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review 2016-12-31 02:04
#CBR8 Book 133: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
My Lady Jane - Brodi Ashton,Jodi Meadows,Cynthia Hand

According to history, when King Edward VI, Henry VIII's son died young and childless, certain noblemen who wanted to make sure a ruler of the Protestant faith ruled the country put his young cousin Lady Jane Gray on the throne. She ruled for nine days, before Mary Tudor arrived with her armies, removed the poor girl and had her beheaded. This book bears a vague resemblance to that story.

In the England of this story, the conflict in England isn't between Catholics and Protestants, it's between non-shapeshifters, also known as Verities, and shapeshifters, better known as eðians (pronounced eethians). King Henry VIII himself turned into a great big lion, on occasion, but even so, the eðians are generally hunted and distrusted by the populace in general. Princess Mary is staunchly against them and want them all killed, while young King Edward and his best friend and cousin, Lady Jane Grey read everything they can about them and would like nothing more than to discover eðian abilities of their own.

Sadly, Edward appears to be dying. He has been told by Lord Dudley, his chief adviser and his physicians that he's suffering from "the affliction" and that he is unlikely to have long, certainly not long enough to marry and produce a male heir. Luckily Dudley has a plan to secure a succession that will make sure an eðian-friendly ruler ends up on the English trone. He suggests that Edward change the line of succession to ensure that his cousin Lady Jane's heirs inherit. Of course, Jane needs to be married to produce heirs, but Dudley has just the candidate. His younger son, Gifford. There is the minor difficulty that Gifford Dudley is an eðian and spends every day from sunup to sunset as a magnificent stallion, but any heirs would be conceived at night anyways, so Dudley is sure Jane wouldn't mind too much.

When the extremely intellectual Jane finds out that she's to be married off within a few days, she travels to the Dudley estate (carrying with her a suitable supply of books to entertain her) to meet her intended. Unfortunately, because of some rather shameful nightly pursuits, Gifford (just call him G) has let it be known that he's a rampant womaniser. It's more socially acceptable than what he gets up to. Hence his older brother mistakes Jane for one of his younger brother's many suspected floozies and Jane believes her impending husband is a lecherous libertine (he's not, he's actually a poet). Nor does anyone deem it appropriate to tell her about her husband's eðian status, so she has quite the surprise the morning after her wedding, when the groom turns into a big horse in the middle of her bedroom.

As Edward takes a rapid turn for the worse shortly after the wedding, his sister Elizabeth warns him that he mustn't trust his physicians and he realises that Dudley is up to no good, and that Jane may be in terrible danger as well.

This is a delightful farce of a book, where we follow the points of view of Edward, Jane and G (he never liked the name Gifford) as the story progresses. Since there are three authors, I suspect each of them took one character and wrote their sections. Having loosely based the first half on actual historical events (if you ignore the shapeshifters), the second half is pure fantasy and a lot of fun. The book is clearly inspired by The Princess Bride, with the narrators occasionally interrupting the narrative to address the reader directly. Readers will recognise that most of Gifford's poetry is strikingly similar to that of one William Shakespeare. There is humour reminiscent of Monty Python and Blackadder, while at least one plot development brings to mind the lovely Ladyhawke, one of my favourite eighties movies (I'd love to get a version with a non-synthy soundtrack).

I've seen this book included on several best of 2016 lists, and while I'm not sure I enjoyed it enough to include it in my top ten of the year, it's a very enjoyable romp from start to finish. My one complaint is that the book is a bit long and I think some of the parts in the second half could have been edited a bit more. As a huge fan of Tudor history in general, and having always been sympathetic to poor Lady Jane, the nine days queen, who really didn't have much choice in the matter and was a political pawn her entire life, it was nice to see a story that reimagines a much happier ending for her. Possibly not the book for you if you take your history very seriously, but highly recommended for anyone who wants a fun, creative and irreverent reimagining of history.

Judging a book by its cover: While on first look, this may seem like any old historical novel, with your red-headed girl in Tudor era clothing and a big red font bringing your attention to the title, you need only take a closer look to see that there's more here. In little "hand-written notes" and arrows pointing to the girl on the cover, the writers explain that "Sometimes history gets it all wrong". The other notes say "It's not easy being queen" and "Off with her head".

