Family Drama: Literary and Otherwise

There’s been lots of drama this past week around here, my friends. Family drama… real and literary… and sometimes just drama.

First off let me apologize for my slightly fickle, one might even say capricious, internet provider which let me (and lots of other people) down last week, preventing me from posting as usual on Saturday. All across eastern Canada customers of one of our largest internet providers cursed and swore and gnashed their teeth as they were told access to their wifi was impossible. And for some, like us, who subscribe to numerous services, that meant not only internet but cell phone, cable, and even our landline were non-operational for days. We were completely incommunicado for over 36 hours starting in the early hours of Friday morning. Then cell phone came back, but not cable nor wifi. Not until late Sunday afternoon. Hence the reason you didn’t get my post in your email yesterday.

To be honest it was kind of cool to be internet-less, social-media-less, even phone-less. I pedalled my exercise bike, did laundry, and read and read and read. Hubby golfed on Friday. Then on Saturday he made us a special anniversary dinner. We raised our glasses of pinot noir to thirty-three years of (mostly) wedded bliss. I married Hubby thirty-three years ago when I was thirty-three. There’s something surreal about those numbers, don’t you think?

We also raised our glasses to my step-father’s birthday which was a couple of days before our anniversary. He would have been 100. I felt that even though he passed away years ago, his 100th birthday should be noted. That’s Lloyd and me below, walking “down the aisle” or round the corner of the deck, as it were, on Hubby’s and my wedding day. In that photo, he was one year older than I am now. I remember when we finally saw the wedding pictures, Hubby’s friend quipped, “What happened to the rest of Lloyd’s tie?” We all had a good laugh about that.

Me and Lloyd thirty-three years ago on Friday.

Anyway, while I was being non-devastated by lack of contact with the outside world, I did a ton of reading. And I noticed that there’s been a lot of family drama in my reading choices lately. Odd, isn’t it, how one gets on a theme sometimes without even realizing?

I just finished a book that my book club read for June. The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie is perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read about “grief, anger, and family trauma.” Laveau-Harvie’s memoir tells the tale of two sisters who return to rural Alberta from afar where they have lived for twenty years. Their aging mother is in hospital with a broken hip and their father needs their support.

But of course the story is not that simple. Is it ever? The extent of this family’s dysfunctionality becomes more and more clear as one reads. Who did what to whom, and the fallout both past and present. A stunningly cruel and self-centered matriarch. Extended family who have simply given up trying. Two daughters estranged and disowned, one even moving as far away as Australia to remove herself from the trauma. And a father who cannot protect himself from the woman he, unfathomably, continues to love. Phew. How’s that for family drama?

Set primarily in rural Alberta, Canada, The Erratics depicts the beauty of the prairies and the foothills, as well as the unforgiving nature of the climate. My friend who hails from rural Alberta says that Laveau-Harvie’s beautifully written description spoke to her of her own childhood home.

Landscape and climate feature largely in this book: as a backdrop for the story, sometimes symbolic of the beauty and cruelty of love and family, and even in the end of the book as a character. In geographical terms, “erratics” are enormous rocks deposited by retreating glaciers. We see them here in Ontario sometimes, hidden in the forests of the Canadian Shield. You can be walking along a trail in the bush and come upon a gigantic rock, nestled on a hillside, sometimes surmounted by trees, but more often not. Looking as if it had been dropped by giants. And so it was, in a way. As Laveau-Harvie tells us, “one of those huge boulders sits in a landscape of uncommon beauty a few miles from the Canadian town of Okotoks,” and was a defining feature of the landscape of her childhood.

As interesting as the setting is in this book, and as compelling as the story of the two sisters and their parents is, the most engaging part, for me, was the style. Laveau-Harvie is not just a beautiful writer but a witty one. Her prose is so darkly wry that I chortled as I read. So much so that Hubby wanted to read it after me. This book is definitely not his normal kind of reading, but he loved it too.

Honestly, this is one of the best reads I’ve had this year. Right up there with Sorrow and Bliss and Still Life. Okay… maybe it didn’t make me fall in love with a whole cast of characters like Still Life. But it’s darned near as good. Which is saying a lot.

