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Not All Are Equal – Gilded Cage by Vic James

It seems like forever ago now when I stumbled across the name Vic James, or as Wattpadders know her ‘JayVictor’.

Having just joined Wattpad, Vic happened upon my freshly Featured short story The Fan, a commentary on the sometimes obsessive and unhealthy side of fandoms, and her name flashed up on my notifications feed.

By that point, I’d become slightly disillusioned with the concept of being a Featured writer on Wattpad, having lost the dizzy afterglow some weeks before, when readers descended upon the story in their thousands. My notifications had blown up and I was lost in a chaos of inane comments that left me feeling despondent and despairing that someone would actually provide some constructive feedback on the story itself, rather than tell me which fandom they belonged to, berate me for the character’s foul language (‘it’s limited vocabulary, don’t you know?’) or to tell me that ‘you spelt grey wrong. It’s G-R-A-Y. Spell things correctly, author!’

Then one day, Vic appeared, and I was surprised (and touched) to discover that not only was The Fan the first story she had chosen to read on Wattpad, but that she had zero interest in telling me which fandom she belonged to and actually had something meaningful to contribute. A spark of something constructive that revived my love for the story and gave me the gusto to dive back into the comments board and interact with my readers. After that, I saw Vic’s name crop up quite a bit on my newsfeed as she navigated her way through the site and I even added her story – back then known as Slavedays – to my extensive To-Read list.

Now, I’m going to be honest here.

Slavedays wasn’t top of my list in terms of priority reads.

I didn’t do dystopian. Dystopian had suddenly become one of those trendy genres and I usually like to avoid trendy fiction as much as I possibly can. Remember when Fifty Shades came out and then everyone was writing about millionaire (or even billionaire) CEO’s with a penchant for whips and red rooms? Or when Twilight became huge and everyone was writing about vampire-werewolf love triangles and imprinting wolves and completely forgot that vampires weren’t always sparkly? Hunger Games…. Divergent …. none of it really caught my attention and so, I tended to avoid anything dystopian. To me, dystopian fiction was like your Great Aunt Gertrude, the one you avoided at family gatherings because she liked to spit on a hankie and wipe your face clean while overpowering you with the stench of lavender and moth-balls.

Yeah, dystopian was my least-favourite Aunt.

But still… I liked Vic immensely, having met her at the very first London Wattpad convention (she asked me to attend) and I found myself wanting to read it, just as I often do when I like the author – call it a sense of author-loyalty, if you like. Plus, the book had picked up a lot of attention, winning a Watty Award in 2014 and I knew that I needed to get past my snobby dislike of trend and just read the blooming thing.

Alas (for me) by then, Vic and Slavedays had been signed up by PanMacmillan and the book was removed from Wattpad (the old cover and prologue is still there) and by the time I wanted to read it, I had to wait just like everyone else. Damn it.

But hey, isn’t it just GREAT when you can honestly say that something really was worth the wait??

With the newly-named Gilded Cage downloaded on my Kindle before Christmas (the paperback is out in the UK on 26th January), I finally managed to secure some read-time and settled down at the weekend to dive in, having only managed to find time to read a couple of chapters when it was first released on ebook.

Shockingly, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, what with work, commuting, motherhood and writing now filling up my schedule but you can rest assured if I put the writing to one side to read – and by read, I mean CONSUME – then you KNOW it’s a bloody good book.

The story focuses on the fate of the Hadley’s, an average family torn apart when they are committed to doing their slavedays – 10 years of compulsory servitude to the Equals, the ruling aristocracy of the land, who rule because they are gifted with Skill, a magical power passed from generation to generation and which sets them apart from the commoners. In a cruel twist of fate, the Hadley’s (almost seventeen year old) son Luke is separated from his family and forced to undertake his slavedays at Milmoor, the grim, brutal industrial slave town, while his mum, dad and two sisters get to serve the infamous Jardines, one of the most powerful families of all the Equals.

At Milmoor, Luke learns quickly, trying to avoid the baton of the security guy Kessler who has taken an instant dislike to him, while also trying to make sure he isn’t crushed by the colossal machinery in the workhouse everyday. Back at Kyneston, the Jardine family estate, the rest of the Hadley’s have seemingly a better lot in life and are put to work serving the strange and powerful Equals.

