book review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Source: GoodReads.com


‘Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.’ 

This book is a treat.

No, it’s not going to solve world hunger or bring peace to the land, but it will entertain the absolute shit out of you, and don’t we all need a little bit of that magic these days?

Alternating between the past and present, The Escape Room is a deftly plotted tale of revenge, and revenge is never sweeter than when the people receiving it really, really deserve what’s coming to them.

The scene: four people are in an elevator in a building under construction. It’s flying toward the top floor, binding them all to a meeting they don’t know anything about. Each of these four people are tightly wound, high-flying business types, each with their own secrets, malicious thoughts, baggage, selfish hopes, dreams of better, more – more money, more love, more freedom – and they all know each other. Perhaps a bit too well. When the elevator comes to a halt, they realize that what they thought was a ‘meeting’ is actually a team-building exercise.

The elevator has become their own personal escape room, and they have to answer riddles in order to be let out of the elevator before the hour is up. Believing this is a test to keep their jobs, they get to work unraveling the scant, frustrating clues. Already fractious, their tempers fray as their personalities clash and it becomes apparent that something a bit more sinister is going on. The temperature is rising, the clues are impossible, and why aren’t the doors opening when the hour is up?

Between these bites of suffocating tension, Goldin tells another story – Sara’s story. A young financial analyst, Sara begins working at Stanhope & Sons, a company that thrives on making money, and will do anything to get its clients rich – and its employees even richer. Drunk on the prospect of unlimited income, Sara is willing to drink any sort of Kool-Aid to rise to the top of the wolfpack. As she begins to sacrifice her own ideals, values and even friendships for the sake of the company, she wonders if she’s in over her head. Things take a bloody turn when an associate dies under suspicious circumstances, and Sara wonders if Stanhope & Sons is really all that it seems, and what might be unspooling beneath the surface, rotten and dark.

How these two tales intertwine is fairly obvious from the beginning, but it’s nonetheless fascinating watching how it plays out. It’s one of those books that just makes you feel damn good about life. Perhaps not a morally sound admission, but some people getting their just desserts gave me a little glow of happiness, and I think it will do the same for you.

Revenge is a dish best served … up high, in an elevator, with no way out but down.

Support authors & literacy & imagination! Get your copy of The Escape Room here.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I really appreciate it!

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

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book review: The Hiding Place (also known as: The Taking of Annie Thorne) by C.J. Tudor


Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing. It was the day she came back. 

Ouch.

That is one hell of a lede. Okay, so it’s not the first sentence of the blurb, but damn. The second I read it, I was hooked. Not that I wasn’t determined to read this book to begin with, having enjoyed C.J Tudor’s first novel, The Chalk Man so much. Largely, I’ve seen positive reviews of this one, with a few detractors. I’ve even seen comments about of racism and homophobia, and maybe my memory is shot, but I can’t recall any that spring to mind …? If I’m wrong, please correct me by all means!

However, I’m not sure when it became important for books to be perfect in that regard. My own personal opinion is that it’s more entertaining to read about flawed human beings that angels. Further, I didn’t get the sense that Tudor set Joe up specifically to be a “hero”. If anything, he’s a cautionary tale.

Set in Arnhill, a soiled spot on the British landscape, The Hiding Place captures one of my favourite journeys – the adult returning to their childhood home to face a half-remembered horror. Stephen King is particularly good at this, and so is C.J. Tudor. Every step that Joe Thorne takes is leaden, every page he turns in the ghostly book of his past is crumbling, and every detail he reveals to us seems to come directly from the belly of the beast.

The novel begins with an act of madness. A local teacher murders her son and then shoots herself, leaving only questions behind. In Arnhill, an old mining town that seems best left to rot, the questions go unanswered. Enter (walking disaster) Joe Thorne, stage left. Ostensibly, Joe returns to Arnhill to work as a teacher at his old school and pay off debts (or hide from his lenders), but in reality, he’s back because something is happening.

