& Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: HarperCollins

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley. Young Adult Fiction. Publisher: HarperCollins

The Book Itself: It’s a beautiful cover. In person, it has a pearlescent shine, and more vivid colors. The city below, and the feather above are important symbols to the story. Very fitting.

My Review: Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

What a weird book. I’m not sure what I was expecting from that synopsis, but as the story unfolded, it kept bringing out new stuff that I wasn’t expecting.

But here’s my beef: a book has to earn it’s Weirdness. And I kept struggling with whether this one earned it’s particular brand of odd.

Aza (whose real name, we’ll not even mention. And the reasoning behind her renaming? Makes less sense) is sick. She has a lung disease named after her, and is dying from it. Under spoiler-rich circumstances, she finds herself raised up to the sky, to a ship only she can see.

And then the real Weird starts to happen.

She’s actually Magonian. So she (inexplicably) has blue skin, hair that moves on its own, pointy teeth, and red eyes. Most of the other people on board look like birds. How blue skin and red eyes have to do with birds, who knows. In the Magonian race, tiny birds live in lung cavities, opened by small doors in the chest. The tiny birds sing with their humans, who can then do magic. The ships are powered by gigantic bats. Squallwhales hide the ships from humans below by creating huge storms. Stormsharks are bad guys. Pirates are a race of some kind called the Breath. Oh, and some of them keep human skins in the closets of their ships so they can look more human.

Weirded out yet?

I just checked, and this book is pretty well beloved, at least on Goodreads. Lots of GIF-heavy reviews and professions of love. I just wasn’t sold. At all. I didn’t find it page-turning, I didn’t find any character compelling, and I felt that it tried to cram too much world-building/crazy magic stuff to make work.

And then there’s the voice. The book battles between a sarcastic, bristly teenager voice, and a lilting description kind of trying to be poetry. For example: “OMG, it’s striking in my backyard,” (page 59), versus “I sing the hummingbirds loose from the official ship’s sail. They fly, darts of dark, fast, fast, into the sky,’ (on page 256). Headley also tries to do some weird shape-poem stuff. She strikethroughs words, I suppose for emphasis, although I found it distracting. It’s just a weird voice to write in, and not consistent.

And there are terms that are never explained! You can’t just drop a term like “ethologidion” – which is clunky and clumsy all on its own – and never truly explain it. Saying it simply means “partner” is infuriating. It clearly means something deeper than that, but the reader is never clued in. The name of the ship – Amina Pennarum – isn’t explained. Then there are dozens of weird, truncated words that trip up rather than help the reader understand the weird world we find ourselves in: Rostra, Rostrae, canwr, heartbird, even Breath! It’s the first in a series, but some explanation is needed. And we get virtually none.

It’s a clumsy start. I found it inconsistent, confusing, and needlessly complex. It didn’t earn the Weird.

My Grade: C-

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& Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Fiction. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Fiction. Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

The Book Itself: Whimsical, almost Alice in Wonderland-ish. A word-y title that takes up the whole front cover (and title box for this post!)

My Review: Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

This review might be hard to piece together. I christened this my “gym book,” meaning I only cracked it open when I was warming up or cooling down at the gym (that’s right! I joined that gym!). And it’s a BIG book. 600+ pages, spread out over a couple months? That’s a lot of ground to cover.

So…the book opens well, getting you right into the thick of Nora’s less than desirable situation, first reeling from a breakup in the human world, and then put under illusion in the fairy world. And THEN she’s quite literally whisked off to a DIFFERENT magical world where she is told the wonderful things she just experienced at the hands of the fairies was a bunch of lies.

So Nora isn’t having a great month.

This book reads very episodic. Every chapter or so Nora embarks on another Side Adventure. She learns some rudimentary magic and sets out to barter her skills for new boots. Aruendiel takes her to court (where her evil fairy former-captor also happens to be – oops!), and she makes some new magical allies. Nora and Aruendiel travel to a village and solve a creepy crawly local mystery.

