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First Page: Paranormal YA Romance (Lharmell)

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***

I was thinking of blood again so I went to practice my archery. That’s what I always did when I thought I was going to kill something. I hit the bulls-eye every time and nothing had died yet, so at least I had that going for me.

I don’t know any other sixteen-year-old girls, but the ones in my books don’t obsessively fire arrows because they feel the urge to bite someone. They worry about suitors and ribbons and things. Then again, a few get fed to dragons, so I seem to have it better than some.

The queendom of Amentia is one of the smallest, poorest, and coldest empires on the continent of Brivora. Our palace is a ramshackle old castle, cold as stone, and the grounds are a mess. The grass in the clearing where I stood was long and tangled. Tree branches stretched like desperate arms across the sky, blocking out the light, and the ivy increased its stranglehold with every passing year. At one end of the clearing was my target. From it sprouted about two dozen arrows, all perfect shots. At the other end was me.

My long black hair was drawn up and every so often I fanned my damp neck, sweating despite the chill. Leap had curled up on my discarded cloak into a perfect ball. His eyes were slitted and he watched me firing, purring when I glanced at him. Far above us Griffin was hovering over the clearing, golden wings spread against a steely sky.

Leap and Griffin go with me everywhere. I’m not really sure why. Griffin turned up first, a gangly, teenaged eagle with bum-fluff sprouting from between her new grown-up feathers. Leap followed a few months later. I had been practicing my archery and he’d come tunneling through the long grass like a furry shark and plopped himself on my cloak. He’s a sort of cat, I think. He purrs and has whiskers, but he’s very lithe and his green eyes are enormous. He’s got a pelt that’s soft, and slick and shiny like an otter’s, but he’s small enough to pick up and cuddle and that seems to be enough to call him my cat.

There was still an hour before sundown but the forest around me was blackening into an early twilight. I could practice well into night if I wanted to, still firing perfect shots. My eyesight is strangely keen. So is my hearing. I can hear an acorn drop in the forest from half a mile away.

I was reaching for another arrow when I heard a scream. It was high and sharp, the noise evaporating quickly in the brittle air. I froze; it had sounded like my sister, Lilith. I tried to decipher the tenor of her cry. Was she in pain, or merely frightened by a mouse?

Leap lifted his head, his ears pricking curiously in the direction of the castle. His pupils dilated. I shoved the arrow back and hooked the bow to the quiver, shame burning in my cheeks. Any normal person would have flown to her sister’s aid without a second thought.

***

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32 Comments

  1. BlueRose
    May 02, 2009 @ 05:14:47

    Ooooh I liked this :)

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  2. Deirdre
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:10:56

    I like this and would really like to read more! It could do with a little work, it doesn’t quite flow as it could but shows a lot of promise

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  3. Ames
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:17:38

    I like this too, I think the first two paragraphs are very telling (in a good way) and help to set the mood but I’d like to see you get to the action sooner. I think you could easily cut the third paragraph and most of the animal descriptions and lose nothing. LOVE the ending–again very telling.

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  4. DS
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:19:24

    There’s a kernel of a story here, but I think it needs a rework. “Queendom” and empire in one? Not to mention that most castles are “cold as stone”. I was also kind of puzzled by how being “very lithe” would distinguish Leap from other cats. Most cats are lithe. And I would think hearing that keen would be annoying rather than helpful.

    I also would probably start with the scream. All of the explication could be worked into the story in bite sized chunks.

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  5. Barbara Sheridan
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:24:01

    Last week’s entry flowed really well and though others had issue with content the writing worked for me and sucked me into the world..

    This one not so much.

    Way too much info dump for my taste especially since this is described as paranormal romance and not fantasy. And for me the voice of your chaaracter doesn’t seem to mess with the archiac setting this conjures up:

    The queendom of Amentia is one of the smallest, poorest, and coldest empires on the continent of Brivora.

    I know you want to set the scene but nothing’s really happening and I get no sense of who this person or what their problem/goals are. I think you’re starting in the wrong place.

    For me this is the meat of your opening:

    I was reaching for another arrow when I heard a scream. It was high and sharp, the noise evaporating quickly in the brittle air. I froze; it had sounded like my sister, Lilith. I tried to decipher the tenor of her cry. Was she in pain, or merely frightened by a mouse?

    Leap lifted his head, his ears pricking curiously in the direction of the castle. His pupils dilated. I shoved the arrow back and hooked the bow to the quiver, shame burning in my cheeks. Any normal person would have flown to her sister's aid without a second thought.

