#SPFBO Stage 2

Posted On 5 December 2019

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The first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off is now complete which means we have ten finalists lined up for stage two.  For this stage of the competition I will be assigning each of the nine books I need to read a number from 1 – 9 and then I will use a randomly selected sequence generator to give me the reading order.

Today I would like to highlight the ten finalists.  You can follow the progress of each book here.  Now, feast your eyes on these lovelies – I can’t wait to get started on this line up:

Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas #1) by  Alicia Wanstall-Burke :

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Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

Beggar’s Rebellion (Resonant Saga #1) by Levi Jacobs:

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The Councilate controls everything except the truth. I have nothing save my discovery—but with this shall I destroy an empire.

Tai Kulga lost the rebellion and his best friend on the same day, stripping him of his will to live even as a strange power flooded his bones. When the friend returns as a spirit guide, it feels like a second chance—but his friend is not who he was, and the Councilate is not done oppressing his people. When trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, he must go underground to find the last of the rebels and convince them to break his friends free.

Along the way he meets Ellumia Aygla, runaway Councilate daughter posing as an accountant to escape her family and the avarice of the capital. Curious about the link between spirit guides and magic, her insights earn her a place among the rebels, and along with Tai’s power help turn the tide against the colonialists.

But as the rebels begin to repeat the Councilate’s mistakes, Tai and Ellumia must confront their own pasts and prejudices, before the brewing war turns them into the monsters they fight.

Never Die by Rob J Hayes – this is the finalist that I chose (already reviewed here)

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Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.

Blade’s Edge (Chronicles of Gensokai #1) by Virginia McClain

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Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves–Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer–as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery.

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

Spark City (Spark City Cycle #1) by Robert J. Power

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Erroh has a plan. A simple plan. It’ll never work.

Despite his family’s warrior pedigree, he’d rather gamble and drink while living from one tavern to the next. But when his wanderings bring him upon a gruesome slaughter of innocents he is torn from carefree ways.

Spark City is on the horizon and with it the mysterious trials of The Cull. After a life spent rejecting his birth right, the time has come to pick up his sword and accept his destiny.

With an army marching forward, and unlikely companions buy his side, does Erroh have what it takes to stop the coming war?

Spark City is the gripping first novel in Robert J Power’s new epic fantasy series. If you like spectacular combat, unlikely heroes, and  slow burn romance, you’ll love this thrilling tale.

The Sword of Kaigen (Theonite) by M.L. Wang

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A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Fortune’s Fool (Eterean Empire #1) by Angela Boord

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A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

Kalanon’s Rising (Agents of Kalanon #1) by Darian Smith

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Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world.

Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal.

As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape?

The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon – and the world – will descend into darkness.

A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy

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Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?

The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?

And unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…

Vengeance.

A Sea of Broken Glass (The Lady & The Darkness #1) by Sonya M. Black

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Secrets have a price.

After enduring weeks of torture and being convicted of witchery, Ris escapes, only to discover the Darkness and the Lady are hunting her. They need the magic that sings within her.

Creator of all, the imprisoned Lady needs Ris, her last vessel, to find the Heart of Creation. The Darkness seeks to corrupt the vessel and retain his hold on the Lady, and with it, the world.

Ris finds help from a pair of Paladins of Light who aid her in cleansing the evil taint from the lands. As her power grows, so do her questions. How can she restore balance to the world and free the Lady? Should the Lady be trusted or is she as much at fault for the evil in the world as the Darkness? With powerful demons War, Ruin, and Plague at her heels, Ris struggles to stay alive as she tries to unravel the secrets hidden within her before it’s too late.

Secrets that may cost Ris her soul even if she does succeed.

 

#SPFBO Semi Finalists and Finalist Announcement

Posted On 27 November 2019

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Today sees, for me, the completion of Stage 1 of the SPFBO competition.  I’ve really enjoyed the first stage and I have to say I had some incredible books in my batch.

Firstly, the following books are the ones I’ve completed fully and reviewed (I’ve provided mini reviews for my other books as I went along.

Cry Havoc by Jack Frey

Healer’s Ruin by Chris O’Mara

The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King

From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court(Yarnsworld #4) by Benedict Patrick

Never Die by Rob J Hayes

Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin

Vortex Visions by Elise Kova

The Blade Within by Jackson Lear

River of Thieves by Clayton Snyder

From the above I have chosen five Semi Finalists, to be fair to the authors I would stress that all of these books were very good and I definitely recommend them all.  And in fact I am hoping to be able to go back and read fully some of the other books from my batch – time allowing.

