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The Crown’s Fate (The Crown’s Game #2) by Evelyn Skye

“The Game might be over, but their story was not.”

Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.

Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.

For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.

With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.

Book Links: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Goodreads | Publisher

Personal Thoughts:

The Crown’s Fate is darker, action-packed and thrilling conclusion to Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game fantasy duology.

The story picks up shortly after the the first book, The Crown’s Game ended. Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter under the command of Pasha who is the next Tsarevich following his father’s death. Nikolai is gone, presumably dead after his sacrifice during the Game, saving Vika’s life. Pasha and Vika are torn in Nikolai’s death. Pasha blame himself for forcing the Game to his friends which resulted losing Nikolai. While Vika is incredibly sad. She not only loose Nikolai, she also earned a new prison she didn’t expected. She maybe the Imperial Enchanter, but she doesn’t have the power over her magic. She is bound to serve the Tsar, disobeying his orders means punishment for her.

But Nikolai isn’t really dead, he is just trapped in the dream world – a place he previously created which still holds some of his magic. After the battle with Vika and saving her, Nikolai almost drained his energy and magic, he become a shadow reeling in-between world. In order for Nikolai to go back to the real world, he must pay a dark price – a payment he isn’t willing to make. But what if the choice isn’t for him to make? What hill happen if Nikolai turned against not only to Pasha and Vika but also against himself?

One of the strongest aspects of this series is the Russian settings. Evelyn Skye weaves fantasy and Russian history together, while painting the world in an enticing imagery for readers to get lost into. I was happily lost in Saints Petersberg, following the characters in each corner of the streets of Imperial Russia. Add the political settings, and rich history where the characters are dancing, I feel like I am at the center of a grand show. The Russian elements make the story atmospheric and worth visiting over and over.

“But hadn’t they all changed? Life happened without permission, and it swept everyone along in its violent wake.”

Vika continue to be a strong character in this final instalment. She is still smart, forgiving, and compassionate. When she was commanded to limit the usage of her magic, Vika realized how vulnerable she is without magic, and how she become dependent to her power. Magic maybe part of her, but it is not what she is.

“We are not defined by what we can do, but by what we actually do.”

Pasha who is soon to be a Tsar finally realize the importance of his role. With his parents gone and his best friend not on his side, he now gradually accepting his responsibilities. After the devastating outcome of the game from the previous book, he is now learning from his mistake. He wants to do things right and be a worthy Tsar of Russia.

Nikolai on the other hand, turns to the dark side. A situation he didn’t pick for himself, and no full control over. As he battle his dark side, readers will surely feel for him. Nikolai’s inner battle is sometimes intense. His newly acquired personality painted this last instalment dark, edgy, even at times frustrating. It is no doubt that followers of this series will miss the old Nikolai, and will probably don’t like his newly acquired personality. On my case, I understand why his character need to be tainted. He cannot always be the perfect guy after-all. By throwing Nikolai on the dark side, Evelyn Skye open his character. Readers who love him from the first book will surely find ways to excuse his actions. Like Vika, we all believe that the old Nikolai is still there and we all want to save him.

The only mild complaint is the rush ending. Though the story was tied up pretty neatly, I feel like the conflict was easily resolved. The last battle is action packed and well delivered but I wish there was more. There are still room for more actions, answers and character development. Like more information about Vika’s parents, about Renata’s newly acquired power or even just the tea leaf reading, and Yuliana’s character. Too bad this is the final book already.

Overall, The Crown’s Fate is a fast and enthralling read. A dark and edgy conclusion to Evelyn’s Skye first fantasy duology that will probably leave readers asking for more.

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* This review is based on an advance readers copy I received courtesy of the publisher, HarperCollins International in exchange of honest opinion.

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Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

“Is this how it goes? You fall in love, and nothing seems truly scary anymore, and life is one big possibility?”

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Book Links: Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads | Publisher | NBS

Personal Thoughts:

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is bittersweet, heartwarming, and swoony read that will surely leave followers of this series more than satisfied.

When I first read To All the Boys I’ve Love Before, it surprised me in all the best ways. It brings memories and feelings I never thought I’ll trace again. Lara Jean’s story becomes my own as she reminds me of how it was to be young and in love. Then when the second installment came out, I fell harder with the characters. I cheer and root for them like fully realized people. I want for Covey and Peter’s story to work. I thought that was the last time I will heard about them, since this series is originally a duology. But when Jenny Han announced on twitter that there will be one last book for Lara Jean’s story, I can’t help but get excited. Who am I kidding? More Peter Kavinsky is always a good news.

