Review: Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3), by C. S. Pacat

Kings Rising (Captive Prince, #3)Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like earlier books in this series, ‘Kings Rising’ had my rapt attention from beginning to end. This book was action-packed and full of emotion. It broke my heart, only to piece it back together slowly. I loved every minute!

This book sees both Damen and Laurent fighting to reclaim their kingdoms. Despite their differences, the two are forced into a tenuous alliance. They need one another, if either of them hopes to succeed. This makes for plenty of emotional highs and lows along the way as the two attempt to navigate through their new realities. In many ways, the tables have turned. At the same time, so much remains unchanged.

Finally, all of Damen’s secrets are out in the open. No longer does he live in fear of what will happen when Laurent finds out who he really is. Instead, he now lives with his wrath. If he thought that Laurent would be angry, he was right.

To say that I found this a little hypocritical is putting it mildly. I kept thinking, “where does Laurent get off?” After all, Damen was his slave by force. Of course he would keep a secret like that. What did he expect him to do, tell his captor his true identity and face certain death?

That feeling only grew stronger as Laurent revealed some secrets of his own. I mean, where did he get off being so self-righteous? It seemed to me that Damen was played, yet again. If anything, Laurent proved, once again, to be one of the most manipulative characters that I’ve ever encountered.

Even so, I cannot deny that I absolutely loved this book. Every interaction between Damen and Laurent was like a delicious little drop of heaven for me. I spent the moments between their encounters holding my breath, waiting for their next interaction. It was pathetic really, but I have no shame.

In the end, I was left feeling quite satisfied. I wasn’t sure that these two would ever get there, but they eventually get some peace. I’m not a big fan of M/M romances generally, but I absolutely loved this series. It was heartfelt and sexy, with plenty of action along the way. The characters and storyline were well-developed and engaging. I would definitely recommend this series to others.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit (Captive Prince, #2), by C. S. Pacat

Prince's Gambit (Captive Prince, #2)Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the ‘Captive Prince’ series progresses, I find myself completely lost in the story of Damen and Laurent. Talk about a slow-burn, I have been dying for something to happen between these two. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.

While the first book primarily focused on the hedonistic indulgences and cruelty of Laurent’s court, this second book shows more of the inner workings. Many of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. There is far more to Laurent’s situation than meets the eye. In many ways, he is every bit the captive that Damen is.

The nearer Laurent gets to the day that he will claim his throne, the more underhanded his uncle becomes. It is evident that he has no intention of ever relinquishing the power of being King. He does everything within his power to discredit and undermine his nephew at every turn.

Unfortunately for Laurent’s uncle, his own manipulations end up being unexpectedly counterproductive. He coerces Laurent into serving near the border, anticipating that he and the substandard group of soldiers that he sent him with will end up being killed off. The assassins that he sends will surely finish off the job if the poor state of the group does not manage to die of their own accord.

Instead, Laurent and Damen form an unlikely alliance. Their tenuous relationship grows much stronger, even becoming the best of friends. Damen often finds himself in the position of a trusted confidante for Laurent. Before long, the two are practically inseparable.

At last, it is evident that there is far more going on between Laurent and Damen than meets the eye. Of course, there is a pervasive ominous feeling to this book. Damen’s identity is still a secret at this point. The looming threat of discovery lingers, tainting his interactions with Laurent. The more he grows to care for Laurent, the more Damen fears that his betrayal will come to light.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I was taken in by the evolution of Damen and Laurent’s relationship from enemies to friends to lovers. I want things to work out for them so badly, even as I know that disaster is lurking around the corner. So many secrets. So many feelings. My heart is breaking for these two.

Needless to say, I thought that this was a wonderful book. I will dive into the third book immediately. I absolutely must know how things work out for Damen and Laurent. Despite the fact that M/M is not my usual preferred genre, I have absolutely fallen in love with this story. I want Damen and Laurent to get the HEA so badly.