This episode-building makes for a plot constantly twisting and turning, and thus pretty interesting. But it can also read as if the story and characters are simple, and that the true plot is not important. Even Aruendiel seems to just bumble along through magic, and this shady peace agreement with the fairy people is clearly ridiculous. If the fairies are killing/enchanting people all over the place, destroying stuff and basically taking property from every single village that isn’t theirs….why hasn’t everyone ganged up on them and gotten rid of them?

A lot of minor characters in these episodes never return. In the books’ last fifty pages alone, Nora travels with an ice demon and hunky soldier. These two get unceremoniously dumped by the plot, never to be heard from again.

Which brings me to perhaps the worst flaw of all…that horrible, terribly managed ending. Every loose end it could possibly have? Left untied. You spend over six hundred pages with Nora, with Aruendiel, with this magical world….then you leave it with hurt feelings all around, the idea that a major character has died…but perhaps isn’t actually dead? And the overall feeling that you just wasted your time, because after alllll that, you still don’t get any answers. Or satisfaction.

Also…there’s someone with the name “Hirizjahkinis” helllooooo unnecessary letters.

Apparently there is a sequel in the works (NOT an excuse to leave all those loose ends). I will not be reading it.

My Grade: C-

& Fridays: Book Squealings

I’ve been really excited about books lately, everyone!

Armada by Ernest Cline. Publisher: Crown Publishing

Armada by Ernest Cline. Publisher: Crown Publishing

First off, I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline before I had this blog, so it hasn’t been reviewed on here. I keep meaning to re-read it, but my to-read shelf just keeps expanding and expanding…anyway, the book is awesome. It’s all about this crazy, virtual reality scavenger hunt, positively crawling with 80’s references and nods to nerd-dom.

Armada looks to be much the same. The Advanced Reader’s Copy of Armada came into the store on one of my days off. My coworker texted me about it in all caps, and I made sure I was on the list to read it next.

Well, I’m currently reading it, y’all. And it’s awesome. My brother is also a fan of Cline’s work. Ready Player One is his FAVORITE book. He stayed up all night to finish it (which is normally not his thing), and he’s been anticipating Armada’s release for months.

So I had to rub it in his face when I got a copy. I walked up to him and the following scene happened:

Me: As a bookseller, sometimes we get advanced copies of books to read before they come out…
My brother: [pause] If you pull out a copy of Armada, I swear–
Me: [pulls out a copy of Armada]
My brother: [deep breath in] I hate you.

It was great. I’m trying to read it extra fast so he can get to it, but in the meantime, it’s great to tease him about it 😉

beauty charm poison

I’ve been eyeing these gorgeous books in the sci-fi/fantasy section for weeks. Poison, Charm, and Beauty by Sarah Pinborough make up a trilogy of twisted, re-told fairy tales. They’re hardcover, made of a really nice linen texture, and the details are stamped into the cover. I admit I fell in cover love with them. We’ll have to see if the insides live up to the outsides!

I’m also excited to read Written in the Blood, the sequel to The String Diaries, which I reviewed in May.

What’s on your reading lists? Any new releases you’re stoked about?

& Coffee Table Corner: Game Night

Let’s talk board games.

Like ’em? Loathe ’em? Only like the ones you can totally dominate at, but hate the ones that take forever or anything to do with a deck of cards? I get it all.

My family has a bookcase filled with board games. My dad has a weekly meeting with a buddy of his who has a full shed of board games, and he’s played a different one every week. Crazy, right?

So why not make some of my board games the focus of this week’s coffee table corner?

For the classics, I like SequenceQuirkle, good ol’ Pictionary and Scattergories. And my brother and I have a crazy psychic connection when it comes to Taboo. That’s the game where you have to get your partner to guess the code word, but you have a bunch of words you can’t say (which, of course, are the obvious clues to what your word is). He and I can get each other to guess words with the weirdest clues (usually having to do with TV shows or movies that we associate with that word).

Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit. Just try me...any category.

Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit. Just try me…any category.

