Tag: Gillian Bradshaw


Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 2 February, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and Bookish is about past and future settings, so I decided to pick out ten historical/alternate history settings which I’ve loved. I’m pretty eclectic and a good story can get me interested in just about any period, so this might be a rather mixed list…

Cover of Farthing, by Jo Walton Cover of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates by Kerry Greenwood Cover of The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro Cover of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Cover of Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

  1. Farthing, Jo Walton. This alternate history is set post-WWII, and asks, what if we compromised with Nazi Germany? What happens then? What societal creep, what slow insidious curtailing of freedom? It’s a heartbreaking trilogy, full of characters to love and hate, and I think Jo does a great job evoking that version of Britain.
  2. The Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. I never thought of Australia as a setting I’d like to read about, but I am greatly enjoying this whole series, and the era. I have ghostwritten a book with a flapper heroine, so that might help with my fascination with Phryne and her Melbourne.
  3. Arthurian Britain, in all kinds of books. Or post-Arthurian, in the case of The Buried Giant. It’s quite a wide field, really; some people have a Romanised Arthur, some a very Saxon Arthur. There’s some great stuff which contextualises Arthur in various historical periods — Bernard Cornwell being a good example of an anti-Saxon, post-Roman Arthur.
  4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke. The way the magic is integrated into the early nineteenth century and its history works perfectly for me. It’s a long book, but so rich in detail and care that I don’t mind a second of it.
  5. Voyage of the Basilisk, Marie Brennan. That whole series, really — and some other books featuring the exploits of women in that sort of period, like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency fantasies. Finding a bigger place for women in history? A+++.
  6. The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff. Whatever inaccuracies there might be in Sutcliff’s work, it feels right. I’ve always loved her Roman/post-Roman Britain books, and pretty much everything she writes has a fantastic sense of time and place. The Eagle of the Ninth I’ve always loved especially, because it takes a historical mystery and examines it, tries to explain it through fiction.
  7. The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw. Along with Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium and the sequel, this book opened my eyes to the possibility of historical fiction set in Constantinople. This wasn’t a period of history I knew well or thought much about, but now I’d happily pick up more books set there.
  8. Dissolution, C.J. Sansom. And other medieval/renaissance detective stories, like the Cadfael books, too. But this one felt especially rooted in the time period, shaped by the politics and issues of the time.
  9. Outlaw, Angus Donald. Okay, that book itself wasn’t one of my favourites, but that whole period dealing with Robin Hood? Like the Arthurian stories, I love it when writers choose to make Robin Hood feel as real as possible.
  10. Greek/Roman settings. That encompasses Rosemary Sutcliff’s work in some ways, and Jo Walton’s Thessaly books too. It’s just a great period of time with all kinds of things going on, where you can introduce mythic elements or figures that have become legendary now, at the same time as peopling the streets of Rome or Pompeii with ancient people.

Cover of The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw Cover of Dissolution by C.J. Sansom Cover of Outlaw by Angus Donald Cover of The Just City by Jo Walton

So yeah, quite a mixed bag. Looking forward to seeing what other people have this week!

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Review – The Wolf Hunt

Posted 2 January, 2015 by in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Wolf Hunt by Gillian BradshawThe Wolf Hunt, Gillian Bradshaw
Review from 1st February, 2013

I was initially excited when I saw that this was based on the Breton lai ‘Bisclaveret’. I studied that lai in my first year of university, and I’ve had cause to go back to it fairly often since, and I rather like it. Perhaps especially because of the inevitable LGBT reading of it: it’s homosocial at the least, and then the other details make it very easy to read it as a homosexual love story. Bisclaveret is betrayed by his wife, and ultimately everything is set to rights by the king, who loves him very much — and the story includes a scene where Bisclaveret sleeps in the king’s bed… If you want to read more about that analysis, I suggest William Burgwinkle’s Sodomy, Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature.

Anyway, so I was very disappointed when I looked closer and found that this story de-queers the original lai. It invents a whole new character, Marie, to be Bisclaveret’s ‘real’ love interest. I was much less inclined to let myself enjoy this, at that point.

