Yours and Mine by Christine Duval

Yours and Mine is the long-awaited sequel to Positively Mine. They are both books in the Freshman Forty Series.

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Picking up from the dramatic ending of Positively Mine, Yours and Mine continues the Freshman Forty series as we meet Danny Santoro, Laurel’s baby’s father, for the first time.

It’s been almost a year since he last saw her, that sultry morning she walked off the beach before dawn had even cracked the August sky. It seemed from her silence, she was out of his life forever.

But Laurel’s timing couldn’t be worse to tell him he’s a father. The last year hasn’t been easy. Danny’s own father was arrested for a DUI, his mother moved out, and Danny started sleeping with his brother’s old high school, drug-abusing girlfriend.

After Laurel shocks him with the news, she attempts to relinquish Danny of any parental responsibility leading to a heated custody battle. In an unorthodox arrangement, an eccentric judge orders Danny and Laurel to spend alternating nights with each other for the upcoming school year.

Told from Danny’s point of view, Yours and Mine explores the second chapter of a romance that never got off the ground, the challenges of young parenting, and the hope of rekindled love.

—                         —                         —

I am so excited that Yours and Mine has finally been released! I have been periodically checking back on the author’s goodreads profile for a couple of years with no luck, only to find out this time that it was released at the end of last year! It was also pretty surprising that the entire book is written from Danny’s perspective, a character that we had barely met before.

But as surprising as this was, it worked. I like how the author planned it out.

This is a story of a custody struggle between two young parents. Its a story of growing trust and coming of age and working out relationships. It is the pinnacle of a new adult novel, and a fairly clean one. Yours and Mine starts the same way that Positively Mine ended, with Laurel telling Danny that they have a three month old daughter together.

Something that really stood out to me in this novel is that the characters stay very true to themselves.

Laurel is 3-4 years younger than Danny and has had much less responsibility throughout her adolescence, and certainly more financial privilege. Her experiences of being emotionally estranged from her father and of burying her mother as a pre-teen shaped her to be secretive and withdrawn. She has a difficult time sharing and recognizing other’s feelings. Especially since find out she was going to become a mother herself, Laurel relied only on herself and has a difficult time letting Danny into her and their daughter’s lives.

Danny has been working a fulltime job for years, and is now juggling that job with a Masters program in Homeland Security and adjusting to the news of fatherhood. He also has to worry about his mother and help her to recover from his father’s alcohol and gambling addictions.

Although Laurel is a good person and a good Mother, her relative immaturity is apparent. She often fails to communicate with Danny, and clings to the idea that she can be a normal college girl on the nights that Danny has physical custody of their daughter. When things don’t work out the way she had dreamed, she is initially heartbroken and doesn’t know how to move forward and make it right. Although changed by mommyhood, Laurel clearly has less experience in relationships and less confidence in herself. Her go-to move is to hunker down and completely withdraw.

I loved reading Yours and Mine from Danny’s point of view, but at times I wish we could have also had Laurel’s. It was a little funny to not be in her head at all, after the first book was entirely from her perspective.

At the end of the day I loved this book, but I can’t give it 5 / 5 stars because I felt that it was too short and that their problems were resolved too easily. I was expecting the same format as the first book, which covered the entire academic year, but Yours and Mine resolves by (American) Thanksgiving. The ending was also fairly predictable but I loved the happily ever after fans were left with so I can’t really complain about that.

I hope that the author writes another book, and that this time the wait isn’t so long!

Edit: I also love this cover! It is perfect in its simplicity and represents the story and characters wonderfully.

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xx

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Claim Me by Anna Zaires

Claim Me is the third and final novel to the Capture Me Series, which is in turn a companion series to the Twist Me series. Reading both series would enhance your enjoyment but is not necessary; however it is necessary to read these novels in order.

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Here is the blurb, from Goodreads:

She’s on the run.

Yulia Tzakova’s freedom comes at a heavy price. Her former captor dominates her dreams, and survival consumes her waking moments. She may have escaped, but she’s far from safe.

In the shadowy world of spies and betrayal, nothing is what it seems.

