• Member Since 16th May, 2013
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Technical Writer from the U.S.A.'s Deep South. Writes horsewords, and reviews both independently and for Seattle's Angels. New reviews posted every Thursday! Writing Motto: "Go Big or Go Home!"

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New Groups, The Barcast, and Hurricanes (Oh, And Reviews) · 11:10pm Aug 24th, 2017

Got some announcements today, folks. Bear with me, I promise your reviews are on the way.



First, I recently got approached by OnionPie. The OP wants to create a brand new, non-pony group with the singular aim of members helping members get published. Before you get all excited, you’d best hear the rest. This group is looking for people who are dedicated to the goal and who have the time and will to pursue it. The group will be meeting once a week, at which time one member will share some original fiction they wrote. The rest of the members will then have a week to read the material before the next meeting, where they will discuss what they read and make suggestions, provide critique, and brainstorm. All members are expected to participate and be productive writers.

I rather like this concept, and so I agreed to help OnionPie create this group. My actual participation remains questionable, as I’m not sure what commitment I can offer given my current schedule, but I’m more than happy to assist with the endeavor.

Here’s the catch: this is going to be a very small group. To make the process easier to manage and to give everyone a good chance of showing their work, we’re limiting this to only 4-5 members. Everyone who wants in will have to fill out a survey and, if their survey passes muster, take part in a Discord-based interview. Onion and myself will select the final members.

Still interested? Think you’ve got the time and will to not only be published, but help others achieve that goal as well?

The Barcast

Mixed news here. First off, the video blog team The Barcast is going to be interviewing me this weekend! The interview is an open forum where anyone can go to their group forums and ask me a question. Alternatively, you can join us on Discord and ask questions there. This is gonna be a NSFW thing, so you have been warned: the queries might get crazy. I encourage everyone to join us on Saturday, 6PM CST to watch me embarrass myself.

And now we have the caveat, and that caveat is called Hurricane Harvey. It just so happens that I live near Houston and Harvey will definitely be raining on my parade. At the moment Harvey is forecast to be a level 3 hurricane, although I don’t trust the weather forecasters much (these are the same folks who predicted Harvey would fizzle out and not come near Texas at all less than a week ago). Regardless, it’s pretty clear Harvey’s gonna be sitting over my head right when it’s time for the Barcast, and it’s entirely possible I’ll lose certain essential functions like, oh, say, power. So... yeah, we'll just have to wait and see. I'm sure the Barcast crew will be able to make some adjustments if that happens.

Now don't you folks get your knickers in a twist. I'll be fine. It's neither my first nor my worst hurricane. You don't grow up in these parts without learning when to pick up and go (unless you're just ignorant), and this isn't one of those times. I got my nonperishable food items and my water and stuff. Worst thing will be the extreme heat that may come with the power outage, but I doubt that would last more than a few hours if it happens at all.

Alright, enough announcements. Time for reviews!

Stories for This Week:

Shandershears by jmj
Final Lesson by Strife
Gods-in-Law by Pearple Prose
Letters from a Senior to a Junior Changeling by Chris
Your Own Worst Enemy by Distaff Pope
Princess Twilight Sparkle's School for Fantastic Foals by kudzuhaiku
Total Word Count: 545,881

Rating System

Why Haven't You Read These Yet?: 3
Pretty Good: 0
Worth It: 1
Needs Work: 2
None: 0


3,894 Words
By jmj

I was curious to see how this story, apparently inspired by a German folk tale, would hold up as a horror. In it, we find Rarity and Sweetie Bell staying together and neither of them are happy with it. When Sweetie annoys Rarity a bit too much, Rarity decides to get revenge by pulling a prank involving a creature known as Shandershears, which supposedly cuts off the forelegs of ponies who chew their hooves.

The idea is… iffy. I find it hard to believe that Rarity would come up with such a cruel prank without being convinced of it by others. Worse, the things Sweetie does to push Rarity into the action are mundane, pathetic excuses for a motive, especially considering this happens after Sisterhooves Social and Sleepless in Ponyville. The author takes the established relationship of these sisters and cranks it up to unbelievable proportions just to force the story to work. I think jmj would have been much better served using an OC pair of siblings instead of two who are already so well established.

