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Archive for the ‘Length – novella/short nonfiction’ Category

Book Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Image of a digital book cover. A colored pencil drawing of a Latina woman in a cowboy hat, jeans, and boots riding a light brown horse. Behind her is a white woman with blond hair in a green dress. A hawk flies above them. A Western vista is behind them.

Summary:
In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latina outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor—also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk—robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Review:
This is a graphic novel for readers who love Westerns but are tired of them erasing BIPOC and queer people. In this read you get all the fun of a Western but it’s peopled with both BIPOC and queer people.

The book starts with a stagecoach robbery by Flor (a Latina woman) and her pet hawk. She kidnaps a white damsel (Grace) who turns out to be a young trans woman on the run both to avoid her family’s wish for her to serve in the Confederate army and to seek out performing on the stage. Grace convinces Flor to let her help in a plot to spy on some Confederate documents.

Since this is a short book, there aren’t a ton of characters. It’s mostly the other folks on the stagecoach with Grace (all deliciously hateable), the tailor who helps them get ready for the Confederate gala, and the Confederate gala attendees. This doesn’t leave a ton of room for additional BIPOC in the story, but the tailor is Luis who is Black and completely supportive of Grace.

The book does an artful job of establishing that Grace is trans without ever using the word or deadnaming her. I had been concerned that Grace’s visible depiction might fall into the cringer category of visibly “man in a dress” like in the old movies when male characters dress as women to escape something. This absolutely does not happen with Grace. She simply looks like a larger woman. (Larger than Flor, close in size to the men in the stagecoach). There are also multiple times when the existence of other trans people are established. Luis says Grace isn’t the only larger woman he’s designed for. Flor discusses other women like Grace performing on stage out west.

I enjoyed Flor but wanted a little more backstory on her. What made her start robbing stagecoaches? How did she get the pet hawk? How does she know Luis? I get it she’s a more close-lipped character, but Luis could have dropped a few tidbits about the two of them, and I get the vibe from Grace that she might be the type to be able to lure information out of people with her charm.

The spying plot worked and fit into the small amount of space allotted. I liked that it gave Grace and Flor a reason to team up and showed them as active rather than passive. I did wish for a little more detail in these scenes, though. Specifically, when someone recognizes Grace, what is their relationship to her?

I love the art and thought it worked great for a Western story. Only when I looked it up later did I discover Gillman does everything by hand with colored pencils. Truly amazing and translated into a book that was beautiful to read.

Overall, this was a fun, beautifully drawn, sapphic read with a lot of diversity that establishes trans people as existing in history. It just left me wishing for more – more background and for Flor and Grace’s adventures to continue.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 104 pages – novella

Source: Library

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Book Review: On a Grey Thread by Elsa Gidlow

Image of a digital book cover.Red and pink roses rest against a green background. A black band across the middle has the title in white on it.

Summary:
Published in 1923, this poetry collection was the first in North American history to openly express lesbian desire. Both personal and political, Gidlow’s poems express the poet’s complex feelings as a young woman whose political ideology and sexual identity ran counter to the traditional values of her time.

Review:
For Pride Month, I wanted to push myself a little by reading from a genre I read less often – poetry. I’ve also been striving to connect more with queer history, so I thought this groundbreaking collection was a great match.

The poems are collected into four sections – Youth, Grain and Grapes, Inner Chamber, and In Passing. If you are here for women loving women content…skip to the Inner Chamber section. Although, I am glad I read them all in order, because I do feel like they told a subtle overarching story.

The first poem in the collection beautifully explores the meaning of life and what makes us who we are via beads on a grey thread. Other poems consider the beauty of nature and sadness/loneliness (in a way that reminded me of 90s emo culture). In fact, I think what struck me the most when reading these was just how of the moment and today they felt, in spite of being written almost 100 years ago.

Since the entire collection is out of copyright, let me close my review by sharing my favorite in its entirety.

“Episode”

I have robbed the garrulous streets,
Thieved a fair girl from their blight,
I have stolen her for a sacrifice
That I shall make to this mysteried night.

I have brought her, laughing,
To my quietly sinister garden.
For what will be done there
I ask no man’s pardon.

I brush the rouge from her cheeks,
Clean the black kohl from the rims
Of her eyes; loose her hair;
Uncover the glimmering, shy limbs.

I break wild roses, scatter them over her.
The thorns between us sing like love’s pain.
Her flesh, bitter and salt to my tongue,
I taste with endless kisses and taste again.

