Review: Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

I didn’t know how to talk about my life with someone who understood.

What a beauty of a book! After We Are Okay captured my heart, I was fully invested in what was next in store for the author. Oh, how worthy the wait was for this.

My long-awaited move back abroad finally happened, and as I wrote the last time I moved, I can make out the promise a new city holds by the books in the library. And based on my reading experience with this book, I’m in for a treat. This is the kind of book to find me at the exact right timing. I needed it.

“I need you to be brave,” he said. “I need you to face her, even though it hurts.”

The main reason why I loved We Are Okay so intensely was its exploration of how avoiding the past colors the present. Funny how I read that book exactly four years ago. February is the month for Nina LaCour books! I vividly remember it for being home to the most beautiful passage:

“I look at her. I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”

This has lived in my head for years. When the line “wish you the best” doesn’t begin to capture the full truth, the above passage does. I even jokingly wrote in my notes: this is like, “tell me you’re from Texas without telling me you’re from Texas.” The full reality of showing versus telling.

The kind of writer that is capable of writing this is sure to have a grand follow-up. And I was not disappointed. I think it’s best to go into Watch Over Me not knowing much so that you can let the writing take over and reveal itself to you at its own pace. Nina LaCour’s words excel at capturing the essence of “How do you say I love you without saying I love you?” These passages:

“Okay,” I assured him. “We don’t have to. I would never make you do anything, Lee. Nothing that you didn’t want to do. But I don’t think he’s here. I really don’t. It’s only you and me.”
He nodded, and my heart ached for him. His little furrowed brow. His callused hands and his crooked finger. I touched his earlobe, small and perfect. “I’ll always protect you,” I said. “For as long as we are here together.”
He nodded. “Okay, Mila.”
I put my arm around him and felt his body lean into mine. He smelled like grass, like earth, like early mornings.
“I’ll never leave you,” I said to him. I closed my eyes. I felt his body relaxing, heard the slowing of his breath. “You’ll have to grow up and leave me first.”

And:

“I straightened the tip of one of the socks so that the hem lined up with his toes.”

And another:

“You notice people. You know what is needed and you do it. Whenever some hidden mess is tidied, some forgotten task completed, I think to myself, That was Mila. And even if you hadn’t done any of those things, I would care for you anyway.”

These are the kind of passages I return to reread to feel that kind of love up close.

Like I wrote in my latest review for A Room of His Own by Matan Yair, I have a niche for books that aren’t loud in drama or plot but rather focus on the inner workings of introspective characters. Watch Over Me was exactly the kind of book I needed to read with everything going on in my own life. It spoke to me.

Why is it so much easier to describe plot versus the complexity of healing from trauma? I don’t even know where to start when all the work is done on the inside. But it matters so much more to me! The blurb might feature the word ‘ghosts’ in it, but this isn’t a thriller or paranormal story. Or a romance. It’s very much the kind of story written when avoidance of the past might seem the simpler solution; not the right one, though. Because there’s something about having the main character, Mila, work through her past that made me think of myself. It gives hope to know that even when something is hard to talk through, it’s still right to talk about it. She gave me hope that challenging someone to face their past isn’t inhumane, it’s essential to the process of healing.

When you get scared in your chest and your stomach, you could try to invite what scares you in. Pay attention to it. Let it play back in your memory. I’m only now understanding it myself, but I think we have to face the things that scare us in order to move on from them. It might be the only way to stop being afraid.

This was it for me. I realized this book was a gem while writing down my thoughts. And I couldn’t begin to possess the right words to describe what emotions this book brought out. That’s the best of works when they leave me wordless yet seen. Or when my mind is a whirring jumble of thoughts that it’s a struggle to keep up with them all in time to note them down. So much to say…

I’ll have to resort back to my trusty list so I can capture all that I loved. This books deserves it all:

  • This story serves a more quiet, reserved, sensitive side. It’s exactly what I needed with everything going on in my own life. The main goal doesn’t get distracted by pretty boys or high-school drama. It is here to serve a purpose: Heal. It is as calming as this quote from Ned Vizzini:

“Things to do today:
1) Breathe in.
2) Breathe out.”

