Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Banks of Certain Rivers

The Banks of Certain Rivers, by Jon Harrison.

There are things we make ourselves forget.

What is a memory, anyway? Is it an indelible record, unimpeachable, frozen in some synaptic arrangement and store away for some moment it might be needed in the future? Or is it subject to editing and revision, something plastic that our brains can shape into another form we can handle, something less toxic than the original, something less able to poison us?

That night Chris found me in the pole barn, a picture of our family had shattered me. This I recall.


Jon Harrison, comas, MichiganThe Banks of Certain Rivers is Jon Harrison's debut novel, and what a debut novel it is. It takes place in Michigan, which intrigued me since I live there and there's not a lot of books that choose to plunk themselves down in Michigan. This takes place in Port Manitou, which I believe is a made up city, close to Traverse City (on the west side of the state). The time frame is never given, but in the emails that Neil, our protagonist, writes to his mostly-comatose wife, he mentions a new Ikea that has opened in the area, which would put the time frame around spring 2006. (and I love that I can figure that out!)

Official synopsis:
Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.

Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube .. .just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video as he's threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.
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What was interesting about this synopsis is that it reveals that the accident Neil's wife, Wendy, experiences has left her "profoundly disabled"; the book, however, doesn't reveal this until many pages after the accident occurs. So I knew something bad had happened to her, but I would have just assumed she had died if the synopsis had not specified she was still alive.

Neil has had some tough breaks in life, the accident included, and now his girlfriend of two years, Lauren, is pregnant, even though he's yet to tell his 18-year-old son, Chris, that he's seeing her. Adding to that is a video someone took of a fight he broke up, making him look like he struck down a student instead of helped in the situation. He gets suspended from teaching until the district can look into the situation, so needless to say, he's a bit stressed out.

I couldn't believe that this book was the author's debut novel: from the very beginning, he draws you in to the story, and it's a story that could happen to anyone, anywhere. It's a novel that you're not going to want to put down, because you want to know what happens to Neil and his family; I read the book in about 24 hours. It was also fun to read about how the characters had gone to MSU (Michigan State University) and hear them mention familiar cities like Traverse City, etc. Someone actually messaged me on Goodreads when I marked this book as "Currently Reading" to ask me if Michigan was as beautiful as the book made it sound, and it is (in the summer, at least - don't ask me in the winter!); she was surprised because she never knew that, so perhaps this book will increase tourism in Michigan as well.

(It's also only $2.99 on Amazon right now, too, so it's an affordable read!)

I'm definitely looking forward to see what Jon Harrison produces next, if The Banks of Certain Rivers is any indication of his writing talent.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was given a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beautiful Stranger

Beautiful Stranger, by Christina Lauren.

He cleared his throat and looked to where Pete was returning with my shots. "Why are you carrying all these sticky drinks out to the dance floor?"

"My friend just got engaged. We're doing the girls' night out thing."

"So then you're unlikely to leave here with me."

I blinked, then blinked again,
hard. With this frank suggestion, I was officially out of my depth. Way out of my depth. "I ... what? No."

"Pity."

"You're serious? You just met me."

"And already I have a strong urge to devour you."

Christina Lauren, erotica
Well, well! It looks like there's a new man in town, and his name is Max Stella. Beautiful Stranger is the sort-of sequel to Beautiful Bastard, which I reviewed back in February. I also got to interview Christina Lauren - or I should say, the two authors that write under that pen name - and they discussed both books with me.

Initially I was disappointed that Chloe and Bennett Ryan, the stars of the first book, were relegated to minor roles in this novel - but after reading Stranger, I definitely no longer feel that way.

Official synopsis:
A charming British Playboy. A girl determined to finally live. And a secret liaison revealed in all too vivid color. Book two in the NYT Bestselling series.

Escaping a cheating ex, finance whiz Sara Dillon's moved to New York City and is looking for excitement without a lot of strings attached. So meeting the irresistible, sexy Brit at a dance club should have meant nothing more than a night's fun. But the manner--and speed--with which he melts her inhibitions turns him from a one-time hookup and into her Beautiful Stranger.

The whole city knows Max Stella loves women, not that he's ever found one he particularly wants to keep around. Despite pulling in plenty with his Wall Street bad boy charm, it's not until Sara--and the wild photos she lets him take of her--that he starts wondering if there's someone for him outside of the bedroom.

