Spiral: The Salzburg Saga Book 1 by D.U. Okonkwo ~ Review

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Spiral: The Salzburg Saga Book 1 by D.U. Okonkwo

The three books in this Saga basically form one continuous story. You will want to read these books back to back because of that. There is no segue. The first story stops abruptly and the next one continues. The book Spiral is aptly named. A normal situation where three young lawyers take a corporate jet sponsored by their largest client to participate in a networking event goes all wrong very quickly once they get into the air.

The story is written from basically two points of view, that of Jake’s, the pilot of the jet aircraft, and that of Nina, one of the lawyers in the group. As the situation on the jet becomes tense, we get introduced to all the characters as they interact with each other. Each person has a history which is revealed as the adventure continues and which keeps this event popping with intrigue and interest.

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There are two major settings: on board the aircraft and on the ground in the mountains of Austria after the jet crashed. The story line keeps us focused on the effort to survive a horrible situation. And while they are just trying to survive, the situation just continues to spiral out of control, getting worse and worse as time lapses. By the end of this first tome, two of the party have died.

There is continuous action in this first book. The pace is rapid enough to keep you reading without being able to put the book down. The author writes an effective buildup to the tension among the group, since there are people to blame and people who are innocent bystanders. At first, it’s unclear exactly who is who. That type of suspense propels the reader right into the next book.

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The author is very effective in building suspense slowly and painfully. I just couldn’t put this book down once I got started. I was immensely grateful that both books were in the same volume so that I could proceed to part 2 of the saga.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from AXP Books on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. 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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Better All the Time: Book 2 by Carre Armstrong Gardner ~ Review

Better All the Time pic

Better All the Time: Book 2 by Carre Armstrong Gardner

You know how Debbie Macomber takes a community of people and tells their individual stories which stretch over several books and time? I know many authors who have done this; and some of those stories, like Ms. Macomber’s, have even become a television series. Well, Carre Armstrong Gardner has done something similar, although the focus remains on one family, the Darlings. This book is the second of a series, all focusing on the members of the Darling family and their friends.

Book 1, which I have reviewed here, introduced us to the family by way of Ivy Darling, already married to Nick Mason. As their story unfolds, we get introduced to the many other members of the sprawling family that lives in Maine and other parts of the US.

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Jane and Leander Darling are the proud parents of mostly daughters, now adults who are moving on with their lives, and sometimes to other states. Seraphina is the resident college student/grad who has taken on a nursing job nearby. Ivy and Nick live close with their adopted youngsters, Hammer, DeShaun, and Jada. Laura has moved as far away from the family as she could manage, to Arizona. Amy has taken on the position of a local arts director to create a brand new program with theater, concerts and classes. David is dating Sephy’s best friend, Libby. The focus in this book is on the personal issues faced by Laura, Amy, Sephy and a few peripheral friends such as Mitch and Libby.

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All the daughters had experiences which tugged at my sympathies and my heart. But I think of all their stories, it was Sephy’s that resonated most with me. She and I have parallel histories, mostly revolving around emotional eating and being a people pleaser. Her journey sounded so much like mine. I remember those feelings and experiences that were so close to her feelings and experiences, especially when it came time for her to visit her Aunt Sharon. Oh my! It was both hilarious and tragic at the same time; I couldn’t help but laugh in commiseration!

I also loved Amy’s subplot. She could have been me when I was in my 20’s. While reading about her non-relationship with Mitch, I kept yelling at her in my mind, ‘Don’t make the same mistakes I did, Amy!’ Of course, when you are twenty-something and you have the tiger by the tail, who has time to think of long-term consequences. Right? ‘Nuff said.

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So if this type of storytelling is one you enjoy, go out and get the first book and this one, then go on and read the next book in the series. They really are more enjoyable to read this way. The title of the book is appropriate. Tangled stories do begin to unravel and straighten out, little by little. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing book three.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. 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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The Naomi Chronicles Book 1: No Other Choice by Paula Rose Michelson ~ Review

No Other Choice new cover

The Naomi Chronicles Book 1: No Other Choice by Paula Rose Michelson

I have to say that this book and its sequel are some of the most intriguing reading I’ve experienced in a long while. It is the kind of story that makes you “walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins.” It is fiction, but based on history. That’s one of the reasons I love these books by this author so much.