ANYWAY. Trivial Pursuit is an oldie but a goodie. I’ve actually been to several restaurants where they keep small boxes of Trivial Pursuit cards for you to play with your dinner partner(s). And not only that, but the game comes in dozens of versions now. My new favorite? HARRY POTTER TRIVIAL PURSUIT. Ain’t nobody beating me at that game, man.

Spellcasting? Characters? Magical Locations? Bring it on. I’m a big Harry Potter nerd. Proud of it. My family got Harry Potter Scene It! one year (anyone else ever play Scene It! ? You popped in a DVD and answered questions about the clips it played), and I owned everyone else. Yep, big dweeb, right over here 🙂

Betrayal at House on the Hill by Wizards of the Coast. Which one of you is the traitor? Who will trigger the haunt?

Betrayal at House on the Hill by Wizards of the Coast. Which one of you is the traitor? Who will trigger the haunt?

My most recent board game crush is Betrayal at House on the Hill. Now, this one is a complex one. The rulebook alone is huge, and it takes a good half an hour or so to get your bearings on how to play. It does help to have someone there who has played it before.

Basically, you and 2+ of your closest family and/or friends are explorers in a haunted house. You start out with no board whatsoever, and you build the house with room cards as you move about. The rooms are ominous: Bloody Room, Catacombs, the Vault. The items and Omens you uncover even more so (a Madman can start following you around, you can take a chance on the Deadly Dice).

At one point, the Omens outweigh the dice rolls, and someone triggers the Haunt. Depending on where and with what triggers the Haunt, you play a different scenario every time. Then you’re split into Heroes and Traitor, in a race to make your side win.

See? It’s even complex to summarize! But it’s amazing. My family has played a couple rounds already, and now that we’re finally getting the hang of it, future game play is going to be awesome.

IKEA LIATORP coffee table. Found here.

IKEA LIATORP coffee table. Found here. Ever play the game: made up word or actual IKEA furniture? Surprisingly difficult…

For the coffee table? I’m thinking a display, glass top coffee table. One you can remove the top or slide out a drawer and resume your game, easy-peasy!

Plus, you can display your impressive board game (and gloat to guests if you’re in the process of winning!)

Allllll right. Are you a board game nut too? Which are your favorites?

 

& Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey.

The Book Itself: Very spellbook-like, old-fashioned, distressed. Sets a great tone for the book and story!

My Review: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Note: that’s a real name! I was completely ignorant of this fact, until I was reading a magazine article the week I read this book and saw the exact same name! It’s pronounced ag-nee-eshh-kuh. The more you know!

A friend of mine from work read this as an ARC and pushed it into my hands. “I loved it,” she said. “And I need to know if it’s just me, or if it really is a great book.”

It really is a great book. I haven’t read any of Novik’s other work — she writes a dragon series that’s pretty dang popular — but reading this standalone novel was very enjoyable. The description up there is quite literally only the beginning. The subject matter it deals with is covered in the first 25 pages or so. The rest of it is a twisty-turny, magic-system-building ride.

The story gains strength with the help of two kinds of enemy: human and magical. There is an army opposing the kingdom in the distance, and a deadly forest doing unexplainable, horrible things to the town folk at home. Our friend Agnieszka is thrown in the middle, hearing details about both opposing forces from her surly captor, the Dragon.

She is to learn magic by his side, and does so…but on her own terms. She discovers that his teachings don’t work with the way she comes to know magic. Instead, a book only she really understands shows her a new magical method. I liked that her method was unique to her. She could build on it with others (with the help of the Dragon’s spellcasting, they learn a way to hold some of the forest’s dark magic at bay), but only she really understood it. It made the magic system seem more personal, more subjective.

The scuffles with the woods build up in a tense and convincing way. Stakes and tensions rise to a fever pitch, and you think when they lead a rescue party into the wood, it’s the grand finale — horrible things happen to the men inside, and it’s brilliantly written — but it’s actually just the beginning.

