Review of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Other Stories by Roald Dahl

February 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantastic Mr FoxFantastic Mr. Fox and Other Stories
By Roald Dahl; Read by Quentin Blake, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Chris O’DowdPublisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / children’s fantasy / short stories / animals /

Publisher Summary:

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Nobody outfoxes Fantastic Mr. Fox! Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief – it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox – Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.

Esio Trot: An ancient spell, 140 tortoises, and a little bit of magic…Mr. Hoppy is in love with his neighbor, Mrs. Silver; but she is in love with someone else – Alfie, her pet tortoise. With all her attention focused on Alfie, Mrs. Silver doesn’t even know Mr. Hoppy is alive. And Mr. Hoppy is too shy to even ask Mrs. Silver over for tea. Then one day Mr. Hoppy comes up with a brilliant idea to get Mrs. Silver’s attention. If Mr. Hoppy’s plan works, Mrs. Silver will certainly fall in love with him. After all, everyone knows the way to a woman’s heart is through her tortoise.

The Enormous Crocodile: The Enormous Crocodile is a horrid greedy grumptious brute who loves to guzzle up little boys and girls. But the other animals have had enough of his cunning tricks, so they scheme to get the better of this foul fiend, once and for all!

The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me: Who needs a ladder when you’ve got a giraffe with an extended neck? The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company certainly doesn’t. They don’t need a pail, either, because they have a pelican with a bucket-sized beak. With a monkey to do the washing and Billy as their manager, this business is destined for success. Now they have their big break – a chance to clean all 677 windows of the Hampshire House, owned by the richest man in all of England! That’s exciting enough, but along the way there are surprises and adventures beyond their wildest window-washing dreams.

This collection of stories written by Roald Dahl contains Fantastic Mr. Fox, Esio Trot, The Enormous Crocodile, and The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me with each story narrated by a different reader. The stories are all highly imaginative and definitely targeted to young children. The stories and their readings are very British, so if that turns you away this may not be the collection for you. Don’t expect deep life lessons in these stories but just some silly fun.

Fantastic Mr. Fox read by Chris O’Dowd – The headline story and my favorite of the bunch. Mr. Fox gets into trouble with 3 mean farmers and has to find some way to save his family! The reading by Chris O’Dowd has great voices and sound effects. I found one or two of the voices mildly irritating but I’m sure kids would love it. Lesson: It’s ok to steal if you’re stealing from mean people to help your family?

Esio Trot read by Geoffrey Palmer – Also an interesting story about a guy who teaches his female neighbor how to speak tortoise and make her tortoise grow. Geoffrey Palmer’s reading was great and he did a great job with the “tortoise language”. If doing audio don’t worry – I’m sure reading this story makes it easier to see what’s going on with the tortoise language but they explain what’s going on shortly after it’s introduced. Lesson: It’s OK to lie to people and mess with their stuff as long as you are trying to pick up a gullible lady.

The Enormous Crocodile read by Stephen Fry – Stephen Fry does a great job with the voices in this story about an enormous crocodile who wants nothing more than to eat children. I thought the story was fun albeit a little disturbing. Lesson: Don’t go around boasting about bad things you plan to do and be surprised when they do something about it. Oh and elephants are strong.

The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me read by Hugh Laurie – This was an odd story about a very unique group of window washers. I only say odd because I didn’t really know where this story was going aside from trying to be quirky; but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hugh Laurie did some nice voices and even some singing on this one! Lesson: Be awesome at the things you like to do and helping people can lead to good things.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

December 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald DahlGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine
By Roald Dahl, Read by Derek Jacobi
Penguin Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 1.5 hours

Themes: / magic medicine / oversized farm animals / crusty granny / avaricious father / children / short stories /

Publisher summary:

A taste of her own medicine. George is alone in the house with Grandma. The most horrid, grizzly old grunion of a grandma ever. She needs something stronger than her usual medicine to cure her grouchiness. A special grandma medicine, a remedy for everything. And George knows just what to put into it. Grandma’s in for the surprise of her life – and so is George, when he sees the results of his mixture!

This is a short humorous story that doesn’t ever seem to fully get off the ground. But still, it’s fun and lighthearted. And while there aren’t any deep secretive insights to the human condition, it made me smile through pretty much the whole thing, and that has to be worth something, right? I loved Dahl’s warning to potential medicine makers. Equally so, I appreciated the ending. It was touching in its uncomplicated way. The image of a child knowing his fingers had brushed the magic edge of another world leaves the reader/listener in a wistful rumination.

