Review: A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

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A Conjuring of Light, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

“Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you.”

(^This song reminds me so much of this book.)

I have no idea how to review this book. I really, really don’t. I feel like I’ve said everything already in my reviews for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. The character development, the world-building, the writing – all of it is magnificent. The entire series is a masterpiece.

Was A Conjuring of Light a bit slow? Yes. It’s a 600+ page book, and there was a lot of traveling involved. Was the ending a bit underwhelming? Yes. Definitely yes. Do I think the previous books were better? Absolutely – but this book still had the thing that I love the most, the thing that really made me fall in love with it. When it comes to books, there is one quality that I admire the most. I love crafted writing and I love a lot of action, but there’s something that a book can have that a writer can’t really learn. It’s an attribute to the book that develops all on its own.

Potency. Semblance. Realism. When a book opens itself up and completely swallows you, when it doesn’t leave a trace of doubt that any part of it wasn’t meant to be. A writer can learn how to build a world and shape it to their will, but it takes an extra push to make it truly come to life, and that’s not something that is done easily. When a book is real enough to make me forget that I’m reading – when I forget that it’s a story, not something that actually happened – that is my favorite thing. That is what Shades of Magic has.

A Conjuring of Light is the last book in the series. It is over 600 pages, and it is still not enough. It left me aching for more. Finishing it is like coming out of warm water into the shivering cold. I am tempted to beg for a spin-off series, except that I know how those things usually go, and I am restraining myself (almost).

I could disect this book the way that I usually do, but the truth is that I just want to enjoy the pleasure that it brought me while reading it. Sometimes it’s impossible to express why we love something, and I’m having a hard time finding the words for the magic of this series.

Review: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

25776221Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.

To say this book is dull is a bit of an understatement.

I love Arabian mythology. A while back, I did some research for a story I was working on. I only wanted some information about ghouls, but then I got caught up in the legends of the First Beings. I spent hours scrolling through websites, soaking up information. That’s why I was so excited by Rebel of the Sands – but its problems start at the very beginning. The author tries to mesh the Middle East with the Western genre, but it succeeds more in the later than the former. It doesn’t blend. The parts where the author delves into the myths are overshadowed by shootouts, politics, and a revolution that is shoved into the last part of the book.

See, that’s the other thing. I understand the importance of Ahmed’s revolution, but because it isn’t an important part of the book up until the end, I can’t be made to care about it. Most of the book is made up of Amani and Jin traveling around the country together (and staring lustfully at each other, of course), and by the time I got to the meat of the book, it was too late. I was bored out of my god damned mind.

The relationship between Amani and Jin is extremely unbalanced. They meet at a pistol pit, escape a burning building together, and the next morning they are fleeing for their lives, putting their necks out for a person they barely know. Amani throws all of her dreams of traveling to Izman, the capitol of Miraji, out the window, ones that she’s had for years, all for a boy that she’s known for two months. They start swooning over each other instantly, but the attraction between them isn’t there. They feel like two characters from different stories shoved together and forced to play a part.

Then there’s the writing. For one thing, it’s melodramatic. Everything is trying to be so intense and tragic, but it’s not working. It’s a little cheap, like those SyFy movies my dad likes to watch, just to laugh at the shitty graphics. Compared to An Ember In The Ashes – which has a lot of similar themes, if you look closely – it fails, miserably. And then there’s this:

The head that rose to look at me was the color of sun at high noon over a sand dune…I was on to the next stall already, to a Buraqi the color of cool dawn light over dusty mountains. The next one was the endless dark of the desert at night.

Those are all in the same paragraph, and those kinds of sentences are repeated over and over again all throughout the book. Like, I get that you need to be creative, but is there really anything wrong with saying that something is black? How about ebony? Stygian? On second thought, now that I think about it, does it really matter what color the Buraqi are at all? She’s only using them as a distraction; it’s not like they’re significant.

I’m rambling.

My point is that sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. Going overboard and trying to sound artistic and clever can backfire, and make the story difficult to read. It can also disrupt the moment. Particularly in fight scenes, it’s better to be sharp and to the point, because it amplifies the viewer’s perspective. Rebel of the Sands doesn’t do that, and so its punches aren’t thrown as hard as they could be.

Rebel of the Sands had a lot of promise and a cool concept, but a horrible execution. It picks up at the end, but by the time you get to the action, you’re practically dragging yourself through it. What it needed was less traveling, more buildup, and a lot more focus on Arabian mythology.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

30653853The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮ +½

I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances.

This book was a little meh for me. There were pieces of it that I liked, but I didn’t enjoy it so much as a whole.