He’s obsessed with getting her back.

Lucas Kent’s rage knows no bounds. The danger of his job occupies his days, but hunting down Yulia is what he lives for. When he finds her, she’ll never escape again.

He’ll do whatever it takes to keep her.

—             —

* Please note that my review contains some spoilers. Read with caution. Also, I received a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Claim me is much longer than either of the two previous novels, which is something I was super thankful for. The pacing remains fast, but I enjoyed the experience of reading a full-length novel instead of a longish novella.

Unlike in Capture Me and Bind Me, there is very little of the struggle between Yulia and Lucas that was previously present. They have both given up on fighting their feelings and present more of a united front. Similarly, the book didn’t feel like a “captive romance” anymore, because Yulia wasn’t really a prisoner. She wasn’t allowed to leave the compound sure, but she also didn’t have any desire to and Lucas certainly indulges her everything whim and desire. I would venture to say that they have an easier relationship than Julian and Nora!

The first third of the book follows Lucas’ attempts to retrieve Yulia after her escape. He ends up rescuing her and her brother in Ukraine, and feels like a right idiot for not realizing she was protecting a sibling from him, rather than a lover. I was glad to see that little realization since I wanted to kick him in the last one.

The main issue is that Julian will never forgive Yulia for her actions in the Twist Me series, which is a very awkward thing when Lucas and Yulia live on his compound. The solution to this problem actually made me a little sad. It makes sense and it works, but I guess I wanted a Brady Bunch family-style moment.

My least favourite part is Nora going badass on Yulia. Having read the Twist Me series, I didn’t feel like it was in keeping with Nora’s normally very forgiving personality, especially given her (admittedly limited) interactions with Yulia in the past. I’m going to have to re-write that little scene in my head if I ever re-read the story.

Claim Me is a very character-driven book; Zaires’ focus is on the relationship between Yulia and Lucas growing and establishing roles for Yulia and her brother in his world. The whole arc in the series is wrapping up and I didn’t find that there were many plot twists or much that I could comment on. Everything was very predictable to me, but I still found the book enjoyable. The story is satisfying as a conclusion, although it did leave me wishing that Peter will give his own books sometime soon.

I did read this in one sitting and highly recommend it to anyone who has read the series. There is also an epilogue from Julian’s point of view taking place a few years in the future. As much as I loved Yulia and Lucas, I still prefer Julian and Nora and hope we will get to return to them one day!

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xx

 

Saving for School by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a Canadian personal finance guru. She was the host of television shows “Til Debt do us Part” and “Princess”, which is where I first learned some of her lessons. I am actually super passionate about both personal finance and national debt / state budgets, but I took a break from reading non-fiction because I went back to school around the time that I started this blog. I’m looking forward to reading more for learning over the next little bit, now that I don’t have to focus on boring old text books!

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I LOVE this book. It is perfect because it is super easy to read. Let’s face it – books about money can be intimidating to read. The average person worries that they won’t be able to understand it, or that they will be faced with some hard truths … maybe that they’ve messed up so bad they won’t ever be able to sort it out or that they are going to have to make big changes to create the future they want.

It’s easy to put aside for “later” and never really get into it. Don’t do that!

“Saving for School” is short and sweet. The book itself is small, like the size of a Harlequin Romance paperback. And it is only 84 pages. I read it in a couple of hours … in the same room where my parents and sister were talking and my nephew was (loudly!) watching soccer. There were a lot of distractions around. I promise you can get through it too.

Gail has a way of writing as if she is sitting down next to you explaining. Her books don’t come across as academic or “lectury” to me. It could be a friend or a parent trying to explain something, only with Gail, I’m sure it isn’t well-meant but completely inaccurate advice.

So who is “Saving for School” written for?

Anyone with an interest in post-secondary education. That could be a parent of a teenager or a pre-schooler, or someone planning to become pregnant.

It could be a grandparent, uncle, church leader, or the student himself (or herself).

I’ve already graduated from university, but even I found some tips to help me pay back my student loans in a way that reduces the interested that I pay, and how to do the calculations that will tell me how much interest I’ll pay based of different payment options.