My five semi finalists:

 

And this is where the really tough decision kicked in and kicked me to the floor (not at all dramatic)!

I’m not going to deny that it’s been very difficult to choose a finalist.  The nine books above were all very good and I recommend them – narrowing that list down to semi finalists was tough enough – going further and choosing just one – well, it was stressful and if it made me feel like that then I can’t even begin to imagine how all the authors feel.

Basically I narrowed my choice down to three.  I made a list of all sorts of pros and cons and was then left with two choices – which I really couldn’t choose between.

I don’t always score my books but I rated different aspects of both books in this case to try and find a score for each and see if that would help. Even with that in mind it’s been difficult to stick to one decision and there has been lots of to ing and fro ing and a tiny bit of dithering.  In the end I’ve chosen my finalist but I would stress that this was a really difficult decision.

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My finalist:

NeverDie

My congratulations to the author 😀

 

I would also like to put forward under the ‘Senlin Safety Net’:

TheLoreof

 

My apologies to the other authors from my batch.  I’ve had a fantastic time reading all these books and I wish that I could choose more than one but that’s the nature of the competition.  Thank you so much to all the authors for taking the time to enter and for taking the risk to put forward your work.  You definitely get my round of applause.

 

 

#SPFBO Review of Vortex Visions (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #1) by Elise Kova

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VortexVisionsVortex Visions is one of the titles on my list of books for the fifth SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 2 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Vortex Visions.

Firstly, I would point out that I haven’t read the Air Awakens series by Elise Kova, I understand that Vortex Visions is a book that can be read without having read the previous series however, it is possible that if you plan to read the first series this book and review could contain spoilers so please be aware of that.

As the book begins we meet Vi Solaris, heir to an empire. although she has never lived at it’s heart.  Little more, it seems, than a pawn in a political game of power.  From the ruling south she has been placed in the north as a means to keep peace.  That being said, Vi has led, to all extents, a happy existence, even though she dearly wants nothing more than to be reunited with her family and twin brother.

Great expectations rest upon Vi’s shoulders, particularly with regard to her magical abilities which seem, as the story commences, to be lying almost dormant.  She’s not unhappy in her situation although she deeply desires to return to her family home.  When a delegation from the South arrives it brings with it mixed tidings.  Vi’s friend and deliverer of messages from home, Jayme, returns with not only tidings from her family but also a new acquaintance. Andru, he seems to be an envoy from the South sent to judge Vi and her worthiness to rule.  Of course this puts Vi on the backfoot somewhat as she tries to go about her regular life whilst being observed and trying to make a good impression, but, meanwhile, Vi’s magic will awaken and far from giving her comfort it only serves to heighten the unusual predicament she is in.  She has strange visions, is able to make contact with an unknown entity and on top of all that her life is under threat.

Vortex Visions got off to a really good start.  I loved the writing style and became easily immersed in the world.

Vi finds herself a ward of sorts.  This was an unusual situation for me to come to terms with because I guess I’m more familiar with wards being taken by the rulers from the defeated as a means of forcing compliance.  In this case Vi is taken to the North (following their defeat) as a means of pacifying the Northerners that the heir of the Empire will be brought up sympathetically to the other realms.  There is more to this than at first meets the eye though so you do have to read further to discover more.

As the story begins you immediately feel Vi’s longing to return to her family, an event that is long overdue and you start to feel her doubts about why she hasn’t been recalled sooner.  She personally feels it’s her lack of magical ability and this new person, sent to judge her, certainly isn’t going to help her abilities manifest or help her to gain confidence.

Okay, I got off to a very good start with Vortex Visions.  It really is a strong start.  You get an immediate feel for the main protagonist and her situation, her desires and hopes.  You’re also introduced to the people surrounding her, one being a best friend.  Vi, Ellene and Jayme have a close friendship, the three enjoy all sorts of nonsense and gossip and they’re about to go on an adventure, a release for a few days as part of a celebration for Vi’s birthday.  This is where things start to change.

So, yes, a really good start to this, I was intrigued.  The writing is good, it’s an easy read with decent pacing.  I had my doubts about certain characters which I won’t reveal for the sake of spoilers (although these are only my own speculations and I have no real idea if they’re correct or not at this point).