The Upside of Unrequited has a lot going for it. It’s hilarious, quirky, and cute, and it’s full of so many wonderful things that I like to see advocated in books: Molly and Cassie have two moms, they’re part of a biracial family, and they’re Jewish. Cassie is a lesbian and her girlfriend, Mina, is pansexual. Molly is overweight, which is something that does not happen enough in books, especially where YA is concerned. There are also some topics discussed concerning sex and body image, and although Molly’s thoughts are painful and discouraging and to be honest, pretty insulting, I can’t say I haven’t had the same ones. It’s not that they’re true, it’s just that they’re manifestations of insecurity. They speak to every person who has ever felt sensitive about how they look.

One of the problems is the story. Much of it is focused on Molly’s crush on Reid, as well as her relationship with Will, and the endgame of getting a boyfriend. It’s really uncompelling. Another problem is the underlying current of the relationship with her and her twin sister, Cassie. After Cassie gets a girlfriend, they start to grow apart and fight a lot, and Cassie says some extremely rude things to her sister that, if I were in Molly’s shoes, I would not take. Such as:

“Do you want to help us paint mason jars?” I ask, after a moment.

Cassie laughs harshly. “Um, no.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Jesus Christ. Molly, stop.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

“Ugh—you’re looking at me like…no. I mean, no offense, but do I want to paint fucking mason jars with you and Grandma? Or do I want to hang out with my girlfriend?”

And the thing is, she never apologizes for that – or for anything else she’s done, which includes getting drunk at a party and then assuming that Molly will drive herself home, even when she knows that she’s had a drink. When they start to talk toward the end, she spins it around, and Molly ends up apologizing instead. Then they move on to the wedding, and it feels like so many threads in their relationship are left untied.

Another thing that’s nagging me is that everything – the story and the characters – kind of run together. Nothing felt very distinct, and a lot of the characters felt the same as another character, or multiple characters. None of them connected very well, either. It felt two-dimensional. The writing started to get repetitive after a while, too; I lost count of how many times Molly mentioned something going on in her stomach or her heart. I liked Reid, but Molly around him was an annoying hamster wheel.

It was not a bad book, but it didn’t impress me as much as I was hoping it would. If I were to recommend it for anything, I would say for a good laugh.

Review: Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

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Eliza and Her Monsters, by Francesca Zappia

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

There are monsters in the sea.

Warning: This is a slightly personal review.

Eliza and Her Monsters is extremely relatable. It deals with social anxiety, which is something that a lot of people suffer with. It shows how, despite all logic, our minds can twist our biggest fears around and turn them against us.

I relate with Eliza on a lot of levels, but my personal experience reading this book might be a little different. See, I used to be exactly like Eliza. I didn’t realize it, but throughout high school, I didn’t talk to my peers very often. I purposely avoided working in groups or attending any of the events, including prom. I ate lunch in the library, even though I wasn’t supposed to, because I hated the idea of sitting in the cafeteria. I tried to hide as much as I possibly could, all because I was terrified of talking to my classmates and having them either ignore me or shut me down. I didn’t want them to even look at me.

My senior year of high school brought a lot of changes to my life, and I started to open up a bit more. By the time I graduated, I had gained some confidence. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t invisible, and I was comfortable with that.

I have mostly overcome my social anxiety – mostly. I’ll admit that sometimes I get extremely freaked out whenever I have to talk to someone that I have a crush on, and my best friend will attest to this, because she’s had to listen to me fret and whine for years. I didn’t realize how far I’d come until I read Eliza and Her Monsters and I saw in Eliza who I used to be.

I was so frustrated with her. A lot of the time, I thought Eliza was being extremely immature, especially when she shut out her family. Every time her parents would try to approach her and get her to spend time with them, she would throw a fit, like she was twelve years old. She was abrasive, disrespectful, and selfish. She gave no thought to how others felt or what their problems were.

I used to be just like that. I used to do all of those things, and reading them through different eyes – from the outside looking in – completely sucked. It was also an eye-opener.

Every time Eliza’s parents talked to her about how private she was and how she needed to be more sociable, I saw reflected in them my own parents, saying the exact same thing. I remembered how much those kinds of words irritated me – but, reading them again, I wasn’t. It was like I was finally understanding what it was my parents had been trying to drill in me for so many years.

I am still pretty introverted. I detest parties. I hate being by myself in a group of strange people – but I’m not as afraid to talk anymore. As a matter of fact, the right person would probably say that I have a harder time shutting up.

