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The Oracle Glass

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With imaginative verve, intelligence, and exceptional detail, The Oracle Glass captures the rich tang of one of history's most irresistible eras. Spinning actual police records from the reign of Louis XIV into a darkly captivating story, it follows the fortunes of Genevieve Pasquier, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been transformed into an imperious, seemingly infallible fortune-teller... Genevieve is a skinny, precocious little monkey with a mind full of philosophy and the power to read the swirling waters of an...
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The Oracle Glass

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Overview

With imaginative verve, intelligence, and exceptional detail, The Oracle Glass captures the rich tang of one of history's most irresistible eras. Spinning actual police records from the reign of Louis XIV into a darkly captivating story, it follows the fortunes of Genevieve Pasquier, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been transformed into an imperious, seemingly infallible fortune-teller... Genevieve is a skinny, precocious little monkey with a mind full of philosophy and the power to read the swirling waters of an oracle glass - for a demimonde who will believe anything. Left for dead by her family, Genevieve is taken in by La Voisin, an ingenious occultist and omnipotent society fortune-teller. La Voisin also rules a secret society of witches - abortionists and poisoners - who manipulate the lives of the rich and scandalous all the way up to the throne. Tutored by La Voison, Genevieve creates a new identity for herself - as the mysterious Madame de Morville, complete with an antique black dress, a powdered face, a cane, and a wickedly sarcastic streakwho is supposedly nearly one hundred fifty years old. Even the reigning mistress of the Sun King himself consults Madame de Morville on what the future holds for her. And as Madame de Morville, Genevieve can revel in what women are usually deniedpower, an independent income, and the opportunity to speak her mind. Beneath her intelligence and wit, what drives Genevieve is a private revenge - but what she doesn't expect is for love to come in the bargain.

A bold, exquisitely imagined novel of masquerade and murder, witchcraft, wonder, and romance in the magnificent court of Louis XIV. Skinny, precocious Genevieve possesses the remarkable power to read the swirling waters of an oracle glass. Tutored by the ingenious occultist La Voisin, she reinvents herslf as a mysterious 150-year-old fortune-teller, and revels in the prizes that few women of her time can attain.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From the author of In Pursuit of the Green Lion comes a novel set in 17th-century Paris and Versailles, tinged with the occult and a feminist sensibility. The younger daughter of a loveless marriage between a scholar and a woman of high breeding, Genevieve Pasquier appears to have few prospects, since she was born with a deformed leg. Taught Latin by her father, however, she has a keen intelligence that stands her in good stead when, after leaving home as a teenager, she is adopted by a wealthy fortune-teller as her protegee. Genevieve has the gift of seeing the future in water, a talent that Catherine Montvoison, a real-life figure who was both a seer and an undercover abortionist to the aristocracy, quickly exploits. Played out against the background of Louis XIV's court, the narrative offers ample glances into the lives of the nobility, as well as intrigue and a love triangle involving Genevieve, an outlaw and a society playwright. Unfortunately, the author's impressive knowledge of the time is offset by wooden characterization and predictable plotting, and her story never quite breaks the bounds of competent genre fiction. Toward the climax, scenes of torture, witch-hunts and executions will satisfy those who like their historical fiction laced with a touch of horror; for readers who enjoy an exotic setting with a celebrity slant, the novel offers an intriguing vacation read. (June)
Library Journal
Once again Riley (Vision of Light, LJ 10/ 15/90; In Pursuit of the Green Lion, LJ 1/ 89) has written an outstanding historical novel of 17th-century France, permeated by a feminist consciousness that enlivens her work without dominating it. Genevieve Pasquier, the ugly, scholarly daughter of a financier who fell along with Nicholas Fouquet, is beloved by her father but no one else; when he dies she is imprisoned by selfish relatives convinced that she has access to a secret fortune. Escaping, she is saved from suicide by a notorious occultist and her secret organization. They transform her into the Marquise de Morville, whose mystery and fortune-telling gifts capture the attention of members of the Sun King's court. Based on a real-life scandal known as the ``Affaire des Poisons,'' this tale is riveting from start to finish. [Literary Guild selection.]-Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.
School Library Journal
YA-Genevieve Pasquier is an educated, skinny, crooked-backed 15-year-old when her beloved father dies. After her uncle rapes her, she runs away, desiring only to end her pain by drowning herself. Instead, she is taken in by La Voisin, a wealthy fortune-teller, abortionist, and chemist who rules the seamier side of 17th-century Paris. La Voisin sets her up in her own business disguised as ``Madame de Morville,'' an 150-year-old seeress who interprets images that appear in an oracle glass. This profitable venture throws young Genevieve into a world of court intrigue, political back-stabbing, demonology, and revenge, and she discovers that she enjoys the independence denied to most women of the time. When she is invited to the palace to read the waters for Louis XIV, she slides from favor and is suspected of participating in a poisoning ring. In a desperate race against time, she must rely on her own wits and on a man she loves to save herself. Mature YAs will relish her development from a weak and naive child to a witty and powerful woman who manipulates degenerate, superstitious Parisian society to her own advantage.-Susan R. Farber, Chappaqua Library, NY
From the Publisher
"Open the pages and out comes a whiff of brimstone, as The Oracle Glass transports you to the Paris of kings and witches, on a guided tour of corruption, love and sorcery." - Diana Gabaldon