But Gillian Bradshaw has a way of coaxing me along anyway, and I found myself reading big chunks at once. She really is a good writer, and ultimately I found it just as compelling as the other books I’ve read by her, despite my initial resistance. The lai still limits her, in some ways — Marie Penthièvre would be a wonderful heroine, but often we’re limited to Eline and her paramour Alain, neither of whom exactly fill me with warmth. I felt like there was an attempt to understand Eline, at times, but what she did just made it impossible to like her — and Marie’s understanding of her made Marie seem ridiculously saintly.

But for the most part I loved the characters: Marie, the duke, the duchess, Tiher… Even minor characters. Tiarnán, less so, because he makes a silly mistake of judgement when it comes to women. But he does learn from what happens to him, it seems.

Looking forward to the other Gillian Bradshaw books I’ve got on my to read pile.

Rating: 5/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 9 September, 2014 by in General / 8 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten underrated authors/books from [X] genre. I’m going to go with what I know and the really specialised topic of Arthurian fiction. You may choose to view this as an offshoot of fantasy…

  1. The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Phillips. I actually read this recently, and it’s pretty new, but still, I think it deserves some attention. It’s a bit Gerald Morris-ish in tone, I think, but more mature.
  2. Idylls of the Queen, by Phyllis Ann Karr. I loved this. It gives pride of place to a more minor character (Sir Kay), and gave me a whole ton of evidence for my dissertation topic. It’s a fun read, and I think it adapts Malory really, really well.
  3. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, by John Steinbeck. I should repost some of my reviews of this here sometime. He’s one of the very, very few writers that can make me sympathetic to Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, all at once. Possibly the only one who really made me feel that love triangle. He never completed his work on this, and it shows in the early parts, but some of the writing is amazing and breathtaking.
  4. The Killing Way, by Tony Hays. A solid murder mystery using an Arthurian setting, trying to be authentically historical rather than fantastical in this case. If you liked Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian trilogy, this is definitely worth a go. Plus, I’ve had some good conversations with Tony Hays, and he’s sent me some signed copies of his books — I really, really need to get round to catching up with reading them.
  5. Camelot’s Honour, by Sarah Zettel. There’s actually a whole quartet of these, and it does make more sense to read them together, but I loved this book for going to the Welsh roots of the tales to pick out some less used elements. The books are very much romances, in both the medieval and the modern sense. They also have strong female protagonists.
  6. Under in the Mere, by Catherynne M. Valente. Another one which pulls a lot from Welsh sources, particularly in the portrayal of Kay/Cei. It’s very distinctively Valente’s work, and if you know what I mean by that, you’ll know whether you’re going to like it in advance, I suspect.
  7. Exiled from Camelot, by Cherith Baldry. Okay, I had some problems with this one where it came to the portrayal of women, and it’s definitely not culturally accurate to just about any pre-modern stage of Arthurian literature, but it’s fun, and if you read for characters and relationships, it’s all about the strong bonds there. Kay is a key figure, again.
  8. Hawk of May, by Gillian Bradshaw. I’ve enjoyed most of Bradshaw’s work, so I guess this recommendation is no surprise. It’s Gawain-centric, with pretty human characters all round — very few complete villains, and fewer complete heroes.
  9. Child of the Northern Spring, by Persia Woolley. Sort of in the Mists of Avalon tradition as regards portraying women’s lives and Celtic culture, but much less awful and more readable. Guinevere is central.
  10. The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton. Sort of alternate Arthuriana, focusing on a female warrior in Arthur’s band. Looking for the correspondences is interesting, though it can get in the way of the story.

So! Link me yours, especially if they’re on fantasy or SF. I’m waiting!

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Throwback Thursday

Posted 6 June, 2014 by Nikki in General / 12 Comments

Love the idea of this one, hosted here. The idea is to share a couple of the books that have been waiting on your shelves for a while, as opposed to something like Stacking the Shelves, where you share books you’ve just picked up. So here’s three I’ve picked for this week.

Cover of Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly by Night, Frances Hardinge

A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution.

I’ve had this on my list for ages, since the first book by Frances Hardinge I read (which was A Face Like Glass, and absolutely excellent). I’ve nearly picked it up so many times since, but I keep wanting to pick the right time so I really get to savour it.