The story also suffers from poor pacing and a lack of atmosphere. It takes more than half the story for our villain to even get mentioned, and by the time the supposed ‘horror’ happens it’s practically over. This might have been okay if the author had spent the story building up atmosphere and tension, but instead it’s just Rarity and Sweetie being mean to one another for no reason.

There’s also the curious mix of too much information and not enough information. The story starts off telly in the extreme:

Sweetie, having been lost in thought and absently chomping away at her hoof, jumped as Rarity startled her. The shock had scared her and she talked out of turn before realizing what she was saying.

You could remove twelve words from that first sentence and the entire second sentence and come out with the same effect. And yet, when it comes time for the big horror scene where we need to get into the mood for horror? This happened and this happened and this happened and this happened…

Last but not least, the author fails to capitalize on the chosen perspective, which shifts between Sweetie and Rarity wildly. I don’t like this style of writing – at all – but I can acknowledge that it has its uses. So why is it that the part that would have been the best at building the story’s atmosphere is told entirely from Rarity’s perspective?

All in all, this one didn’t do anything for me. The lack of atmosphere or buildup makes the majority of the story uninteresting, the final climactic moment is neither surprising nor frightening, and the villain of the piece has absolutely no time to shine. It might have been a worthwhile idea with the right characters and some better attention to the presentation, but as it is? Pass.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Final Lesson

1,067 Words
Strife failed to provide cover art.

This is one of those stories I grabbed on the virtue of it having a very low view count and few votes. We learn, very quickly, that Equestria is caught up in a war against an unnamed foe. We have no idea who is winning, if anyone, or why the war started. Told in the oft-misused journal format, it is Twilight Sparkle’s final letter to Princess Celestia as she is dying from a recent fight.

Speaking of misused, this story exemplifies the problem most writers seem to have with the journal format. Namely, it is entirely impersonal. This isn’t Twilight writing a heartrending goodbye to her beloved mentor as she reflects on the past and future, nor is it any dramatic confession or showing of acceptance. It’s just a bunch of facts, one after the other.

What’s that, you say? Twilight would write in facts because she’s Twilight? Perhaps you missed the part where she’s literally seconds away from bleeding out. Seeing as her death is the penultimate point of this whole story and that death in and of itself is a highly emotional event, I don’t think this is a time for being dull and emotionless.

And again, all she’s doing is reciting facts, namely how the rest of the Mane Six died before her. You don’t stir up a reader’s emotions by saying “Applejack caught an illness and wasted away.” Are the reported events terrible? Sure. Did they stir a thing in me? Nope. Twilight saw these events. It is the author’s responsibility to make sure we see them too.

Ultimately, I am unimpressed. Which is too bad; I’m always hoping to find a properly handled journal-style story. People just can’t seem to figure them out for some reason.

Bookshelf: Needs Work

Well, this didn’t turn out as I anticipated.

Set in an AU where Celestia and Twilight are marefriends, the story begins with them in the midst of a party at Twilight’s parents’ place celebrating their relationship. But as the party moves on, Twilight asks only the most obvious question: does Celestia have parents, and would it be at all possible for her to meet them? The answer, to Celestia’s dismay, is ‘yes’ on both counts.

There were all kinds of routes Pearple Prose could have taken, ranging from the goofy and comedic to the sober and serious. In this case it’s the latter. The story revolves less around the meeting and more around the worldbuilding premise of Celestia’s parents. It is an interesting encounter to say the least, and it makes one wonder about the consequences of their very existence.

That being said, the actual meeting feels as though it could have been so much more. I don’t mean that the meeting itself is poorly done, not at all. It’s just that it takes half of the story to get to what everyone is reading it for, which feels a bit excessive. I suppose it serves the purpose of explaining why they are going – although “Twilight is dating Celestia” seems like reason enough on its own – and it does function to show the drastic differences between Twilight’s parents and Celestia’s parents. Maybe it’s an ignorable offense in light of that, but it stood out to me.

Beyond that, I don't have anything to complain about. Pearple Prose’s interpretation of Celestia’s parents is unexpected and unusual, if not entirely outside the box, and so it makes for some interesting reading. I’m not exactly thrilled by it, but neither am I uninterested, so it stands to reason that it gets a medium rating.

