Cover Image: Liar, Dreamer, Thief

Liar, Dreamer, Thief

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Member Reviews

I loved the idea of this but the execution fell a bit flat for me. I appreciate all the things the author was attempting, but the culmination of events at the end just didn't live up to the intricate setup of the beginning. I wanted a bit more to the unfolding at the end.

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I was really intrigued by this book but it fell flat for me.
I was confused for 90% of it and the reveal near the end was underwhelming. I thought the fmc’s mental illness would have played a larger part in where the story was going so I was a little let down by that. I did enjoy when the pieces started coming together/ the detective bits (I guess because the story was finally starting to make some sense) but it took too long to get to that point.

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Do NOT start this book before bedtime! Because you will be sucked in, playing the "just one more chapter" game and screw yourself out of a full night of sleep. Liar, Dreamer, Thief will suck you in and keep you on the edge of your seat reading the entire thing in one sitting. Our main character has some seriously unhealthy coping mechanisms, and that is always an interesting thing to read about. Maybe relatable? I felt like I got to know her through this novel, and I always appreciate that. It means the story will stick with me. For being Maria Dong's debut novel, my biggest complaint is she hasn't written anything else, because now I want to read all of her books from now on. She is an author I'll be binge-reading in the future.

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I found the publisher’s synopsis intriguing, so I thought I’d try this debut novel. Katrina discovers that she is caught in the middle of nefarious events, and doesn’t know who to trust or what action to take. Unfortunately, a weak storyline, flat characters, and mediocre writing prevailed. Plus, Dong’s choice to use the protagonist’s mental instability to make her an unreliable narrator was in poor taste.

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Thank you, NetGalley, for the copy!

What's good?
- Kat, as a character, is well-flushed out. For someone with mental and abandonment issues, the author has done a marvelous job showing us how she struggles with day-to-day activities.
- The investigative portion is quite good. It's exciting and hard to predict.
- A special shoutout to the scene where Kat gets confronted by her employers. That is some sharp writing and a witty scenario.

- The first half of the book is so hard to read. The repetition of Kat's rituals and the obsessive counting makes for a dull read. I understand this is necessary to establish a character struggling with mental issues. However, a better-edited and crisper first half would have increased my liking of this book.
-The continued references to the Mei's book and its world are a drag - it's not exciting, and it doesn't interest me (though the idea by itself is pretty fascinating).
- Kurt and Leoni, two of the most prominent characters in the book, are pretty one-dimensional. First, Kurt - a simple, no-motive bad guy. What baffles me is how the author made it a point to emphasize that Kat's obsession with Kurt was not romantic. Then, why was Kat obsessed with him? - he was not that interesting person. Then, Leoni, who was kind and took care of Kat at the beginning, turned out to be the most manipulative. However, there is barely any insight into her contrasting personalities.
- Finally, the climax - the part that takes place with Lydia/Leoni is very abrupt. There is no proper justification for things. I found it really hard to follow. While the author spent a lot of time in the first half, this part was so quickly wrapped that it left me with a sense of incompletion.

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This book was SO weird but also I loved it? I don't even know honestly what happened and I was constantly asking myself "WHY"...but I ate this up. It was perfectly creepy with great twists and a fun fantasy element.

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Published by ‎ Grand Central Publishing on January 10, 2023

Katrina Kim is a Korean-American. She lives in a city not far from her hometown, works for a temp service, and shares a small one-bedroom apartment with Leoni, who was seeking a co-tenant to split the rent. Katrina dropped out of college when her parents were unable to continue paying her tuition. Her parents were victims of a financial fraud scheme that wiped them out. Katrina believes her parents abandoned her after their financial disaster because they never visit or answer her letters.

Katrina is stalking a co-worker at her temp job. Kurt is all she thinks or talks about. She follows him around the office. Oddly, Katrina didn’t pay any attention to Kurt until Leoni saw him in a photograph and questioned Katrina about him.