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-133-my-lady-jane-by-cynthia.html
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review 2016-12-28 02:48
#CBR8 Book 130: The One in My Heart by Sherry Thomas
The One In My Heart - Sherry Thomas

From Goodreads:

When Evangeline Canterbury meets the gorgeous, intriguing doctor next door, all she wants from him is a bit of distraction, to help her get over a few rough days.

 

Her one-night stand, however, has other plans: He needs an accomplished and presentable girlfriend to bring before his parents - and for six months of her time, he is willing and prepared to spend an obscene amount of money.

 

Nothing but trouble can come of such an arrangement. But can Eva stop herself? Or will she fall headlong in love with a man who will leave her when their contract expires with a smile, a check and hardly a backward glance?

 

I really like Sherry Thomas' historical novels. Her characters tend to be complex and quite frequently quite wounded individuals, who have trouble forming loving bonds. The stories are frequently quite angst-ridden and there is a lot of heavy emotional territory that needs to be negotiated before the parties can find their happy endings. This is Sherry Thomas' only contemporary romance to date, and since she's currently busy writing gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes fan fiction (which I'm very much looking forward to reading, by the way), I doubt she'll be going back to this genre any time soon. 

 

I really don't know exactly what I think about this book. At the start of the book, it purports to be a very different story than it ends up becoming. Bennett, the hero, initially seems very manipulative and rather off-putting, while it's clear that the heroine, Eva, has a lot of emotional issues to deal with, not least her fears about her mentally unstable, bipolar step-mother, Zelda, with whom she also shares a flat. 

 

Back when Eva was a teenager, her father and Zelda took her to Paris, to a prestigious socialite ball, where she was supposed to be escorted by the son of friends of Zelda's. He never showed up, due to some scandal, and shortly after the ball, Zelda had a massive breakdown and extended hospital stay, after which she divorced Eva's father. Eva, who loves her step-mother fiercely, believes that if the "Somerset boy" had just showed up, Zelda might never have had said mental collapse and their lives might all have turned out differently. She keeps dreaming of this mysterious "Somerset boy" and never really allows herself any long-term relationships, because she's worried what might happen to Zelda if she's not there to take care of her.

 

Will you be surprised if I tell you that the gorgeous, fantabulously wealthy doctor that Eva has a one-night stand with, who later offers to pay her half a million dollars to pose as his girlfriend for six months, our hero Bennett, is none other than that mysterious Somerset boy? Of course you won't. He was pretty much always going to be. The scandal he was involved in way back then was considerable enough that his family broke all ties with him, and now he wants to mend fences and reunite with them. Showing up with Eva on his arm, a beautiful and very accomplished scientist with many lucrative patents and a career in her own right, who just so happens to be the girl they once tried to set him up with? They'll surely have to accept him back with open arms.

 

Yet Bennett's reunion with his family is not the whole story here. Eva has trouble trusting Bennett, for all that she becomes slightly obsessed with him and the way he can make her body feel. Even though he seemingly has a lot of less desirable qualities, he is always scrupulously honest with Eva about his past, the reasons he became estranged from his family and the many not so honourable things he did when trying to provoke his father over the years. Eva is completely incapable of opening up in return. 

 

Around the half-way point of the book, it became clear that Thomas was telling a different story from what you are first expecting. When Bennett revealed the full truth, I suddenly saw him and his previous actions in a completely new light, and instead Eva became the problematic character. Her many complex hang-ups and her absolute unwillingness to open up or in any way attempt to change made me want to both shout at her and shake her. I loved her relationship with her step-mother, and the very realistic portrayal of what living with someone bipolar is actually like, but it wasn't enough for me to warm to this as a romance.

 

For the first half of the book, Bennett sort of gave me the creeps as a hero, and for the second half of the book, I wanted Bennett to go off and find someone more worthy of him, because Evangeline was a rubbish heroine. It obviously all ends up working out in the end - it is a romance, after all, but this is by far my least favourite of Thomas' novels to date. I suspect that I would probably like it more upon a re-read, but it seems unlikely that I'll pick it back up again any time soon. Nonetheless, this book has words in the title that have made it a possible read in FIVE separate months this year for my Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge. It's also been on my TBR list for more than a year. I pretty much had to read it before the year was out.