  • Watch Over Me surprised me by the intense emotions evoked out of me during my reading experience. I cannot begin to capture the essence of Mila, but it shines so brightly when the people at the new house were doing the high-lows of the day. Her moment of being quietly stunned by their kind words for her – the author just perfectly captured her nature in that scene. No joking or sarcasm, just genuine emotions. People who’ve lost so much are fine-tuned to how others perceive them. They will do anything to hold on to the good. There are very gentle souls in this house.

“My high was meeting Mila. It’s been hard to not have a teacher for two whole months.”
Warmth rushed to my chest. Here was this little boy, who wanted me.”

The one character that has my heart: nine-year-old Lee. Like the tweet, being a kid’s favorite person is a flex.

Oof, the kind of love I have for Lee is grandiose. Even recalling him now while writing, I feel the pull in my heart. He has my all, the kid. How could he not?

Oh, Lee. I placed my hand on his back, between his shoulder blades. I would have carried all his pain for him if I could.”

I remember being taken aback by how intense my love for Lee grew, one minute he was just another character in a book and the next I would do anything to see him safe. Whew.

Mila’s loyalty to Lee reminded me of my own trials with tutoring kids – you want to show them that at least one person understands them because that would’ve meant the world to a younger you. Being the kind of adult you would’ve wanted around as a child.

I keep thinking back to the way she spoke to Lee: not barging in on him just because she’s the adult but being very respectful of his space. Asking this gem of a nine-year-old, “Can I sit next to you?” “Can I help you?” Believing in his abilities, letting him see the solution on his own, treating him with love so he knows that’s what he deserves. I thought before starting this book I would be rooting for a romance, but I’m here for Lee and only Lee.

He gave me a smile. When I was his age, I had my grandparents. I had my mother. It wasn’t until later that all of it changed. Lee, I thought, as the freshly bathed children filed in, as Emma and Hunter and Jackson took the far end of the table, as he chewed small bites of bread, swallowed his careful spoonfuls of soup. I’ll do whatever I need to earn your trust.”

Not the love story I came here for but so much better: kindred spirits.

“No,” I said. “I don’t want to remember anything today. I just want to be here.”
He took my hand. “I understand,” he said.

  • And of course, there’s the matter of challenging the past; not letting it overtake your present. My heart beats just writing it down. Unraveling the unbearable (yet she had to bear it anyway) reality of reuniting with all the memories she has run from:

“Here it was—what I had been trying for so long not to see.
She had my face. My body. Not as it was as I stood there, but as it had been before I left my grandparents’ house. She was me, at thirteen years old, suspended in time at the moment when I had last been whole.”

“We were face-to-face now. Here she was, the girl who I had been.
She was so lovely.
She didn’t know what was to come.”

It hurts. The pain of looking at the past and seeing where it all went wrong and having no clear way to fix it.

“If only she had never worked in that diner. If only I had been enough. If they’d never let me go, and I had spent the next months safe, practicing the piano, missing my mother, and I had not run out of quarters at the pay phone, and they had not died and left me forever. If not for the nine lost earrings. If not for the late nights by the fire. If not for my wild recklessness, my desperate choice.”

The pain of “if only.”

  • I also keep thinking back to this line that hits it on the nail, for me:

“I wanted to curl up in one of the beds we’d just made. Wanted to sleep in this child’s room and wake up young and unafraid.”

I feel the echo of her ache. The distinct age between childhood and adulthood where you’re supposed to be an adult but you’re so tired of the trials. The writer hits the mark.

“I thought of how, when Lee had cried out, he’d had the others with him. Had their comfort and their care. But he was still a child and I was grown up. I was no one’s responsibility anymore.”

This book voiced so many of my thoughts and fears. It brought me some much-needed comfort.

The star of it all is in these next passages that are the ones that drew me to the book in the first place on facing fears:

“The thing is,” I continued, “I’m learning that it’s good to think about what scares you. To bring it into the light. Even to hold it in your hands, if you can, and feel how it can’t hurt you anymore. To think of it and say, ‘I am not afraid.’”
Lee watched me so closely. I could tell he understood.
“It takes away its power, to look at it that way.”

“Maybe,” I said, taking in a breath. “Maybe the fear doesn’t ever actually go away. Maybe we have to keep on working. We thought it would be simple, but it isn’t. We thought we could be finished, but maybe . . . maybe we’ll never be entirely finished.”