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Review: The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1), by Skye Warren

The King (Masterpiece Duet, #1)The King by Skye Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been dying to get my hands on Damon Scott’s story ever since he was introduced in ‘The Pawn’. He was just so sexy and dangerous that I couldn’t help but be drawn to his character. At the same time, it was clear that he wasn’t entirely “bad”. He had an underlying protective, even kind, nature that would sometimes shine through. When Penny was later introduced, the obvious tension and history between the two piqued my interests even more. I had to have this book.

Thankfully, I can say that this book did not disappoint. The Damon and Penny’s story was absolutely captivating. It was a story of youthful innocence against the backdrop of the city’s gritty criminal underbelly. It was also a story of innocence lost, addiction, betrayal and other unspeakable acts. There were so many facets of this story and I loved every single one.

Penny first meets Damon when she is a young girl. Living on the streets to try and escape his crazy father, a teenaged Damon grows fond of the bold little girl from the trailer park near the woods where he was camped. Left on their own as Penny’s father leaves her for days at a time to feed his gambling addiction, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. In many ways, Damon becomes an older brother type of figure in her life, although it is apparent that some of his feelings aren’t very brotherly.

Eventually, the two lose contact, but neither one forgets about the other. Penny grows into a teenager, struggling to make ends meet while her father continues to gamble away every bit of her money that she earned waiting tables. Meanwhile, Damon rises up from the back alleys to become a king of sorts in the criminal underground, his power surpassing even his own father’s.

When Penny’s father’s addiction places her in grave danger again, she finds herself in the crosshairs of Jonathan Scott. Knowing that his son cares about Penny only makes her an irresistible temptation for Damon’s deranged father. While Damon works hard to try and free Penny from the situation that her own father placed her in, Jonathan Scott sets out to harm Damon and he plans to use Penny as the tool to do so.

If you’ve read the ‘Endgame’ series, then you’re already aware of the outcome for Jonathan Scott and the state that Penny was left in. This book provides the backstory that was not provided in that series. It details the events leading up to Penny’s horrible attack and provides far more details about the events that followed. Some of the timeline overlaps with the ‘Endgame’ series, but most of it does not.

This book leaves off with a lot of questions unanswered, which is no big surprise since there is another book expected in this series. I am dying to see how Damon and Penny will move forward. I’m not even humoring the thought that they won’t be moving forward together at this point. It just isn’t going to happen. No way!

I will certainly be reading the next book as soon as it is released. There is no way that I would miss it. If you are a fan of the ‘Endgame’ series, you don’t want to miss this spin-off series. If you haven’t read the ‘Endgame’ series, I would recommend that you start there. You could certainly read this series as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the backstory and details that are provided in that series. They’re both wonderful though, so enjoy!

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Review: Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen, #5), by Tillie Cole

Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen, #5)Damnable Grace by Tillie Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like all of the ‘Hades Hangmen’ books, ‘Damnable Grace’ is one that will rip your heart out. This series definitely tackles some offensive and upsetting content. It is not a series that will appeal to many readers because of the tough subject matter.

If you’re like me, and love dark books that push your limits and make you cringe, then ‘Damnable Grace’ is a great one. The fifth book in the series, it centers on Phebe and AK. If you’ve followed this series, you’ll remember AK as the “leader” of the psycho trio. You might also remember Phebe as the beautiful mistress of the “false” prophet who was cast aside for his new, younger mistress.

Phebe had been trained from a very young age to lure men into the cult with sex. She was trained to be a “Sacred Sister”, one of the girls sent out by the cult to recruit, or “fish”, for new male members. She was prized for her sexual allure and was considered to be the best of all the girls. She is used to men using her for their sexual pleasure and has never been valued for anything else. A devout believer, she has only recently begun to question the cult teachings.

When Phebe is sold by Rider’s brother, the “false prophet”, to a leader in the Aryan Brotherhood, Meister, she is in for more suffering than she could have imagined. Meister has been obsessed with Phebe from the first time that he saw her and his cruelty knows no bounds. At his hands, Phebe will endure unthinkable acts and will be left scarred, both physically and emotionally.