And what is happening,

happened before.

What exactly occurred in the past, I’ll leave you to discover. Suffice to say, it involves the disappearance of Joe’s sister, Annie, a childhood gang of “friends” that lead Joe straight into the bowels of the earth, and a particular horror that once it gets its claws into you, doesn’t let go, not for anyone, not for death or dreams or innocence or tears.

Genuinely creepy and viscerally atmospheric, this novel interrupted my sleep. What more can you ask for? Click here to buy The Hiding Place, and support imagination, literary and our treasured authors!

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

Book Review: The Housewife by Valerie Keogh

Source: GoodReads.com


“There’s no place like home” – that’s what I tell myself as I pull another flawless meal from the oven. This perfect house on a quiet street was supposed to be my sanctuary, a place to recover. But everything changed the moment I saw that woman in the charity shop. She triggered something dark, buried deep within my memory… 

By no means unentertaining, The Housewife nonetheless falls prey to “Girl on the Train” syndrome. It’s touted as wildly thrilling and with a twist you’ll never see coming, and can no book just be a JOURNEY? Must it always be about the denouement? Because this kind of marketing never truly serves the book. I did in fact see the ending coming. Most readers will. It doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading.

Just that we all need to cool it with expecting a twist that will cause an earthquake in our brains.

The Housewife circles around Diane, a woman recovering from a trauma and suffering from short-term amnesia. While she remembers her husband and the basics of her life, she can’t recall what’s caused her memory loss, or why she’s so afraid of the sitting room in her home. Often, she hears the haunting sound of a baby crying, and it sends her spiraling down into the darkest shadows of her mind. These moments of terror impact the rest of her life – and she begins to forget to pick her daughter up from nursery or make dinner on time for her husband. When she tries to pick up the pieces and volunteer at a local charity shop, she has a run-in with a woman who looks at her with scorn – and begins to “stalk” her around their small suburb of London. But is she truly being stalked? Or is she imagining things?

Horrified by what she sees as the disintegration of her mind, Diane hides what’s happening from her husband, and begins to drink secretly during the evenings. Her paranoia soon leads her to believe that everyone is conspiring against her, and that even her own house is a dangerous place, full of barbed memories around every corner.

As I mentioned earlier, the “twist” is not really a twist. There’s a lot to examine in this book that goes largely unpacked by the author. For instance, the utter misogyny and contempt displayed by Diane’s husband (I forget the prick’s name already), the odd whirlwind romance they have (in this day and age, does it really make sense that she wouldn’t see his house until the day she moved in??), and the truly upsetting reason for her amnesia. The “twist” is revealed and I think the horror of it is almost… too much for the author? It’s glossed over, in favour of bog-standard notions of revenge. I’m being deliberately obtuse, because spoilers are awful, but if you read, you’ll see what I mean.

I do think The Housewife is a good little thriller, but it has the potential to be so much more, and particularly in the relationship of the husband and wife, there’s A LOT to unravel that could have provided meaty character development.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I appreciate the chance, as always!

Book Review: Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers

source: GoodReads.com


In this provocative, wildly entertaining, and compelling novel, seven women enrolled in an extreme weight loss documentary discover self-love and sisterhood as they enact a daring revenge against the exploitative filmmakers.

From the blurb.

Would I call this “wildly entertaining”? In a word, no.

However, I was interested in this book from the get-go. I’m a devotee of Jillian Michaels and Gwyneth Paltrow, while still craving (tee hee, I’m so funny…) Chrissy Teigan’s recipes and dreaming daily of nachos. Balance, sure, but it’s not always that easy. Weight and food and body image – they are all wrapped up in the fabric of my every day life, and sometimes, they take over. So it’s natural that Waisted intrigued me. The premise – a weight loss documentary gone wrong – seemed right up my alley.