 

Judging a book by its cover: My feelings about the cover for this book much reflect the feelings I have for the actual novel - largely indifferent. Beautiful scenery, I'm assuming it's the Italian coastline. Generic couple smooching. *shrugs* I find the choice to have one and my in the title italicised. It doesn't so much emphasise the words as make the cover look slightly off somehow.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-130-one-in-my-heart-by-sherry.html
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review 2016-12-27 00:42
#CBR8 Book 125: Greven av Monte Christo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

Young sailor Edmond Dantés is well-meaning, kind and really rather naive, wanting nothing more than to make enough money to take care of his elderly father and marry his beloved Mercedes. There are other, less well-meaning people in his life who want what he has and are prepared to frame Dantés for treason to get these things. While celebrating his engagement to Mercedes, Dantés is arrested, charged with aiding in a plot to restore the exiled Napoleon to the throne. The anonymous scheming may have come to nought, except a letter in Dantés' possession frames the father of the judge who hears his case, and said man decides that the best thing to do is burn the letter, and lock Dantés away, before the precious judge is implicated in the scandal. So thanks to a drunken, malicious prank and an unscrupulous judge, Dantés is locked up away in a dark dungeon for fourteen years, where he nearly goes mad, while his father dies alone and destitute and his Mercedes marries another.

Dantés probably would have lost his mind if not for the friendship with another prisoner, the Abbot Feria, who, when trying to dig an escape tunnel, instead ends up in Dantés' cell. The two strike up a friendship and Feria, a very learned man, teaches the fairly inexperienced sailor everything he knows. He listens patiently to Dantés' story of how he ended up being imprisoned, and explains exactly how he will have ended up being framed, turning Dantés' thoughts immediately to escape and revenge. Initially, the two are planning to escape the prison together. But the Abbott is old and sick and dies before they have a chance to get out. He tells Dantés of a great treasure, hidden away on the island of Monte Cristo. Once Dantés escapes, he goes there, and discovers riches beyond his wildest dreams. After fourteen years, with everyone who ever knew him believing him long dead, Dantés can start truly plotting his revenge.

Ten years after the escape, the mysterious and brooding Count of Monte Cristo appears in Paris and soon the lives of three prosperous and successful gentlemen start falling apart completely.

I'm convinced that it is more than twenty years since I first read this book, when I was still young and patient and felt that the longer the book, the better, frankly (this was back when I also happily read my mother's three volume edition of Les Misérables in about four days while stuck at my gran's in the west of Norway, a book I only got about a third of the way through once I tried re-reading it a few years back. To be fair, this was a time long before wifi and smart phones, the only thing to do when in the west of Norway was to read. What else was I going to do, hang out with my douchy cousins, or worse yet, my little brother?) When the Cannonball Book Club poll for Classics ended up picking the LONGEST book of all of the ones nominated (I want to point out that I picked The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - at a neat 350 pages), it wasn't like I had a choice but to read the book, and I certainly wasn't going to opt for some abridged version. That would be cheating. This is also why this book will now forever be known to me as the book that ate November.

I actually started it in mid-October, but it became really obvious that as long as I was allowing myself to read other books as well, I was just never going to get through the nearly thousand pages of 19th Century French adventure fiction. Hence the only books I finished in November except this, were the ones I listened to in audio. In the end, I completed the book on November 30th, the day before our book club discussion. The Norwegian translation I read was done in the 1950s, but was thankfully not too difficult to get into, once I got used to some of the more old-fashioned terms. The first third or so, until Dantés finally escapes prison and goes to the island to find the treasure, moves along at a fair clip and is quite exciting. The problem came when he returns after ten years, and Dumas spends a lot of time re-establishing all the characters (who obviously no longer go by the same names they did at the beginning of the book, that would be far too easy) and setting the stage for Dantés' truly masterful revenge scenario. Once the book really gets going on that, it's all pretty thrilling, right up until the end.