Derek Jacobi is narrator, and he really nails the reading. I might go so far as to say that Jacobi’s delivery shines slightly brighter than Dahl’s words. Regarding the production end of things, I didn’t care at all for the numerous musical scores that seemed jammed in at odd places within the story. They were distracting and unnecessary. I felt they detracted from the overall presentation.

I recommend this to any and all Dahl enthusiasts. For those peripheral fans, you can skip it, and not feel as if you’re getting left out in the cold darkness.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

December 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Savage Tales of Solomon KaneThe Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
By Robert E. Howard; Narrated by Paul Boehmer
Publisher: Tantor Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 30 minutesThemes: / pulp / fantasy / hero / short stories / Publisher summary:

With Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard created more than the greatest action hero of the twentieth century—he also launched a genre that came to be known as sword and sorcery. But Conan was not the first archetypal adventurer to spring from Howard’s fertile imagination.

He was…a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan…. A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things…. Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect—he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.

Collected in this volume are all of the stories that make up the thrilling saga of the dour and deadly Puritan: “Skulls in the Stars,” “The Right Hand of Doom,” “Red Shadows,” “Rattle of Bones,” “The Castle of the Devil,” “Death’s Black Riders,” “The Moon of Skulls,” “The One Black Stain,” “The Blue Flame of Vengeance,” “The Hills of the Dead,” “Hawk of Basti,” “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville,” “Wings in the Night,” “The Footfalls Within,” “The Children of Asshur,” and “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming.”

I don’t normally seem to enjoy older works of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and unfortunately, things were no different here. I was never a Conan fan growing, so I’d never read any of Mr. Howard before. The audiobook collection stars with an obituary or memorium written by H.P. Lovecraft with whom Mr. Howard apparently corresponded.

Mr. Howard is probably best known for his character Conan, but Solomon Kane is often credited as the first “Sword & Sorcery” character.

In this collection of stories Solomon Kane fights Pirates, Ghosts, Vampires, Sorcerors, Harpies and more. Solomon Kane wields daggers, pistols a sword, and in later stories, a magical staff. Sounds like it would be great! Unfortunately I was mostly bored. The best story of the bunch for me was The Children of Asshur, which was only a fragment and therefore ends somewhat abruptly. I would have liked to see where Mr. Howard intended to go with that story.

There are certainly things to like here. The writing isn’t bad and the adventures are certainly varied enough, but it just seemed like not much really happens most of the time. And then there is the racism. You can pull out the usual excuses, when the book what written, or the fact that the racism portrayed is probably accurate to the characters themselves. That doesn’t change the fact for me that it kept pulling me out of the stories.  It’s not in every story, but is present in most, especially those where Solomon Kane travels to Africa. Many times it seemed like an unnecessary aside, rather than an important plot point for or character motivation.

All in all, as I believe these stories are in public domain you might be better off picking one or two to check out rather than the whole collection. I think the best complete story was The Hills of the Dead, where Kane first gets his magic staff and fights a horde of vampires.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Twits, The Minpins, and The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

November 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

 twitsThe Twits, The Minpins, & The Magic Finger
By Roald Dahl; Read by Richard Ayoade, Bill Bailey, and Kate WinsletPublisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 26 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours

Themes: / children’s fantasy / short stories / creatures /

Publisher summary:

THE TWITS
How do you outwit a Twit? Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, nastiest, ugliest people in the world. They hate everything—except playing mean jokes on each other, catching innocent birds to put in their Bird Pies, and making their caged monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, stand on their heads all day. But the Muggle-Wumps have had enough. They don’t just want out, they want revenge.

THE MINPINS
Little Billy strays into the forest, where he meets the Minpins?tiny people who live within the trees. The Minpins tell Billy about The Gruncher, who preys on them. So Billy embarks on a mission to rid the Minpins of their foe once and for all, and sets off?on the back of a swan?to confront The Gruncher.

THE MAGIC FINGER
What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted? To the Gregg family, hunting is just plain fun. To the girl who lives next door, it’s just plain horrible. She tries to be polite. She tries to talk them out of it, but the Greggs only laugh at her. Then one day the Greggs go too far, and the little girl turns her Magic Finger on them. When she’s very, very angry, the little girl’s Magic Finger takes over. She really can’t control it, and now it’s turned the Greggs into birds! Before they know it, the Greggs are living in a nest, and that’s just the beginning of their problems.

Although I have enjoyed many of the movies made from Roald Dahl’s books (most notably James and the Giant Peach) I cannot recall reading any of his books except Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was … fine but not world changing for me. That’s kind of odd too, when I think about it, because I was the right age to be the prime audience when a lot of his books were coming out but I was largely oblivious to them. (Yep. Dated myself. Don’t care.)