The best part about Eliza and Her Monsters was Eliza’s maturity. She learns how to conquer her anxiety and keep herself from getting worn out, and that is important to every person who has ever suffered from social anxiety. It has some nerd culture, yes, and quite a bit of the Francesca Zappia charm – of which I have grown fond of since I read Made You Up – but the most important aspect, and the one that will appeal the most, is how Eliza overcomes her fears – how, essentially, she slayed her monsters.

Review: The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

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The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“Run. The end draws nigh, and the sun will soon set for all your kind. How long can you evade the dark, I wonder?”

Well, holy shit. Julie Kagawa took everything that I wanted from The Immortal Rules and delivered it in The Eternity Cure on a silver platter. I don’t know why I’m so surprised.

The Immortal Rules was good, but I still found it wanting. I couldn’t stand the girl-hate, and due to the extensive traveling, a few parts were slow. It also didn’t feel nearly as dark as it could’ve been, with Allie a very unconvincing narrator when it came to describing her struggles with her “demon”. Because I love Julie Kagawa’s writing so much – plot-driven, dynamic, and straight-forward – I still enjoyed it, but there was something missing.

Whatever it was, The Eternity Cure shoved it down my throat. For one, it’s a blood festival. Not only is there more action, but the battles are more gruesome. The world that Allie and Zeke live in becomes more twisted, and that’s something that I’ve never seen from Julie Kagawa before. It was a delight. Sarren, who was mostly just a distant memory in The Immortal Rules, appears more often and reveals his true psychopathic nature. This series was originally marketed as dystopian, but the further it goes on, the more it skewers into horror – especially where that ending is concerned.

Allie has also matured. No longer hiding her true nature, her melodrama is kept at bay, and since she is also no longer quarreling with Ruth, there isn’t any girl-hate – and I can’t tell you enough how big of a relief that is. The worst part about The Immortal Rules was the feud between Allie and Ruth over Zeke. It was a gigantic obstacle that kept getting tripped over, preventing the story from flowing smoothly.

Additionally, there’s Jackal. Jackal appeared at the end of The Immortal Rules as the raider king hunting down Zeke’s family, and he reappears early on in The Eternity Cure. He adds the sarcasm and wit that I remember in The Iron Fey series, with Puck. It’s an element to Julie Kagawa’s writing that I’ve grown found of, and while Jackal is a gigantic asshole and his sense of humor is much blacker, he’s so endearing. He’s the icing on top of the cake.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” he announced. “The good news is that the jeep is still where we left it, and I got the damned thing working again.”

“What’s the bad news?” I asked.

“Something took my fuzzy dice.”

I’m starting to grow really fond of this series, the same way that I did with The Iron Fey. It delivers the creepy, bloody, vicious vampire story that I had been craving for.

Review: Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

7893725Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.

Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away was the very first book that I ever reviewed on The Grumpy Librarian. It’s almost kind of surreal that, about a year after this blog began, I’m reviewing another one of her books.

The topic of school shootings is a very sensitive one. It’s multi-layered and complex. You look at the situation, and at face value, you see the victims; you dig further, and you consider the shooter’s mental state, what put them in that position in the first place. This makes both parties simultaneously innocent and guilty, and when people are murdered, everybody wants it to be black and white. What Jennifer Brown shows in Hate List is that it isn’t. It’s so multi-colored that you can’t tell where one fades into another.

In the end, Nick – the shooter – is a monster and a victim. He is his own victim; he destroyed himself. The message that Hate List portrays is that, even though Nick was bullied relentlessly, his anger and pursuit of revenge don’t equal the damage he caused – not even a fraction of it. That’s because – and as someone who just recently graduated, I can say this with absolute confidence – those things will come and go. Though I can’t speak for everyone, teenagers mature and come to regret what they’ve done and who they used to be. It was Nick’s inability to contain his anger – deal with it, find a source for it, see past it – that caused him to explode.

And although what Nick did was unforgivable, what Jennifer Brown doesn’t let the reader forget is that he was a human being. She peeks into the kind of person he used to be, before his mind became clouded with violence. She shows how kind he was and how much he loved those he cared about, and how even after what he’s done, Valerie can still grieve for him.

Valerie is a great protagonist, because when Nick blew up, she caught most of the shrapnel. She has to deal with so much guilt: over not noticing Nick’s behavior, for causing her family grief, for starting the mess in the first place. She has to look at the faces of all of the people that she used to blame for her suffering, but were actually innocent, and at what she did to them, indirectly. She has to find ways to make amends, even when people won’t let her. Hate List shows her maturity from beginning to end.