It's not for nothing that this is known as one of the great revenge stories of all time. It was also, obviously written in a time when books like this, sold in instalments, were the big network entertainments of their day. Over the course of eighteen months, people would only get sixty pages at a time. That's a long time to wait to see how Dantés deals out righteous vengeance on the guys who did him wrong and made themselves rich and successful thanks in part to his misfortune. I wish I could say that I read it, considering where the instalment breaks would have been and fully aware of how the entertainments of our day have changed (all points covered in our excellent book club discussion), but I totally didn't. I mainly just forced myself through it, in between correcting a LOT of essays and audio book listening, wanting to get through the early Paris sections, where I had to use Wikipedia to help me keep track of the names of all the various parties, their many family members and how exactly they were soap operaishly connected to one another through double dealing, scheming and adultery, so I could understand everything fully once the Count's plan really kicked into gear.

While I don't love it as much as I did when I was a teenager, it's still a great book and for a book written in the mid-19th Century, it has an interestingly varied portrayal of both male and female characters. I was especially excited to see that Dumas apparently thought nothing of having Eugénie Danglars, the daughter of one of the men who wronged Dantés, escape the whole sorry revenge plot by running off with her companion on what I'm assuming will be one heck of a lesbian bohemian adventure. Valentine Villefort, one of the other prominent ladies, is so good and kind and true she makes your teeth hurt, but a lot of the other ladies, not least Mercedes, Dantés' lost love, are very impressive in their own right, this is not just a book about dudes.

While I was initially despairing, as it felt like that my November was pretty much this and correction work, I'm very glad that the Book Club pick did end up being this book, so that I got a chance to finally re-read it. I'd kept telling myself I was going to, and then never getting round to it, because it's sooo long. I also have plans to watch the TV adaptation starring Richard Chamberlain (clearly the go-to actor for Dumas adaptations in the 1970s - as well as playing Dantés, he was Aramis in the Musketeers movies directed by Richard Lester and he also starred in the dual role in The Man with the Iron Mask), but as New Year's is rapidly approaching, I needed to get these reviews completed - no time to watch movies before I blog. I honestly don't know what the abridged versions of the novel leave out, it seemed to me that once you with hindsight can see what is being set up, even the parts of the novel that dragged while reading them were really quite important. I would therefore recommend that you allow yourself the time to read the full version if you try the book. It's worth the effort, I promise.

Judging a book by its cover: For years and years and years, I've been a member of what is called the Norwegian Book Club, which is more of a subscription service for books than an actual club where people get together to read the same book every month and discuss it. It should also be noted that because a) Norwegian hardback books are terribly expensive and b) I barely ever read Norwegian books, I automatically cancel the books of the month every single time. I get the e-mail, I go to the website, I cancel the books. Very occasionally, i use the accompanying website to buy presents for people. All of this is to explain that my two volume edition of Greven av Monte Christo (which is the Norwegian name for the book) is one that I got when I became a member many many years ago, and the cover is nothing very exciting. A silhouette of a man. The background on volume one is dark blue, the background on volume two is golden yellow. Apart from that, they are identical.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-125-greven-av-monte-christo.html
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review 2016-12-26 00:55
#CBR8 Book 121: Storm's Heart by Thea Harrison
Storm's Heart - Thea Harrison

I read this TWO months ago, and need to get through this ever-increasing review backlog, hence resorting to the blurb once more:

During the rule of her murderous Dark Fae uncle, Thistle "Tricks" Periwinkle found sanctary among the Wyr in New York. Her ethereal beauty and sparkling personality won the hearts of the public, but after her uncle's death, there are those who don't want to see her ascend to the throne. 

Able to wield thunder and lightning, Wyr sentinel Thiago Black Eagle has ruled the skies for centuries. His massive build and thunderous power makes him one of the Wyr's best weapons. And he's sent to protect Tricks when she's almost assassinated in Chicago.

Soon, both Tiago and Tricks will fall prey to the stormy hunger that engulfs them - a passion that will shake the very foundation of all the worlds. 