First, the author prefaces the piece by asking us to imagine “what if” our beliefs were what threatened our family’s very lives. How would we live to survive? Suppose we saw our families and friends all around us killed or expelled or mistreated because of their similar beliefs? What would you do as a daughter of the house? Would you go into hiding? Live a lie? Fear for your life? Sacrifice for your family’s safety? With this mindset established, Naomi is introduced to us just as she sets foot in immigration as a 15-year-old girl, about to be deported because the family that was supposed to support her suddenly refuses to sponsor her in America. But she is rescued. The question presented in this book is this: was that rescue a blessing or a curse? You have to read this story to find out.

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This book and book two used to be one story. So you need to purchase the second book to find the resolution to the first, which ends on a mild cliff hanger. Fortunately, book two picks up about five minutes after the first ends. Since this is a series, I didn’t mind that so much. But I feel you should know this and prepare to purchase both books together. In spite of that, book one is complete in that it encapsulates a complete idea and develops it thoroughly.

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I enjoy getting to know a subculture of America I have never become acquainted with, in this case the Spanish Harlem area, or Harlem as it’s known today. The author uses this setting to make the surrounding circumstances Naomi finds herself in alive and familiar. You get to know and somewhat understand her community, watch how Naomi sacrifices her life goals to play an important part of the barrio and in the lives of its citizens. The author writes this so well I felt as if I were part of the community.

Naomi herself is going through a transition. The reader becomes privy to her inner turmoil as she struggles to find her place in life. Then the author adds a sweet romance in the final chapters that brings all the circumstances to a head, adding slight tension in Naomi’s character development.

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I highly recommend this book, and of course, the entire series. It appears there is more to come, so I am looking forward to reading all the books based on how much I enjoyed the first two. I hope you will grow to love this series too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was approached by this author to write a review of her books, and she offered me this one as a complimentary copy. (But I had already gotten it last year. So technically I am writing this review for my opinion with the blessing of 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.

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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.

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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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Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Bob Elliot ~review~

Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Bob Elliot

Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids

Good humor is a valuable commodity. Let me re-phrase that. Good clean humor is a valuable commodity. Clean humor is not as easy to find as you might think. Much of the humor of the past three or so decades is based on making fun of someone else or of other ideas. It capitalizes on someone’s mistakes. It belittles and minimizes someone else’s worth. To find good humor means leaving that base in the dust and finding things that are truly funny at no one else’s expense. Even the definition of clean has variations and shades of meaning.

As a parent, when my children were young, I didn’t want them to think that devaluing someone else was funny. Slapstick was fine, as well as play on words and incongruities. We loved all things animal humor. Those were our standards. This book contains a similar standard. It is written for young children, perhaps from 6-10 years. The content is squeaky clean. Many of the jokes date back to my childhood years with a few new ones sprinkled here and there. There are 126 pages of fun.

It is divided by chapters by categories:

Chapter 1: Questions and Answers
Chapter 2: Awesome Animal Jokes
Chapter 3: Knock Knock Jokes
Chapter 4: Tongue Twisters
Chapter 5: Some Things to Think About

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One of the Question and Answers I’ve never heard before goes like this:

Question: What did the alien say to the flower bed?
Answer: Take me to your weeder.

Here’s one from Chapter 2 I haven’t heard before:

Question: Where do bees come from?
Answer: Stingapore and Beelivia

Do knock knock jokes make you groan?

“Knock, knock!”
“Who’s There?”
“Everest”
“Everest, who?”
“Do we Everest from telling knock knock jokes?”

One parting shot:

“If a fly didn’t have wings, would we call it a walk?”

Now, I found this is just one book in a collection. There are many more books just like this one. They came out with a new one in 2014 if you are looking for more. I recommend this series to anyone who wants pure and simple humor for their children.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network (bookfun.org) on behalf of Revell. 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.”

Now, because this is such a short book with an even shorter book review, here’s a special feature to help you get your laugh quota in for the day. I found this while visiting a number of blogs, so I’ll quote the premise: “Speaking of funny, I loved this rendition of The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant from First Baptist Church of Marble Falls. They recorded kids telling the story, and then had adults lip-sync it. Hysterical.”