Ideally though, the earlier you (parent/student) start planning for post-secondary expenses, the more prepared you will be, both in the knowledge of how to take advantage of the system and how much things cost, and in how much money you will have managed to squirrel away for tuition and other expenses.

“Saving for School” helps explain the ways to get free money from the government.

FREE MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT?!!! Is it possible?! Yes!!!

Truly. I’m not taking about OSAP, I’m talking about the Canadian Education Savings Grant money. You don’t have to pay it back. And you can earn interest on it in the mean-time. I did have an RESP from my parents, which covered the academic expenses for about one year of uni. But I didn’t have any idea of the CESG or whether my parents were able to take advantage of it or not. If a little bit of planning and strategic saving can give you $7200 (plus whatever interest you earn on that!) for each child’s education, you want to take advantage of it!

Other ways to save for university: apply for scholarships and bursaries. I’m not that smart (remember, I dropped out of school and it took me a while to go back … seriously, I’m not Harvard Med material over here) or that poor. I still got entrance scholarships that were renewable for each year, and bursaries. Apply even when you don’t think you will get anything. Easy money! You can apply directly to your university and to scholarship websites like… :

http://www.scholarshipscanada.com/

Scholarships, grants and bursaries for Canadian students

You can also make money by working during high-school and university, or borrow from a family member or the bank. Predictable response, I know. Sorry.

I like that Gail reminds the reader to make sure that a young adult goes off to university with lifeskills, like how to shop at the grocery store, or do laundry. Moms and Dads have a tendency to want to do everything for their child, but that isn’t actually helpful. A parent’s role is to raise a competent adult who knows how to do things for themselves so that they are prepared to handle what life throws at them.

I would add a point of my own here – it is awesome to have activities and hobbies as a child and a teenager and this should be continued through adulthood. It is fun and healthy! After all the purpose of life is to be happy, not to work that 9-5. But if you can guide a child into some activities that may be lucrative later in life …. not the worst thing either.

I feel that most of my hobbies are not something that I can market to make money in the “no-collar” economy when I need a little more. I had friends making minimum wage at McDonald’s and friends making twice that working as lifeguards and swim instructors during school. Guess who ended up with more money and fewer hours at a job?!

Yup. Splash splash.

Same with less organized hobbies, like sewing or knitting, playing a musical instrument … these are all things that a poor university student (or newly employed-broke-dying under student debt young adult) can leverage at certain times to make money, by selling a product or teaching others. My nephew loves hockey and soccer, but it would be hard to make extra money as a soccer instructor, especially mid-way through the academic year which would be January. In Canada. His sister could be a great swim teacher through, if she stuck with it. She is “artsy” too, maybe she could sell her skills in that division.

Probably getting a little off track of the book review, but I think the point is really important and as an Auntie, I try to hammer it into those kids’ heads. They think they understand now but they won’t really until they are halfway through university and eating Ramen noodles three times a day. I don’t want them to be without marketable skills when they realize it.

“Saving for School” teaches the reader the most effective ways to leverage your savings – whether it is $20.00 a month or $200.00, to put someone through university. It covers how to engage a financial institution to create an RESP (registered education savings bond) and get the CESP (grant money) and the great tool that TFSAs (tax free savings accounts) can be to keep your money out of the tax man’s hands. It gives some advice for how to prepare a child to become a responsible university student and how to establish a credit history as a young adult.

I HIGHLY recommend it and hope you pick up this book.  If you feel it wasn’t for you, you only wasted about two hours. And I’ve searched about five local library systems and they all had a copy. So you can go borrow it for free.

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xx

P.S. Gail has a website with tools on it. Check it out here.

P.P.S. Still stuck on that comment I made about paying off student loans and interest calculators? I copy and pasted this from Gail’s website for you. Credit to her please!

Let’s say, for example, that you have a $20,000 loan at 8%, and you want to have your student loan paid off in 3 years, which is 36 months.

First, the interest: $20,000 x 8% ÷ 12 (months) = $133,33. That’s the interest part of your monthly payment.