    Use the elements of the girl in the overgrown clearing practicing the archery to fend off her blood urge, she hears the scream of her sister then goes on about her business.

    An opening focusing on that makes me want to know about this character and place and read on.

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  6. Kaye
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:36:09

    I liked the thinking of blood and wanting to kill something in the first paragraph.

    The line between setting a scene and info-dumping seems frustratingly thin. I didn’t mind the mention of the queendom, but I kind of balked at the descriptions of her pets and the fact that these creatures came out of nowhere to be with her. Then again, I’ve been spending too much time on wikitropes.

    I do agree with Barbara’s revision above. Get to the meat of the scene and I’d be willing to read more.

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  7. Lynne Connolly
    May 02, 2009 @ 06:53:54

    Is it just me, or is anybody else getting a bit tired of first person urban fantasies about kick-ass heroines?
    Just me, I guess, because Twilight is still going strong.
    Anyway, in this extract, I just didn’t care for the heroine. Yes, she can shoot, yes she can do other things exceedingly well and no doubt she’s beautiful as well, and I have no doubt she’ll climb every obstacle thrown into her path, so why should I care?
    Give us a weakness, a real weakness, and something inside herself that she needs to get over. Make the reader want to read more than her outer problems.
    And I’m afraid fantasy settings tend to turn me off unless they’re done really well. The odd names, the not-quite-human world is rarely done with enough depth to make me believe in it. But there’s not enough in this extract to tell if it’s done really well or not, so I might well be wrong. I often am.
    But speaking as a Brit, you have to know that queens aren’t all they’re made out to be. And they definitely don’t have ultimate power.
    On a more practical front, ditch the pets until they have something to do. That will slice the telling down nicely, and skip the reactive description of the castle. Instead, bring it into the scene, just describe the dilapidated walls against the target, or something like that. Basically, cut to the chase. I’d skip everything until the scream. Start there, that’s where the story starts. The blurb on the book jacket will tell the readers what to expect, and you can bring descriptions in as you need them.

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  8. hapax
    May 02, 2009 @ 09:03:39

    Marvelous opening paragraph.

    But as I started to read along, I began to think:

    Perfect fighting skills? Check.

    Lives in a magic castle (probably royalty)? Check.

    Long beautiful hair? Check.

    Mysterious magical pets? Check.

    Super-senses? Check.

    After one page, I’m pretty sure the heroine has purple eyes and her name is MariSuissima.

    Please, please give us some realistic flaws (NOT “too thin/too curvy/” or “too humble” or “unloved by her parents/siblings/peers” or “unladylike for being unfashionably brave / strong / clever” either), because unlike some of the others, I never get tired of kickass bloodthirsty heroines.

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  9. Darlynne
    May 02, 2009 @ 09:09:47

    I loved the writing and would definitely keep reading, particularly after that last paragraph.

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  10. Stephanie
    May 02, 2009 @ 09:13:59

    Although the voice was fairly engaging and the writing competent, I have to admit that I found the basic elements of this story a little too familiar. Rebellious teenage heroine, check. Would rather shoot a bow or play with swords than do “girl things,” check. Royal or at least noble birth, check. Unusual animal companions, check. Doesn’t get along with her sister, who’s probably the girly type the heroine disdains, check. Admittedly, many readers find comfort in the familiar, so this wouldn’t be a problem for them. But others, including myself, would need to see something that sets the main character apart from all the other kick-butt, tomboy heroines inhabiting YA fantasy–a reason to care about her and her situation. If this were fan fiction, she’d be labeled a “Mary-Sue” in nothing flat.

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  11. Ros
    May 02, 2009 @ 09:53:29

    I found this quite a difficult opening. The first two paragraphs seemed to be from a different story from the the third paragraph. I wondered if she was quoting from one of her books at first.

    My main problem with this is related to that, actually. The voice of your MC sounds like a 21st century American teenager. Which would be fine if you were writing contemporary YA fiction (as I thought you were at first). But for this kind of mediaeval-esque fantasy (if I’ve got your genre right) it really jars for me.

    My suggestion would be that you do a lot more world building (in your own mind and notebooks) before you start to write this story. Think yourself into the MC’s life – what is her daily routine, who are the people she sees, what sort of education has she had, what are her expectations for her future. Try writing her in different scenarios – what would she say/do when X happens. And when you can write her so that she sounds different from the people in your own everyday life, then you’ll be ready to start this story again.

