“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

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Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Bold Yet Bittersweet Verse: A Review of Crossan & Conaghan’s ‘We Come Apart’

 

When We Come Apart was released in March, there was a lot of buzz about it online. It was constantly coming up on my twitter feed and was dominating discussions of Young Adult fiction online. Needless to say I was curious.

So when I received a copy of the book in a surprise bundle of books from Bloomsbury Australia, I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as possible. And believe me when I say, I was not disappointed.

We Come Apart makes something new out of Young Adult fiction. Authors Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan made the bold move of writing the whole book in verse, a form usually reserved for poetry or plays. In choosing to write a book for teenagers and young adults in this form, Conaghan and Crossan have opened up an opportunity for these young audiences to read something in verse without being hindered by the presumption that it is going to be beyond their reach or even ‘boring’ as many young people view Shakespeare or most poetry to be. Instead, We Come Apart brings a relatable story for young people to new life, by challenging the ways we tell our stories.

The book itself is a relatively easy and fast read, not only because of the sparse and carefully chosen language, but also because of the story itself. Jess and Nicu are the kind of people we all know – the girl who pretends she doesn’t care to hide how much she does care, and the immigrant boy who wants more than what his old life could offer him. Personally, I found Nicu to be the most interesting character to read through. His chapters were often the ones with the most beautiful language choices, even hidden in the markings of his struggles with English as his second language. It is Nicu who gives us the book’s title, and the meaning behind it. It is Nicu who breaks our hearts. And it is Nicu who will probably stay with me long after Jess.

In saying that though, Jess’ storyline is not without incredible writing. There is a lot hidden in her narrative, and I wish I could know what she does after the last page. We leave her with a whole uncertain future ahead of her and when I finished the last page, I wanted to know what happens to her just as much as I wanted to know what happened to Nicu. For me, it reminded me a lot of the last pages of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars – it conjured the same feeling of wanting to know, yet feeling like knowing what happens next would ruin what just happened on the page. I was incredibly emotionally invested in this story, and for me, that is the mark of a great book.

This is a book I would recommend to all teens, especially those who have previously struggled with poetry, plays or any other verse. We Come Apart is striking and beautifully composed, and I wish more authors were willing to be bold in their choices while writing YA Fiction. I applaud Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for being bold and making something incredible out of it.

 

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We Come Apart (Bloomsbury, $17.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

Singing A Much Needed Song: A Review of Ayobami Adebayo’s ‘Stay With Me’

Stay With Me, the debut novel by Ayobami Adebayo, is a book that I probably won’t stop talking about for a long time, precisely because it is so deeply important and unique a read.

Set in 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me follows the complicated domestic life of Yejide, a woman who has been hoping desperately for a child. Hounded by her husband’s family to produce a male heir to the family name, she has tried everything: medical consultations with fertility specialists, pilgrimages up mountains, dances with prophets and many prayers to her God. However, when her husband is forced by his family to take a second wife, Yejide is forced to confront all the things she thought she was safe from.

It is no wonder such a compelling and original novel such as Stay With Me has been shortlisted as part of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – Adebayo sings a much needed song about women, their health, their family lives and their fight to be heard above the noise of their communities. Stay With Me is so incredibly different from books I have read in the past. Its expression of Nigerian culture and family life is vivid and living, unafraid to make comment on the banality of the everyday. In saying that, Adebayo tackles subject matter that is usually left undiscussed in literature, from phantom pregnancy to infant death to culturally imposed polygamy. I was particularly captivated by the ways in which Yejide’s husband’s family and the pressure they put on her to conceive ended up causing her to imagine a pregnancy. It was refreshing to read about the intersections between motherhood, family pressure and women’s mental health, especially when they are written about with such intensity. Beyond this, it was interesting to see how the death of multiple children affected the family unit, and how cultural traditions influenced the reception and interpretation of these deaths, even as recently as the 1980s. I will admit I am not very well versed in the cultural traditions of Nigerian communities, but Stay With Me provided an incredible insight into the clash of modern family values and the long-held traditions of families and cultural communities.

Beyond the domestic and family spaces that dominate the narrative, Adebayo explores the tumultuous politics of 1980’s Nigeria, and how the social landscape of Nigeria was changed by reactions to the government and protests against it. From raids of local communities by bandits and gangs, to student protests and acts of revolution, Stay With Me is punctuated with intensely felt descriptions of fear, joy and sacrifice. Paralleled with the turmoil of the home spaces in this novel, readers are captivated by the feeling of helplessness that Yejide so often confesses. Sure she has her independence, but she is also trapped by her own desires – for freedom, for love, for a child, for sexual pleasure, for the ability to feel safe in her own body.

