Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason ~ Review~

Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows

The author, Susan Anne Mason, has skillfully created a world into which we can feel comfortable. The two main characters, Brianna and Colleen, could be our sisters, realistically endearing and frustrating simultaneously. Brianna feels she has grown up in Colleen’s shadow, her father’s favored daughter. Nothing she did seemed to gain his respect. Colleen is the sister we love to hate. She is bold, brash, flirtatious, the apple of her father’s eye, and always on the prowl for rich, handsome bachelors. She played with them and even pit them against each other. Brianna, on the other hand, wanted to attend a university in the fall. She had no use for men at the moment, although her daddy wanted her to get married to a suitable (prosperous) gentleman as soon as possible.

But then Gilbert Whelan returned to Irish Meadows after three years at college. Gil grew up on the farm, the son of the O’Leary’s housekeeper. When she died, James O’Leary took in Gil and treated him like a son. He was big brother to all the rest of the five O’Leary children. Adam, the eldest son, resented Gil for that. Brianna wanted to enlist Gil’s aid in convincing her father to allow her to further her education. But it became a more complicated situation when she discovered her feelings for him were no longer brotherly. Gil himself has felt the stirrings of love for Brianna. When he finally gained the courage to approach James, his mentor and father figure, he was flatly refused. The reason shook him to the core.Irish Meadows quote1

One day a distant relative of mother 0’Leary’s came to stay with the family for awhile. Rylan Montgomery needed a place to stay for a few months while he worked on his internship. His goal was to become a priest. It was Colleen’s duty to ferry him around until he became familiar with the area. When her father caught her in a compromising position one evening, he “sentenced” her to working with Rylan at the orphanage. This was truly punitive for Colleen since she hated all things religious, including priests, church and orphanages. However, working with Rylan day after day brought about subtle changes to her heart. She began to enjoy working with the children. In introspection, she questioned her previous dubious behavior. And…she fell in love with Rylan. Colleen’s world was turned upside down. Family dynamics, secrets, disastrous emotional upheavals and more make this book an intriguing read.Irish Meadows quote2

There’s a lot to like in this book. First, the Point of View (POV) is key to how the author develops tension and suspense. There are four Points of View: Colleen’s, Brianna’s, Rylan’s, and Gilbert’s. This author manages to blend them so well that she avoids the disjointed feeling so common in books with so many POV’s. I feel these points of view are what keeps this storyline moving along without stalling for lack of physical action. That’s excellent characterization.Irish Meadows quote3

Second, the four main characters all have a crisis of heart to meet, deal with, and resolve. Even the secondary characters, Kathleen and James O’Leary, the parents, had to face issues themselves such as what really mattered in life, and how to handle secrets within a family unit. Each issue felt real, urgent, and relevant for today even if the source is a historical novel. I found each of the conflicts plausible and could relate to many of them myself. The author manages to create believable people we can become akin to and care for.Irish Meadows quote4

Third, this is a faith-based book. I love how each voice dealing with an issue was facing something that included a crisis of faith, as well as heart and home. When a faith issue has to be dealt with, even though it may be an entirely private matter between you and God, it does affect those around us because what we believe leads to how we live our lives. That is how this author presents each character’s conflicts. When we are privvy to their thoughts, feelings and the process of resolution within, we appreciate them more for their struggles, even if they are still a flawed individual. I enjoyed the process as I read along, because what they struggled with was thought-provoking and insightful. And since most of this was internal, none of it sounded even remotely like preaching or finger wagging. Rather, I felt blessed to gain a glimpse through the window of their souls. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series which will give us Adam’s story.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy (ARC) of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

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Flower Swallow by Alana Terry ~Review~

Flower Swallow by Alana Terry

Flower Swallow

Some of us may relate to a time when we saw the world through a child’s eyes. It has always been a mystery to me how that happens. But when it does, there’s a sense of new appreciation for things that have become ‘ho hum’ to us through time and familiarity. I have discovered this book gives us the same kind of perspective. We see what life might be like in North Korea through the eyes of a lost child, a lost boy, known in that country as a ‘flower swallow.’

Once I started reading this book, I became entranced. Because really, what do we know about life in North Korea? Not really enough for us to develop compassion for people who are trapped within a nation whose despotic leaders want them to think they are gods. So this story is told in the first person by a little boy named Woong. From his viewpoint, we understand the people a little bit more; we understand a land in famine, hit by storms, flash floods, cruel dictators, starvation and hard circumstances. Life was so harsh that many children were cut loose from their families to find their own way. In the Western world, we would think of them as “street urchins” thinking back to the eighteenth century London where children often lived in the streets. If you’ve read or watched the story Oliver, that would give you a glimpse of what that life was about. It wasn’t pretty. So too, this boy Woong had a tough life. He wasn’t an orphan, but he was cut loose from family nevertheless.