Last year, I read and really enjoyed Dragon Bound, the first of Thea Harrison's Elder Races paranormal romance series. This book, which features some of the supporting characters of the first book, Tricks, the petite and outgoing fae PR representative for Dragos, the super-Alpha dragon shifter whose the hero in book one, and Thiago, one of his main security guys, who happens to be a Thunderbird shifter and immensely powerful and so on and so forth. In Dragon Bound, there is a conflict with the ruler of the Dark Fae that ends in his death. Once he's killed, it is revealed that Tricks is in fact his long lost niece, the only surviving member of the original royal family, who were murdered when her evil uncle usurped the throne. She's been hiding with Dragos and the other Wyr shapeshifters in New York under her assumed identity. Now a delegation of Dark Fae are asking her to return and take up her rightful place as queen.

Others are less enthusiastic, and video where Tricks cuts down her would-be attackers in an alley in Chicago goes viral, while Tricks is nowhere to be found. Dragos sends his best tracker, Thiago, to locate and protect her. While the two seem not to have spent all that much time together in the past two centuries while they've been working for the same dragon, apparently taking up bodyguard duty, shielding her from new dangers and spending a lot more time in close confines for the reluctant Tricks makes Thiago realise that she is his fated mate. The various Elder Races have their own territories, and are not supposed to intermarry. The Dark Fae will not accept a queen mated to a Wyr, and Thiago becoming Tricks' consort could be seen as a dangerous power bid. Of course, all of these complications will be irrelevant if they don't figure out who is trying to assassinate Tricks before she can even make it to her home territory to take up her title.

This book was moderately entertaining while I read it, but I can now barely remember any of the details and mainly the bits that annoyed me, at that. Harrison makes no great attempt at actually establishing why Tricks and Thiago may suddenly be falling for one another, she basically just tells us that it's so. Fated mate storylines rarely work for me, because they just seem a bit lazy. Why bother showing us the characters getting to know one another and falling for each other when you can just make them meant to be? They have no control over their choices or actions, they are just destined to be compatible because...reasons? Also, this being a romance, the whole "oh noes, my people will never accept our union" seemed a bit contrived, as they are obviously going to stay together. Finally, it was painfully obvious to me who the person scheming to kill Tricks was from the moment said character was introduced. There was very little tension there.

Add to that the fact that it seems like for at least a quarter of the book, Harrison was mostly busy establishing the two characters who currently have an antagonistic relationship but are clearly fated to be together, neither of whom I was particularly excited about, and this book was a big disappointment compared to the first one. I'm hoping later books are better, but based on their introductions in this book, I may skip the next one too. I don't know if I care about the inscrutable vampire queen and the next of Dragos' many security officers.

Judging a book by its cover: Well, your eyes are certainly drawn to the abs, aren't they? Unlike the cover model for the last book, this one doesn't actually get a face, to leave more to the reader's imagination? I don't exactly think this cover is very exciting, but then the contents were pretty underwhelming too, so at least it's not trying to oversell the story? I've got nothing.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-121-storms-heart-by-thea.html
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review 2016-12-17 14:35
#CBR8 Book 119: Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh
Rock Wedding - Nalini Singh

OK, it's been nearly two months since I finished this, and it wasn't exactly the most memorable of romances to begin with. Let's see what I can still remember.

 

Sarah Smith, who never really had a very stable home life, hooks up with rock star Abe Bellamy and ends up pregnant. He wants to do right by her and marries her. She adores him, he seems to like their bedroom antics, but is closed off and withholding emotionally (although secretly, deep down, he clearly cares for her, he just can't express it - you know the drill). Also, he has an alcohol and substance abuse problem. When Sarah loses the baby, she is devastated, and worries that she'll lose Abe as well, but hopes that in time he will come to love her as much as she does him.

 

His addictions are a major problem, however, and when he becomes aggressive and verbally abusive one evening, basically saying that he's only keeping her around for the hot sex and the arm candy she provides at events, Sarah finally has enough. She packs her bags and leaves, only to discover that Abe doesn't seem interested in fighting to get her back. After a couple of months of wondering if he's going to come see her, she decides to go on a massive spending spree, maxing out all the credit cards he gave her, before filing for divorce.