“I craved escape—even if it was into something terrible.
But I would be strong and good and survive the despair. I would make one move and then another.”

I’ll return to reread these words to give me strength whenever needed. Nina LaCour’s writing is a power-house on healing.

Read this, gift this, lend this – Watch Over Me deserves all the stars for voicing the unheard.

Review: A Room of His Own by Matan Yair

When did you stop feeling like a child?

The expectations for this book were sky-high. Its existence in my library reached me just I was about to move back abroad. The chances of my flight actually happening were slim due to the current situation. So either I finally move abroad after months of planning but forever wonder what this book contained, or my flight gets canceled and I get to read this book. I’m writing this review so you must know which of the two occurred. 

The main reason for my sky-high expectations: the author of this book created one of the most piercingly honest TV shows I’ve seen this year, capturing the pain of growing up when everything around you is crumbling apart. Even show’s title manages to contain the delicate nature of the characters: One on One.

There’s always the dilemma of wanting to write what the thing is actually about, but then there’s this outcry inside of me that’s like “But it’s so much more than that!” The show might be about a tutor who helps 16-year-olds with their homework and prepping for exams, but it’s so much more than that! Sixteen-year-olds aren’t robots who just sit and learn, you get inside their world. Even more so, you get inside their head.

Matan Yair’s writing is an ode to the kids that drew inward when all they wanted was to shout aloud. It’s a cry for the child that once was. It’s the kind of writing I wish I had when I was younger. It would’ve brought me so much comfort. Knowing you’re not alone in your thought process. Yair’s writing catches those lingering thoughts that pass through in the moment, or just as you’re about to fall asleep, but by the time you sit down to write them down they have already left your mind. All that’s left in its wake is this empty space once filled with truth. He fills that space. He gives voice to those thoughts that feel impossible to explain in words. I found it quite brave how he’s willing to write down what we all think but never talk about. Because he never knows while writing if others think or feel the same. But we do! Feeling seen through the words of another character is what I crave when I read books. Like all the best teachers, the writer takes something complicated and simplifies it. Stay tuned for the list of recommendations coming your way at the end of this post. Fans of Jonathan Safran Foer and Stephen Chbosky will love this type of writing.

Yair observes the world through introspective characters; people-watching. And it goes to show his power because it’s been weeks and I still think about his words every other day. Being inside someone’s head is a lot more difficult to shake off than being amazed by a plot twist. It’s the character’s voice you hear when you go back to real life. They come to live inside your own head. Like listening to a great song. Even when it’s not on, it’s looping in your head. That’s what I love about this kind of writing: it breaches the fourth wall without meaning to. I always find that authors who write down their detailed thoughts succeed in relating more sincerely. The more specific, the more people know how to feel. There’s never any “Am I the only one who thinks or feels X?” His thoughts are loud in their honesty.

Knowing that, I still felt the same shock whenever I stumbled upon a passage that perfectly echoed my views. To see my own private thoughts shared by another person is another level of intimacy. Seen in the simple yet piercing truth that remembering how they were before hinders your view of them now. Or looking at someone you thought of before as so strong and coming to see them as just a person will silently break your heart. Or any passage he wrote about his mother, leaning on each other to get through the hard parts. He’s so in tune with other people. This is the kind of writing I’m keen on. 

All of this became mirrored in the short entries read aloud by the main character (Motty). What makes the show feel so sincere and shine so brightly in my eyes is the deliverance by the actor, Tomer Capone. He makes the words feel that more intimate. You feel them. He makes them feel real. His performance mirrors the real meaning of bringing a character to life. I feel like you don’t even have to understand the language to feel the emotion when he reads.

When the show reached its last episode, I still felt so much of it. Those written pieces read aloud by Motty are the ones I wanted to hear more of. They lived inside my head. So I can’t even begin to capture the utter joy that hit me when I found the original book, published by the creator of the show years ago, that served as the basis for most of the entries read aloud. I want to share this piece below read by Motty, originally taken from the book, because his deliverance of it is on loop in my head (appears minute 18:27 in episode 8).

