Review: Almost Missed You, by Jessica Strawser

Almost Missed YouAlmost Missed You by Jessica Strawser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine this: You’re on vacation with your husband and young son. Everything is seemingly perfect. In fact, your considerate husband has agreed to watch your son while you relax with a drink and a good book on the beach for a couple of hours. Then, you return to your hotel room to find everything missing except for your personal belongings. Your husband and child are nowhere to be found. No note. Nothing.

That is exactly what happens to the heroine in this book, Violet. I cannot even begin to imagine the all-consuming sense of betrayal that she must have felt. My heart broke for this mother and her child.

As more time passes and it becomes clear that Violet’s husband, Finn, is not planning to return, pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. Finn has secrets that he’s been keeping from Violet…and he isn’t the only one. It seems that some of her closest friends have been keeping secrets from Violet as well. Truth be told, she has been lying to herself for a long time also.

Told from the POVs of Violet, Finn and their best friend, Caitlyn, this story comes together little by little. Jumping between past and present-day, Violet and Finn’s fateful first encounters seem to be straight from a storybook. As Finn’s past is revealed, the image of a picture-perfect marriage with Violet begins to show cracks.

I don’t want to say too much about this story, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. However, I will say that I was completely absorbed in this story and the mystery, until right about 80% or so. Once Finn’s motivations were revealed, I have to say that I was a little let-down. All I could think was, “Seriously? That’s it?”. Then, there was some other craziness toward the end that seemed a little unnecessary and unbelievable as well.

Overall, it was a good story. It did start to lose appeal toward the end for me, but it had my rapt attention up to that point. All things considered, I give it 3.5 stars.

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Review: Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4), by Kristen Ashley

Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4)Broken Dove by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While ‘Broken Dove’ was much better than ‘Fantastical’ in my opinion, it was still a long way from reaching the greatness of ‘The Golden Dynasty’. More so than the other books in this series, ‘Broken Dove’ was tender and emotional. My heart broke so many times while listening to the story of Apollo and Ilsa. Yet, there was something so sweet and endearing about their story that I couldn’t pull myself away.

Apollo “Lo” Ulfr of the parallel world was happily married to Ilsa. They had two beautiful children together and Ilsa was loved by everyone – none more than Apollo. Tragically, her life ended too soon. Apollo has grieved the loss of his wife for years.

Ilsa of our world is also married to the Apollo of this world. Only, the Apollo of this world is an abusive, drug-dealing bastard. Ilsa has been on the run, hiding from “Pol” for years. She knows that he will kill her if he finds her and she lives in a constant state of fear.

When Lo discovers that his deceased wife has a twin in a parallel world, he is determined to bring her to his world. Despite being warned that the “twin” Ilsa is not, in fact, an exact replica of his wife, he is set on bringing her to his world. Only, upon her arrival he discovers that she is much different than his wife was.

While Ilsa is glad to be far away from the abusive “Pol”, she now finds herself dependent upon another man. It doesn’t help that this man is the exact physical replica of the man that grew to be her worst nightmare. To make matters worse, it is clear that she is a poor substitute for the woman that Lo really wants, his deceased wife.

From the start, my heart broke for Ilsa. She didn’t deserve any of the heartache that she was doled out, in this world or the other. She was such a sweet and fun-loving lady and it was so unfair that she had to endure so much cruelty.

Although Lo treated Ilsa poorly, I couldn’t help but pity him. I don’t think that he ever intended to be so thoughtless. He just wanted his wife back so desperately that he was willing to do anything to have her back.

Over time, Lo begins to fall for the Ilsa of this world. However, given his initial treatment of her, it was hard to believe that his feelings were genuine. It wasn’t fair to Ilsa to be placed in that position, constantly being compared to his first wife.

To make matters worse, when Lo’s feelings are put to the test he repeatedly fumbles. He pulls away from Ilsa time and time again, leaving her neglected. In many ways, she was like his dirty little secret.

Of course, things eventually work themselves out. It takes Lo nearly losing Ilsa to truly appreciate her. While everyone around them seemed to take notice of how great they were together, they seemed to be late to arrive at the same conclusion.

All in all, this was a great story. It was more emotional than the earlier books in the series, which was fine by me. Listening to these books back to back, I was glad that this one had a different “feel” to it than the others. Yet, it retained enough of Ms. Ashley’s signature traits as to not lose my interest.

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Review: Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1), by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Men (Dirty Duet, #1)Dirty Filthy Rich Men by Laurelin Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Laurelin Paige continues to blow me away with this series! I cannot get enough of this twisted, angsty love story. If I thought that ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ was addicting, I hadn’t seen anything yet!

