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False Conclusion–dangerous inheritance

False Conclusion

by Veronica Heley

Much to her dismay, Bea Abbot, the owner of the Abbot Agency becomes desperately entangled in the affairs of the rich and influential Trescott family. All is not as it appears in that closely knit family…well, closely knit in terms of the secrets they try to keep. Mysterious deaths keep piling up. Bea’s ward Bernice is rather forced at boarding school into a friendship role with the Trescott matriarch’s niece Evelina (Evie), a disheveled and almost incoherent teenager. Evie is meant to marry an older cousin Joshua who has promised to take care of her and, Bea suspects, her fortune too. Meanwhile, some rather disturbing patterns arise when Joshua’s tempestuous brother Benjy takes an interest in Bernice who is only 14 and also destined to be wealthy.

Veronica Heley’s False Conclusion is a good mystery that combines reasoning, investigation, and character conflicts with action. The author’s writing style insists that the reader sneak a quick peak at each “next chapter” which, of course, segues into the next and the next; it is a book that is hard to put down.

If you have been following this series, you will be interested in the relationship developments between Bea and her ex-husband Piers, a famous portrait painter whose artistic skills and quick thinking play a role in False Conclusion’s plot. If this series is new to you, don’t hesitate to dive in; you will quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and find that the plot is fresh. In fact, the intriguing opening lines throw both new and returning reader into the story without hesitation: “Bea Abbot shut the front door on her departing guests and demanded, ‘What on earth was that all about?’ ”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian

Notes: 1. #14 in the Abbot Agency Mystery Series, but would work as a standalone.

2.  Although not overtly a Christian book, the author does show Bea’s reliance on God through a few short prayers for wisdom and protection during difficult times.

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Severn House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

His hand on her shoulder had been heavy. He’d meant her to feel the weight of his hand, and to remind her of the power behind it. He was smiling, but his eyes glittered, needle sharp. He had ceased to dismiss her as a pawn in the game.

She stared into the future. It was a dark pit, filled with crashing noises and a seething tangle of snakes. It was more real than her bedroom. It horrified her. She couldn’t look away. She couldn’t even pray.

“Forgiveness comes with understanding. And remorse. And courage to look into the future and not back at the past.”

Night Shift–using heart and brain

Night Shift

by Annelise Ryan

Two books to read. One—a thought provoking theological memoir with an impending book club deadline. The other—a page turner by one of my favorite authors, Annelise Ryan. She really knows how to tell a story. My decision, given this choice, is not hard to guess. As I finished the mystery, Night Shift, I should have been wearing my “one more chapter” sweatshirt because that is what happened, all the way to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Whereas Ryan’s Mattie Winston Mystery Series focuses on forensics and pathology, her equally well-written Helping Hands Series is about Hildy, a social worker who is combining her job with the hospital as a social worker with a newly created position where she rides along with local enforcement officers to support both the officers and the citizens they encounter. The upside is that many of her clients overlap; the downside is that the hours are extended with the jobs back to back not really allowing for any kind of normal sleep routines. Hildy has been trained in appropriate protocol to keep her safe, and she follows it. She has three big advantages in her new job. She is smart and is good at noticing clues and making connections that others may not see. She has a trained therapy dog Roscoe who interacts well with people in crisis helping to calm them. Personal traumas as a child and her experiences in the foster care system make her an understanding advocate.

In this mystery, Hildy’s welfare check on a farmer yields unpleasant results that are just the beginning of an intricate plot. Threads include a female vet with PTSD, a schizophrenic young man who hallucinates, two adult daughters of the victim who are not very nice people, and a militia organization.

Hildy is determined, persistent, and very caring. On a personal level, she befriends a young neighbor with autism and initiates a relationship with a bachelor detective who is ready to make changes in his life. On a professional level, she is confronted by her boss at the hospital who was turned down for the law enforcement position Hildy now holds. 

