Book review – Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood

Today, I finished reading Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood. Here is a review which delves a little into the mechanics of its writing. This review contains spoilers. Please read the book before reading my review!

I picked this book up in the local library as I was looking for something a little scary to read. Mistletoe started out a great book and I was gripped by the lead character, her situation, the location and the suspense. I hadn’t read any other books by Alison Littlewood so I really wasn’t sure what to expect, which I think added to this suspense initially. What was this writer going to bring the table? I wanted a good scare! The dark and mysterious front cover had hinted that it would be. Leah was a great protagonist and I liked the cast a lot, but I couldn’t help think that the characters could have shown a little bit more make-up, particularly in the way of action. At the outset I wasn’t convinced that Leah would ever have stayed in that house and that she would have run a mile! There just wasn’t enough reason to back up her staying in my opinion, and the scares far outweighed the staying. In most situations the lead character has a very good reason to stay. One that goes far beyond their own self interest – perhaps a mystery to solve on the behalf of another. This sort of came but it was long after her arrival and initial scares. I’m not sure her situation was enough to buy me into her staying. Cathy, who I thought was the most intriguing character of them all seemed to disappear entirely and I was looking forward to her turning and playing a bigger part in the story. Just a hint of how she acted toward Leah made me excited to think ‘this is all going to go pear-shaped’ and I was disappointed when nothing came of it. The same with the lady in the shop – a great character that appeared only once. I loved how Littlewood managed to weave together the past and present and I found that particularly spooky and engaging. I hadn’t read many books that did this, but its a great method to bring eras and different generations together into the same book. The past and present scenario builds up gradually during the course of the novel, so that they eventually merge into one, and I think this is the best part of the book. We get to glimpse the lives and scenes of Leah’s ancestors with her right there as spectator and eventually, player. I loved the mistletoe and the other Victorian symbols (leaves, dolls) that were in the book. I find this fascinating in art and writing and it can really colour a creative piece. These elements were great in the ancestoral scenes, particularly when Martha and Isobel were engaging at the dressing table. One thing that bugged me about the book was the overuse of description – the snowy location. It seemed to pop up quite frequently, until I was skimming over it by the end. I think in novel writing it is generally said that you should ‘set the scene, then hint on it through the rest of the novel, unless the location changes entirely.’ But it appeared in detail every time a chapter began, and midway in scenes. I became tiresome and I felt the descriptions became wasted words. It would have been more beneficial to have discovered more of Leah’s thoughts, her own past – bringing in more of a psychological edge which could have been built up quite nicely for the reader. I also thought that many aspects of the book were just too convenient – items written just because they fit into the story nicely. One obvious one is the snow disappearing at the end. This was very predictable – weather change to reflect the change in story. Yes it has to happen but this came across quite obviously. I feel like I have been fairly negative with my review on this book, but I want to give an honest review and document the elements for myself as I have an interest in the mechanics of writing and cannot help analyse as I read! I believe by calling out the good and the bad we learn more about words and stories. Overall this was a good ghostly read, even though some things felt like they were missing or overdone. I recommend this for a Winters night when you are feeling moody.

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Near to You

I’m getting sentimental over you under Paris skies under this blanket of blue where the blossom falls upon the sun valley moon

I’m gonna paper my walls with your love letters with my eyes bright open while the autumn leaves twist like butterflies over cherry wine singing to Sinatra

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The force of four walls,
Magnolia strength,
Cream deliciousness,
You push the temples of your head
with firm fingertips,
Pushing, bending
your beaten head,
to an alternative end.
To free you from your to-do,
Just for a split second.

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Through my Lens

No matter which way the wind blows,

or how the snow lands on your lashes,

inside your stormy winter roads,

out here in the dust and frozen clay,

you are hell-bent on survival,

because the camera loves you.

