Saturday 30 September 2017

Such Small Hands - Andrés Barba

Her father died instantly, her mother in the hospital. She has learned to say this flatly and without emotion, the way she says her name (Marina), her doll's name (also Marina) and her age (seven). Her parents were killed in a car crash and now she lives in the orphanage with the other little girls. But Marina is not like the other little girls.

In the curious, hyperreal, feverishly serious world of childhood, Marina and the girls play games of desire and warfare. The daily rituals of playtime, lunchtime, and bedtime are charged with a horror; horror is licked by the dark flames of love. When Marina introduces the girls to Marina the Doll, she sets in motion a chain of events from which there can be no release.

With shades of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and Mariana Enríquez, Such Small Hands is a beautifully controlled tour-de-force, a bedtime story to keep readers awake.

I first heard about Such Small Hands when a Spanish friend sent me a copy of 'Las manos pequeñas' a few years ago thinking my university Spanish would still be fluent enough to read this little gem. Unfortunately it wasn't, and I've been waiting for an English translation ever since. I think it's probably just as well I read it in English as I think I would have missed a lot of the subtleness of this novel, the quietness which adds to its general air of menace.

Apparently inspired by a real-life incident in a Brazilian orphanage where the other children killed a girl and then proceeded to play with her body for a week, Such Small Hands is not at all gruesome and starts with an actual doll. Marina, the child from the car crash, names this doll Marina too, and starts her descent into something that's not quite madness but is fascinating to the other girls to see and to try to understand.

Barba's writing is simple but this is what makes the book so disturbing and I can see why the comparisons to both Daphne du Maurier & Shirley Jackson are made. The girls in the orphanage are never portrayed as anything other than little girls but in the dead of night, anything and anyone can be terrifying. Such Small Hands wasn't quite what I was expecting but nevertheless wriggled its way into my brain where it's filed away in the 'creepy doll' section.

Such Small Hands -

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Body In The Marsh - Nick Louth

When a woman goes missing, it gets personal for DCI Craig Gillard. But he could never imagine what happens next.

Criminologist Martin Knight lives a gilded life and is a thorn in the side of the police. But then his wife Liz goes missing. There is no good explanation and no sign of Martin…

To make things worse, Liz is the ex-girlfriend of DCI Craig Gillard who is drawn into the investigation. Is it just a missing person or something worse? And what relevance do the events around the shocking Girl F case, so taken up by Knight, have to do with the present?

The truth is darker than you could ever have imagined.

The truth is definitely darker than you could imagine, especially in The Body In The Marsh by Nick Louth. The story starts with DCI Craig Gillard rescuing somebody after a fall up in the Lake District. As coincidences go it's a big one. Her name is Sam Phillips, she's about to start working as a PCSO in Gillard's area, and they're both about to get caught up on two of the local force's biggest cases.

Sam takes a missing person report about someone called Elizabeth Knight, who turns out to be Gillard's first love from 30 years ago. Nobody has seen her and everybody is worried, apart from her husband, the esteemed criminologist Professor Martin Knight who is involved in the case of Girl F, also involving Gillard's station. The case takes an even stranger turn when Professor Knight also goes missing and suddenly everybody is involved and Gillard is heartbroken. He is convinced this is an admission of guilt on Martin Knight's part and sure enough, irrefutable evidence turns up all leading to one conclusion. Elizabeth Knight is dead, murdered most likely by her husband.

The Body In The Marsh is a rollercoaster ride from here on out and nobody is quite sure just how this has happened. Professor Knight has had a string of affairs and emails are found leading police to believe that he was planning to run off with one particular woman, having inherited a significant amount of money. Friends of Liz are convinced that she was being abused by her husband and that's what lead to her brief stay in a mental health unit. The Knight's children are none the wiser, one a solicitor and the other a student both appear to be clueless on the surface but a birthday card from France might indicate otherwise. 