Hooking up in places where anybody could catch them, the only thing scarier for Sara than getting caught in public is having Max get too close in private.
-

Sara Dillon was briefly introduced in the first book, as one of Chloe's friends, but in Stranger, she takes the lead character role. She's just moved to NYC from Chicago to get over a cheating ex, whom she was with for many years, and one night, she sheds her inhibitions and has sex with a random guy at a club: Max Stella. However, it turns out he's not that random - he was Bennett's roommate at Oxford, and he is good friends with him. Sara and Max begin to see each other more and more, and eventually come to an arrangement ... the rules of which are constantly changed based on their needs.

Max Stella is a guy that any girl would fall in love with: he's hot, British, and sensitive, too. I really liked how he was able to read Sara so quickly, and see into her psyche, so to speak - to figure out her motivations and why she was kind of an exhibitionist, but wanted to be very private in public too.

I thought that Stranger was actually a little bit tamer than Bastard, even though both are books that definitely qualify as erotica. There's definitely many interesting (cough) situations in Stranger that Bastard didn't have - at one point, they go to a club where the rooms have doors, but anyone can watch - but overall it did seem a little different to me.

The next book in the series will be Beautiful Bitch, an e-book novella, on July 9th, which seems to chronologically take place after the events in Beautiful Bastard, and focuses on Chloe and Bennett, I believe before they (SEMI-SPOILER) got engaged. The next three, in September, October, and November of this year, will be Beautiful Bombshell, Beautiful Player, and Beautiful Beginning, with Player being the only full-length novel of the three (the rest will be novellas).

Beautiful Stranger is in stores today, May 28th. 4 stars out of 5.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review and GIVEAWAY - Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage

Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, by Jennifer Richardson.

But before I go any further let me explain how I, a then-thirtysix-year-old American, ended up contemplating motherhood in a Cotswold village with a population dwarfed by that of any single London street. The stock explanation is that we needed to get a good night's sleep.

Jennifer RichardsonAmericashire is a travel memoir of sorts by author Jennifer Richardson, detailing her time spent with her British husband in London and eventually in the Cotswolds. Jennifer wrote a guest post for this blog last week, in which she talked about how her inspiration for this book stemmed from the blog she started writing about her experiences there, called "An American in the Cotswolds." This book managed to keep my attention throughout because of the great writing, and the occasional humorous touches sprinkled within.

Official synopsis:
When an American woman and her British husband decide to buy a two-hundred-year-old cottage in the heart of the Cotswolds, they're hoping for an escape from their London lives. Instead, their decision about whether or not to have a child plays out against a backdrop of village fêtes, rural rambles, and a cast of eccentrics clad in corduroy and tweed.

Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage begins with the simultaneous purchase of a Cotswold cottage and Richardson's ill-advised decision to tell her grandchild-hungry parents that she is going to try to have a baby. As she transitions from urban to rural life, she is forced to confront both her ambivalence about the idea of motherhood and the reality of living with a spouse who sees the world as a glass half-full. Part memoir, part travelogue - and including field guides to narrative-related Cotswold walks - Americashire is a candid, compelling, and humorous tale of marriage, illness, and difficult life decisions.
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This book kind of reminded me of David Sedaris's books, in that they are personal, but under the umbrella of being a book about travels, rather than mostly life events. Jennifer and her husband, known here as D, are deciding whether or not they want to have children, and she is also diagnosed with MS, or pre-MS, anyway, during that time period. The doctor tells them that having children actually sometimes can help with MS, which stirs the pot a bit more and makes their decision difficult.

At first I thought this memoir might be a little stuffy, although I'm not sure why I thought this, but parts of it were very funny. Jennifer and D's first "real social event as part-time residents in the Cotswolds" was the Cotswold Hunt Grand Auction. She says this of it:

It would be, he said, "a good place to meet the right sort of people." I wanted to ask him why it was necessary for a group of generally wealthy people to raise money at auction for their hobby of chasing foxes around the countryside on horseback, but instead I simply nodded in assent.
There were other moments throughout the book that had me chuckling as well, like this one:

I still treasure my own hot pink, pimp-feathered hat purchased for Royal Ascot the previous year. It may not be as versatile as a Hermes scarf but the opportunities in life to wear vision-obstructing, fuchsia-colored feathers on your head are rare and must be taken.

