Review: Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1), by Kristen Ashley

Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1)Wildest Dreams by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in awhile, I crave a story with an over-the-top Alpha and a sassy heroine. I know that I can always count on Kristen Ashley to deliver when I’m in a “caveman” sort of mood. Her heroes are always uber-masculine and about as far from metrosexual as you can get. Though what they lack in sensitivity, they make up for in pure, primal sex appeal.

True to form, ‘Wildest Dreams’ did not disappoint on any of those fronts. In fact, travelling to this alternate universe felt much like travelling back in time by a few hundred years and then throwing in a plethora of supernatural elements. This story takes us to a world where there are ancient royal families ruling over their lands; where travel is by horse and wagon; and where witches, elves and dragons exist. ‘Fantasyland’ is an apt name for this series and I am already hooked.

The first book in the series, ‘Wildest Dreams’ introduces us to this magical world. The descriptions were so vivid that I felt like I had been transported, right alongside Finnie. I listened to the Audible edition of this book and I thought that the narrator did a fabulous job. I am glad that I chose to listen vs. read this time around. If, like me, you enjoy a good audiobook from time to time, this is a great selection.

Kristen Ashley has built an alternate world, where everyone has a “twin”. Although they may have a physical twin in this alternate world, the personalities and other characteristics are certainly not identical. With the help of a witch and a large dose of magic, people in this world may communicate with people in this alternate world, or even travel between worlds. That is how this story begins.

Seoafin “Finnie” Wilde has plenty of money, but has lost the most meaningful people in her life – her parents. Ever since her parents died in a plane crash while on one of their adventures, Finnie has been heartbroken. She misses them more than anything and like them, Finnie is always up for an adventure.

When Finnie discovers the existence of an alternate world – a world where there are living versions of herself and her parents – she decides she is going to go there. Communicating with the “her” in this other world through a powerful witch, she comes to an agreement with her to trade places for one year. Despite the pleas of her best friend, Finnie pays a fortune to the witch and sets out on the biggest adventure of her life.

Only, when Finnie arrives in this new world she quickly discovers that the other “her” hasn’t been completely forthcoming about everything. Stepping into the shoes of Princess Sjofn, she is set to wed the fiercely intimidating and ultra- male, Frey Drakkar immediately upon her arrival in this new world. Finnie doesn’t even have time to read the note that Princess Sjofn left for her before she is marched down the aisle. She’s been duped.

To make matters more complicated, it is clear that Frey Drakkar does not care for Princess Sjofn. In fact, he seems to barely tolerate her presence. After whisking her away to a remote cabin far away from her parent’s castle, he promptly takes off, leaving her to fend for herself in this new land.

Determined to make the best of the situation, Finnie makes the most of her time while Frey is away. She befriends the inhabitants of the nearby small town and bides her time until his return. She cleans their cabin and makes it a cozy home.

When Frey returns, he is shocked to see that the pampered princess has morphed into a completely different person than the one he knew. She is kind and funny. She performs manual labor that the old Sjofn would have thought was beneath her. Perhaps most importantly, she denies that she prefers women lovers over men. He doesn’t know what game she’s playing at, but he intends to find out.

With the changes in their relationship, the two begin to grow closer. As you can imagine, Frey is initially interested only in bedding his beautiful bride. Finnie wants to take things a bit slower. Of course, there are plenty of misunderstandings and awkward moments along the way as the Finnie of this world tries to blend into the life of Princess Sjofn of that world.

Eventually, Frey discovers the truth. However, he and Finnie are already deeply in love by that point. In fact, he has realized that she is his prophesied soul mate and their union signifies the beginning of a new era where the dragons will awaken again. Did I mention that Frey commands dragons and talks to elves?

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic story. I enjoyed every minute of this fantastical world that Kristen Ashley created. I fell in love with Frey and Finnie. I cannot wait to see where else this series will lead. I will be starting the second book immediately.