Leoni is almost mothering in her concern for Katrina’s well-being. Leoni thinks Katrina might need to see a therapist. For multiple reasons, Leoni is probably right. Katrina has longstanding mental health issues, including her obsession with the number eleven and certain geometric shapes, particularly endekagram stellations. She believes an eleven-point sigil keeps her safe, so she obsessively traces one on her door. She occasionally slips into a “kitchen-door world” that she associates with Mi-Hee and the Mirror Man, a Korean book from her childhood. Standing on a bridge helps her maintain control when all her other rituals fail.

By snooping through his desk, Katrina knows that Kurt reads books about Masons and ancient magic. Seems like a guy who is perfect for a crazy woman. Kurt might or might not know that she’s snooping through his desk and might or might not have left a message in his desk for her. The line between reality and Katrina’s imagination is difficult to discern.

Kurt disappears from work. Katrina later sees him crash his car and then jump from a bridge. The police don’t believe her because they can’t find a body or a wrecked car. Katrina isn’t sure that what she saw was real.

All of that sets up Katrina as a neurotic detective. I think I’ve had enough of mentally ill detectives. Writers have used mental illness (particularly autism) in characterizations for some time, but writers who rely on trends inevitably try to top each other until they go over the top. David Baldacci claimed the prize for making mental illness ridiculous in Memory Man, leaving other writers with nowhere else to go. I give Maria Dong credit for taking mental illness more seriously than Baldacci, but Katrina’s affliction comes across as a gimmick, not as a genuine mental health issue afflicting a real person.

The book starts slowly but it grew on me as I continued reading, in part because I had no clue where it was going. A co-worker named Yocelyn also goes through Kurt’s desk, but why? Is that why Yocelyn was fired? Perhaps Kurt is a popular guy to stalk, but why? Katrina has the sense that someone is watching her. That might be true, but why? The Voynich Manuscript makes an appearance, but why? The plot piles question upon question. It does eventually move in the direction of clarity, but I’m not sure that all the questions are answered. Maybe I just lost track.

The solution to the book’s many puzzles is heavily dependent upon coincidence. The various plot threads are nevertheless woven together in a way that explains (sort of) Kurt’s disappearance, Katrina’s estrangement from her parents, Yocelyn’s firing, Leoni’s helpfulness, and Katrina’s inability to find any school yearbooks with Kurt’s picture. The story is a bit convoluted. Its attempt to generate suspense by placing Katrina in danger at the novel’s end fall flat. Katrina’s conflict between life in a Korean household and life in white corporate America seems forced.

While my reaction to Liar, Dreamer, Thief is negative in many respects, I gained an appreciation of the story as it developed. I wavered when deciding whether to recommend the book with or without reservations. Wavering might imply that I have reservations. I do, but not to the extent that I’m on the fence about recommending it. In the end, my interest in the plot overcame the novel’s weaknesses.


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This book was unlike anything I have ever read. A cross between a mystery and a thriller. We follow the main character as she tries to uncover the connection between her coworker's death and the people in her life. Nothing is as they seem.

She is not unlikable but she is self-destructive which is at times frustrating to follow but you still root for her regardless.

It's best to know as little as possible but this was a quick read for me with a huge plot twist I never saw coming.

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This is an absolutely tremendous book, and my first five star (out of five stars) read of the year.

Katrina Kim feels like a failure. Once a promising musician with two loving parents, she now lives estranged from them, and tries to make ends meet by clinging for dear life to her soul-destroying temp job. Her roommate Leonie is a traveling physical therapist who does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to adulting, but in her long absences, Katrina has a tendency to spin out, escaping into a reality she terms “the kitchen-door world.”

