Contemporary, L. Philips, LGBT, Mental Health, Music, Romance, Young Adult

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips

Sometime After Midnight by L. Philips is a modern-day retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale, aptly sub-titled “A CinderFella Story” because the central romance is between two young men named Nate and Cameron. Nate is the orphaned son of a troubled but genius musician and Cameron a teenage millionaire, heir to a world-wide music empire, and a pop culture icon. When the two meet at the same obscure concert, it seems to be love at first sight, a true “Cinderella” story. Unfortunately for both of them, their identities and histories are soon to catch up with them, causing perhaps insurmountable obstacles.  

One of the achievements for Philips’s novel is its characterization. Each of the main characters, secondary characters, and historical figures (like Nate’s dad) have compelling and believable personalities and motivations. Nate’s best friend complements him as a heterosexual and somehow delightfully dangerous sidekick and Cameron’s sister likewise complements him as the supportive meddler, sometimes causing harm when she means to be helpful. As the story unfolds, most of the characters come to interact with one another and with other side characters along the way, such as a mentor musician whom Nate turns to for guidance. Something I truly cherish in any story is a cast of characters who are there to play a role and whose presence propels the plot forward; in Sometime After Midnight, each of the characters is important and is there for a reason, and the backstories—often delayed, creating intrigue and tension—add to this in significant and entertaining ways.

Another strength for the novel, in my opinion, is how unbelievably romantic it is, but in a realistic way. Yes, the story wraps-up in a tidy little bow, but it is no easy task getting Nate and Cameron to that point. There is a lot of drama, a lot of anger, much confusion, and several misunderstandings that must be overcome before the two young heroes can reach their happily ever after. None of these dramatic elements, though, is overwrought (something I tend to complain about in drama-for-drama’s sake young adult romances.) The pacing and plot structure are also balanced incredibly well; there is just enough forward motion (just enough pay off) to make the struggles bearable. At some points, it seems like it will be impossible for Nate and Cameron to reconcile their differences, and for good reason; but the two, surrounded by their supporting cast, work hard at it because they feel it is worth it, and isn’t that what a healthy and respectful relationship usually needs?

Finally, I enjoyed how complicated but realistic these characters are drawn. Neither of the protagonists is perfect, nor are the supporting cast members. Nate’s anger issues seem sometimes frustratingly self-indulgent, and yet one can understand why he feels so much pain and mistrust given what he knows (and discovers) about his father. Cameron’s privilege often manifests in typically obnoxious ways and is highly reminiscent of the way privilege of wealth/fame often manifests in real life. Similarly, Cameron’s sister’s involvement balanced between helpful and harmful. She sometimes seemed downright villainous in her disregard for others, and yet without her help, the two might never have made it.

If I have one complaint, it is simply the alternating narrative perspective. Like many young adult novels published in the last 10-15 years, the author segments the chapters into smaller parts, labeled with the name of the protagonist currently narrating his side of the story. While this does open several opportunities for the story, such as allowing a kind of omnipotent first-person narration that would otherwise be impossible, it also seems to me a kind of cliché at this point. It is well done, though, and I did enjoy witnessing both Nate’s and Cameron’s perspectives, seeing their thoughts, feeling their emotions. It made me root for the relationship rather than rooting for one character or the other, and that might have been the point. I only wish there would have been a reason for the dual narration, something at the end which explained to the reader how and why we are getting both perspectives (a realistic opportunity for both Nate and Cameron to be reflecting on this time, perhaps?) In fact, I think the story was set up for that quite nicely, and it would have taken just a simple epilogue explanation to pull it off.

All-in-all, this book is exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. It was sweet. It was a little bit dark. It was entirely realistic. And it was a darn good gay romance, without too many of the tired old tropes. It’s also steeped in music—the industry, the mood, and the power of it—which is something that speaks to me very intimately. Sometimes, you just want all the sugary goodness! If you’re in the mood for that, this is your book.


