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An Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews 12th November 2017
An Ex for Christmas by Lauren LayneAn Ex for Christmas by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #5
Published by Loveswept on November 7th 2017
Pages: 218
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two-stars

When a psychic tells spunky, superstitious Kelly Byrne that she’s already met her true love, she becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking him down before Christmas. Kelly immediately writes up an “Ex List” and starts contacting old boyfriends to figure out which one is the one. When her college sweetheart rolls into town, Kelly convinces herself that they’re meant to be. The trouble is, sparks are flying with someone she’s never given a chance: her best friend, Mark.

Mark Blakely has watched the guys on Kelly’s list break her heart, and he’s not looking forward to watching them do it all over again. Mark’s always been there for her, but the timing’s never worked out for their relationship to be something more. Now, just as Mark is ready to move on, the sexual tension between them is suddenly off the charts. With Christmas morning around the corner, he just hopes Kelly will wake up and realize that everything she wants has been right in front of her all along.

I’m starting to wonder if Lauren Layne and I should start to part ways. When I’ve loved her earlier works, these days, I’ve taken more and more issues of late with her characters whom I can’t seem to like at all—and my recent lowered ratings of her books might be an unfair attempt to recapture what I’ve felt about her previous books.

The friends-to-lovers (with an unrequited element) romance is one where I tread very, very carefully, because there’re just too many entanglements and questions that tend not to be satisfactorily answered before a typical, teary grovelling session happens just a page or 2 before both parties ride off into the sunset. Romantic-comedy or not, I do like my couples evenly-paired emotionally at the very least, which means that I do need to see, while reading the romance genre, that both are on the same page when it comes to their feelings for each other, rather than a protagonist hankering after another for an extended period of time, then having the other playing catch up only in the last few pages. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

“An Ex for Christmas” was just that for me, though I was under the impression that it was more of a timing-not-right sort of thing for them, instead of one where an obtuse woman stomps on a man’s heart unknowingly.

For want of a better way of putting things, Kelly seemed to bring out the latent violent tendencies in me as I found myself caught between wanting to smack her and throwing a chair at her for her steadfast refusal to see how much she’d put Mark in the friend zone. Kelly’s perky obliviousness and inability to recognise what was in front of her all along—while flaunting the plan to dates ALL of her ex-es in front of the guy who’s always loved her—was not just cringeworthy, but thoughtless and stupid, considering this came off some screwed-up, superstitious conclusion based on an old woman’s prediction.

In fact, I felt so bad for Mark and actually wished he found someone else other than a woman who’d never seemed to return his feelings beyond platonic friendship. I thought he deserved better instead of Kelly’s ‘sudden’ realisation that she ‘thought she loved’ him despite him going to bat for her—the obstinate search for her ex-es even though those tanked disastrously proved it sufficiently, and I couldn’t blame him at all for finally wanting to give up while the woman he wanted simply went off doing her own merry thing.

Obviously my sentiments lie in the minority here—unrequited love stories tend to do that for me, particularly with the one who pined for a long time—but exasperation and irritation just got the better of me for this one. So I skimmed, if only for poor Mark, feeling relieved when I got to the end, though not any happier about it still because their love affair all sat wrong with me. Like I said, maybe this is sort of the end of the road for me when it comes to Layne’s stories; never say never though, but I’m going to be taking a wide berth for now.

two-stars

Ready to Run by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 23rd May 2017
Ready to Run by Lauren LayneReady to Run by Lauren Layne
Series: ,
Published by Loveswept, Random House Publishing Group on August 22nd 2017
Pages: 175
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three-stars

Jordan Carpenter thinks she’s finally found the perfect candidate for Jilted, a new dating show about runaway grooms: Luke Elliott, a playboy firefighter who’s left not one but three brides at the altar. The only problem? Luke refuses to answer Jordan’s emails or return her calls. Which is how she ends up on a flight to Montana to recruit him in person. It’s not Manhattan but at least the locals in Lucky Hollow seem friendly . . . except for Luke, who’s more intense—and way hotter—than the slick womanizer Jordan expected.
Eager to put the past behind him, Luke has zero intention of following this gorgeous, fast-talking city girl back to New York. But before he can send her packing, Jordan’s everywhere: at his favorite bar, the county fair, even his exes’ book club. Annoyingly, everyone in Lucky Hollow seems to like her—and deep down, she’s starting to grow on him too. But the more he fights her constant pestering, the more Luke finds himself wishing that Jordan would kick off her high heels and make herself comfortable in his arms.