Back when she was a little girl, Katrina took comfort in a children’s book called Mi-Hee and the Mirror-Man, the first book she ever saw with a protagonist who looked like her. Since the rupture with her parents, the fantasy realm that Mi-Hee accessed through her kitchen-door has crept into Katrina’s own life, offering her both escape and reassurance whenever her anxieties get the better of her. She knows, however, that her almost hallucinatory reliance on this coping mechanism isn’t healthy, even as its hold on her psyche strengthens:

It doesn’t matter that it’s bad for me, that the short-lived relief from the kitchen-door world can’t compete with the shame of needing it in the first place. It doesn’t even matter that I’m not always in control–that the kitchen-door world can overtake me through no choice of my own, that I can’t always tell what’s real and what isn’t. No matter what, I’m always just a breath away from slipping beneath its surface, from seeing and hearing the fantastic overlaid on everything around me.

These delusions are only the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to Katrina’s mental fixations. She’s obsessed with endekagrams, believing that carefully sketching a series of them before she leaves the house will keep her safe. She’s also convinced that she and her co-worker Kurt Smith share an esoteric connection, even after he turns hostile towards her.

So she’s not as surprised as she might be when a late-night visit to the Cayatoga Bridge – another of the rituals she uses to keep herself centered in the real world – seems to summon him to the same area. When he subsequently flings himself off of the bridge while screaming blame at her, Katrina is understandably shaken. She immediately goes to report the incident to the police, who think she’s just drunk and hysterical. Desperate to prove, even if only to herself, that she didn’t just hallucinate the entire episode, she begins to dig even more deeply into Kurt’s life than she had previously. What she finds sends her on an odyssey that could make her fragile psyche whole once more or rip her apart for good.

For the first third of this wildly entertaining book, I often found myself wondering how this story of a young woman whose mental illnesses have her living in a fantasy world could possibly count as a crime read. About halfway through this novel, however, I understood entirely, and understood also why the marketing has been so vague about it. Liar, Dreamer, Thief is an intricate puzzle box of a fair play mystery that’s so exquisitely constructed that talking about the central conundrum itself, however obliquely, feels like giving too much away.

But even more than being a terrific mystery that masterfully bends and blends genres, this was a genuinely affecting book about what it means to always be different. Katrina has long felt that her place in society is tenuous, whether it be due to being Korean, being poor or being a person with mental illness. Yet still she fights: to be believed, to be seen, even to just exist. This is a large part of why visiting the bridge is such a big deal to her, and why Kurt’s suicide haunts her so:

I’ve read articles on this. Jumpers break bones, lacerate hearts and spleens, knock their brains against their skulls. Death takes you fast–hopefully instantly, although it can take a few minutes if you’re one of the unlucky ones who survive the impact and has to either bleed out or drown.

Many people they just don’t find. They’re swallowed up, as if they never existed at all.

I stand on the bridge and stare at the water until I’m sure it’s enough. Until I’m sure I got what I came for, until I understand the dangers of letting go.

Katrina’s quest to uncover and reveal the truth about Kurt is mesmerizing and multi-faceted, especially when her supposed reality is turned inside out and her kitchen-door world begins looking much, much safer than her actual life. Maria Dong’s debut novel is a tremendous achievement of both suspense and empathy. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a deeper, more nuanced look at the intersection between mental illness and crime thriller, or for anyone just looking for a truly terrific read.

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Y’all this book was a wild ride! I read the synopsis, was immediately intrigued, and knew I needed to read it. I think it started out really strong - the author did a really good job explaining Katrina’s back story and explaining her mental illness and hallucinations to readers. I also thought the way math (?!?) was woven throughout the book was so clever.

However, once the main event happened - things got WEIRD. I don’t even know how to explain it 🤣 I think overall the plot might’ve been too complicated and coincidental? I’m not sure. It lost me in the middle. But, I will say that I think the ending wrapped most things up nicely.

If you’re looking for a read that’s unlike anything you’ve read before, I recommend giving this one a try.

Thank you @netgalley and @grandcentralpub for the #gifted copies!

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Liar, Dreamer, Thief tackles such hard hitting topics as mental health, obsession, isolation and estrangement all tied up with amazing writing and an immersive reading experience.