So, I finished reading Always and Forever, Lara Jean few nights ago. After that I reread the first two books and reread and reread this one final installment. I can’t just let go yet. In fact, I’m still doing a reread as of this moment. Multi-tasking while writing my thoughts.

“Never say no when you really want to say yes.”

Always and Forever, Lara Jean takes on Lara Jean and Peter’s high-school senior year. With the prom, graduation, college applications, and family issues — these two are both having a tough year. Add the fact that they might go separate ways in college and that it feels like they don’t have enough time to do things together. Long distance relationship isn’t exactly easy and they are both aware of it. They have responsibilities not only as a couple but also as individual for themselves and for their families. Senior year proves that entering adulthood is not easy.

“I guess that’s part of growing up, too–saying goodbye to the things you used to love.”

Lara Jean’s character development from book one to here is just remarkable. I thought the video scandal she had from P.S. I Still Love You is a tough one. But in here, I feel like she badly needs a break. The girl needs a breather with all the worries and issues around her. But then she also need all these things to grow. Adjustments and changes are part of life, and she and Peter cannot skip those parts.

“You can’t protect him from being hurt, babe, no matter what you do. Being vulnerable, letting people in, getting hurt… it’s all part of being in love.”

Peter Kavinsky’s character just become more swoon worthy. We’ve finally view his vulnerable side, making him more realistic. I love him for being the cool and optimistic guy from the first two installments, but seeing him unsure, scared or just loosing control in this final book just makes me love him more. The sweet moments between him and Lara Jean are just adorable. Every little thing he does for Lara Jean makes my heart giddy. He is the kind of guy who remember little things, and he surely makes an effort for Lara Jean. Like when he try to learn how to do French braid, or when he color spray his hair during ‘characters day’ because he know how Lara Jean take seriously of costuming. He even make sure that people will get who Lara Jean’s character is. There’s so much more, but you have to read the book to find out. Otherwise I will spoil you and maybe ruined the excitement.

I also love it when Peter takes care of Kitty. Even when he and Lara Jean are not in good terms, he always love the kid. He is like a real brother to her. Plus the dynamics between him and Kitty is so much fun. Hilarious even.

As for Kitty, well she continue to be amazing. I’m sure every reader of this series love the kid. She is witty, funny and feisty. I didn’t realized how much I miss her and her snarky dialogues until I get back to reading this series. She really put the big difference. Add the family dynamics of the whole Song household, and the latest addition to the family, this novel is fun and sweet. Jenny Han effortlessly emphasize the importance of family in this series and for that alone, makes the whole series worth reading.

All in all, Always and Forever, Lara Jean is a perfect ending to Lara Jean’s story. I really cannot ask for a better conclusion from Jenny Han. This whole series is heartwarming, nostalgic, and just pure love. Something to get back into if you feel like experiencing teen love over and over again, or just want to swoon for days. Because sometimes lighthearted and fun read is all we need.

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Perfect (Flawed #2) by Cecelia Ahern

“A weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place.”

Celestine North is Flawed.

Ever since Judge Crevan declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been a ghost, on the run with Carrick, the only person she can trust.

But Celestine has a secret—one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground. A secret that has already caused countless people to go missing.

Judge Crevan is gaining the upper hand, and time is running out for Celestine. With tensions building, Celestine must make a choice: save just herself or risk her life to save all Flawed people.

Book Links: Amazon | B&N | BD | Goodreads | Publisher

Personal Thoughts:

Perfect, much like its prequel Flawed, is a thrilling and action-packed read that gives readers a view of a plausible vision of a society that is lost in someone else standards.

Celestine North is on the run, hiding from The Guild, more specifically from her ex-boyfriend’s father, Judge Crevan. Crevan will do anything to find Celestine, as he believe that she holds something that will destroy not only his reputation, but also the entire flawed system that his family built. Together with other flawed, Celestine need to outrun and outsmart an entire system to earn not only her freedom but the freedom the whole nation.

What I really like in reading dystopian fiction like this one, is that they make me asked questions about the humanity and the possibilities stored in our future. In this series, Cecelia Ahern create a morality court where authorities use their position and power to control an entire society. They put label on people, branding them as flawed and outcast them for one single mistake they made. And the worst part, sometimes even the right thing is classified as wrong. People are living in the standards of someone else, which reminds me of our current society. We may not have an actual morality court like The Guild in the story, but we are also judged by others’ standards.

Lets take for example the standard created by social medias. Most of us post photos on instagram and facebook that project perfections, happiness, and richness. We edit photos to look beautiful or great. We filter them to be the best, as if they really represent our real lives and real status. As if there is an imaginary law or rules that tell us not to share the raw and unfiltered version of ourselves. It is so easy to fall on these invisible standards without noticing the effect on us – not just as individual but also as society.

