Edinburgh Book Festival – Leigh Bardugo and Maureen Johnson


On Sunday  I was lucky enough to be listening to two American New York Times best selling authors Leigh Bardugo and Maureen Johnson, talking about “Alternative Worlds,” at the Edinburgh Book Festival.   Leigh Bardugo’s debut series “The Grisha Trilogy, Shadow and Bone,” is set in an alternative, magical, Tsarist Russia. At the moment this debut series is in the hands of Harry Potter producer, David Heyman, who is considering a film version.  Though it is not confirmed as yet, a movie may be scheduled to release in 2014 or 2015.

Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series is a bloody, paranormal thriller:

  • The Name of the Star
  • The Madness Underneath
  • The Boy in the Smoke (World book day novella)
  • The Shadow Cabinet

My first impressions were interesting to say the least. Maureen Johnson sat to the right of Leigh Bardugo with a serious expression on her face, the interviewer appeared a bit unsure just how this conversation was going to progress. But as soon as Maureen spoke all those fears were dispelled. Maureen’s first words about her historical tour of London, were ghosts were mentioned at each and every opportunity, was an absolute riot. Maureen doesn’t believe in timid ghosts that genteely move furniture, or boohoo quietly in a corner, no only murderous ghosts are good enough for her! If she ever gets sick of writing I’m sure she could inflict her sense of wit on us as a very successful female stand-up comedian. Anyway the outcome of all these ghosts was a ton load of research. Maureen researched the history of London, ghost lore, and the Jack the Ripper case files. And the result was . . …….. The Shades of London series.

Leigh and Maureen talked about writing research, and world building. We had Leigh falling in love with her book ideas and Maureen reading her work for the tenth time and just dying. Murder, dying, you name it Maureen inflicted it on her poor unsuspecting audience.

Leigh started writing in her thirties after pursuing various careers, latterly she worked as a make up artist, concocting stories whilst she was applying make up to her clients. Maureen is so multi-talented that she writes scripts for the Nintendo DS and PSP versions of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood prince video game.

Initially Leigh had problems finishing first drafts of novels that she’d started. I really relate to this, sounds so me! Luckily Leigh went on to write not just one stand-alone book but three,  her Shadow and Bone series, “feels like a trilogy,”  and boy does it deliver.

They talked about plotting, and planning. Maureen’s style wasn’t too structured to begin with but she was soon compiling character dossiers, and histories. Leigh commented that Lainie Taylor doesn’t plot at all. She observed that this could only possibly work if the author had a natural sense of story. Well, I’m a weak plotter, but only time will tell if I have what it takes to get away with this. In my case, a lack of initial plotting wasn’t such a good idea, I had to do loads of re-writes. I’d agree that in that first draft you are telling yourself the story, as Leigh suggests. Maureen referred to “a little toolkit,” to hammer her story into our consciousness. Ouch, sounds painful, steady on there Maureen.

Leigh’s trilogy is written in 1st person with a third person prologue and epilogues. The voice of her novel was hard to find. To begin with her main character’s voice was nice, quiet, and sweet but she soon found a more sour, pragmatic voice for Alina, her main protagonist, a teenage orphan.

Maureen killed off one of her characters before she even got a chance to appear in print. The fifth Martin, the youngest, was obliterated straight away. Well, Maureen jokingly said that babies don’t do much anyway! As an only child herself she was drawn to writing about a big, family, and a wacky one at that.  Her final novel, in her Shades of London series, is now in the hands of someone. She jokingly said that she hopes it was actually a Penguin representative and not some random manuscript stealer.

According to Leigh there are some wonderful benefits of being an author, living in your pyjamas is one of them, but killing your characters can be tough. Absolutely agree Leigh, you just live and breathe those characters, they become engrained in your thoughts. Maureen advised us to “Just do it!” No second thoughts or holding back there, Maureen.

Maureen and Leigh closed off the proceedings with a reading. Maureen kicked it off with a very amusing passage from Scarlett Fever and Leigh took us to a dark place to inflict the darkling on us, and I’m still there, hoping that I will eventually manage to escape!

Then finally the discussion turned to the professional aspect of writing that is often overlooked, touring, and social media. Is this a fun aspect or a chore? Leigh said that she didn’t have to do this but she loved it. Oh, and of course her publishers encouraged her to do so. She said that when you’re on a tour you get to see a new city everyday. It’s the best job ever! Be yourself on line, find out where you should connect with your readers, Leigh felt most at home on tumblr.

To begin with Maureen answered this question dead pan. Writing and being a writer are very different, she said. Do what feels right to you.  People found me on twitter, and their response seemed to be, you’re a writer?