However, as I have learned in the past, audio often breaks open a book or author who I didn’t find congenial in print. It was that way with Coraline by Neil Gaiman. It was that way with the last half of The Lord of the Rings (yes, I am ashamed but I will not lie). And, now, it is that way with Roald Dahl.

The Twits are the most horrible couple in the world and quite hateful to each other, until they are under attack from a common enemy. Even then they are horrible which makes it quite gratifying to see them get their comeuppance from the Muggle-Wump monkey family and the Roly Poly bird. This story had the most disgusting description of a beard I have ever encountered. Even while I was grimacing, I was also laughing because Dahl had such a clever way with words. Narrator Richard Ayoade had a lovely, calm British narration style that didn’t preclude hilarious, low-class voices for the Twits. First class stuff.

The Minpins has the most perfect monster name I’ve ever heard — The Gruncher, a fire-breathing, boy eating creature in Sin Forest. It sends Billy right up a tree where he meets the Minpins and they form an ingenious alliance to deal with their common foe. Bill Bailey narrated this with a great deal of gusto which didn’t detract in the least from the story.

The Magic Finger was my favorite story, partially because Kate Winslet’s narration won me over from the very beginning. I also just couldn’t resist the little girl who “puts my Magic Finger” on those who displease her. The Greggs are worthy of a magic finger punishment because they are such keen hunters. What the Magic Finger does is typical Dahl ingenuity at its best.

All three of these are little stories but each is a gem which children would love. Heck, I liked them quite a bit myself and, as I have revealed, I am far past the age of tender youth. I am now going to look for more Roald Dahl in audio, possibly even revisiting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Posted by Julie D.

 

Review of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl

October 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Henry Sugar by Roald DahlThe Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More
By Roald Dahl; Read by Andrew Scott
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 25 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours
Listen to an excerpt: | Link |

Themes: / children’s fantasy / short stories / animals / buried treasure / turtles / trains /

Publisher summary:

Meet the boy who can talk to animals and the man who can see with his eyes closed. And find out about the treasure buried deep underground. A cleaver mix of fact and fiction, this collection also includes how master storyteller Roald Dahl became a writer. With Roald Dahl, you can never be sure where reality ends and fantasy begins.

Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar: and six more, is a collection of seven brilliant short stories. Andrew Scott narrates this audio, and I speak true when I say his voice along with Dahl’s words produce a galvanic amalgam of magic intimacy for the ear and mind.

The seven stories are:
* The Boy Who Talked with Animals
* The Hitchhiker
* The Mildenhall Treasure
* The Swan
* The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
* Lucky Break
* A Piece of Cake.

These are all fine specimen. In “The Boy Who Talked with Animals,” I became spellbound with the plight of the large old turtle on its back as crowds of people gathered close. Maybe it was the idea of a helpless animal being pulled up to the kitchens where the sharp knives waited, but I could sense the immediacy of the old sea turtle’s predicament. As a gauge, this story is good and solid.

The three stories that stole my breath?
* The Mildenhall Treasure
* The Swan
* A Piece of Cake.

Out of these, “The Swan” is reason enough to read this collection. This story is haunting. It lingers in the mind and tied me into knots. Dahl made me taste the hot close breath of the train. It frightened me, and I’m a grown man. When you reach the duck and swan on the water, Dahl’s description is heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

To all the folks at Penguin Audio, “Thank you.” Thank you for getting this right.” Thank you for not cluttering up the tracks with God Damn sentimental music that’s supposed to tell me how and when to feel. Thank you for not mucking about with narrators trying to needlessly inject drama into stories that only require reading, not a performance. Thank you Penguin Audio for doing one of the best production jobs I’ve come across in a while. Sometimes the best ingredients are truly simple, a healthy appetite and a pinch of salt.

Here is an interesting video on the process of recording Dahl’s books:

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Carniepunk

September 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

CarniepunkCarniepunk
By Rachel Caine, Rob Thurman, Kevin Hearne, Seanan McGuire, Jennifer Estep, Allison Pang, Kelly Gay, Delilah S. Dawson and Kelly Meding
Narrated by Candace Thaxton and Kirby Heyborne
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 23 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours
Themes: / carnivals / urban fantasy / paranormal romance / mind-readers / synaesthesia / imprisoned goddesses / mermaids / short stories / tie-ins /
Publisher summary:
Come one, come all! The Carniepunk Midway promises you every thrill and chill a traveling carnival can provide. But fear not! Urban fantasy’s biggest stars are here to guide you through this strange and dangerous world. . . .

