Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

Originally I thought this was a story about Daisy, and from the beginning she seemed like an interesting character and the story seemed to be going somewhere.

Until it didn’t. I don’t understand what Daisy was doing to say the least, and neither did I know what she was doing there. She just didn’t feel complex or developed enough as a character making it hard for me to relate to her and understand her.

The plot was not prominent nor did I feel invested enough to really try and see it. It doesn’t grip me with the characters, and neither does it entertain.

Although there was another character there, but it was in a way that didn’t really grab my attention either. Just so little things happened, and nothing really caught my attention at all.

Which is the main deal when I read since I want to be entertained, not having to keep on anticipating something that I’m not even certain will happen.

But after a while, it just seemed to lose focus and I was just bored out of my mind. And this is why I just dropped it at the end of the day.

Rating: 2 out of 5
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There's a lot to like about Moonshine, a fun, exciting fantasy with a setting based on the 1920s. I'm a huge fan of fantasies that utilize non-traditional time periods for inspiration and am always thrilled to see more of them. Soot City, the setting for Jasmine Gower's novel, is in a country called Ashland, a New World stand-in for the U.S. on a continent that has long been uninhabitable due to volcanic activity, but is now the home of a young nation of immigrants and their descendants picking themselves up by their bootstraps.

Our protagonist is Daisy Dell, a college graduate trying to make ends meet and have a good time as a liberated young woman of a new era. Daisy takes a job as a typist, but the company she now works for turns out to be far from what it seems. Daisy is also not quite what she seems... her immigrant grandmother brought knowledge of dark ritual magic with her and passed this knowledge on to Daisy, along with a number of "trinkets" imbued with magical properties. Daisy has no qualms about using her trinkets, but believes the deeper secrets of her grandmother's magic should stay secret. Even methodical magic, the most commonly understood form of magic in Ashland, has strong detractors. There's conservative paranoia surrounding it, and mana, the substance that methodical magicians use to replenish their energy, is outlawed in a parallel to our world's prohibition of alcohol. Eventually, Daisy must learn what the company she works for really does and decide how far to trust her new boss and colleagues with her knowledge of ritual magic. Gower's cast of characters is effortlessly inclusive. Not only is Soot City a melting pot of nationalities, but Daisy's new cohort includes characters with a variety of gender, sexual, and romantic identities. Additionally, this motley crew all have different relationships to magic, mana, and their jobs, and themes of acceptance and friendship are central to the emotional arc of this book, as Daisy comes to understand more about each of them.

Where Moonshine loses a couple of stars for me is the plot itself, because it frequently felt like I couldn't identify a driving point to it. Sure there's arcane magic, thrilling action, political scheming, and all the rest, but there were times when I wasn't sure what parts were really important. There's a major side-escapade with a fairy that needs to be gotten back to its otherworld, while in the meantime Daisy and company are trying to avoid getting arbitrarily murdered for increasingly convoluted reasons. And a lot of the story's forward motion relies upon dumb mistakes and incompetent blunders from a supposedly super-competent and elite hitwoman/assassin character.

Though Moonshine is decidedly a standalone (yay, I like standalones!) there's enough complex thought put into the worldbuilding that it could easily sustain more stories. I, for one, would be happy to read more books exploring this world if Gower wanted to write them.
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I will begin by saying that this is [one] of those books where the setting and characters were more important to me than the plot. The driving plot line, involving assassins and political intrigue, wasn’t boring, but it didn’t captivate my interest enough to keep me up reading long past my bedtime. As such, days would go by when I would absentmindedly start reading something else, having virtually forgotten about my friends in Soot City.

When I found my way back to them, it was always an enjoyable time. The characters are all lively, strong-willed individuals who have come a long way to get where they are. There’s a healthy dose of diversity among the cast, which I appreciate a great deal. Characters from a wide variety of ethnicities and races (such as ogres and even fairies) are present. So is a wide spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity. All of this is simply accepted. The only discrimination present is against those who wish to use magic, and then it doesn’t matter what you look like or who you like to go to bed with in the eyes of the public. If you’re a magic user in Soot City, the public largely despises you.