We soon discover that life isn’t all that it seems in either Milmoor or Kyneston, and both Luke and his family, discover that adapting to their new lives brings more surprises and twists than they could ever have imagined.

The contrast between the grey, dirty almost Dickensian world of Milmoor and the sumptuous luxury of Kyneston couldn’t be more pronounced and I adored dipping back and forth between POV’s, creeping with Luke along the grimy back alleys of the slavetown and then wandering the halls of the Jardine’s stately home with Abi Hadley and her Equal masters. As usual, I am always envious of anyone who writes third person really well, as I really don’t, and Vic definitely nails her characters, giving us just enough tempting insight into each mind to leave us desperately wanting more. The narrative was compelling and I was torn throughout as the story led me through countless possibilities as to who I could trust and who I couldn’t and just when I thought I had it all worked out, I was right back to square one again.

Individual POV’s and plot lines are interwoven within the backdrop of political agenda, secrets and lies and civil unrest, all boiling within this huge cauldron of simmering tension that keeps you turning the page. Added into the mix is the mystery and wonder of the Equals Skill, awe-inspiring and, at times, quite terrifying to behold, in particular I thought, the power of the sinister Silyen Jardine (a particular favourite of mine) and the as yet unknown twisted intent of Lord Crovan (I can’t wait to find out more about him!).

It wasn’t until I reached the jaw-dropping end (and yes, its F-ing jaw-dropping) that I had to sit back and remind myself:

I DON’T DO DYSTOPIAN!!!!

Yet apparently now, I do. Who’d have thought it?

I’m not even going to lie. Gilded Cage rocked my world at the weekend and the truth is, I wasn’t expecting it to, despite the fact there’s been such an industry buzz about this book brewing for months now. Bloggers are talking about it. Industry experts are talking about it. Readers are loving it. I loved it.

If you want a book that’ll have you reeling for days, this is it.

If you’re like me and dystopian fiction is your Great-Aunt Gertrude, or Millicent, or Antonia, read this book. Seriously. Just read it.

If you’re already a big YA Fantasy fan and you’re looking for your next favourite read …well, you catch my drift already, I’m sure.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, this anti-dystopian reader is off to rage at Vic James on every social media account she has, to demand more words. OR ELSE.

FIVE BIG MAGICALLY SKILLED STARS!!!

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Review Time! The Fires of Tartarus by Emma Leech

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It’s been two years since Emma Leech’s The Heart of Arima. A LONG two years, I might add, and while of course, I’ve loved the intermittent offerings from the Les Fees series, it’s fair to say that Les Corbeaux: The French Vampire Legend is the series that stole my heart.

From it’s early days on Wattpad to the first instalment The Key to Erebus being published in 2012, I was hooked on the story of Jehenne and Corvus from the start. Set in the Dordogne countryside and weaving a story involving vampires, witches, fae and ghouls, Erebus instantly threw fresh light onto what had become a tired genre. Fast forward four years, and what was a refreshing paranormal romantic adventure, has become something of an epic extravaganza, which I’m delighted to say, is going to stretch to a four book series, instead of the three I had expected. And why not? Because clearly there’s still much to tell of this tale that has its origins not only in the supernatural world, but also in Greek mythology.

Following the series and the author on social media, and as is the way with many paranormal romances, undoubtedly it’s the male protagonist that gets the main share of the limelight where the fans are concerned, something which I totally get, but which also often leaves me feeling a touch of sympathy for the female MC. Particularly when that female MC happens to be as kick-ass as Jehenne. I do recall in the early days of the series, Jehenne sometimes got a bad rap from those expecting someone slightly more ‘Bella Swan’ and instead being given more sass than a sack full of ‘Selene’s’. But, having been exhausted by too many weak and so-desperately-in-love-far-too-quickly-with-the-bad-boy female protagonists, I was craving for a character like Jehenne – someone with a bit of grit about her, someone who was feisty and independent and who was likely to give the guy a hefty kick in the balls if he so much as spoke to her in the wrong tone of voice. I liked Jehenne instantly and I never once stopped rooting for her, even if at times, I could see she was about to end up in a whole heap of trouble. She wasn’t perfect, she felt real, and that, to me, was key.