RACHEL CAINE’s vampires aren’t child’s play, as a naïve teen discovers when her heart leads her far, far astray in “The Cold Girl.” With “Parlor Tricks,” JENNIFER ESTEP pits Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin, against the Wheel of Death and some dangerously creepy clowns. SEANAN McGUIRE narrates a poignant, ethereal tale of a mysterious carnival that returns to a dangerous town after twenty years in “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea.” KEVIN HEARNE’s Iron Druid and his wisecracking Irish wolfhound discover in “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” that the impossibly wholesome sounding Kansas Wheat Festival is actually not a healthy place to hang out. With an eerie, unpredictable twist, ROB THURMAN reveals the fate of a psychopath stalking two young carnies in “Painted Love.”

This was a short story collection with urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and carnival themes. On the whole, the book was fairly average. There were some fantastic stories and there were some terrible stories. I’ve reviewed each story individually, below. The narration was mostly done by Candace Thaxton, though Kirby Heyborne narrated a few including “Painted Love” and “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street.” All in all, I found Thaxton’s narration preferable to Heyborne’s, but that might have been because I liked more of the stories she narrated than Heyborne. Heyborne’s narration bordered on creepy, and while it fit the genre/story, it also made me kind of uncomfortable. In honesty, I’m not sure I can recommend this book unless someone is looking for a specific short story from one of the authors. There were a few stories that I read that I’m now interested in the world, but most were either very average or downright terrible. This is also not a book for younger readers–some of the stories are quite graphic, mostly sexually. So if you want the book, be warned that it’s probably not “good family listening.”

Stories:
“Painted Love” by Rob Thurman. A creepy tale of a carnival manager and his killer tendencies, seen through the eyes of a demon that escaped from Hell. The demon, called “Doodle,” wants to see the world and so latches onto people as he makes his way around, seeing people of all types. Unexpectedly, Doodle finds that he’s awed by the strength of the psychic at the carnival–and steps in when Bart, the manager, tries to kill her and rape her sister. It was an interesting idea, made all the more creepy by the narrator’s voice. Unfortunately, most of the story was character development of the members of the carnival; the actual meat of the story felt like it was fairly rushed.

“The Three Lives of Lydia” by Delilah S. Dawson. I believe this was said to be a story of “Blud,” though I haven’t read any of Dawson’s work to have familiarity with the story or the characters. This was a sad story of a girl who woke up on the outskirts of a carnival in a different world, a world called “Sang.” The girl, Lydia, is a “stranger” in the world, a transient. She falls in (and in love?) with a vampire, and takes a job at the carnival. Unfortunately, she’s also stalked by some of the less-nice members of the carnival, and skates the line between her waking life and the life in her “dream.” While this was a sad story and somewhat predictable, I actually kind of liked it. I think I might want to read more in this world, if it’s more of the carnival “dream” world.

“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” by Kevin Hearne. A story from the world of The Iron Druid Chronicles, therefore starring the Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, his Irish wolfound, and his student Granwael (spelled wrong I’m sure). This is supposed to take place a few years after the events in Tricked, which I haven’t read yet (I’ve only read the first book in the series, Hounded). This time, Atticus and Granwael decide to go into a “freak show” in a carnival and find something much more sinister than a typical carnival freak show. It results in a battle with some ghouls, as might be expected. Just like Hounded, this story is pretty light but entertaining enough with a good bit of action, if slightly formulaic.

“The Sweeter the Juice” by Mark Henry. A terrible and disgusting story about a transvestite looking for a new street drug to help pay off her debt at a sex change clinic. This story had a lot of unnecessary detail. It was also needlessly disgusting. I regretted eating while listening. If I could give negative stars, this story would get them.

“The Werewife” by Jaye Wells. Be careful what you wish for, even if it’s only in the darkest recesses of your mind. That goes double when you’re at a carnival with a freak show run by someone who can read minds. A story, as you might guess from the title, about a man and his werewolf-wife. The ending in this was almost “happy” and the story didn’t go where I thought it would. It was a welcome relief after the last story.

“The Cold Girl” by Rachel Caine. A short story in the vein of Twilight, down to the emo teenager “in love.” This particular emo teenager’s boyfriend turns out to be a murderer and she looks to be his next victim. She’s warned by a psychic at the carnival, but is also told that there is nothing she can do, and that she will meet The Cold Girl soon. This was utter rubbish. I suppose that if you liked the Twilight series, you might like this, but the truth is, the Twilight series did terrible things for a wonderful genre, the least of which was inflicting further crap like this on unsuspecting readers.