I’m not entirely certain I understand everything about the world here.  Other than there seems to be a north/south divide.  Vi lives with people who live high in the trees,  The place sounds quite lovely and almost put me in mind of a Tolkien landscape of elves – but that’s probably my own imagination running riot.

The plot is really quite good, there’s more to Vi than meets the eye, plots are afoot and strangers are going to make some rather unannounced appearances and upset things somewhat.

In terms of criticisms.  I felt the first half of the book was the more gripping part of the story.  The latter half felt a bit more easy to second guess and didn’t really move things forward in the way I’d expected.  Also, Vi.  I couldn’t help feeling she bemoaned her situation much more than was necessary.  Of course I understand that she missed her family and felt abandoned or stranded a little but to be honest she was still incredibly pampered and privileged and so I couldn’t help but feel a little irritated sometimes by her thoughts.  Particularly as she wasn’t treated badly, she wasn’t a prisoner, and in fact the heir to the North’s own daughter was her best friend.

On the whole, I had a good time with Vortex Visions.  The writing is really strong and persuasive, it had a little bit of a ‘set up’ feel for the next instalment but I imagine this would only increase readers eager anticipation, particularly in terms of the romance that seems to be budding.

I would like to thank the author for the copy of ‘Vortex Visions.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

#SPFBO Review of Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin

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SirThomasSir Thomas the Hesitant is one of the titles on my list of books for the fifth SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 3 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Sir Thomas The Hesitant.

Straight out of the gates I will say that this one was a fun story and very enjoyable for being so completely different from my normal sort of read.  To be honest, I very rarely pick up books that are described as humorous or comic, or great fun. I don’t really understand why not because on the occasions that I do so I inevitably have a good time and really welcome the breath of fresh air that comes with the change of style.

Sir Thomas is a story based on Arthurian legend and as such it has all the old favourites cast into the mix, Arthur – unsurprisingly, Merlin, the round table, Camelot and lots of other names that I won’t go into here.  What it does, that I felt was so very different, is it looks at the underdog of the story, or at least not the typical hero.  Thomas isn’t about to save the world, in fact, he’ll be lucky if he saves himself, let alone his brother.

Thomas has an elder brother who is truly the golden boy, unfortunately his brother gets himself into a spot of bother (aka thrown into prison) when he approaches the local Baron to beseech him to help the local villages who are dying of starvation whilst his granaries seem to be full to bursting.  Thomas finds himself thrown into the mix when he decides that to help his brother he will seek a boon from King Arthur, who is feeling particularly generous with the approach of his wedding to the lovely Guinevere.  Long story short, Thomas ends up being enrolled as one of the Less Valued Knights (a long and secret ambition of his was to become a knight) and his brother remains, for the time being, incarcerated, although still very much at the forefront of Thomas’s thoughts – when he’s not thinking of a particularly lovely young lady in waiting.

Anway, I’m not going to go overboard with the plot.  Thomas needs to find a way to help his brother, whilst undertaking his trials and duties as a newly made member of the LVKs. It’s the sort of story where two steps progress are made usually followed by a succession of events that knock things back a step or two.

What I really liked about this, apart from the very obvious fun elements, was the narrative voice and style of writing.  It’s a very easy, charming, book to read.  I realise that humour can be hit or miss but this one really just worked for me.  I hesitate to say it but it almost has a slapdash, Monty Python type feel to it, in my head at least.  Just look at the trials and the jousts as a fine example.

Thomas manages to gather around himself a bunch of the most unusual and unlikely characters and you can’t help liking them and becoming attached as you laugh at the predicaments they get into.  There are giantesses who are no longer quite so giant, evil wizards who have reformed and are no longer quite so evil, magic swords that are a little cursed and smelly and mischievous compasses.  And, underlying all of this there is the mystery of the Baron and the starving villagers.  It’s all rather tongue in cheek, entertaining and very easy to read and Thomas is an easy to like character, he takes risks, stands up for himself and wins friends – even if they are a little oddball.

It’s a book that stays true in that even though Thomas makes great strides by the conclusion of the story – he still isn’t the hero.  It just isn’t destined to be.

In terms of criticisms – I’m struggling to really come up with anything to be honest.  I went into this wondering if it would make me laugh and be an easy book to read and it was both of those things.  I suppose, if pushed, I would say the worldbuilding is a little skimpy but to be honest, it’s medieval fantasy based on King Arthur so I didn’t really feel the need for extensive descriptions.