Exploring the wider consequences of this story? That might catch my eye.

Bookshelf: Worth It

I can’t help it. Every time I see that title, I think of a book that came out years ago about a demon supervisor writing letters to his Earth-assigned cousin on the fine points of demon-ing. It makes me smile and want to assign a certain humor to this story that doesn’t fit at all.

This story, however, is far more serious in approach. In it Maxille, the Undersecretary of Sustenance Acquisition, sends letters to her young niece Earwig, providing sage advice and hard lessons about the fine art of infiltration for the purpose of gathering love energy. Sometimes pleased and frequently exasperated by her niece’s bungling efforts, Maxille gives us as clear a picture as we could desire regarding the intricacies of changeling perspectives.

What makes it all so fascinating is how the changelings study the concepts of friendship. They study it with a fanatical devotion, and they understand so much about pony behavior and views, and why not? They need to know how to get love, after all. But for all that study, Maxille demonstrates that changelings don’t actually understand friendship. Not in the literal, textbook definition kind of way, but as a singular culture and race.

This is, I feel, the great strength of this story. It doesn’t try to paint changelings as evil – how can it when the story is being told from their perspective? Neither does it try to suggest that they are just a misunderstood race that could be turned around with proper teaching and a little kind consideration. No, in this world, the changelings are just different. Mentally. Culturally. Biologically. And this difference leads them to ignore the obvious solutions we might conceive for them, such as Thorax’s embracing of friendship or the common refrain of reforming Chrysalis.

Indeed, if Maxille’s final letter is any indication, such measures would be downright impossible.

There’s so much wrapped into this story, things that you might not realize you’re receiving if you’re not paying attention. Matters of culture, of education, of social hierarchy, racial history, biological requirements, and so on. In just a few thousand words, Chris paints an impressively thorough picture that forces one to rethink what their headcanon says about changelings.

For creating a fascinating piece of material that I can’t imagine was easy to put together into such a thorough and flowing manner, this story earns my applause.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

Normally when someone requests I read a sequel to a story I’ve not read yet, my reaction is to read the original first. Something told me that wouldn’t be necessary this time, so I jumped in blind.

In Your Own Worst Enemy, we meet a 17-year-old Sweetie Belle who has spent the last three years as a Bridleway diva with an army of fans. Unfortunately, she also spent that time perpetually high, drunk, in the middle of an orgy, or some combination of the three (now would be a good point to note that this story might be pushing the boundaries of its ‘Teen’ rating). When the pony who kept her afloat all this time disappears, however, Sweetie’s life and career come to a careening halt, almost literally in the former case. Rescued from near death by Princess Luna and Scootaloo, she has to find a way to pick up the pieces and start over from scratch. Which would be hard enough if she didn’t have hallucinations trying to convince her to be a total manipulative bitch.

This story starts off wild (no, seriously, it’s whack) and ends up being a powerful statement regarding the nature of relationships and facing the consequences of our actions. Sweetie battles endlessly with her inner demons as she tries to figure out who she should be and how to make sure what’s left of her existence doesn’t come crashing down. The battle is portrayed in a way that keeps things interesting from beginning to end, at times in tragic ways. As you watch the ever-threatening specter of failure loom over her head, it’s hard not to feel something for her. Sometimes that feeling is revulsion, but the point stands. Like any good recovery story, we are forced to watch our heroine reach the deepest lows and explore the most fake highs before she can find the right path.

Supporting this great characterization is a collection of strong secondary characters ranging from Scootaloo, Rarity, Princess Twilight and Princess Luna, plus a few lesser knowns that dance around the story. I wish we could have met the real Bright Lights instead of the one always in Sweetie’s head, but maybe that happens in one of the other stories in this AU. Regardless, they all have their flaws and personal battles, none more so than Scootaloo as she struggles to understand Sweetie’s warped concept of love.

Indeed, Sweetie’s comprehension of love struck me as one of the more fundamental problems with this story. The fact that she knows her understanding is flawed only goes to show how fractured her mind really is.