Aside from creating standards that brands people, The Guild also shows how people easily put blame to others. They chastised others for their mistake without giving second chances. Where in fact, they also makes mistakes. And mistakes are important to us, without it we won’t learn. Mistakes teach us something, like powerful lessons we can use for future decisions. It makes us better, wiser, and more humble.

“Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of. Mistakes teach us to take responsibility. They teach us what works and what doesn’t. We learn what we would do differently the next time, how we will be different, better, and wiser in the future. We are not just waking mistakes, we are human.”

Another thing I like in the story is the family dynamics that the North family showed. There are really some growth in there. From the first book, Flawed, we see Celestine’s Mom as someone who is superficial; her sister, Juniper as someone against on everything and just love to antagonize Celestine. There’s also her brother’s reaction during their dinner after Celestine got branded flawed, which makes me want to smack the kid. But in this installment, those things changed. Celestine’s mother alone plays an important role in the story. She stand firm for her daughter. She fight along with Celestine though and through. And Juniper has her own share of sacrifices too. She not only help Art and Celestine but also fight for what she believe in.

Overall, Perfect is provocative and satisfying conclusion to Cecelia Ahern’s first young adult series, Flawed. She certainly weaved a strong and intriguing post-apocalyptic world that will not only make readers question our own society but also humanity in general. It celebrates imperfections by showing the importance of learning from our own mistakes.

* This review is based on an advance readers copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Feiwel & Friends an imprint of Macmillan International in exchange of honest opinion.

 

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The Ship Beyond Time (The Girl from Everywhere #2) by Heidi Heilig

“…whenever you try to change something, you sacrifice something else.”

Nix has spent her whole life journeying to places both real and imagined aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. And now it’s finally time for her to take the helm. Her father has given up his obsession to save her mother—and possibly erase Nix’s existence—and Nix’s future lies bright before her. Until she learns that she is destined to lose the one she loves. But her relationship with Kash—best friend, thief, charmer extraordinaire—is only just beginning. How can she bear to lose him? How can she bear to become as adrift and alone as her father?

Desperate to change her fate, Nix takes her crew to a mythical utopia to meet another Navigator who promises to teach her how to manipulate time. But everything in this utopia is constantly changing, and nothing is what it seems—not even her relationship with Kash. Nix must grapple with whether anyone can escape her destiny, her history, her choices. Heidi Heilig weaves fantasy, history, and romance together to tackle questions of free will, fate, and what it means to love another person. But at the center of this adventure are the extraordinary, multifaceted, and multicultural characters that leap off the page, and an intricate, recognizable world that has no bounds. The sequel—and conclusion—to the indie darling The Girl from Everywhere will be devoured by fans of Rachel Hartman and Maggie Stiefvater. Includes black-and-white maps.

Book Links: Amazon | B&N | BD | Goodreads | Publisher

Personal Thoughts:

Heidi Heilig sailed once again in this sequel of her time travel series, The Girl from Everywhere. Amira/Nix and her crew are back in The Ship Beyond Time for more journey, searching for the biggest question of time travel about changing history and fate – Do we decide our own fate or is it simply a predetermined path?

Can Amira change her destiny to save someone she love?

I come aboard reading this sequel with less expectations especially with all the issues I have from the first book. If not for Kashmir and the hope to get answers or explanations to at least few of my questions from the The Girl from Everywhere I’m not sure I’ll be coming back for more. But my curiosity win as usual.

The best part of this book (aside from Kashmir and his point of view) is how all the events are interconnected. Sometimes I view those events as circle or loop which are all linked to each other in some way. And analyzing them just form lots of questions (more on that later) than answers. The events are all interconnected, every decisions counts, and they are all part of a grander plot. Which makes me appreciate the intricacy of all these connections. Heidi Heilig must have done lots of research and outlining, not only weaving the imaginary world to the real ones but also interlacing each events.

Remember the main conflict from the first book? About the possibility or erasing Amira’s very own existence if his dad tried and save her mom. Well, that conflict doesn’t really work for me because of Kashmir – an imaginary character from mythical land who exist as real and living boy in the story. (Check my explanations from my review of the first book here for more details.) I did wait for some explanations for that in this second installment, and Kash actually have some thoughts about it but there was never a clear answer. Just one of the many unanswered questions I have from this series.

“If you can create a myth, why not a man? Am I merely a figment of some cartographer’s imagination? Or did you make me up when you arrived?”