A portion of this has to do with the creation of a magical potion known as mana. Magicians use the substance to replenish themselves. Mundane citizens simply enjoy drinking the illegal beverage, leading to the Prohibition-era atmosphere of the novel (and the title). As with actual Prohibition, speakeasies have popped up throughout Soot City, where bartenders serve up more than just gin.

The novel discusses several societal problems that are present here in the real world: the threat of gentrification, politicians carelessly using (and even creating) tragedies for their own personal gain, and the dangers of addiction. One doesn’t have to look too far to see these things plaguing today’s world. Gower does a good job of weaving these conflicts into her story and giving the reader some idea of what happens on the other side of such policies. The gentrification issue in particular stood out to me. Yes, a character may be an assassin, but she also wants little more than to save her home from being purchased out from under her. This desire to keep a home that has been in her family for several generations is what drives her to take on such unsavory work. It’s a stark example of what people are sometimes forced to do in order to survive.

My one criticism is that the plot does drag a bit. As I mentioned above, there were days when I wouldn’t pick up the book at all. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t in a hurry to find out what happened next. There are plenty of books where I have simply enjoyed wandering around with the characters and watching what happened next, because I liked and cared for them. However, there was always something compelling that kept me coming back. In this case, there wasn’t enough urgency or concern over the looming danger. The characters may have felt it, but I never truly did.

In conclusion: I don’t regret reading Gower’s debut. Her writing style was tailored so perfectly for the time period that this book implies — almost a fantasy by way of F. Scott Fitzgerald — and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with in the future. Moonshine soaks the reader in its heady atmosphere and that is enough for me to want to revisit it.
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This is a strange, mixed-up yet nevertheless joyful book. Set in a world going through something like 1920s-era US Prohibition, it strongly evokes the spirit of the Jazz Age: our heroine, Daisy Dell, is "the very picture of a Modern Girl - slender of frame; her short, tight curls coifed with a shiny pomade; heeled dance shoes dressing either foot; and her dark skin complemented by the contrast of daisy yellow, so vibrant as though it was part of her identity. This she supposed it was."

Daisy is making her way in Soot City, capital of Ashland, a nation recently resettled after centuries of volcanic eruptions - think Iceland, but with a gentler climate. The portrayal of Ashland, its social and political tensions, the hints at a wider world - many of the citizens have fled there to escape from vaguely described trouble elsewhere ("Mr Blaine's family fled to Ashland presumably to escape the fascist regime in Berngi"), most of all the morality campaign aimed at suppressing magic - for, reader, this is very much a fantasy world - are all done very well. And as we might expect, Dell pretty soon falls in with gangsters, dealers in the illegal substance mana ("the blue stuff") essential for magicians. From then on it gets a bit Bugsy Malone with shootouts, political shenanigans, a ruthless hitwoman and romantic entanglements.

The plot is pretty linear and restricted - we're not dealing here with world changing conspiracies, Dark Lords or the fate of the Universe. Some may dislike that: for my part I found it rather refreshing, allowing time and space for Gower to develop her characters - she gives Dell, and her boss, Swarz, plenty of backstory (Daisy's eventually reveals a rather horrifying secret that counterbalances the less pleasant aspects of the speakeasy gang - no-one in this book has clean hands) and a nicely complicated relationship. It was a slight disappointment that the plot is pretty transparent, with the antagonist and their motivations identified to the reader (not to Dell) early on. To set against that, there is, as I have said, a satisfying atmosphere of moral murkiness to the book. The same phrase - "a girl's got to eat" - is used of both Dell and her Nemesis. Motivations here are mundane, about making rent or keeping food on the table or just having  good time at the end of the week, not about fulfilling ancient prophecies or crusading against evil.