Nothing is as it seems in this case and when evidence points to a link with the infamous Girl F case, which Professor Knight viciously condemned, things appear to be pointing in another direction, or are they? Nobody is quite sure what to do next but trips to France, Spain, the Kent coast, and the fact that the allow the Knight family to hold a funeral for Liz would suggest that the case has gone cold and might never be solved. 

The Body In The Marsh is a fantastic police thriller, well-written, fast-paced, and featuring some wonderful characters. I particularly loved DS Claire Mulholland, Gillard's deputy, who was portrayed as perhaps the most realistic policewoman I've come across, with a family, grandchildren, and definitely not romantically interested in her boss. Gillard was a little peculiar to me though, still pining after a woman 30 years later struck me as a little obsessive and allowing it to impact on all his romantic relationships was nothing short of foolishness. I can pretty much guarantee he is seeing his brief involvement with Liz through very rose-tinted glasses and allowing it to cloud his judgment of the Liz of today. I also loved the touches of humor which broke up the seriousness of both cases under the spotlight, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, in my opinion, should have featured more...

If you're looking for a thriller with a difference you can't go wrong with The Body In The Marsh. Its twists and turns will keep you up well beyond your bedtime. When you think you've got the culprit worked out the book will turn that upside down and thrown in a curveball for good measure. It was definitely worth losing a few hours sleep to find out who did it and what exactly happened. I've got 2 more of Nick Louth's books here to read so I'm hoping they're half as good as The Body In The Marsh.

The Body In The Marsh - Nick Louth
Publisher - Canelo
Release date - September 25th, 2017

Wednesday 27 September 2017

This Week In Books #1

I have decided to join with the lovely Lipsy from Lipsy’s Lost and Found's feature, 'This Week In Books', which highlights our week in books. Here are the books that I've just read, am currently reading, and just about to start.

Now | Then | Next

Now: Death In The Stars

1920's crime writing from Frances Brody and my fourth Kate Shackleton mystery. I'm on the blog tour for this one so look out for my review next week.

Then: Such Small Hands 

My fourth R.I.P. read, a quirky translated (originally written in Spanish) horror novel. Look out for my review of this on Friday.

Next: Karen Memory

One for the TBR Challenge, this has been sitting on my shelves for about 18 months...

Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Secrets You Keep - Kate White

What would you do if you realized that your new husband, a man you adore, is keeping secrets from you - secrets with terrifying consequences?

Bryn Harper, an accomplished self-help author, already has plenty to deal with. She's still recovering from a devastating car accident that has left her haunted by recurring, smoke-filled nightmares. Worse still, she can't shake the ominous feeling her dreams contain a warning.

In the beginning, Bryn's husband, Guy, couldn't have been more supportive. But soon after moving in together, Guy grows evasive, secretive. What the hell is going on? she wonders. Then, a woman hired to cater their dinner party is brutally murdered.

As Bryn's world unravels - and yet another woman in town is slain - she must summon her old strength to find answers and protect her own life. Her nightmares may, in fact, hold the key to unlocking the truth and unmasking the murderer.

Oooh, where to start?! Bryn is an author whose best-selling self-help books have allowed her a comfortable life. Despite being married to Guy, the man of her dreams, they continue to live apart and only seeing each other on weekends but after being involved in a fatal car accident that caused the death of a man from her publisher's they've made the decision to spend the summer together. Or at least Bryn has, with Guy going along with her choice trying to be supportive after the accident. 

After a dinner party thrown for donors of Guy's company the caterer is brutally murdered and it would appear just about everyone is a suspect, including Bryn. Questioned by the police, Bryn starts to doubt and suspect everybody and, at the same time, starts to realize that she might not know her husband as well as she thinks. Plagued by nightmares since the accident, they feature a man who is trying to tell her something. The only thing she knows for sure is that the man is not Guy.

Things deteriorate from there. Bryn doesn't know who to trust, and that includes herself. Everywhere she looks she sees a suspect and is terrified that she might be married to a murderer and if he's not a murderer then he's cheating on her.