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1001 Books, 2013 B2tC Challenge, 2013 Challenges, Book Review, CC-Spin, Chivalry, Classics, Classics Club, Comedy, Historical, Literature, metafiction, Miguel Cervantes, Morality Novel, Parody, Romance, Spanish

Thoughts: Don Quixote, Part Two by Miguel Cervantes

don-quixote

 

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Part Two

by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 40


The Second Part of Don Quixote was published in 1615, exactly ten years after the first. According to Cervantes’s dedication, it was written, “in order to purge the disgust and nausea caused by another Don Quixote who has been running about the world masquerading as the second part.” Indeed, ironically, after his first part in some ways posed the question of “honesty in fiction,” another writer (pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda), without consent or collaboration, took it upon himself to write the sequel which was foreshadowed at the end of the original Part One.

Part Two begins again in La Mancha, where Don Quixote has been for some time. His friends and niece have tried to cure him of his obsession for knight errantry, but to no avail. Once again, he and Sancho Panza (who seems much wiser in this second part) leave La Mancha to wander Spain and seek adventures. Unlike the first part, though, which was primarily concerned either with the misadventures which Don Quixote brought upon himself or with the adventures of minor characters, relayed to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at various times throughout (to bring in historical context and to add depth to the overall narrative), this second part adds two new antagonists, the Duke and Duchess, who are hell-bent on causing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as much grief as possible, for their own amusement. Also, Don Quixote’s motivation changes somewhat, after Sancho Panza convinces him that his great love, Dulcinea del Toboso, has been transformed from the most beautiful flower of Spain into a poor, peasant girl, by an evil enchanter. Instead of scouring the globe trying to prove his love to the lady Dulcinea, Don Quixote is instead on a mission to disenchant her (which, thanks to the Duke and Duchess, will result in great grief and pain for poor Sancho). Sancho will eventually earn his governorship, though it turns out to be more trouble than it is worth, the great knight Don Quixote will be challenged, twice, and ultimately vanquished by the Knight of the White Moon, and Cervantes, in all his wisdom, will ensure that Don Quixote’s story will end on his terms (via the historian Cide Hamete Benengeli) this time.

As it turns out, the continuing adventures of Don Quixote (or Part Two) is a bit of meta-fiction, constantly interrupting itself to talk about its own story, mostly about Part One and the imposter who wrote the false sequel. Many of the characters in Part Two have read Part One and the unauthorized Part Two, so they have preconceived notions (some accurate, others not) about Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho. In addition to writing about his own writing and acknowledging the story as a story within this story, Cervantes also mentions a variety of other literary works, including plays and poetry, which help to place this particular text into a literary timeline (especially important, here, as Spain and Europe are in the midst of great intellectual changes, as mentioned in my discussion of Part One). While this allows for a conversation about literature itself, Part Two is also, in general, a deeper, more fully realized work. Unlike Part One, wherein the characters were primarily flat, Part Two sees a variety of characters with varied motivations – they engage one another in more realistic ways, although their motives are still generally suspect.

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Cervantes further builds on some of the concerns he laid out in Part One, including religious and social commentary. He is critical of Spain’s caste system and makes clear that is not one’s property or title that speaks to one’s worth, but one’s actions and beliefs. This point is elaborated on through the foul deeds of the Duke and Duchess, who, though members of the nobility, are downright nasty people. Furthermore, Cervantes makes a concerted effort to raise the wisdom of Sancho Panza (and also of his wife, Teresa) – education, goodness, and common sense are, for Cervantes, the markers of true character, wisdom and self-worth; obsessions over money, land, and practicality lead to pettiness and cruelty.