Annelise Ryan’s books have some of the characteristics of a cozy mystery, but they have a little edge to them in the crime scene descriptions. They also have characters with more depth to them than the typical cozy mystery. She takes great care to bring the reader along as she supplies background information from the first novel in a natural and organic way. The characters are interesting and show development. The plot is intricate and fast moving. This is a mystery you’ll be thinking about for days as you wonder what adventures lie in store for Hildy in the next book.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Helping Hands Mystery Series, but excellent as a standalone

Publication:   July 28, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

If eyes truly are the windows to the soul, one look at Danny’s makes it clear that reason and sanity have left that particular building. At least for now.

As I follow her in there, it occurs to me that this is a kid who never displays emotion, and that I may have just been played by an eleven-year-old.

The rest of the station employees not only haven’t noticed, but they’ve made no effort whatsoever to maintain the newly cleaned state. I’m surprised I got the job I did with this department because, apparently, being a slob is one of the criteria for working here.

Top Ten Tuesday: Quotes from Cozy Mysteries

Great Quotes from Cozy Writers

Carla Loves To Read

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Each week a new theme is suggested for bloggers to participate in. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want. Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.

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Of Mutts and Men–a tired tale

Of Mutts and Men

by Spencer Quinn

Although I really enjoyed reading the first book in the Chet and Bernie Series, I was a little disappointed as I read Of Mutts and Men, the tenth book in the series. I felt like I was reading a clone of the first book, sporting a different cover and title and with the same jokes, but repeated too often. The mystery concerning a murder, an aquifer, and big business is fresh but somehow did not thrust me into a page turning mode. Chet, a K-9 school failure but faithful sidekick to P.I. Bernie, is always devotedly at Bernie’s side, but his role in capturing the “perps” in this book is less than I think he deserves. He has valuable deductions, but as a dog can not share them effectively in this tale. The story includes a personal side of Bernie’s life as a former flame reenters the picture, but there is no deep examination and it doesn’t seem believable.

I recommend this book if you like mysteries that involve canines and you want a light read. Unfortunately, although it reads well as a standalone, it does not compel me to read the eight books that I skipped over in the series. I am planning to read the next book in the series to inspire me to read more or to convince me that the series is not worth investing more time.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Macmillan—Tor/Forge for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #10 in the Chet and Bernie Series, but can be read as a standalone.

  2. Contains some profanity.

  3. Link to my review of the first book in the series, Dog On It.

Publication:   July 7, 2020— Macmillan—Tor/Forge

Memorable Lines:

“Sometimes I don’t understand you.” Well, right back at ya. Which didn’t change how I felt about him, not the slightest bit. And just to show him, I put my paw on his leg and pressed down firmly, so he’d know how much I cared. We shot through the intersection, the light luckily turning green at that moment, or just about to. 

The big heat of summer was coming very soon, and the back of Bernie’s shirt—one of his nicest, with the flamingos drinking at a bar pattern—was getting sweaty, and he was huffing and puffing a bit. I followed him up the slope, first from behind and then from in front, where I do my best following.

I started feeling very good about the case. As for what it was about, exactly, those details would come to me soon, or later, or not at all. But the important thing was that we were cooking, me and Bernie.

Hannah Coulter–“living right on”

Hannah Coulter

by Wendell Berry

The narrator through the voice of Hannah Coulter ends the first chapter of this novel with the simple line “This is my story, my giving of thanks.” Do not, however, be lulled into thinking you are going to read a book consisting of platitudes on gratitude. Hannah reflects from old age on a full life, but what most would consider a common, ordinary life. She grieves over those she lost whether to sickness or the War. She keeps moving forward because what else is she to do?

Wendell Berry, the author of Hannah Coulter is an agrarian, a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. He brings his characters to life with carefully chosen words that reflect their deepest thoughts about difficult subjects as well as their humanity. This is a book that you may want to reread, that may make you tear up, and that will certainly be the cause of reflection as you identify with certain characters or events.

Perhaps because I usually prefer linear storytelling and Hannah Coulter strays from that paradigm in its first and last chapters, it will not be one of my favorite books. I do recommend it as a book of depth with passages that are worthy of sharing orally for the way the words delight or for the descriptions meant to be savored for the images they evoke. Hannah Coulter opens the door to her heart, her life, and her community to the reader in an honest and touching manner.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Counterpoint for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Literary Fiction

Notes: 1. Part of the Port William series but they don’t have to be read in order.