A great psychological thriller with so many twists and turns it's almost impossible to keep up and with an ending that I did not see coming. Every single character is unreliable and hiding something, from the guests at the dinner party to a woman from the Arts Council who visits Bryn to see if Bryn will attend an event during the summer. Not only are they unreliable but most are also downright unlikable, I found it hard to warm to any of them really except for feeling sympathy for what Bryn was going through. 

Kate White does a great job at making the reader suspect everybody of the murders, reeling you in with a plethora of red herrings - most of which fooled me as by the time the final curtain dropped I was surprised by the identity of the killer. For a book full of characters that I took a dislike to I still managed to sit up until the early hours of the morning to finish the book in one go. I had to know who the killer was before I could sleep! I hadn't read any of The author's books before The Secrets You Keep but I will definitely try another one soon. Many thanks to Canelo for a copy of the book!

The Secrets You Keep - Kate White
Publisher - Canelo
Release date - September 11th, 2017

Monday 11 September 2017

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge

The first things to shift were the doll's eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swiveled until their gaze was resting on Triss's face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

'What are you doing here?' It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. 'Who do you think you are? This is my family.'

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family - before it's too late...

Unless you've been living under a rock or this is your first visit to my blog you will all know about my love of Frances Hardinge's books. I recommend them to anyone who stands still long enough! What is really noticeable though is that there aren't any reviews of her books, at all, anywhere on this blog. My problem seems to be that the more I love a book or indeed its author the more I have trouble trying to put together a coherent review, or even sentence... I am determined though, to start writing them so am slowly re-reading all of her books. 

I'm not sure why my re-read started with Cuckoo Song. It's not the first Frances Hardinge book I ever read, or my favorite (that's A Face Like Glass) but it's my second favorite, and it's the book that is most like a book that I would write. Seriously. I want to live in Frances Hardinge's imagination because it must be a wonderful place to reside.

Triss and Pen are sisters that have never really got on. After Sebastian, their older brother, went off to fight in WWI Triss was pampered and cosseted to the point where she thinks of herself as an invalid. This is the impression of Triss that everybody has come to accept, but not Pen. She is treated horribly by Triss and rebels by running away on a regular basis. Whilst on holiday Triss falls into the Grimmer, a lake or river near their holiday home, and it's from this point that things take an unsettling turn. Triss knows something isn't quite right but because she's been ill for half of her life she thinks it's yet another illness taking hold of her. Except. This illness has made Pen terrified to be near her, has left dead leaves and other bits and bobs in a trail behind her, and given her a hunger that nothing seems to satisfy. Nothing that is, until she eats a doll and the hole in her stomach seems to be temporarily filled.

On their return home, things continue to be strange and weird. Triss is starting to realise that she's not quite the old Triss, her parents are talking about a strange man that they seem to be scared of, letters from someone are arriving - inside a locked drawer, but strangest of all is that Pen is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen in an old theater and we're introduced to The Architect. From now on it's a race against time for Triss, or Not-Triss as she's calling herself now, to save herself, mend her relationship with Pen, and find out just what is going on in the darker corners of Ellchester. This is where the fantastical comes in, fairies but not as we know them. They're the Besiders, living alongside humans in places where once that wasn't possible. Church bells once drove the Besiders away but thanks to the aftermath of the Great War they're no longer as effective, people simply don't believe as much after their huge losses, and they're coming back in droves. In part, this is thanks to Mr. Crescent, the girls' father, who has made a deal with the Architect. In return for something to do with Sebastian and keeping his memory alive, Mr. Crescent has to design his new buildings a certain way including a pyramid currently being constructed at the new railway station.