I wish I could say the execution lived up to the premise. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong here, but for me, I didn’t buy that Randy Susan Meyers had ever struggled with her weight. I could be way off base, and I haven’t searched for any interviews to ascertain either way, because the proof is in the pudding so-to-speak, and this novel felt like it was written by a woman of average weight.

From the scene where the women’s bodies are described, along with their heights and weights, everything was just… off. I’m not sure if Meyers did her research but the height to weight ratios didn’t add up. A 5’2” woman who weighs 178 pounds is not going to look obese. I remember reading a mystery once where the author had the heroine pulling out her hair at the idea of being over 120 pounds. I DNFed that shit because no thanks. This novel reminded me of that. I mean, come on, one of the heroines is like, 5’10” and weighs under 195!

Rest assured, I am NOT saying these women might not struggle or feel like crap or want to lose weight, etcetera. But in a world where we’re lectured constantly about the “obesity epidemic” and fat shaming abounds, I find it very hard to believe that these very, very average women would be the subjects of an extreme weight loss documentary. We’ve all seen The Biggest Loser – TV sells itself on being OTT. I’m not sure if Meyers didn’t want to deal with heroines that couldn’t lose enough to be considered “normal” (heavy quotation marks implied) by the book’s end, or if she honestly thinks that the weights / heights she mentioned are reasonable for this sort of endeavor.

The novel is told from two viewpoints, but I couldn’t see much difference in the narrative voices. One of the husbands is such a colossal prick that I was shocked no one had set him on fire by the end of the book. Not to mention, the whole ‘message’ just felt super … icky. The women dabble in drugs pretty heavily to lose weight, and the ramifications of this is never touched on or discussed? One daughter cries because her mother doesn’t emphasize her beauty enough (she’s relentlessly described as “thin as a pin” and “a wispy waif”, gag me), another’s mother is an absolute monster and this is treated as endearing, and the much-touted “revenge” is extremely muted to the point of being nonexistent.

By the conclusion, the emphasis is back on who’s gained weight and who’s lost, and the examination of culture, beauty norms and body image that I was waiting for never arrives. There’s no feeling of growth or empowerment (besides one small scene that I enjoyed around the dinner table), and no realizations about unhealthy behaviours or patterns. This novel had so much potential to unpack, and for me, it fell short of true bravery in the telling.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I appreciate the chance to read, as always!

book review: Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine

Source: GoodReads.com

She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out… 

The third in Caine’s immensely readable and thrilling ‘Stillhouse Lake’ series, Wolfhunter River is nonetheless a departure from the norm. The book feels very much like a bridge that had to be crossed before Caine could continue the series the way she wanted. This isn’t a criticism. Actually, I was worried that Caine wouldn’t be able to move Gwen and Sam away from the malevolent spectre that was Melvin Royal, and I’m very pleased to be wrong. I can imagine – given the narrative thread that Rachel Caine introduces toward the end of this book – a very satisfying series coming from this new direction in Gwen’s life.

Part of me just wants Gwen to catch a break. What else can she possibly endure without going crazy? But the other part finds these books way too exciting to let go. In Wolfhunter River, Gwen answers the call of a panicked woman named Marlene Crockett, who is desperate for help to escape a looming threat. She won’t explain what – or who – she’s terrified of, but it’s evident that there’s something rotten in Wolfhunter. After sick Internet vigilantes come after Gwen and her family once again, and she receives another disturbing call – this time from Marlene’s daughter, she heads to Wolfhunter, feeling called to help, any way she can.

The second half of the book is packed with action, but Caine doesn’t sacrifice character and relationship development in the process. Gwen and Sam are struggling both with their romance, and with their pasts. Gwen sees camera eyes in every corner and Melvin in every patch of dark, and Sam is rocked to the core by the re-emergence of Miranda Tidewell in his life – a particularly repellent character that is hellbent on misery and revenge.