Flower Swallow street-children Bogota

Street children in Bogota

The author, Alana Terry, creates a character with tons of personality. Unlike the story of Oliver, which was a serious tome from the onset to its conclusion, Woong is a mischievous little guy who thinks and ponders things through. This story is his reflection on his younger years as a ‘flower swallow’, where his adventures and attitudes remind me more of Tom Sawyer than Oliver. I often chuckled, if not at the circumstances, definitely at the way the adventures were explained by a little boy. (His present life sounds as if he’s about 8 or 9, telling this story to his American teacher.)

Flower Swallow street urchins1

19th century London, street children

What I especially appreciate about this book is the combination of pathos and humor. The humor does not detract from the seriousness of the population’s condition. It is so well written, that when the boy speaks of his every day life, you can laugh but with tears in your eyes. You gain such a sense of sympathy devoid of pity. I could appreciate the strength needed to cope and survive in such a hostile environment. I began to admire Woong, and others who barely survived. In fact, I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading this story, including admiration for the author who made this story come alive.

Flower Swallow street children in India

Street children, India

I highly recommend it for your household. This is the type of book you can read with your children, since there are no graphic scenes in this book, although you should be prepared to share harsh reality with your children if they have not been exposed to it before. Yet this book is one that’s appropriate for a wide range of readers. As a former homeschool mom, I can see many applications in this book for children and young people.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry ~ Review

Paralyzed (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 2) by Alana Terry

ParalyzedParalyzed is the second book of the Kennedy Stern novel series by Alana Terry. This series runs parallel to another series by the same author. That set involves Kennedy’s parents who live in China where they conduct a secret seminary for North Korean refugees. While book 1 and 2 in Kennedy’s series works closely together, you can read each one independently of the other. Of course, I think they are best read back to back, since the events only occur six weeks apart. You can view my review of book 1 here.

Kennedy Stern, after having lived in China ten years, is now attending Harvard University as a pre-med student. It’s only been six weeks since she’d been kidnapped in what turned out to be a high profile case that involved a big political name, underground thugs, and a pregnant girl. Kennedy ended up handcuffed for 24 hours in a filthy darkened basement watching the young teen die from bleeding out. She still had nightmares of the horrors she witnessed. While taking final exams before the Christmas break, she started have coughing fits, and out in the hallway, she thought she saw a familiar ugly face. It frightened her enough that she fled the exam in panic to her dorm room. Then she had to see a doctor for her cough and an excused absence for her professor. The doctor recognized her and asked her several questions. He hinted that she may need counseling, possibly for PTSD. She couldn’t get her mind wrapped around the concept. Could she really have PTSD? She was a Christian. She’d been praying an reading her Bible more often since her traumatic experience. She’d even memorized Bible verses. Didn’t that help?Paralyzed Quote1

From that point on, the author provides non-stop suspense. Kennedy’s friend took her out to see the Nutcracker Suite. She enjoyed it but was once again spooked when they attempted to see some of the players backstage, and she wound up alone in a dark hallway. Then they took a subway to get some pizza, but a power outage created new panic; she felt as if someone was following her in the dark tunnel, especially after a smoke bomb forced everyone out of the car and into the unlit tunnel. Once home her shaken nerves were further rattled when her father called to warn her a second man was discovered to have been involved in the kidnapping case. He sent her with an email with a picture of the man. She immediately recognized him from the subway incident. She needed to flee, but she didn’t know where to go. That’s when Pastor Carl Lindgren, a family friend, entered the fray. He had received the same warnings from Kennedy’s dad. Pastor Carl decided she needed to stay with him for her safety. They were anything but safe. What ensued was a terrifying car chase, a shoot out, a hospital visit, police protection, and an ambush. At that point, I just could not put the book down.