So. It’s a unique magic system. Spells are cast with a kind of rhythmic chanting/singing/collaboration. The enemies and skirmishes are brilliantly plotted. You flip flop between who is the worst adversary. In the last few pages, the book completely changes your tune. Agnieszka and the Dragon as characters are convincing and pretty likable (you also root a little for them to get together, so there’s that). Some of the secondary characters, despite their frequent use, don’t come across as well rounded or fleshed out — the crown prince and Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia, in particular. But it’s an awesome book. I felt depleted when it ended, like it took something out of me to see it end.

So give it a try, should you enjoy fantasy. It’s a great one 🙂

My Grade: A

& Friday: Creative Juices

Ever see a book that made you want to get creative?

Or, how about a book where you thought I wish I had that/could make that! But if I did it, it’d turn into a lumpy mess (this goes for cooking too)?

Happens to me all. The. Time.

Especially working at a bookstore. Some craft books just make me snigger (Crafting with Cat Hair, anyone?). And some make me want to feverishly start learning to knit/crochet/cook with perfection/sew like a seamstress RIGHT NOW.

So here are just a couple:

Subversive Cross Stitch by Julie Jackson. Crafts/Hobbies.

Subversive Cross Stitch by Julie Jackson. Crafts/Hobbies. Found here.

Why cross stitch if you’re not going to be sassy about it? Subversive Cross Stitch makes me giggle every time I walk past it. Starting with the subtitle: “50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side,” and with charming little sayings sprinkled with profanity throughout to display in your home…it’s fantastic.

Imagine noticing a framed cross stitch and thinking nothing of it…until you do a double-take and realize it says “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom.” Hilarious. Maybe not for your profanity-sensitive relatives, however.

 

Knit Your Own Zoo by Sally Muir. Crafts/Hobbies.

Knit Your Own Zoo by Sally Muir. Crafts/Hobbies.

And there is a whole line of knitting books for amiguri, basically cute little handwoven figures that Japan made popular. A slightly fancier version is Sally Muir’s line of Knit Your Own… books. Knit your own dogs, cats, pets, even zoos! One peek into the patterns for these little critters will make your head spin…but don’t the pictures look adorable?! I want a tiny lemur to sit on my desk and make me feel all accomplished and stuff! I have a cat! Can’t I replicate her in cute, knitted form?!

Cut Up This Book! by Emily Hogarth. Crafts/Hobbies.

Cut Up This Book! by Emily Hogarth. Crafts/Hobbies.

I’m a little obsessed with laser cut details…intricate designs cut into paper, gorgeous scenes made out of such simple materials…LOVE IT. Buuuuuut…that doesn’t mean I’d be good at it. Or that I’d ever have the patience to do it. Plus, I could see myself slicing my finger right open trying to get to the tiny bits.

But Cut Up This Book! certainly urges me to try! It’s full of templates and inspiration for intricately cut scenes, and there’s a second book that focuses on holidays and celebrations. I’d love to be the person in the family known for the gorgeous, hand cut cards and centerpieces…

Maybe one day?

Let me know what books make you want to sit down and create something! Have you ever tried a new skill/hobby and wildly succeeded (or spectacularly failed?). Let me know! Happy Friday!

 

 

& Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Books

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Books

The Book Itself: AWESOME cover. Black, white and red, keeping the colors simple. And two portals with a caped crusader mid-jump. It fits the plot of the book AND looks amazing.

My Review: Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Yes, there are a few worlds to juggle in your mind to get this story straight. Four Londons: White, Grey, Red and Black. But keeping this in mind from the feisty Delilah character makes it much easier: “‘There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London…'”

Okay, that doesn’t much help you unless you read a little of the book. But trust me, you get the hang of it.

Kell is our quirky hero. He’s got a trifecta: he’s Misunderstood, he has a Magical Object or two, and he’s got a gnarly Enemy (or seven). Paired with a spunky Sidekick, and you’ve got the makings of a whirlwind adventure.

The action and pacing is spot on. And there are a tense few chapters where it seems like Kell and Lila can’t possibly get out of the mess they’re in. The villains are dastardly, yes, but they are also creepy. They go a step beyond evil into irretrievably dark.