Overall, I enjoyed Americashire and anyone who enjoys tales of American ex-pats, or even good travel stories, would enjoy this book.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Giveaway:
WOW (Women on Writing) has generously provided a copy of Americashire for one of my readers to win. Contest will end next Monday, June 3rd at 11:59pm EST, and winner must respond to my email within 24 hours or an alternate winner will be chosen. U.S. / Canada addresses only, please.

Good luck!


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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Book of Broken Hearts

The Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler.

The only guy in all of Blackfeather who could help - the guy we had just so desperately hired - was the only guy in all of Blackfeather I was bound by blood, honor, and threat of dismemberment from every female in the Hernandez family to unilaterally ignore.

I'm not kidding about the blood part. There was an oath and everything, carefully scrawled into an infamous black book that once held all my sisters' secrets.

I almost laughed.

Of
course it was him.

Emilio fucking Vargas.


I've read a few of Sarah Ockler's books before this one, and they're all great YA books. I think this one, however, may actually be the best of the three that I have now read.

Official synopsis:
Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.
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Sarah Ockler, YA litWhat was interesting about this book was that it was not your typical YA novel - you have a romance going on between Jude and Emilio Vargas, but Jude is dealing with something a bit more important too: her father, fairly young (50 or so), has early-onset Alzheimers. Some of the time, he's fine, but other times, he forgets what year it is, or where he is, or what he's doing. In one scene, she and her sister Mari take him for mint chocolate chip ice cream, his favorite, and he starts yelling that the store is trying to cheat them, and that this isn't what they ordered; later, when they leave the story, he wonders out loud if they have mint chocolate chip, because that's his favorite.

Because all of this is going on, Jude is hesitant to get involved with Emilio - and, oh yeah, there's the family Vargas dating history too, like one of her sisters being cheated on by a Vargas and the other being dumped days before her marriage to one was supposed to take place.

I liked The Book of Broken Hearts a lot because of all of this; Ockler provides so many details in the novel that makes it come to life. The title actually comes from a book that Jude's sisters started when they were teenagers, and she was 12, of the same name - they wrote about their heartaches and heartbreaks in it, and that's also when they made her take a blood pact with them (becoming "blood sisters," in a way) that they would never get involved with a Vargas again.

I also liked how Jude wanted to have a "normal summer" - her last one before college - but felt like she needed to take care of her Papi (father) all summer instead. Jude seems to have more depth to her than the typical YA character, and Ockler conveys this by using first-person so we can see what Jude is thinking before she acts.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Edelweiss to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Guest Post: Jennifer Richardson, author of Americashire

*Check back next week for a review and giveaway of Americashire by Jennifer Richardson! This week, Jennifer talks about how she developed the idea for her book and what the writing process was like for her.

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Americashire An American in the Cotswolds
Jennifer Richardson
Just before Christmas 2007, my husband and I bought a cottage in the English countryside. Shortly after, I started writing a blog called An American in the Cotswolds, which was largely travelogue, chronicling my wonder at life in the countryside after a lifetime of suburban and urban existence. Much of the raw material for Americashire came from that blog, although the real work was after the fact in crafting the narrative. You hear it all the time, but a book really is different than a blog: There has to be a narrative arc, an emotional core. Or does there?

Jennifer GlenTo answer the question of whether my book could be a book if built on travelogue alone, I went back and read what others had done before me. I started with the idyll memoir classics, Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun: both lovely books, but neither of them overtly personal by today’s social media-driven, oversharing standards. And in the case of Mayle, the narrative structure was simple: a chapter for every month of the year. I moved onto a less well-known travel memoir, Instructions for Visitors by Helen Stevenson. It predates Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love by four years, but, like that book, is very personal and successful for it. I then sampled some British fare, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island and Stuart Maconie’s Pies and Prejudice, which brought me back to the straight travelogue camp. My grand tour of travel memoir writing had demonstrated it was possible to be engaging with both straight travelogue AND a more personal approach. Only I could decide what I wanted my book to be.