Then there’s also the time traveling part. I won’t go into details about the rules of time traveling. I cover more than enough of those from my review of the first book, The Girl from Everywhere. Instead, let’s discuss the classic question I mentioned above, about fate and destiny. Are we the masters of our own fate? Amira travel the length of mythical land looking for answers about changing her destiny with the belief of saving Kashmir. She cannot accept a future where she will lose Kash, to the point of losing the time she was supposed to enjoy with him.

“That’s why you want to know you can change things before you commit.”
“You watched your father chase your mother for years, and you wished he didn’t love her. What will you do to my memory when I’m gone? Will you chase it like a dragon? Or will you banish it like smoke?”

Amira dreaded the future that she forgot to enjoy the present. Unlike Kash who even doubting his very own existence manage to appreciate what he has.

“I won’t let fear of tomorrow steal joy form today.”

Heidi Heilig challenged her characters about the cause and effect of our choices, the ramification of our actions, and how destiny play a huge role in all of these. Amira went to this mythical utopia to find answers in saving Kash, but in doing so she actually triggered the events that led to her loss. Which is just one part of the connections I mentioned above. If only I can enumerate all them here without spoiling. But trust me, those parts are the best, especially in the end where everything is laid out.

“Every choice has a cost, Miss Song. The real question is whether or not one is willing to pay it.”
“No, Blake. The real question is whether it’s worth the price.”

So, Amira doesn’t actually changed her destiny. In the end she still lose someone she love. Which means destiny cannot be altered. If that’s the case, then it brings conflict to Kashmir and Blake’s dream. During their stay in the mythical utopia, there are events that explain Kashmir and Blake’s dream which are actually altered reality – something that happened but was altered somehow. And only navigators remembers what really happened in those events. Those parts are contradicting. They bring more conflicts than answers. Which means we are back to square one. Is fate can really be altered or are we just treading the same line where our destiny ends? Unfortunately, The Ship Beyond Time cannot answer that question. I guess, it’s really up to the  readers what they want to believe.

Back to Amira and Kash. These two went through a lot. Their internal struggles, relationship issues, and overall character development is really the heart of The Ship Beyond Time. Though I missed the other characters who all take a few steps backward in this last adventure, I still enjoyed Kash and Amira’s story. Surprisingly, there’s no love-triangle involved. Blake is not much of a competition as I expected him to be, especially with how the first book ended. So we only have Amira and Kash trying to navigate their own sea of issues both as a couple and individual. Kashmir is questioning his own purpose and existence. While Amira is struggling not only with her destiny of losing someone she love, but also becoming like her father. She is afraid of losing control, of giving in to love and end up like her father – whom we see from the first book as someone obsess in getting his wife back.

Overall, The Ship Beyond Time is imaginative, exciting and entertaining read. Not everything is explained, but that matters very little especially when you are lost enjoying sailing with characters like Amira and her diverse crew aboard the time-traveling ship, Temptation.

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Hear The Wolves by Victoria Scott

“The circle of life isn’t a circle at all. It’s a straight line, with hunters on one end, and prey on the other.”

Sloan is a hunter.

So she shouldn’t be afraid of anything. But ever since her mom left the family and she lost hearing in one ear in a blizzard, it’s been hard to talk to people, and near-impossible to go anywhere or do anything without her dad or big sister within eyesight — it makes her too scared to be on her own.

When they leave her home alone for what should only be two nights, she’s already panicked. Then the snow starts falling and doesn’t stop. One of her neighbors is hurt in an accident. And the few people still left in Rusic need to make it to the river and the boat that’s tied there — their only way to get to a doctor from their isolated Alaska town.

But the woods are icy cold, and the wolves are hungry. Sloan and her group are running out of food, out of energy, and out of time. That’s when the wolves start hunting them . . .

Book Links: Amazon | B&N | BD | Goodreads | Publisher

Personal Thoughts:

Victoria Scott new novel, Hear the Wolves follows a young girl in a richly drawn small town Rusic Alaska, trying to survive the wild and the cold snowstorm.

Twelve year-old Sloan Reilly knows a thing or two about hunting. She’s pretty good with guns. When her dad and sister left her alone to vote on keeping the township separate, Sloan find herself in the middle of blizzard trying to help a terribly injured neighbor, Ms. Wade. Together with other five people, Sloan brave crossing the river to Bernon with wolves surrounding them. They don’t have enough supply for the journey, and not much enough choice either. Will they all survive the cold and the hungry wolves?

Sloan as the main character is both strong and vulnerable. A combination that makes her and her narration captivating. Her fears and struggles both internal and external were very well drawn. Creating an emotionally intense story for readers to get lost into.