  2. Map and Genealogy included at the end.

Publication:   October 10, 2005—Counterpoint

Memorable Lines:

Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it. Those years of the war were not a blank, and yet during all that time I was waiting. We were all waiting.

He told of the time he went fishing and the mosquitoes were so big and fierce that he had to take shelter under a lard kettle, and the mosquitoes’ beaks were so tough and sharp that they pierced the iron and came through, and he picked up his hammer and clenched their beaks, and the mosquitoes flew off with his kettle.

The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.

A Fatal Fiction–editing can be dangerous

A Fatal Fiction

by Kaitlyn Dunnett

Mikki Lincoln is a retired middle school English teacher in Kaitlyn Dunnett’s A Fatal Fiction. In order to remodel her childhood home that has been neglected for many years, she supplements her retirement income using her skills as a copy editor. She lived in Maine for about fifty years, but has returned to her hometown, Lenape Hollow, NY. While stopped at a gas station, seventy year old Mikki is verbally attacked by a very angry businessman who has cheated a lot of people over the years by luring them into failing investments. Video of the encounter goes viral, even though Mikki never understood the cause of his anger. Mikki is the prime suspect when her attacker, CEO Greg Onslow, is found dead on one of the properties his company is developing.

Mikki is determined to discover who killed Onslow, but he was not a very nice man, so there are multiple suspects. Friends and family discourage her investigations as they seem dangerous at times.

The editing aspect of the story revolves around Sunny Feldman, last of the owners of a famous resort in the Catskills. She has hired Mikki to edit her semi tell-all memoirs of the celebrities who frequented the resort when she was a teenager. Onslow has bought the property for a development venture. Could their interests be colliding to cause these problems? Could Onslow’s ex-wife or even his second wife have killed him? There are some interesting locals who may have been involved as well. Most importantly, will the murderer set his or her sights on Mikki to cover up the crime and stop the investigation?

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #3 in the Deadly Edits Mystery Series, but will work as a standalone.

  2. At the end of the book, there is a section that will especially appeal to those who love language. It is composed of several pages of language and grammar tips including warnings on split infinitives, dangling modifiers, and usage of the terms swearing and foul language. The tips are interesting and often humorous.

Publication:   June 30, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Warmth crept up my neck and into my face. I was torn between feeling a sense of pride for standing up for myself and enduring acute embarrassment because I’d lost control.

Since I used the “teacher” voice I’d perfected over decades of dealing with junior high students, he caved, but he wasn’t happy about it. I’d have said he was sulking, except that there was a definite look of panic in his eyes.

Unfortunately, to properly put on the airs of a grand dame one really needs to be sipping tea from a delicate china cup. I was drinking my coffee out of a Star Wars mug, a Christmas present from my great-niece.

No Vacancy–struggle with religious identity

No Vacancy

by Tziporah Cohen

Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!

As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.

Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes:  As an adult, I enjoyed this book, so just use this information as the publisher’s intended audience: 

  Grades: 4-7

  Ages: 9-12

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Groundwood Books

Memorable Lines:

Miriam starts to ask herself some prickly questions. Is a lie always a bad thing, even if what comes out of it is good? Does our faith make us so different from one another? And when bad things happen, do we really all have a shared responsibility for the hate in the world?

“It’s not that we can’t get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it’s a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. but I do.”

“When someone is different from us,” he says, “sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.”

1984–is 2021 moving us into this future?

1984

by George Orwell

When I finished the first chapter of 1984, which introduces the very intrusive society of Oceania dominated by Big Brother and the Party, I was disquieted by what was happening in that society and the easy comparison to current events in the U.S. and around the world in 2020-2021. I knew I would return to the book, but immersed in the intensity of the total lack of personal freedom in this totalitarian regime, I allowed myself a few hours respite. I was only reading about it; what if I had to live it? George Orwell had my complete attention within the well-crafted words of the first few pages.