Although Don Quixote is generally published as one large work, it is clear that Part One and Part Two are indeed separate books, and not just because they were published a decade apart. Cervantes’s motivations and styles are strikingly different in the two books. Part One is largely parody, with plenty of social and historical commentary as well, but with much to be desired in terms of construction and complexity. Part Two adds, in my opinion, what Part One was missing. Although there is still a great deal of humor, it is not as slapstick or farcical as Part One (at least, not the majority of it). The work is more serious, more intentional, and well-realized. It certainly works as meta-fiction (though Cervantes’s anger at Avellaneda can sometimes overshadow the story) but also as a pioneering piece of literature caught in a time of great change and transition. It aptly pays tribute to the bygone era of romantic chivalry (the Renaissance) and meaningfully presages, perhaps unknowingly, the Enlightenment to come. The depth and complexity, and especially the character development, make Part Two quite superior to Part One. For more, see my thoughts on Part One.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Spanish Literature, Classics, Parody, Comedy, Romance, Morality Novel, Meta-fiction, Sequels.


Notable Quotes:

Don_Quixote_6“I know very well what the temptations of the Devil are, and that one of his greatest is to put it into a man’s head that he can write and print a book, and gain both money and fame by it” (Prologue to Part Two, p. 468).

“It is not pleasant to go about with scruples on your conscience” (478).

“To have companions in your troubles generally helps to relieve them” (547).

“If the blind lead the blind, both will be in danger of falling into the ditch” (548).

“So, let’s consider now which is the madder, the man who’s mad because he can’t help it, or the man who’s mad by choice” (561).

“He who reads much and travels much, sees much and learns much” (635).

“The Devil must certainly be an honest fellow and a good Christian. For if he weren’t he wouldn’t swear by God and his conscience. So I suppose that there must be some good people even in Hell” (697).

“For the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die just like that, without anybody killing him, but just finished off by his own melancholy” (937).


Don Quixote is Book #12 completed for my Classics Club Challenge
Don Quixote is Book #3 completed for my Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 
Don Quixote is Book #124 completed for my 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge


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1001 Books, 2013 B2tC Challenge, 2013 Challenges, Book Review, Chivalry, Classics, Classics Club, Comedy, Historical, Historical Fiction, Literature, Miguel Cervantes, Morality Novel, Parody, Romance, Spanish

Thoughts: Don Quixote, Part One by Miguel Cervantes

don-quixote 

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Part One

by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 40


Don Quixote is considered by many to be the first example of the contemporary novel-as-we-know-it, though I believe this is much more applicable to “Part Two” than it is to “Part One.”  The story is set in the year 1614, shortly after publication of Part One (1605) and just before the publication of Part Two (1615).  In this hilarious adventure tale, Don Quixote, a self-proclaimed Knight Errant, with his faithful squire Sancho Panza, set out on a journey to restore chivalry to the world, with a goal of defending the helpless and destroying the wicked. The two foolish men wander throughout Spain and encounter all sorts of bizarre adventures, from giants mistaken as windmills to village taverns mistaken for castles.

Sancho Panza joins Don Quixote in these adventures because he believes that his squireship will bring him riches, or at least the governorship of an isle, as that is what Don Quixote tells him has happened in all the books of chivalry (which must mean it is true!).  As for Don Quixote, he claims to be on a quest to make himself worthy of the love of his lady, Dulcinea del Toboso, and he demands that all who would challenge him must proclaim to the world that Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful, most wonderful woman in all of Spain.  Of course, Dulcinea del Toboso, like Sancho’s riches and Don Quixote’s texts, is just a fiction.

After numerous adventures, wherein Don Quixote repeatedly proves just how foolish (and dangerous) he is, he and Sancho eventually meet a woman who quickly comes to understand Don Quixote’s “affliction” and uses it to her advantage, pretending to be a royal woman in distress who needs the assistance of a noble knight. What is fascinating is how very sane and, indeed, brilliant Don Quixote can be when speaking about anything other than knighthood and romances.  It is only when he is invested in his chivalric adventures (which is most of the time) that he becomes, essentially, a madman. In the end, a priest and barber from La Mancha, who had disguised themselves in order to get in with Don Quixote’s company without raising suspicion, capture Don Quixote and convince him that he has been enchanted; in this way, they manage to bring him home, where they hope to cure his insanity and obsession with fictional tales of knight errantry.