And besides, you can forgive a character for their flaws, if essentially, they learn from them and grow and whoa, has Jehenne grown! The Fires of Tartarus is like a coming of age story for Jehenne, having had to take the helm as Master of Corvus’ family, while also battling to rescue him from where he languishes in Tartarus itself. We see a new Jehenne, one who has to learn to believe in herself while keeping control of all the chaos surrounding her and mourning the loss of the love she so desperately wants back. I’m not going to delve too much further into the plot here, in case of spoilers, but suffice to say that it was a total delight to see just how far Jehenne had come since the first book in the series. She was masterful, she was strong, she fought to be the person Corvus always maintained she was and she did everything with a touch of humility that showed she was still the Jehenne we had grown to love, just a more grown-up and in-control Jehenne.

Of course, I’d love to wax lyrical about Corvus in this review, because he is still one of my all-time favourite characters but if I talk about him here, I’ll reveal way too much of the plot and nobody wants to see that in a review! Instead, I’ll just let you find out for yourselves, Tartarus gives us a very different Corvus to the one we knew in Erebus and Arima, but still one with the ability to make all the female readers sigh a bit and in need of a cold shower or two 😉

Also interesting to see was the continued development of some existing characters – I’ll guarantee you now that Sariel, Lucas and Cain will become firm fan favourites – plus the addition of the glittery and magical Kai, Emma has built solid network of three-dimensional characters around our two MC’s that helps bring this book to life, until you feel invested in each and every name on the page.

With a slightly darker, and noticeably hotter edge to book three in the series, Emma has managed to create something which transcends the paranormal romance genre, a story in which world-building takes centre stage, where places like Tartarus and Alfheim seem as familiar as London and Paris, where vampires, witches, fae and angels are most definitely all real and where you wouldn’t bat an eyelid to meet a Cockney-ghoul called Rodney. At its heart, it’s the age-old battle between good and evil, but with an angst and fire that will have you turning page after page, sobbing into your pillow and then punching the air with triumph.

Want a story with grit, passion, love, hatred, war and a bit more passion thrown in for good measure? Then The Fires of Tartarus is a five-star epic spectacular that you won’t want to miss!

Roll on book four – just don’t leave us waiting too long, Emma 😉

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Review time! Blood Instinct by Lindsay J Pryor

Logging onto my WordPress blog in what was simply forever, I couldn’t help but smile when I realised the last blog post I made was a review for Lindsay J Pryor’s last instalment of the deeply delicious Blackthorn series. I should, of course, blog here more often, but if I only ever venture into the world of WordPress to review Lindsay’s books, then that’s totally fine with me and well worth the visit. 

So in my last review of Blood Dark, I made a point of declaring that it was Lindsay’s best work to date and that no doubt, I’d be saying the same thing for the next release and guess what? Yup. I was right. I’d love to say that I hold some supernatural psychic abilities to predict the future and THAT’S how I knew the sixth instalment in the series would be the best yet, but I’m afraid it has more to do with Lindsay’s talent and far less to do with my superhero spidey senses. The plain facts are that Lindsay is to writing, what Helen Mirren is to acting – a freaking do-no-wrong goddess!!! 

Having been a fan since Blood Shadows, I don’t think I could ever have predicted just how the story would unfold. For me, it’s gone from a dark and gritty paranormal romance set in the dangerous backstreets of a fictional world, to something that has reached epic proportions, where the sizzling relationships between our characters sits alongside key themes of social inequality, segregation, prejudice and supremacism. Now I know that might seem a little heavy for your average PNR, but the facts are that Blackthorn has NEVER been your average PNR and I believe, it’s part and parcel of what has kept me desperate for more after each release. What’s intrinsically powerful about Blackthorn is that it creates incredible empathy and passion in its readers – the world that Lindsay has created in Blackthorn, with its devilish politics, power plays and twists, had made a massive difference to the allure of the series and Lindsay’s world-building skills, in my opinion, are not praised nearly enough. Yes, we know she can write captivating characters. Yes, we know she can write hot scenes to rival JR Ward. Yes, we know she can inspire FEELS by the bucketload. But it’s the world that she has created behind all that, which provides the whole backdrop to the story – this is what makes it so blooming REAL. Quite frankly, open up a Lindsay J Pryor book, and you’re opening up a three-dimensional feast for the senses and if you’re going to step into that world, well, you’d better be prepared to start running because the action in Blackthorn never stops. 