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Review: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! There was so much about this book that I really loved. ‘Eleanor & Park’ was touching and beautiful in it’s simplicity. This book captured the essence of first love and the perils of high school, while also tackling some serious issues, like abuse.

I listened to the Audible version and I have to give kudos to the narrator(s). The narration was extremely well done. The voices of the characters really drew you in and made you feel like you were right there in the moment with the characters. It says a lot about the narration when it can pull you into a story so completely.

As I was listening to this story, my heart broke for Eleanor. She had such a horrible home life and her school life wasn’t any better. The poor girl couldn’t escape bullying wherever she went. I felt so bad for her as she tried to navigate her difficult teenage years while trying to stand proud in the face of such cruelty. She was so smart, but trapped by the life she was dealt.

Park’s life stood out in stark contrast to Eleanor’s. He was raised in a home that was pretty much “ideal”. Of course, he had the typical teenage concerns and conflict with his parents. However, his petty problems only served to highlight how fortunate he was to have loving parents when contrasted with Eleanor’s reality.

Although Park initially avoided any association with Eleanor, succumbing to peer pressure, he eventually opened up to the girl that sat beside him on the school bus. That took a great deal of bravery on his part. Let’s face it, teenagers can be very cruel. Park risked joining Eleanor at the bottom of the social hierarchy when he decided to go against the grain and be kind to her. Little by little, they formed a friendship. Eventually, that friendship grew into more.

Park became the single most positive part of Eleanor’s daily life. He was the only person that showed her concern and treated her kindly. As the two grew closer, his family also served as a safe haven for Eleanor. For these reasons, I grew to love Park also.

This is a coming of age story and a story of first love. Rainbow Rowell managed to transport me right back to high school. Everyone who has been a teenager can relate to the experiences and emotions of these characters. This is the type of story that serves to remind us of the consequences of our actions and the effect of our words.

From start to finish, I was enthralled with ‘Eleanor & Park’. I was sure that this would be a 5-star read for me right up until about the 90% mark. Then, the story ended rather abruptly and I was left wanting. I couldn’t believe that the author that wrote such a beautiful story would end it in that way. It just didn’t seem fair or right. After everything, I was furious to see it close in the manner it did.

Overall, it was still a fabulous story. I won’t lie. I hated the way that the story ended. I just don’t need my fiction to be that true to life.

In fairness, the ending doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of my friends that have read this book. For me, it was upsetting enough to knock a star off the rating. The ending wrecked me and I went in search of a second book or an extra something that would provide closure. It didn’t happen and I’m still reeling. So, I loved it….right up until the ending.

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Review: Love in Lingerie, by Alessandra Torre

Love in LingerieLove in Lingerie by Alessandra Torre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alessandra Torre has a way of telling stories that suck me in and make me fall in love, even as my brain is telling me that I shouldn’t. She is the queen of writing forbidden love stories that leave you feeling conflicted and questioning your sense of right and wrong. She doesn’t seem to focus as much on huge, “in your face” subjects. Rather, she skirts the edges of what is generally considered socially acceptable behavior.

Whatever her magic formula is, it is working! She never fails to captivate me. Like every other book of hers that I’ve read, ‘Love in Lingerie’ grabbed me and held on tight right to the very end. I was completely absorbed with the antics of Kate and Trey.

Kate and Trey meet when Kate is hired to turn Trey’s lingerie company around. Looking to leave a company where she had no possibility of advancement, Kate is ecstatic to be working for Trey’s company. The company is failing and Trey is at risk of losing everything that he’s worked so hard for.

Despite the fact that he is immediately attracted to Kate, Trey cannot risk losing her as an employee. He’s been down that road before and it ended disastrously. Regardless of the intense desire he feels, he knows that he has to focus on saving his company. He cannot risk chasing Kate away with his kinky tastes.

‘Love in Lingerie’ was a unique love story in many ways. Most notably, the main characters were not “together” for most of the book. In fact, they didn’t really explore a romantic relationship until about 75% of the way in.