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Don Quixote is a parody of the romances of the time.  The Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) which, in Spain, had immediately preceded Cervantes’ life and the creation of this novel, gave rise to new discussions about and interpretations of art, morality, identity, and humanism; however, the popular literature of Cervantes’s era continued to be rife with books of chivalry – melodramatic fantasies about the adventures of wandering knights who slay giants, rescue damsels in distress, and battle evil wizards and enchanters.  These were highly stylized tales with shallow characters who were playing out the rules of tired, dusty old dramas.  In those dramas, the main theme was chivalry: protecting the weak, lauding women, and celebrating brave knights who traveled the world in search of good deeds to be done.

The character Don Quixote is obsessed with these romances and these knights.  He truly believes himself to be one of the greatest of knights errant, who must live and die by the code set down in these fictional texts.  Through him, Cervantes is commenting on the ridiculousness (and tiredness) of these old ideas.  He desperately wanted to bring Spanish Literature into the new age (which, though Cervantes wouldn’t know it, yet, was anticipating the Enlightenment).  All is not a joke, however.  Cervantes was a soldier and he was deeply devoted to Spain.  The country was making great advances in technology and social enterprises, and it was earning a great deal of wealth from its American colonies.  Amidst all this change, Cervantes did believe that a code of values (like the ancient codes of chivalry) could be useful for a nation confused by war with England, militarily, and also with the Muslim religion.

One of the most ground-breaking elements of Don Quixote is its narration.  The book is narrated by the author, who is commenting on a “true history” as written by a fictive historian called Cide Hamete Benengeli, a Moor who originally chronicled the adventures of Don Quixote.  Cervantes as narrator charges himself with translating the original text; thus, he narrates most of the book in the third-person, but does sometimes enter into the thoughts of the characters or into first person, such as when he is commenting on the novel itself or the original manuscript (written by Benengeli).  There are three sections to Don Quixote, the first two being in “Part One” and the third being all of “Part Two.”  The first section is largely a parody of the contemporary romance tales and is likely what most people think of when they think about Don Quixote.  The second part, however, takes a narrative shift toward historical fiction.  It proceeds episodically, is not as comedic, and is pulled much more from Cervantes’s life experiences, via third-party tales (not just the narrator telling us what is happening with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but other characters talking to our main heroes about their own histories and adventures).  In these first two sections (or “Part One”) it is Cervantes as narrator who is reporting the entire story, in direct narrative style, but this is something which will change for “Part Two.”

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In addition to the interesting narrative choices (which become much more interesting and complex in “Part Two”) there are other major themes and motifs, such as: Morality (old ideas versus new ones); a comparison between Class and Worth (Cervantes’s claim being that one’s class does not necessarily speak to their personal worth – an extremely radical idea for the time); Romance (romantic love being of highest value); Honor (the idea of being personally honorable is lauded, whereas the idea of living up to a lofty, ancient code of honor seems to be mocked and leads to sometimes disastrous consequences); and Literature (there is a raging debate about the need for truthfulness and historical accuracy in fiction, and about how much of literature can/should be expected to be honest and how much of it pure imagination).

Some of the most interesting elements of Don Quixote, are those which are drawn from Cervantes’s own life.  His fears, his biases, and his own experiences very much contributed to the themes in the book, even giving him inspiration for the creation of it.  Mistrust for foreigners, for example, is a prevalent theme, as is the tension between the Moors and the Catholics.  Cervantes and his brother were captured by pirates and sold to the Moors (Muslims), after which they ended up in Algiers.  Cervantes tried to escape –three times- but could not get away until he was ransomed in 1580, after which he was able to return to Spain.  This experience, in addition to the defeat of the impenetrable Spanish Armada in 1588, by the English, are the backbone of the tale, and make up some of its intermediary tales, such as the tale of the captive (Chapter 34).  Many of the battles Cervantes engaged in when he was in the Spanish Army are recounted somewhat in this book, through other characters’ tales, which adds depth and autobiographical history to this fantasy tale.