“A Duet with Darkness” by Allison Pang. This story is listed by Goodreads as “book 0.5″ in the Abby Sinclair series. I’ve never read the series, but I do like the idea of music and synaesthesia as a tie to the magical world. In this story, Melanie is a violinist tied to a fallen angel, Numo (the description of whom reminds me of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII a bit). She is insanely talented and her pride gets the best of her while at a gig she “duels” (plays violin with/against) someone who is better than her. Her opponent turns out to be the Devil’s violinist. This story was a bit heavy on introduction of characters that didn’t seem to matter much for this story (but probably makes sense for the larger world context). I may have to give this series a go.

“Recession of the Divine” by  Hillary Jacques. Can you imprison a goddess? What happens if you try? This story attempts to answer that as Mnemosyne (Goddess of Memory, a Titan) has renounced her Olympian ways and (in this century) is a loss specialist for an insurance company. She ends up at a carnival which has had a string of accidents. She finds that there is much more than meets the eye as one of the carnival members is using other divine techniques to have his way about things–including wooing/luring customers. Realizing what Olivia (Mnemosyne) is, he tries to use her abilities as a part of the show…and that may just be his undoing.

“Parlor tricks” by Jennifer Estep. This is an Elemental Assassin short story, another series I haven’t read but might look into based on this short story. This time, a girl goes missing while at a carnival and “The Spider” and her sister (a police detective) go there to search for her. What they uncover is a fairly typical trope in fantasy, but that doesn’t stop this story from being pretty good. One other thing that I really liked that not many of the stories in this collection have done well is that it only gave us detail we needed. Too many of the other stories in this collection have a lot of detail that is irrelevant to the story. The detail would be needed for a full-length novel or maybe even a novella…but not for the short story. So, in addition to enjoying this story, I have to give Estep credit for the focus in the story.

“Freak House” by Kelly Meding. Another concise story, and another one I was surprised to enjoy. This time, it’s a story of a daughter trying to find her kidnapped father. The twist? Well…how does one exactly kidnap a djinn to start with, and how does one rescue the djinn from whoever was powerful enough to kidnap him in the first place? Shiloh, half-djinn, teams up with a werewolf and a human to do just that…the narration said this was a “Strays” short story, but I can’t find any reference to that series on GR or on Meding’s website. Either way, it was another story, just enough detail without going overboard.

“The Inside Man” by Nicole Peeler. After a few strong stories, I guess I can’t complain too much when this one was not nearly as strong–or as interesting. The concept was interesting: a soul-stealer and those trying to fight against him, to reclaim the souls. The execution, though, was boring. I routinely found myself getting distracted during this story in the Jane True universe.

“A Chance in Hell” by Jackie Kessler. A story that starts and ends with gratuitous sex scenes, this one was also pretty boring. Jezebel used to be a succubus, but she has escaped hell and is living “topside” as a human, getting trained in the ways of being human by her roommates. One of her roommates, Cecilia, wants to go to a carnival, to show her a new view of humanity. What Cecilia doesn’t know, can’t know, is that this carnival is run by a powerful demon. A story in the Hell on Earth series, it was another that was predictably un-entertaining.

“Hell’s Menagerie” by Kelly Gay. At its crux, a story about a girl and her dog with some coming of age thrown in for good measure. This story is from the Charlie Madigan world, though from reading the description of the books in that series, I think it’s just set in the same world, not necessarily with the same character. In this story, Emma travels with her hellhound, Brim, to Charbydon to rescue Brim’s puppies and their mother. They track them to a menagerie and are forced to make the decision to trade Brim for the pups. Now on a mission to rescue Brim, Emma realizes she has some special powers, powers that extend above and beyond her connection with Brim. This story was cute, if predictable. Really, how can anybody not like a story with hellhounds?

“Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea” by Seanan McGuire. I don’t really know what to make of this story. It wasn’t bad…but I’m not sure I “got” it. There didn’t seem to be much real story…it was about a young woman who was part (or entirely) mermaid, visiting with a traveling carnival the city where her mother (also mermaid) was found (and subsequently joined the traveling carnival). There is a lot of discussion of a “possible” problem but the actual action was only in the last 10 minutes or so of the 45-minute story…and even then, it was pretty mundane. I haven’t read any of Seanan McGuire’s (or her alter ego, Mira Grant) works, and I’m not sure that this enticed me to do so. I wonder how similar this story is to others she’s written.

Posted by terpkristin.

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