The question and answer section followed next. There was a bit of a reluctance from the reticent Scottish audience but one brave soul asked whether Maureen had been on one of many of Edinburgh’s haunted ghost trips? Maureen hadn’t had the opportunity but yes, she would have liked to, but she had a feeling that Edinburgh’s ghosts might not be up to scratch. It sounds like Maureen takes a lot to scare her.

The next question touched upon strong female characters, a topic that is most definitely a popular one. Maureen doesn’t like classifying books as boys books or girls books. That just makes her crazy. Leigh made the very valid comment that nobody talks about strong male characters, and Maureen even mentioned that there is some anger towards female characters. I think that we expect so much from our female characters, come on they’re just like us they’re flawed, nobodies perfect. In my opinion that’s what makes them interesting.

Then a young lad in the far corner asked the final question, the one that was no doubt pressing on the lips of many amongst us in the audience, myself included. It went something like this: “Have you any advice for young writers?” Well the tips went along these lines. Maureen told him not to expect too much. She said that her writing was “so bad” to begin with that she deserved these terms: “Arrest me,” “Kill me.” So if you’re writing terribly Maureen suggests that you’re on the right path because as Maureen says this will lead you to your goal of writing well. Thanks, this is so true, totally agree.

Again Leigh touched a chord with me, she said there’s “no expiration date on talent.” Thank you so much Leigh! Again she went on to say that you don’t have to be cute, popular or media genic, (is this even a word, and if so how do you spell it?)

Maureen carried on this tide of inspiration with “Don’t give up,” “Just finish,” Carry on to your “Eyes bleed,” finish that first draft. Maureen were you speaking to me?

Well it was a sunny day, and I came out smiling even more than when I went in. Such an inspiring, talk. I loved it, and guess what, I finished my final edits last night. Yes finally got there and my eyes didn’t even bleed they just blurred a bit. Now, just have to find a publisher. This is going to be the hardest part, but now I feel more prepared for it. I’m writing this in my pyjamas and I have this strong sense of belonging, I think I’ve already joined the writer’s club! Leigh Bardugo and Maureen Johnson were so entertaining and a absolute delight to listen to. I left feeling both inspired, and sure that I have finally chosen the right career path to an Alternative World.

If you could write about an Alternative World what would it be? Do tell, I’m sure it would be fascinating.

To find out more about these great authors websites, click away:







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Newquay Apartment – Smiley Key

apartment cornwall

Our summer holiday this year was in Newquay, Cornwall. We decided to journey there by train and hire a car for a few days. The train journey was very relaxing and a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. There were no hitches, we got to Newquay in the early evening as expected and took a taxi to our apartment. Or at least we thought we did! The taxi driver took us to the wrong block of flats, and we ended up standing outside shouting up at some random guy on a balcony, who told us that we were at Ocean View instead of our apartment and could we move out-of-the-way as we were blocking the drive! Well, this has never happened to me before, even though I have been all over the world, and travelled to some weird and wonderful places, where you would expect this to be much more likely.

My husband phoned the taxi company who complained a bit but did pick us up. The same lady taxi driver drove us the short distance down the hill to our apartment. As it turned out we could have walked, it was just a short distance away.  It didn’t quite look like the holiday photo from the internet but anyway, we had arrived. From that point on things got even more peculiar. We walked into a parking area that seemed to be high security. There were numbers to type in to open the gate, a number to open the door to the basement, and a strange black, plastic box with another security number for the key. The owners of the apartment certainly had a sense of humour, the key had a smiley face on it and the welcoming mat at the front door said, Keep Calm and Come In. The apartment was lovely, a true home from home with everything you could ask for and more. It was a bit of a shame that it was a bit rowdy at night but I think we chose the height of the stag weekends to arrive, and well it was the centre of Newquay so what can you expect? The stag revellers were quite entertaining. Costumes seem a big Stag item nowadays, one group of 13-15 guys were all in Marvel costumes. I saw a couple of them crossing the road, hand in hand, very fetching I must say. They came back later dripping wet, their ebullient spirits, and elaborate costumes somewhat dampened by a sudden downpour of rain!

The holiday was great. Cornwall is just so beautiful. The beaches are great, the views are spectacular. What more could you ask for? Well, a little bit more sunshine would have been nice. But mustn’t complain it only rained a little. We began by gatecrashing  the Headland Hotel, we stopped for a cappuccino, and basked in the sun. It was so relaxing I could have snoozed off. We swam in the sea, got thrown about by the waves, travelled to St Ives, and Padstow.