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  12. myztified
    May 02, 2009 @ 09:58:42

    I agree with Barbara Sheridan. Those two paragraphs are where you should be started. Every before was info dumping, and as you can see from previous commentators, it’s not creating a great impression.

    One, all that info makes her sound self centered. All the info is somehow relevant to her.

    Two, you want to gives pieces of information as the plot moves along, scenes change, and new things occur. That way, you keep your reader (you know, the teenager?) interested.

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  13. JoB
    May 02, 2009 @ 10:13:06

    I do like kickass heroines. Some of my favorite people.
    And I like the down-to-earth voice. This one may very well end up sounding like a tough sixteen-year-old. Very fine.

    What other folks said about the opening.
    First pages are so damned difficult. Starting a manuscript, the writer wants to grab the reader and say,

    “Dear Reader, let me introduce you to Ms Kickass Protagonist. She’s effortlessly athletic, beautiful, strong, hot-tempered with prenatural hearing and sight. Let me describe her home. Oh. And here are her mystical animals. Let me tell you how she met them.”

    So the writer jury-rigs up some weak action whose sole purpose is to say the protagonist is athletic, beautiful, strong, hot-tempered, etc.

    This is not wrong. A limited, introductory action is sometimes a great and wonderful opening.

    But often there’s an alternate action, integral to the outcome of the story, that is just crying out to open the book.

    That important action can be just as good a vehicle for character description.
    The fact that something important is going on discourages the writer from wandering out of the here-and-now of the story.
    And you get the ball rolling, plot wise, so the reader doesn’t sit there wondering when something’s going to happen.

    Limited-actions-intended-to-introduce-the-character might be:

    – Walking the woods near the castle gathering medicinal berries
    – Sneaking into the kitchen to steal honey rolls from the friendly cook
    – Practicing martial arts at the crack of dawn when the other apprentices are sleeping

    Actions-that-influence-the-outcome-of-the-story might be:

    – walking into the woods with the dragon you’ve just stolen
    – sneaking into the kitchen to poison the wine supply
    – practicing martial arts on the guard outside the strong room

    Couple three niggles:

    – I’m feeling like some kind of wimp here. Am I the only person who would put the book down because the character was thinking of blood?
    Obsessing about blood is so deeply dysfunctional you may consider me officially creeped out.

    – I did wonder what happened to all the other sixteen-year-old girls. Fine if this is a story point.

    – Since it works so well as a noun and verb, ‘Leap’ didn’t hit me as a proper name just right off the bat.

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  14. theo
    May 02, 2009 @ 10:22:35

    Unfortunately in this instance, I have to agree with Lynne, hapax and Stephanie. The hn seems like a generic cutout and there is nothing that makes her unique or different enough to make me want to read more about her. She is “cut from the same mold” of almost every other UF hn I’m seeing these days. Vampire, shifter, psychic, they’ve become the norm. And YA or adult, your readers are smart enough to pick up on this.

    I’m not a big first person reader as it is so I need something that makes me care about why your hn is the way she is, what’s made her deserve the position of hn in your story.

    I need flaws. Maybe she only has one hand and has overcome that disability. Maybe she can’t see and reaches out with other senses to her surroundings. Or she’s mute or any number of lesser flaws but still ones that make me think she’s not a Mary-Sue. They are all over the fan fiction sites. If I’m interested in only that kind of character, I can read them for free. Make me care about your character enough to want to buy your book and read it through. And then buy the next.

    This is just me. Obviously there are many who don’t see it that way so take the comments with a grain…

    Good luck to you :)

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  15. anon
    May 02, 2009 @ 10:27:06

    I love this!

    (Clean up the part about the cat. Was it a cat or not. If not, specify what it is.)

    I love this!

    (p.s. I see the heroines flaws quite clearly. She wants to bite; she didn’t jump to save her sister.)

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  16. LindaR (likari)
    May 02, 2009 @ 11:23:25

    RT @JoB :

    But often there's an alternate action, integral to the outcome of the story, that is just crying out to open the book.

    I like your voice, and I’m enchanted by the archery and the magical pets, but I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. It just feels like there is story here that I want to read.

    But I agree with the comments. You need to clean it up technically. For instance, would she think of her own “long black” hair, or just her hair? Things like that.

    You’ve got some sayittwiceitis going on:

    I tried to decipher the tenor of her cry. Was she in pain, or merely frightened by a mouse?

    The first sentence is telling; the second is showing. Trust your reader — cut the first sentence.