‘Ready to Run’ is sort of a spinoff take on The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, only that it ups the stakes for the guy in question in a new reality tv series that is touted to get the whole world talking. He has to be a runaway groom (which, by extension, means he’s probably a playboy who truly sweats at commitment) who’s going to find his true love on screen and be tied down as millions of eyes watch.

In this case, Luke Elliott is Jordan Carpenter’s target, and he’s so elusive that she has to fly all the way to a small town in Montana just to pitch her case. It’s a difficult return to small town life for her, though it’s way harder for Luke, whose 3 ‘failed’ altar runs aren’t exactly what they seem at all.

I’ll admit that from the beginning, Lauren Layne’s premise of this particular reality show was, well, a distasteful one to begin with – at least in the way I think of the trashy series that just goes on and on. It’s a shallow, mocking spectacle out of relationships, catering (mostly) to people who want their 15 seconds of fame and aren’t afraid to do anything to get it. But I am sort of at the point where I’ll pick up some books of Layne’s just so I can read the banter as well as some surprisingly heart-stopping moments that she’s known to write.

Consequently, there were parts I liked, and others that I didn’t as I struggled through several scenes. Characterisation was unfortunately, one of those. Luke’s nuanced backstory and his standup nature became clear as the story went on (and as I’d suspected, there was a lot more to those 3 altar failures than met the eye) and it was easy to root for Luke’s HEA, though the town’s methods of going about it were questionable and annoying. That he didn’t want to give an inch to Jordan was, frankly, his right and prerogative and I was glad to see that he stood by his own principles as much as he could.

On the other hand, I found Jordan extremely dislikable, and her intent to sell out Luke’s personal plight made her embodiment of reality tv in all its ugly glory as she canvassed the whole town for his back story when it was clear he didn’t want a thing to do with the show at all. The lack of respect she refused to give Luke as she relentlessly pried into his life was abominable and the many insulating layers that she’d put between herself and Luke made it difficult to think that the ‘connection’ between them was anything but skin deep.

The long and short of it really, is that ‘Ready to Run’ has been a mixed bag for me. Despite my qualms about Jordan, Layne quite nicely wraps up the whole ugly scenario without shortchanging either protagonist in a way that leaves you unsatisfied. That Luke and Jordan can walk into their sunset by the time the epilogue rolls around is quite the restoration of my tentative faith in this series, which I hope can only get better.

three-stars

I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 10th May 2017
I Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren LayneI Knew You Were Trouble by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #4
Published by Loveswept on June 13th 2017
Pages: 193
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three-stars

Taylor Carr has it all—a sleek job in advertising, a stunning Manhattan apartment, and the perfect man to share it with: Bradley Calloway. Even after Bradley dumps her for a co-worker on move-in day, Taylor isn’t worried. She’ll get her man eventually. In the meantime, she needs a new roommate. Enter Nick Ballantine, career bartender, freelance writer—and longtime pain in Taylor’s ass. Sexy in a permanent five-o’clock-shadow kind of way, Nick knows how to push Taylor’s buttons, as if he could see right through to the real her.
Nick’s always trying to fix people, and nobody could use a good fixing more than Taylor. Sure, she’s gorgeous, with mesmerizing silver eyes, but it’s her vulnerability that kills him. Now that they’re shacking up together, the chemistry is out of control. Soon they’re putting every part of their two-bedroom apartment to good use. Then Taylor’s ex comes crawling back to her, and Nick figures she’ll jump at the chance to go back to her old life—unless he fights for the best thing that ever happened to him.

Lauren Layne takes on the enemies-to-lovers trope in the latest installment of the Oxford series, and after Lincoln’s heartbreaking story in the last one, the tone and setting of “I knew you were trouble” does come as a bit of a shock. Layne pits Nick Ballantine against Taylor Carr whom we saw in the last book as characters who hate each other for unexplained reasons but finally makes it clear here it’s not as simple as hating each other’s guts from the start. It’s instead, something that has festered over a period of a year as Nick and Taylor grew into their dislike for each other. Bad timing, lost chances and poor choices with far-reaching consequences merely exacerbated what could have been a much less antagonistic relationship as I wondered if they could ever resolve things between them despite the mutual attraction both had for each other.

I found my sympathies between Nick and Taylor shifting so frequently that it was difficult to decide whether I could really go for them as a couple. For a fair bit of the story, they used each other’s weaknesses against each other and that made it difficult to separate the fine line between love and hate simply because they couldn’t plainly say what they wanted without being snippy about it. There were times I was horrified that Nick used his words to eviscerate Taylor when she was hurting, just as much as I couldn’t understand why Taylor allowed the brief rejection from Nick to turn into unmitigated loathing as she held fast to the mantra of never appearing weak to anyone. Their own personal histories have left deep scars on them and as Layne typically writes it, these are the very aspects of themselves that they’ve used to hit each other with the hardest in the final, catastrophic fight before the resolution arrives.