The book is also nicely observed. Early on, Swarz challenges Dell's motivations, wondering if she shouldn't spend a bit less money on partying and move into a better flat. Dell is having none of it and basically tells him to mind his own business. Gower also has a nice line in hard-boiled one-liners ("She had to admire his nonchalance in approaching someone... younger... drinking alone like she was contemplating revenge", "Daisy held forth the letter, putting on a smile she was too weary for"). The book is unashamedly progressive and pro-diversity, with, for example, a character who presents sometimes as male and sometimes as female ("Well, sure, when I am a man. I'm not now") and with the treatment of both the native ogres and the magicians a proxy for the results of ethnic and social privilege ("Magic, alongside ogre technology... had probably built half the city.")

Overall this was a great read. the world building is second to none, the characters plausible, and if there's a bit less plot then I might ideally have liked, that also has its attractions and Gower never, never lets the pace of events slacken with several viscerally realised set-piece battles before the end.

A great debut, and I hope that Gower writes more about this intriguing world soon and especially about Daisy Dell. (Also, just take a moment to appreciate that gorgeous, glamorous cover!)
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I received this book through the publisher via Netgalley.

In this secondary world-set riff inspired by the 1920s, Prohibition is in full swing--but the prohibited substance isn't alcohol, but mana, also known as moonshine: addictive stuff that gives normal folks magical powers while the buzz lasts. Daisy is a young woman with a goal of being independent and sophisticated. When she takes on a new secretarial position, she has no idea the company is really peddling mana out of their so-called warehouse. Daisy isn't an addict like so many others, though--her family knows a secret about magically enchanting items. But when one of Daisy's charms goes missing and is found by a mage-hunter with an aim to kill a magic-user to boost a local politician, Daisy finds herself in the crosshairs. 

I enjoyed the unique setting and era of the book, and the cast of characters is incredibly diverse. There's a genderfluid character and an MxM love scene. I love the friendships that developed between Daisy's co-workers--that was a highlight of the book for me. However, I was left hungry for a deeper understanding of the world and its history. A persistent fall of ash was the only consistent reminder that this wasn't Earth. There are also beings like fairies and ogres, and I was left wanting to know more about ogres in particular.

In all, a fun read! Also, kudos to Angry Robot for creating such a fun art deco cover that acts as the perfect intro for the content.
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Moonshine is set in an alternate world with the stylings of the 1920s in America, minus some specifics of race relations; Daisy Dell is a recent college graduate who needs a job and finds one as a secretary. She doesn't exactly suspect that the job will introduce her to a world of bootleggers, illegal magic, and hired killers, but that's exactly what happens.

Ms. Gower has succeeded in writing a faintly unsavory tale, starring criminals and drug addicts, and yet in providing us with a whole bunch of likable characters. It's awfully difficult for me to enjoy a book where I vaguely hate everyone, but that wasn't even remotely a problem. Of course there were characters that I didn't like, including a couple of corrupt politicians, but even they were fascinating in their own ways, as were the actual bad guys and, well, even some of the one-off characters who showed up for a scene and nothing more. If I had any complaints about the characters, it's that a couple of them in the inner circle had similar names (not the ones who were twins) and I got them confused a few times. But everyone had a distinct personality and I enjoyed meeting all of them.

The world-building was pretty solid, although it felt as if Ms. Gower had built a giant world and had only touched the smallest portion of it. I can imagine that there's so much to explore, not only in different parts of the city but in different countries and in the giant spans of history that were only lightly referenced. Even though the story was rather well-confined (it did take a bit of an unexpected turn at one point towards the middle but, taking that into consideration, I never found the plot to lag), it still gave the impression of great breadth of ideas, and I'd love to see more exploring in this world.

Overall, a solid novel with an entertainingly diverse cast of characters. Heed warnings about drug use and diet talk if necessary for you.
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I received an ARC of Moonshine from Netgalley. Some people had been mentioning that it was an #ownvoices book for aromantic representation, and I’m always looking for more of that.

It’s ownvoices for aromantic, asexual, genderfluid, and disabled rep (major characters).


The part that struck me most was the fantastic worldbuilding. Damn! It was so elaborate and within the first pages, I could already picture what Soot City looked like and what people in the city wore.

There are different types of magic, and it was intriguing to read how they interacted with each other. I would have liked a bit more insight into the origin of magic, and whether the different types are can be learned or if certain people have the talent innately.