Katrina Kim is struggling. To put it bluntly, she’s a bit of a mess. She’s broke and in a job she hates. Clinging to her number rituals, visions and obsession with her coworker, Kurt, leads to no satisfaction. When she receives a message from Kurt implying he knows she’s been watching him, things turn to worse. What seemingly starts as general fiction quickly turns in to a suspenseful thriller. Katrina discovers that things aren’t as they seem and that Kurt may have been watching her all along.

Maria Dong immerses the reader into Katrina’s life. We experience the nature and effects of Katrina’s mental health as well as the isolation she feels and the sense of abandonment. The book is beautifully written and does a wonderful way of creating an amazing narrative that is at times awkward. It fits the story and Katrina wonderfully. The pacing can feel a bit slow at times, but the read as a whole moves quite quickly. Overall a great book and one I will purchase for our library and recommend to out patrons.

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I'm not entirely sure what I just read. This book is all over the place. Once a plot altering action took place, I thought the book would pick up and I suppose it does. However, it's so complicated and the MCs stream of consciousness made me confused about what was happening.

Katrina, for as unreliable a narrator she might be, I found her likable. The book highlights the importance of mental health and our lived realities. I wanted to know what happened and I stuck with it. I don't regret that decision for a moment. I also don't regret reading this book in short spurts and spending time absorbing what I read. It required processing which is something I very much liked about this book.

This book will stick with me.

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Vivid and startling and wonderfully strange, Liar, Dreamer, Thief is a gem of a novel that is vastly different from anything I've read before. When we meet Maria Dong's heroine, Katrina Kim, she is three years estranged from her immigrant parents and working a temp job at a medical billing company, where she has developed an intense obsession with her co-worker, Kurt. Katrina's mental health is hanging by a thread; her apartment is a pigsty, she can barely perform the most basic tasks, and her compulsions and coping mechanisms are starting to rule her life. When the real world gets to be too much, she escapes into her "kitchen-door world," a fantasy land inspired by her favorite childhood book.

Then one night, at the bridge that is the kitchen-door world's most powerful place, Katrina witnesses Kurt's suicide. But right before he jumps from the bridge, Kurt tells Katrina that his death is all her fault, sending her spiraling into world of coded messages, secrets, and paranoia.

Maria Dong sets out to do a lot in Liar, Dreamer, Thief, and I felt like she accomplished all of it. This book is at once a sensitive, immersive portrait of mental health, a page-turning conspiracy thriller, and a heart-wrenching family drama. It touches on music and math, art and technology, all wrapped up perfectly in a narrative that is both quirky and tender. Katrina is such an interesting, endearing character, who pulled me so intimately into her story that there were moments I forgot I was reading fiction. She feels so real: her struggles, her hopes and desires, the frustration and shame she feels about her own behavior. The nuances of her character paint a captivating, poignant portrait of neurodivergence and shed light on the way those with mental health struggles can feel alienated or discounted.

Aside from the stellar character work, this book is perfectly-plotted, with a story that constantly went in directions I wasn't expecting and kept me on my toes, fully invested from beginning to end. Liar, Dreamer, Thief is a provocative, magical, unsettling, and fabulously weird novel that makes me so excited to see what Maria Dong writes next.

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Katrina struggles with her mental health. She relies on rituals - numbers, shapes, and a “kitchen door” to her favorite children’s novel - when anxious or stressed. Her most powerful ritual is to visit the Cayatoga Bridge at midnight. One night at the bridge, she witnesses her coworker’s suicide. Just before he jumps, he tells Katarina it’s all her fault. How could that be? She barely knows him besides the small clues she’s collected over the years while working with him. Now, she must find out who he is.