And Mom didn’t look like Mom. She looked like those kids who fall asleep in the living room and have to be taken back asleep to their room. I took off her glasses carefully, turned off the light and thought that if I had not been here no one else would have done it. That without me, mom would be left all alone.

That last line pierced me. (When you’re so passionate about someone’s work but you have to translate it yourself because there’s no English translation available – that’s when you know it’s real.)

This honesty is translated into the actions, too. Like, the little detail of Motty’s father tapping his finger, instead of keeping it still, as he’s trying to remember what to write down for his grocery list. Or Maayan walking back and forth on the dotted white line while waiting for Motty to finish his call. Or Motty scouring Maayan’s face for clues while waiting for her answer. And when she didn’t have an answer for him in the moment, she answers him in a later scene – it shows that she thought of him and his questions. Just like in real life. There’s so much more I can share, and it just goes to show the time and effort put in to make it all feel so vividly real through these minuscule details. 

Though I was hesitant to write down my own thoughts – or rather, I wrote them down but felt hesitant to share them here. After reading the book, I recalled the piece of advice his father shared in the show: Don’t sit on a compliment. Matan Yair, I have nothing but compliments left for your writing. 

Motty’s students slowly crept into my heart, as well. I can’t get over especially the quiet kid he tutors, who felt so real to me. He managed to display the difference between being shy versus being quiet. The scene that keeps flashing in my head is the one where Motty walks into the kid’s classroom for a couple of seconds, and you see the kid notice but not say a thing – he waits for Motty to notice him. And you feel the utter heartbreak when Motty leaves just as quickly as he came in, without noticing the kid. His eyes looked so hopeful to be seen. I think about him whenever I think about the show.

Speaking of, the book and TV show cover an interesting dynamic between Motty and the kid. We have Motty, who made it out the other end and is supposed to be more of a grown-up, tutoring the kid who’s right in the thick of it all. The kid on the show is essentially the boy in this book, observing the younger years of surviving through his parents break up. Writing this, I recall the line he wrote that I have to translate: The worst part when your parents break up is that nobody really cares and no one thinks it’s that awful… We don’t have a monument or a memorial and we’re all breathing but it is only as if. Words alone cannot reflect the pain, but the author succeeds quite exquisitely at the impossible time and again. The more you read his words and watch his works, you see the way they intertwine and it makes for quite the journey having one thing end only to see it begin in another. 

Motty, though just as confused internally, finds closure in his emotionally-turbulent younger years through the teens he tutors now. Making them feel less afraid of all that they hold inside. Simply being there for them, listening to them talk, letting them know that he’s not bored or annoyed by them. Not walking away when they’re too much. They want to be fought over when they’re yelling at him to leave. They’re going through a lot and feeling a lot. That’s what Motty does so well. His sensitive and emphatic nature grants him what I like to call great psychology skills. He knows how to listen for the unsaid. He knows what they’re feeling because he felt it, too. In some sense, he’s in this stage where he’s supposed to an adult but he’s stuck in the past. How being stuck in the past after a loss feels a lot like being a sort of time traveler. So he gets them when most other teachers feel emotionally removed from their students. He has the kindest of hearts. His character legit restored my faith in men. Because with most male characters, when you read about them you know when you close the book that they will stay inside the story. Motty felt so real it hurt.

Adding to that, my favorite episode of the show has to be episode six because the chemistry between Motty and Maayan felt palpable. And they never even do anything explicit! You just feel it with how he looks up when she walks into a room, the shy smiles exchanged, and how he walks next to her hyper-aware of the space between them. I’m pretty sure you don’t even have to understand what they say because their body language speaks for itself. It’s noticing the unsaid. But then when you do listen to the way they speak to each other, it’s so respectful. Never pushing for details from the other, giving them the option to open up while letting the conversation flow, “Only if you want to tell me.” It’s those little things that make up their story, and I was eating it up. I want more of that!