Winston Smith works in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites the past to align it with current events. This process involves multiple revisions over time with all documentary evidence of a different previous reality immediately destroyed. He has a shabby existence—never enough food, a cold, dingy apartment, and most importantly the monitoring of every movement, facial expression, and utterance 24/7 by Big Brother through a telescreen. Even Big Brother’s eyes on giant posters seem to follow him. In this society, sex is allowed occasionally, but only for the sole purpose of procreation. Children belong to groups called “Spies;” and as they mature, they advance to the “Youth League.” Both organizations encourage their members to denounce their parents and other adults to the Thought Police for crimes of unorthodoxy. Party members engage in Two Minutes Hate daily to keep their loathing at a high level and focused on the internal threat, The Enemy of the People, and on the external threat, whatever group of countries is supposedly currently at war with Oceania.

Winston internally rebels, and 1984 charts the expression of his rebellion as well as the consequences. His parents were disappeared when he was ten or eleven. Using doublethink to convince the population that what is, isn’t and Newspeak to provide a minimal language in which it is impossible to express certain ideas, Big Brother (the Party) gains control of minds subtly, but effectively. We are, sadly, seeing a version of that today with censorship and mind control by main stream media as they tell us what to think and say and try to shame those who disagree. It is echoed in our educational system that stresses rote learning, eliminates creativity, and insists on social, political, and religious “correctness.” We are in a season that calls us to read or reread 1984 before this work of fiction becomes reality and is banned.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: 1. In the Signet Classic version, there is an afterword by Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst who moved from Nazi Germany to the U.S. in 1934. This essay is about several books, including 1984 that warn us of the future unless we change our direction.

2. I strongly recommend reading Orwell’s Animal Farm first (and especially for younger readers) as an introduction to the ideas found in both books. As an allegory, Animal Farm is more gentle and less descriptive of the violence that is part of the control of the populace. 

3. A reader’s guide is available at penguinrandomhouse.com

Publication:  Originally it was published in 1949. I read one of the many reprints. My copy is a Signet Classic published January 1, 1961 by Penguin Random House.

Memorable Lines:

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt…Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.

…no change of doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted…And if the facts say otherwise, then the facts must be altered.

Animal Farm–still relevant

Animal Farm

by George Orwell

In reaction to Stalin’s efforts to gain control in the Spanish Civil War in 1937, George Orwell, a writer who fought in that war and witnessed the purges, created what he called “a fairy tale.” Russell Baker, author of the afterword in the Signet Classics edition of Animal Farm said that Orwell “thought too many decent people in the Western democracies had succumbed to a dangerously romantic view of the Russian revolution that blinded them to Soviet reality.” Clearly, Orwell, a self-proclaimed socialist, abhorred the totalitarian state which could emerge from socialism.

The allegory Animal Farm was first published in 1945 after pro-Soviet sentiment died down. It was immediately popular in England and America. It has a timeless theme which Téa Obreht, originally from Yugoslavia, shares in her introduction: “no society is inherently safe from these horrors.” Sometime in the new century, when engaging in retirement downsizing, I donated my copy of Animal Farm remembering it as an important work, but convinced that it is not relevant in our freedom loving United States of America. Recently, concerned about the direction toward total control being gradually imposed in my country, I bought a new copy of Animal Farm.

This short work of fiction tells the story of the animals on Mr. Jones’ farm. They don’t have it too bad. They have just enough to eat and a place to sleep, but they resent Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their farmhouse. The animals are convinced by Major, a prize boar, to fight for their freedom and transform their home into a socialistic farm where no one would be their master, they wouldn’t have to work as hard, and food would be in abundance. They are successful initially in working toward their dream, but things change very gradually as two competing pigs take over after the death of Major. Some of the problems at Animal Farm are born of natural disasters; others are the result of greedy and power-hungry pigs with their security guard dogs.

The animals continue to work hard and grumble little, but life gets worse for all but the pigs and dogs. Eventually the animals no longer remember what the seven commandments that structure their society are or recognize the changes that occur in them. Most can not read them anyway. They also don’t remember what things were really like in the past. They are easily convinced by the leader’s assistant, who with rapid-fire delivery spouts off “facts and figures,” thus proving that their lives are much better than they used to be.