Apart from Triss, Pen and their parents, and the Architect, there are two more characters of note in Cuckoo Song. One is Mr. Grace the tailor, whom we meet after a pair of metal scissors displayed above his shop door fall and nearly hit Triss. The tailor befriends Triss and says nothing of her huge appetite after she consumes plate after plate of cake whilst being fitted for a new dress. Mr. Grace is not as innocent as he appears to be and in fact leads to some of the pivotal points in Cuckoo Song, no pun intended after the above scissor incident. 

The other is Violet Parish, Sebastian's former fiancée, who is no longer part of the Crescent family's life. Dismissed from their thoughts as someone who wasn't worthy of Sebastian, Violet has her own 'otherness' to deal with but of course, Triss and Pen don't know this until Violet becomes the one person they can rely on to keep them both alive and discover that she's not the heartless, cold creature their mother likes to say she is. I think Violet was quite possibly my favorite character, fiercely independent, not just out of necessity but because she wants more from her life as a woman in the 1920's, she has a motorcycle and sidecar, spends her nights dancing to jazz and is constantly on the move. Violet doesn't know it but she might be the one person who can help Not-Triss to save the Crescent family and save herself from her grief.

Cuckoo Song is a fantastical/supernatural/historical/mystery novel about the aftermath of war, grief and the hold it can have over you with changelings, a wonderful new take on fairies in the Besiders, weirdness, the bond between sisters and a young girl's struggle to fight against monsters, even though that's the way some people view her. I have nothing else to say except read it as Frances Hardinge might be your new favorite author...

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge
ISBN - 9780330519731
Publisher - Pan Macmillan
Release date - May 8th, 2014

Friday 8 September 2017

Arrowood - Mick Finlay

London Society takes their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.

The Afghan War is over and a deal with the Irish appears to have brought an end to sectarian violence, but Britain's position in the world is uncertain and the gap between rich and poor is widening. London is a place where the wealthy party while the underclass are tempted into lives of crime, drugs, and prostitution. A serial killer stalks the streets. Politicians are embroiled in financial and sexual scandals. The year is 1895.

The police don't have the resources to deal with everything that goes on in the capital. The rich turn to a celebrated private detective when they need help: Sherlock Holmes. But in densely populated south London, where the crimes are sleazier and Holmes rarely visits, people turn to Arrowood, a private investigator who despises Holmes, his wealthy clientele and his showy forensic approach to crime. Arrowood understands people, not clues.

As the cover blurb says, if Society has a problem they go to Sherlock Holmes but where does everybody else go? To Arrowood, William Arrowood to be exact, and his trusty sidekick Barnett. I'm not sure where I first heard about Arrowood but I'm sure it was along the lines of the television rights having being sold, or something like that. I picked it up from the library thinking an anti-Sherlock story would be the sort of read I'd love.

Arrowood and Barnett solve cases, the sort of cases that Holmes would turn his nose up at. This latest case though is one they're wishing they'd never taken, A French woman is claiming her brother has disappeared but the only lead she has involves a place and a man the duo wish to encounter again. They apply themselves to the case though and are soon up to their necks in trouble. Death seems to be following them and a young lady who might have helped is brutally murdered, the young boy they use as a runner is kidnapped and Barnett is hiding a huge secret from everyone.

The case is resolved, thanks mainly to Barnett who appears to be the mainstay of the two, out and about on the street whilst Arrowood stays very much behind the scenes, distracted by the arrival of his interfering sister and the location of his errant wife. There's nothing pretty about Arrowood, it's bloody and brutal, and there are no punches spared. No-one is safe, man, woman, or child, and the dead bodies pile up rapidly. Anyone lucky enough to be alive doesn't necessarily mean unharmed and the police involved aren't all on the right side.

I actually struggled with Arrowood. I picked it up on several occasions, getting a bit further each time and at one point was considering it as a DNF but then something clicked and I realized I wanted to know what happened to them all so I stuck with it. I'm actually intrigued to see if the television rights thing was real, or just something I made up! It would make a fantastic series, and the characters would be more suited to the screen than the page, in my opinion. Having said that I would probably pick up another book featuring Barnett & Arrowood if I happened to see it in the library.