The Beacon at Alexandria, Gillian Bradshaw

In the Fourth Century A.D., independent and determined young Charis is forbidden to become a doctor because she is a woman. Disguising herself as a eunuch she flees Ephesus for Alexandria, then the center of learning. There she apprentices to a Jewish doctor but eventually becomes drawn into Church politics and is forced once again to flee. She serves as an army doctoCover of The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshawr at a Roman outpost in Thrace until, kidnapped by barbarian Visigoths, she finds her destiny to heal and also to be a woman and a wife.

I wouldn’t be sure about that “finding her destiny” part, normally, but I tend to trust Gillian Bradshaw — I’ve really enjoyed most of her work that I’ve read so far. She seems to do a lot of work on her settings, although as I think on it, she tends to focus more on male characters.

The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Vol. 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands, Ursula Le Guin

Cover of The Unreal and the Real by Ursula Le GuinOuter Space, Inner Lands includes many of the best known Ursula K. Le Guin nonrealistic stories (such as “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” “Semley’s Necklace,” and “She Unnames Them”) which have shaped the way many readers see the world. She gives voice to the voiceless, hope to the outsider, and speaks truth to power—all the time maintaining her independence and sense of humor.

Companion volume Where on Earth explores Le Guin’s satirical, risky, political and experimental earthbound stories. Both volumes include new introductions by the author.

I’m looking forward to both volumes of this, but particularly to volume two. Ursula Le Guin has been a huge influence on me and this sounds like a pretty definitive collection. I’ve probably read a lot of them before, though not all. If you’ve never read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’, I definitely recommend that one if you’re okay with discomforting ethical dilemmas.

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Review – Magic’s Poison

Posted 30 April, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic's Poison, by Gillian BradshawMagic’s Poison, Gillian Bradshaw

Magic’s Poison is enjoyable — not as good as Bradshaw’s historical fiction, and with a predictable romance subplot that didn’t do much for me, but it’s a fun read. The set up of this fantasy world isn’t particularly special; I’m sure I can think of plenty of things comparable in the way the social structure is set up, the way magic is handled, the idea of magic (or something connected to magic) as an addiction, the idea of that addiction as something that corrupts… the snake people, too, seemed familiar — I think I’m thinking of Raymond E. Feist?

But, it’s how Bradshaw pulls everything together that makes it interesting. The snake people aren’t evil, the stupid prince seems to be just stupid rather than malevolent, the capable and kind duke doesn’t get set up to rule the kingdom because he’s capable and kind, as if that’s a good excuse to depose someone. I wasn’t sure about the story at first, and I do think some parts dragged on unnecessarily, but all in all, I’m glad I read it.

I’m interested to see what the other books in this series are like — I think they’re all linked, though I bought them so long ago I can’t remember the summaries and how closely they’re linked.

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Review – Render Unto Caesar

Posted 31 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Render Unto Caesar by Gillian BradshawRender Unto Caesar, Gillian Bradshaw

I struggled with this one for a long time. Much as I’ve enjoyed other books by Gillian Bradshaw (I think I gave Island of Ghosts 5/5 stars!), this one really didn’t work for me. It’s easy enough to read, and the research and detail seems as solid as I’ve come to expect from Bradshaw, but I just didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t get involved with the characters or plot, which is too bad considering it involves figures like a female gladiator.

I kept putting it aside for when I felt more like it, but months have passed without me being any more ‘in the mood’, and I’ve even read another Bradshaw book in the time which had similarities in terms of the tone and pace, but which I loved and read compulsively.

I’d say I’ll give this another chance someday, but I think I’ve given it a pretty fair one already. Bradshaw had me enjoying even a gutting of ‘Bisclaveret’; this just didn’t work for me. Time to cut my losses and move on to Bradshaw’s other work, which I will most likely enjoy.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 13 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
The Bearkeeper’s Daughter evidently, since I just posted the review today — and before that, Conquistadors by Michael Wood. One fiction, one non-fiction, but both based on bits of history I know comparatively little about, so both interesting for that!