And after writing Americashire both ways, in the end I opted for the more personal approach. This meant including a central narrative strand on the question of whether or not to have kids, an issue I had been struggling with during my time living in the Cotswolds. By including this aspect of my experience, I hoped to make the book more relatable to women who, regardless of whether or not they eventually pursued motherhood, ever grappled with the choice. It’s a subject that feels topical — a New York Times article noted how frequently these days the romantic comedy film “genre has stretched to include the pursuit — or avoidance — of offspring” — and I hope that Americashire contributes to the conversation.
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About the Author:
Jennifer Richardson is an American Anglophile who spent three years living in a Cotswold village populated straight out of English central casting by fumbling aristocrats, gentlemen farmers, and a village idiot. She is married to an Englishman who, although not the village idiot, provides her with ample writing material. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California along with her husband and her royal wedding tea towel collection. Her first book, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, is based on her experience in the Cotswolds and is out now from She Writes Press. You can purchase it here, and find Jennifer online at:

www.americashire.com
www.facebook.com/americashire
www.twitter.com/baronessbarren
www.pinterest.com/baronessbarren
www.goodreads.com/book/show/17691662-americashire

Friday, May 17, 2013

Skinny Bitch in Love

Skinny Bitch in Love, by Kim Barnouin.

Let's get something straight right here, since I get this question all the time: what the hell do vegans eat? First let me tell you what vegans don't eat: anything that comes from an animal. Yeah, even if you don't have to slaughter the creature to get it. So no eggs either. No milk. No brie on that cracker. And yes, fish are animals. They what do vegans eat? Duh: everything else.

Skinny Bitch in Love is a novel based on the Skinny Bitch cookbooks, by the same author. Kim Barnouin is a former model who went on to get a Bachelor's degree in Holistic Nutrition, and started writing the cookbooks in order to eat better. She is the author of all of the Skinny Bitch cookbooks, including sequels such as Skinny Bitch in the Kitch and Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven, and now is trying her hand at fiction based on these. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book because of that, but I ended up enjoying it a lot - it's a great "beach read" for the summer.

Official synopsis:
In this new novel based on the #1 bestselling Skinny Bitch books, a twenty-something chef loses her dream job—only to find happiness after she launches a vegan cooking school and falls for a sexy carnivore. Twenty-six-year-old Clementine Cooper is an ambitious sous chef at a hot vegan restaurant in Santa Monica. When an important food critic visits the restaurant, a backstabbing coworker sabotages her vegan dish by adding butter. Fired from her job and blackballed in L.A., Clementine has hit rock bottom. Not one to wallow, she decides to launch her own cooking school and personal chef business called Skinny Bitch.

Every day, Clementine passes a space for lease in her neighborhood and fantasizes about opening her own restaurant. Fifteen tables. A juice bar. Cali-meets-Moroccan décor. She plans to work hard, save money, and buy the space. But on the first day of her cooking classes, she discovers that millionaire restaurateur Zach Jeffries is opening a steakhouse in the same space!

Zach is the antithesis of everything she stands for, but she’s incredibly attracted to him. And it seems like he might be attracted to her too, since he immediately enrolls in her cooking school. Can two people who are so fundamentally different actually find love? As Clementine rebuilds her life with new friendships, romance, and recipes, she finds that there are healthy choices to make both in and out of the kitchen.
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This novel is definitely predictable, but it was also a fun read. Clementine is a vegan cook who gets fired from Fresh, where she is a sous chef, when an important critic comes to dine there and one of her jealous coworkers puts butter (a sin!) in her ravioli dish. It actually ends up being the best thing that ever happened to her, though, because she starts her Skinny Bitch vegan cooking classes and also ends up meeting two great guys: Alexander, the new sous chef at Fresh, and Zach Jeffries, a carnivore with whom she actually has a lot in common. She knows Alexander is the better match for her on paper, yet she keeps coming back to Zach, interestingly enough.

I started reading this book when I was in the midst of another novel, telling myself I was only going to read a few chapters and then get back to the original novel, but that promise fell by the wayside very quickly! Skinny Bitch in Love is a fast read and is perfect for any fans of YA or chick lit. I imagine that fans of the Skinny Bitch cookbooks would like this novel as well, or anyone who is vegan or anything of going vegan ... some of the recipes that Clementine made sounded quite delicious! If you're looking for a fun read, check out this book.

Skinny Bitch in Love will be in stores on June 4th. 4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a NetGalley of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Monday, May 13, 2013

CONTEST: win $200 Toys R Us gift card (or $200 Paypal cash) + childrens' books by Carole P. Roman


Welcome to the $200 Toys R Us Gift Card Giveaway!

Hosted by Giveaway Promote.
Sponsored by author Carole P. Roman.

Carole P. Roman recently released volume four in her award winning series, Captain No Beard!

She's celebrating the new releases by giving away a $200 Toys R Us Gift Card or $200 USD via PayPal and a copy of each book!