AK has not forgotten the beautiful woman that he left behind after the Hangmen raided the cult commune. When he and a few of his brothers are sent in to rescue Phebe from the Aryan Brotherhood’s compound, it was worse than anything that he could have imagined. The heinous abuse taking place at that compound were unthinkable. It was all he could do to maintain composure until he could get Phebe out of there.

In the weeks that followed, both Phebe and AK must come to terms with their pasts. Both have survived cruelty and tragedy. Each of them lives with loss and guilt. These two had a long road ahead of them, but they helped one another heal and face their pasts. Their story was tragic and messy, but beautiful.

It had been quite a while since I’d submersed myself in the world of the Hades Hangmen. So, I was worried that I wouldn’t remember all of the relevant details from the previous books. However, my concerns were completely unwarranted. Ms. Cole provided plenty of reminders throughout to keep me abreast of what was going on and what had passed.

While every Hades Hangmen book has made me cringe at times, none did so more than this one. It was absolutely brutal at times. Child abuse, rape, extreme sexual violence, murder…there was no shortage of depravity in this book.

Of all of the books in this series, I have to say that this one is my least favorite to this point. I enjoyed AK and Phebe’s story, but I wasn’t completely consumed with it like I have been with other books in this series. Even so, it was still a great book.

If you enjoy, dark and gritty stories, I highly recommend this series. Each of these characters has carved out a piece of my heart. They aren’t easy books to read, but they are well worth it.

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Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedI Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the title, this book focuses on a very disturbing topic – child abuse. Unfortunately, the forced marriage of young girls to older men is an all too common occurrence in many areas of the world. Nujood is only one such victim. This book tells her story.

Essentially sold by her deadbeat father to a man more than three times her age, Nujood’s childhood comes to an abrupt end. At ten years old, she is repeatedly beaten and raped by her new husband. She is also moved to a remote village where she further isolated from anyone that might be able to help her.

Eventually, she is able to go to visit family in the city. After her own parents fail to help her, she is able to get some guidance from one of her father’s other wives. Then, this incredibly brave little girl sets out for the courthouse to ask for a divorce.

I could not get over how courageous this ten year-old little girl had to be. What she did would be intimidating in any country, much less in a country where women are extremely oppressed and viewed as property. Yet, this little girl was brave enough to walk into a courthouse and demand to see a judge and ask for a divorce. I was in awe of this young girl.

Thankfully, the judges decide to take up Nujood’s cause. She is given a “safe haven” of sorts while the case is brought before the court. Since Nujood was younger than the legal age for marriage in Yemen, her father and husband were brought up on charges.

From there on out, the court proceedings turned into a bit of a circus. Nujood’s case made international news and she became a sort of poster-child for women’s rights and child abuse organizations. Meanwhile, her father and husband alternated between placing blame on the other and trying to plead ignorance and innocence on their own part. It was pathetic.

Eventually, the men responsible paid a small fine and Nujood was granted her divorce. While the divorce was unheard of and paved the way for other young girls in the Middle East to speak out, the forced marriage of young girls is still a huge problem. Of course, that is only one manifestation of a much larger problem. Nonetheless, in a place where women and children have virtually no rights, this was a remarkable case.

From start to finish, I was taken in by Nujood’s story. My heart broke for this young girl, who was the same age as my oldest daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine maltreatment that girls like Nujood are forced to endure. Once again, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in a region of the world where women have rights. As the mother of two young girls, this is something that is never far from my mind.

Although this didn’t prove to be the in-depth expose that I had hoped for, it was definitely a worthwhile read. At less than 200 pages, or around 2 hours of listening time, Nujood’s story serves to raise awareness of a very important topic. While this isn’t the type of story that you read for enjoyment, it is the type that you read for enlightenment. It is painful, but necessary to read stories like Nujood’s.