Whelp, I didn’t think I’d have so much to say… But once I get talking about this show, I can’t seem to stop. There’s so much to feature. I stopped at nearly every chapter in the book to note down something meaningful that was said. It made me notice the thoughts I share here for everyone to read versus my real notes that have something to say about every chapter. It would make the review abnormally long to feature them all, so I just pick the pieces that moved me the most in the book. My notes look like I was writing a paper about this book. I haven’t felt this passionate about a book in ages. But there’s just so much to pay attention to, and I don’t want to forget anything written in these pages. I kept writing down his best lines so obsessively because deep down I really want my own writing to be able to reflect my thoughts just as honestly, no holding back. But it also made me think about how the author must also filter his own thoughts. That there’s a limit to how much he can share. But if he’s able to grant such an intimate view into daily life, I wonder what he would write if he was free to write anything, like in a journal. I would honestly read anything he writes, based on what this book provides. His words have made a home in my head.

I do want to add, anyone looking for more works with a similar atmosphere, check out On The Spectrum. I’ve attached the trailer below (with English subtitles), it captures the essence of the show quite spectacularly. I raved all about it here. Press the play button to view:

For books, I’d recommend any of the many books by Eshkol Nevo and Bound Up Soul by Lior Engelman.

The Last Interview by Eshkol Nevo is his latest and probably my favorite, paying attention to quiet truths and their impact on our daily lives – whether we avoid them or live by them.

My review

Favorite Books of 2020

Whew, we’re back! Last year was a bit of a whirlwind. As I set reading aside a bit, I finally took the plunge to dedicate myself to my uni studies and travel around a bit (who remembers when that was still possible?). For once, I got to feel like the main character in my own life… After years of living vicariously through books, being able to get a taste of adventure was fulfilling.

But these wrap-up posts are so fun to look back on (Favorite Books of 2016, 2017, 2018), and I regret not taking the time to make one last year. We’re here to mend past mistakes.

The books featured in this post could just as easily be added to the list of books that cover a sliver of my personality. I want to remember what books helped shape me each year. It’s like you don’t notice that you’re quoting something/someone until you go back to the origin of when you started saying something. Reminiscent of an older post: My Favorite Book Quotes: The Books That Helped Shape Me Through their Words.

Given the limited time I spent reading non-textbooks nowadays, I have to be careful with what I pick out. A season, a reason, or a lifetime is how I like to choose my books. I want books that add something more to my life, instead of just hitting a certain number of books read in one year. This is that post.

Oh, and if you’re looking for more books to read, check out my Depop to start off this new bookish year right. Here’s a sneak peek, simply click on the image to go through to the link:

To backtrack, the year of 2019 can luckily be summed up with one grandiose book:

Call Down the Hawk

This book was a powerhouse because it gave me resolution on a character I always wanted more of in TRC: Declan Lynch. It did not disappoint. Niall Lynch? Tears. Museum romance? Yes, please. Siblings and dream things? Give me more. This book left me wanting and aching for more.

Maggie Stiefvater excels at giving words to thoughts. Lines like: “It was so impossible to live life backward.” Gives voice to such introspective moments. The smallest of details make up so much of the big things. I live for this kind of writing. It’s my something more. I mean, my twitter (@bookspoils) is full of her words.

It’s these words come into my head every time I experience something similar covered in her books. Like this next quote pops into my head nearly every week as I reach my own day I tend to avoid:

“It was a Wednesday. Declan remembered that, because for years he’d considered Wednesdays days of bad news. Maybe he still did. He wouldn’t schedule something on a Wednesday if he could help it. Magical thinking, probably, but it felt like midweek still soured things.”

This kind of writing is so rare.

I like returning to authors who made up the best of my reading years because their new books always bring me back to that turning point. I can devour their newest work in one day. I have to. It’s so rare nowadays for that to happen. I cherish it now.

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In 2020, I took the plunge and ventured into many Classics™: Pride and Prejudice. Eat Pray Love. Twilight. The best of the century, one could say. I’m still figuring out if I’m kidding or not. These three are featured on my list not because of the story they created, but rather for what they granted me. Each taught me something new: to enjoy myself, to ask for help, to swoon over Mr. Darcy… Pick your fighter.

Eat Pray Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Did I enjoy Eat Pray Love? Weirdly, yes. I was initially skeptical what this popular book among middle-aged women could offer. But its effortless writing style makes it so easy to devour.