The other dysfunctional family I’ve been reading about is the royal one. The British royal one. The Palace Papers by Tina Brown has had me by the throat for days. I’m serious. If I am a fitter person this week, it’s because I used pedalling my exercise bike as an excuse to continue sitting on my butt reading, at times obsessively, Brown’s book. My friend, the one from Alberta, told me about this book. She loved it. And so did I. And not just because I’ve been a royal watcher all my life. But because it is a fascinating and extremely well written, and well-researched chronicle of the life of the combined royal family for the past twenty years.

I should clarify my description of myself as a royal watcher. I have always kind of loved the royal family… well, most of them. Particularly Princess Anne and her daughter Zara Tindall. But I am not a slavish fan. I didn’t have enough interest to brave the crowds and try to get a glimpse of the Prince and Princess of Wales when they visited Ottawa in the eighties. Nor even to see the Queen and Prince Philip who’ve been here several times. I remember one royal visit when a friend who simply loves the queen enthused about being able to see the top of her hat from his place in the crowd. Still, I watch the royal weddings on television like everyone else. And the funerals. And I loved the series The Crown. The costumes were so wonderful!

I will add that I have no real love for the monarchy as an institution, nor do I see it as being particularly relevant for us in Canada in 2022. But it is a part of Canadian history and culture. The opening of each session of the Canadian Parliament does begin with a speech from the throne, after all. And sometimes I wish Canadians knew more about our history, and the difference between our parliamentary democracy and the democracy of our neighbour to the south. But I digress.

Anyway. Back to Tina Brown’s book. Oh my. If you have even a passing interest in the royal family you should read it. I found that juxtaposed beside the right-before-our-eyes unfolding family drama of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last month, it made for riveting reading.

To be honest, I am basically a very nosy person. That’s why I love reading. You can get inside other people’s lives. I love a good family drama. And let’s face it, if it’s family drama you want, of the dysfunctional kind in particular, you can’t go wrong with the Mountbatten-Windsor family.

Plus Tina Brown is a very engaging writer. Her narrative pulls the reader in, as it moves back and forth in time, setting the stage for an understanding of the royal players. She does not pull her punches in this book. But I had the impression that she was fair. She doesn’t whitewash or demonize anyone. Not even Prince Andrew, who really doesn’t need any help in making himself look bad. Ha. Oprah doesn’t come off looking too well either.

I came away from reading this book with a whole new appreciation for Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. And for Kate Middleton. And a deeper understanding of how unbelievably boring it must be to be a working royal. How has the Queen stood it all these years? So many hands to shake, and lines and lines of people to chat up. Life as a royal would be like an endless “Meet the Teacher” night for me, except with paparazzi, and better outfits. That said, if you like family drama, I would highly recommend The Palace Papers as extremely diverting summer reading.

Of course we all have some family drama in our background. A little dysfunctionality. Of course we do.

My immediate family is a complex web of parents, step-parents, half-sisters and brothers, step-brothers, step-nieces. So much so that a bottle of wine and a whole evening was required for me to explain everyone to Hubby when we started dating. And it’s not just my generation and that of my parents. My mother used to tell the story of a certain grandparent’s blended family, both spouses brought children from a first marriage, and then they had a couple more kids together. Apparently one day when the wife heard yelling, she asked her husband what the commotion was and he quipped: “Your kids and my kids are fighting with our kids.” I don’t know if that story is true, but I love it anyway.

See the photo below? That’s my sister Carolyn, me, my cousin Robert who is the same age as me, my sister Connie, and my brother Terry. Carolyn, Connie, Terry and I share a mother, but not a father. Robert is their cousin on their father’s side, and no blood relation to me. Did I care one whit about all that? Nope. As I said in a post when my brother died, family simply means the people we love.

At Nana’s 1958

So that’s it for me tonight my friends. I am at the moment casting about for a new book to read. It doesn’t have to be about family drama. In fact I’m feeling a bit wrung out with all the drama.

I just saw that Susie Steiner died on Sunday. She was only 51. Steiner is the author of the Manon Bradshaw detective series, and one of the most promising mystery novelists I have read in years. I wrote about the first two books in her series in a post a while back. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few years ago, and published the third Manon Bradshaw novel after she became ill. I’m sad that she has gone. Sad for her, and for her family. And sad about all the wonderful books that might have been, and now never will be.