I won’t pretend that everything worked out like I would’ve liked. The granting of her divorce was only one triumph, in a world of defeats for women. Nujood was ultimately returned to the very person that sold her in the first place. Where is the logic in that? I can’t help but wonder where Nujood is now, nine years later. I can’t help but wonder if her notoriety has turned her into a cash cow for the very father that shared responsibility for her abuse in the first place.

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Review: Dishonorable, by Natasha Knight

DishonorableDishonorable by Natasha Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading the blurb for ‘Dishonorable’, I was sure that this would be a dark, twisted and disturbing story. In other words, I thought that this would be just what I needed to satiate my thirst for depravity. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that front for me. It was the type of story that plays with the idea of darkness, without really ever crossing the line into truly “dark” territory. Don’t get me wrong, it was great. It just wasn’t what I thought I was going to get.

The heroine, Sofia Guardia, is essentially forced into marriage with Raphael Amado. Her grandfather wronged him in some terrible way and Raphael has demanded Sofia as repayment. Sounds twisted, right? Well…kind of.

While Raphael’s intentions were certainly bad, he wasn’t the monster that I had imagined – hoped for – in my depraved mind. You see, he was pretty much after her inheritance and not necessarily her. For many readers, I’m sure this will be a positive turn of events. However, it was pretty disappointing.

Of course, in time, Sofia and Raphael’s relationship grows more intimate. From the start, the chemistry between the two is pretty intense. Their initial interactions are heated, to say the least. However, they soon reach a middle ground. Eventually, flirtation becomes more.

Although I didn’t find the dark read that I was craving, I couldn’t deny the appeal of this story. Raphael was such a damaged hero and he grew on me. While Sofia might have been young, I found her to be admirable and mature for her age. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the idea of this couple.

The supporting characters were well-crafted and interesting. They breathed life into the story, while not stealing the spotlight. Raphael’s brother, proved to be especially endearing to me.

This book had a little of everything. It had romance, without being syrupy. It had plenty of danger and an aura of darkness, even if it never really turned “dark”. There was a feeling of impending doom that seemed to lurk in the background for most of the book, serving to keep readers on edge.

Overall, this was a great story. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the dark romance that I had anticipated, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I love an a$$hole that ends up being redeemable. The worse they are, the more I love them. Raphael certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard.

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Review: Disfigured Love, by Georgia Le Carre

Disfigured LoveDisfigured Love by Georgia Le Carre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I love a great, dark story, ‘Disfigured Love’ ended up being a disappointment for me. It definitely had plenty of “dark” content, but it failed to trigger much of an emotional response. I never felt a strong connection to the main characters and the heroine’s reactions seemed forced.

Lena Seagull grows up in an extremely abusive household in Russia. Her father is a real bastard and her mother is the embodiment of Battered Wife Syndrome. For years he abuses everyone in the household, until he decides to begin selling off his children one by one. Meanwhile, the mother is paralyzed with fear and does absolutely nothing to prevent this.

When Lena’s father sells her to the human traffickers, she is sold in an online auction. Guy Hawke is the wealthy man that purchases Lena. Although he struggles internally with the idea of buying a girl, his conscience is not powerful enough to make him do the right thing. He knows that what he’s doing is horrible, but he doesn’t care. He wants Lena and he will force her to submit to him.

Guy wastes no time in abusing his new toy. He viciously and repeatedly rapes her. Lena, surprisingly, seems to take it all in stride. Honestly, it was so unbelievable that it was laughable.

All the while, he wears a mask, or blindfolds her, when they are together so that she cannot see his disfigured face. Of course, Guy has a tragic past that has left him emotionally scarred and is supposed to somehow excuse his behavior. Again, it was just too convenient and felt contrived. I didn’t buy it.

Following the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ storyline, the two end up falling in love. No big shocker there! When Lena discovers his big secret, this results in a big misunderstanding. Guy “sets her free”, but really he just tosses her out like a piece of trash.