Arrowood - Mick Finlay
ISBN - 9780008203184
Publisher - HQ 
Release date - March 23rd, 2017

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday #191 - Robots Vs. Fairies

Can't Wait Wednesday is a new weekly meme hosted here to spotlight and talk about the books we're excited about that we have yet to read. Generally, they're books that have yet to be released as well. It's based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine
This week's choice is -

Robots Vs. Fairies - ed. Navah Wolfe & Dominik Parisien
ISBN - 9781481462365
Publisher - Saga Press
Release date - January 9th, 2018

A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome - robots or fairies?

Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?

There can only be one… or can there?

Way back at the beginning of 2016, I did a Wow feature on the previous anthology to this, The Starlit Wood, and could have passed out with sheer joy over most of the authors featured. I still don't have a copy of it because how expensive it is!!! Even on Kindle... And now there's a new anthology to drool over! And the authors this time? Just as good, if not better. Christmas is coming, and my birthday, so both are going on the 'you must buy me these books' list. In the meantime, have a look at the authors writing about rampaging robots and tricksy fairies.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

The Orphan Choir - Sophie Hannah

Louise's seven year old son has been sent away to boarding school against her wishes, and she misses him desperately.

And her neighbor from hell is keeping her awake at night by playing loud, intrusive music.

So when the chance comes to move to the country, she jumps at it as a way of saving her sanity. Only it doesn't.

Because the music has followed her. Except this time, it's choral music sung by a choir of children only she can see and hear...

I picked up The Orphan Choir for two reasons, the fact that I loved Sophie Hannah's Spilling CID series ( the first few anyway,) and because I was intrigued by the new Hammer imprint. If you like horror it's pretty obvious you're going to check out Hammer books sooner or later! 

I'm not sure what Sophie Hannah intended with The Orphan Choir but I'm quite sure it wasn't complete and utter confusion, along with a healthy dose of disbelief. Louise and Stuart have a talented son who is lucky enough to be a chorister and boarder but Louise is not happy about this. She thinks her son is slowly being taken away from her but can't convince her husband of her worries. Added to this an ongoing feud with the next door neighbor who will insist on playing loud music at all times of the day and night and Louise is falling apart.

When a lifeline appears in the form of a second home in a secluded rural gated community Louise is off, trying to work out how she can stay there full-time and have her son with her. If something seems too good to be true though, it normally is and Swallowfield is where her life will change forever.

You might think, that as this is a Hammer novel, that it's full-on horror, scary and bloody but it's not. The Orphan Choir is a subtle horror, a ghost story, unsettling, more psychological than horrifying but there are parts that will stay with you for some time after reading. This is where the confusion comes in though as the vast majority of the story seemed to consist of the fight with the noisy neighbor, the battle to have Joseph come home on weekends and then all of a sudden it's the last twenty pages of the book and everything is happening. People are dropping huge hints that maybe everything isn't quite right, Louise is starting to figure out the origin of the mysterious choral singing and then, bam! It's all over... 

If you're a fan of Sophie Hannah's books then you'll like The Orphan Choir but if you're reading it for the horror and hopes of a good ghost story I would suggest you look elsewhere unfortunately.

The Orphan Choir - Sophie Hannah
ISBN - 9780099580027
Publisher - Hammer
Release date - October 10th, 2013
Find - Goodreads | Book Depository

Monday 4 September 2017

Prisoner Of Ice And Snow - Ruth Lauren

Valor is under arrest for the attempted murder of the crown prince. Her parents are outcasts from the royal court, her sister is banished for theft of a national treasure, and now Valor has been sentenced to life imprisonment at Demidova, a prison built from stone and ice.

But that's exactly where she wants to be. For her sister was sent there too, and Valor embarks on an epic plan to break her out from the inside.

No one has escaped from Demidova in over three hundred years, and if Valor is to succeed she will need all of her strength, courage, and love. If the plan fails, she faces a chilling fate worse than any prison ...