Paralyzed Quote2

Alana Terry writes excellent suspenseful scenes that are fast-paced. That alone has me recommending this book to you. But Kennedy’s inner battles are just as interesting to me. Yes, growing up in a missionary family ensured her head was filled with knowledge that made her appear to be a Christian. She prayed, read her Bible, lived by a set of moral codes in spite of her environment, and even memorizing Scripture. But something was missing. She seemed a little two dimensional to me. I kept asking myself, “Where’s the joy? Where’s the relationship, the inner peace, the intimacy between her Heavenly Father and a daughter?” Kennedy’s spiritual life is often too formulaic in my opinion. A true dynamic Christian life is much more than saying prayers, doing good deeds, going to church, and even reading the Bible. It’s vital and alive–an active relationship between a loving Father and His child. there should be dialogue and exchange. I believe this lack of depth has been carefully crafted by the author as an underlying subplot that began in the first book and grows gradually throughout the series. It is not yet resolved in the second book in spite of the satisfactory resolution of the more active portions of the story line. I suspect the quieter theme will continue into the next book or books in the series. I look forward to further development of this character thread because it is an ever pressing issue in today’s world.

Paralyzed Quote3

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn

Spring Dawn

Spring Dawn is the third book in Rebekah Lyn’s Season of Faith series. In Book 1, we meet Elizabeth, Ian, Jeffrey, Stephen and Michelle. Book 2 continues the story of these five friends. In Book 3, the main plot is focused equally between Ian and Elizabeth’s growing romance and Jeffrey’s life and spiritual growth as a new Christian. You can read my reviews on Book 1 here and Book 2 here. By the time I finished reading the third book, I felt these five characters were also my friends. And because they are, I can’t wait to see more resolution in their lives.

In looking back over the scope of the books I’ve read so far in this series, I could see a pattern. The first book was a book of disasters where many people were thrown together in an effort to survive the season’s group of hurricanes. Our five main characters meet under different conditions and in different capacities. The second book was a book of mystery and adventure where Ms. Lyn’s readers become better acquainted with the friends. This third book is a book of testing: testing character, testing resolves, and testing relationships. An example of this is in the development of Ian and Lizzie’s relationship. In the second book, the reader may conclude that their relationship was on solid ground. Yet this third book creates uncertainty, tests their stability as a couple and stretching each one individually. That makes for very good reading.

Spring Dawn quote1

Lizzie begins to put distance between herself and Ian, while simultaneously drawing closer to Jeffrey, especially after his car accident. Ian becomes jealous of Jeffrey when he finds out about this. Michelle, too, feels some envy at Jeffrey and Lizzie’s easy camaraderie. Ian is already frustrated with the slow growth of his design business. He begins to wonder if Lizzie is the One for him to settle down with. Lizzie is not aware of these undercurrents. She is battling her own fears about falling back into her past lifestyle which she has kept hidden from Ian.

Spring Dawn quote2

After going through a hair-raising experience in the second book, Michelle feels much less secure in the current book. She’s dissatisfied with life, leans a little more on her friend Jeffrey for friendship while at the same time nothing seems to go her way. This subplot left me yearning for some type of resolution for her.

Jeffrey shares the limelight with Ian and Lizzie. After the events of the second book, Jeffrey resolves to stay closer to God, stay dry and away from former relationships that could lure him back to his old ways. He spends a little more time with Stephen. At the same time, he also resolves to reach out to Michelle in an effort to “be Jesus” to her. Of course, most of these resolutions are tested repeatedly, creating a sense of mystery about his relationship with Michelle. His accident temporarily takes him out of Michelle’s sphere and into the care of his parents. Happily this gives him an opportunity to gain some peace with them.

Spring Dawn quote3

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. Rebekah Lyn’s writing style pulls us into the details of friendships and leads us to care for each of the five friends. The pace of this third book is slower than the previous books, which seems to be intentional in order to develop the tangled web of events, tests, and character development. If you enjoy delving into the details of life, watching how people going through life without God learn about Him and reach out to Him when others are not accessible, then you will enjoy this book.

Additional note: The fourth book in this series is soon to be released. Look for a December wedding!

Spring Dawn quote4

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn

Winter's End

Winter’s End is the second book in Rebekah Lyn’s Seasons of Faith series. In book 1 we meet Elizabeth Reynolds, Ian Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Robbins, Stephen Longbottom, and Michelle Burton. The first book’s emphasis was on Elizabeth and those involved in her circumstances. By the conclusion of that book, Elizabeth and Ian had begun a new romantic relationship. Their story continues in this second book as a subplot where the author explores their growth individually and as a couple, while LIzzie and Ian are in Vermont on a ski trip with his parents and her adopted parents.Click here to see my review on book One

In the meantime, the main plot is split between Stephen and Michelle. While Lizzie is away on vacation, Stephen is in charge of their concierge team at Hotel Lago. He is professionally tested when he spends the weekend overseeing a particularly fussy group of executives on a business retreat. Michelle, on the other hand, had just experienced an exhilarating night with her rock band, only to arrive at her office job the next morning to discover a co-worker had been brutally murdered and left in one of the office’s bathrooms. The three storylines, plus a subplot where the murder investigation moves forward in its own suspenseful timeline, weave and intertwine with each other in a similar manner to Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series.