There’s also the very real threat from online sources and ghosts from Melvin’s past. He’s made sure that even in death, he’s a part of his family’s life, and like a spider, he keeps tightening the web – until someone is bound to choke. He’s a black stain on their lives, and it only continues to get worse, not better.

By the end, Caine has set up Gwen for a new beginning, but crucially, a beginning that is shaped irrevocably by the blood and horror of her past. I’m very, very happy that we haven’t seen the last of Gwen and her family, and hopefully, we’ll get more glimpses of Melvin (what a name hiding such a monster!)

My favourite part of these books – the beating heart that runs through them like a golden cord of steel – is Gwen’s love for her children, and YES – her love for herSELF. She SURVIVED. *She* did that. And she’s not giving up – not for anyone. It’s such a gorgeous portrayal of what it means to be a survivor, and what it means to be a woman in this world – this world of rape culture and #MeToo and Internet dog-piling and incessant, damaging vitriol. A world where your husband was a serial killer, and somehow it’s your fault for not controlling him, pleasing him, stopping him. It’s still, somehow, all on the woman.

I love Rachel Caine for this honest, unflinching depiction of a woman who has gone through the fire – and come through scarred, but alive, kicking and ready.

Click here to buy Wolfhunter River and support literacy, imagination and our treasured authors!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate the chance, as always.

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

Dear Wife: a novel. By Kimberly Belle.


From the bestselling author of The Marriage Lie and Three Days Missing comes a riveting new novel of suspense about a woman who, in a fight for survival, must decide just how far she’ll go to escape the person she once loved

Beth Murphy is on the run…

Tautly suspenseful and genuinely moving, Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle is exactly the kind of thriller that pushes all the right buttons for me. While it has twists and turns that you won’t see coming, the novel is also a stirring examination of the epidemic of violence against women, in particular – violence perpetrated by their partners.

Told from alternating viewpoints – “Beth” (a woman on the run from her abusive husband), Jeffrey (who comes home to find that his wife Sabine has disappeared) and Marcus (the police officer assigned to Sabine’s case), the novel moves at a rapid-fire pace as Beth continues her desperate journey across the South, and Sabine’s fate grows ever uncertain.

Beth’s tale is the most riveting, and the one I felt most anxious to get back to as the book progressed. Interspersed with horrific, yet subtle details of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Beth’s story is also one of breathtaking survival and ingenuity. Beth, in the end, is much smarter than anyone may have given her credit for, and (without giving too much away), watching her become the cat instead of the mouse is deeply satisfying in a visceral sense.

With the search for Sabine intensifying, Marcus’ unraveling temper and Jeffrey’s deception, nothing is quite as it seems. After all, who is Beth?

And who is she running from?

While I did guess the twist, I didn’t guess all of it, and Kimberly Belle had me on the edge of my seat, reading straight through the evening to get to the end. This isn’t the kind of thriller that rests solely on the denouement – the journey there is equally as good, and worth the time it takes to get there.

Treat yourself! Buy Dear Wife here, and help to support imagination, literacy and authors.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I always appreciate the opportunity!

While I don’t believe that An Anonymous Girl is the “tour de force” that so many are touting it to be, it’s certainly entertaining. While I didn’t find it ‘unputdownable’, I did think the premise was intriguing, and I wanted to know what would happen. 

An Anonymous Girl (written by the writing team of Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks), takes us into two worlds. One: the world of Jessica, a struggling makeup artist in New York City, who works to help support her family and specifically, her sister, who is differently abled and requires additional care. When Jessica inadvertently hears about a psychological study being performed by a renowned New York psychologist, she sneaks her way in, attracted by the money on offer. Labeled as “Subject 52”, Jessica finds herself in a barren room, answering questions on a single laptop. Questions about morality, about judgment, about the tough choices we make, day in and day out.