In the end, the games Nick and Taylor played—whether accidentally hostile or not—felt like it simply came down to their inability to communicate plainly and their unwillingness to give themselves the chance that things could turn out both different and better. Throw some respective ex-es (rebound or not) that came into the picture and all I could think was that there was a huge, hot mess that surely had to take more than a peace treaty to untangle.

As far the Oxford series goes, “I knew you were trouble” is the most volatile one that I’ve ever been through. Somehow I emerged from this whole reading experience feeling dazed and whiplashed, still sore from the barbs and the potshots Nick/Taylor had taken at each other, but grateful nonetheless that Lauren Layne always writes an uncompromising HEA.

three-stars

Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews 11th April 2017
Walk of Shame by Lauren LayneWalk of Shame by Lauren Layne
Series: Love Unexpectedly #4
Published by Loveswept on April 18th 2017
Pages: 195
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two-stars

Pampered heiress Georgianna Watkins has a party-girl image to maintain, but all the shopping and clubbing is starting to feel a little bit hollow—and a whole lot lonely. Though Georgie would never admit it, the highlights of her week are the mornings when she comes home at the same time as her uptight, workaholic neighbor is leaving to hit the gym and put in a long day at the office. Teasing him is the most fun Georgie’s had in years—and the fuel for all her naughtiest daydreams.
Celebrity divorce attorney Andrew Mulroney doesn’t have much time for women, especially spoiled tabloid princesses who spend more time on Page Six than at an actual job. Although Georgie’s drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also everything Andrew resents: the type of girl who inherited her penthouse instead of earning it. But after Andrew caps one of their predawn sparring sessions with a surprise kiss—a kiss that’s caught on camera—all of Manhattan is gossiping about whether they’re a real couple. And nobody’s more surprised than Andrew to find that the answer just might be yes.

I haven’t been following Lauren Layne’s ‘Love Unexpectedly’ series, so jumping into ‘Walk of Shame’ because of the intriguing blurb and the hilarious expressions of the models on the cover is probably as good an idea as any to start this book which sounds like a romantic comedy with minimal angst and lots of bumps along the way. A spoiled, rich woman and a hardened, jaded lawyer? Bring it on.

But it’s a story, as I’ve come to realise early on, that people would either love or hate.

I’ll be the first to admit that Georgie Watkins is the kind of character I’d love to hate and it took a long, long while to warm up a little to her: the name-dropping, the airhead monologues (too many chapters were in her POV) and the constant mindless flitting from one meaningless activity to another all told in a mug voice weren’t characteristics I could even force myself to admire in a heroine.

Georgie is like the culmination of every spoiled socialite writ large in all the mean-girl movies and Layne has gotten her down to a science. There’s definitely the effort to show us Georgie’s softer side (she’s kind, caring, concerned for her family and friends) but I think I needed to see something more substantial beyond that. I’d expected to plumb her depths (no pun intended!) given so much of what we see of her is this apparently shallow woman. I’d hoped to see a bit more of an identity shake-up after seeing how Andrew’s own stodgy, awkward personality had changed by the end of the book, which didn’t really happen. In fact, Georgie seemed like someone content to have her head in the clouds, living the only reality she knew, and because Andrew trampled on that vision, he was quickly written off and expected to grovel because she couldn’t be rational about her parents’ divorce.

The long and short of it is that ‘Walk of Shame’ was a personal disappointment. It is definitely a light-hearted read though by the end, I wasn’t convinced about their compatibility (Andrew seemed more amused by her ridiculousness than anything else and in turn, Georgie appeared infatuated with this buttoned-up mystery) and liking the colour red felt like scraping the bottom of the barrel. Layne’s banter and sniping did make the story entertaining, but even after I finished the book, I simply couldn’t see Andrew/Georgie as a couple that would ultimately last.

two-stars

Someone like you by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 24th November 2016
Someone like you by Lauren LayneSomeone like You by Lauren Layne
Series: Oxford #3
Published by Loveswept on December 6th 2016
Pages: 228
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four-stars

Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.
After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.

The premier player of New York hides a painful secret that no one knows. The only friend who seems to understand Lincoln Mathis however, is the unlikeliest of people: the twin of two good friends, who is dealing with her own hurt and fears because her walls and pain parallel his.