I seem to be reading so many books at the moment, that mention characters that wear glasses and how the set-up of the world affects glasses wearers. Loved that!

I also loved how the story casually mentions menstruation. Please, let’s have more books that actually mention that menstruation is something that happens to a lot of people!

The dynamic between the different characters was wonderful. It felt very realistic, especially the fluctuations between uncertainty about a new person and the progression to trusting the newcomer and including them in the inner circle.

Two of the characters are given names by Daisy, and these were based on their skin colour. Spoiler for the character names (highlight to see): Cyan and Lavender.  I’d have liked to know how she decided to use those names, and whether her grandmother called one of them by a different name. It did bother me that the names were chosen just based on the colour of their skin and feathers.

The story mentions that “ogre” is a slur, however it never mentions what the politically correct term is. I would have liked to know, and I think that this could have flowed into the story easily.


Moonshine was a beautiful read. My favourite aspect of it is without a doubt the worldbuilding. It’s got so many queer characters in it, which was just awesome!

Trigger warning: murder.
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Moonshine is a debut fantasy novel inspired by the roaring twenties.

Daisy wants to be the perfect embodiment of the Modern Girl, stylish and independent. However, she also uses arcana — and magic is outlawed in Soot City. When mercenaries start targeting magicians, Daisy will find herself right in the middle of the bull’s eye.

Moonshine‘s biggest failing is plot. It’s just not compelling, and I think this is due to a number of reasons. For one, Daisy isn’t driving the plot, she’s reacting to it. This partly falls under characterization, but Daisy does not have strong motivation. She wants to be a Modern Girl, but it’s not like there’s a whole lot of conflict inherent in her desire to be stylish and independent. She wants to keep using the arcana her grandmother gave her… but it’s never clear why she’s so determined to hang on to it. For the most part, the artifacts her grandmother left her with seem to be no more than conveniences that make her life a little bit easier. They keep the soot off her clothes, help her water plants, and catch things she accidentally drops. Is using them really worth the risk of discovery that she’s supposedly so worried about?

Also, the plot (the mercenary after Daisy) felt contrived and more like an events happening in a roughly sequential order instead of events following naturally from each other. It feels like the author created the world and characters and then remembered that she needed to have some sort of plot and threw this in at the last minute. And it takes forever to get rolling! There’s a lot of time spent twiddling thumbs and setting things up, and it ended up feeling undeniably boring. If I wasn’t reading this for review, I would have DNF’ed.

Onto characters! I think the biggest issue with them was lack of motivation, which I’ve already talked about. I also found them to be fairly static. Daisy might learn more about the co-workers at her new job, but I didn’t see her changing or growing through the story. All in all, I would have liked more character development.

Actually, “more development” could be applied to most aspects of Moonshine, including the world building. One of the draws is the setting based on 1920’s Chicago. The influence is clear, but Moonshine doesn’t delve much beyond the aesthetics. There’s a number of fantasy books inspired by the 20’s that have magic be outlawed instead of alcohol. Moonshine doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the pack.

However, there is one big positive when it comes to Moonshine: it’s got a ton of queer rep. Daisy read to me as bi or pan, and there’s also a gender fluid character and an aromantic character. In fact, Moonshine is actually an #ownvoices aro book. I’d heard that Moonshine dealt with gender and sexuality, and that was one of the key reasons I requested an ARC. Happily, I didn’t find this aspect disappointing.

On the whole Moonshine had a lot of promise, but it is plagued by inherent structural issues. It’s not a book I’m planning to recommend, but that said, there may be other readers who enjoy it more than me.

I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.
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The moment I heard of MOONSHINE, I was excited to read it. Magical speakeasies, aromantic representation, political dealings, and an ensemble cast of queer characters? Heck yes! So I requested an ARC, even though I'm not really a book blogger.