"This historically accurate, exciting novel — and a true-crime story with the flavor of Umberto Ecco's The Name of the Rose and a little Mary Stewart thrown in — is a remarkable tour de force and a compelling read. Don't miss this one! " - Jean M. Auel, author of The Clan of the Cave Bear series

"Take a full cup of wit, two teaspoons of brimstone, and a dash of poison, and you have Judith Merkle Riley's mordant, compelling tale of an ambitious young woman who disguises herself as an ancient prophetess in order to gain entry into the dangerous, scheming glamour of the Sun King's court. Based on scandalous true events, The Oracle Glass brims with our human foibles, passions, and eccentricities; it's a classic of the genre and unlike any historical novel you have ever read." - C.W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

"The Oracle Glass was a wonderful, magical read. " - She Reads Novels

"Historical fantasy is one of my favorite sub-genres, and it's so hard to find good books that fit, but this one was great!" - Readin and Dreamin

"This book is packed full of treachery, murder, deceit, revenge, mystery, and secrets." - Romance Book Junkies

"The bottom line, I would definitely recommend the book if you enjoy the genre, or if you're looking for a really cheap trip to Paris and have a good imagination. And should I come across another of Riley's books in the future, I won't hesitate to add it next to The Oracle Glass on my book shelf." - Leslie's 2 cents

"It feels like peering behind the curtain of a great stage play to see what's really happening." - The Gilmore Guide to Books

"I truly enjoyed the story" - That's What I'm Talking About with Twimom227

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449910061
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/17/1995
  • Edition description: First Ballantine Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 507
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Merkle Riley (1942-2010) held a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley, and she taught in the department of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. From 1988 to 2007, she wrote six historical novels: The Oracle Glass, The Master of all Desires, A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, The Water Devil, and The Serpent Garden.

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Read an Excerpt

One

"What, in heaven's name, is that?" The Milanese ambassador to the court of His Majesty, Louis XIV, King of France, raised his lorgnon to his eye, the better to inspect the curious figure that had just been shown into the room. The woman who stood on the threshold was an extraordinary sight, even in this extravagant setting in the year of victories, 1676. Above an old-fashioned Spanish farthingale, a black brocade gown cut in the style of Henri IV rose to a tight little white ruff at her neck. Her ebony walking stick, nearly as tall as herself, was decorated with a bunch of black silk ribbons and topped with a silver owl's head. A widow's veil concealed her face. The hum of voices at the maréchale's reception was hushed for a moment, as the stiff little woman in the garments of a previous century threw back her black veil to reveal a beautiful face made ghastly pale by layers of white powder. She paused a moment, taking in the room with an amused look, as if fully conscious of the sensation that her appearance made. As a crowd of women hurried to greet her, the Milanese ambassador's soberly dressed companion, the Lieutenant General of the Paris Police, turned to make a remark.

"That, my dear Ambassador, is the most impudent woman in Paris."

"Indeed, Monsieur de La Reynie, there is obviously no one better fitted than you to make such a pronouncement," the Italian responded politely, tearing his eyes with difficulty from the woman's fiercely lovely face. "But tell me, why the owl's-head walking stick? It makes her look like a sorceress."