This is definitely the case with Blood Instinct. Back to everybody’s favourite lycan, Jask Tao (he’s certainly mine!) and his partner Sophia, we find Jask battling to prevent his pack from being unjustly slaughtered by the powerful political forces at work in Blackthorn, while Sophia is battling forces of a very different kind. I loved the dark turn their relationship took in this book, it was at times difficult to stomach but captivating none-the-less, when being together became far more risky for them – Jask and Phia have always been effortlessly hot, but Blood Instinct takes things to a much darker and more gut-wrenching level. Combined with the ever present threat of the vampire prophecy and the sinister presence of the fourth species lurking in the shadows, the action in this book was so exciting and so thrilling that I almost wished I could strap myself in, just in case I fell off the sofa in shock of it all. In fact, I’m not even sure how I managed to reach the end without turning blue and passing out, because I definitely felt I should be holding my breath throughout!

As usual, I’m not going to say too much else regarding the plot, mainly because by book six, it’s REALLY hard to discuss without hitting everyone around the face with big fat spoilers, so I’ll just say that if you want an intoxicating read that will leave you breathless and reeling for days afterwards, then Blood Instinct is the book for you. 

Just don’t forget the safety harness. 

Five beautiful big glittery stars for this wickedly wonderful read! 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Instinct-Blackthorn-Paranormal-Romance-ebook/dp/B01DWURCFU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1462481615&sr=1-1&keywords=blood+instinct+lindsay+j+pryor
  

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Lycans, vampires and serryns – oh my! Review Time: Blood Torn by Lindsay J Pryor

So this review has been a long time coming!

And when I say a long time, I mean eight months to be exact, a fact that I feel quite ashamed of as there really was no excuse not to shout this book from the rooftops as soon as I finished reading it. But as usual, I was distracted by life in general and this review is now LONG overdue, so I hope Lindsay will forgive me.

I’m a huge fan of the Blackthorn series, I just happen to be terrible at writing reviews so I’m just glad to be finally getting around to reviewing Blood Torn, the third book in the series and the one I was probably most eagerly anticipating, which is a little strange seeing as I’m not a huge fan of Lycan books. I’m a vampire girl and with the exception of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, I’ve never really delved into the world of the fictional Lycan.

But this is Blackthorn, after all, so Lindsay could probably throw me a B-movie zombie and I’d be happy, plus of course, there was the teeny tiny matter of the main character Jask having been inspired by my favourite Followill, Kings of Leon’s Caleb, so for me this was always going to be a no brainer.

We start out where Blood Roses left off, with Sophia, the AWOL sister of Leila and Alisha, who also happens to be a member of The Alliance, the human vigilant group intent on destroying the third-species underworld rule of Blackthorn, captured by Jask, leader of the Blackthorn Lycans and having to explain just why she’s been found with two dead vampires at her feet.
With Leila’s serryn powers switching over to her sister when she fell in love with the vampire Caleb, Sophia now finds herself prisoner of the hot-tempered, fierce Lycan who just so happens to be one of the very underworld figures she should be hunting.

Taken back to the Lycan compound with its fifty-foot barb-wire topped fences, Sophia decides to use her incarceration to her advantage, learning what she can about the Lycans and about the mysterious Jask himself. What she learns is far more than she ever bargained for: a leader fighting to keep his pack alive, despite imminent threats from the Lycan Control Unit and the Third Species Control Division, a leader fiercely loyal to his pack and yet strong enough to punish those who step out of line and a Lycan who she can’t help but be fascinated by, despite the fact as she is a member of The Alliance, Jask is the one person she shouldn’t be interested in. What ensues is a battle of wills between the feisty, strong-willed serryn and the tough Lycan, with both trying to second guess the other and both vying to be the one who ends up on top.