At dawn I leave her
Asleep in my wakening garden
(For what was done there
I ask no man’s pardon.)

I hope this review entices you to read some (more) classic queer poetry.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 73 pages – novella

Source: Archive.org

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Book Review: Solo Dance by Li Kotomi, translated by Arthur Reiji Morris

Digital book cover. A bird drawn in a red outline has black legs that turn into thorny branches coming out of it. The book's title is written along two sides. The background is light purple with dark purple thorny branches on it.

Summary:
Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden—including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan. There is also her unusual fascination with death: she knows from personal experience how devastating death can be, but for her it is also creative fuel. Solo Dance depicts the painful coming of age of a queer person in Taiwan and corporate Japan. This striking debut is an intimate and powerful account of a search for hope after trauma.

Review:
This is a gut-wrenchingly beautiful read that I couldn’t put down.

The story starts with Cho in Japan. We learn what led to her emigration from Taiwan through a combination of flashbacks and her rereading her own college journal entries. Cho is a writer who has been obsessed with death from a young age. But she also went through a devastating trauma. The PTSD from that event destroyed her budding relationship with another young woman and haunts her to this day.

I think it’s important for anyone considering this book to know coming into it what the devastating trauma was. It’s central to the book and can be quite triggering for some. Cho was raped by a stranger who specifically targeted her due to her same-sex relationship. Although Cho does encounter kind and understanding people who validate how wounded she is from this experience, there are others who expect her to just get over it. Worse, some people blame her for it. She feels shame for what has happened to her. While this is realistic, it is painful to read about.

So this book is about many complex things. It’s about how Cho was obsessed with death from a young age. Why is that? Is it ok to feel that kind of emo way? It’s also about the systemic exclusion of queer and trans people. Cho also travels the world and sees how queerness and Pride and love exist in many countries. While she wants a sense of belonging, just what is the right way to belong is a question left for the reader. Ultimately, though, this is a book about trauma and healing from trauma. How trauma isolates a person, even when other people try, imperfectly, to reach out.

It’s easy as a queer westerner to get caught up in what queerness means in the west. It’s important to dive into what queerness means and looks like in other cultures in order to better grasp how we might create a community that’s more inclusive of all types of origins and experiences.

Although this novella is challenging, it’s also beautiful. If you feel ready to engage with the realistic trauma depicted in it, I encourage you to pick up a copy.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 149 pages – novella

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

October 19, 2021 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman in a white kimono with no eyes, red smeared lips, and a black maw with no teeth haunts the cover.

Summary:
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Review:
I thought this cover was deliciously creepy in a way that reminded me of The Ring, and I was ready for a quick spine-tingling thriller set in Japan. Unfortunately, for me, the cover was the only part of the book that elicited any real response from me.

Let’s start with the good. Representation is strong in this book. It’s a group of four racially diverse friends. The main character is bisexual, says the word, and isn’t demonized in the book. Since it’s common for thrillers and horror to demonize queer characters, this was nice. The writing is poetic, which is a bit unusual in horror. The idea of a bride being so into haunted houses that she wants to be married in a house where the haunting is a bride was also fun. So why didn’t it work for me?

For horror to work for me, I need to know enough about the characters to kind of care about what happens to them. This jumps so quickly into the haunted house moment with the friends that I just….never really cared about any of them. To be honest, I still kind of easily get them mixed up in my head. By the time we know any of their motivations, a lot of the thrills and gore have already happened but it’s too late for me to care about them. It wasn’t even that they were a collection of common horror tropes so I knew what was going on and could sort of care. (I’m thinking about the tropes used in Scream or The Cabin in the Woods). It seems to me that part of the goal was to subvert tropes but in order for that to work, I need to really know the characters for the tropes to be subverted and for me to still care about the characters. Tropes work because they fill in the blanks for us. The cheerleader may be ditzy but she really cares about her friends, so we know she’s really actually upset when she can’t find one of them. But if the trope has been subverted just enough that we know that the cheerleader doesn’t’ care about her friends but we also don’t know what she actually cares about then all understanding of what meaning and impact the plot has on her is lost.

Others who don’t need strong character development to get into the thrills of a horror will likely enjoy this story more than I did, particularly if the basic plot summary given above appeals to you.

2 out of 5 stars

Length: 128 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Series, #1)

Cover of the book The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Summary:
Chih, a non-binary cleric, is on a walking journey when they meet an elderly woman, Rabbit, with a story to tell. Chih ends up staying and listening to Rabbit’s tale while cataloging the archives of her things. It slowly is revealed just how much of history Rabbit was quietly witness to and participant of.