In the meantime, there was plenty of sexual tension and heated exchanges. This was definitely a slow-burn story. By the time that Kate and Trey finally took the next step, I felt like I was going to combust myself! However, Ms. Torre proved to make it well worth the wait.

If you’re looking for a sweet, sexy and humorous read, then I highly recommend ‘Love in Lingerie’. I was completely sucked in by these two. Their back and forth, sexually charged interactions were absolutely addicting. I enjoyed every minute of this story!

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Review: “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, by Joanne Hanks and Steve Cano

“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass by Joanne Hanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The 19th Wife’, I wanted to know more about polygamy in religious cults like the FLDS. I ran across this book when searching for other books on the topic. Given the often disturbing and emotional nature of the topic, I was glad to see a book that seemed to approach the topic with humor. In that regard, this book really stood out from the rest.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and my biggest complaint is that it was too short to really explore the topic as in-depth as I wanted to. The author did a fantastic job of pointing out the downright laughable “prophecies” that were a part of her day-to-day life in the polygamist community that she lived in. Written after leaving the polygamist community and breaking away from the cult, she does a good job of pointing fun at her blind obedience and outright idiocy. I just wanted more.

This autobiographical account tells the story of Ms. Hanks, who entered into the polygamist cult as an adult, along with her husband. At that time, she was the only wife and she later helped her husband to “recruit” additional wives later on. Of course, they believed at the time that this was the will of God. Looking back, she recognizes it was really the will of horny guys that were able to craft “prophecies” to their liking.

I really liked the fact that the author did not try to portray herself as a victim, while painting her husband as the monster. Yes, he certainly “reaped the rewards” of plural marriage. However, they made a decision to enter into the polygamist lifestyle together, as consenting adults. Fools they may have been, but victims…no.

On the other hand, there were several things that I really struggled with while reading this book. First of all, I had trouble grasping that two well-educated adults raised outside of a polygamist community would ever be so naive. (He was a Chiropractor and she had a degree in Interior Design. Both had lived in “modern” cities and were exposed to “modern” ideas, as well as the condemnation of polygamist cults by the mainstream Mormon Church.)

Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but I call bullshit. My personal theory is that for whatever reason this woman felt compelled to humor her husband’s desire to have multiple wives. Maybe she was insecure. Maybe they were both closet perverts. I don’t know, but I don’t believe that these two adults actually bought into the religious cult BS.

That being said, I did appreciate the honesty of the author with regards to the ridiculous cult teachings. She also was forthcoming about the emotional toll that plural marriage takes on the wives and the disharmony it creates in a household. In my humble opinion, any woman that says that she is “okay” with hearing her husband have sex with his new, younger bride down the hall is either lying…or glad to be relieved of the chore because secretly she hates his guts. The author didn’t try to paint a rosy “I just love my sister wives” picture for readers and I was thankful for that.

The other thing that really bothered me about this book was that I was pretty appalled by the actions of the author and her husband. On some level, I wanted to relate to the woman and even feel bad for her as her husband took on more wives. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After all, she had been an integral part of the decision making process every step of the way. She even helped her husband select his second wife, who was a teenager at the time. While she griped about having to “raise” his second wife like she was another child in her home, I kept thinking “because she is, you sicko!”.

As far as I was concerned, she was as culpable as her husband. They preyed upon this young girl. Her husband may have been the dirty old guy that wanted to sleep with the teenager, but she facilitated it. She may have been 18 by the time the marriage was consummated, but it was sick. Just yuck!

Overall, this was a 3 star read for me. I would have liked more of an in-depth expose, but realize that this was just the account of one woman that lived in a polygamist community for several years. While this book was actually pretty humorous, I had trouble believing that these adults could have been so gullible. I couldn’t help but questions their true motivations for entering into such a taboo lifestyle. Nonetheless, I appreciate that the author points out many of the lies that seem readily apparent to most of us already. It goes to show that even intelligent individuals can be duped when it suits them.