What are you currently reading?
Dark Currents, by Jacqueline Carey, is what’s at the top of my pile. It’s fairly standard for urban fantasy, I guess, not as rich as most of Carey’s other work, but absorbing and well written. More like Robin McKinley’s Sunshine than Random Joe’s The X’s X or whatever. Speaking of a more Random Joe-ish one, I’ve also started reading Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey, which… well, when the main character has been dragged down to hell and then escapes, owns an Impala, and has an attitude problem, I side-eye Supernatural and wonder about the influence there.

Other than those two, I started Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which I thiiiink got mentioned in Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great? So that would be the impetus for finally getting round to it, probably. So far, the actual links to the Tam Lin ballad are just beginning to take shape, but I’m just glorying in that academic world. It seems so simple compared to the hoops they want me to jump through to get back into academia. (Hm, a thesis on fairytale retellings?)

Aaaaand I still haven’t picked The Thirteenth Tale back up yet, but I’ll get there.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, probably a bunch of graphic novels, since they’ll be the most awkward things to drag back to Cardiff in my suitcase. Then there’s my ARCs of Gretel and the Dark (Eliza Granville) and Stolen Songbird (Danielle L. Jensen) that I really really have to get to, or no one will ever send me physical ARCs again.

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Review – The Bearkeeper’s Daughter

Posted 12 March, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of The Bearkeeper's Daughter, by Gillian BradshawThe Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw

I was really interested to read this, since it’s set in Constantinople, and I think in the same period as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Constantinople-analogue, Sarantium, in the Sarantine Mosaic books. Even in other fiction I’ve come across Theodora, both as a great and powerful woman and as a scheming whore. This version is a somewhat ambivalent one, seen through the eyes of her bastard son whom she cannot acknowledge but nonetheless loves and schemes for. I liked the way she was portrayed: her drives and ambitions made sense, came out of the real history we know Theodora had.

The story is more about her son, though, based on a rumour about Theodora from Procopius’ Secret History — a very Rosemary Sutcliff-like touch, to take a half-known story and expand it and develop it into something that could have been, like The Eagle of the Ninth. Her books are aimed more at adults, I think, but there’s still that same flavour to them from the ones I’ve read so far, and they touch on similar periods and topics.

I got really involved in this, gradually, drawn into the world of Constantinople and of the people Bradshaw gives us — I loved Narses and Anastasios, and though I didn’t think I would come to love her, Euphemia as well. Theodora, of course, and this version of Justinian, worked very well for me. There are some really powerful scenes, and while there’s a constraint and dryness to it in a way — it doesn’t step severely away from what we do know of the period — it still caught me up in a spell while I was reading.

When you read the blurb, it does sound as if it’s going to be somewhat sensational — bastard sons usually are a pretty dramatic complication, after all. But actually, it tries to steer a path between an interesting story and realism, and I really enjoyed watching that balancing act.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 5 March, 2014 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

What did you recently finish reading?
Volume two of Saga! I really love the comic timing this series has. I need to get my hands on volume 3 now.

Before that, I think it was Identically Different, which is a book on epigenetics, which I already enthused about at some length.

What are you currently reading?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, still. I stalled on it because I was busy with work and then I get distracted by non-fiction, so, oops. I do want to get back to it, it’s atmospheric and interesting even though I’ve just realised I have no idea when it’s set. It has that sort of heavy gothic novel type atmosphere. Maybe a bit like the feel of some of Sarah Waters’ work, and Shirley Jackson.

The other thing I’m reading is The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, by Gillian Bradshaw. I really enjoy her historical fiction, there’s something very satisfying about it, and this one is set in Constantinople. It reminds me both of Rosemary Sutcliff’s work (though I think it helps that in my edition, it’s even set in the same font) and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic.

I’ve also read the first story in The Dragon Griaule, so presumably that’s up next. I’m intrigued by this version of dragon lore.

What do you think you’ll read next?
Well, the plan to read Retribution Falls (Chris Wooding) and Augustus (John Williams) came to nothing, so maybe those next? I do need to get working on reading stuff that I can’t drag back to Cardiff with me, so maybe Bear Daughter (Judith Berman).

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Auto-read list

Posted 11 November, 2013 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

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