Review:
The summary I read was nothing like the one I wrote above and, therefore, I was under the misimpression from the combination of the summary and the title that this was a magical realism book featuring an actual rabbit. I also didn’t know how each chapter would start with essentially an archives finding aid that Chih is writing. There was a time in my life when I wrote finding aids for work, and I must be honest – I didn’t enjoy it. The combination of these two things didn’t put me in a great headspace for this book. However, I do think it’s a good read when it finds its audience, and that’s what I’m hoping to do here.

This book features a non-binary main character whose sidekick is a fabulous talking bird. Female/female love is also well-represented here. It is set in a fantasy world inspired by Asian period dramas with dashes of fantasy (like the talking bird). The entire premise revolves around respecting and listening to an elder – treating her as important simply because she is elderly. It of course then turns out that she has a pivotal role in history, but Chih would have never known that if they hadn’t listened to her. Those who love the history of items will also likely really enjoy reading the descriptors of Rabbit’s possessions at the start of each chapter. While this is a short book (novella length), it is the first in a series, so you can visit its world, and, if you like it, you can keep on going with the rest of the series.

Recommended to those looking for a fantasy with an Asian period drama fantasy written by an own voices author with a dash of magical realism and queerness.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 112 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: Library

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Book Review: Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden

February 2, 2021 2 comments
Cover of the book

Summary:
A scifi, queer version of The Little Mermaid that wonders what happens after Ariel leaves the ocean?

In this version, Ariel is Atuale. Eric is Saareval. The sea witch is Yanja. The land folk find themselves the victim of a deadly disease that Atuale is immune to thanks to Yanja’s genetic engineering that let her switch from sea dwelling to land dwelling. She seeks out Yanja who takes her on an interplanetary trip to find help from other humanoids with more advanced technology than their own.

Coming February 23, 2021.

Review:
When I heard a queer scifi version of The Little Mermaid, I couldn’t hit the request button on NetGalley fast enough, which I point out to say, perhaps my expectations may have been a little too high.

This is a novella and so the world-building is tight not deep. In spite of this, I did feel I was able to quickly catch on to the world, but I suppose I might not feel that way if I wasn’t already a big reader of scifi. Its world isn’t that unique for scifi. Gene-edited humanoids live on various planets. There are some more fully alien species. Each planet has its own culture and problems, etc… I like that the gene-editing explains why the “sea witch” was able to move Atuale from the ocean dwelling to land dwelling. Yanja is less a sea witch and more a rogue sea scientist, which is neat.

The queer representation in this book is that Yanja was in a female body when Atuale lived in the ocean, and they were lovers. When Atuale seeks Yanja out again, Yanja is now in a male body. Saareval is male. So Atuale is bisexual and Yanja is trans. I appreciated how rapidly Atuale accepted Yanja’s new gender. There were no deadnaming issues as Yanja kept the same name throughout. I was disappointed in the representation of Atuale, though, mainly because I think one particular plot point falls into stereotypes of bisexual people. I wish a more creative approach to the plot was taken. It felt like a stereotypical and easy way through the story rather than a thoughtful one.

Personally, I struggled a bit to want to read this because I wasn’t expecting the future pandemic plot and that was just a bit too real for me right now. Perhaps other readers will find it comforting to see a pandemic being addressed in scifi, though. You know your own potential reaction the best.

I also want to offer the trigger warning that there is miscarriage in a flashback.

Overall, this novella has fun world building with a plot that looks at what happens after the happily ever after in The Little Mermaid. There is trans and bisexual representation, although the latter falls into stereotypes. Readers looking for a merger of The Little Mermaid with scifi and a scifi interplanetary approach to a pandemic are likely to enjoy this quick read.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 112 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury

March 15, 2017 3 comments

Book Review: Dinosaur Tales by Ray BradburySummary:
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham

Review:
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.

The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.

Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 146 pages – novella

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Series, #1)

December 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Series, #1)Summary:
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Review:
A scifi novella I heard about in the context of bringing some much-needed new energy to the genre. It’s not that there’s never been scifi starring a black woman, but there hasn’t been a lot of it. What I found most intriguing about the novella, though, was the main character seeking to pursue her scientific interests without losing her ties to her culture. I think this is a struggle that many first-generation college students feel, and I liked seeing it represented so eloquently in literature.