Ultimately, Part One of Don Quixote is historical fiction disguised as literary parody.  It is great fun, for a while, but is, in my opinion, longer than necessary; one could get the point in half the time, though what Cervantes starts to work on in the second section of Part One is definitely a shift away from the pure farce and fantasy of the first section. Cervantes does explore some interesting notions, such as cross-dressing, self-worth, female independence, and the nature of love, all of which are looked at it relatively new ways. For its autobiographical exploration, its historical significance, and its narrative uniqueness, Don Quixote (Part One) is a valuable read, but it is Part Two, in my opinion, which really stands out and, perhaps, keeps Don Quixote in the canon of important classics.  Continue to my thoughts on Part Two.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest:  Spanish Literature, Classics, Parody, Comedy, Romance, Morality Novel, Historical Novel.


Notable Quotes:

DonQuijoteDeLaMancha-767176“I am too spiritless and lazy by nature to go about looking for authors to say for me what I can say myself without them” (17).

“And so from little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits.  He filled his mind with all that he read in them, with enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, wooing, loves, torments and other impossible nonsense; and so deeply did he steep his imagination in the belief that all the fanciful stuff he read was true, that to his mind no history in the world was more authentic” (32).

“I do not understand why, merely because she inspires love, a woman who is loved for her beauty is obliged to love the man who loves her” (108).

“I do swear, I tell you, that I will keep silent to the very last days of your honour’s life. And please God I may be free to speak to-morrow” (125).

“A knight errant who turns mad for a reason deserves neither merit nor thanks. The thing is to do it without cause” (203).

“They say we ought to love our Lord for Himself alone, without being moved to it by hope of glory or fear of punishment. Though, as for me, I’m inclined to love and serve Him for what He can do for me” (273).

“Love, I have heard it said, sometimes flies and sometimes walks. With one person it runs, with another creeps; some it cools and some it burns; some it wounds and others it kills; in a single instant it starts on the race of passion, and in the same instant concludes and ends it; in the morning it will besiege a fortress, and by evening it has subdued it, for there is no force that can resist it” (304).

“Women have naturally a readier wit for good or for evil than men, although it fails them when they set about deliberate reasoning” (308).


Don Quixote is Book #12 completed for my Classics Club Challenge

Don Quixote is Book #3 completed for my Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 

Don Quixote is Book #124 completed for my 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge


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Belgium, Book Review, Brussels, Fiction, Gay Lit, Historical Fiction, Kathe Koja, Romance, Secret Societies, War

Review: Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 1

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

If you can imagine a marriage between the coy, tongue-in-cheek, clever mysteries of Agatha Christie and the melancholic, whimsical, romantic lyricism of Shakespeare, then perhaps you have an understanding of what Kathe Koja has created with Under the Poppy.  The place is 1870s Brussels, amidst what one assumes is the beginnings of the Franco-Prussian War (at least, this reader assumes, as he is unfamiliar with any other war of this time and place).  The book’s main players – Rupert Bok and Istvan – are life-long lovers, drawn together in boyhood, pulled apart by circumstances.  The two, in their youth, somehow became entangled with the darkest, most powerful and secretive of high-society.  That entanglement, coupled with the two’s dangerous romance (never spoken aloud, but so clear to all), results in a perpetual cat-and-mouse game between the story’s antagonists (de Metz and his servants – the General, in particular) and the puppeteer-players.  The somewhat under-explained history between the two puppeteers (primarily Istvan) and their former masters is what drives the drama onward, resulting in feints and volleys, dashes and escapes, relationships severed and deepened, and, ultimately, wounds scarred, but healed. 