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Shrinking Violet

Fairy lights twinkled in the kitchen. She eyed the twisted thin cables and the tiny bulbs. Even the simplest of twinkles are underlyingly complicated, she thought. She took a glug of bucks fizz from the bottle and felt the welcoming feeling of fuzziness. She sliced the blackcherry cheesecake into segments and stopped and gazed at the rain streaming down the window. She tried to recall a previous boxing day where it had rained but she had only remembered grey stillness and snow. She carried the sliced cheesecake into the lounge where chatting and laughing heads wore paper hats from christmas crackers. ‘Cheesecake anyone?’, she shouted above the voices and music, but their heads didn’t turn. She felt herself shrink like Alice. She threw the cheesecake at the nearest wall and collapsed to her knees. Feet began to dance around her as though she were a handbag and she shrank even further until she was head level with their prancing toes. She waded through a blob of cheesecake when the sweet fragrance of blackcherry hypnotised her into stillness and invited her to a place where exotic trees and flowers swayed in a caressing breeze. A place where birdsong serenaded her and where feathered wings provided a blanket.

The Carver

Wishing you all a Happy 2021!

I haven’t written in a very long time, but one of my new year goals is to do writing to a set time limit and post regularly. This is a free-style poem that I wrote today (in 15 minutes).

In racy Regency,
in desert burrows,
in city streets,
impressions, expressions, curtailed like,
paper confetti,
against a misty moon,
in racy Regency.
In concrete tunnels,
on wooden seats,
impressions, expressions,
curtailed like,
wooden puppets,
with taped up mouths,
to fabled tales.

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Music Club

Tuesday night music club,

The first of a million kisses,

Magic and medicine,

In and out of consciousness.

Love, angel, music, baby,

Love sensuality devotion,

So beautiful or so what,

Life in slow motion.

Poem by Donna Henderson (alittlebirdtweets) 2020

This poem uses music album titles only. Life on furlough has fuelled my creativity!

#poems #poetry #books #titles #albumtitles #music #albums #songs #thoughts #creativewriting #prosepoetry #prose #spokenword #writingduringlockdown #furlough #coronavirus #covid19 #alittlebirdtweets #writing #fiction


This is my truth tell me yours

On how life is

In and out of consciousness

We’ll live and die in these towns



This is my truth tell me yours

Emergency on planet earth

Live and dangerous

Life in slow motion


Hear my cry

Playing the angel

This is my truth tell me yours

The unforgettable fire

The long road

Around the sun

Day and age

Endless summer

This is my truth tell me yours

Magic and medicine


Feels like home

Home before dark

Breathe in

Life in slow motion


Poem by Donna Henderson (alittlebirdtweets) 2020

I wrote this poem about our life during the Coronavirus pandemic. The poem uses music album titles only. I used a Manic Street Preachers album title at the start of every verse, and a part of their band name for the title. Life on furlough has restarted my creativity!

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Placing book titles together to form sentences, poems, lyrics, thoughts, stories 📚

I see you, Songbird
the new bestseller
the shadow of your smile
Born scared

Poem by Donna Henderson (alittlebirdtweets)

I see you, by Clare Mackintosh
Songbird, by Josephine Cox
The Shadow of your Smile, by Mary Higgins Clark
Born Scared, by Kevin Brooks

#poems #stories #books #titles #thoughts #creativewriting #writingduringlockdown #alittlebirdtweets

Bang, Bang

You’re an ember travelling on the dinghy of life, you’re a soul that struggles to breathe, your troubled darkened soul smiles at me through listerine coated teeth, the release from life is in your finger, as you’re squeezing down the trigger, you snigger, you wilter, you fall like a feather, I tell you’re better, much better than this, and I see your palm turn face up, your palm of light is a burning fight, an awakening scorch from the sun.

I yawn, and we are on the beach again with euphoria filled young minds, its sands dispense, its oceans surrender, our scars are fresh and tender. We’re curving our fingers into heart shapes, we’re holding them up to the horizon, we’ve joined the hearts together, and I held the burning question, will you marry me? then bang, bang, the gates had beckoned, bang, bang, you had been sectioned, from a trigger, a snigger, my little orange fizzler, my little feather in the glistening wind.


She fails to fill the void, she is constricted inside, her heart squeezes into lime juice straight to her eyes, dissipating out through her pupils into the charcoal dusty skies. Her heavy metal voice spins sunrays into shrapnel, splinters etching her face into a plaster-cracked mural. Trey and her, they sway in circles, with upturned hands, fingerprints spiralled, they are reaching for their destinies with their parallel energies, their lip-balm scented breaths are blowing kisses in synergy, and just as the scorpion tosses its tail to the earth, she relives her dark demise and her remarkable rebirth.