"That is exactly her purpose. The woman has a flair for drama. That is why all of Paris is talking about the Marquise de Morville." The chief of the Paris police smiled ironically, but his pale eyes were humorless.

"Ah, so that is the woman who has told the Queen's fortune. The Comtesse de Soissons says she is infallible. I had thought of consulting her myself, to see if she would sell me the secret of the cards."

"Her mysterious formula for winning at cards-another of her pieces of fakery. Every time someone wins heavily at lansquenet, the rumor goes about that the marquise has at last been persuaded to part with the secret of the cards. Secret, indeed..." said the chief of police. "That shameless adventuress merely capitalizes on every scandal in the city. I believe in this secret about as much as I believe her claims to have been preserved for over two centuries by alchemical arts."

Hearing this, the Milanese ambassador looked abashed and put away his lorgnon.

La Reynie raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me, my dear fellow, that you were considering purchasing the secret of immortality as well?"

"Oh, certainly not," the ambassador said hastily. "After all, these are modern times. In our century, surely only fools believe in superstitions like that."

"Then half of Paris is composed of fools, even in this age of science. Anyone who loses a handkerchief, a ring, or a lover hastens to the marquise to have her read in the cards or consult her so-called oracle glass. And the damned thing is, they usually come away satisfied. It takes a certain sort of dangerous intelligence to maintain such deception. I assure you, if fortune-telling were illegal, she's the very first person I'd arrest."

The Marquise de Morville was making her way through the high, arched reception hall as if at a Roman triumph. Behind her trailed a dwarf in Moorish costume who carried her black brocade train, as well as a maid in a garish green striped gown who held her handkerchief. Around her crowded petitioners who believed she could make their fortunes: impecunious countesses, overspent abbés and chevaliers, titled libertines raddled with the Italian disease, the society doctor Rabel, the notorious diabolist Duc de Brissac and his sinister companions.

"Ah, there is someone who can introduce us," cried the ambassador, as he intercepted a slender, olive-skinned young man on his way to the refreshment table. "Primi, my friend here and I would like to make the acquaintance of the immortal marquise."

"But of course," answered the young Italian. "The marquise and I have been acquainted for ages." He waggled his eyebrows. It was only a matter of minutes before the chief of police found himself face-to-face with the subject of so many secret reports, being appraised with almost mathematical precision by the subject's cool, gray eyes. Something about the erect little figure in black irritated him unspeakably.

"And so, how is the most notorious charlatan in Paris doing these days?" he asked the fortune-teller, annoyance overcoming his usual impeccable politeness.

"Why, she is doing just about as well as the most pompous chief of police in Paris," the marquise answered calmly. La Reynie noted her perfect Parisian accent. But her speech had a certain formality, precision-as if she were somehow apart from everything. Could she be foreign? There were so many foreign adventurers in the city, these days. But as far as the police could tell, this one, at least, was not engaged in espionage.

"I suppose you are here to sell the secret of the cards," he said between his teeth. Even he was astonished at how infuriated she could make him feel, simply by looking at him the way she did. The arrogance of her, to dare to be amused by a man of his position.

"Oh, no, I could never sell that," replied the devineresse. "Unless, of course, you were considering buying it for yourself..." The marquise flashed a wicked smile.

"Just as well, or I would have you taken in for fraud," La Reynie found himself saying. Himself, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, who prided himself on his perfect control, his precise manners-who was known for the exquisite politeness he brought even to the interrogation of a prisoner in the dungeon of the Châtelet.

"Oh, naughty, Monsieur de La Reynie. I always give full value," he could hear her saying in answer, as he inspected the firm little hand that held the tall, black walking stick. A ridiculous ring, shaped like a dragon, another, in the form of a death's-head, and yet two more, one with an immense, blood red ruby, overburdened the narrow, white little fingers. The hand of a brilliant child, not an old woman, mused La Reynie.

"Your pardon, Marquise," La Reynie said, as she turned to answer the desperate plea of an elderly gentleman for an appointment for a private reading. "I would love to know where you are from, adventuress," he muttered to himself.

As if her ear never missed a sound, even when engaged in mid-conversation elsewhere, the marquise turned her head back over her shoulder and answered the chief of police: "‘From'?" She laughed. "Why, I'm from Paris. Where else?"