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When Mercy Rains (The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy, Book 1) by Kim Vogel Sawyer ~review~

When Mercy Rains by Kim Vogel Sawyer

When Mercy Rains

This is a story of family dynamics, secrets, hidden sin and its consequences. Ultimately there is redemption, forgiveness and peace, but the journey from heartbreak to healing is long and rocky, full of twists and unexpected turns, lies and deception. The question that continually ran through my mind while I was reading this book was, “How could such a seemingly invisible act lead to such enormous, far-reaching consequences?”

Suzanne Zimmerman grew up in an Old Order Mennonite community in rural Kansas. But at the age of 17, she suddenly discovered she was to become an unwed mother. She confided this to her mother who immediately made arrangements to send her daughter off to another Mennonite community to adopt the baby out to Suzanne’s cousin Andrew and his wife. But the experience was more traumatic than she expected, and when the time came, she elected to stay in Indianapolis. At the new church where she attended, Suzanne met a couple who essentially adopted her, encouraged her to get her high school graduation equivalent (GED), and schooling for her RN degree. The story picks up twenty years later: Suzanne was now living contentedly on her own, working the night shift as a nurse at a Mennonite missionary hospital. She loved coming home to her apartment where her 19-year-old daughter, Alexa, usually had a meal prepared for them. Alexa was an amazing cook.

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Alexa and Suzanne’s lives took a sudden right turn when they received a letter from a younger brother who informed them that Suzanne’s mother was seriously injured in a farming accident and was unable to walk. She was now confined to a wheelchair. Clete wanted Suzanne to return to Arborville to help the family take care of her. For awhile, she was torn about making such a momentous decision, but she finally decided to take a leave of absence of a few months. The really difficult decision to make was whether to take Alexa with her. It meant having to risk revealing a few secrets she had kept from her family, and even from Alexa herself.

Alexa was beside herself with excited anticipation about meeting her family for the first time. She really didn’t know what to expect. She had visualized a joyful, boisterous reunion, happy faces, and welcoming tears. But when that didn’t happen, she realized that no one had known about her. Why hadn’t her mother told them about her? What puzzled her more was the silent tension and apparent resentment her mother was greeted with. But Alexa was made of sterner stuff, and she was determined to melt the ice and win her family over, beginning with her grandmother, Abigail Zimmerman.

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While this is a character-driven book dealing mostly with mother/daughter issues, the author manages to ramp up the tension and suspense by revealing only a little bit of information at a time. The reader is forced to make numerous assumptions which turn out to be erroneous when major bumps in the road appear. This is the writing strategy that keeps us on the edge of our seats and turning the pages. Because of this, I managed to read the 344-page book in just a few days.

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Another thing I liked about this book is the complexity of the situation. Suzanne had a large family, and her disappearance made ripples that upset the lives of her former boyfriend, all her brothers and sisters, her mother and father, and Alexa. The book explores many of these problem areas while still keeping the focus mainly on Suzanne, her mother, and Alexa. At times, it didn’t look as if any resolution could be reached with Mrs. Zimmerman and some of the family members. But in the end, the seemingly impossible becomes possible and the final events resolve satisfactorily.

Even though the subject matter is serious and the darkness of discord runs constantly throughout the plot line, the author was still able to add moments of humor and light. Suzanne’s former boyfriend, Paul Aldrich, had gotten married after she had left. He had a son Danny before his wife died of cancer. The boy has a great sense of mischief and lends comic relief to the story. Many times, the author also defuses tense moments through Alexa’s light and cheerful personality. One of my favorite funny moments, however, occurred when Mother Zimmerman, Suzanne, Alexa, and Shelley took a day trip to Wichita. Just when you think Shelley’s bad attitude would ruin the trip for the women, Mrs. Zimmerman’s former wry humor finally broke through the awkwardness and anger. It was a moment of hope and a turning point in the story.

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Finally, in spite of the fact this is not a romance story, Suzanne’s former love interest is another major element of the story because Paul is the carpenter refitting the house to accommodate the wheelchair. He is constantly present and both Paul and Suzanne realize they must come to terms with their former relationship and their current feelings for each other. Unfortunately, this is one of the threads that remains unresolved by the end of the book. But I have hopes it will be settled in the next book, which focuses on Alexa’s new life among the Zimmermans.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Waterbrook Press and the website, Blogging for Books. 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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Out of the Storm: A Novella (Beacons of Hope series) by Jody Hedlund ~Review~

Out of the Storm (Beacons of Hope) by Jody Hedlund

Out of the Storm

Author Jody Hedlund is beginning a new series of books: The Beacons of Hope. Many of the books feature a lighthouse setting in historically researched fiction. Out of the Storm is a novella that is intended to kick off the series. It is a historical fiction that takes place in the mid-nineteenth century at the beautiful Old Presque Isle Lighthouse.