The wolves are frigthening making the reading experience on the edge. But more than being the hunters or villain in the story, the wolves remind readers that they too are victims. Like Sloan and her gang, the wolves are just trying to survive. They need food, and since the people of Rusic eliminate their source of food they have to get something else to survive. Most of the times, our actions affect someone or something else. There’s a law of nature, a inevitable process we all part of, and we need to be aware of how we as a humanity contribute to it. We can’t always think of ourselves as superior being as if the earth owe as something. We have parts to do too and other living and non-living things to consider.

Overall, Hear the Wolves is a pleasant surprise. It has an intense and realistic plot that delivers a powerful punch. Readers will surely find Sloan’s story not only inspiring but also unrelenting. A survival story of both physical and emotional that won’t leave readers for awhile.

* This review is based on a copy I received courtesy of the publisher, Scholastic Press Philippines in exchange for an honest opinion.

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Jorie and the Magic Stones by A.H. Richardson

“Sometimes we need more than magic words to make a situation better. Many times we carry our own magic within us, an inner magic that takes many forms, such as love, friendship, courage and tolerance.”

When Marjorie went to live with her frosty maiden aunt, she couldn’t imagine the adventures she would have with dragons — good and bad — and all the strange creatures that live in a mysterious land beneath the Tarn. The spunky 9-year-old redhead forges an unlikely friendship with an insecure young boy named Rufus who lives with his crusty grandfather next door. When Jorie — for that is what she prefers to be called — finds a dusty ancient book about dragons, she learns four strange words that will send the two of them into a mysterious land beneath the Tarn, riddled with enchantment and danger. Hungry for adventure, the children take the plunge, quite literally, and find themselves in the magic land of Cabrynthius. 

Upon meeting the good dragon, the Great Grootmonya, Jorie and Rufus are given a quest to find the three Stones of Maalog — stones of enormous power — and return them to their rightful place in Cabrynthius. Their mission is neither easy nor safe, and is peppered with perils in the form of the evil black half-dragon who rules the shadowy side of the land. They have to deal with a wicked and greedy professor, the tragic daughter of the bad dragon, caves of fire, rocky mountainous climbs, and a deadly poisonous butterfly.

Jorie must rely on her wits and courage to win the day? Can she do this? Can she find all three Stones? Can she save Rufus when disaster befalls him? Can she emerge victorious? She and Rufus have some hair-raising challenges, in which they learn valuable lessons about loyalty, bravery, and friendship.

Book Links: AmazonGoodreads

Personal Thoughts:

Jorie and the Magic Stones is a delightful and entertaining read that offers wonderful messages for middle grade readers.

Marjorie Beatrice Weaver who prefer to be called Jorie is an orphan who just moved in with her Aunt. While there she found an old and mysterious book under the bed. Being the ever curious and adventurous that she is, Jorie explore all the possibilities suggested on the pages of the book. With her new friend Rufus, Jorie discover new world and experience an adventure she never thought possible.

Jorie as the main character is so much fun to follow. She is a witty, curious, smart and imaginative kid who can easily charm her way. Her adventure to the land of Cabrynthius will not only entertain readers but also leave some important messages to ponder and carry even after the last page is closed.

Richardson easily weaved an imaginative world in this new fantasy adventure tale. With simple and straightforward narrative, middle-grade readers will surely find Jorie and the Magic Stones a quick and fast-paced read.

I’m not sure yet if the book is a part of a series but the ending promise a wonderful follow up and exciting adventure for the characters. I think Richardson can expand Jorie’s adventure and the magical land of Cabrynthius.

Overall, Jorie and the Magic Stones is quick and fun read. It is a tale of adventure, courage, and friendship that young readers will surely enjoy.

* This review is based on an a copy I received courtesy of Book Publicty Services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A. H. Richardson was born in London England and is the daughter of famous pianist and composer Clive Richardson. She studied drama and acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She was an actress, a musician, a painter and sculptor, and now an Author.

She published her debut novel Jorie and the Magic Stones in December 2014. At the request of those who loved the first ‘Jorie’ story, Richardson has written a sequel titled Jorie and the Gold Key, and she is currently working on the third book in the series.

She is also the author of Murder in Little Shendon, a thriller murder mystery which takes place in a quaint little village in England after World War Two, and introduces two sleuths, Sir Victor Hazlitt and his sidekick,  Beresford Brandon, a noted Shakespearian actor. She has more ‘who-dun-its’ planned for this clever and interesting duo… watch for them!

A. H. Richardson lives happily in East Tennessee, her adopted state, and has three sons, three grandchildren, and two pugs. She speaks four languages and loves to do voiceovers. She plans on writing many more books and hopes to delight her readers further with her British twist, which all her books have.

Find A. H. Richardson

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


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