The young black woman going to university isn’t devoid of her own character and culture. The characterization isn’t just like every other scifi main character ever whose skin just happens to be darker. No, Binti is much more than her skin tone. She’s a whole backstory of a tribal culture that is simultaneously rich in scientific knowledge. (A great concept, beautifully executed). Being the first to leave is scary, and she clings to what she knows of home while also being unafraid to reach out and learn new things.

Without spoiling things, her culture and her diversity ends up being a key factor that aids in the war with the Meduse in a creative way that had me smiling. So there’s a lot to like about the novella.

I didn’t 100% love it, though. Much as I got a good sense of Binti, I didn’t get a good one of the secondary characters around her. This made it so that when the bad things start happening later in the novella, it was hard to care about them. Obviously novellas are limited by length, but I do think the secondary characters could have been more fleshed out like Binti to make the action scenes have the emotional impact on the reader that they do on her.

All in all, though, as a woman with curly hair that has been called “tentacle-like” I loved having a scifi read with tentacle-like hair playing such a central role. I’m excited to read the next entry in the series.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 96 pages – novella

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

November 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian FlynnSummary:
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

Review:
I’m not a huge short story person but I generally really enjoy Flynn’s writing so I decided to pick this up anyway. Flynn surprised me by excelling at the short story. I think part of why I struggle with wanting to read short fiction is because so much of it is done poorly. This isn’t. It’s the perfect tale for the length, tightly told, with surprisingly real characters drawn in such a short amount of time.

The first paragraph struck me like a female Palahniuk (that’s a complement) and drew me in immediately. Every time I thought the story was taking a turn for the cliche, Flynn surprised me by twisting it away in another direction. It’s not easy to take a style you usually write in full novel length and transform it into short fiction, but she does it well. I would gladly read more Flynn short fiction, although I admit to selfishly hoping for more full-length novels so I get to spend more time in the story she creates next.

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5 out of 5 stars

Length: 64 pages – novella

Source: Library

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Book Review: Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather Stang

September 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather StangSummary:
Mindfulness & Grief is an eight-week guide using meditation, yoga, journaling and expressive arts, plus inspirational stories, to help you reduce suffering and emerge transformed on the other side of loss.

Review:
Most of my readers know that I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly last November (my eulogy). I reached out for books to help me, as I have my whole life. I reviewed the first one I read here. The first book I reached out to was a more raw experience, and I think that’s reflected in that review. For the second book, I was particularly seeking something to guide me so I didn’t become stuck in any one feeling or place. I’m not religious, but I do consider myself to be both science-minded and spiritual, and I know mindfulness holds a lot of esteem in psychology. So when I saw this book offering basically an 8 week course in mindfulness specifically for grief, I thought it’d be a good match.

It’s obvious that it took me much longer than 8 weeks to complete the book. I think putting 8 weeks on there is a bit unrealistic. I often found at the end of the week in question that I wasn’t yet ready to move on to the next phase or that I hadn’t had time to do the activities in the book yet. I think the book often fails to consider how busy the person who is also grieving might be. There is much more going on in your life than the grief and so it must be compartmentalized and dealt with only periodically. That said, I did find the phases to be appropriate and in the right order, and once I gave myself permission to do them at whatever pace I deemed appropriate, I found working through them helpful.

Each chapter talks about where you might be emotionally at this point and offers stories from others who’ve gone through the grief process to help you feel less alone. Each chapter ends with some activities to do. Some of them are guided meditations, others are prompted journaling and still others are activity suggestions such as specific types of yoga or walking. I found the journaling prompts to be the most helpful. They were straight-forward and often pushed me to encounter an uncomfortable feeling I was trying to avoid in my grief and work through it.

The book said that the guided meditations could be accompanied by recordings on the partner website but at the time I was trying to do them I could not find them. It’s not easy to do a guided meditation that you must repeatedly open your eyes and read. I suppose I could have made my own recordings based on what the book said but my energy level was low at the time (due to the grief) and I instead tried to use them with the book, which wasn’t particularly helpful. I think this book could work really well if it came with a digital download of the meditations and maybe even some guided yoga sessions. There were a few written out yoga sessions as well, which I always find difficult to follow.

In spite of the shortcomings, I still found this book helpful in my grief. It wasn’t exactly the program to follow that I was expecting but it did provide timely journaling prompts and stories from others that helped me feel comforted.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 144 pages – short nonfiction

Source: Amazon

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