All in all, I am glad that I did. MOONSHINE is a greatly enjoyable story with well-defined, flawed, and relatable characters, an intriguing setting (think 1920s Chicago but in a city by a volcano under constant ashfall, and with magic!), and the found family/team feel that I love. I did found it slower and less interesting in the second half, but I think a lot of that is because of the introduction of a second plotline that I cared a lot less for, and that half-replaced, half-stalled the "politicians have hired mercenaries to assassinate a magician and create a scandal that can benefit them" story. I wish the focus had been kept tighter, but stories don't always go where you want them to, and it was still greatly enjoyable.

So for queer rep, off the top of my head, this book has polyamorous characters, lesbians, a genderfluid character, and Mr Swarz, a bisexual aromantic disabled grumpster! I really enjoyed him, mostly because I love slightly-stuck-up characters who make mistakes because they have no idea how to help others without lining up social faux-pas and sounding slightly condescending. He's flawed, but he's not flawed in a way that has anything to do with his aromanticism, and the latter is clearly established and respected by everyone. So I really have nothing to say on this except: yay!

There are a few elements that bothered me throughout the book, though, but a lot of it is out of my lane so I will mention them, and if you need details to make your own decisions, let me know. Most of it surrounds way "mana", a source of magic and a highly addictive drug, is discussed. I understand that this creating and selling of mana is kind of part of everyone's life here, but it's really, really... casual, no big deal, we're just selling candies? There are a lot of instances where the book fails to acknowledge the gravity of things it contains, and the lighter tone bugged me. I am, however, glad that it didn't go down a super judgmental route.

There's also an entire conversation about how nice the weight loss from the addiction has been that really left me uncomfortable.

Finally, there are two creatures that are literally named after the colour of their skin. Which doesn't feel like a great idea.

That covers it! Overall, I think this is worth the read, and I'm looking forward to book two!
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Moonshine is a fantasy with jazz age pizazz.  Ashland lies at the foot of a volcano, and Soot City is a bustling metropolis complete with gangsters, speakeasies and Modern Girls (flappers straight from the mold).  But there is something else that defines Soot City - the existence of magic.

Daisy Dell is the quintessential modern girl, fashionable, educated and ready to take on the world.  She also has a few tricks up her sleeve - the trinkets left to her by her grandmother are magic.  Her new job seems to be a simple office job, typing letters and filing reports.  She soon discovers her job isn’t quite what it seems and the people aren’t quite what she expects.  But as a Modern Girl she isn’t one to back down when the going gets dangerous.  When she and her friends are targeted by an assassin hired by a conniving politician, she learns just what type of a family she’s joined.  Be prepared for a wild gin and magic fueled ride.

Moonshine is a fantasy that has a unique spark and an unusual premise.  It is definitely a standout fantasy that will leave readers thirsting for more of its special blend.  The characters and the story are unforgettable.

5 / 5

I received a copy of Moonshine from the publisher and in exchange for an honest review.

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Unfortunately this was not to my taste.  I made it to 20% and didn't really like any of the characters or plot.  I did however like the world-building.  It seems to be getting good reviews so far and so I hope it continues to find the audience it needs. I am just not part of it.
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If you enjoy urban fantasy and "Thoroughly Modern Millie," you're in for a treat - Moonshine is the intersection of fantasy and 1920's culture you never knew you needed.
I really liked this book. It was creative and delightful. The characters were well-built and memorable (and minus all the illegal activity, the kind of people you'd want to hang out with). I felt like I got to grow and learn with Daisy Dell (our delightful heroine) and that was charming and wonderful. She's a real sweetheart caught up in the world of magic and speakeasies - and it was very satisfying to see how she learned to balance both while still remaining true to herself. Daisy is one of the best parts of this book. Ming Wei is also a great example of a well-written female character - she's pragmatic and somewhat simplistic, but only out of her own necessity. She's the girl who can get things done. And seeing how the two of these women (who were so different from each other) interacted was really fun.
Another thing I greatly appreciated about this book was that there was so much diversity - but the book wasn't bogged down with it. Sometimes, books feel like they were written simply to make a point - the plot gets lost in the political/social agenda. Books like this do so much more good in promoting diversity in fiction - the lifestyles never came across as preachy or defensive. All the characters accepted each other's differences and eccentricities as completely normal and the author expected the reader to also accept this in order to keep up. I loved that. 
Honestly, my biggest complaint about this book is that it felt a little long. I'm not sure what I would cut out, but by the end, I was ready for things to wrap up. I also felt like some of the writing was a bit choppy periodically - mostly in transitioning between different characters' viewpoints. But overall, this was a wonderful book and I'm excited to see what the author will turn out next.
Recommended for fantasy readers (especially lovers of urban fantasy) and lovers of 1920's culture.
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Daisy's starting a new job and stylish city life, but mage-hunters out for her dark magic threaten to destroy her vogue image. 