Book Review: The Twins by Saskia Sarginson

Hello Readers!

Today, I finished reading the psychological-thriller ‘The Twins’, by Saskia Sarginson. I have written a review below which follows my usual ‘review from a writer’s perspective’. Instead of reviewing from a plot-based ‘this-is-what-happens next’ perspective, I review ad-hoc elements of a book which help me to develop as a writer. I capture notes on setting, character dialogue, theme and plot, along with all of the other elements, as I read, and I put them together into one big review. The review does contain spoilers, so if you intend on reading the book then please do so first. But please also visit again as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I absolutely loved this debut novel from Saskia Sarginson. I purchased the book from a charity shop (as I love the re-use, re-love technique!), having been drawn in by the title, ‘The Twins’, and the accompanying image of two twin girls sitting side by side. I think the appeal was not only in the subject of twins and the psychology that exists between them, which I find fascinating, but I also think that at the time of buying, my mind was dwelling on another book that I had read a few years previous, which was also based on the subject of twins, and which I had loved. The book was ‘My Fearful Symmetry’, by Audrey Niffenegger.

Firstly, I must confess that I did find ‘The Twins’ difficult to connect with in the first few chapters, and at this point I was wondering if I was actually going to like the book. But I persevered, and I am so glad that I did! This really does show that you have to stick with a book in those times when you just want to give up!

The first person is told from the twins – Viola’s and Isolate’s perspectives, from the time of childhood to early adulthood. These perspectives are broken down into scenes in chapters and are given no particular order. Sometimes I did have to work out who was speaking, while other times it was made obvious from the outset. I feel that this haphazard technique (as opposed to ordered novels) made the book very interesting and natural. Sometimes we were thrown a little section of adulthood right in the middle of childhood, which I found brought the memory and the present day closer. We tend to see this technique a lot in films; where the scenes flick from past to present. I guess that sometimes showing memory and present day so close together gives both more emotional punch at that particular time (rather than spacing those connections chapters apart).

I am a huge fan of psychological thrillers, and I quite often love a character to be the leader over plot. I felt that in this book, plot and character were of equal measure, which was refreshing. I found that it took a bit of time to fall in love with the characters, but I think this goes with most books. May be humans need time to pass by in order for us to connect emotionally with a story, the more we become familiar with it. I am not entirely sure when the pivotal point was that I felt I began to love the characters – but it might well have been during Rose’s (their Mother) every day routines, and during her dialogue to her daughters. Rose came across as natural and wild which was a change from the familiar ‘heart in the right place / faced with a problem that tests him/her to the limit’ characters that we see in these genres.

I found the book had a huge emotional impact on me. The memories that were described in the present day (after us going through those events in real times in their childhood) is what had achieved this. There is a power in repetition – of living through an event and then re-living it through memory later on in years. Another powerful element was the use of showing ‘handwritten letters’ from one character to another. When a handwritten letter is used, we have the perfect medium of seeing how a character feels about another character, as opposed to a character speaking out how they feel through dialogue. The latter doesn’t quite have the same emotional impact as the first.

I loved how Saskia described location and setting, and how she used it during action and time of character reflection. Her choice of the natural world – the sea and beach, the trees and skies – were all perfect for the mood of the scenes and the story as a whole. The tower was particularly atmospheric too which to me made a connection to the dark fairy tales of childhood.

I thought the biggest negative element of the book was the inclusion of a storm at the end. The storm was used in order to stop the characters from contacting each other at a very crucial moment. This is a method used a lot in horror film. I think horror film gets away with it to a certain degree (as it adds to the fear and drama), but sometimes in books, I see it as somewhat cheating the reader. It is as though the story has been left to wander alone, left to chance, beyond character control. If there hadn’t been a storm for instance, then what would have happened? Would the characters have made a different choice? I suppose we could see that as being life in general – the cause and effect of our every day?

