Cloud Messenger: Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas by Karen Trollope-Kumar

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Pradeep began to sing a haunting melody. 

“Phool  kitabon mein milen… What does it mean?” I whispered, not wanting to break the spell of the music.

“It means, ‘Now we will be seperated. And perhaps we shall only meet in dreams. Our love will be like a flower pressed between the pages of a book.” 

Pradeep’s ghazal (lyric poem)  sang with feeling was right, they would meet in dreams, but dreams they made a reality.  When Canadian medical student Karen Trollope-Kumar went to India to study medicine, little did she know she would meet and fall in love with a pediatrician named  Pradeep, as well as his dream of living in the Indian Himalayas. Though they parted, they couldn’t deny their destiny, to be together as husband and wife. With courage as strong as leaping off a mountain, Karen does indeed return to India to work in the foothills as Pradeep’s wife. She soon learns ‘how profoundly communication is shaped by culture’. Never in her wildest dreams did she know she would marry into a culture immersed in religion and tradition, having come from the Western world it is an eye opening experience. As a doctor, the shock is life altering, going from rural to remote villages the practices are vastly different. Amid such sometimes appalling conditions, the ceremonies and festivals sprinkled throughout their time in India are beautiful, moving. The descriptions within the book transport the reader to the villages, feeling much like a spiritual eye in the sky.

Idealistic in our dreams, we don’t imagine the obstacles we will face. Politics, superstitions, religious beliefs, poverty of people and their village, nature itself (earthquakes) and lack of trust in medicine are just a few complications that appeared.  Soon learning how to come together with your beloved with such different upbringings, surely it’s a challenge for the newly weds, but can seem like a mountain of hardship. Accepted by Pradeep’s family, depsite not being Indian herself, the beauty of their love is evident in the ceremony early on when placed on the shrine, beside the God Ganesha sits a cruxifix, to honor their grandson’s bride. In time, she learns through stories the hardships his family had faced, the fears they had for the children based on so much suffering but too she sees the turn of fortune they have later.

Desperate to bring proper care to pregnant women and new mothers, the reader is given insight into the harsh conditions such women face. At the beginning, confident with her knowledge of medicine, the arrogance that she can better their world- the reality of things is a humbling. When Pradeep confides he longs more for spiritual enlightenment than medical practices, it’s hard for Karen to understand, having come from a home that wasn’t overly religious. Her calling seems to be bringing medical care to the furthest reaches, to those most in need of life saving techniques, training dais (midwives) proper care. Even if superstitions get in the way, she won’t give up, but there are disheartening encounters as much as beautiful ones. Deep lasting friendships are formed as much as a love for the places she travels to, and lives in. She learns that she must look into herself, “Your work now  is to  look into the nature of your own discontent.”  A message any of us can take to heart in dealing with our problems, our loved ones… Our expectations often make it so hard to flow, to accept that which is real. It isn’t always someone else that is to blame, it’s our own difficulty owning what is compared to what we thought would be.

Any sort of traveler can be in for culture shock, I certainly have been myself, but India is said to be a place of contradictions. Beauty amidst poverty, physical illness and yet superior spiritual health, as much open love and acceptance as close minded rejection. We Westerners have a instinct of wanting to fix what we think is wrong, and that’s both a strength and a flaw. It’s the happy medium that’s so hard to find. Within this memoir, it’s obvious that Karen persevered through things so many of us may not be able to do half as well. People romanticize such journeys in their minds, but the reality can be a slap in the face. She learned to accept her changing dreams and the husband she loved, tied to her destiny but also his own spiritual being. Along came children, and with it so much advice from Indian women. I thought about that, and imagined the eye-rolling of others, but in truth- we think we’re advanced here in the western world where you have a baby and often go home, sometimes without generations of women (family) around to help you, and as much as magazines and the internet can guide, who knows more about mothering than other mothers? It has its charm, this unity of motherhood. As with any place on earth, there is happiness, there is suffering, there is love, there is loss, there is change and there is acceptance of things that never change, or will- but at their own pace, not yours.

A wonderful story about a young doctor who takes a big risk to create a beautiful life for herself.