Lying, thought La Reynie. He knew every secret of the city. It was impossible for such a prodigy to hatch out, unseen by his agents. It was a challenge, and he intended to unravel it for the sake of public order. A woman should not be allowed to annoy the Lieutenant General of the Paris Police.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 87 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(44)

4 Star

(16)

3 Star

(17)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(6)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 87 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2004

    Five stars is not enough!

    I borrowed this book from the library and ended up with so much overdue fines and worse I had to pay for the book cause I refused to return it. It was that good! This book has EVERYTHING. A great historical theme,a strong and brilliant heroine, an intellectual and lovable hero and a delicious lovestory. Who could ask for more? One more thing, I always love Ms Riley's thorough and very realistic approach to historical settings. She does the best research and puts them into pen and paper with just enough breath to make them oh so alive for her readers. This one in particular is her best work ever! This is a must read!

    24 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2000

    Absolutely Incredible!!!

    i can't say enough wonderful things about this book. as an avid reader of eveything from romance, to Star Wars, to nonfictional world history, i would still have to say that its one of the best books i have ever read, if not the best. Ms. Reily has presented a marvelous, well-written story, full of unforgetteable charaters, and just the right mix of romance, intrigue, magic,betrayal, and emotion. Any collection is empty without it.

    18 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2000

    Who needs TV with Books like this!!!!

    Strictly picky about my reading choices, I was turned onto JMR by another author. Riley has a mastery of detail and history that makes not only the fictional characters life like but the true ones too!!! A beautiful blend of Parisian history, sorcery, romance and adventure. The story turns like a serpents head but never leads you far from your path. A must for the historical novel reader! I recomend it so much I've already given my copy away to a friend.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2000

    A Great Book!

    I loved this book and read it diligently from the moment I found it. The characters are well written and realistic, the plot really lets you know where the book is going, and it's a wonderful ride the whole way through. I loved the Marquise de Morville, otherwise known as Genevieve Pasquier. It is well worth the read. If you enjoy tales of sorcery, you'll be learning about seventeeth century Paris while you read as well!

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2005

    Amazing!!!

    I love this book. The characters are rich, the details are accurate, and the story is inspiring. JMR is a genius, and I love all her books. I loved all the characters, especially Astaroth/Sylvie. They are so hilarious and vivid.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2013

    Interesting

    Like some other reviews, I found the story a little slow. But that it was based on facts made it an interesting read. I purchased either as a Free Friday or a Daily Deal and thank B&N for the selection. My friends that enjoy occult, witchcraft will enjoy this 1600's story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2013

    Book Review: The Oracle Glass June 1, 2013 Rating: **** Title:

    Book Review: The Oracle Glass
    June 1, 2013

    Rating: ****

    Title: The Oracle Glass

    Author: Judith Merkle Riley

    Genre: historical fiction

    Review:
    Enjoy reading historical fiction with a dash of magic? This book is for you!
     
    The novel takes place in France during the rule of the Sun King (Louis XIV).  There is a sharp contrast between the poor and the rich.  
    During this time, many Enlightment ideas and philosophies are being spread across the country, despite the government’s attempt to
    keep such radical ideas muffled.  As far as I could tell, the details of 17th century France are all accurate.
     
    The main character, Geneviève, is introduced to be a wily young lady who is sick of constantly being overshadowed by her sister’s
    beauty.  Born with a twisted foot, her mother dismisses her as a good-for-nothing daughter.  Luckily, Geneviève has her father to go
    to for comfort.  From her father, she learns all about the philosophies of the ancient Greeks and Romans. 
     
    One day, Geneviève meets Florent d’Urbec, a radical Enlightment thinker who is one of the few who can challenge Geneviève in
    a game of wits without humiliating oneself.  d’Urbec nicknames Geneviève “Athena”, after the goddess of wisdom due to the fact
    she was extremely smart for a time when most women weren’t well educated.
     
    However, tragedy strikes Geneviève when her father—her sole protector in a harsh world—dies.  Her mother and uncle are
    convinced that he had left Geneviève a hidden fortune because she had always been his favorite child; in truth, he had left her nothing.
     However, her uncle doesn’t believe Geneviève when she tells him that she wasn’t hiding any money from him; as a result, he begins
     to abuse her.  One day, Geneviève decided she’s had enough and plans on committing suicide.  Right before she jumps into the river
    to drown herself though, she is saved by La Voisin, a fortuneteller and the Shadow Queen of France.
     