The first full-length book in the ‘Dirty Duet’ series, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Men’ was every bit as captivating as ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’. I love this story and the constant push and pull between the characters. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

Donovan, in particular, has my rapt attention. He is certainly one of the most contradictory heroes that I’ve ever encountered. He is aloof, possessive and completely confusing. Naturally, I cannot get enough! I am appalled by some of his harsh and inconsiderate behaviors. I want to hate him, but I can’t. Like Sabrina, I am under his spell.

Weston also comes to life in this book. While ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ predominantly featured Sabrina’s fantasy version of who Weston was, this book introduces readers to the real Weston. Despite some less than flattering behaviors, I have to say that I really liked Weston. After all, he never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. Underneath his manwhore ways, he ends up being a pretty decent guy.

Sabrina has certainly got her hands full with both of these dirty, filthy, rich men in this book. My head was spinning at times. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! I was glued to the pages of this book.

If you love angsty, emotionally charged love stories, then you don’t want to pass this one up. I am hooked on this story! There are plenty of surprising twists and turns along the way that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Not to mention, it is hot, hot, hot! Days later, I’m still thinking about these characters and where this story might lead. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book!

As an aside, ‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ is included as the prologue in this book. So, if you haven’t already read it separately, you’ll get the backstory with this one also. However, if you’re not sure if you want to pay for the full-length book yet, it is offered for free and you can get a feel for the story.

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Review: Dirty Filthy Rich Boys (Dirty Duet, #0.5), by Laurelin Paige

Dirty Filthy Rich Boys (Dirty Duet,  #0.5)Dirty Filthy Rich Boys by Laurelin Paige
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Laurelin Paige has definitely got my attention with this freebie prequel. I am completely and totally hooked on this twisted story. No doubt about it, I will be jumping right into the full-length book immediately!

‘Dirty Filthy Rich Boys’ tells the story of Sabrina Lind, Weston King and Donovan Kincaid, all students at Harvard. Unlike Weston and Donovan, Sabrina does not come from a wealthy family. She is attending on a scholarship and in awe of the extreme wealth of the students that surround her. No one has her attention more than the extremely handsome and rich playboy, Weston King.

Something about Weston caught her eye the first time that he waltzed into class late like he owned the world. Although she hasn’t worked up the courage to approach him, she attends every party at the house that he shares with some of his friends. She watches from the shadows as he chooses a different girl every night to share his bed, never even noticing her.

Sabrina has her mind set on Weston, even though she realizes that one night with him is all she’d get. He never does repeats. Nonetheless, she wants him.

Then one night, Weston’s best friend and roommate, Donovan, comes to her rescue. Suddenly, she is feeling conflicted. Donovan is older, and the Teacher’s Assistant for her Business Ethics class. His hot and cold behavior only serves to make matters more confusing. Suddenly, Weston is not the only guy that Sabrina is fixated on.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that this was one hot little prequel. Holy hell! I was completely sucked into this story. This story was addicting and sexy. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Oh…and that ending! I am definitely diving right into the full-length book immediately! I am hooked!

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Review: Lone Star, by Paullina Simons

Lone StarLone Star by Paullina Simons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lone Star’ is a beautiful coming of age story, brought to us by the same author that gave us ‘The Bronze Horseman’. It tells the story of a group of teenaged friends from Maine that set out on a European adventure before they begin college. I enjoyed this story immensely.

However, I couldn’t help but to keep comparing it to Ms. Simons’ better-know work, ‘The Bronze Horseman’. In contrast to that epic story, ‘Lone Star’ fell noticeably short, despite being great in and of it’s own accord. In so many ways, it isn’t a fair comparison to make. They are different types of stories and, let’s face it, not many books will ever measure up to the greatness of ‘The Bronze Horseman’ in my mind. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to compare them.

That being said, I loved the way that Ms. Simons was able to capture the essence of youth in this story. More often than not, I find that teenagers are either portrayed as mini-adults or pre-teens. Accurately capturing the behaviors and emotions of this age group seems to be particularly challenging for many authors. This is probably because their emotions and maturity levels are all over the place. Regardless, I thought that Ms. Simons did a great job of selling these characters as believable teenagers. The one exception to that would be Johnny Rainbow, which I’ll get to later.

Told from multiple points of view, this story follows Chloe, her best friend, Hannah, and their boyfriends as they travel eastern Europe. Barcelona is their destination, but to gain permission to go on this trip of a lifetime, Chloe had to agree to a few conditions set by her grandmother. She must lay flowers on the grave of her grandmother’s one-time lover, who was murdered by the Nazis in WWII.