The second world belongs to Dr. Shields, who is running the study, and who becomes singularly focused on Jessica and invites her for further “examination”. Dr. Shields is ostensibly fascinating, but Pekkanen and Hendricks lay this on way too thick – her “spicy” perfume and the fact that she likes shawls are presented as intricate layers of character development. 

As their two worlds intersect and collide, it becomes clear that the study isn’t quite what it seems, and that Jessica may be in over her head…

Saying any more would spoil the unveilings that occur, and I do think this tale is worth reading till the end. A few personal quibbles – I didn’t find Jessica all that sympathetic, and I thought she was idiotic for trusting such a creepy doctor and such an invasive “study” – every instinct would be telling her to run in the other direction since it was so odd from the get-go. Hendricks and Pekkanen would have been better served to dial down the creep factor until Jessica was already fully embroiled. I also hated how much she ignored her dog (she was NEVER home…), how she treated Noah, and how little she learned by the end. 

BUT it’s not like I have to be best friends with her. I also think the book would have benefited from tighter editing. However, the story itself is certainly engrossing, and I see why it’s popular. 

book review: In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

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Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I fell in love with Loreth Anne White’s writing when I read A Dark Lure. It was so unbelievably atmospheric and sensual and raw and terrifying. I read it – captivated – wishing only for more.

In the Barren Ground is a bit of a departure, in that it’s mostly mystery and there is barely any romance or sex. It’s as if White is pulling an Iris Johansen, and pulling out of writing romance altogether, to which I say – please don’t. I know that romance gets a bit of a bad rap, but the genre has a TON of loyal and devoted fans. And Loreth, you write fantastic romance. For real. A Dark Lure was very, very powerful and part of that was because of the build up of the romantic relationship between the two leads.

With that said, In the Barren Ground was very, very good. It has all of the taut suspense I’ve come to expect from White, as well as the compelling mystery that I couldn’t untwist for the life of me until the last second. Even then, there were still elements that left me breathless – it was definitely a page-turner.

There are some aspects of the novel that made me cringe. For one thing, the heroine has a hang up about sex, and seems to think she’d be a slutty slut for going to bed with the hero. Far be it for me to object to a woman feeling badly about herself for a natural human need, but come on now. It’s 2016. Can we move on?

Secondly, the hero is a bit problematic. Not saying he’s not appealing in a certain sense, but I didn’t buy his journey so much. I wanted to, no doubt. But his transition from scoundrel to good guy didn’t have a ring of Han Solo about it. It felt like White was directing the action, rather than the characters. Which brings me back to the lack of sex and romance. This novel would have benefited hugely from both.

But back to the good stuff. White’s sense of place is ridiculously good. One of my pet peeves is not feeling I *know* where the characters are. You’ll never have that issue in White’s novels. I was there with Tana and Crash, in the snow, in the neverending cold, in with the howling wind and the barren grounds. There was something almost gothic about the atmosphere – intentionally so – and it was beautiful and breathtaking.

All in all, this was an unputdownable read. My quibbles about romance / sex are personal preferences that of course not everyone will share I just hope that in future, White can marry the two again with her mystery, because THAT is a gorgeous thing to behold.

book review: The First Taste by Jessica Hawkins

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ARC kindly supplied by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

First of all, can we discuss that cover? Hellloooooo.

Second of all, can we discuss how damn good Jessica Hawkins is? To be fair, I’m already a big fan. The first book I read by her was Slip Of The Tongue (The First Taste is a sequel of sorts) and I went on to read the rest of her work, including one of my favourite series of all time – Cityscape. David and Olivia. Sigh, I can barely type their names without wanting to dissolve into a puddle of feelings.

So I had high expectations for The First Taste. I was trepidatious, considering I’m used to Jessica writing “forbidden” romances, and to be truthful, I prefer those above all others. However, my concerns were unfounded – The First Taste is smart, sexy and unputdownable. Best yet, it features a wholly unique heroine. Amelia isn’t like any ‘romance novel’ heroine I’ve read about before, and I found her to be a breath of fresh air (much like many of Hawkins’ heroines actually, but Amelia was next-level).