    La Voisin see potential in Geneviève and decide to taker her under her wing.  Geneviève can’t help but feel that there is something
    sinister about the Shadow Queen, however, her desire for revenge for her uncle’s mistreatment wins out her gut instincts.  The Shadow
    Queen promises Geneviève great power and the ability to extract revenge on her uncle if she agrees to work with/for her.
     
    The Shadow Queen fakes Geneviève’s death so that she may begin a new life.  Taking the disguise of Marquise de Morville,
    a supposedly one-hundred-plus year old lady who had the body of young woman due to alchemy, she quickly rises up the social ranks.
     
    In the meantime, Desgrez, an honest and intelligent police officer, can’t help but be suspicious that there is an underground
    network of assassins, spies, criminals and poison-providers going on in France right beneath his nose.  Eventually, his suspicions
     lead him to Geneviève.  Genevive must make a choice: should she betray the woman who gave her a new life or should put the lives
    of others in danger.


    Likes:
            *very descriptive details that really allow me to paint a picture in my mind
            *accurate facts


    Dislikes:
            *the pacing was on the slow side--would've enjoyed if the author had either cut some scenes of sped up the actions

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2013

    Great read

    best book I have read in a long time

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    Incredibly good

    Lobve the story the characters the plot lines the writing....altogether profound and delightful

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Great read

    Great read

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 1, 2013

    Intriguing and beguiling

    I really enjoyed reading this book. The main character's struggle to figure out who she is at such a young age is very interesting to read. The book followed her character through adulthood and maintained her character's personality. It far exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly rather low considering the subject.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Your phrophecy

    You shall go to the cabin of hermes-res two
    And uncoverthe traiter, the unclaimed, and the past,-too
    You shall discover, that though jewels are wondrous to behold;
    A curse can be found in the heart of gold.

    Not my best phrophecy. Report to camp at half god result one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Tedious

    I'd give it two and a half stars if I could but gave it three as I couldn't split the difference.

    The book is a good concept but could have been written in half the number of pages. At times it is a wearying read and 3/4 through, I was ready to just forget it and go to another book. The writer just pounds her nails too deeply in wandering inner reflections so the book seems to at many times suffocate itself. I love history and long books (Stephen King's 1000+ pager the Stand for example) don't bother me at all. This one just seemed to get tiring.

    Interesting characters, some not very realistic, and in real life, a lot doesn't just work out as it did in this book. It tries hard but doesn't really be what it tries to be if that makes any sense. It's a bit fantasy guised under fiction clothed in attempt at being "real life" and shrouded in unlikely connections and scenarios. It's ok as a read but not going on my shelf as one of my better books or Nook Book which this one is.

    Hope this helps someone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2013

    Excellent, engrossing, and beautifully written!

    Excellent, engrossing, and beautifully written!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    Historical fiction with a dash of magic

    Likes: details are well written
    Dislikes: plot pace too slow

    The novel takes place in France during the rule of Louis XIV. As far as I could tell,the details provided of this time period were all accurate in this book. The main character, Genevieve, is introduced to be a wilu young lady who is sick of being overshadowed by her sister. Born with a twisted foor, her mother dismisses Gen to be a good for nothing daughter. Lucily, Gen has her father to ive hrr comfort in an unfiendly world.
    From her faher,Gen learns about many Enlightmnt ideas by studying the works of the Greeks and Romans. Tragedy strikes Gen wheb her father es, though. Her mother an unce is convinced her father has left behind a hidden fortunre to Gen becuase she had aways been her father's favorite child. Her uncle doesnt believe her when she tells him he want hiding money frm him. As a result, he abuses her.

    Tired of her life, Gen tries to drown herself but is saved by La Vosn, also known as the Shadow Queen. Under the care of the Shadow Queen, Ge beomes one of the most sought after water readers in France however, she cant help but think tere is somethinng sinister about the Shadow Queen....somehing that could end the lives of many people.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Awesome read!

    Took me 24 hrs to read and I just wanted it to go on!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Prim

    Ok......

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Ryas

    What

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    Violette

    L-lets g-go b-back t-then..........

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2014

    Cyrus

    Kay *flies off*

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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