In the end, they find their way back to each other. The misunderstanding is cleared up. They go on to live out the HEA. Cue the eye roll.

Overall, I give it 2 1/2 stars. It wasn’t the worst I’ve read, but it left a LOT to be desired. Mostly, it was just underwhelming. As a huge fan of darker reads, I actually liked the fact that the author wasn’t afraid to write about controversial topics, like abuse, in graphic detail. However, the appeal in a dark read is in the emotional response that it elicits. This book failed to do that.

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Review: The Knight (Endgame, #2), by Skye Warren

The KnightThe Knight by Skye Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

***I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for honest feedback.***

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see an ARC land on my shelf! When ‘The Knight’ showed up, I did a happy dance and squealed like a preteen girl! I just had to know where things would go between Avery and Gabriel. I dropped everything and dived right in to this book.

Picking up where ‘The Pawn’ left off, Avery is heartbroken and destitute. She is living in a rundown motel on the bad side of town, where her sleepless nights are spent listening to the prostitute next door service her many Johns. She is definitely at a low point in her life.

The only thing that seems to be spurring her on is her fury. Avery is determined to get her mother’s house back, even if that means going up against Gabriel. She refuses to let him get the best of her again.

Luckily for me, Avery is not quite as resolute in her decision to ward off Gabriel. The two cannot seem to resist one another, regardless of the pain and heartache that is bound to follow. Although they have fewer interactions in this book than they did in ‘The Pawn’, their electric connection is still there and every bit as strong.

If I thought that Gabriel’s motivations were unclear in the first book, they prove to be even more elusive in ‘The Knight’. For most of this book, he was outright cruel and callous in his treatment of Avery. I spent a fair amount of time questioning whether he every really cared about Avery, or if he really did only see her as a tool for his revenge. Not knowing kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this book.

Supporting characters, such as Avery’s best friend and her ex-fiancé, return in ‘The Knight’ and play a more pivotal role in the story. Likewise, a couple of new characters are introduced that have me intrigued. I’m very curious to see if they will get their own books later on, down the road. I’d love to hear more of their stories.

Avery’s mother also plays a more central role in this book. It becomes clear that there is far more of her story to be unveiled. The circumstances of her life and death are very mysterious. I am sure that this enchanting woman’s story will be utterly captivating. I am hopeful that her story will be told in the next book of this series.

Like ‘The Pawn’, this book does end with a bit of an upset. ‘The Knight’ answers all of my questions about Gabriel and Avery, only to plant new seeds of doubt about her mother and the source of the danger that follows Avery. I don’t want to give too much away, but you will want the next book immediately.

I can not get enough of this series! I am 100%, completely addicted. If you like suspenseful, angsty and emotionally-charged romances with a bit of darkness, I highly recommend this series.

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Review: The Pawn (Endgame, #1), by Skye Warren

The Pawn (Endgame #1)The Pawn by Skye Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has wrecked me. It completely blew my mind. I am a total mess, suffering from the book hangover that this one left me with. Wow…just wow!

I have read several of Skye Warren’s books. Some of them have been great. Some have been okay. Others have been a miss for me. This book is by far the best book that Skye Warren has released to date, in my opinion. You do not want to miss this one.

As you can gather from the blurb, Avery James puts her virginity up for auction. Gabriel Miller is the man that buys her. He isn’t a nice guy. He is responsible for the downfall of her father and Avery’s current dire financial situation.

In more ways than one, Avery has to pay for the sins of her father. Her father was convicted of fraud and embezzlement. Gabriel Miller was one of his alleged victims and the man that brought her father to justice. Now he’s seeking vengeance.

When I read the blurb, I thought this would be like a thousand others. I was wrong. Avery’s plight pulled me in and held me tight. I didn’t expect to feel the raw emotion that I did or care much, but I did. This book brought me to my knees!