Ah, but I’m probably making this sound like a nonstop ball of angst and pain. Rest assured, this story is painful to watch, almost like a train wreck. But unlike so many stories out there, this one serves a purpose, and that purpose makes the final conflict of the story shine brilliantly. It might not be the ending you want, but it is still a good ending, one that I am very happy with.

Granted, the story does have some issues. Sometimes it felt as though the dialogue could have used some work, or perhaps the support structure around said dialogue. There were times when a conversation was shifting tones, going from calm to angry to sad to calm again… or at least I think they were. It was hard to tell based on what was said alone, and the Pope didn’t bother to give us any clues beyond them.

Take one instance where Sweetie is rushing to tell Twilight that something really bad is about to happen. Sweetie was fine, but Twilight? No idea. It read as if she were talking about the sun being bright or water being wet. Was she excited? Scared? Confused? Bored? We had no way of knowing. It happened more than a few times (the climax in particular suffered from this).

And… to be frank, that was my greatest nitpick. There is some big Rarity thing that gets brought up, and it didn’t bother me at all, but I can see some people being turned off by it. Alas, I can’t describe it because that would be a big spoiler, but it warrants mention.

I should also point out that there are a lot of things referenced that may have happened in other stories. The good news is that those references are told in such a way that I don’t feel as though I’m missing anything by not having read the prior story. In fact, I’m pleased with how Distaff Pope handled this, as it gives us just enough information to let us proceed with minimal hangups and confusion. This is a critical aspect of the overall story, as the climax hinges on these past events we’ve not been privy to. Making all of that work without having to go into exposition or saying “you must read the prior story to get it” is pretty impressive.

Your Own Worst Enemy ends up being a wonderful but dark story about rebuilding a life, facing one’s own evils, and the nature of love and relationships. It sends a powerful message and doesn’t pull any punches to get there. It is emotional in spite of some trouble spots, well paced for its length, brimming with interesting (and highly flawed) characters, and rewards the reader’s patience with a wonderful epiphany for our troubled protagonist. This definitely deserves a high placement in my bookshelves, and I will be reading the prior story for the sake of a bigger picture.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

“Hey, you know what’s popular? Harry Potter. I wanna do a Harry Potter fic.”

“With the school and everything? Cool.”

“But wait, Harry Potter’s already been done! How do I redo it and make it interesting?”

“Well, you could make your own world, give it colorful characters and interesting—”



“Harry was, like, 11 in the first book, right? Obviously, people love it when inconceivably young characters are put in deadly situations they probably wouldn’t survive in any realistically dangerous situation. It, like, emphasizes the escapism. Or something. So I’ll make my main character even younger than Harry Potter. Like, five! And the people will eat it up!”

“...that might be the dumbest line of logic I’ve ever heard.”

“Is it dumb,or is it genious?”

And with that, the world of Sumac Apple was born. Or so I figure.

Anyhow, Princess Twilight Sparkle’s School for Fantastic Foals has practically nothing to do with the titular school and everything to do with five-year-old Sumac, offspring of the now-imprisoned Flam, proud member of the Apple Family, and Trixie’s beloved adopted son. Sumac is incredibly smart for his age, has some extremely unique and valuable magical abilities, and is beginning his first year at Twilight’s school in Ponyville. While there he makes friends, gains at least one arch-nemesis (to celebrate!), learns a lot about life and adults and magic, but ultimately just tries to be a colt. Alas, the ‘enemy’ makes that last part a bit difficult.

I have to point out my favorite thing about this story, and that is Sumac’s character and the author’s great handling of it. We’ve already established that Sumac is a very smart five-year-old, but one of the greatest challenges of any writer trying to depict this character type (from one who knows) is finding a way to mix that intelligence with the mentality of the given age. I dare to say that kudzuhaiku has achieved that balance, and it makes for some entertaining reading. Sumac has all the typical little colt problems, from not understanding adult views to not liking fillies (openly, at least) to recognizing the inherent evil that is a bath. At the same time, he’s smart enough to recognize something serious and in need of further consideration, such as battles, dangerous magic, and the concepts of family and friendship. Best of all, Sumac regularly finds himself facing big-pony topics that he just doesn’t understand, no matter how smart he is.