I was completely absorbed by this book. The emotions were all so tangible. One of the qualities of Jennifer Brown’s writing that I love is how she pulls out the flaws in human beings and uses them to shape her books. She shows how even the people we love the most can turn into the people we hate; how even the nicest ones we know can turn cruel. That’s what makes her books so realistic, so engrossing, and so hard to put down.

Review: Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

27230789Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮✮

“We change. We keep changing. We won’t be finished products ’til the day we die.”

This review contains spoilers, and is also a bit personal. Please read with caution!

Openly Straight, this book’s prequel, is very special to me. It’s the book that helped me realize that I was attracted to girls; it is essentially the book that helped me come out to myself. Eventually this escalated to where I’m at today. Without Openly Straight, I don’t think I ever would’ve been honest with myself about my true feelings.

It was not a perfect book, but in a bittersweet way, I liked how it ended. I enjoyed Rafe and Ben’s relationship and wanted them to have their happily-ever-after, but the fight and loss of friendship was more realistic. It felt finite. So all it took was one look at Honestly Ben for me to know what was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a bad book, just the same as Openly Straight wasn’t. I like the way Bill Konigsberg writes, I like how he characterizes, and I like the silly and sometimes extremely dark humor that he sprinkles in.

“I feel like we already have a truce,” I said. “I’ve placed my imaginary Maginot Line, and there is an uneasy accord along the Western Front.”

“Oh, Ben,” he said, and the gentleness of his voice made me look away. “Wait. Am I Hitler in that analogy?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. “I guess.”

“So you made the Jewish guy Hitler. Nice.”

I also agree with basically everything this book is about: agape, or unconditional love. It’s a type of love that goes beyond anything physical or material, and can relate to anyone, paternal, sexual, emotional, etc. I strongly believe in this type of love; I don’t believe in soul mates, exactly, but that there is someone, or possibly multiple someones, that are out there and are so right for you that things like sexuality and gender don’t matter anymore. As Ben says repeatedly, he is not gay or bisexual, but he still loves Rafe despite the fact that he’s a boy. A lot of readers seem to be upset by this and claim that this is misrepresenting bisexuality, and as someone who was formally bisexual, I can understand their point of view – but at the same time, I get what Konigsberg was trying to say. I don’t think he was trying to be biphobic; I think he was trying to show that people love who they love without restriction. That is agape.

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Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

My problems with this book reside in other things, the first and foremost being that Honestly Ben feels like an excuse to give Rafe and Ben the HEA that they were deprived of in Openly Straight. Otherwise I can think of no other significance. There isn’t even a change of scenery; the book literally dumps you in where the previous left off. The result is that I felt like I was reading the exact same book. I would’ve liked something a little different: a new place a few years from now, maybe, but something to give it a change of scene.

This relates to the other thing, which is the advocacy. I want to mention that I have absolutely no opposition about advocacy in books whatsoever, because I think that’ll be the generated idea. I love it. This book touches various subjects, including misogyny, anti-war, gender identity, and of course homosexuality. These topics are very important to me, but when I see them in a book, I want them to be integrated in a way that flows with the plot. I want it to still be a book. Instead, all that it does is prop the book up for its lack of substance. I kept feeling like I’d fallen inside of Tumblr.

I felt the same way about David Levithan’s Every Day. I appreciate and support these things when they are discussed in books, but I don’t want it to be everything. I am still a reader; I still want to be entertained.

A good book all in all, but I wish that it had varied from its predecessor. If there are ever going to be any future books about Ben and Rafe, I’d like them to be experiencing new situations instead of dealing with old ones.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows, by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows, by V.E. Schwab

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

“Everyone’s immortal until they’re not.”

(Spoiler-free review for both the first and the second book! There’s a couple of minor things, but for the most part, I have exempted all spoilers.)

Dear Victoria Schwab:

I already thought that A Darker Shade of Magic was fantastic, but A Gathering of Shadows is incredible. It manages to pull off the impossible: it is a middle book that is obviously a middle book, and yet it is still entertaining from beginning to end.

I’m sure many of you have encountered “middle-book syndrome”, when the second book in a trilogy (or perhaps more, depending) suffers due to the fact that nothing monumentally important happens. There isn’t a sense of urgency or danger, and as a result, there’s this sense of idling, and the book suffers from a slow pace. A Gathering of Shadows feels like one of those books, those “spaces between”, as I like to call them, and yet, it is never boring at all.

This is probably due to the fact that in A Darker Shade of Magic, the world is being introduced to us even as the plot moves forward, but in A Gathering of Shadows, we have settled in comfortably, and the pace picks up. It’s still a magnificent world full of magic that continues to surprise and excite, and V.E. Schwab doesn’t let it grow dull. Everything is still developing. We begin to learn about the different countries that neighbor Arnes, about what’s inside of Black London, about magic itself. It’s a world that continues to grow and grow.