There was definitely a sadness to the book – a feeling of time lost, of regrets, of wanting to grab back the past. This is a universal emotion of which we can all relate. I also believe that it is one of the most powerful emotions in fiction – forcing our hearts to ponder over our own lives and experiences in the same way. Although we are living the characters experience, we are also very much living our own too. A parallel power.

The story also had a coming-of-age theme. We see the twins grow up and discover the twin boys as friends and first loves. We are also shown the dark side of eating disorders and how these can develop. Saskia approaches this difficult subject using such delicate yet powerful writing.

I would recommend this book to any one who has the tendency to feel nostalgic, and to those who often dwell on the past and daydream while doing so.

Before I say goodbye on this post, I’d like to give you an update on my writing and reading happenings. I have read seven books of varying themes this year, and my goal is to read eighteen. I have managed to review most of them, which can be found on Goodreads, but at the end of the year, I am going to write a 50-100 word review of each and post it here on my blog.

I have also been working on my first novel, which has been pending over many years. But I think this may be a good thing, because it seems to have morphed into something a lot more powerful than five years ago. I have an on-the-go file that I add to as I go about my day – popping in ideas on post its!

I hope you are having a creative year!

Will be back very soon!

Donna x

Book Review: Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Hi Readers,

I hope you have all had a wonderful start to the year. I returned to work in January, after spending 15th ‘marvellous’ months on maternity leave with my daughter, Delilah. Returning to work in the first week brought on two emotions that seemed to clash. In one sense, I had felt sad to leave my baby and I had a fear of losing the close bond we’d created over the months. In another sense, I was looking forward to returning to my job as a data analyst, getting involved with spreadsheets, and of course, catching up with my wonderful colleagues. I had thought to myself that ‘time’ would be the only thing that could fuse together these two emotions into a ‘right’ – a normality. Five weeks on and my emotions and the daily routine are balancing out perfectly. Delilah has a beautiful mix of nursery and playing with other babies, being with me on a work-from-home Wednesday, and spending time with her Grandma. She has a variation of days in her life that will hopefully create a roundness, a confidence in her, and the vital life ability to be able to adapt to change. I am grateful every day of my life for the good that I have been given.

During the 15 months on maternity leave, I managed to read 12 books. These books were mostly quick-reads, which were perfect to fit around baby’s short naps. Since the start of my commute into London five weeks ago, I have returned to reading novels. A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading a fabulous gothic-mystery-crime book called Arrowood, by Laura McHugh. I must say, I read this book on my first day back and the plot and characters had helped to take my mind off of the sad emotions that I was feeling. Books can be a fantastic therapy, and a wonderful escape from reality for a while! I have written a review of the book ‘Arrowood’ below, and like all of my reviews, they are written from a writer’s perspective; I delve into the elements of writing that I see in a book, which I then note down to help me shape my own writing. Instead of giving a normal run-down of the plot, I take out elements, and these elements may contain spoilers. So if you want to read the book, then I’d advise you stop reading now. But do please come back to read it, as I would love to hear your thoughts!

Arrowood is the title of the book, the the surname of the protagonist, and the name of her childhood house (also the central setting of the book). Using this combination ties several of the major elements of writing together, and it gives them a strong connection. We don’t have to keep questioning the title of the book as we read, because it is embedded deeply in our minds from the very beginning. Arrowood – how can we forget it! The protagonist’s first name is Arden, which I found to be unique and memorable – the sound and echo of her first name really fused with the surname and title of the book. Arden Arrowood – what a fabulous name!

Arrowood is a stately home, which has been occupied by generations of Arrowood – whom are mentioned throughout the book. This gives us a sense of history and that all important ‘past, present, future’ that I believe all books should possess. The past generations that are spoken of in the book, bring a sense of age and a past ‘liveliness’ to the home (which is a contrast to the quietness of present). I tend to look for contrasts in all elements of novels, whether it be a contrast of characters, weather, dialogue, location, theme etc. They help to give that very important ‘lightness’ and ‘darkness’ that the reader must feel. As they say, the sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour.