Like I said, I’m not here to rave about the story. I’m still mulling that one over. I wanted to include this book mainly for the way it acted as a catalyst for this year. In particular, the chapter where Liz’s friend recommends her to “write a petition” to ask for an end to her overbearing sorrows…. Seeing all your struggles and pain written black-on-white grants you some peace of mind for a beat. I thought, what’s the worst that can happen in writing it all down, too? I read this book in February. Then March 2020 happened. So yeah, I look at that letter as “Girl, what did you do.” Jokingly, of course. The power of this book…

Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer

Finally giving in and reading Twilight for the first time was mainly to get me out of my quarantine funk. As I put in my review, I’m extremely bored and being stared at by Edward Cullen seemed like a great alternative. Enough of refreshing Youtube.

I had the most fun with the dramatic insolence displayed in this book. It was silly and over-the-top and romantic and problematic. All the components for a great book to live-tweet. Which I did. And then compiled into a review: Psychology Student Reads Twilight by Stephenie Meyer For the First Time. Give it a read for a nice walk down memory lane, hopefully without stumbling like Bella.

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice was the first book I read after lockdown ended, but it was also the last book I read before starting to seriously dedicate myself to my studies. No more reading for fun in the middle of the week. It symbolizes a piece of freedom in my mind ever since.

This book came mainly as an answer to my struggles with romantic heroes in current books. After watching the 2005 movie adaption, I couln’t stop thinking about the characters. I wanted to get inside Darcy’s head. What was he thinking when he silently started at Lizzie across the room. The book granted me some clarity.

And I couldn’t have done it without listening to Jennifer Ehle’s voice guiding me along as I read. Like I wrote in my review of the book, listening to her read brought me that same nostalgic comfort of being read to by your favorite teacher in third-grade.

And yes, Mr. Darcy’s character glow-up is still reverberating to this day.

“You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”
“A man who had felt less, might.”

My review says it all: Cynical Hopeless Romantic Reads Pride and Prejudice

I’m still waiting for my Mr. Darcy (i.e. after his character development)… And I’ll wait.

Oh, and I have a movie review up to quench the thirst of the ancients: You Have Bewitched Me Body and Soul, Mr. Darcy. How could I not?

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

The true star of this year is the one and only: The Dutch House. This book gave voice to the lifelong struggle of lost childhood homes and the true bond of older sisters as stand-in mothers. I never knew I needed a book to represent that part of life till this landed in my hands.

I want to reread this book so badly, but I don’t want to relive the hurt the characters went through. Does that make sense? The power of this book is felt acutely by the fact that it still hurts to write about. Don’t worry, this isn’t A Little Life. The Dutch House isn’t loud; its pain travels quietly through your love for these characters as you watch them grow up. Maybe the movie Boyhood would be a better comparison. This book holds so many brilliant passages about growing up, losing and regaining parts of yourself, and yet, it’s painful – too much like real life. The quiet truths of living life, like this clip from Boyhood voices, “I just thought there would be more.”

But above all, I appreciate it for restoring this tiny hope that lost childhood homes aren’t lost forever. There’s this infinitesimal hope to get it back. Just depends on how patient you are. I’ll check back here to report if the book was right. Future me, I really hope so.

I still stand by the opening statement of my review, if you needed any convincing to read this book, take this next passage as your sign:

(it’s a bit long but so worth the read)

“Mothers were the measure of safety, which meant that I was safer than Maeve. After our mother left, Maeve took up the job on my behalf but no one did the same for her. Of course Sandy and Jocelyn mothered us. They made sure we were washed and fed and that our lunches were packed and our scouting dues paid. They loved us, I know they did, but they went home at the end of the day. There was no crawling into bed with Sandy or Jocelyn when I had a bad dream in the middle of the night, and it never once occurred to me to knock on my father’s door. I went to Maeve. She taught me the proper way to hold a fork. She attended my basketball games and knew all my friends and oversaw my homework and kissed me every morning before we went our separate ways to school and again at night before I went to bed regardless of whether or not I wanted to be kissed. She told me repeatedly, relentlessly, that I was kind and smart and fast, that I could be as great a man as I made up my mind to be. She was so good at all that, despite the fact that no one had done it for her.”

What a passage. And what a year.

If you’re looking for more books to read, check out my Depop to start off this new bookish year right (and help this college girl pay for her textbooks). Shipping costs can be personalized to your area. Send me a message on Depop to set it up. Here’s a sneak peek, simply click on any of the images to go through to the link: