Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter’

Winterborne 1Title: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour

Author: Ally Carter

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is full of mystery, mayhem, and friendship, and will keep you guessing right until the very end.

When 11-year-old April joins a group of kids living at Winterborne Home she doesn’t expect to be there for very long. But she soon learns that this home isn’t like any of the others – especially when she unearths the secret of the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne, who is neither missing nor dead but is actually living in a basement lair, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance.

Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, she must turn to the other orphans to keep him that way. As a looming new danger threatens to take Gabriel down once and for all, they must use their individual talents to find a way to make sure this home for misfits isn’t lost to them for ever.

Because at the Winterborne Home, nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say they are and nowhere is safe. And now a ragtag group of orphans must unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a supposed phantom and a secret key, all without alerting the adults of Winterborne House that trouble is afoot.

The first book in a captivating new series from the bestselling author of Gallagher Girls.

 

~*~

April has lived her life as an orphan in a foster system that never works out. She’s on a school excursion to a museum and is examining an exhibition of Winterborne jewels when a fire breaks out, and she wakes up in hospital. Ms Nelson is there – and takes April, along with Tim and Violet, to a place called Winterborne House, under the care of the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Once here, April and her new friends – Tim, Violet, Colin and Sadie – start to discover that there is more to Winterborne House than they are being told, and uncover the secret of the missing billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne. The excitement begins when something – or someone – sinister starts threatening the house and in doing so, threatens to take away the one home these ragtag orphans feel is really home.

 

As the threat grows, the pace picks up, especially in the later third of the book, when the group of orphans set out to recover something stolen and save Gabriel Winterborne from the person threatening him. As the mystery unfolds, April beings exploring the Winterborne House after things go missing – chasing a ghost, so she thinks, until she stumbles across Gabriel Winterborne. But Gabriel doesn’t want to be found – if people think he’s dead, then he can go on with his quiet life, and not worry about the house or the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Using the common mystery and orphan tropes, Ally Carter creates a world where adults are present, and keep the children safe, whilst at the same time, Smithers and Ms Nelson are distanced enough that April and her friends can carry on their investigations – until the adults are needed. It has echoes of the Famous Five in some parts – with the old mysterious house with its secrets, and the mystery of a family. This is coupled with hints of Annie and Anne of Green Gables with the plucky orphans determined to uncover a mystery and save the best home they’ve ever known, and for Sadie and Colin – the only home they’ve ever known.

 

This book took tropes and themes from other books and retold them for a modern audience, and is set in our contemporary world yet has elements of a setting that is not quite what we know – the setting isn’t completely identified, which perhaps is what gives it a more mysterious feel for the characters, plot and readers. Whilst some things are answered in this book, there are many more that aren’t, and hopefully, these will be answered further on in the series.

 

The River Home by Hannah Richell

the river homeTitle: The River Home

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under… The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under…

‘It’s something she learned years ago – the hard way – and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you … like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.’

Margot Sorrell didn’t want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. ‘I need you.’

As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

~*~

The River Home opens with a mysterious passage hinting at a tragedy, something gone terribly wrong – a mystery that promises to unfold itself as the novel progresses and weave itself along the river in the title of Hannah Richell’s latest novel, The River Home. It centres around three sisters – Eve, Lucy and Margot Sorrell as they come together for Lucy’s whirlwind wedding. Yet Margot is resistant – holding onto secrets from the past that led to her leaving her family.

As Margot returns, old tensions resurface and whilst the novel goes between Lucy, Eve and Margot in the present and their parents and childhood in the past, the reasons Margot doesn’t want to return are slowly revealed, as are other secrets that Eve wants to keep quiet. Yet whilst all together in their childhood home with partners, Eve’s daughters, their parents and their father’s new partner, old secrets come to the surface, and new secrets burst forth throughout, culminating in the finale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, bringing to life how unspoken secrets and tensions can rip a family apart and then bring them all back together.

AWW2020It is for Lucy that they come together, where all past ills are somewhat forgotten, and bridges start to be constructed. It is Lucy who urges them to do this – to heal themselves. Her heartbreaking story is raw and filled with every emotion possible – joy, fear, sadness, love and uncertainty. The three sisters have lived their entire lives with their mother as a best-selling author, and her story is woven throughout this family saga, written eloquently and in a way where each character gets to tell their story. Lucy is full of life, yet her secret will rock the family. Margot has been holding onto hers since she was sixteen – ever since the school play, and the incident that drove her away from her family at seventeen. And Eve is determined to hide her secret from her husband, to maintain the order and proper life she has led for thirty years. These secrets, and how they are revealed to the reader and to the other characters are each done with great impact, rocking the world for everyone involved and threatening to cause new rifts. Yet in the aftermath, when they discover Margot’s secret, that knowledge brings them together and allows the family to begin healing and gives the Sorrell sisters the courage to go on with the challenges that life is throwing at them.

Hannah Richell has delivered another enthralling family story, where the focus is the love of family and between family – extended and immediate, as they grapple with challenges in life, and takes place over a weekend as it goes back and forth in time, and in doing so, sets up for the secrets that are to be revealed and gives great insight into the characters and their lives. She has managed to capture the full range of emotion – from joy to despair on the page and everything in between, this is a book for fans of Hannah Richell, and the books like this that get a perfect balance between drama, secrets, happiness and what it means to be part of a family. I do hope others enjoy it as much as I did, as it is refreshing to see family love front and centre of a novel, rather than it always being romantic love.

The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel

the unforgiving city.jpgTitle: The Unforgiving City

Author: Maggie Joel

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd September 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 425

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Secrets and lies throw three lives into chaos in the last days of the nineteenth century.

Colonial Sydney in the final weeks of the nineteenth century: a city striving for union and nationhood but dogged by divisions so deep they threaten to derail, not just the Federation, but the colony itself. There are chasms opening too when a clandestine note reaches the wrong hands in the well-to-do household of aspiring politician Alasdair Dunlevy and his wife Eleanor. Below stairs, their maid Alice faces a desperate situation with her wayward sister.

Despite sharing a house, Eleanor, Alice and Alasdair are each alone in their torment and must each find some solution, but at what cost to themselves and those they love? Evocative, immediate and involving, this is the sweeping story of three people, their passions and ambitions, and the far-flung ripples their choices will cause.

~*~

Set in the final weeks and months of the nineteenth century and the Federation campaign, Australia is still a series of colonies, each run by its own government and without a common transport system. There are divisions amongst society, those that wish to Federate to unite the colonies, and those that wish to remain as colonies. Yet beyond the political issues of the suffragettes and Federation, there are secrets kept within one household in the colony. The Dunlevy household – headed up by Alasdair Dunlevy, is rocked by a note sent to his wife, Eleanor. Whilst Eleanor seeks to hide her secrets and uncover her husband’s, their maid, Alice, has her own secrets.

2019 BadgeShe’s trying to help her sister, Milli, who has debts to pay off, and is about to give birth. In her quest to save the child, the seemingly separate secrets they are trying to protect will inevitably collide – and the fates of these three people will remain unsure until the very last minute.

An historical fiction novel that is uniquely Australian, The Unforgiving City tells the story of the struggle to unite Australia as one country, and touching on more of the story than  people might know – the struggles and opposition, and how the suffragist movement was anti-Federation – unless women got the vote – which might explain or help explain how women (white women) got the vote so soon after Federation.

Though there were many people involved in, or affected by, Federation in various ways, this book closely explores the lives of three people in particular – Alasdair and Eleanor Dunlevy and their maid Alice. It touches on the issues that affect other classes, Indigenous people, and others within the colonies, and follows Alasdair as he journeys across New South Wales as he works to convince the towns to vote yes to Federate.

Eleanor and Alice drive the majority of the narrative with their secrets, and Alasdair’s secrets are woven in and out as they forge towards a Federated nation. This story revolves around the relationships of family, and of the rich and poor, and the chasms between the poorest of the poor and those who serve the rich, in a cut-throat world where laws prohibit women from making their own decisions, and where desperate people will do desperate things to keep their secrets and get help where they need it.

There’s not a lot of romance in this book, which allows the story to have a different slant and focus that make it more powerful for me, because it is about survival in a city where what are  now areas for the rich, were once the slums and dominion of the poor and those who have, according to the colonial society, fallen from grace. Maggie Joel cleverly writes each character as dealing with their secrets separately but at the same time, united in trying to keep these secrets that will  eventually collide with tragic yet somewhat hopeful results, even if these results are not what should have happened for the individual characters.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

esther durrantTitle: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

Author: Kayte Nunns

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 375

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

  1. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.
  2. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmothera renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is a deeply atmospheric, resonant novel that charts the heart’s wild places, choices and consequences. If you love Elizabeth Gilbert and Kate Morton you will devour this book.

Praise for the bestselling The Botanist’s Daughter:

‘Two incredibly likeable, headstrong heroines . . . watching them flourish is captivating. With these dynamic women at the helm, Kayte weaves a clever tale of plant treachery involving exotic and perilous encounters in Chile, plus lashings of gentle romance. Compelling storytelling’ The Australian Women’s Weekly

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping read’ JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant opens with a cleverly deceptive scene with Esther and her husband supposedly headed off on holiday on an island off the coast of England. Esther is under the impression he will be staying with her in the little stone house – until she wakes up in the morning to discover he is gone, and she’s surrounded by a doctor and nurse. It is 1951, and Esther has what will become known as post-partum depression, though the 1950s did not see it this way. Sent to Little Embers to recover, Esther soon finds comfort in the others there – soldiers returned from war, struggling to fit back into a society that demands they do.

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In 2018, Rachel, a researcher, discovers a suitcase in a place called Little Embers after she is rescued by Leah, and spends several days recuperating until a friend comes to find her, and she takes the letters and suitcase she discovers with her. Also in 2018, Eve is helping her ninety-year-old grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs, when Rachel tracks them down. Eve’s gran is Esther Durrant, and the letters reveal a sixty-six-year-old secret that slowly evolves through the novel.

By dipping back and forth between 2018 and 1952, and the perspectives of Rachel, Eve and Esther, Kayte Nunn tells the whole story, and only reveals things when they need to be revealed. This gives the novel an air of mystery that remains throughout the novel. Dual timeline stories like this are effective when worked well, and Kayte Nunn has done so in this one, much like her previous novel, The Botanist’s Daughter, also reviewed on this blog. What a dual timeline does is take the reader back into the past from the present as a character reads letters, a dairy or speaks with the person from the past storyline, and sometimes it is a combination of all three that allows for this to happen. At other times, a different approach is taken but in all the dual timelines I have read, each has been very effective.

In this case, the secrets that are hinted at are cleverly dealt with throughout. Each character could have a potential link to the secret, which makes it more mysterious and intriguing, and an enjoyable mystery to read and try to solve.

The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele

THE_LEGACY_OF_BEAUREGARDE_BOOKCOVER_1024x1024.jpgTitle: The Legacy of Beauregarde

Author: Rosa Fedele

Genre: Australian Noir/Suspense

Publisher: MoshPit Publishing

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 424

Price: $39.95

Synopsis:‘You could lose someone down there, couldn’t you? Anyone could get buried under the concrete slab, and no one would even know!’

The Beauregarde women have lived in the shadow of The Seminary for four generations. And there is nothing conventional about Marcela, or her family.

When the decadent and obsessive Gordana acquires the iconic Sydney property and invites a television crew to film the building’s transformation into a magnificent showpiece, strangers suddenly penetrate Marcela’s world, each with a dark secret of their own.

But Marcela conceals a sinister bond which inextricably ties her to the derelict estate, holding the power to not only unravel Gordana’s grand designs, but expose bloodstained treachery, long-buried betrayals and lies.

A decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals; exploring friendship, guilt and obsession … slipping between characters to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.

#australiannoir

~*~

The Legacy of Beauregarde takes place over several months during 1990 in Sydney, surrounding a family legacy, and the renovation of what was once a home and Seminary linked to them, and the mysteries of the people who have lived there and been involved with the family. Marcela’s family have lived in the shadow of the seminary for generations – but when Gordana acquires it to renovate on a television show reminiscent of Grand Designs, these strangers that enter Marcela’s world and shatter the sense of calm she has built around her for many, many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well these characters, friends of Gordana  Claudia, Madeleine and her husband, and Ilijana and her brother, Dan, are present, and their stories and links to the Seminary and Marcela are woven throughout – and there are mysterious incidents and deaths happening, and each character, whilst trapped within their own lives and dilemmas, is somehow linked to all the other ones – and each chapter is told from a different characters perspective, which at first , feel like individual stories linked simply by time and place, by the setting of the novel.

The premise of this book, and the basic plot is intriguing, with gothic, mystery and suspense elements that are engaging for the reader, yet at the same time, confusing for the first several parts, until the links and connections between characters hinted at early in the novel become clearer and more concrete, culminating in a series of unforeseen and tragic events that will rattle each and every character to their core.

With so many characters, it did get a little confusing at times, especially when a new one popped up quite suddenly and unexpectedly – adding to the feeling that each chapter at first felt like an individual story that somehow had a link to the overall plot of Marcela and her family, and what they experienced throughout the years and what their history was – which was hinted at throughout as well and came full circle towards the end. In time I got used to it though, even though there were a couple who only made a couple of appearances, and I wasn’t sure what their purpose was – it still worked for the novel.

The personalities and relationships that make up The Legacy of Beauregarde speak to feelings of abandonment in some, and reliance in others, a feeling of who can be trusted and who can’t, and why – perhaps illustrating the complexities of relationships, human nature and society, and how different environments, circumstances and people can have both positive and negative influences on us as children and adults.

As the characters tell their stories and the century old mystery is gradually revealed, the fluctuating pacing ensures that it is unclear who has what motives and indeed what those motives are until the end – which makes the mystery compelling.

This is a book with many threads to make sense of, and threads that weave together slowly, which I found I needed perseverance and patience for, and even though it may not be one of my top reads for the year – it was still enjoyable and for readers who enjoy a meandering mystery with lots of twists and turns like this, I highly recommend it. The meandering ensures the suspense is kept up throughout the novel and potentially, never really leaves.

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The Far-Back Country by Kate Lyons

the far back country.jpgTitle: The Far-Back Country

Author: Kate Lyons

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A superbly written and compelling novel about the bonds of family and home set against the outback landscape.

In 1979, at the age of fourteen, Ray McCullough ran away from his home on a western New South Wales sheep property following a violent confrontation with his dad, Jim McCullough. He left behind his mother, Delly, and his sisters, Ursula and Tilda.

Now forty-one, Ray works as an itinerant cook and labourer across the remote outback. A practical man in love with history and landscape, Ray leads a solitary life, convinced he’s inherited Jim’s streak of violence. Ray has spent his life running away from memories of family and home.

When the body of a man is found in a country pub along with Ray’s identification, Ursula believes that she can finally lay to rest the search that has defined most of her adult life. After Ursula collects Ray’s belongings, she begins to follow the tracks left by Ray across the far-back country, each one leading her closer to understanding the man he became and why he disappeared all those years ago.

The Far-Back Country is an extraordinary story about memory, mistaken identity, false knowledge and how the idea of family can define us.

~*~

Ray McCullough has spent most of his life as an itinerant worker, going from job to job, and town to town, after running away from home at the age of fourteen in 1979. For most of his life, he has lived alone, afraid his father’s violent streak lives on in him. Twenty-seven years later, his sisters, Ursula and Tilda have come to see if a body found in a country pub is him – his identification is on the body, and the police need to know if it is him – and this sets in motion a string of events that move backwards and forwards between Ray and Ursula as Ray tries to escape his past, and Ursula continues her search for him, and for the truth of where he is, where he has been and what happened to him.

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For years, it has been a mystery, and the early 2000s story is peppered with memories of their childhoods, and what led to their departures from the family home, and the splitting of their family across country NSW. Family secrets abound in this story, and are more often than not subtly hinted at, and not wholly revealed. Clues are instead dropped for the reader to discover what is going on for themselves as they read.

Ray’s journey begins in December 2006, and Ursula’s in June 2007 – after that, their chapters alternate and whilst there is some overlap with the people they meet, because each chapter is written with a six month distance depending on the character arc being told, they are never in the same place at the same time, but they meet and interact with the same people as Ray gets further and further away from his family, and Ursula finds herself getting closer to finding him and finally uncovering and putting long-forgotten and long hidden family secrets to rest.

Because of this style, the story meanders a little through country NSW but is no less interesting – it did take me while to realise how Ray and Ursula’s stories were written, and the timeline, but there was one scene near the middle that made sense and helped to cement my initial thoughts about the way it had been structured and confirmed the settings of each character. Ray, whilst still on his solitary journey, makes an effort to find Ursula and connect with her, only to find she isn’t where he thought she was. And so, as the brother and sister appear to keep missing each other, the mystery deepens throughout the novel.

The intriguing story of Ray and Ursula’s relationship ebbs and flows, and the truth is slowly revealed, though perhaps not really confirmed, adds to the mystery and secretive realm that their family has lived in for many years. It is also a novel about how family can define us, and who we are – and how we separate this from our sense of self. With the mistaken identity of the body at the start, Ray can fashion a new life for himself, yet his sister is determined to track him down and find answers.

A strange, yet intriguing read that sparked more questions than answers, but is at the same time a fresh mystery that takes a family on a journey they didn’t expect.

 

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

the peacock summer.jpgTitle: The Peacock Summer

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Two summers, decades apart. Two women whose lives are forever entwined. And a house that holds the secrets that could free them both.

At twenty-six, Lillian feels ancient and exhausted. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she thought it would. To her it seems she is just another beautiful object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband’s Chilterns manor house. But, with a young step-son and a sister to care for, Lillian accepts there is no way out for her. Then Charles makes an arrangement with an enigmatic artist visiting their home and her world is turned on its head.

Maggie Oberon ran from the hurt and resentment she caused. Half a world away, in Australia, it was easier to forget, to pretend she didn’t care. But when her grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, she will learn that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.

An utterly compelling story of secrets, betrayals and the consequences of a long-ago summer from the internationally bestselling author of Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year.

~*~

The Peacock Summer opens with Lilian and Maggie in 2015, each in different countries, as the impetus for Maggie’s return to Cloudesley to look after her grandmother, who raised her after Maggie’s father, Lilian’s step-son – Albie – has left and been out of her life for quite some time. Both women have past secrets that they must face when they reunite with each other and those around them – as memories of past summers come back into their minds and psyches. Woven throughout the narrative are the reasons each woman is secretive and slowly, these secrets are revealed through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, adding to the mystery of the novel as it moves along, and the intrigue of Lilian’s relationship with her husband and the painter he has hired to paint a room in their house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well as this, Maggie’s search for her mother becomes a plot point, and an answer that must be given – her uncertainty about events in her life, and her feelings about her family are slowly revealed. Even though the pacing of the novel is slow, it fits with the storyline and events of the plot in 1955 and the 2015 plot that weave in and out of each other, and eventually, culminate in an ending that is bittersweet, but nonetheless enjoyable.

The painter employed to paint the room – Jack Fincher – develops feelings for Lilian, that she yearns to return. Their story provides the backbone to the mystery of the house and the lives of Maggie, Lilian and Albie that culminate in a surprising, unexpected and heartbreaking ending for all the characters. Jack was a balm to Charles, who seemed to only want Lilian to raise Albie, whereas Jack wanted more for her – whatever it took to get that for her. Loyalties are tested in this book, in both women’s lives, but they remain loyal to each other the whole way through, determined to be there and to love each other.

As the realities of Maggie and Lilian’s lives evolved and revealed themselves throughout the novel, the story grew, and the mysteries of the family were revealed – why Maggie lived with her grandparents, where Albie always was, what was behind the locked door, and why Maggie had run away and was only just returning. It is a novel of intrigue and family secrets, that show what the characters thought did not reflect the truth behind what they knew or were told.

In the aftermath of World War Two, Lilian marries and becomes a step-mother, and goes from village life to living on an estate with servants, where she must find a way to fit in with society ladies in an ever-changing world, where what was once expected is now seen as acceptable, but where some things are still seen as something not to be spoken about – and yet, as a reader, there is always the sense that something is not quite right, in 1955 and sixty years later, and also a sense that Maggie and Lilian are secretive themselves, even if they want to talk about things, and make amends.

Overall, it is an excellent novel, and the first of Hannah’s that I have read. It weaves history and the past into the present, and flows nicely between each perspective, and is meticulously researched as well, giving it a sense of authenticity.

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