Told in an episodic series of parts, ‘Someone like you’ feels like an account of unfolding grief and the unsteady steps taken back into a world that’s suddenly too bright and stunning to take in. It is however, a lot more heart-wrenching and sombre than the rest of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto series and I do think it’s all the better for it actually, because the light-hearted banter would have probably been out of place given the weightier subject matters brought up here.

I’m glad for this chance to know what Lincoln and Daisy had been facing all along, although I had a pretty good guess from the hints already dropped in the previous books. But having some kind of plot premonition doesn’t make the story any easier to read as Lincoln’s uncertainty over his past kept its tight rein on a present that he couldn’t actually quite yet accept. It’s only in the last quarter of the book that the romantic drama really begins and where the attraction and the connection that both Lincoln and Daisy have forged finally kick in. But from here, the journey onwards is rather predictable and somewhat rushed: the usual cut-and-run part which becomes the status quo until someone breaks…and the grovelling begins up until the HEA that’s a mixture of cheesy and sweet.

I liked that their attraction played out over time—through months of grief which slowly but surely turned into attraction and longing—as well as the revelation that Lincoln really isn’t what he seems. In fact, his deep loyalties do make him out to be one of the more prominent (and unusual) romantic leading heroes who acts opposite of the reputation he cultivates in a way that assists him in remaining unavailable. Daisy Sinclair might be his worthy heroine however, although I do in some way, mourn Layne’s original choice of heroine in the form of a mousy copywriter in the first draft of the story. Still, I was absorbed as their stories came together, stuttered to a halt and then came together again in a journey that moved slowly from hopelessness to redemption. With Layne’s very sly insertion of the next pairing as a prelude of things to come, I turned the last page of ‘Someone like You’ already looking out for the next installment in the Oxford series.

four-stars

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 20th September 2016
To Love and to Cherish by Lauren LayneTo Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles, #3
Published by Pocket Books on October 18th 2016
Pages: 320
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three-stars

Alexis Morgan has spent the past eight years devoted to turning her tiny start-up into Manhattan’s premiere wedding planning company, The Wedding Belles. Now that her business is thriving, it’s time to turn towards her much neglected personal life, and Alexis approaches her relationships like she does everything else: with a plan. Not a part of that plan is Logan Harris, the silent partner in the Belles, and the one person who’s been there for her since the very beginning. But Alexis needs someone fun, and Logan’s all business, all the time—except when a late night at the office ends with an unexpected kiss that leaves the usually cool and together Alexis reeling.
Logan has lusted after Alexis since the day he walked into the tiny Harlem apartment that used to double as her office. But the ambitious wedding planner has always been untouchable...until now. Alexis has made it clear that she’s on the dating market—and equally clear that he’s not in the running. But when Alexis finds herself in need of a date for her sister’s last minute wedding in Florida, Logan knows it’s the perfect time to show Alexis that there’s more to him than numbers and spreadsheets—and beneath the pinstripes and glasses lies a hot-blooded heartthrob. As Florida’s sultry days turn into even hotter nights, Logan’s out to convince Alexis that the fling of a lifetime could just maybe turn into forever...

‘To Love and to Cherish’ pretty much explores the longterm consequences of heartbreak—through circumstances no one could have really envisioned—and well…the cowardly behaviour it can incite. And it’s found in the form of Alexis Morgan, whose wedding planning company (ironically a business that puts down how happy-ever-after should begin) has taken the place of relationships and love in her life. The story is a fun, quick read and evidently responsible for taking a few needed hours of sleep away, despite it being an entirely predictable one from the beginning.

Logan Harris has indeed been lusting after Alexis for a long time, and lust is pretty much the term I’d use here rather than love, given that he’s really done nothing but pine from a distance while taking up with other women as he passively waits for her to notice him. Alexis on the other hand, refuses to see him as anything else than her accountant and her silent business partner, but that isn’t because there have been overt, numerous hints thrown her way. Yet for them to declare that they’ve loved each other from the start had me frowning in scepticism, because it seemed more like attraction than anything deeper and an impulsive decision of a ‘recovering student’ to throw in an inheritance behind a business that has yet to get off the ground.

Logan and Alexis, while frustrating at times, do however, seem more sympathetic than the rest of the couples in the Wedding Belles series; their connection as partners and as friends was evident at the start and to make the leap into a relationship didn’t seem an implausible one, even if those years did seem somewhat wasted on nothing happening. I felt for Alexis and her continued reticence, although I did wonder why it took Logan that long to man up and straighten it out when it was clear he needed something drastic for a first move.