Most of the characters are animals, of course. My favorite is the donkey, Benjamin, who has seen it all, but rarely talks. He just goes along knowing he will probably outlive whatever the latest notion is.  Boxer is a very strong horse who has two personal mottos: “I will work harder.” and “Napoleon [the victorious pig leader] is always right.” The other animals find Boxer very inspiring. The animals are divided into committees. Interestingly, there is a Re-education Committee which the cat, who is rarely around at work time, joins. There is a large contingent of sheep who can be counted on to respond to everything with a loud chanting of “Four legs good, two legs bad.” 

If you have not read Animal Farm, I encourage you to do so. It truly is reflective of what is occurring within the U.S. society including the political class and those who serve them. Although this was written with Stalin in mind, I was able to discern similarities to people, groups, and events in 2020-2021 and ponder the twenty or so build-up years leading to the changes we’re currently experiencing. Animal Farm is relevant today, and sadly will remain relevant as long as there is a greedy, power-hungry class and a populace that can be duped by false “facts,” persuasive rhetoric, and romantic notions of a utopian society.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Political Allegory

Publication: Originally published in 1948. I read the Signet Classics edition published in June 2020 by Penguin Random House.

Memorable Lines:

He repeated a number of times,  “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so.

But once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

The Thursday Murder Club–new life in cold cases

The Thursday Murder Club

by Richard Osman

Richard Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, is a stellar mystery. Definitely not a thriller, the solving of a cold case or two gets mixed in with several current murders as four residents of a retirement community band together to solve crimes that have stumped law enforcement in the past.

The main characters stand out as individuals—Ron, a former trade union leader; Joyce, a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist occasionally still consulted by former patients; and the quite competent Elizabeth who has contacts all over the world from her secretive profession.  All play into the sleuthing with their personal strengths and break down stereotypes of senior citizens who have given up on life. Elizabeth is the leader as the one with the best skills at recognizing motives and relationships, understanding how a crime might have been committed, and devising plans to reveal  criminals.  Everyone recognizes that if Elizabeth wants something to happen, a meeting perhaps, she can indeed make it happen.

Even the law enforcement, PC Donna De Freitas and her boss DCI Chris Hudson, find themselves manipulated into cooperating in the investigations by Elizabeth and the other seniors. Since the plot is complicated, there are many characters including a priest, some gangsters, real estate developers, a sheep herder, and a famous boxer. There are even more, and some careful reading is involved as minor characters can have a bigger role than you might anticipate. For example, one important character never says a word: look for Penny in the story.  It is fascinating to watch the Thursday Murder Club pick at the threads of the various crimes until they unravel. There are some crimes that you don’t even realize occurred until they were solved. Now, that’s magical writing because there is nothing artificial about the way author Richard Osman makes it all come together.

The style of the writing is fantastic with lots of British humor to make you smile and a few absolutely laugh out loud scenes. Joyce records her views on the investigation and reflections on her personal life in a diary that we get to read; it is set off in bold print and interspersed with the other chapters which are written in the third person. None of the chapters are very long and some are less than a page making this many chaptered tome move quickly. The chapters change their focus from one crime and set of characters to another, and that also seems appropriate to the complexity of the plot. This is not a book with a lot of red herrings; it is replete with good solid clues. The reader is in for many surprises but discovers them as the characters do. With its intricate plot and characters with depth, The Thursday Murder Club gives you much to contemplate above and beyond the mystery itself. There are many ethical questions to ponder, but the author lays out the facts and leaves judgement up to the reader.

Rating: 5/5 

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: This award winning book has a sequel in the works: The Thursday Murder Club 2 is set for publication on September 16, 2021.

Publication:   September 3, 2020—Viking

Memorable Lines:

It looks out over the bowling green, and then farther down to the visitors’ car park, the permits for which are rationed to such an extent that the Parking Committee is the single most powerful cabal within Coopers Chase.

I think that if I have a special skill, it is that I am often overlooked. Is that the word? Underestimated, perhaps?…So everyone calms down through me. Quiet, sensible Joyce. There is no more shouting and the problem is fixed, more often than not in a way that benefits me—something no one ever seems to notice.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to use your mobile telephone in here, Elizabeth,” says John. She gives a kindly shrug. “Well, imagine if we only ever did what we were supposed to, John.”  “You have a point there, Elizabeth,” agrees John, and goes back to his book.

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