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Review: Wonder (Wonder, #1), by R. J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! I am so glad that I finally got around to listening to this story. ‘Wonder’ had been sitting on my TBR list for a really long time, but I had been waiting for a time to listen to it with my daughters. That time finally arrived last weekend, when we had to spend a full day in the car on a trip.

I had read many great reviews for this book, so I had really high hopes going into it. In fact, I was worried that I would be disappointed, as I often am with a book that is surrounded by so much hype. However, I can say that this book did not let me down in any way. In fact, it exceeded every expectation that I had. I absolutely loved this story!

‘Wonder’ tells the story of a young boy, August Pullman aka “Auggie”, who is going to begin attending school for the first time ever. Auggie has been homeschooled for years by his mother because he was born with severe facial deformities, requiring multiple operations over the course of his young life. Despite the myriad of surgeries that he has undergone, he still lives with significant facial disfigurement. Now, Auggie will be entering the fifth grade at Beecher Prep.

Told from multiple POVs, this book provides a thorough account of Auggie’s experiences. I was especially impressed with the raw honesty of his sister’s POV. Growing up with Auggie wasn’t easy, as she always came second to his needs. She struggled with resentment and guilt over having those feelings, as she truly loved her brother but craved the attention of her parents also.

Auggie’s POV was also brutally honest. He was well aware of how other people viewed him. Yet, no amount of awareness can make a child immune to the stares and cruel words. His story was heartbreaking, but inspiring.

It was also easy to relate to the POVs of others, including Jack, the boy who befriends Auggie at school. Although some of his actions were upsetting, he was only human. I had to remind myself that he was just a young boy, battling his own insecurities and trying to fit in at a very impressionable age. Even good people do bad things sometimes.

As a parent, I both admired and sympathized with Auggie’s mother. My heart went out to her. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to enroll your child into school, wanting to provide as normal a life as possible, while also wanting to shelter and protect him. I don’t know what I would’ve done in her shoes.

Not surprisingly, this was an incredibly emotional story. At times, it was downright depressing. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Auggie and his resilience. This story broke my heart, but it also inspired me.

Most importantly, this story will make you reflect on your views and behaviors. This story highlights the cruelty of people’s actions, bred from ignorance and fear. Never have I read a story that so effectively prompts readers to examine the impact of their actions and words. For children, this was a wonderful lesson in empathy.

This book prompted some thoughtful discussion with my daughters (5 and 10) about bullying and the “golden rule”. Although some of the story went over the head of my 5 year-old, who was primarily hung-up on the hilarity of the “farting nurse”, my 10 year-old didn’t miss a beat. I have no doubt that this story will stick with her and make her more considerate and empathetic toward other children.

‘Wonder’ is the type of book that should be required reading in schools and I’m glad to hear that it is in some schools already. Just like ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ (Anne Frank’s Diary), this book is a book that guides you to be a better, more thoughtful, person. It is beautiful and engaging. No doubt about it, this book left it’s mark on me. I highly recommend this book to everyone, young and old!

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Review: Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers, #1), by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers, #1)Truth or Beard by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to get around to this series for quite a long time. Finally, I downloaded the audiobook and decided to find out what all the fuss was about surrounding these bearded brothers. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the first book in the series, readers/listeners are introduced to the Winston brothers. Listening to the Audible version, I couldn’t help but envision the men from the ‘Duck Dynasty’…which wasn’t exactly sexy. However, with time, I was able to overcome that and mold the brothers into sexier versions of bearded bliss.

Despite being rather over-the-top at times, each of the brothers stood out as being unique and loveable. They were definitely a quirky bunch, but very endearing. I think they might be my latest guilty pleasure.

Jessica James is the leading female character in this first book in the series. She is dying to get out and see the world, but her plans have been temporarily derailed. She’s returned to her hometown to earn enough money to pay off her student loans so that she can travel the world. Long-term relationships or any other commitment that would tie her down are not in her plans.