I won’t spoil the ending, but I have to say that I wasn’t prepared for it. Although a part of me expected it, I was in no way ready to deal with the fallout. I have so many questions. I’m enraged, devastated and completely addicted to this series.

I would kill to have an ARC of the second book. This is going to be one of those waits that is unbearable. I must know where this story goes. I need the next book. Thankfully, it is due to be released in a few weeks time. I think I’d go out of my mind if I had to wait much longer.

Read this book.

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Review: Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1 (The Devil’s Own, #3), by Amo Jones

Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1Razing Grace: Razing Grace Part 1 by Amo Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow! Where do I even start with this one? As my friend Alicia said, this book was a hot mess.

I told myself I would read this one last book in ‘The Devil’s Own’ series, since I was so curious about how things worked out for Millie at the end of book two. This author has a way of hooking me with an ending that leaves me wanting more…even after reading a book that is mediocre, at best. It is quite incredible really.

Not this time though. Despite the huge cliffhanger at the end of this book that left me with unanswered questions and a mild curiosity, I refused to get sucked back in again. I’m hanging it up!

If you’ve read ‘Hellraiser’, then you know that Melissa’s sister, Millie, has been kidnapped by The Army. That is where this book picks up. Sweet Millie, the nun, is being held captive. She doesn’t know why they want her, or to what end, but she adjusts to her captivity pretty quickly.

Tripp, aka Raze, aka Executioner, aka 000, is in charge of “breaking’ her, along with five or six of his Army friends. Every day they show up wearing their assigned Halloween mask and torment Millie…with pleasure, of course! Yes, Millie has been abducted by assassin/gigilos who aim to please!

Tripp allows his friends, at multiple points in the story, to use and molest Millie. Yet, despite that, we’re supposed to believe that he has some sort of protective, possessive claim on her. Say what? It just didn’t ring true to me.

Top that off with the fact that he takes Millie to his house, only to have her cohabitate with his “two” girlfriends. Wow! That’s romantic. What a stand-up guy! He actually flaunts his sex with his play thing in front of Millie’s face at every opportunity. Can you say, true love?

Believe it or not, I could actually overlook some of that. I’m that disturbed individual that loves an asshole in my stories. As long as he grovels, I can forgive just about anything. In fact, the more horrible he is, the better! I love a hero that can rip my heart out and then has to spend some time atoning for his sins.

What I couldn’t overlook were the plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon…or the obvious lack of basic research…or the ridiculous, over-the-top scenarios. For example, the setting is in the Las Vegas area. At one point, Millie is looking out the window at Tripp’s yard. She describes the green grass and trees that don’t require landscaping. It’s been a few years since I went to Vegas, but grass and deciduous trees are not part of the natural topography. Just sayin’. Sandbox is more like it, dotted with mesquite bushes and cacti.

The lack of attention to detail was apparent throughout the book. Tripp and Millie’s first sex scene was one of the worst. Her hands were handcuffed behind her back…you know, above her ass. Then, while cuffed, he stands her up, bends her over and tells her to grab her ankles. Even worse, the author acknowledges that her hands are cuffed and tries to somehow explain that “I didn’t realize just how flexible I am until my fingers are wrapping around my ankles with ease”. That I’d love to see! Did she dislocate both shoulders and swing them around over her head?

Perhaps the biggest plot hole is the fact that all of the events in the preceding book were completely ignored. It was as if Tripp and his buddies didn’t beat Millie’s sister nearly to death when they kidnapped Millie. Nope. It is like it never even happened.

In fact, when Tripp requests a meeting with The Devil’s Own members, they are happy to oblige. No hard feelings. Not even a mention of the fact that he had put Hella’s old lady into a coma. It was like they were all one big, happy, criminal family. I couldn’t believe how absurd it was!

Like the earlier books in the series, this one ends in a manner that has made me wonder what is going to happen next. However, I refused to get sucked in again. I’m not spending any more money or time on this series.

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