    Leap lifted his head, his ears pricking curiously in the direction of the castle.

    I would move this up and have it happen before your MC hears the screams. It seemed too late where you have it.

    I agree this needs work, but I think it will be worth it.

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  17. Julia Sullivan
    May 02, 2009 @ 11:40:51

    The disjunct between the voice and the setting is bugging me. “So I had that going for me” makes me think Caddyshack, but it seems you’re going for a faux-medieval sword-and-sorcery thing. “So I had that going for me” and “I tried to decipher the tenor of her cry” are pretty much the opposite poles of discourse. Pick one. And if you’re going to use 21st-century language, use a 21st-century setting–it might be interesting to have a sword-and-sorcery thing going in a modern high-tech world.

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  18. MCHalliday
    May 02, 2009 @ 12:30:14

    As Ros mentioned, the world building seems to need tweaking. As I read, the botanics seemed implausible and needed further explanation in order for me to believe in your world.

    The grass in the clearing where I stood was long and tangled. Tree branches stretched like desperate arms across the sky, blocking out the light, and the ivy increased its stranglehold with every passing year.

    The shade produced by these trees “blocking out the light” has reduced light levels to zero, making photosynthesis impossible and even shade grass will not grow long and tangled. Ivy is a climber and needs to establish itself as high as possible within a canopy of trees BUT as you have described it, the branches should have broken and the trees rotted; once Ivy reaches the crown of the tree, it causes problems due to additional weight and increased wind sail area resulting in branch loss. Complete tree trunk Ivy growth will produce a localised humid microclimate that wood decay organisms feast upon and the trees will die.

    It may seem minor but as an avid scifi and fantasy fan, created worlds must be rooted in science or plausible explanations provided. For instance, the sun on this world could be much brighter than ours and this type of foilage has evolved for protection. But if the sun was brighter, then it will perculate through other facts, the use of ‘blackening’ below, for example:

    There was still an hour before sundown but the forest around me was blackening into an early twilight.

    Stumbling over details is distracting for readers. Summed up, it helps in world building to thoroughly research the sciences and then provide explanations for any differences to our earthly experience : )

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  19. Marianne McA
    May 02, 2009 @ 14:41:56

    The ‘thinking of blood’ did put me off – I could relate to a teenager boiling over with angry emotion, but not a teenager who frequently visualises blood.

    The paragraph about the books also failed to draw me in. This is all personal, and very nit-picky, but I find that authors often make their characters readers, and I always imagine they imagine that their own readership will relate well to someone who shares their hobby.
    If the character is really a reader – and will look at her subsequent adventures though that prism, it could be fun (Northanger Abbey)- but where it’s just a grafted on characteristic, mentioned the once to show that the reader that the heroine is just-like-you, it annoys me. (Moreover I’ve never read a book where a girl was fed to a dragon – it doesn’t happen.)

    The third paragraph was the one that drew me in. I’d like the book to start there. I think I’m old-fashioned – I like books where there’s a bit of an introduction before the action starts. I especially liked:[i] “At one end of the clearing was my target. From it sprouted about two dozen arrows, all perfect shots. At the other end was me.”[/i]

    The fourth I liked – the fifth, with all the detail about the pets, I don’t think I need to know. It’s enough that they’re there.
    The bit about the cat confused me. I don’t really bother visualising much when I read, so I just want a mental tag to file Leap under. ‘Cat’ is okay or ‘Cat-like’ would do. Without looking back, what I’ve retained from the description is ‘A bit like a cat, but a bit not like a cat, and fur like an otter.’ And I don’t really know what otter pelts are like. Again, that’s me, and my failing as a reader.

    The paragraph about the keen eyesight and keen hearing was a bit alienating – could you turn it round? What I thought, as I read it, was that it must be really annoying to be able to hear like that – you’d be bombarded with sound all the time. If the heroine felt moody teenager about it – it wasn’t Fair that she was the one who had to hear everything, like her sister’s snoring keeping her awake; or if she was sneaky about it – she didn’t listen for acorns, but eavesdropped on her sister flirting with the footman and teased her about it afterwards – either would get the characteristic mentioned, and still make her seem normal.

    The last paragraph, again, I liked. It’s where she did feel like a real teenager – not running to her sister’s aid – because a teenager rushing to help their sibling would be unnatural – but at the same time feeling a tad guilty about it.

    Sorry for being so pernickety – in real life, I never read that closely, and I’d certainly have read on in a bookshop to see whether I wanted to buy it or not.