What I loved:
✨The writing: gorgeous yet disturbing, riveting yet compassionate. The immersive writing takes you on a wild ride where you must cling to the rails.
✨Mental Health: Maria Dong vividly captures life with mental health struggles - from the daily challenges to the blurred lines of reality.
✨Mystery: Clever and suspenseful! The direction the mystery took surprised me. Kudos! I’m rarely surprised.
✨Narration: Hannah Choi captures Katrina brilliantly. The battles that ensue in Katrina’s mind are unsettling in the physical book but somehow become downright disturbing intimate as Choi narrates the written prose. I could not stop listening once I grasped the rhythm of the story. If you can pair both the book and the audiobook, I highly recommend it. ❤️

Such a uniquely written debut! While reading, I frequently murmured, “what the….” But I also genuinely felt compassion for Katrina, her struggles, and her estrangement from her family. Katrina is a lovable heroine you won’t want to miss.

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RATING: 4 out of 5 Enchanted Roses!

OPENING LINE: When I was ten, I found a paperback chapter book nestled amongst the tables of the scholastic Book Fair.

Gahhh! I couldn’t wait to read this lovely when I found out it would be out in the world one day. Huge congratulations to my writing mentor, Maria Dong. You have a brilliant mind for the craft and I’m so glad all of your hardworking paid off.

Thank you to Maria and Grand Central Publishing/Hachette for sending my advanced reader copy!

The story is unique and interesting. LAIR, DREAMER, THIEF is the perfect blend of suspense and folklore as well as highlights the importance of taking care of one’s mental health.

This is Katrina Kim’s story. She is a lovable character even with the unhinged aspects of her personality. Katrina is a college dropout with a terrible job, who struggles with her mental health, and parents who easily discarded her when she decided to stray from the dream they had for her. And her unhealthy obsession with her co-worker, Kurt.

But Katrina’s not a stalker, she swears it!

As we delve into Katrina’s story of living half in the real world and half in the imaginary world of her favorite childhood book, we embark on a thrilling journey rift with suspense, twists, and heartache.

All in all, I highly recommend LAIR, DREAMER, THIEF to anyone who’s willing.

Happy Reading!

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This is another one of those spectacular novels narrated in first person POV by an unreliable narrator that lets the reader know before the story even begins that we have the option to choose just how much of the story we choose to believe is true before the first words of the story have even been read. My personal favorite is Humbert Humbert from Lolita, but you could also go with Alex from A Clockwork Orange or Nick Carroway from The Great Gatsby.

The most intriguing and engaging trait about Katrina, our protagonist (and unreliable narrator), is that it’s not substance use/abuse, ultraviolence, hubris, delusional behavior, or being incredibly gullible that makes her so unreliable. Katrina is genuinely a good person who is sadly living the life of what reads like an undiagnosed schizophrenic. Ever since she was younger she has been obsessed with a children’s book that was a translation of a Korean folk tale. As she grew older her obsession with the world of the folktale conflated with the real world and it’s only by a complex system of rituals and routine that Katrina can even live a halfway present life, but every single moment of the day is a fight to keep her two worlds apart.

I can’t divulge much about the plot from this point because it’s just too easy to step over into Spoiler Land, but I’ll tell you this a surreal and sometimes heartrending tale, especially if you’re someone who is mentally ill or is close to someone who is mentally ill. The looks you get from authority figures when you try to explain what you saw when you know you likely know you look like you’re out of your mind (and, hey, fair play–you’re not) but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. The people who straight up won’t listen to a word you say if they’re familiar with your history. The people who will try to take advantage of you due to your mental instability or just say whatever they need to say to get you away from them. A lot of this book deals as much with how vulnerable the mentally ill are to being taken advantage of by the neurotypical people of the world as it deals with how prevalent discrimination and prejudice, both covert and overt, still largely go unchecked by the system.

In the end, it’s Katrina’s neuroatypical thought processes, knowledge of the rules of her other world, her own rituals, obsessive surveillance, and fast thinking (no matter how nonsensical it may seem at the time) that ends up leading her from clue to clue, and help her to make intuitive leaps and trust her instincts against her normal courses of action. It’s a mentally-taxing and emotionally-draining journey that might leave you feeling as frail as Katrina finally was.