The characters are getting more complex as well, and I love it. Kell’s dark side is revealed, showing him a bit more hot-headed and temperamental; Lila, though still reckless, is learning to control her magic; and even Rhy, my precious ray of sunshine, is multiplying, exposing different sides to himself. He’s still the flirty boy that I remember, but he’s darker around the edges, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to see him as a flustered schoolboy until Alucard arrived.

Rhy hesitated, unsure what to say next. With anyone else, he would have had a flirtatious retort, but standing there, a mere stride away from Alucard, he felt short of breath, let alone words. He turned away, fidgeting with his cuffs. He heard the chime of silver and a moment later, Alucard snaked an arm possessively around his shoulders and brought his lips to the prince’s neck, just below his ear. Rhy actually shivered.

“You are far too familiar with your prince,” he warned.

“So you confess it, then?” [He] brushed his lips against Rhy’s throat. “That you are mine.”

Dear Victoria Schwab:

My poor fujioshi heart.

I tend to hate it when books save most of the action for the end, then leave me hanging on until the next book, since it feels like bait, but A Gathering of Shadows did just that – with the best cliffhanger ever, I might add – and yet, it doesn’t feel like it was misplaced, or all shoved into one area. The danger is being built up behind the scenes, and as the ending draws closer, it builds a sense of dread, which is a far more effective method than just having everything blow up in the last few chapters. If I didn’t have A Conjuring of Light waiting for me on my bookshelf, I would be screaming. But I do. So ha.

Dear Victoria Schwab:

Your books are the work of gods.

Review: The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa

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The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa

Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Paranormal

Rating: ✮✮✮

“You will always be a monster, there is no turning back from it. But what type of monster you become is entirely up to you.”

In her acknowledgements, Julie Kagawa mentioned that she thought she would never write a vampire book. Likewise, I thought I would never read a vampire book. Vampires, for the longest time, have failed to interest me, whether they were sparkly or not. (Especially if they were sparkly.)

Then I saw this:

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And I was like, okay. Vampires.

Julie Kagawa is the author of my beloved Iron Fey series, which I have praised over and over again for its fantasy action, depth, and a heterosexual romance that I can actually get excited about. The Immortal Rules is a completely different ballgame. It’s dark and gruesome, and of course, very bloody. I love the take on vampires, how twisted and cruel they are, and their elitist attitude towards humans. I love the rabids as I love all flesh-eating monsters, and I even enjoyed the gloomy dystopian world. As always, Julie Kagawa never bores me. She allows the characters to go off and develop on their own, but never strays too far from the original storyline.

My hesitation, however, is derived from a couple of things, and the first one is Ruth. Ruth is a member of the group that Allison joins up with that are searching for a city called Eden, which is supposedly run by humans. Her only notable character trait is that she is infatuated with Zeke, the love interest, and gets insanely jealous whenever Allison interacts with him in any way. She verbally attacks Allison and spreads rumors about her to the rest of the group, and whenever she’s in a scene, she is always trying to get closer to Zeke. This character type – the bitchy mean girl – is the reason why I used to avoid paranormal YA books in the first place, because usually their only purpose is to make the heroine look better. However, Allison is fierce and strong all on her own, so I don’t understand why Ruth exists, or why she wasn’t converted into a best friend. (Spoiler) : I could understand if she were carried over into the next book and underwent some massive character development, or perhaps served some higher purpose, but instead she dies – quickly, I might add, and in the last 25 pages – furthermore implementing her worthlessness.

The next thing regards vampires, and that is mainly that I want more of them. Though I agree with some of my friends on Goodreads that it’s strange that only Allison and Kanin – her creator – aren’t viewed as completely evil, I love my vampires that way. I love them villainous. And the thing is, is that Allison may be morally-questionable, but she’s not a monster. She goes on and on about her “demon” and how she struggles to control her thirst, but it seems weak. This is due mainly to Julie Kagawa’s bald, straight-forward writing style, which is fantastic in battle scenes but not so much with emotion. It’s hard for Allison’s angst to ring true when it doesn’t feel like she’s battling with anything, since everything she feels is told up front. Because of this, I’m eagerly anticipating more vampires, and hopefully they’ll be a lot more vicious.

The Iron Fey will still stand as my favorite of Julie Kagawa’s series thus far, though I admit that The Blood of Eden has its charms. Everything that I expected of The Immortal Rules came to me and more – I just wish that a couple of things had changed.