So, in conclusion, even though isn’t going to be an overly long or elaborate review that certainly isn’t a reflection of my feelings for the book itself.  I would definitely like to read more of Thomas’s adventures.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above opinion is my own.

 

 

 

 

 

#SPFBO Review of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Posted On 22 November 2019

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NeverDieNever Die is one of the titles on my list of books for the SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 4 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Never Die

Okay, Never Die is a story of revenge, but it’s one of the most unusual and unique revenge stories that I’ve ever encountered.  This is a story of heroes and honour, it’s packed to the rafters with action, steeped in Asian culture and folklore and delivers a fast paced tale that ends on a, well, I’m lost for words exactly how to best describe the ending, ‘it’s a little jaw dropping’ is the first thing that springs to mind.

Here we meet a young boy on a mission to bring down an Emperor.  Of course he can’t do this by himself.  He’s a young boy of eight or nine years maybe, he doesn’t have the strength, he isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t really have a plan for that matter, come to think of it he has very little, not a pot to piss in or even a pair of shoes.  But he knows his heroes and embarks on a hero recruitment drive if you will – the only slight deterrent for anybody wanting to take up a position, they have to be dead in order to do so. It’s not the best incentive to apply for the role.  As it happens the heroes have very little say in the matter, they need to die and so die they must.

Now, first things first.  I am not going to be discussing the plot at all other than the above paragraph.  This is a story that delivers a number of twists and I’d sooner leave further elaboration well alone in order to avoid spoilers.  Strangely enough, and although I obviously now know the final reveals this is a book that I would very much like to revisit.  I think it would be really interesting to see how, or if, the knowledge of the ending affects the rest of the story for me.

So, what really shone for me with Never Die.

I have to applaud Hayes’ ability to come up with such an action packed novel that plowed forward relentlessly and intensely yet at the same time invited me to get to know the characters.  How many times do you read a book where the characters suffer from the intensity of world building, or the furious nature of the adventure takes centre stage and you can’t get a feel for the place.  This really is an incredibly well rounded novel which is even more impressive when you consider it’s just shy of 300 pages.  The action is delivered at breakneck speed.  The story, in fact, opens with a battle sequence where the fighting is portrayed so well that I could see the characters playing out their deadly dances.  The characters are introduced one at a time which gives you the chance to get a feel for them without becoming overwhelmed.  And the world building – well, it’s taking place in every sentence really.  Names, places, clothing, food, back stories, they’re all related with an effortless grace that really belies the skill that it must take.

The characters are all so very different.  And they start out with no small degree of hatred for each other not to mention a good deal of competitive swaggering and banter.  Eventually though, they begin to develop bonds which I suppose gives weight to the idea that there’s nothing like a shared goal to bring people together.  They’re all masters in their own way, whether with the sword or with fighting without the use of weapons.  I’m not going to try to describe all the different techniques, frankly I’d just make an absolute mess of it.  Just lets say they’re all masters in their given fields and leave well enough alone.  They all have some pretty cool names and some of their abilities make for great reading during the throes of battle – I’m definitely looking at Emerald Wind right now!

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a conundrum because I did have a couple of little issues as the story progressed, but, the ending kind of answered my qualms and it’s really difficult to discuss what they were because, obviously I’m being all secretive. I will say that I did guess one of the twists part way through the story.  I actually have no idea how because I wasn’t reading the book at the time, in fact I was doing something a bit brain numbingly mundane when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head in a most unexpected and comic book style fashion.  I wasn’t aware I’d even be thinking of the book but there you go.  So, yes, I had my little ‘ah-ha’ moment and of course I was feeling quite smug and also not a little bit disappointed (like, if this is what the ending is all about then really….) but, of course there’s a but, yes, I had guessed what I will call one third of the twists – but (again with the buts) it was only the smallest element of the twist in the tale and the other two revelations – well, hot damn – and that’s why I need to do a reread.

I guess this leaves me with only one downside, or maybe two.  This was shorter than I would have liked (even though it does have a certain epicyness to it – that is a word, I’ve seen it on the internet so it must be true) and it’s a standalone.  In a world where series of books can sometimes reach double digits I guess I should be applauding a standalone – but, please sir, I would like more.

Oh, and I suppose I forgot to mention all the fantasy elements, ghosts, and monsters and the like, but – go and pick up a copy and discover them for yourself.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

 

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