And this is the thing that kept me reading this story for all 124 chapters; at no point did I feel Sumac wasn’t a five-year-old unicorn colt with an interesting life. I never questioned his age, never thought he was being too smart, never thought his manner of looking at things didn’t fit. In the last three years, I’ve seen this done terribly, poorly, somewhat poorly, and at least acceptably (and these include my own writings), but never have I seen it done in a way that I would wholeheartedly endorse as right.

Until now.

There are other nice aspects to this story. The plot direction is particularly nice. kudzuhaiku made no attempt to put Sumac in the middle of every little thing that happens; he’s not sneaking around corners to listen into adult conversations or going off on seemingly suicidal solo missions under the adults’ muzzles. No, he’s just a regular colt with some highly irregular abilities, wanting to do the right thing and trying to stay out of trouble. So when you learn that all of Equestria is up against a long-imprisoned evil force that has armies and is trying to get ancient artifacts of doom and the Princesses are constantly struggling to keep places like Ponyville safe, it comes as a bit of a surprise.

And why shouldn’t it? Sumac is just a colt. He doesn’t need to be there for all the big, grown-up meetings that don’t concern him. So when big events suddenly turn up out of the blue – an attack on Ponyville, a royal wedding, etc. – it feels more realistic, because our information is limited by the awareness funnel that is Sumac. I love this approach and have nothing but praise for its ability to jar, excite, frighten and fascinate.

Oh, and just because Sumac’s five, that doesn’t mean the dangers have been kiddified. Ponies can and will get hurt in this story, sometimes badly. Sumac and his friends are not immune to this treatment.

Speaking of friends, Sumac’s include an interesting cast of characters painted in unexpected lighting. From Pebble Pie – the struggling daughter of Maud trying to understand her place in her family and life – to the axe-wielding Twinkleshine – who has a lot of trouble being the tank class of the party when her motherly instincts are going crazy around little Sumac Apple. There’s no shortage of characters to appreciate and grow to like. Trixie’s constant mothering affection in the face of fears of a relapse, Twilight’s ceaseless struggle to be fair to Sumac and protect him at the same time, even Discord’s love of Sumac’s naturally chaotic abilities make for some delightful reading.

Then we have the worldbuilding, which reaches far with interpretations of the natural behaviors of the pony races (Turns out being a manipulative worrywart is an inherent alicorn trait. Who knew?), character genealogical backgrounds, links to previous MLP incarnations, rules for magical development, racial cultures and so much more. Better yet, none of it is spoon-fed to the reader in lengthy extrapolations and 1,000-word glossary entries; it comes as we need it, when we need it, without ever interrupting the story’s flow or the ongoing topic of the moment. Take note, people.

The author also dares to do some things that I imagine a lot wouldn’t expect. For example, polygamy is not only a thing in this universe, it is openly practiced by royalty. While it can alarm and surprise people, it also makes for an excellent way of showing the reader that we really are in a different world, one where the normal way things are viewed isn’t exactly what we know. Come to think of it, I think many readers will be more offended by the knowledge that their pony wives are being stolen by multiple characters at once than the whole polygamy thing, but still.

Ah, and here come the issues. The first thing I’ll note is that kudzuhaiku still suffers from a bad case of the tellies. We’re saddled with a lot of narrative descriptions that do little to show us what a character is feeling. To be fair, I was okay with this in a lot of instances, because the author blends that telly nature with plenty of physical cues too. It strikes me that kudzuhaiku is attempting to find a balance, and while I think he may have slipped too far one way or another on several occasions, it wasn’t enough on the whole to hurt the story for me. The show vs. tell bible beaters, however, are likely to be disgusted.

The only other issue I had stems directly from the ‘realism’ slant I was praising earlier. Simply put, there is no ending here. Oh, yes, the story ends, and the ending comes with a rather disturbing two-chapter story arc. But here’s the thing; you have no idea the story is ending. I hit the last sentence of chapter 124 and immediately thought “Hey, where’s the ‘next chapter’ button?”

In this area, kudzuhaiku took the ‘realism’ slant too far, forsaking rising action, climax and resolution entirely for it. We are left with a plethora of questions, doubts, fears and blanks. While it’s okay to leave some things wide open for the inevitable sequel, I strongly believe kudzuhaiku left us with far too many under the circumstances. If anything, it feels as if the author stopped the story based purely on a fear that if the wordcount got too high nobody would pick it up to start with.