Yejide is a woman like no other, and I can’t help but feel as though she is one of the most uniquely written women I have come across this year in fiction, with an equally unique, diverse and compelling story that everyone should invest it. I can’t help but admire Ayobami Adebayo’s incredible talent for character development and storytelling, alongside her ability to draw our attention towards stories that have traditionally been pushed aside in favour of Western-orientated books. As a debut novel, Stay With Me dazzles, and introduces a new talent to keep our eyes on, and I can’t wait to see what Adebayo writes next. I’m calling it now – she is one of the best voices of our time.

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Stay With Me (Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99) is now available in all good book stores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from, and support their local independent book stores.

Thank you once again to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me for review. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

More Than A Protest – A Review of Angie Thomas’ ‘The Hate U Give’

“I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times they’ll show us a side of the world that we may not have known about.” – Angie Thomas

Every once in a while, I read a book that I wish I had read years ago. Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give gave me that exact feeling.

The Hate U Give follows Starr, a young African American teen living in a poor neighbourhood, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. It is a story that feels all too real in our current political climate, and multiple times whilst reading this book, I could not help but think that this story could have easily been non-fiction.

All too often, we hear stories about unarmed African Americans, usually young men or teenagers, being fatally shot by police officers in the US. As an Australian, a lot of these stories come to me through news reporters or online articles, and as such are mediated by white adult voices, voices that are often so removed from incidents like this that it is impossible to truly gather a sense of how situations like this affect local communities and their young people. The Hate U Give broke that tradition for me, bringing me an up-close encounter with the reality of how events like this impact a community from the inside, and the nuances of community mourning and reaction.

One of the most profound themes throughout this novel is that of remembrance, and how we choose to remember young people who have been killed. Throughout the novel, the possibility of Khalil’s drug dealing past dominates a lot of media and external discourse surrounding Khalil’s death, almost as if this justifies his death. However, Starr constantly pushes back against this discourse, forcing the spotlight to shift, if ever so slightly, towards the friend she knew, towards the facts of his death at the hands of a police officer who chose to shoot an unarmed innocent teenager based on the colour of his skin.

Angie Thomas takes her insight a step further with her description of poverty, neighbourhoods ruled by gang wars, racial politics, class disparities, family structures, and the education system, and how each of these areas are affected by the death of a young member of the community. Her approach to these issues is tremendously heartfelt and unabashedly real – she is not trying to sugar coat the realities of American social systems by any means, but rather, pull them apart for critique. In choosing to do so through the medium of Young Adult fiction, she has opened up a new place for discussion of these issues for young people and has allowed them to engage in a more critical train of thought – something that our young people are already doing, and should be encouraged to continue with new and important perspectives.

I highly encourage anyone and everyone to read this book. It is easily one of the most insightful and brilliantly written books I have read and hits upon an issue that is a necessary point of discussion, especially in the Trump-era. More importantly, I think that this is a book that should be on the high school curriculum, both in the US and here in Australia, and I hope that educators will consider the impact of books like this on the ways in which young people can engage with social issues. I know that my own understanding of the issues discussed in this book has been hugely impacted, and this story will stay with me for a long time.

 

The Hate U Give is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Hate U Give. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

As Complex as Stars: A Review of ‘The Last Summer’

The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the typewriter is a loaded bomb.

Ricarda Huch’s The Last Summer tells the story of the Governor of St Petersburg and his family following his decision to close the state university due to student unrest during the early twentieth century. The family soon receives a death threat, so they hire a bodyguard for the Governor – but even the bodyguard has a secret agenda, and it may cost the Governor his life.

The Last Summer is a novel made up completely of letters sent between the family members, and from Lyu, the young bodyguard to his friend Konstantin. The choice to structure the novel like this was surprising at first, but a unique way of telling a story such as this. Most novels I have read surrounding the early stirrings of the Russian Revolution have relied on action and dialogue, but to have this story completely rendered through letters gave a depth of insight into each character that I have not encountered in a novel about political and social unrest as this.

I haven’t read an epistolary novel like this in a long time, and even then, most of the epistolary novels I have read have only been framed by letters, rather than told completely by them. The short format of this novel allows for these letters to tell the whole story uninterrupted without seeming too dense, and I think that is why this story works so well. If the novel had been longer, I don’t think that this format would have worked, but the concise writing and cleverly hid details show that Huch really knew what she was doing.

I won’t lie – this book still requires serious concentration while reading it. Part of this is because of the book’s reliance on correspondence to tell the story, and unless you are really paying attention, you can easily forget who is writing to whom and why the little details they share with each other are important. But if I am going to be honest, part of the reason I needed to concentrate so hard was due to the characters’ unfamiliar names. Given that I am not so great at picking up Russian names, I found the letters hard to follow in some places, simply because I was confused as to who was who, but once I picked it up, I had no issues whatsoever.