Now the principal repayment: Take your total principal of $20,000 and divide it by the number of months you want to take to pay off the loan, in this case 36.

So, $20,000 ÷ 36 = $555.55.

Add the principal amount of $555.55 to $133.33 in interest and your monthly payment is $688.88.

That’s a good indicator of what your monthly payment will be on the loan. It’ll actually be a little less since interest is calculated on a declining balance (as you pay off your loan, the principal goes down, so the amount of interest goes down).

The government of Canada has a website that offers a loan repayment calculator (http://tools.canlearn.ca/cslgs-scpse/cln-cln/40/crp-lrc/af.nlindex-eng.do) to take the math out of the exercise, if you’re number-challenged. You can enter up to three scenarios at a time to see how much you’ll have to pay monthly along with the interest you’ll pay over the life of your student loan.

Happy saving!

A Game of Chance by Linda Howard

A Game of Chance is the fifth book in the Mackenzie’s Mountain series by Linda Howard. My blog’s name is roughly taken from this series, because it had a marked influence on me in my youth.

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Blurb:

The last book in the Mackenzie Family series focuses on Chance Mackenzie, a feral, homeless adolescent until rescued and adopted by Wolf and Mary Mackenzie. The stunning and aloof half-breed has built a career in undercover ops, first as a Naval Intelligence Officer, then as a private consultant. However, one particularly vile terrorist has always eluded the law. Chance and brother Zane find a way to lure Crispin Hauer in: They’ll use his daughter Sonia as bait. First step: Make Sunny fall in love with Chance. What could be simpler?

—                —                  —

This is probably the only series I’ve read by Ms. Howard, but it has a special place in my heart. I love macho men like Chance. This type of character epitomizes everything I am attracted to in a man; he determines his own future, is handy, knowledgeable in self-defence and survival skills, kind and funny, and big and strong and take-charge.

I do wish that the story had of been expanded upon in the post-plane rescue scenes. I always feel that romance authors rush the endings. It’s like they feel after the action has come to a head, they only have a chapter or two to bring the story to conclusion. Well, that’s just not true.

This plot made me wonder, if I was in Sunny’s position, could I ever forgive Chance for his deception and betrayal? Would you?

I think that I’d get over it fairly easily. It is not as if the two were in a relationship and then he betrayed her, with another woman for example. He set up an unknown woman to take down her terrorist father, and in the process, managed to free her from him as well. And Chance protected her as much as he could through the whole process.

I like how he handles Sunny at the conclusion, giving her space to process and then overwhelming her with love, all the while having her back with Margreta. That is how a real man treats the woman he loves.

The following excerpt from A Game of Chance is my favourite scene. It is so heartwarming and sweet that it actually made me cry. It is my dream to one day marry into a large, loving, demonstrative family such as the Mackenzie clan.

‘Chance looked up at him, the only father he had ever known, and the man he respected most in the world.

“I don’t know who gave birth to you,” Wolf said. “But I do know bloodlines, son, and you’re a thoroughbred. Do you know what I regret most in my life? Not finding you until you were fourteen. Not feeling your hand holding my finger when you took your first step. Not getting up with you in the night when you were teething, or when you were sick. Not being able to hold you the way you needed holding, the way all kids need holding. By the time we got you I couldn’t do any of that, because you were as skittish as a wild colt. You didn’t like for us to touch you, and I tried to respect that.

“But one thing you need to know. I’m more proud of you than I’ve ever been of anything in my life, because you’re one of the finest men I’ve ever known, and you had to work a lot harder than most to get to where you are. If I could have had my pick of all the kids in the world to adopt, I still would have chosen you.”

Chance stared at his father, his eyes wet. Wolf Mackenzie put his arms around his grown son and hugged him close, the way he had wanted to do all these years. “I would have chosen you,” he said again.’     – copyright to Linda Howard

Isn’t that the sweetest? One of the things that we don’t do often enough in this world, is to tell our loved ones exactly how much we love them and that we are proud of them. Hearing those words fills the recipient with such a feeling of empowerment and hopefulness, providing courage and belief in self to get through future hardships.