In the present day, we see Arden return to her former childhood home of Arrowood. A perfect example of a winning story trigger, whereby a character ‘enters a new surrounding and endures a new goal and life’. Her and her family had left the house ten years previous, after a devasting family event had hit them; Arden’s two baby twin sisters had gone missing at Arrowood. In the present day we see Arden return in an attempt to find and relive the life she once knew. She has a yearning to reconnect with the twins, to find out what happened, and this inner yearning develops into passive detective work (when she meets and interacts with other characters and uncovers secrets along the way). I guess the goal grows stronger and stronger, and she and we then go on to find out what really happened to her sisters. This is what creates the page-turn – those burning questions that linger in our heads – what happened? Are they still alive? In general, I find books that pose big and clear questions are often the books I finish (even if those books are somewhat boring – Arrowood isn’t one of those). As writer’s, we must ensure that before we pose big questions to the reader, that we connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. The reader must care about them, or at least be intrigued by them, otherwise the question doesn’t have quite strong a hold on us.

In this book, and sometimes in life, we learn that versions of a story can be kept and modified through generations – until the truth is distorted entirely. This can be from different versions of a memory, and also applying a different aspect to an event. And with new evidence uncovered, the facts can affect the present day and the future. This is especially true of childhood memory, which is something that affects Arden. She has a clear memory of her Sisters going missing – but then her memory is questioned by another character which then leads to her question herself, and thus it changes the course and events of the story. This is a great plot trick – whereby the reader is ‘on course’ and feels safe in his or her knowledge of the situation. The reader may even feel clever at this stage – as they feel that what they know is enough to provide them with an answer or several anwers to the big questions. Then boom! The reader is shocked as they are showed a new revelation, and have to take a new path and direction entirely. Being a step ahead than the reader is a big challenge for a writer. We must discuss every possible angle and answer of a story so that the reader does not feel fooled – yet we must provide a shocking answer that is both viable and acceptable for the reader too. This can create the wow factor.

As mentioned, the book mixes past present and future, and it shows us how all of these elements shapes us as the people we are today. The key message is that none of us can ever truly live in the past or the future, and that only the present is certain. This very second. We can store memories but they can never be truly relived as we once knew them – as Arden discovers. We can only really hold on to scenes and fragments of them in our minds. Memories can sometimes be clear and sometimes be blurred. If you asked ten different people their version of the same event, chances are they will all be different. This will be due to the different workings of our minds and how we use and apply our senses.

Lies and secrets are also a very big theme in this book, and they are explored wonderfully through character and dialogue. A character holding something back can prompt that wonderful thing called conflict. This occurs with Arden and various characters in the book.

All in all, I absolutely loved this book. But along with all the good bits, I must pick out one element that annoyed me – one which tended to appear throughout the book. I found that Arden’s experience of the setting she was in at that time (how she reacted to weather, the objects she was seeing etc.) felt like it disturbed the flow of dialogue between her and other characters. There is an importance in letting the reader know the surroundings, but I felt that there was a type of written pattern forming in every section of dialogue – and that each time I spotted the pattern, I turned to skim-reading just those parts. Sometimes ‘setting description’ can be a beautiful thing, but when it feels like it is padded out it has a different touch entirely.

The themes of darkness, loneliness, mourning for the past, and loss were very powerful in this book, and I would consider this to be the author’s strongest skill. I would definitely recommend this book to mystery lovers, readers that love a dramatic-old-house at the forefront of a book and a good old ‘missing persons’ plot.

I hope that you enjoyed reading the review, and I do hope that I have provided some writing insight on what I consider to be a fabulous book.

Whilst I was writing this review, I also managed to read ‘Strangeland’, by Tracey Emin. At first, I thought it was going to give me an insight into her work as an artist, but it turned out to be a fabulously shocking biography – in ‘memory-diary’ format. I have written in my notebook to follow up with reading a book that is based on her work. If there is one in existence.

I am almost approaching the end of ‘Thin Line’ by Michelle Paver, which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks. It is a mountaineering/survival/ghost story – a plot that intrigued me.

I look foward to hearing your comments and thoughts.