 

Now, Sarah clearly knows how to pick them. She goes straight from her really rotten relationship with Abe into a rebound relationship with an older man who initially seems very caring and protective, but who gets increasingly more impatient and annoyed with her once she takes too long to grieve for their baby, who died shortly after birth and who eventually gets physically abusive when it's clear that she wants to try to make something of herself and get a business running, no longer needing to cling to him constantly for emotional support. He hits her publicly at a music festival where Abe's band is playing and the extended group of the Rock Kiss books take care of Sarah and make sure she's safe.

 

Abe is now sober and full of regret. He (rightfully) feels that he is partially responsible for driving Sarah into the arms of this nasty piece of work, and has always regretted the way he treated her when they were married. He not only wants to make amends, but starts a determined campaign to win her back. Can Sarah possibly risk her heart being broken once more, by letting him have a second chance?

 

The first third of the book or so covers Abe and Sarah's absolutely disastrous first marriage and Sarah's subsequent train wreck of a rebound relationship. By the time she meets Abe, his band mates (all of whom she never really connected with when she and Abe were first married) and their girlfriends again at the music festival where her current relationship comes to a dramatic end, she has worked hard and determinedly to process the grief of her dead son, and built a thriving independent business that she's very proud of. Because the complexes developed from her bad upbringing led her to make bad choices romantically, she has had to work to redefine who she is and what she wants, and is no longer the young, needy and impressionable woman who first fell for Abe.

 

She's learned the hard way that she can only ever count on herself, and while the chemistry between her and Abe is still sizzling, she cannot let herself forget just how much he hurt her, and what a rubbish husband he was first time around. Having gone trough rehab and stayed clean, Abe has also had to go several rounds with himself and knows that the way he treated Sarah before was abysmal. In his defence, he doesn't blame it all on the drink and the drugs, some of it was just emotional immaturity, as well. Having gotten the chance to reunite with her, and to really apologise and make up for his past misdeeds, and eventually maybe win her back becomes his one goal.

 

Sarah discovers, to her surprise, that all of Abe's band members are entirely on her side, even though she took Abe for all she could in the divorce. They were troubled by his addictions too, but didn't know how to intercede while they were having troubles. Their current girlfriends are all completely supportive of her and Sarah realises that she likes these very different women and is open to the idea of becoming friends with them. From having to manage entirely on her own (at least emotionally), she starts having a reliable network around her and while they all love Abe, they understand that Sarah forgiving him and re-considering a relationship with him is entirely her choice.

 

SPOILER! Of course, it turns out that while she's had trouble before, Sarah is clearly super fertile. She gets pregnant while ON THE PILL (I think there may have been a stomach bug involved that lessened the effect, but still) and wants to keep the baby. Abe obviously wants to be there for both her and the child, but they have negotiations to make before that can happen. Now, as someone who has tried unsuccessfully for years to get pregnant, and has so far gone through three unsuccessful IVF attempts (so broken not even modern science can help me conceive, I would make the worst romance heroine), this was pretty much just a slap in the face for me. For people without my fertility woes, this probably won't be as much of a big deal, but to me, it absolutely added to my general feelings of dissatisfaction with the book.

 

As well the story of Abe and Sarah's (spoiler) reconciliation, we get to see all the other couples (with the exception of Charlie and her T-Rex - who get hitched in New Zealand "off-screen") in the series get married over the course of this book. By the end of the story, all the couples are happily married.

This is, as far as I'm aware, the final book in Nalini Singh's Rock Kiss series. It certainly ties up all the ends neatly. A couple of the books are worthwhile entertainment, but on the whole, I would say that her paranormal books are way better and that there are so many better contemporary romance writers out there. I can see why she'd want to branch out and try new things, I just don't think this experiment has been that successful. 

 

Judging a book by its cover: Nalini Singh self-publishes these romances, and I would think that this (like the covers of the others in the series) are stock photos, in this case of an African American, clearly meant to be Abe, playing what looks like a grand piano. It's not exactly very exciting, but sometimes it's nice to get a change from the gleaming naked muscular chests that frequently adorn these covers. At least the image is appropriate to the action contained within.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-119-rock-wedding-by-nalini.html
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