Our secondary characters are awesome, too. Lila, our Sidekick character, shines as a main character alongside our time-travelling protagonist, Kell. She wants to be a pirate. She cross-dresses in order to slip into places she couldn’t as a young girl, and she unflinchingly hurtles herself into danger should Kell need her to. As the novel closes, it’s her I want to see more of in the sequel. Rhy is a sassy prince, and Kell’s adoptive brother. The bond between them is well portrayed, and it will be interesting to see where both of them will go in the sequel (there is a sequel, right??)

For some reason, at times I felt myself dragging through it. It’s very well done. The writing is solid, the characters for the most part complex and intriguing. Maybe its just my rabid consumption of sci-fi/fantasy, but a lot of pieces in this puzzle felt a little familiar. The tavern as a main hub of the story, a stone of power being the main magical object, the spunky female sidekick character, a protagonist that Just Doesn’t Belong (because he’s Special).

It’s a good story, and I will read the sequel because I do care about what these characters do next. Hopefully the next installment treads some new territory.

My Grade: C+

& Fridays: Quotables

Happy Friday, everyone!

ACK! I’m behind on posts! I’ll have to do some real sitting down this week and set up posts for the next couple of weeks. Bear with me while I procrastinate a little while longer 😉

I have a quote journal. A quote journal meant only for phrases from books I’m reading or have read.

I think it all stemmed from a quote, actually, that I came across who knows where. It reads:

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

So I went, “Yes, I will do that.”

My quote "bible"!

My quote “bible”!

So I keep this notebook on my bedside table. And when I’m reading before bed, and I come across a particularly well-put thought, or a beautiful description, I put it in here. It’s nowhere near full, and I love that 🙂

I got the notebook itself in Croatia, and the quote says, “Liberty is not to be sold for all the treasures of the world.” It has to do with the deep sense of liberty the people of Dubrovnik have and their deep roots to the city, having had a history rooted in conflict against many European powers. It’s a great size, and I like the powerful thoughts behind it.

 

So how about you? Do you keep track of the quotes and thoughts of your favorite books? Or even every book you read (there are quotes in mine from books that I didn’t necessarily love, but I did love certain little moments)? What does your journal look like?

Have a great week!

& Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Orion.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Orion.

The Book Itself: I love simplistic YA covers! Although this one is a little confusing physics-wise. How is the blood perfectly balancing on the round edge of the circlet? Wouldn’t it be more realistic if the blood were dripping down from above, onto the crown? But I digress…

My Review: The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

I will always say two things about dystopians: I love them, and it is difficult to make them new and original because of all that has come before.

Red Queen has a lot of stock dystopian juice: feisty heroine, at odds with the unfair government, and desperate to help her floundering family. She has siblings that depend on her and who are also at the mercy of said Evil Government (she has brothers in the military service), annnnnd she is Special. She’s Different, considered Weird by everyone around her, not fitting into either class.

She doesn’t bleed silver, but she has a power. So the gnarly royal family decides to keep their enemies closer, as it were, and marry her off to one of the sons, depicting her as a Silver raised as a Red, and unaware of her elite lineage until now.

Now…it gets cloying. Mare tries to be a Spunky Heroine, but she doesn’t have quite enough life in her. Don’t get me started on the love triangle. I don’t understand why it’s a “requirement” for YA. I do like a well done one, with a believable timeline. This one wasn’t that. It got pretty unrealistic and frustrating. What dragged me down most were the melodramatic/overdramatic statements sprinkling copiously in the downtime between action scenes. Simplicity gets the stakes across better, in my opinion. It’s more poignant.

So it falls into the pitfall-y areas of It’s Been Done Before. BUT. The abilities are an awesome addition. Court life and the depictions of Silver life vs. Red life is well done. And the ending is awesome, the action ramping up, the main character finally getting a spine and reacting as she should…if the whole book were like those last 50 pages or so, it would have been an EXCELLENT read.

As it is, I can only call it an average dystopian/fantasy/adventure. I’m going to read the reviews for the second installment before I dive into the story again. Hopefully it improves, and Mare becomes fleshed out more, the powers get more air time, and that lovey-triangle-thing ends for good.

My Grade: C