with all her heart. At the end she has grown and learned. She’s not only a better witch but a better person, an adult ready to face the world.

And, of course, probably half the reason I loved this book best was the fact that it does center on more mature issues; namely, romance, one of my obvious favorite types of plot. I must admit that I was quite sad to discover that Roland and Tiffany weren’t going to end up together, but the explanation was simultaneously so sad and wise at the same time that I couldn’t disagree with it. The way it ends up, of course, is just perfect for Tiffany and hit precisely the right note. I found it even more satisfying than what I had thought was going to happen throughout the first three.

The rest of the book is also substantially darker. Tiffany is now dealing with issues that closely mirror problems in the real world, such as when she rescues a young woman from her abusive father, who has beaten her so badly that she has miscarried a child. There is still humor, but the fact remains that Tiffany is no longer a little girl and the issues she faces are genuine and difficult. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she also finds herself in the city in this book; it’s more closely intertwined with the adult Discworld books, which reflects on its place as a more mature story than the earlier, more enclosed novels.

I Shall Wear Midnight is a wonderful conclusion to this series, if it is the conclusion; it’s unquestionably my favorite and I know I can’t wait to read this series over again. Highly, highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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