Even though I am re-reading the books out of order, I will try to post reviews as I do so. Lately I’ve just been reading based on what I feel like in that moment, because I’ve felt so overwhelmed. I haven’t wanted to exert the discipline necessary to read and review things in order!

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xx

Hidden Monsters – a review

Hidden Monsters is the fourth full novel in the Volkov Bratva Mafia series.
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Blurb:

Until Luka…

Aleksandra Volkov happily escaped into the oblivion that alcohol and pills provided, longing to forget the memories that plague her. But sometimes, it takes someone as equally broken to mend the fractured pieces of her life.

Until Alex…

Luka Sergeyev willfully courted death by living in the midst of the very people who would have him killed if the truth of who he was ever came out. But he would gladly take that risk if it meant she would look at him like he mattered for just a little while longer.

When it comes to life within the Volkov Bratva, love comes at a price, secrets are common, and most of all, one’s survival is not guaranteed.

—                   —                   —

Hidden Monsters is the fourth book in the Volkov Bratva series, featuring Russian-American monsters and the women they love. It is the only story between Alex and Luka.

Much like the previous books that I also reviewed, Hidden Monsters is a young/new adult romance novel about the Russian Mafia operating in NYC. Alex is a ballerina, whose brother Mishca is the Pakhan (or leader) of the NY organization.

Luka is the only one who sees that she is drowning after the revelations of the last few years. Not wanting to intrude on her brother and sister-in-laws newly wedded bliss, a stranger from her newly discovered brother Klaus and half a world away from her school and professional ballet friends, Alex spirals further and further, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain inside. Until Luka discovers what she is doing and steps in, putting her in rehab, the Mafioso version.

I love the completed web of plots that the author mixed into the novel, from the complicated relationships between Luka and Alex, Alex and Mishica, and Luka and Mishca, to the Albanian ties that existed from the beginning of the series, it felt like the fitting finale missing at the conclusion of The Final Hour.

I like the sense of closure that this book brought to the series. My only regret is that I felt the ending was rushed.

** Minor Spoilers **

This is a romance novel with a happily ever after, so of course Luka survives and reunites with Alex. I felt like this section was too rushed, a couple more chapters would have been useful. I wanted to see bits and pieces of Alex and Mishca repairing their relationship, the fragmentation of which was covered so thoroughly.

A lot of authors tend to do this, reunite the couple and then quickly end the novel. Um hello?!! We just had the big climax and then one chapter of reunion and that is it? Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I want to be led out of the story more slowly. Ease me back into the real world. Tie up loose ends such as the mains’ relationships with supporting characters. You spend an entire book (or series!) developing these relationships and making us believe in them, don’t ignore them now!!!!

Ok, baby rant aside, I loved this book. I hope that the author has plans to write a novel for Klaus. I suspect she will from the tidbits we have gotten, but it might be more the first novel of another series, rather than a part of this one. He seems to have a lot going on away from this cast.

I loved Hidden Monsters and read it very quickly. London Miller has matured in writing since starting with Lauren and Mishca, and it has become my second favourite Russian Bratva series.

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xx

 

 

Volkov Bratva Series Review

Hi ya’ll,

I’m going to review this series as a trilogy instead of as individual books, because I kinda read them all in one weekend…. whoops! Makes it hard to distinguish where one book leaves off and another begins when you do that.

The Volkov Bratva books are a Russian Mafia romance set in New York, where pre-med student Lauren meets NYC’s Mafia Prince, Mishca.

book 1

Book One

Blurb:

Twenty-year-old Lauren Thompson left her small town in Michigan to begin a new life in the Big Apple where no one knows her name or the tragedy that had rocked her family fifteen years prior. With new friends and an intriguing new love interest, starting over is easier than she expected…but Mishca Volkov isn’t what he seems. As the son of a Russian Mob boss, he thrives in a world of chaos and fear, earning the title of Bratva Captain through blood and pain.

When the two cross paths, lines blur and passions ignite, bringing them closer than they could ever imagine. Until secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart. Can they fight past their demons…or were they doomed by fate before they ever met.