The First Taste is about Andrew Beckwith (Sadie’s brother from Slip Of The Tongue), a single parent, entrepreneur and sexy-as-fuck maaaan. (Yes, that needed the extra a’s.) When Sadie’s boss Amelia mistakes Andrew for the plumber coming to fix the office toilet, sparks immediately fly between the two. Both are prickly, intelligent, determinedly unemotional and most importantly – unavailable. So what can one night of sex hurt… right?

Well, wrong, clearly… or we wouldn’t have a book. :p Amelia and Andrew have shattering sex. The kind that destroys your expectations. The kind that ultimately changes your life. Because after that intense, raw, passionate night – Amelia and Andrew find it very difficult to keep to their respective status quos of “no relationships, ever, thanks bye”. Instead, they find themselves wanting to be in each other’s lives and struggling to understand how they can possibly fit together when they’re so very different.

Amelia doesn’t eat carbs. Andrew loves pasta. Amelia is a city girl. Andrew loves the outskirts. Amelia thinks kids are weird. Andrew is a single father to a squishy lovebug of adorableness named Bell. Amelia is badly, badly broken from her past marriage. Andrew is recovering from the abandonment of Bell’s mother and his girlfriend. Both of them have baggage to spare. The trick is whether they can unpack it together and whether or not love – true, abiding, sensual, imperfect – love is worth it.

The journey to them finding out is rife with drama and the kind of sex scenes that will make you want to read this book alone, with a glass (or bottle) of red wine. Seriously, they are toe-curlingly delicious.

All in all, The First Taste was everything I didn’t know I wanted – a soul-affirming tale of two damaged souls finding each other in the quagmire of daily life. A beautifully written ode to second chances. And a very mature, very sexy and very real take on love in your thirties.

book review: Into the Light by Aleatha Romig

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Thank you to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

Not sure I should thank the publisher for sending me this ARC because now I’m like a beast at the door, slavering for the sequel and willing to cut a b*tch to get my paws on it. This was so damn good. I had zero idea what to expect from the summary, and this floored me with how entertaining, electrifying and many other e-adjectives it was.

Into the Light begins with darkness. Sara Adams wakes up in a hospital bed, blinded, unable to walk, with strange people around her that she does not – and can not – remember. Comforted only by the man who calls himself her husband, Jacob, Sara is introduced to ‘The Light’, a way of life she chose long ago, and evidently decided to escape. Hence, the hospital bed and her devastating injuries.

In ‘The Light’, women are controlled by their husbands. They may not question. They may not ever speak ill of a man. They may not refuse sex. If they do anything out of turn, they are ‘corrected’ by their husband – which generally involves some sort of physical abuse. Sara is bewildered, inquisitive and naturally intelligent. Even as she is seduced into the world by Jacob, she wonders – why did she become part of this community?

And why did she try – and fail – to leave?

On the other side of the United States is Stella Montgomery, an investigator working in Detroit. Stella’s discovered an alarming trend – people are disappearing – or turning up dead, right there in her city, at an astonishing rate. Their only link? They are all women. One of them is her best friend, Mindy. Against the wishes of her boyfriend Dylan, Stella is determined to discover a deeper connection and find Mindy in the process. Unknowingly wandering into the dragon’s lair, Stella gets closer and closer to danger …

Wow. As the story mounts, the tension ratchets up to a fever pitch. The author deserves major kudos for the fact that I only guessed the biggest twist (and there are a few!) right before she revealed it. And I thought I was probably crazy for thinking it too. That’s the mark of a talented and deft writer.

Atmospheric, sexy, mysterious and with a pervading sense of doom, Into the Light is one of the best romantic mysteries I’ve read this year.

Suffice to say, I can.not.wait.for.the.sequel. I am actually dying a bit here. Aleatha, write quickly, my darling! You are a gem.