Captain No Beard and the crew of the Flying Dragon welcome a new crew member, when Cabin Girl Cayla joins the ship. Responsible for his little sister, Captain No Beard is not very happy because he finds his newest charge a distraction. When faced with danger, the captain must find a way to escape.

While learning valuable lessons about strangers, the crew realized not to judge somebody because they are young or small. Strength comes in all sizes! Be sure to read "Captain No Beard: Strangers on the High Seas", Book 4 of the Captain No Beard Series. It is available on Amazon!

"If You Were Me and Lived in...France - A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World" is the second book in Carole P. Roman's remarkable series about countries all over the globe.

With each book covering a different nation, Roman opens up a world of wonder while highlighting the fact that underneath it all we are far more alike than we might have imagined. Focusing on what life would be like from a child's viewpoint, she examines the diversity of the people who make up our planet. It is also available on Amazon!

About Carole P. Roman:


Award winning author Carole P. Roman is happy to add "Strangers on the High Seas- A Captain No Beard Story vol 4" to her successful series. The first book of the series, "Captain No Beard-An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life" was named to Kirkus Reviews' Best of 2012, as well as received the Star of Remarkable Merit. It was also named as one of the Best Indie Books of 2013 with the Pinnacle Award.

Roman has two other series, "If You Were Me and Lived in...", a children's non fiction book on cultures around the world and an introduction to yoga for kids. She lives on Long Island with her husband and very close to her children and grandchildren.



Enter to win a $200 Toys R Us Gift Card and a copy of Captain No Beard: Strangers on the High Seas and If you were me and lived in… France…

Complete the tasks below to earn entries into this giveaway.

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One winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.

Open Worldwide.
Ends at 11:59pm EST on May 26th, 2013.
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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fearless

Fearless, by Cornelia Funke. (Mirrorworld #2)

"Can you tell me how it will happen?"

Alma pushed open the window to pour out the water. It was getting light. "The Dark One will use her sister's seal to reclaim her name. The moth on your heart will come alive. It won't be pleasant. Once it tears free from your skin and flies off, you will be dead. You may have a few more minutes, maybe an hour ... but there can be no salvation." She quickly turned away. Alma hated for others to see her cry. "Jacob, I wish there was something I could do," she added quietly, "but the Fairies are more powerful than I. It comes with their immortality."

The cat looked at him. Jacob stroked her black fur. Nine lives. He always believed he'd have at least that many.
Cornelia Funke
Fearless is the second book in the Mirrorworld series, the first being Reckless. To be honest, I was offered the chance to read both, but figured that there would be some recap in Fearless about the events in the first novel ... unfortunately, I was very wrong about that - the book has almost no recap, and so I went to Wikipedia and read about what happened in the first book to understand this one and its magical world.

Official synopsis:
Jacob Reckless has only a few months left to live. He's tried everything to shake the Fairy curse that traded his life for his brother's--legends such as the All-Healing Apple, the Well of Eternal Youth, the blood of a northern Djinn. And yet hope after hope is extinguished. After months of fruitless searching, Jacob journeys through his father's mirror one final time to deliver the bad news to Fox.

But there they hear of one last possibility--an item so legendary that not even Mirrorworlders believe it exists: a crossbow that can kill thousands, or heal one, when shot through the heart. But a Goyl treasure hunter is also searching for the prized crossbow. Jacob must find it first--and somehow convince Fox to do whatever it takes to save him.
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Overall I did like this book, I just wish that the author had included recap. Most sequels I read include at least a page or two about what happened previously, and this one had a few flashbacks but that was it. However, that is of course not the author's fault, but mine for failing to read the first book.

It was interesting that Jacob Reckless was human, but chose to live in the Mirrorworld. In the first book, his brother got turned into a Goyl (made of stone) and he makes a deal with a Dark Fairy to save him, and that is where Fearless picks up. We learn about his relationship with Fox, who is a Vixen - she is an animal when she puts on her "fur dress," and a human when she does not - and the fact that he's a treasure hunter. The story will most likely have another book to follow-up, as I didn't get the feeling that Jacob Reckless's story will be done in only two books.

I also couldn't figure out Fox's age - she's in love with Jacob and he is in love with her too, although he doesn't really realize it until the end of the story. Wikipedia said he is 25, which is mentioned a few times throughout the book, but I think she's anywhere from 16-18.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

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