When she runs into the object of all her young fantasies, Beau Winston, she acts in an uncharacteristically passionate way. Nobody is more surprised than her to discover that her impromptu make-out session was actually with Beau’s twin brother, Duane, her childhood nemesis. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the jealousy and longing that she felt toward her one-time rival.

I enjoyed the progression of Duane and Jessica’s story, from stand-offish to inseparable. This was a sweet, heart-warming kind of story. I smiled and laughed at the personality quirks of the various characters throughout this story. There was just enough action and mystery to keep me engaged as well.

Eventually, everything works itself out. We get the HEA that we craved and are left feeling contented. This story can easily be read as a standalone, even though it is the first book in the series.

If you’re in the mood for a sweet, humorous, feel-good type of love story, then this is a great choice. I can see why so many of my friends have fallen in love with the Winston brothers. I will definitely continue this series. I look forward to seeing what the other brothers have in store for me.

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Review: Last Call (Cocktail, #4.5), by Alice Clayton

Last Call (Cocktail, #4.5)Last Call by Alice Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It has been a long time since I read ‘Wallbanger’, but I was looking forward to seeing what the future held in store for Caroline and Simon. They stood out in my memory as being one of my favorite couples for their witty banter and humorous antics. Unfortunately, I think that I let too much time pass and the novelty has worn off.

Admittedly, I did skip ahead in this series. I never took the time to read the second, third or fourth books in the series, which were the spin-off stories of their friends. That proved to be somewhat important to fully enjoy this book. I thought that I could just skip the friends’ stories to get back to Simon and Caroline, I was wrong. Their friends and their relationships proved to me a significant part of this story.

Despite feeling lost for the first quarter or so of the book – totally my fault – I did enjoy this book as a whole. Once the focus shifted from the friends to Caroline and Simon, I found myself enjoying the tamer version of the couple that I remembered. The dynamics of their relationship were greatly changed, from adversarial to blissfully happy, but it was sweet.

All in all, it was a nice, sweet book. It had the feel of an extended epilogue for Simon, Caroline and their friends, providing closure and the HEAs that readers crave. There was nothing that ripped my heart out or made me feel intense emotions, but it was nice. Sometimes, you just need a nice, predictable read with a HEA. This book delivered on that account.

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Review: Capture (Elements of Chemistry, #3; Hypothesis, #1.3), by Penny Reid

Capture (Elements of Chemistry #3; Hypothesis, #1.3)Capture by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this conclusion to the ‘Elements of Chemistry’ series, we again find Martin and Kaitlyn separated. However, unlike the beginning of the second book, this time around the damage done to their relationship will not be repaired so easily. Deep hurt and betrayal have overshadowed what once was so good between these two.

Months after their break-up, Kaitlyn still cannot get over her heartache. Her life has changed drastically, as she made the decision to follow her dreams instead of trying to live up to other people’s expectations for her. Despite the positive changes she’s made in her life, Martin still haunts her.

When she runs into him unexpectedly at an event where she is performing, it all comes rushing back to her. Of course, it doesn’t help that he seems to be doing just fine. After that, the encounters become more and more frequent as Martin pushes his way back into her life.

Alternating between present and past, the pain of their break-up slowly comes to light. If you read the earlier books in the series, you knew how things ended between the two at the end of book 2. However, this book showcases the depth of the emotional pain and betrayal that Kaitlyn experienced. I thought that the alternating timeframes worked well for their story.

Just as Martin did what he needed to do to hold it together, so did Kaitlyn. Mainly, she just avoided all things Martin-related. She didn’t read any articles or news stories focused on his swift rise to success. She refused to hear anything about how he was doing or what he was up to. Out of sight, out of mind was her coping strategy.

The more time that the two spend together, the more clear it becomes that Kaitlyn is unaware of everything Martin has been doing while they were separated. Time and time again, hints that Kaitlyn is the one that broke Martin’s heart are dropped by friends and his business partner. Eventually, she’ll have to find out exactly what he’s been up to while they were apart. When she does, everything changes again.