As always in Blackthorn, the twists and turns will have you eagerly turning each page in anxious anticipation and Lindsay’s canny ability to have you guessing right up until the end is very much evident in Blood Torn. Lycans might be the minor third-species in the dark, grimy streets of Blackthorn, but Lindsay makes them stand out, worthy to sit side by side with the vampires in a way that makes them completely believable, utterly engaging and always intriguing. For me, the vampire girl, I fell completely in love with the Lycans struggle, their intra-pack relationships, their fight against those who would wipe them out and let me tell you, it definitely surprised me, because as much as I knew I would love the book, I never thought I would love the Lycans.

So am I converted? Yes okay, I admit, I’m a Lycan-lover. Just don’t tell Caleb Dehain or Kane Malloy that I said that, okay?

Five stars for this wonderful third Blackthorn instalment!

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Blackthorn Does It Again!

Sequels so rarely hit the mark. I remember reading books two and three in the Blackthorn series and wondering how on earth Lindsay had managed to successfully pull it off. But to reach book four Blood Deep and to find it is even better (if that’s possible?!) than the first three? Surely it can’t be done?

But yes, I’m VERY pleased to say that Blood Deep is very much the crowning glory of the series so far. Before now, we’ve seen Lindsay weave the threads of her plot very expertly throughout the first three books, although she always maintained each could be read as a standalone and not necessarily in order (although I’d urge you to ignore that and go for the sequence read!) and now, in book four, it still amazes me how she can still surprise with each new turn of event, each new twist, whilst also adding into the mix completely new characters who keep the reader hooked from the word go.

It’s a skill to keep readers interested when you get them invested in characters, just to then switch characters in the next book, but somehow, magically, Lindsay manages to do this and quickly you find yourself torn over which ones are your favourite – personally my loyalties lie with Jask AND Eden, and I just ADORE Jessie. She’s another fabulous female character to bring the men to their knees – as do ALL of Blackthorns’s leading ladies – feisty, strong, courageous and with the right amount of vulnerability to make them believable and real.

It’s never easy to work out just where Lindsay will take us in Blackthorn – more supernatural creatures, new villains, wonderful twists and harsh revelations (not to mention the uber sexy scenes!) but I am more excited than ever to read the next book – bring on Blood Dark 2015!

Well done Mrs Blackthorn – five stars!!

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Matt Corby @ Koko London 19th June 2013

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Okay so I should have written this post two weeks ago and I’m sure some out there who knew I had plans to review the Matt Corby gig, thought that I’d either a) forgotten or b) couldn’t be arsed.

Well, the truth is I had sort of been putting it off. Not because I didn’t want to write the review, but because I just didn’t know how to write it. After all, what could I possibly say that would ever do the gig, or the man himself, any justice?

A Matt Corby gig, I have discovered, really is something you just have to experience. Without going to one, I don’t think you would ever truly understand how amazing he is live. And I don’t mean to come across really gushy here or fan-girly, it’s just the truth, plain and simple.

I have to admit I probably came to the party much later than many of Matts fans, having first heard about him when Fearne Cotton punted his song Brother as her Big Thing on her Radio One show. I recall Fearne saying back then that she had been to see him live and that his voice was one of the most incredible live voices she had heard and since learning a bit more about him and talking to fellow fans on Tumblr and Twitter, so many of them said the same. So, you know, when I got tickets to see him at Koko, I went along with fairly high expectations but I never expected to be as completely blown away by his show as I was.

Koko was rammed. I mean, literally every inch of space seemed to be crammed full of people eager to get a bit closer to the front and when Matt first came on stage and broke into his track Water and Wine, one girl at the front decided to screech “you’re fit!” at the top of her voice and I couldn’t help but think “Urgh, here we go, this is going to be fangirl city” but I wasn’t quite prepared for the hush that descended over the venue once Matt started to sing.