    Good luck.

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  20. Melinda
    May 02, 2009 @ 16:00:09

    This is a very good beginning. Concept is nice. Your text needs some polishing and the story needs development. But it’s a story worth the work.

    I’d start with the castle part and then go into shooting the arrows. I’d like more descriptions of the setting, but use mood words.

    And don’t describe hair color in first person.

    Describe the cat, then give him the name. You need transitions there.

    It’s one of the better pieces I’ve read here.

    You don’t need the first part. It messes up the character. Get down the setting, mood, and atmosphere, then focus on the scream and the sister.

    Good work.

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  21. Ciar Cullen
    May 02, 2009 @ 16:25:46

    Love it, love the voice. I don’t need to know her weakness on the first page! She’s not a happy camper, we get that much. This has the potential to be funny, and I hope it is.

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  22. Rhiannon Hart
    May 02, 2009 @ 16:32:30

    Hi everyone! (Author here.) Thank you very much for taking the time to read my first page and comment on it. Your encouragment and suggestions are gratefully received! I’ll be doing a little tightening up of the opening (AKA the hardest part of the whole damn book!)

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  23. hapax
    May 02, 2009 @ 19:03:12

    Moreover I've never read a book where a girl was fed to a dragon – it doesn't happen

    You know that just saying that makes me desperately want to write one.

    (actually, current novel-in-progress does have a dragon that eats quite a few girls, but it doesn’t happen onscreen, as it were.)

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  24. LindaR (likari)
    May 02, 2009 @ 19:09:10

    One of my favorite of all time “feeding” the princess to the dragon stories EVAH!

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  25. Danielle Thorne
    May 02, 2009 @ 19:27:22

    I thought this was well done-it kept me reading. I’m actually ready to keep going-also liked the first person–found that different. The only qualm I had was the hearing the acorn drop a half mile away–I mean, that’s a little much, and a lot of noises to filter in-between. Only skimmed some of the other comments and found them rather harsh.

    A very personable first person voice–it flowed naturally.

    Liked it.

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  26. Sarah Mayberry
    May 02, 2009 @ 20:13:14

    I liked it. Would keep reading, definitely. And I liked the mix of “high” and “low” language – lots of fantasy writers go for more casual language mixed in with their other-worldliness and magic etc, and I didn’t have a problem with it. Am sure you will hone this down and sharpen it as you edit your book – all part of the process! – but I think you’ve got a really solid start here. Keep writing/reviewing/whatever stage you’re at. And best of luck.

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  27. rob
    May 02, 2009 @ 20:59:25

    I agree with Barbara. If you start with the scream, it creates intrigue, rather than just exposition. The first line does not grab the reader.

    “Then again, a few get fed to dragons…” – great! This gives the character a unique voice and some humour. More. More. I am sure there is.

    So far, so good, and I would keep reading. The only other crit would be to look at the flow, read aloud, and cut out a few words where clunky.

    Nice work Rhiannon.

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  28. Keilexandra
    May 02, 2009 @ 23:54:48

    I liked it, but I read it as fantasy and was surprised by the paranormal YA romance descriptor. If that description is accurate, you need to make the opening reflect so.

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  29. Stevie
    May 03, 2009 @ 07:57:22

    I enjoyed it, and would keep reading, which is the important bit.

    There are things that would improve it; I think you need to bury the ‘stretched like desperate arms across the sky’ in a very deep hole, since it’s much too ‘writerly’, and the ‘long black’ has to go, but I like the archery.

    You might wish to clarify, if only for yourself, what sort of bow she’s using; some types need to have the string removed when not in use, and the archery loving readership will notice.

    My favourite ‘heroine saved from being eaten by the dragon’ story is in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Guards! Guards!’; there is a lightness of touch in your writing which I think is very much worth retaining. Not even teenagers angst every single day…

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  30. Marianne McA
    May 03, 2009 @ 10:13:26

    Moreover I've never read a book where a girl was fed to a dragon – it doesn't happen

    You know that just saying that makes me desperately want to write one.

    *queues up to buy it*

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  31. Marianne McA
    May 03, 2009 @ 10:19:31

    One of my favorite of all time “feeding” the princess to the dragon stories EVAH!

    Thanks Linda. I loved E Nesbit as a child, but I had never read that before.

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  32. blabla
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 08:32:52

    OMFG I love this!!!! A strong heroine who can fight, I think I am in heaven. KEep up the good work and tell me when this book will be released, ‘kay?

    ReplyReply

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