The Thursday before we returned home we went to the Minack Theatre, Porthcorno, http://www.minack.com/. This is a “world-famous open-air theatre created from a cliffside at Porthcurno by Rowena Cade.” Not surprisingly this breathtaking spot has won many awards, and it is only a short distance away from Lands End. We went to see The Producers which was a riot. The images from the musical can be seen, at the following link http://www.minack.com/showproducers14.htm. The journey there was long, the traffic was busy but it was well worth it. Rain was forecast so we had come in our jeans and tee-shirts with brollies at the ready but it was one of the hottest days. Thank goodness I had packed suncream, and my sunhat, oh and a packed lunch and drinks.  My daughter stole my favourite blue sun hat, but I wasn’t going to deprive her, she’s so fair-skinned.

While I was in Cornwall I got to thinking about Cornish gastronomic delights well Cornish Pasties and Cream teas to be exact. Lean cuisine isn’t exactly a feature of Cornish cuisine. I wondered why? It must be the rugged scenery, the wind swept hill tops, the waves pounding the shore that make people yearn for a scone, jam and clotted cream, fish and chips, or a hearty Cornish pasty. Oh, and the pirates you can just see them tucking in can’t you?

If  you go with children, or teenagers you’re bound to part with your money for a temporary tattoo. Well older ones might succumb to a permanent one but that’s a different story. My youngest got a star pattern on her foot, I was quite sceptical, I thought that it wouldn’t last very long but it’s still there and we’ve been back nearly a month now! The tattoo ladies do a roaring trade on sunny days but our last day it rained all day long. I saw her as we walked past, she didn’t have a customer in sight but she still managed a smile as we walked by.

Well, my husband and the girls braved the weather and went into the sea for a farewell quick dip. I stayed on the beach, and watched, while posing as an idiot manning an umbrella. Then we went to the cinema, a first choice activity for a rainy day, and watched Guardians of The Galaxy in 3D. I loved the tree character, Groot, he didn’t say much but somehow he was so memorable!

In keeping with all good holidays we ate a little too much, drank more than we do normally and had an enjoyable time. But the thought that struck me when I was on my way home was this: how lucky we are to have two teenagers that are a pleasure to be with. They don’t whine or give us a hard time. I must have done something right. Or am I hallucinating?  But changes are coming and fast. My eldest is going to University this autumn. The family dynamic as we know it is going to change. How I will miss her. Life is full of  these moments. I remember back to both of my childrens’ final year at primary school. When my eldest finished somehow it didn’t affect me in the same way but when my youngest left it seemed such a sad occasion. My last child at primary school. I looked around and all the other mothers in the same boat looked tearful, and so did the children. I think we all sensed that secondary school was a big change, and of course we were right. That was such an emotional occasion, and I think the changes coming this autumn will be too. I will have to pack a hanky or two, not bother to wear any mascara, that will be easy as I rarely do. I will have to brave it up but I have a feeling I will find it hard, so if you happen to be in Brighton in September and see me crying you’ll know why. The seaside always stirs my emotions. Sussex is her first choice University so I’m so delighted that she is going there. I just wish I could sneak in too and re-live those University days! If only.

I’ve digressed and regressed, one minute I’m talking about holidays and the next I’m off  to University!  Anyway, getting back to the holiday theme, I’ve a few photos to show you. Where did you go this summer or where are you planning on going? I’d love to hear your summer holiday stories. Do tell.

beach newquay







minack theatre cornwall
Minack Theatre Cornwall


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My Kyrosmagica Review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han


Goodreads Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

My review:


I just loved Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. A big, full,  book case heart for this one, great cover art, perfect YA novel within. My only regret, that I didn’t read it when I was a teenager myself! Shame I can’t time travel back to do a bit of reading. Anyway I’m still in touch with that side of me, my teenage self is still there somewhere deep in the layers of my enforced adulthood!