To start a gig with Water and Wine is brave. I’m used to acts getting up there and totally rocking out on the first track to ensure the crowd gets all fired up, but this was the quietest I’d ever heard a London crowd. Literally everyone stopped and drank it all in and from that point on, I knew Matt had reeled everyone in with nothing but his voice. In fact, quite often throughout I was shocked at how the crowd was just stunned into this awed silence and I even heard people being shushed whenever they dared to speak over a song.

New single Resolution received a tumultuous reception despite not having yet been released over here (the release date is 16th July) and everyone sang along like it was already an old favourite. Souls A’Fire literally brought the place down halfway through the gig and Untitled (my personal fave) had everyone holding their breath until the final note.

One thing I would say about Matt is that he’s not predictable. He could have opened with a storming rock song like Souls A’Fire and he could have encored with inarguably his most well-known song Brother, because that’s what I would have expected but he didn’t. Ending the show with Big Eyes (duetted exquisitely by the angel voiced Bree Tranter) and My False was a surprising but amazing choice and left everyone in the audience wide-eyed and wanting even more.

And I’m happy to say Fearne Cotton was right. Everyone was right. I’ve been to a few gigs in my time and no one – yep not even my favourite Followill – tops Matt Corby vocally. He really does have the most incredible live voice I have ever heard in my life and I don’t think anyone I will see will ever beat him. Yup. He really is that good.

But don’t take my word for it. Or even Fearne’s for that matter. Just go to a gig. Because unless you go, you will never truly get it and no review in the world will ever prepare you for just how talented this guy really is.

Photo credit: @r-e-w-i-n-d-d from Tumblr

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Kings of Leon O2 Arena London, 12th June 2013

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Did I mention it was my birthday last week? Despite the fact that a certain American diner decided to keep taunting me with emails reminding me of my age in big bold letters, I refused to let the day go by without celebrating in the best way possible and what better way could there be than with 20,000 people and four guys from Nashville?

As if they KNEW it was my birthday, Kings of Leon scheduled two gigs at the O2 arena during my birthday week and lets face it, it would have been rude of me not to turn up to my own party, right?

It’s been a while since we saw their faces on our shores, particularly after the troubles that followed the release of difficult ‘beachy’ fifth album Come Around Sundown and so this long-awaited tour was bound to be met with some trepidation and anxiety. We’re fans. We want the show to be amazing. We want all our favourite songs. And we want a gig that we know we will be talking about forever.

And I’m so damn pleased to say this gig did all that and so much more.

The break has done the boys the world of good. They looked happy….yes, happy! And we had smiles throughout. They looked refreshed, sounded INCREDIBLE and the energy was just off the scale. I was fortunate enough to go to the Radio One Rivoli Ballroom gig and I have to say, as awesome as it was, I always felt it would ruin any future gigs for me. After all, what could possibly top seeing your favourite band – a stadium/arena band no less – in an 800 capacity venue with just 300 people in attendance?

Well, I have to say Wednesday’s gig at the O2 was pretty damn amazing competition. The set list was stunning – we got Milk, Cold Desert, Molly’s Chambers, Crawl, the obligatory SoF and two new songs from the yet-to-be-released album, to name but a few! Apparently the set list on the Thursday gig was even better….I was more than a little jealous that the Thursday crowd got Arizona, Trani and Holy Roller Novocaine but there’s no way I’m complaining about the Wednesday tunes!

The crowd was totally fired up and finding ourselves just a couple of rows back from the barrier on Matty’s side, we had one hell of a party. I can’t remember dancing so much at a gig (barring Kasabian at Wembley Stadium) and I think I smiled more than the band did. With a raucous encore of Closer, Use Somebody and Black Thumbnail, we left the arena with literally no voices, very sore feet and on a buzz that would last for days.

If this gig is anything to go by….our boys are definitely back….not that they ever left us mind you, but they’ve definitely left thousands of fans chomping at the bit for the new album and fingers crossed for a showcase tour before Christmas 🙂

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If you want to follow the band’s progress on this tour and the summer festival dates, please check out @KoLFanblog on twitter, Facebook and http://www.KoLFanBlog.com as the girls continue to keep us all updated on all the dates and latest KoL news

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