Until next time,

Donna x

No False Stops

With the long crawl of time a coldness in my heart a numbness in my mind I exhale droplets into the air and fast they fall like hail from clouds they smash to the ground I step to the platform edge I am a face of rage torn today my world has no tomorrow or no yesterday I am a woman scorned with no poems forged I hear countless raps of repetitive trains on repetitive mornings those early mornings when you are drinking water to wash the dust and dead skin from your dried-out throat and your dried-out eyes they no longer cry under the fluorescent lights where office suits and ties weigh you up weigh up your life when you hide behind your frizzy hair burned out from under summer’s long stare styled in tongs for too long brushed a billion times until the fallen strands become a train pad for selfish suits to comfortably sit with their legs crossed their newspapers upright their eyes fixed on Financial Times numbers stocks and shares supressed in their minds I wonder how weak we must be to ride the endless rock the endless rap motion upon track and ballast the rap rock sound a dismal rap track a dismal ballad without love we stand on a platform edge swaying we stare at the back of knitted-hat heads in cold feet with cold heart with cold stare we wait for the doors to open

My happenings…

Hi Readers,

I hope you are all well and you are having a fabulously creative year!

I have been busy reading books this year (more than writing) and I am happily on track to meet my reading goal of 12 books. I have read 8 so far this year. This is not too bad with a nine month old baby pulling at the pages as I feed her!

I have been reading quite a few Quick Reads books of late which I have loaned from the local libary. I love to support my local library as I feel it has such a vital part to play in the health of the community. When I walk in I often see babies and children in the children section, either reading or attending a monthly class. I often see elderly people relaxing with a newspaper and students looking up books in the reference section. A library is a wondrous places for people of every age. It crosses so many paths and lives.

Today, I finished reading a Quick Reads horror story called ‘The Little One’, by Lynda La Plante, which I found to be excellent. The story was one where the paranormal meets human; a subject I am always fascinated with. Keeping in mood, but slightly different in theme, my next read is going to be another Quick Reads book called ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, by Simon Kernick. It is basically about friends who go out hiking and encounter a half-naked girl who cannot speak English. She is running away from someone and it is up to the friends to decide whether they should help her, even if it means putting themselves in danger. Ths synopsis totally grips me and I am so excited to read it.

I have been posting reviews on Goodreads for some time now. Some reviews are more detailed than others and some contain my views from a writer’s perspective. I guess that there are certain books that don’t leave much to say and so ask for a very simplified review – not to say these are bad books – but they are books that perhaps didn’t spark anything substantial to note down. Then there are those reviews in which I ramble and cannot get my words out quickly enough as I am filled with inspiration.

So what else have I been up to? Well in the beginning of July, I attended the amazing Buckingham Literary Festival, over three days. There I attended two talks by well known authors, Peter James, Louise Doughty and Clare Mackintosh – where I received signed copies of there books. These talks were super inspiring with the authors talking about their inspirations, how they approach writing and their thoughts on the Police unit. I have lots of notes on the talks, which I intend to write up and post on here very soon. I also attended two talks on writing; one on fiction writing and one on publishing. Again, I have lots of notes from these which I shall share with you in the near future. At the festival, I had been given a leaflet about a fiction writing class, which well known author Judith Allnatt will be heading. I signed up immediately and I cannot wait to attend in October. As writers, I think it is wonderful to find a network of people in the same world as you. There are so many wonderful literary festivals in the United Kingdom, and I am noting down Hay festival as a must visit for next year.

Readers, on a different note, have you heard of Trello? Last week, I discovered the Trello app by chance. It is a project management app, but one which I believe will also be perfect for my novel planning and research. With Trello you can collect all of your ideas, notes, images and keep them together in a given order via a card system. I am now using it for my first novel and I really think this is going to help me make quicker progress with that all essential ‘dipping in’ and ‘dipping out’ system that seems to work between baby feeds and nappy changes. I really recommend you try this app, if like me you tend to have bits of your novel everywhere and in no particular order.

Lastly, if you would like to keep up to date with my literary happenings, then please do follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads, which I use for all those little posts that I don’t necessarily want to use on my blog. I do like to keep my blog exclusive to my writing, occasional updates and book reviews. You can find me here;

Facebook Author Page link;

Twitter Author Account link;

alittlebirdtweets (@alittlebirdtwee) on Twitter

Goodreads as Donna Henderson

I hope to see you there!

Best Wishes,

Donna x


Analyse own life

Melody Chen


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The Eternal Words

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