Still, if you ignore this blatant lack of plot directing and the somewhat telly style of writing, you come away with a story that does a great many things well. It’s fun, amusing, exciting, suspenseful, and full of endearing characters and memorable moments. I’ve come to really like the characters, and I have every intention of seeing what becomes of them as the ‘enemy’ grows closer. I like the style of the plot’s development even as I don’t care for the author’s ‘come what may’ approach it may be dependent upon, and the worldbulding never ceases to be interesting.

Simply put, this is one of the better stories I’ve read on this site, flaws included. I’m happy to prop it up on my highest bookshelf.

Bookshelf: Why Haven’t You Read These Yet?

Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXX
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXI
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXII
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXIII
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXIV
You Are Here
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXV
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXVI
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXVII
Paul's, uh, Friday Reviews?
Paul's Thursday Reviews LXXXVIII

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Comments ( 14 )

Good luck with the storm; we're hunkered down here, too.

Huh, reading Your Own Worst Enemy before Unbearable Lightness feels really odd to me, since they really are two halves to one story. Unbearable Lightness is the story of Sweetie's fall from grace, and YOWE is her trying to climb back up. Without the former, it's really hard to get just how bad Sweetie's fall was.

Diamond in the Stars is one of my favorite romance fics, and the one thing that apparently turned a lot of people off was the reveal that you already know is coming, so maybe it's good you know it going in.

Also, I'm still surprised that Letters doesn't have a crossover tag, considering that it's basically a ponification of The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. Seeing how Chris manages to adapt the very Christian story into the pony world adds a whole other layer of complexity and finesse to an already great story.


Yeah, that was my fault. I read the first chapter out of curiosity and immediately got hooked. And then I recommended it to Paul. Later, I tried picking up Unbearable Lightness, but it didn't draw me in in the same manner, probably due to the lack of meaningful conflict to start.

Sigh. I wish I had time to get into the group. It seems like the older I get, the more busy I am. By the time I retire, I'll be booked solid until I'm dead.

I live near Corpus Christi, Paul. I get your worry, but I think it's gonna wear itself out on our shore for the most part.

I keep hearing about hurricanes, I hope everyone gets through okay. :applecry: Also, some questions about this writing group: Is there a certain age requirement? So, we're supposed to conceptualize, plan, write, edit, and bring a story in a week!? Also, Discord? :unsuresweetie:

We haven't set an age requirement. And no, you wouldn't have to bring in a new story every week, just content from a story, preferably a novel. Could be a chapter or several chapters. We'd focus on critiquing one member's work every week, so we'd only get around to yours roughly once per month. Discord is a text and voice chat program similar to Skype.

Thanks! A few more questions: Is this a physical or online meeting? And when do the meetings start? :duck:

Online meetings. On Discord. Meetings start after we have four or five members. Currently we only have two.

Regardless, I'm still very interested in seeing that first half. Maybe it'll mean something more to me with the awareness of where it's going.

The Screwtape Letters? I do not know these. Will be looking up.

I don't mind. Enemy was a great read even without knowing the past events.

I know the feeling. I'm still not 100% certain I'll be an active member of the group, although ATM it seems likely. But even if I don't become an active participant, I may end up serving in a peripheral manner as datakeeper.

Who's worried? I live far enough away that my only real fear is flooding in my workplace, and if it comes to that I can just work from home. But my apartment complex is known for brief power outages even in good weather, so I'm not exactly confident in that bit.

Corpus Christi, eh? Try not to have too much fun down there.

Luck to you, too.

It's always fun when I see a review of one of my stories, and thanks for the feedback! Looking forward to seeing any other stories that find their way here, and the Sweetie duology is probably my favorite bit of work so far.

Wait, I Recommended that story to you?! I know it’s good, but I haven’t read it! When did this happen?

I have a long list of stories recommended to me, which includes who did the recommending. Recommendations came from a range of sources, be they PMs or comments, and I didn't keep track of that. It's entirely possible that the error is due to your name getting transposed over someone else's.

I'll instead chose to believe I just have great taste even regarding literature I haven't read yet.

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