Winter's End quote1

Then there’s Jeffrey. He noticed Michelle was on the news because she was the one who discovered the body and called 911. Although their last time together was a disaster, he decided to call her to check on how she was dealing with the shock. They got together and she immediately noticed how he had changed. Eventually she discovered he had become a Christian. His presence helped her cope with her new fears. Their relationship is yet another subplot that will apparently continue in one of the future books in this series.

Winter's End quote2

Winter’s End gives readers a little bit of everything. Suspense quickens the pace when Detective Mike Emerson and his assistant try to hunt down the murderer while the evidence is fresh and before he strikes again. Good character work is evident as we learn how Lizzie and Ian’s relationship is developing. Spiritual topics crop up naturally when Michelle’s experience shakes her to the core. Jeffrey plays an important role in answering some of life’s toughest questions. Continuity flows throughout the tale, connecting the books closely, allowing resolution in some relationships while anticipating how some other events will need to be resolved in the future.

Winter's End quote3

I have noticed that the best way to read these books is to read them back to back to enjoy the story’s flow. The first three books are already out. Another book will be coming out soon, in late 2015 or early 2016. I am looking forward to reading the next two books. If you enjoy Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove books and other author’s works with a similar style of writing, then I highly recommend this book and the series to you.

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The Dance: A Novel (The Restoration series Bk 1) by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley ~Review

Dance, The

The Dance: A Novel by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

The Dance is the first book of Gary Smalley’s and Dan Walsh’s Restoration series. There are four books in the series. I have discovered that all the books can be read independently, but are easier understood and experienced if you read this first book before the others. I read this book after reading book four. Reading it filled in the gaps for me and helped me understand the underlying premise of the series. Book 1, at the time I have written this review, was/is a free ebook. You may want to check now to see if it is still free, before reading books two, three, and four.

Jim Anderson is the owner of Anderson Development, a commercial real estate company. He has built this company up from the ground himself. He is understandably proud of his accomplishments. His business has been successful for a long time, although recently it has reflected the slump in the American economy. In my opinion, Jim is a typical alpha male, in that the world must revolve around him, including his family. This has only created pain in his household, though he doesn’t see that. Suddenly and unexpectedly for Jim, his wife of 27 years left him. She quietly moved out, leaving most of her belongings behind.

Dance, The quote1

Marilyn Anderson love how she’s been protected and cared for by Jim. She loved her new home in the planned community. She took pleasure in choosing all the furniture and decorating the house right down to the smallest details. She could appreciate how Jim has worked hard to maintain they way of life. He provided well for their three children. He gave them nearly anything they wanted. But it wasn’t enough. He gave them everything but his heart. Marilyn had felt this lack the moment they were married until one day she couldn’t stand it anymore. Overwhelmed with sadness, she went out in search of a job, found an older person to board with, and left. The driving question in this book–what would it take for Jim and Marilyn to reconcile? This is their story and the beginning of the series.

Dance, The quote2

This book has so many elements I could relate to as I was reading it. First, both authors have been counselors and involved with Christian ministry and with marriage relationships for many years. Gary Smalley’s book on marriage helped my own marriage when my husband and I were a young couple. Dan Walsh admitted that Smalley’s books on communication aided his own young marriage as well. Through the expertise of both these men, this book is filled with nuggets of gold. The character development is heart gripping and real. The book is written just the way I enjoy reading character-based literature.

Dance, The quote3

Second, the turn around doesn’t occur overnight. It actually takes Jim about half the book length before he even began to look within himself to discover if he has done something to run off his wife and alienate his children. It easily provides us readers a character we “love to hate”. He is both despicable and a person we want to see turn his life around. I truly wanted to get my hands on his neck and choke the guy at the beginning of the story. I certainly yelled at him, in my mind, from time to time.

Dance, The quote4

Third, there’s a vivid analogy written into the storyline–that of a dance. The analogy which is responsible for the title, has multiple layers which we come to understand better as the story progresses. It is so well written and incorporated that it helps keep the storyline moving along at a good clip. Finally, I related very well with Marilyn’s plight. The break in their marriage wasn’t all Jim’s doing. Marilyn had much to learn before she could reconcile with her husband. In the series, the first step they take at the conclusion of this story is continued in the remaining three books. The three books each feature one of Jim and Marilyn’s children as they fit into the theme of the series. Jim and Marilyn’s story continues as a subplot, while the major plots are dedicated to each adult child in turn. That is why I not only recommend this book to you, but the series as well.