Something that I really like about this series is that it unfolds over several years without taking multiple time jumps by the author lazily writing “nine months later”. As fantastical as fiction can be, I still want it to be believable and a whirlwind happily ever-after-romance, that has a “solid foundation” of 4 days is as believable as the sun rising in the west and  setting in the east. Sure it is fun once in a while, but it gets old fast with the amount of romance that I read.

Mishca and Lauren’s tale is continued in the second and third books in the series.

Mishca and Lauren have time to grow as individuals and as a couple. The weight of their problems feels legitimate because they are not overcome in a weekend, but through weeks and months of effort. They continually choose each other, at times over things and people that use to have real meaning to them. Love is hard work. It requires that continual effort, dedication, and sacrifice,  and choosing each other again and again. It might become more familiar or comfortable, but it doesn’t get easier.

These books are awesome because it takes a fantastical experience (falling in love with a Mafia Prince) and humanizes it. The author takes you through the experiences of disapproving parents and conflicting morals merging into one unified sense of direction for a couple.

One of my favourite scenes is when Lauren allows Mishca  to tattoo his (thieves-in-law) stars on her shoulders, denoting his possession of her in his world. For Lauren, this is as serious – or more so – than a wedding band and something that she was reluctant to do for ages. This step symbolizes her acceptance of him, not just as a lover or friend, but in his entirety, and declares her dedication to him in a pretty public way.

There series end felt natural, although I was reluctant to let the characters go. Luckily, there is also a “post-script” novella written after The Final Hour.

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The fourth, and final, full novel in the Bratva series is about Aleksandra, Mishca ‘s sister, who is introduced early on in the series. I think of her novel as a bit of side-quel, because you see her developing through the first three books, but Aleksandra and her beau only have their moment in Hidden Monsters. As such, I will review it in a separate post in a few days.

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xx

Capture Me – a review

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A new dark romance series from the New York Times bestselling author of Twist Me

She fears him from the first moment she sees him.

Yulia Tzakova is no stranger to dangerous men. She grew up with them. She survived them. But when she meets Lucas Kent, she knows the hard ex-soldier may be the most dangerous of them all.

One night—that’s all it should be. A chance to make up for a failed assignment and get information on Kent’s arms dealer boss. When his plane goes down, it should be the end.

Instead, it’s just the beginning.

He wants her from the first moment he sees her.

Lucas Kent has always liked leggy blondes, and Yulia Tzakova is as beautiful as they come. The Russian interpreter might’ve tried to seduce his boss, but she ends up in Lucas’s bed—and he has every intention of seeing her there again.

Then his plane goes down, and he learns the truth.

She betrayed him.

Now she will pay.

NOTE: Capture Me is book 1 of 4 about Lucas & Yulia from the Twist Metrilogy. It’s not necessary to have read that trilogy to enjoy Capture Me, but the book does contain major spoilers for books 2 and 3 of Twist Me.

—           —               —             —

Capture Me by Anna Zaires is the first book in a spin-off quartet from the Twist Me series previously reviewed on Mackenzie’s Mountain. Capture Me features fan favourite Lucas with Yulia, the Ukrainian woman who betrayed Esguerra and co, causing their plane to crash.

Capture me is the first in another set of dark romance novels. And I think it is a key example of how great Anna’s writing is. Because I really don’t think that I should have liked this book. But I loved it.

Capture Me is relatively short compared to books I usually read, which is normally a turn-off. There is very little interaction between Julia and Lucas for the first half of the book, because the author is setting up the circumstances that led to Yulia’s betrayal and the behind-the-scenes machinations, following the plane crash, that the reader missed in the previous series. Also something that I usually dislike in a romance.

And yet, I couldn’t stop reading.

Zaires’ writing is compelling, with just enough action to keep things moving quickly but not so much that it seems over-the-top. She really understands her characters and has them react in realistic ways. I can easily place myself into the position of Yulia or Nora because my reactions would follow the same paths as their own.

I am super excited for the follow-up, Bind Me which is due to be released in early February.

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xx