Whilst this is a novel that centres on the aftermath of highly charged political events in the early twentieth century, it is clear that this novel is largely about people – how they interact with one another, how families are changed by individual action and how they choose their loyalties. This theme comes through particularly strong with Lyu, who despite his goals, quickly became my favourite character. Although we hear from Lyu less frequently than the family he has infiltrated, it is him we see most often, and by seeing him through the eyes of others, we get the greatest picture of him. Whilst he is ultimately plotting the assassination of the Governor, it is clear that in his plotting, he deeply cares for the family. He is one of the most flawed yet most empathetic characters I have come across, and it was strange to feel such empathy for the character committing the novel’s bad deeds. Unlike most books about class clashes, neither the Governor’s upper class family or the students and their supporters are written as the ‘bad guys’, and it is exactly this sentiment that underpins the novel. It is impossible to choose a side in the novel simply because we know both sides too well to see the other as undeniably wrong. Both sides are incredibly complexly constructed, forcing the reader to confront the complexity of human behaviour and action. It reminds me of something author John Green is known for saying – “We have to imagine people complexly” – and Huch has succeeded in making her readers notice how incredibly complex human relationships and loyalties are in the grand scheme of human behaviour.

Towards the end of the novel, Lyu writes perhaps my favourite line in the whole novel:

“We have as little power over people as we do over the stars; we see them rise and set according to their engrained laws.”

For me, that is exactly what The Last Summer is about – trying to understand the people around you and realising that you have precisely no power to do so. It is amazing that in such a short novel, Huch has accomplished something that many authors take hundreds of pages to say. People are complex creatures, and nothing is quite clear about them except that they only become more complex the closer you look.

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The Last Summer is available in all good bookstores, or directly from Peirene Press. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Peirene Press for sending me a copy of The Last Summer. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

 

© Hayley New 2017

Why I Am Not Entirely Okay With “Passengers”

Or, A Commentary on a Good but Problematic Film

This piece includes minor spoilers for Passengers, though only those that have been openly discussed by many large media outlets.

When I first saw the trailer for Passengers, I was genuinely excited. I love a good film about humankind taking to the stars as much as the next person, and any film with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in the leading roles is going to get my attention. I didn’t go into the film expecting something particularly mind blowing or intellectually challenging, I just expected to enjoy the plot and love the concept that the trailer had portrayed.

And sure, it was a good film, with an interesting take on the humans-in-space film genre. I laughed more than once at little moments of wry humour and cleverly constructed scenes. The visuals were stunning and seeing two actors inhabiting most of the vast space of film by themselves was incredibly interesting, and unlike anything I had seen before.

But walking out of the cinema, I found myself conflicted as to whether I was actually entirely okay with the story that Passengers told.

Passengers opens with a glitch in the incubation system that keeps the five thousand passengers of the starship Avalon travelling to Homestead II, a human colony planet some 120 years away from Earth. This glitch causes the hibernation pod of engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to malfunction, and Jim wakes up only to find he is the only person awake on the ship, and has woken up 90 years too early. Jim spends a year alone, struggling with the knowledge that he will die long before the ship ever reaches its destination, and will live the rest of his days alone on the ship.

Up until this point, I was not surprised with this development, as much of this is explained in the trailer for the film. However, it is from this point that I realised that the trailer had left out a crucial plot point – how Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up.

In the trailer for the film, it is made out that Aurora wakes up due to a similar pod malfunction caused by a glitch in the ship’s system as that which woke Jim up. However, this is not the case. In fact, it is Jim who wakes Aurora up, largely due to his own loneliness. This act not only wakes Aurora up early, it also sentences her to an early death aboard the ship, long before it reaches its destination. Effectively, Jim has murdered her.

But this is not the story that the film wants you to remember, sugar coating that act of personal violence by forcing these two characters to fall in love despite this act of murder. Even when Aurora eventually finds out what Jim has done, and is angry about it for a while, the end of the film sees Jim participate in an act of great heroism and sacrifice that sees Aurora proclaim her love for him all over again, as though this demonstration of the White Male Saviour complex somehow redeems his earlier act of murder. Even when a member of the crew is woken up by a failure in his hibernation pod’s system, he tells Aurora that whilst Jim did the wrong thing, she shouldn’t let it rule the way she interacts with Jim for the rest of their lives aboard the ship. It is almost like he was woken up to tell Aurora to get a grip and move on because there are bigger problems than her feminism and self-preservation – and that straight up hurt me to see.