Liar, Dreamer, Thief is everything a great psychological thriller should be, with a bittersweet ending for an unreliable narrator who has no choices in how reliable she can be on any given day. I highly recommend it.

NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing provided me with access to this title. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Thank you.

File Under: 5 Star Reads/Amateur Sleuth/Psychological Fiction/Psychological Thriller/Suspense Thriller

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Wow! This book really takes you for a wild ride. To be honest, I didn't think this book was for me. The first few chapters cover Katrina's obsession with a book from her childhood and how she has to fight the pull of the world from that book. But even thought I had a hard time with the concept of this "book" world, I couldn't stop reading. Then the author crafts a great mystery that turns out not to be in Katrina's mind but real. Great story telling.

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Liar, Dreamer, Thief was one fever dream of a book that I really enjoyed reading.

Katrina Kim is struggling to keep her life under control. She abandoned her college path, her parents want nothing to do with her, and she goes through the motions of a job she hates just to keep her head above water. Katrina also displays OCD tendencies that manifest as obsessions with numbers, shapes, and her coworker, Kurt. When Kurt dies by suicide his last works make it seem like Katrina is to blame. But did Kurt really die? And is it possible he was watching her, too?

I really liked this book. It was a bit slow to start and it did take me awhile to get my head around, but that's mostly because I just wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't. Katrina is an interesting (and unreliable) character who spends her life partially in the real world and partially in the imaginary world from one of her favorite children's books. The imagery of the imaginary world was tangible and descriptive - I really felt like I could see it just as Katrina did. Katrina is a troubled character, and the author did a great job of making you feel for Katrina. I often felt uneasy and concerned for her, even as she was doing questionable (and illegal) things. This was a chaotic and unique novel and I was really impressed that it was a debut. I can't wait to check out more from this author in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for an advance copy.

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Short synopsis: Katrina Kim is slightly unhinged, she has an obsession with a co-worker Kurt, prime numbers, a children’s book, and geometric shapes. When she witnesses Kurt jump off the Cayatoga Bridge, he yells something to imply his suicide is all her fault. Katrina I’d determined to unravel the clues he’s left behind.

My thoughts: I did a mix of audio and e-book reading, the audio was so well done and the narrator phenomenal. I do wish that I’d actually read the first part of the book in order to properly get inside Katrina’s complex mind.

I loved the mental health aspect and how it was discussed so delicately while being completely accurate and understandable. Many of us don’t understand the compulsions that go through some peoples mind, and it was insightful to see how Katrina had to draw the shape, or count by prime numbers to feel comfortable.

This reminded me of a book inside of a book, where Katrina would “visit” a fictional world inside her favorite childhood book in to create order in the chaos going on around her.

Very thought provoking and unlike anything I’ve previously read. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the author would weave in a totally unexpected twist.

My thoughts:

* Music and geometry
* Magical realism
* Book within a book
* Mysterious adventures
* Mental health and therapy

Thank you to and Grand Central Pub for the advanced copy of this book. Publication date is Jan 10, 2023.

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I received an ARC from NetGalley as part of promotion.

TW in text for suicide, stalking, suicidal ideation, OCD and a very frank discussion of mental health

Liar, Dreamer, Thief is equally parts twisty, smart, stress-inducing, funny, and empathetic. We follow Katrina Kim primarily through a first person narrative; however, there are brief interjections with explanatory material (particularly around Katrina's ceremonies she conducts to make sure she is safe).

The narration is sharp, and I found myself deeply invested in the events unfolding. For what can be heavy subject matter, Katrina's wit (and sometimes chaotic decisions) both lend humor and help support the stakes of the core plot. It's also poignant, being so intimately in Katrina's headspace as things unravel, come together again, and we see moments of her being kinder to herself. It almost felt like I was rooting for a friend.

This book unsettled me, made me scream, and made my heart ache in the best ways. If you like genre blend works, particularly with a surrealist/speculative bent, I definitely suggest this for you.

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