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In Firefly Valley (Texas Crossroads Bk 2) by Amanda Cabot ~Review~

In Firefly Valley

In Firefly Valley is the second book of the Texas Crossroads series by Amanda Cabot. Between the first two books we get acquainted with a trio of men and two close friends. The men were college buddies who kept in touch with each other for years after their graduation. In book one we met Greg Vange and Kate. You can read my Review of At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot here. In this second book, we meet Drew Carroll and Blake Kendall, Greg’s friends who came to Texas from California to attend Greg and Kate’s wedding. Lauren and Marisa were childhood friends who had grown up in Dupree, Texas. Marisa moved to Atlanta and became an accountant at a large city firm. She has returned now after being scammed by a man posing as a private detective, who had been her boyfriend until he disappeared with her money. Her mother, Carmen St. George, got her a job working as an office manager at Rainbow’s End in Dupree. Drew met Lauren at the wedding. Blake met Marisa at the resort where he was staying. Dupree would be forever changed by these seemingly casual encounters.

The main plot involves Blake and Marisa. The moment they met, they felt an attraction. But Blake had a secret that eventually strained their budding relationship, while Marisa was dealing with past issues of trust and anger. Reacting to each other’s past nearly destroyed their relationship before it had a chance to get off the ground. Intersected with this storyline are two subplots: Lauren was being courted by Drew whom Marisa believed to be all wrong for her best friend and 7-year-old daughter; and Marisa’s father has suddenly returned to his family after he had deserted them eight years ago. While Eric began the process of proving his recovery from alcoholism to his wife and daughter, Marisa is resistant to reconciling with him. She doesn’t believe he has changed. This becomes a stumbling block in her relationship with Blake as well as her family. There are also several threads running throughout the book which makes the reader wonder if a satisfactory resolution is possible. It all works together to keep the reader’s interest until the conclusion of the story.

In Firefly Valley quote 1

After reading both the first and second books of this series, I realized this author has a talent for creating living, breathing, well-rounded, easily relate-able characters. It didn’t take long before I felt connected to the main players. Lauren is a widow whose young husband died of leukemia a year before. Fiona, Lauren’s daughter, wants a new daddy. Drew, who’d made it big as Greg Vange’s business partner, suddenly finds himself at loose ends. Greg sold his business and Drew is without work. He takes a good look at himself and doesn’t like what he sees. When he seeks out God, together they get his life turned around. Then he meets Lauren, falls in love and realizes he has a way to put his new resolves into action. Blake is an author. His books have hit the best seller list repeatedly. At the opening of the book, he has a contract for another book. But for the first time ever, he has writer’s block. Seeking a change of location in an attempt to stimulate his creative juices brings him to Rainbow’s End. But meeting Marisa, becoming aware of her “daddy” issues, creates a crisis for him in more ways than one.

In Firefly Valley quote 2

I could go on, but I hope you see my point. Amanda Cabot’s characters make mistakes, refuse to admit when they are wrong, need help from their friends, realize flaws in their beliefs and thinking, seek out God’s aid, make attempts at changes, are not perfect, and so on. These are all some of the dynamics that good character-based books use to draw us back to read the story a number of times. This author is a master at writing characters with flaws and heart. This particular “flavor” of weaknesses and strengths, conflict and resolution, is what I like to read. I believe many other readers enjoy this combination of traits too.

In Firefly Valley quote 3

Second, besides great characterization, the author introduces a subtle underlying theme that may make the readers pause and ponder. Can people change who they are, fundamentally? The answer is complex–not an easy yes or no. How a person believes about that question depends on their worldview of humanity. Some use the old idiom that “leopards do not change their spots.” Others believe change and even transformation is possible. This demonstrates an excellent use of a theme that drives a storyline forward toward some type of conclusion. In this case, it helps bring about a satisfactory ending. It worked so well I read the book twice before writing this review.

In Firefly Valley quote 4

Finally, this is a faith-filled story, something I thoroughly enjoy reading. There is no preaching here, just people who naturally include God in their daily lives. They pray and talk about Him as if He is a friend that walks with them daily. None of it is hard hitting or forced. God is just there. When people want to include Him, they do. When they don’t want to include Him, they don’t. The author demonstrates faith that’s as natural as breathing. This is a factor that’s important to me, so that’s what I read. For all these reasons above, I highly recommend this book and the series. A third book is to be released soon. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing it as much as I plan to enjoy other books from this author.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Revell Reads (a division of Baker Publishing). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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