Jeeze… I definitely need a new book to cheer me up. A nice murder mystery, maybe. Any suggestions?

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.


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52 thoughts on “Family Drama: Literary and Otherwise”

  1. I have just finished reading The Palace Papers and I loved it. Tina Brown is so witty that you can open just about any page and find a superb quote that encapsulates pages of prose in just one snappy and perceptive sentence. As you say, she is very fair minded and I thought this was nowhere more evident than in her treatment of Meghan and Harry. But what really underpins the book so brilliantly is her research – so thorough, but used with such a light and deft touch.
    Tina Brown is uniquely placed to comment on British and American sensibilities and it’s impossible not to wince when reading about the misunderstandings which had such dreadful repercussions for Harry and Meghan in particular.

    1. She is a wonderful writer. I can’t imagine how she juggled all that research and still managed to turn it into such an entertaining read. Not sure I have much sympathy for Harry and Meghan, though.

  2. Well, if you enjoyed The Palace Papers and The Crown but are now looking for a nice murder mystery, why not try The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett.

    Bennett’s clever crime series (Follow up book #2 is All The Queen’s Men) features none other than Queen Elizabeth II as a sleuth secretly solving crimes while carrying out her royal duties. The premise is outlandish but, in Bennett’s skilled hands, becomes great fun for the reader.

  3. I have got Tina Brown’s book from the library, keep renewing it, and must get on and read it. Have you read Richard Osman? He has written two murder mysteries, with a third coming out. They are light hearted and I found the characters quite endearing.

  4. On my coffee table reading stack; Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman, Dead Wind by Tessa Wegert, and French Braid by Anne Tyler. Mystery plus family drama. Now for a few rainy days to indulge in all the reading. Being part of the Bell Canada monopoly, we were sadly, not disconnected this weekend.

  5. Had to smile as I, too, seem to zoom in on a particular theme in my reading without being fully aware of doing so. The sub-conscience at work? I loved “The Crown” and will definitely check out “The Palace Papers.” I enjoy British crime stories … love the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George. By the way, I’m new to your blog and am really enjoying it!

  6. I read Tina Brown’s book on Diana which I enjoyed but thought I’d wait to read her latest one as I’ve been told she used much the same info .
    I’m going to be honest here .
    I sometimes think our royalty is best viewed from a distance – like a few thousand miles . The pageantry , the buildings , the ceremonies & the clothes . Yes , the Queen has fulfilled her duties & deserves respect for that but as for the rest of them ….. it’s a good job I don’t swear 😁 I did my share of flag waving as a child . They used to bus us from school whenever royals were in the area & we stood behind the ropes , very excited if somewhat baffled , waving our little flags . It’s all very colourful but , putting the cost aside , my main grievance is that it perpetuates a class system of unfairness . A system that has brilliant people from all fields , who have made their way in life by their own efforts , bowing to someone who might be a halfwit but happened to be born in the right palace . I witnessed this with Andrew when he visited our area once . Then it filters down & we can end up with an idle sociopath as prime minister, just because he went to the right schools & knew the right people 😁
    And yes , crime stories are light relief for me in all this . You introduced me to Peter Grainger & I’ve just finished the latest in his Willow & Lane series which I really enjoyed .
    I’m sounding very snippy this morning – must be the heat !

    1. I hear you, my friend. I can’t somehow see that opening supermarkets and dedicating wings in hospitals is a worthy use of an intelligent person’s life. In a few places in her book when discussing harry and Meghan, Tina Brown said that it seems they don’t realize the reason they have any power is simply because they are part of the royal family. Without that they’d be merely a former soldier and an ex-actress. She waxes a but sentimental about Prince Charles who it appears has quietly gone about doing all kinds of smaller things with his money and his influence, especially when it comes to the environment. And she says it will be a very different monarchy when he becomes king… much more lean and less pricey for the taxpayer.
      P.S. Just ordered the new Peter Grainger last night.

    2. I first commented and than read the others-for some internet reason I couldn’t reply to you yesterday, Wendy,so glad that you liked Willows and Lane

  7. A few off-line days sounds wonderful (easy for me to say, right?). I always look forward to your book recommendations. I recently read Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. The book is a couple of years old and I picked it up randomly from a display at the library. There is a some drama, and a lot of lies, but even though most of the characters did some bad things, I didn’t hate them and I cared what happened.
    Someone else mentioned Anne Tyler; I always enjoy her books. The families are always kind of quirky, but aren’t all families?

    1. I love Anne Tyler’s quirky families too. My favourite has always been The Accidental Tourist. Poor Macon and his inability to “take steps” as his ex-wife (was it Sarah?) said.

  8. Hi Sue …
    Perfect timing for book ideas from you and your readers after the ROGERS fiasco last week. Late Saturday afternoon I renewed my love of hard covered books at my local library. A book in my hand feels good … I can read outside in the sun where as my iPad would overheat, lose power and that annoying glare. I picked up a few Elly Griffiths and a cozy novel to float around in the waves on the boat.
    On Friday, hubs and I rode for hours and again Saturday morning. So I guess it ended up to be a good 36 hrs.

    1. Being on the boat reading must be a particular kind of heaven. I have read in the canoe before, but Stu always nags me to fish and stuff. Ha

  9. Happy anniversary Sue and Stu! Nice number play this year (33+33!)
    I’ve read about internet problems in Canada,so I was waiting in peace for a new post
    Beautiful photos,both from your wedding and your childhood,so sweet!
    So sorry to hear about S. Steiner,such a wonderful writer,I will miss her (this is very selfish from me)
    I was thinking about Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers and didn’t give it a try-now will change my decision….the other book looks interesting as well
    Nothing lifechanging in mysteries to recommend…I’ve read Kate Ellis The Merchant’s House,first in Wesley Peterson series, I will continue reading,it was interesting
    Peter Grainger has a new book,Arcadia,in Willows and Lane series (not DC Smith,but when I’m faithful to the author,I’m faithful !)
    Did I write about Rosamund Lupton’s Three Hours,I think I did but can’t find it. Scarry how things happened in real life recently ,a month or two after I’ve read the book .
    It is not a mystery,but have you read Clare Chambers’ Small Pleasures?

    1. Not sure I could read Three Hours. I still remember how we never took our lock-down drills at school very seriously. Makes me shudder. I will look for Small Pleasures… the book as well as the concept. 🙂

  10. I have devoured piles of books since a very young age. My family are all avid library borrowers. I worked at my local library for 20+ years while raising my children. I retired in early 2020.

    This past winter, my home town was caught in a terrible windswept wild fire. Over 1,000 families were left homeless. Many homes, including my own were smoke damaged. It’s a new reality to ask everyone you talk to how they’re doing, where they’re living, and if they plan to rebuild (most folks have found that they are drastically under insured).

    Six weeks after we moved back into our home, a water supply pipe burst in our finished basement, and flooded the whole space. We are of course grateful, and so lucky to have our home, but it was just the last straw for me. I was so sad, and overwhelmed.

    I think between years of the stress of Covid, politics, and just trying to be there for my grown children, and their very young families, I found myself having less ability to focus on anything, including my lifelong ability to escape into a good book.

    I decided I needed help, and saw my very smart and caring Doctor. She asked if I wanted to try an antidepressant, and recommended that I talk to a therapist. It was all very new to me, but I had definitely decided I wanted to feel more like myself, so I jumped in with both feet.

    It’s been almost five months now, and I definitely feel better! My ability to focus is very noticeable improved. One thing I’ve enjoyed immensely is my ability to just relax with a book again, and sometimes even become obsessed with one, to the point that I just can’t put it down!

    I’ve always read for relaxation, and entertainment, so not always deep, dark, and complex novels. I’m also not really into historical fiction. I just reviewed my library reading history, and saw so many enjoyable, but forgettable titles there. Those new modern romances, and twisty domestic thrillers. It’s like eating popcorn!

    These few titles are some that really stood out to me as being memorable, entertaining books.

    Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
    Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan
    Finlay Donavan is Killing, and Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano.
    Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie
    Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza
    The Guncle by Steven Rowley
    The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Audiobook read by Tom Hanks!

    1. Gad… it’s really been your “annus horribilus” … to quote the queen. Hope things continue to look up for you and your family.

  11. Funny, smart comment re your Teacher Night open houses like the Queen’s public duties, only “without the paparazzi and the elegant outfits”.
    And a happy anniversary to you both.
    I liked Liane Moriarty’s novels, Big, Little Lies, and Nine Perfect Strangers,….both of these a mystery set in an “ordinary” bunch of families thrown together by circumstance.

  12. Happy Anniversary! I love the picture of you and Lloyd. I always enjoy your book reviews; please keep them coming.

    1. Thanks, Meg. Our wedding was a very low-key affair on our deck. When my friend started playing the guitar and singing, Lloyd and I headed out the back door, and wended our way around the house and up the front stairs to the deck. Seems funny now… but I did want some semblance of walking down the aisle.

  13. Happy anniversary Sue! I love these posts when you (and your readers) discuss books you’ve read or are planning to read. I’ve recently enjoyed two of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series–One Good Turn and Started Early, Took My Dog. I’ll now backtrack and read the early one, Case Histories. I hated to read yesterday that Susie Steiner had died, but it did prompt me to get in touch with an out-of-town friend. She and I correspond periodically and recommend books back and forth. We both really enjoyed Steiner’s books.
    I’ve just read the new Elly Griffiths book, The Locked Room, which features Ruth Galloway, but was slightly disappointed. I didn’t feel it had the same level of story development as her earlier ones. And it was set at the beginning of the pandemic, which surprisingly brought that early fear/anxiety back to me.
    I’ve enjoyed Nine Lives by Peter Swanson… a “smartly entertaining reimagining of Agatha Christie’s classic And Then There Were None.” Also liked The Candy House by Jennifer Egan; it’s a sequel to A Visit from the Good Squad.

  14. I enjoyed Beholden by Lesley Crewe and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Happy Anniversary!

  15. Family dramas and family history…can be exhausting. I spent quite a lot of time researching and tracking down ancestors and then one day I thought: there are so many more names, I could go on forever and felt very very weary. I have carefully gone through all the family photos – literally – and labelled them, then divided them up and distributed them so we each get a wedge. I typed up everything I knew about family history/old stories/lineages and sent them to my cousin who is more committed to the search and then I felt better about it all. Heaven knows what the tales about me will sound like in years to come. I am constantly looking for new things to read and eyeing up a lot of books on the shelves with real malevolence because they are taking up valuable room, I will never read them and they are not mine to dispose of. I think the heat is getting to me.

  16. Warmest congratulations to you and your husband for your anniversary. We celebrated our 33rd anniversary last May. 1989 must have been a popular year for weddings. It’s alarming how quickly we’ve all become dependent on internet services for everything from work to entertainment. Our landline telephone was replaced by an internet based service last year and I’m not looking forward to the loss of all communications when we next have a long power outage or there’s a problem with the service provider, as you recently experienced. It seems that old-style copper wire-based telephone systems were relatively robust and reliable. Thank you for the book recommendations. I’ve added The Erratics to my reading list. I was pleased by your favourable comments on Tina Brown’s book. I’ve read a few chapters of it that were published in various journals, and found them to be informative and engaging but was surprised at the criticism directed to Brown and her book by journalists and in readers’ comments in an English newspaper to which I subscribe. Your positive assessment encourages me to find and read the whole book – guilty treats are in big demand during our cold, wet winter. I’m currently enjoying Alexandra Shulman’s “Inside Vogue: My Diary of Vogue’s 100th Year”. Her writing is frank and funny and the book is full of insights into fashion, publishing and the larger than life characters that populate those worlds.

    1. Hmm. I thought the Brown book was very well written and very fair. Although her inability to mince words might anger some. I must look for that Shulman book.

  17. Happy Anniversary Sue! Dinner and a nice wine sounds perfect.

    I’ll keep the two book recommendations in mind. I loved The Crown, but am not a royal family watcher.