In the flourishing metropolis of Soot City (a warped version of 1920s Chicago), progressive ideals reign and the old ways of magic and liquid mana are forbidden. Daisy Dell is a Modern Girl - stylish, educated and independent - keen to establish herself in the city but reluctant to give up the taboo magic inherited from her grandmother.

Her new job takes her to unexpected places, and she gets more attention than she had hoped for. When bounty hunters start combing the city for magicians, Daisy must decide whether to stay with her new employer - even if it means revealing the grim source of her occult powers. (via Goodreads)

I received an eARC from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in exchange for an honest review. 

I sat down to read a single chapter of this book in December, and ended up reading the entire thing in two sittings. I'm not exaggerating a bit. This book pulled me in and refused to let me go.

I had never read any of Gower's work before, but after this, I'm probably gonna hunt down her novellas. Moonshine was a ride from start to finish.

It needs trigger warnings for: alcohol use, drug addiction, racial antagonism against fictional races, death of minor characters, and gun violence

It has an ownvoices allosexual aromantic secondary main character who is also physically disabled. He has chronic pain from a childhood accident, and it's just taken in stride by all the other characters. Like anything else, the gang just works around it.

I loved the inclusion of ogres and faeries, though I wished that there had been a little more discussion of why ogres were treated poorly in Ashland. I hope this gets explored more in future stories.

I also hope we get to learn more about the history of Ashland - why they're there, where they came from, etc. I think between Daisy's education and Andre's scholarly interests, it would be easy to explore.

I would gladly read an entire encyclopedia if Gower wrote it. I'm recommending this for fans of Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver and City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault (Review), as well as fans of Destiny Soria's Iron Cast (Review) because I think they would fit well together.

I highly recommend this book. You can pick up a copy on Amazon or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: All links to Indiebound and Amazon are affiliate links, which means that if you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money off of it.
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This book was not what I was expecting, and that's a good thing. I genuinely thought this was an alternate, historical fantasy that would take place in 1930's USA. What I got was a fantasy world with as much magic as any other high fantasy world, but with prohibition era aesthetics. It was really cool! 

The world is incredibly interesting and I want to know more about it. I greatly appreciated the difference in approach between Mr. Swarz and Daisy. His academic, political views of the world versus her aesthetic, social perspective really helped to flesh out the world. She's more likely to note the combined uses of magic and ogre technology where he is more likely to note the local politics and economic climate. The fact that this city of Ashland actually exists near a dying volcano that frequently covers the city in ash provided an interesting mental picture. Combine that with a culture that has incorporated (however begrudgingly) ogres and fauns, and you've got my attention. I really do want to read more about this world.

Then there are the characters. We only get to read the book from three character's perspectives: Daisy, Mr. Swarz and Ming Wei. These three are kinda all we need, though. As different as they each are, they are also surprisingly similar. All three have had to work from nothing to something, but Daisy and Mr. Swarz had plenty of family support while Wei needs to support her family. Daisy and Wei have good health while Mr. Swarz is physically disabled. Wei and Mr. Swarz are in charge of their groups while Daisy has never had any kind of influence or power. I really liked how Daisy and Wei almost bonded over their shared understanding of "a girl's gotta eat." 

This book was a very enjoyable introduction to a very new world that I would really like to read more of. I'm eager to read more of Gower's works and encourage you to pick up a copy of Moonshine. 4 hoots!
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