There aren’t huge spikes in passion or angsty valleys of depressing lows however, which made for some lull in the storytelling itself but what kept it somewhat interesting is the reversal of roles, where Alexis is finally forced to reexamine her stance on keeping distant from everyone while Logan runs himself to the ground finally trying to make her see him the way he wants.

There’s perhaps some kind of finality to this book with all the belles happily paired off, and ‘To Love and to Cherish’ is a fitting farewell to a series that has frankly left me part lukewarm and somewhat neutral for their predictability. Wedding planners finding their own HEAs—and have those living up to hype of the weddings they plan—might be a little too sugary sweet for my liking but because a few of Lauren Layne’s Oxford and Stiletto books had made her an author to watch out for, I’m still as always, eager to see what else she has up her sleeve.

three-stars

For Better or Worse by Lauren Layne

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 27th July 2016
For Better or Worse by Lauren LayneFor Better or Worse by Lauren Layne
Series: The Wedding Belles #2
Published by Pocket Books on August 30th 2016
Pages: 368
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three-stars

When small-town girl Heather Fowler finally gets promoted from assistant to actual wedding planner, she’s determined to make it as one of Manhattan’s elite Wedding Belles. Unfortunately, her first client demands an opulent black-tie affair at the Plaza…in five months’ time. Heather’s days quickly become a flurry of cake tastings, dress-fittings, RSVP cards, and bridal tantrums. But what she’s really losing sleep over is the live music blaring from her playboy neighbor’s apartment all night.
Five years ago, Josh Tanner was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, complete with the penthouse and the migraines. But a grim cancer diagnosis made him realize there is more to life than the corner office. If only he could convince his pretty, workaholic neighbor to let loose, too. As Heather lets down her guard, Josh is surprised when he starts falling for the sweet, vulnerable woman hiding beneath those power suits. Soon, it’s Heather’s turn to convince Josh to take the biggest risk of all: love.

The wedding frills come again and I got the jitters, but it’s hard to pass up any opportunity to read Lauren Layne.

‘For Better or Worse’ is classic Lauren Layne: urbanite and contemporary, with typical character leads that I’ve come to expect – an apparently easy-going manwhore who grins and jokes while hiding his secrets and a steady lady who has her career prioritised above a relationship. The hookup begins casually as they all do, until someone develops feelings and it all goes to pot.

Yet the titular phrase takes on different meaning once we find out that Josh has been battling cancer and is still too afraid to live life to the fullest. In strongest self-denial mode, he thinks he does with the piss-poor excuse of not wanting to let any woman down while he takes up the mantle of an overgrown fratboy who hooks up indiscriminately while chumming it out with his band buddies. In short, he’s drifting and living without purpose, thinking he’s rocking it – literally – but really isn’t.

There’s some sweetness and depth to this because it delves into what life-threatening illness can do, but beneath it, I did find myself getting bored after a while, because it was, well, predictable. I did guess how it was going to go down – the last-minute bail-out, the grovelling and the big ending – and wasn’t at all surprised when Heather and Josh steamrolled down the aisle by the end of it all.

But if I could say Heather was everything I expected her to be, it was more difficult to like Josh, who pretty much acted like he had the excuse to own the world and stomp on others because he thought he had a reason to – after beating Leukaemia. I tried to rationalise his behaviour – maybe to the point of making excuses for him when he was plain disrespectful and childish – as someone’s extreme reaction to having suffered a life-changing disease and is still battling it, but failed miserably at times. For most of the book, he kept Heather at arm’s length and needless to say, this is the main source of their conflict when it all comes to a head and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the relationship was developed mostly on Heather’s side while Josh mostly enjoyed the physical aspects of it. I must admit that I’d hoped for more maturity all around: that perhaps, working a way forward might have been a better idea after some form of disclosure instead of keeping mum and making the arse-executive decision for everyone concerned that Josh was better off alone. He hadn’t even talked to Heather about the reason why Danica broke up with him and his subsequent illness; the latter was something learned from his mother. Consequently, Josh’s proposal after the pep talk by his twin felt sudden and abrupt and in some ways, a way of making amends because he’d let Heather down. There’s this sobering sense each time a lead character battles major illness, but my sympathy can only extend so far when that sort of character growth spurt happens only in the last 3 chapters.

I didn’t have a hard time getting into the book though; Layne has always been easy reading with a style that makes the pages fly by. I did like the set-up of Alexis and Logan and the camaraderie between the Belles – these seem like minor points however – and would definitely want to know how Alexis/Logan’s story pans out.

three-stars
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