An unforgettable story of sisterhood, valour, and rebellion, Prisoner of Ice and Snow will fire you up and melt your heart all at once. Perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell, Piers Torday, and Cathryn Constable.

I was intrigued by Prisoner Of Ice And Snow by Ruth Lauren after reading a blurb that started with 'a cross between Prison Break and Frozen...' and that was it. An MG combination of those has to be good and so I started reading...

Valor gets sent to the prison where her sister, Sasha, is imprisoned for stealing a music box which was to have been a major part of a peace treaty between Demidova and Magadanskya. Instead,  the two are on the verge of war, Valor's parents have lost their positions as the queen's most trusted advisors and now both of their daughters are locked up in Tyur'ma, Demidova's infamous prison. The prison that nobody has escaped from in 300 years...

Despite being warned not to make friends or to trust anybody Valor soon has a merry band of cohorts. Feliks, the street urchin caught up in her arrest, Sasha, her sister, and three inmates of the prison, Katia, Natalia, and Nicolai. Together they learn that Sasha just might be innocent, that someone is plotting against the throne, and that they absolutely have to break out of prison. That might be easier said than done, no matter how determined Valor is. Warden Kirov seems to appear at the most inopportune moments, buildings are mysteriously set on fire, and cruel punishments are handed out to the sisters at the (im)perfect time and thwart their attempts.

To find out if they escape you'll have to read the book but I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment of this Russian-inspired fantasy. It says suitable for middle-grade readers but to be honest, I would say it's at the younger end of YA. The characters obviously all have their own stories to tell but this book is the story of Valor and Sasha so there are only hints at the other children's lives before Tyur'ma.

Valor is definitely the more stubborn of the two sisters and once she sets her mind on something there's no going back. To rescue Sasha she puts herself at risk and doesn't ingratiate herself with the other prisoners to start with, thanks to the rather chilly punishments they receive. Sasha is interesting in her own way though, and I sincerely hope we get to see more of her in the next book along with the rest of the gang. There are lots of unanswered questions and a plot twist or two that need to be resolved so I'll definitely be adding it to my wishlist. As to the 'Prison Break vs. Frozen' comparison? Well, I wasn't disappointed that it was more Prison Break than Frozen. I assume that comparison comes from the fact the book is about two sisters...

Prisoner Of Ice And Snow - Ruth Lauren
Publisher - Bloomsbury Children's UK
Release date - September 7th, 2017
Find - Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon UK | Wordery

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for providing me with a review copy of Prisoner Of Ice & Snow.

About The Author

Ruth Lauren lives in the West Midlands in England with her family and a lot of cats. She likes chocolate, walking in the woods, cheese, orchids, going to the movies, and reading as many books as she can. She’s been a teacher and worked in lots of different offices, but she likes writing best. Prisoner of Ice and Snow is her debut novel.

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Sunday 3 September 2017

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII

For the last 11 years, Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, a.k.a. as the R.I.P. Challenge. This year Andi from Estella's Revenge and Heather from My Capricious Life are hosting so I'm leaping in with both feet and signing up for all the options, books, short stories, on the screen, and (if my library has a copy) the group read of Slade House.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read, hence the very short list below, but it will involve both YA and adult fiction from the following R.I.P. categories - 

Dark Fantasy.
I'll keep this as my master post so will add links to anything I read or watch and will add books to my R.I.P. TBR as I think of them.

To Read

The Crow Garden - Alison Littlewood
Path Of Needles - Alison Littlewood
Sleeping Beauties - Stephen & Owen King
Such Small Hands - Andres Barba
The Orphan Choir - Sophie Hannah
Arrowood - Mick Finlay 
The Woman In Black - Susan Hill
Frozen Charlotte - Alex Bell
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
Coraline - Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

To Watch

IT - Stephen King (Original Mini-Series)
The Mist (Netflix series)


The Orphan Choir
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