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

What certainly shines in terms of characterization in this novel is the genuine presentation of the main characters, who happen to be homosexual.  In another story, as written by another author, it is likely that these two men (and some of the minor characters as well) would have quickly turned into grotesques – exaggerated stereotypes for the larger perception of “gay man.”  Instead, Koja allows each to be an individual, and both are strong in their own ways, talented in their own ways, and equally devoted to the other, in his own way.  Realizing that the portrayal of these two characters was going to allow for not a “gay historical romance” but just a historical romance, period, quickly afforded me enough peace of mind to truly immerse myself in the story.  The one less-than-perfect aspect to be found in this book, at least for me, is the somewhat shallow characterization and character development.  Now, to be clear, the characterization in the book is good – it just wants deeper and more thorough development.  What is interesting and unusual is that each of the major players – Istvan, Rupert, Benjamin, Isobel, Lucy, Ag, and even Mr. Arrowsmith, are so incredibly recognizable and distinct, and yet still under-developed.  The disappointment, in large part, is not due to the fact that these characters are poor, because they are, in fact, rather fantastic; however, with these characters, there seemed so much more room to grow.  Knowing more of their histories, for instance, their previous interactions with one another – the “how” and “why” of their relationships – would bring so much to the story, enriching it with a deeper substance that just was not present, because these relationships and histories remained largely a mystery.  Of course, the sense of mystery allowed for a dramatic effect, overall, which speaks largely to the book as a play – which, perhaps, is right on point, considering the subject matter and the intent to mirror the puppeteers with their puppet-masters with the string-pulling of the narrative itself.  So, ultimately, one is left not so much with a disappointment in the characters (because who could be disappointed in these beautiful, sad, lonely and heroically tragic creatures?) but in a craving for more – and knowing that the more was there to be had, if only…

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

This particular section has been a point of contention for me, but I am erring on the side of the artistic, and forcing my personal structural preferences out of the picture in hopes of relaxing and enjoying the aesthetic aspect of the novel, in lieu of proper form.  Of course, one must do this on many occasions with creative works, particularly those with an artistic function and subject-matter (like the stage!).  Still, I will be up front in saying: I like grammar.  I enjoy quotation marks and separated dialogue and internal monologue.  I prefer different speakers to be distinguished by paragraph (or at least line) breaks.  And none of this happened in Under the Poppy.  At first, this made it very difficult for me to sink into the story – until I realized that the point is to let go.  Then, my goodness!  The artistry of the prose, the fluidity of the language, the sensuality and connectivity of the descriptions – no reader could ask for more, particularly from such an intensely romantic novel, which takes itself seriously by virtue of beauty and honesty alone.  There is something strangely cohesive, too, between the relationship enjoyed (ever-painfully) between Rupert and Istvan, and the prose of this work – it is almost as if Rupert and Istvan are whispering their story, and those whispers scrawl themselves across the pages, so that thoughts and feelings, actions and desires, all pour out in series after series of emotional memory. There are points in the story when it almost seems like the words – the passions- are moving right through you, and out the other side, so, suddenly, you are the story and you feel it in every inch of your being.  This is almost impossible to describe, but when a grammatical linguist can become enthralled and moved by a type of free-verse prose, well, that is a laudable accomplishment, indeed. 

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

If ever the phrase “all the world’s a stage / and all the men and women merely players” were to fit a novel – this would be that novel.  Koja leaves the reader stunned by the brutal honesty of the story – no punches are pulled, and yet the tale is told so beautifully, so passionately, and so artistically, it becomes hard, at times, to pull one’s self off of this stage and remember that we are only the audience to this bittersweet drama.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this novel is its decorum.  How is it conceivable that a story about a saucy and crafty puppeteer, coming to live with his male-lover in a brothel, will turn out to be nothing but heartrendingly sweet and heroic?  In the style of Dumas, less swashbuckler, or Austen, more twisted, it is so;  this incredible tale, which starts off with perhaps one of the most memorable scenes I have ever read, quickly defines itself as a serious, old-fashioned, romance-mystery, the likes of which the Bronte sisters may have admired.  A story like this could have easily become trite or even bawdy, but Koja manages to keep it delicate, tender, and truthful.  Overall, this reader was incredibly impressed with Koja’s performance – the story certainly lives up to the romance of the book’s cover art, which originally drew me to it.  Bravo! Merde! And may the show go on!
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Adult

Interest: GLBT, History, European History, Belgium History, Puppetry, Theater, War, Secret Societies, Romance

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