Look, I get it, this is not the first time that a film has allowed the lead male to ‘redeem’ himself via the White Male Saviour complex nor will it likely be the last. But that doesn’t mean that I can forgive this film, and the marketing machine behind it, for its deliberate misrepresentation of the film’s plot in the trailer. Sure, if Aurora’s pod had malfunctioned in the same way Jim’s had, I might not have the same problem with this film – in fact I would probably have loved seeing two people trapped in a terrible situation find themselves with their perfect partner. But to see Jim’s character deliberately sentence Aurora to death for his own selfish purposes, and then be forgiven because she magically falls in love with him, by fact of sheer proximity, doesn’t sit right with me. In fact, it coloured the way I saw the entire film, even in its best moments.

What puzzles me most is that the two lead actors, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, signed up for this film knowing that the plot would play out in this manner. I have been a long time fan of both actors, and both actors have been very vocal about feminism and the representation of women in film. Jennifer Lawrence has been particularly vocal, and has become something of a role model for young women, and so to see her in a role where her character, though presented as a strong woman, is eventually okay with the circumstances of her murder because she happened to fall in love with the perpetrator, was disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant in this film, but it was her brilliance in a role that seemed to undermine her public feminism that made me feel uneasy. I’m not about to boycott either Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence because of their involvement in this film. Indeed, I will continue to see their films because they are incredible at their craft (though this doesn’t excuse this film for its blatant endorsement of Stockholm Syndrome). However, it does make me wonder why the marketing team behind the film decided not to show this crucial plot moment which happens so early in the film, in any of the promotional material, or why the writers felt that this would be an excusable element of the plot.

I am interested to hear your thoughts about this film, especially if you have seen it and have felt as uneasy I have about this plot point, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear what you did and didn’t like about this film, and how you felt about seeing these two beloved actors in these roles.

 

© Hayley New 2017

A Siren Call to Remember – A Review of Christine Dibley’s ‘To The Sea’

I have often shied away from novels set in Australia, largely because most of the Australian novels I was forced to read in high school were ‘bush books’, books that pigeon-holed Australian stories as tales that were dependant on outback settings and dry bushland. Whilst so many Australian stories are set in these places, these have never been the stories I have been able to feel connected to – my Australia has always been a coastal Australia, about cities bordered by the sea. Christine Dibley’s To The Sea is perhaps one of the first Australian novels set in Australia that I have truly felt at home in. Whilst I have never been to Tasmania, where this novel is set, the feeling of being so close to the sea and the city felt like home.

To The Sea follows the stories of four different people caught up in the disappearance of seventeen year old Zoe Kennett, a young girl from a well-to-do family, and the most recent in a long line of women who share a strange secret originating in Ireland. From the perspectives of her father John, her mother Eva, her sister Sadie and DI Tony Vincent, we get a strange mystery that brings the worlds of small town crime and Irish folklore crashing together.

I first read about the mythological Selchies (or Selkies) in a book picked up from a primary school book fair years ago, and I instantly fell in love with the myth of these transformative people, shifting between human and seal form. Whilst this might sound strange to those unfamiliar with the myths, I love that the folklore surrounding Selchies is so removed from the popular myths that are brought to life in film and TV. For me, Selchie folklore is linked almost exclusively to literature, and that is part of their magic.

But To The Sea does something more than just play into my love of Selchie folklore. By centring the novel so much on the power of mother-daughter storytelling and sharing, To The Sea reminded me of all the times I have spent sharing stories and personal histories with the women in my family. Much like my own family, the women of this book are linked by storytelling and sharing memories, and I love the power that this gives the women in this book. The women of this book are not only physically strong, being able to swim long distances and survive incredibly survivable events and conditions, but they are also granted an emotional strength that endures all the worst possible things. This book shows these women dealing with incredible loss, heartbreaking choices between love and family, mental illness and being labelled as crazy because of belief in a folklore that has been passed down through generations.

On a completely different note, I loved getting to read this novel at the time I did. The plot takes place in the days between Christmas and New Year, and I was fortunate enough to read it in the days between Christmas and New Year in 2016, completely by chance. Whilst this is not the only way to read this book, I recommend re-reading it later in the year to get the same feeling that the story weaves around this time (especially if you have a large family – you’ll understand when you read the book). The cover has also been beautifully designed, with the most beautiful colours that just seem to bring this story to life even further.

There is something enchanting about this book, about the way it discusses the power of storytelling, and the way it portrays women as the people who pass down power between generations. Christine Dibley has achieved something incredible with her debut novel and I look forward to seeing what else she can accomplish with her work in the future.

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To The Sea by Christine Dibley is published by Pan Macmillan Australia and is now available at all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support local independent bookstores.

Thanks to the lovely Clare over at Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of To The Sea for review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Whilst I was sent a copy for review, I was not paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017