The initial idea behind the book, the hidden letters to her crushes, is a simple concept but the way Jenny Han develops upon this and draws us into the story is just wonderful. Lara Jean’s relationship with her older sister Margo begins to change when Margo goes off to University in Scotland and dumps her boyfriend Josh just before she goes.  Lara is shocked, Josh is like one of the family and everyone loves him, and when I say love him, I mean love him. She finds herself now taking the role of “big sister” to her younger sister Kitty, who is wise beyond her years.  I love how Jenny Han expresses Lara Jean’s confusion and distress at her new role by placing her behind a steering wheel and making her face her fears. Okay so it’s a bit of a disaster, she doesn’t manage to do everything perfectly like Margo does but that’s what makes her so endearing. She isn’t Miss Popularity. She isn’t Miss Confident, but none of that matters because she is Lara Jean, and Lara Jean is infinitely more likeable than some overconfident, pretentious girl.  I found the relationships between the sisters so touching, probably because it spoke to me personally as I have an older daughter going off to University this September and both of my girls will be affected by the change. Jenny Han writes about the bonds, and dynamics of  sisterly relationships with such humour and empathy. The fake relationship between Lara and Peter is perfectly written. Peter’s character evolves so naturally.  I can’t find fault with any aspect of the book, the dialogue, and every single one of the characters are so convincing that by the end of the book it was almost as if Lara Jean and her family and friends live and breathe. In the beginning her fake boyfriend Peter doesn’t seem the right choice for her,  but by the end of the book he steals the show from Josh.  There are sad elements of the novel, that tug at your heartstrings but there are also happy and laugh out loud moments. In fact if there is a moral to this story it is that you can rise above the worst things that can happen to you,  (her mother’s death), if you have one simple ingredient, a loving family that pulls together. It just encapsulates life’s up and downs in such a lovely, sweet way. It is without doubt one of my favourite YA novels to date. Oh, and the references to Korean food well that just sealed the deal for me, yum, yum.

As to the ending well let’s just say thank goodness there’s going to be a sequel, or we’d have to get a petition letter out there to Jenny Han super pronto!

I would highly recommend, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,  100%  to readers of YA, Contemporary, romance.

My star rating, well of course it has to be an excellent, well deserved 5 stars!


DISCLAIMER: “As of 13th September 2017 we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”  

My opinions are my own and any reviews on this site have not been swayed or altered in any way by monetary compensation, or by the offer of a free book in exchange for a review. 

Buying Links:

Kindle UK: http://amzn.to/2xv3oJF

Paperback UK: http://amzn.to/2y3q9rf

Favourite quotes:

“When someone’s been gone a long time, at first you save up all the things you want to tell them. You try to keep track of everything in your head. But it’s like trying to hold on to a fistful of sand: all the little bits slip out of your hands, and then you’re just clutching air and grit.”

”If love is like a possession, maybe my letter are like my exorcisms.”   

“I wonder what it’s like to have that much power over a boy. I don’t think I’d want it; it’s a lot of responsibility to hold a person’s heart in your hands.”   

“I delete the picture of him from my phone; I delete his number. I think that if I just delete him enough, it will be like none of it ever happened and my heart won’t hurt so badly.”

“Margot would say she belongs to herself. Kitty would say she belongs to no one. And I guess I would say I belong to my sisters and my dad, but that won’t always be true. To belong to someone—I didn’t know it, but now that I think about, it seems like that’s all I’ve ever wanted. To really be somebody’s, and to have them be mine.”

“If you were mine, I would never have broken up with you, not in a million years.”

Authors website: http://dearjennyhan.com/

Have you read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.


Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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My Kyrosmagica Review of A Good Girl by Mary Kubica

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Goodreads Synopsis:

I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….


My review:

I was given a kindle copy of A Good Girl by Net Galley in return for an honest review. I had some difficulties with the ARC copy I received as there were no chapter headings or even pauses to suggest where one chapter started and the next finished. Unfortunately this made reading this particular novel very difficult especially as it has been written in multiple points of views, and in shifting time sequences alternating between the present and the past. Having said that I persevered and I’m glad that I did as  I quickly found the story gripping, and I wanted to read on and find out what happened next.

A Good Girl is written through the eyes of Mia, the captive, Mia’s mother, and Gabe the detective running the cause. All three points of view work well and add a depth to the narrative. We feel Mia’s confusion and fear when she is kidnapped. Her mother’s distress at the unknown fate of her daughter,  her sense of failure at being an inadequate mother and Gabe’s determination to set things right and solve the case. We also see a rich girl who has a depth to her that at first glance we may have overlooked. Her captive finds that Mia is much more than a spoilt little rich kid. He finds that she isn’t that different from him. They both share troubles, that have made them the way that they are, in her case, her father’s expectations that she will behave in a certain way and, in his case, his mother’s illness.

I had some problems with the initial propositions of the storyline, and with some of the developments within the novel. Why would someone abduct someone with the intention of handing them over and then change their mind? Why would the detective develop feelings for a member of the family? Was this really necessary, or did  it distract from the storyline?

The ending was a bit of a surprise I just didn’t see it coming.