Overall, this was a nice, sweet finale to this series. I enjoyed every minute of Martin and Kaitlyn’s story. It was fun, sweet and kept me smiling. If you’re looking for a light-hearted, humorous series, this is a fantastic choice.

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Review: Attraction (Elements of Chemistry, #1; Hypothesis, #1.1), by Penny Reid

Attraction (Elements of Chemistry #1; Hypothesis, #1.1)Attraction by Penny Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a light-hearted, fun story that had me smiling from start to finish. I enjoyed every minute of this audiobook. I needed something kind of sweet and this was the perfect story.

Kaitlyn Parker is an introvert and a very quirky girl. She’s been matched as a lab partner with Martin Sandeke for 2 years. Despite the fact that they both come from families of extreme wealth and fame, the two couldn’t be more different on the surface. She’s the studious loner and he’s the resident manwhore.

The two have never spoken outside of the lab, until Kaitlyn overhears something that she shouldn’t have. When she hears the conniving plan of one of Martin’s supposed friends, she knows that she has to tell Martin what she’s overheard. She might think that Martin is a total “jerkface”, but she can’t stand by silently while somebody plans to drug him and have their way with him. That’s taking it too far.

When Kaitlyn approaches Martin to tell him about what she heard, the dynamics of their relationship changes immediately. Soon the two are engaged in a whirlwind romance. Martin convinces Kaitlyn to go away to his island home with him and some friends for a week. Let the fun begin!

One minute they’re hot. The next they’re cold. Both of them have some definite personality quirks and social hang-ups to contend with. Together, they’re absolutely hilarious. Kaitlyn’s inner monologue was enough to keep me in stitches. That girl was too funny!

Martin had plenty of selfish moments, which made for some tense moments. He was certainly used to getting exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. Kaitlyn was good for him in that regard. She was the first woman that didn’t just throw herself at his feet.

Of course, this is only the first serial installment in the ‘Elements of Chemistry’ series. Accordingly, you can expect a cliffhanger ending that will leave you wanting the next serial immediately. Luckily, I waited until they were all released. So, I didn’t have to wait before diving into the next one.

This was a great, short, and absolutely adorable audiobook. It was sweet and very funny. The narration was great as well. It was a nice change of pace and I was able to jump right into the next one immediately.

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Review: Kulti, by Mariana Zapata

KultiKulti by Mariana Zapata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book sitting on my TBR for a long time. I had put off reading it for a few reasons, but the most notable reasons being that: 1) I am not a sports fan – at all- and I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it since this story was centered on two athletes; and 2) I was worried that I’d be disappointed after reading so many fantastic reviews for this book. Now that I’ve read it, I can say that neither of those concerns ended up coming to fruition.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and I thought that it was fabulous. I loved the humor and the wittiness of the heroine, Sal Casillas. Kulti was a real piece of work at times and I loved that Sal wasn’t afraid to call him out on his assholery. (Yep! I’m making that a word.)

Sal and Kulti were a great pair. I spent a lot of time laughing my butt off at Sal’s inner monologue. She was just so “human” that it was hard not to love her.

On the other hand, Reiner Kulti was an acquired taste. He was the polar opposite of the easy-going Sal. He was wound tight, closed-off and outright rude for most of this book. However, little by little, a softer side of him was revealed.

To say that this book was a slow-burn is putting it mildly. This story seemed to go on forever. I enjoyed it immensely, but I did think that it could have been trimmed down a little.

The only other thing that I would’ve changed was the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the way everything played out. I just wanted more. It took so long for Sal and Kulti to get their HEA and after all the time spent describing every detail of every game, I felt like more time should’ve been dedicated to them as a couple. After all, I waited long enough to get there.

Everything considered, I thought that this was a fantastic story. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of my worries had been completely misplaced. I enjoyed every minute of this book. If you’ve been putting it off like I did, don’t.

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