    I’m currently listening to Songbird in a Storm, a time travel story about a woman who goes back in time to 1921 and is embroiled in a murder. There are hoodlums and mafia types. There’s also romance. I just finished reading The Summer Job. No mystery, but a light, likable read about a British woman who takes a job as a sommelier at a Scottish inn and doesn’t know anything about wine. She has to work very hard to keep people from finding out.

    1. We are currently waiting for season 4 of The Crown from the library as we don’t have netflix. I will be well ready for it by the time we get to see it!

  18. Have you read William Kent Kruger’s mystery series? Mainly set in Minnesota which I imagine has similarities with the parts of Canada you go camping and canoeing in. I have been very wrapped up in them for the last few months, as they gradually emerge from our public library’s reservation system. Highly recommended!


  19. We were recently fortunate enough to enjoy an expedition cruise along the Kimberley coast in northern Australia, and had no internet or phone for 10 days! It was amazing, and I was reluctant to reconnect with the outside world again. I felt a bit the same when covid lockdowns ended here, I had got used to being in my own world. Books are a big part of that world, of course, although there wasn’t much time for that on the cruise, too much to see and learn.
    Thank you for all your book recommendations, my recent favourites have been French Braid by Ann Patchett, The Maid by Nita Prowse, and The Good Wife of Bath by Karen Brooks.

    1. That sounds wonderful, Julie. We had to abandon our last trip downunder when my stepfather died. We’d made it to Broome and had just arrived in Cape Leveque when we had to head for home. Three weeks of our trip left , and we didn’t get to Darwin or a couple of inland excursions we were excited about.

  20. My Girl Scout troop stopped in Ottawa on our way from Louisville, Ky., to Montreal’s Expo ‘67. Amazingly, we were there at the same time as the Queen so of course we saw all the pageantry and this American girl was hooked on the monarchy. I echo your comments on the so-well-done Tina Brown’s Palace Papers. I read the book on our way to London in early May just as the magical Platinum Jubilee got underway. I followed up with the Diana Chronicles which I found an equally delicious read.

    I now see ‘working’ royal with a new appreciation for the unsung skill it takes to take on a wide range of royal engagements. Kate manages to look genuinely joyful everywhere she goes. Meghan just didn’t want to do the work unless it was to her liking. She is now in her 40s, not an ingenue. Before long, Harry will realize what opportunity to impact change they selfishly tossed away.

    I’m off my soap box now. But Tina Brown’s books brought home the value that traditions bring to an every changing world. Even when some of the characters are all too human.

  21. The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth
    by Ben Rawlence. Deeply thoughtful, and dense (as in a tree trunk but with all those beautiful rings!) writing about the forests at or near the Arctic Circle by a Welsh writer.
    My husband and I went on a circumnavigation of Admiralty Island near Juneau
    and went on a brief excursion to an islet and walked among an old growth forest.
    The deep sense of wonder I felt then is touched on in this book.

  22. So sad to hear about Susie Steiner’s death. I read the Manon Bradshaw series on your recommendation and loved them. Thank you for that. We personally were unaffected by the great outage last week but we had cousins arriving from the US and when they drove up to the land crossing they couldn’t use ArriveCan after we had drilled them on having to have it! I did think of you and others with elderly parents and hoped for no emergencies if they needed to reach you.

    1. I was happy that my sister was with Mum. Having no way to check on her would have been worrying. Especially as they had no phone or internet down east either.

  23. So in my longing for travel but not doing it just yet, I’ve been “reading Italy”. Decent mystery series that fits the bill, starts with “Murder in Chianti” by Camilla Trinchieri. I’ve not quite finished but have the second in the series at the ready from the library. And on the “longing to travel but doing it by books” genre, and for we women if a certain age, I really loved listening to “Women in Sunlight” by Frances Mayes….now if someone would just make it into a movie!

    1. I too read Murder in Chianti and enjoyed it. I different take on the the Italians, not your stereotypical dolce vita types. I’m looking forward to the next one.

  24. I just finishing up listening to My Reading Life by Pat Conroy on Audible. It has been moving and beautifully written, a testament to his difficult boyhood years, his love of reading and books, and what lead him to become a writer. I really can’t recommend it enough. It is a book I won’t forget.

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