Overall I thought that Mary Kubica’s portrayal of Mia’s abduction, and the developing attraction between Mia and her captive was skillfully written but I didn’t really buy into the detective investigating the case following down the love route too. It seemed a bit too much! I won’t say any more on that one for fear of spoiling the novel for you but for me it just wasn’t necessary.

Overall I enjoyed The Good Girl.  I thought it was a well crafted debut novel, that I would recommend to readers of mystery, thrillers, suspense, contemporary, and psychological thrillers.

My star rating:

3.75 stars

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Have you read A Good Girl? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.


Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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My Kyrosmagica Review of Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic


Goodreads Synopsis:

Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative is a subtle triptych that captures the ordinary life of Neville Lister during South Africa’s extraordinary revolution. Ivan Vladislavic lays moments side by side like photographs on a table. He lucidly portrays a city and its many lives through reflections on memory, art, and what we should really be seeking.

My review:


This was another great suggestion from Norwich Writer’s Centre summer reading adventure. More details of the summer reads are at http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/yoursummerreads.aspx.

Double Negative is published by And Other Stories, an alternative UK publisher that brings “collaborative, imaginative and shamelessly literary” works to the fore with their annual subscription package. Join the mailing list at: andotherstories.org/join-us. Follow on twitter @andothertweets, and join on Facebook: And Other Stories. Check out their website:  http://www.andotherstories.org/

Our main protagonist Neville is a young white man, a university drop out, back home living in his parents house in Johannesburg.  He seems to have lost his way and is painting lines and arrows in parking lots with fellow worker Jaco. On the surface Jaco may seem okay but don’t be deceived by impressions. “Jaco was like a can that had been shaken, for all his jokey patter, he was full of dangerous energies, and if you prodded him in the wrong place, he would go off pop.”   The era is pre apartheid, Neville doesn’t like to get too involved, he prefers to stand on the periphery watching events unfold, a wavering character. Though he does take exception to his  father’s new neighbour’s out and out racism. “An odourless poison leaked out of him.” “His prejudice was a passion.” His father fears that he will fall in with the wrong crowd.  Neville has no idea what he wants to do with his life so his father introduces him to a family friend, a famous photographer Saul Auerbach who takes Neville out for the day with a British journalist, Brookes who is looking for a pre-apartheid story.   Spending a day with Auerbach changes Neville’s life. He  is encouraged to play a game of chance as they stand on top of a hill. Each choose a house to visit at random not knowing who lives inside or what they may find. For me, the story really grasped my attention at this point.  They only get to see two of the houses. Neville’s choice is abandoned due to poor light. Auerbach’s portraits of the first two become celebrated pieces.

Nev is awakened by the experience, now it is as if he is seeing life through a camera lense. The narrative moves swiftly on, giving us snapshots of  South Africa during this period of tumultuous change. Nevillle struggles with the concept of duty but takes the easy way out and moves to London to avoid military service. His day with Auerbach made  such an lasting impact on him that he becomes a photographer.  But he misses his home in South Africa and longs to return.”The poetry of the moment made me long for the prose of Johannesburg. I went to see a travel agent.”  An old lady had thrown chicken feed into the ballot box!  He returns to post apartheid Johannesburg but much has changed. His former home seems alien to him. Now Neville is a fairly successful photographer being interviewed by  Janie, a blogger. He thinks about the day spent with Auerbach often.  He has not forgotten his choice of house, and he decides to visit decades later. Behind every front door there is a story to be told and each story is so different. Each photograph can be so different from the next. The possibilities are endless.

Double Negative spans decades in time. It handles these changes well.  I particularly liked Nev’s quote:  “I’m growing into my father’s language: it will fit me eventually like his old overcoat that was once two sizes too big.”

Double Negative is exceptionally well written. It captures an everyday life against the backdrop of South Africa’s incredible revolution in an engaging portrait of a city and its many diverse citizens.  I loved the link with photography, and the whole idea of the Double Negative. The following quote is taken from a later section in the novel when a mature Nev is talking to his wife Leora.

“She was being ironic, obviously,” she said.


“And so are you.”

“I guess.”

“The whole thing is ironic.”

“Including the ironies.”

“Maybe they cancel one another out then,” Leora said, “Like a double negative.”


Saul Auerbach is a fictional character though he has similarities to David Goldbatt, South Africa’s celebrated photographer. Goldblatt began photographing in 1948 and has recorded South Africa through the period of  apartheid to the present day. There is a very interesting article about him at ideastap : http://www.ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/david-goldblatt

Also he featured on African voices on CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/08/world/africa/david-goldblatt-photographer-apartheid/index.html

My rating:

4 engaging Film Strips! Highly recommended.

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Authors website

Have you read Double Negative? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,


Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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