Available Now

FriesenPress

Soul/Mate by Joyce Carol Oates Writing as Rosamond Smith

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Colin Asch had in fact always relied upon the world’s stupidity as a factor in his own talent. Amid a herd of slow-witted bovine beasts he was a leopard capable of running at speeds up to seventy-five miles an hour- a flash of burnished flaming light.

Dorothea Deverell, a New England art historian, goes about her days as a widow, working in a Boston Museum. She has a lover, if not entirely hers to keep, and is content to simply live her life as is. Little does she know she is about to be charmed into a strange sort of affair with a charming, psychopath- the damaged yet brilliant young nephew of her friend. No one understands Colin Asch, and if he has to kill to rid the world of such people, so be it. That his disturbing darkness is hidden behind his beautiful face makes the horror brewing within him all the more chilling. Enraptured by Dorothea, his mania drives him to seduce her, by wiping out anyone who upsets her. He watches when she is unaware, and the reader is privy to the eerie euphoria that drives his urges. Colin Asch goes from sullen boyishness to successful, fashionable business success- using others to attain the life he imagines will please Dorothea. It is for Dorothea, he wants so badly to impress her.

There is a kinship, or has Dorothea misread her apprehension, confusing instinctual fear for tenderness and curiosity. The eyes, it’s a soul/mate knowing, at least from Colin’s warped perception. Dorothea’s kindness, beauty, success and intelligence are all the things that mesmerize the young man, the very person he struggles so hard now to be. This striving will lead to murders, and a unraveling of Colin’s mind. No one understands Colin as Dorothea does, the only person able to soothe this “Angel of Death”. The very attributes he admires are what puts Dorothea in danger- allows this serial killer an intimate window into her once simple life. Conversations between the two feed him like a drug, and Dorothea cannot deny his ‘characteristic effervescence’ and charm. And if his ‘rapid talk’ begins to seem strange, it is always ‘electric’ and ‘witty’. His stormy energy has an allure all it’s own, much like the beautiful poetry by “Shelley” that the young man reads.  “She knew” Colin knows that Dorothea too can sense the destiny, the very kindred ties of their souls. If she senses something is off, well then she is just being silly. Right?

Both charmed and repelled by Colin, Dorothea has no idea of he dark days lurking, all nurtured by the obsessive, distorted love Colin feels for her. Confused by his appearances, the strange comments he allows to slip, she feels something is wrong and yet doubts herself. There is an immediately intimacy, but too there is something in her gut not quite right. Surely, he couldn’t be falling for her, an older woman?  Her old inner voice, her companion of self-doubt that has always been present may well cloud her own warnings. But what of those slips? As when great violence befalls an adversary of Dorothea’s he seems to delight in the ‘justice’ that has befallen this ‘evil person’. Colin is waiting, waiting to share everything with her, all his deeds, his secrets buried in coded language, because Dorothea is the one. Dorothea alone understands him. He has found, among the ‘slow-witted bovine beasts’ an angel, a beloved, a soul/mate. It is only a matter of time before he unleashes his terror, and reveals his true self to his beloved.

What Joyce Carol Oates, writing as Rosamond Smith, has done is take a damaged sick young man and allowed the reader to feel his mania. More, she shows the cracks that make people uneasy and how we see what we want to see. His beautiful face is mistaken for goodness, as is often the case in most situations. Beauty, intelligence, and charm is the path of easy seduction. Wounded beauty is an intoxicating lure much more so than success. Dorothea spots the split between the depressive, insecure, angry man she first met to who he later suddenly becomes and yet shakes it out of her mind, surely she is mistaken? Colin knows how to work people, he knows how to evade others inquisitiveness when it’s not spotlighting that which he wishes to be seen.

Joyce Carol Oates has a particular style, voice that I’ve always enjoyed. She exposes the ugliness as much as the beauty in her characters. They can be brilliant and yet blind about so much. There is always a vulnerability with solid background, you almost feel sorry for Colin. He is a wounded beauty, an orphan, a loner, a roamer… and his episodes of mania swallow him, then he is a bloodthirsty, maniacal, manipulative and downright creepy. Be careful who you let in. The devil is all charm and beauty, at least this thriller Soul/Mate. Do we all really want such a kinship?

Available Now

Open Road Integrated Media

 

The Simplicity of Cider: A Novel by Amy E. Reichert

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“Sanna had always appreciated the sanctuary of the orchard, and this revelation bonded Sanna like another root digging into the soil, finding nourishment. She’d never leave. “

An apple orchard has been in Sanna Lund’s family for five generations. Much like the apple trees, she is rooted, nourished by the family land. There is a magic in her blood and there is no way she can give up and let her brother force her father’s hand in selling it. Time is against her, they are losing money and try as she might, she can’t get the cider just right. Cider that could be their salvation. This is her refuge, but when her father hires help her life is filled with more complications, especially her heart. A single father Isaac and his son  Bass seem to worm their way into the core of her being. Sara has so much to focus on in order to save the orchard, the last thing she needs is a kid getting in the way. All she wants out of life is the orchard, hard work, the ‘simplicity of cider’ and certainly not a single dad no matter how much she is attracted to him. So what if his son’s goofy side is growing on her! Anyone can see Isaac is an attractive man, but so what? Who needs a man stealing time from her failing orchard?
Isaac and Bass have left their own painful lives behind in California, this is meant to be a reprieve from their own problems, certainly not meant to be a permanent stay. Against her better judgement and desires to keep her life contained, Sanna is losing pieces of herself to the two. Sanna keeps her distance from people for a reason, but hiding won’t fix the land nor heal her heart. She may have a special gift but sometimes what you need is to open yourself to others, even those you’ve spent time denying, because that is the true magic. It may take love to nourish the land. Bass has his own difficulties with his mother, in this he and Sanna are the same. Long ago, her own mother left, and she hasn’t dealt with the rupture in her life.
It’s a love story at heart, but not just romantic love. It’s about family, traditions and the running of an apple orchard. It’s fighting to keep a family business alive and how sometimes you have to learn to accept that you can’t do everything on your own and that maybe the changes fate brings are a new way of seeing. Sometimes change can be a gift. This novel was a nice break from heavy reading, a sweet love story.  Available Tomorrow 
Publication Date: May 16 2017
Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Grace: A Novel by Paul Lynch

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“And then, for a moment, she sees her mother as someone different, thinks by seeing Sarah in the looking glass she can see her truly as she is- a woman who might once have been young and wears a glimmer of it still. The way this fifth pregnancy is graying her. And then like light the awareness passes and she grabs hold of her hate.” 

Paul Lynch disturbs the reader with the shock of 14 year old Grace’s fate during the Great Famine in 1845, Ireland when the potato harvest was mysteriously destroyed by blight. Ripped from her sleep, Grace’s mother takes her to the ‘killing stump’, seeing only her shadow, believing it is the last she’ll see of her mother, she remains alive but fistfuls of her hair are in her brother’s hands. With children to feed, everyone going hungry her mother waits for Bogs (her siblings father)- Bogs who has suddenly started to hunger for beautiful young grace. In order to survive, to find work- she must venture forth as an impostor of sorts, pretending to be her own brother Colly. Her brother decides to join her, teaching her how to be ‘a man’ and shuck her femininity. Fearful as they are out on the night of the dead “Samhain” ( A Gaelic festival that celebrates end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year), they know they must find refuge before the spirits find them. It is the living, though, they should fear.

When they escape the danger of Boggs yet again, they meet something worse on the river trying to pull a sheep out of the water, one that would make a delightful, much needed meal in their bellies. Trying to navigate the land riverside, angry that the pooka are playing tricks, hiding what she needs, attempting to bargain with them to no avail she catch a break. As she tries to reach her brother and help him, the river has it’s own ideas, and in a moment she is more alone than ever. But Colly’s voice is never far, and soon he is inside of her head, guiding her as she finds work with a road crew,  but there are certain things about a woman that cannot remain hidden and expose her for what she is. When she ‘bleeds’ she thinks ‘for sure now I am dying. My insides are melting.” Even wonders “What if it is some disease? What if it is the old witch’s curse?” 

Even among the starving  men, hungry for more than just food, there is rescue. Saved from the dangerous intentions and violence of men by the ‘good hand of John Bart’ she travels all over Ireland with him as company. She should be thankful but thinks him ‘Mr. Conceited Breeches” with “eyes that permit no watcher to see  into them but  see through you instead.” Always walking on foot, weary, hungry “she imagines her feet like bruised fruit”. Hunger, death, criminal elements… Lynch shows us a dangerous world through Grace. That there is still hope and spiritual musings in the midst of starvation and so much death gives this novel heart. The writing is beautiful, and the language makes you feel transported into the past. For anyone that enjoys historical fiction, you will sink into Grace’s weary shoes.

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Little, Brown & Company

White Horses: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

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“During the summer when she was eleven, Teresa believed that the crickets who lived in the weeds that sprang through the sidewalk were trying to speak to her.”

With Alice Hoffman’s brand new prequel to Practical Magic coming out in October, titled The Rules Of Magic (I’m excited) I read Practical Magic again and hence, a few of her older books I keep on my shelf. I initially reviewed this novel back in 2012, it’s been years so I read it again before adding a review to my blog. What I think worked beautifully in this novel is the damage parents can do unwittingly just by speaking of their dreams, telling their stories. Dina’s belief in an Aria coming to take her away when she was young (an outlaw, dark eyes, quiet, that can ride horses even blindfolded to the woman they love and aren’t afraid of anything- warps her own daughter’s heart much in the same way Dina’s longing led her down a bad path. When King Connors came along, she was too young to know he wasn’t the man she conjured up in the image of an Aria. Heeding no one’s warnings, she fell in love with King, the wrong man in the wrong life. “Your father? That big shot couldn’t even stand a little hot weather. I wasted everything on him,” Dina said, dragging a stick over the earth in neat lines. “I was stupid. I was so young I couldn’t see straight.” Teresa’s brother Silver may be the closest thing to an Aria any of them will ever know. Women of all ages fall for Silver, he has the reckless, dangerous appeal that is the fall of many a young woman.
Dina is a shell of the beautiful girl she once was, ruined by the wrong man, Teresa’s father. When the investigator hired by Dina’s father years ago to find her discovers the old man is dead, his conscience drives him to track her down. This sets the family on a strange path, one of return to the past as Dina, with her children in tow, returns home to Santa Fe and the grandmother they never met. But before they depart, her parents fight after finding out about Dina’s father’s death, Teresa slips into sleeping fits, with no medical explanation. Teresa’s mysterious slumber, the scent of roses filling the air, her mother lighting candles surrounding her bed to ward off evil, is this family cursed? Naturally, that Dina’s estranged mother falls for her grandson Silver and cares little for Dina’s other two children, is no surprise. This Silver is a ‘special’ boy, but she sees too his true nature. Can hunger be passed down? For Teresa is hungry for passion and love and her heart is bent the wrong way. It’s not too late for Dina to find love and set aside her foolish, girlish dreams of Arias but is it too late for Teresa to save herself, to untangle herself from the foolish notions her mother has planted in her fertile young mind?
This is a complex story, so much damage and getting things right requires wiping the sleep from her eyes, shucking the family myths. Seems easy, right? Everything is easy to fix in the eyes of onlookers or readers. Just how do this unmentionable things happen in a family?

Understandably an awkward read for some but I don’t think the subject matter would have changed how I felt about the novel if the the Silver/Teresa relationship were approached differently. I have noted there are some people who have read this novel first and have not gone on to read other Hoffman novels, which is a shame because she has written wonderful fiction and they are only cheating themselves. Looking back, if you could read this novel and think about the nature of the relationships, how the mother and her own father’s ‘fantastical ‘ leanings altered the family line, it hits you differently. Naturally for many, reading about an incestuous relationship between brother and sister doesn’t sit well. But looking deeper into the story, it’s more about the mythology we create or are sold about those in our lives, particularly in our own family. If you set aside the forbidden desires, and focus on how we delude ourselves, it stands strong in how we sabotage our own happiness. I won’t summarize nor elaborate, but for those who have not read Hoffman, trust that not all of her novels touch on such a taboo subject. All of them have a touch of magic, that has been a huge draw for me, and her characters are flawed like all of us. For the rest of you die hard fans, mark the date October 10, 2017 when The Rules of Magic will be released.

Available Now
Open Road Integrated Media

The Currency Of Love: An American Model in Paris, a Billionaire’s Harem, and My Search for Freedom by Jill Dodd

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“I was a wide-eyed girl, excited to grow up and be independent. I didn’t have a clue that my natural instincts and protective inner voice had been destroyed. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and say no- especially to someone in authority.”

Jill Dodd used modeling to escape her abusive past, little did she know she would end up as a Paris model and in love with a Saudi billionaire, becoming a part of his harem. Jill was innocent and wide-eyed in her youth, and this memoir reads in the voice of a young woman.  As I read, it reminded me of just how vulnerable young women are, more so in a modeling career. There are stories about sexual encounters that became sexual assault, and that Jill didn’t know how to stand up for herself makes it that much harder to read. Dodd dips her toe into her childhood, the past a sort of shadow that reveals a form of sexual abuse that went on in her home. With a father that exposed his daughters to pornographic images, both parents expressing their sexuality inappropriately in front of their girls, it isn’t any wonder why Dodd didn’t know how to recognize abuse, or dangerous men. But I wondered why there wasn’t more writing about her childhood, it was more ‘touching on it’ rather than really exploring deeper into her early years. It was heartbreaking, thinking about the conflicting love she had for her father.  During her time in Paris, the modeling dream is more of a nightmare. Later, sent to locations that are seedy, with no one looking out for her safety- this is an exposure of the dangerous side of modeling. Somehow, Jill Dodd learned to navigate this adult world on her own.

Enter the billionaire, it seemed like a Hollywood movie. There was a lot of love and jealousy, and assurances in the memoir that it wasn’t about money but how can it not be? It’s much easier to be romanced and seduced by the wealth, the very worldliness of such a man. As a woman of 41, I kept thinking ‘Adnan is a father figure’ she just doesn’t know it. It is hard not to see it as something seedy, an abuse of her youth and beauty, because while he was always open about what he wanted, expected from her, there is a huge difference between their ages, and class. How could Jill, in her vibrant youth, really understand what she is getting into? There is a naivete that is malleable in the young and as much as his money did for her, and it was a lot, there is still exploitation happening, no matter how pretty the package. Interesting that she still wanted to work, to be more than a kept pleasure wife. The heart of her soul was hungry to be able to stand on her own, even if that meant moving on. This man wasn’t the fairy-tale and he introduced her to things better left unexplored. Lavished with gifts, but at what cost? Can a woman really be loved, be free when she is one of many, kept for a man’s needs, at his convenience?

She decides to walk away from her lavish life with Adnan and go to fashion school with his financial support, in fact Jill Dodd went on to become the founder and creator of the ROXY fashion line. Here is where I wanted more about the transition and the success of her fashion line. I was surprised she didn’t write about it. I felt for a book about a young woman who finds herself,  models, travels all over the world, shucks the fantasy life for a career there wasn’t enough about that side of her life. I felt she was guarded about her childhood, at turns revealing and then at other times as a reader I wondered…. and then what happened? This is an honest memoir about the rise of her modeling career, and she certainly doesn’t romanticize it from the frozen streets of Paris and the groping, lecherous behavior of men. The chapters are short and the timeline moves quickly. I wonder if there will be another memoir about her later years. I’d be interested in reading about her career as founder of ROXY and motherhood.

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Atria Books

Apprenticed to Venus: My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin by Tristine Rainer

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“I knew how she was, adamant about others keeping her secrets, but careless in exposing the intimacies of others.”

That quote stayed with me the most after having read Apprenticed To Venus. Anaïs was obviously the sort of person that fished confessions, revelations, and intimacies out of people with ease. Most people are hungry for a confidant, people love to give away their juiciest parts, so long as they have an audience they think they can trust, after-all even criminals talk, stories need to be told, it’s human nature. I’ve said before, the marrow of Anaïs Nin’s writing is in her diaries. She edited them for an audience, but even if she were writing for herself alone, something is always held back for self-preservation. We can hardly be honest with ourselves, about ourselves, how can it be any different in the records we keep of our life or revelations about others? How can we expect pure honesty with each other?  Anaïs as feminist truly was a persona she wore, not much different than celebrities of today. She was a great manipulator, as the famous often are, and knew how to seduce men and women alike. That Anaïs  used a very young Tristine Rainier, and set her up as an accomplice in her deceptive life is wildly evident in this memoir.

Anaïs knew how to charm people and she was just as gifted at cutting them out until they begged, willing to do anything just to be let back in her ‘circle.’ Take youth and the hunger to escape one’s monotonous existence, to live in the present and taste the very essence of life so one day they may take those moments and ‘write so they can taste life twice’. Is it any wonder that Rainier was lured in by artists, musicians, and all the exciting places? There was artifice in Anaïs that anyone can see has grown to astronomical proportions in celebrities of today, but never have I read about someone who was able to live a split life with two husbands for countless years and be in the public spotlight without exposure! Reading about her spicy sexual adventures and love affairs didn’t inspire, it downright exhausted me and to think I am decades younger than she was. How do you keep up with so many lies, always a step away from disaster? Her life was complete farce, to look at your beloved (or beloveds) and live with the shame of your betrayal day in and day out? I’m not made of such stern stuff. It’s a gut rot, those lies.

The diarist is a sort of murderer, you can’t fully trust what you read about people because all stories, false and true, are told from one perspective. Often, people are caricatures- the diarist takes only certain moments and expands on them. All of us can be monstrous or angelic, depending on who is doing the writing and how they feel about us just in the that one moment. I cringe looking back at my own journals, the assassinations of character because someone hurt me, or the gushing praise for another because of tender feelings of happiness and let’s face it- how much is any sane person going to publish about themselves that reveals their own monsters? Most people don’t want to be seen as they really are when no one is looking. Anaïs knew how to sell an image, faking it half the time, but even so there are always slips and cracks. The real person bleeds through, now and then. Are we any different these days with our online personas, our ‘best foot forward’ and all that?

As mentor to Tristine Rainier, there was certainly genuine connection, in fact I think Anaïs fell in love with people until they no longer interested her or were of use. People were curiosities to her, pets that she maybe adored and then got sick of. I think about her incestuous relationship with her father, having read other memoirs about women in similar forbidden, shocking relationships one has to wonder just how damaged she was and how that affected every bond she had with others. Everything she did seemed to have a man at the core. A feminist wouldn’t need to lie, she wouldn’t need to ‘compartmentalize’ her life as Anaïs did. Would a true feminist abuse other women, through her selfishness? It’s strange, but Anaïs in many ways was like the sort of men she felt were vulgar. Her fictional stories weren’t the best but I am a staunch fan of the diaries, because the writing is expressive and beautiful- her ‘non-fiction’. Remember, even diaries are a sort of fiction, aren’t they?

It’s always interesting how people are crushed when their favorite celebrity is just like the rest of us, selfish, weak, liars when it suits their purposes, insecure… but Anaïs was also cultured, strong, supportive, loving, articulate and an artist, because in the end her life was performance art, wasn’t it? The problem is, when you create yourself to be seen in a certain light, you lose your own meaning.

Anaïs Nin’s  protégé, Tristine Rainier, was seduced by Nin’s bohemian existence and is now able to reveal the secrets she held close, because although her mentor abused the confidences of her closest friends, Rainier held her own tongue proving her loyalty. This memoir is one of the best I have read about Anaïs Nin, by turns shockingly shameful and yet, fascinating. There is a struggle still between what’s acceptable sexually for a man as opposed to a woman. The world is bursting with true stories about men keeping several wives, even entire families secret, but strangely a woman being a bigamist comes off as just as distasteful to me, because at the core it is not about male/female but betrayal. Nin’s life didn’t seem free to me, chained as she was by lies, desperate enough to manipulate her young  protégé and others. Is that really what we women want? To be equally vulgar? Women have a right to their sexuality as much as any man, but neither should abuse others. Human nature loves to deceive though… fame, pleasure, greed seems to be a driving force. I kept thinking, there are people who kill to keep their secrets. Isn’t that strange? That she contained her life much in the same way dangerous people do?

Publication Date: July 11, 2017

Skyhorse Publishing

Arcade Publishing