Former British Captain Thornton, a powerful bulldog of a man, lived as keeper of the lighthouse with his daughter Isabelle. The surrounding area was wild, deserted, and ruggedly appealing. Neither father nor daughter minded the isolation. At the opening scene of this story, there has been a shipwreck. Flash storms were not unusual on Lake Huron. In the morning, the Captain and his daughter were looking for survivors. As they pulled bodies out of the water, Isabelle discovered a man clinging to some debris. They brought him inside to nurse him back to health.

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Over time they learned that this young man was the son of a lumber magnate. He was aboard a steamer with his business associate–his adviser and family friend, Charles, purchasing stands of timber on behalf of Cole Enterprises, when the storm overtook the ship. His friend and advisor did not survive. One more factor surprised the Thorntons. Along with hypothermia and burns, Henry had been shot. It took him awhile to recover from this experience.

While she nursed Henry, Isabelle became better acquainted with him. He was a jovial type of man, not taking much of anything very seriously. He was pampered and the life of the party, used to gaining the attention of women everywhere he went. His was a life of leisure, lacking in true purpose and drive. His father was disappointed in him and sent him on this trip hoping it would mature his son. The storm jolted him out of his complacency; he’d lost a close friend and he felt responsible. Isabelle’s nature was the opposite of Henry’s. She was reserved, quiet, serious and studious, yet happy and contented with her life. In spite of their differences, the two became friends.

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Slowly, as Henry recovered from his wounds, he was given light tasks to help earn his stay in the Keeper’s home. He was also warned by the Captain to keep away from his daughter. But the young people’s relationship grew into more than friendship. Henry taught her different games, including checkers. Isabelle read to him from the Bible each day.

One day some men showed up at the door who claimed to represent Henry’s father. They were to go down to Detroit together. But once they got into the boat, the situation changed. Isabelle saw the men tie him up and hold a knife to his throat. She asked her father to rescue Henry; he did, reluctantly. It became apparent to both men that staying at the lighthouse was putting Isabelle and her father at risk from the ruthless competitors until Henry could travel down to Detroit to file his claim of ownership. He had to make a decision to leave before winter temperatures froze the lakes and commerce was closed until the Spring thaw. Isabelle was uncertain he would return. She loved him, but she may never see him again.

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Yes, this is a short novella, with barely enough pages to develop a plot and build strong characters. Yet in spite of these limitations, Jody Hedlund has accomplished quite a few feats in this story. First, she has captured and described the unique responsibilities of lighthouse keepers all along the shores, no matter what state or country they were located. Before the days of electronic communications, all the warning ships had about avoiding treacherous rocks near the shores were from these lights. Before the days of the Coast Guard, there were few means available to rescue survivors of shipwrecks except for random citizens living near the seas and lakes. Lighthouse keepers were often among these rescuers.

Second, the author has described the incredible panoramic views available from the positions where lighthouses were often placed. These locations are often difficult to access today from the inland. Many people love lighthouses and collect items decorated like them, but not as many have visited them.

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Third, a historical background of the lumber industry is alluded to in this story, and will no doubt continue to be expanded upon in the series. The Great Lakes lumbering industry operated on two fronts: one from the investor’s point of view, where business was conducted almost entirely among the rich, on the Great Lakes. Competition to cash in on the “green gold” was fierce, where some competitors were ruthless and unethical in their dealings. The second front was from the perspective of the actual laborers, the foremen, the lumberjacks, and the local businessmen and representatives that depended on the influx of such workers. Historical industries like this are the foundation many stories are built upon.

Fourth, the author employed a simple classic love story to complete this introduction to the series. Boy meets girl…girl has doubts and boy has doubts…girl’s parent interferes…a crisis happens…the crisis allows barriers to crumble…boy gets girl (and vice versa)…both learn life lessons demonstrating some growth of character. There’s a happily ever after. It’s a pattern that works well for many readers. We enjoy it and its endless variations. I enjoy the author’s writing style demonstrated by this introductory novella. I’m looking forward to reading the Beacons of Hope series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy 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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