Along the way, the four meet another young American traveler. Johnny Rainbow is an incredibly charming young man that seems to be an expert on getting around Europe. He repeatedly crosses paths with the other young travelers and insinuates himself into their group. It was clear that he had eyes for Chloe. The only person that seemed unaware of this was Chloe’s oblivious boyfriend, Mason.

Johnny was a pivotal character in this story. I always had a strong distrust for him, even as he seemed to do everything perfect. In fact, that was probably it. He was just too damn perfect. Like me, Blake was suspicious of Mr. Perfect right from the start.

Aside from his overwhelming charm and charisma, I had a hard time believing that he had done everything that the author would have us believe. At nineteen, he had traveled Europe, making connections virtually everywhere that they were going. He had also been accepted to some very prestigious schools, and promptly been kicked out. He had a band and performed in the US. He was a street performer and a tour guide. Whatever the topic may be, Johnny was an expert on it. Want to go somewhere? He’s already been. Etc., etc. I just found him to be a little too accomplished for a nineteen year-old boy.

Despite not buying into Johnny completely, I still found myself lost in this story. I loved Chloe and as she began to fall for Johnny, I fell for him also. Their story was reminiscent of naiveté, youth and summer flings. It was sweet and innocent and earth-shattering all at the same time.

Meanwhile, I loved Blake also. While I can’t say that I ever grew especially attached to Mason or Hannah, I adored Blake. He was always the steady friend that could be counted on. He was kind and responsible, even while being taken for granted.

When their trip ends, the relationships between these friends are forever altered. Some will grow closer. Some will grow apart. Hearts will be broken. I even cried.

The ending is not necessarily the way that I had envisioned, but I thought it was fitting. In fact, I’d say that it worked out perfectly. Sure, it was kind of sad…but it was kind of beautiful also. I especially liked the tie-in to the characters from ‘The Bronze Horseman’ at the end. That was a really nice touch.

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic love story. It was sweet and incredibly touching. It may not be the huge, epic romance that ‘The Bronze Horseman’ is, but it is still a wonderful story.

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Review: Here to Stay (The Fish Tales, #3), by Suanne Laqueur

Here to Stay (The Fish Tales, #3)Here to Stay by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in ‘The Fish Tales’ series, ‘Here to Stay’ chronicles Erik and Daisy’s new beginning. After everything that they’ve been through and all the pain that they’ve inflicted on themselves and each other, they are finally trying to work things out. However, a past like theirs is not easily forgotten. It will take a lot of understanding and forgiveness to move past the hurt that they’ve hung onto for so long.

As happy as I was to see one of my new favorite couples find their way back to one another, they still had a lot of healing ahead of them. There was no way that they could ever pick up where they left off. Too much had happened. I’ve never seen a couple that caused each other so much pain, even as they loved each other so much.

Aside from repairing his relationship with Daisy, Erik also has to make amends with Will. For me, the disintegration of their friendship was just as heartbreaking. I was so glad to see them reunited and to have Erik acknowledge his mistreatment of Will.

While Erik and Daisy are navigating the new terms of their long-distance relationship, there are some expected insecurities on both of their parts. Understandably, Daisy fears abandonment. Erik has his own worries about his fertility and what that will mean for their future.

Along the way, Erik finally faces his past. He has allowed the actions of his father to model his future for too long. When a long lost relative reaches out to Erik, he and Daisy go on a journey of self-discovery. He uncovers family secrets that shed light on his father’s sudden disappearance. While he doesn’t get all of the answers that he was looking for, he gains a better understanding of the demons that haunted his father.

Of course, nothing comes easy for Daisy and Erik. Just when you think that they’re going to ride off into the sunset and live their happily ever after, tragedy strikes. I swear, they just can’t catch a break.

Old habits die hard and the couple must overcome the desire to slip back into old coping strategies. This time around, they are more mature and better able to help each other heal. I was very glad to see that they were able to work through this upset together and come out stronger as a couple because of it.

‘Here to Stay’ was a wonderful finale to Erik and Daisy’s story. I have loved every minute of this series and the vibrant characters that Ms. Laqueur has brought to life. I highly recommend this series. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was fabulous as well.

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Review: Give Me Your Answer True (The Fish Tales, #2), by Suanne Laqueur

Give Me Your Answer True (The Fish Tales, #2)Give Me Your Answer True by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading, or rather, listening to, ‘Give Me Your Answer True’ immediately after finishing ‘The Man I Love’. I fell in love with Erik, Daisy and the full cast of supporting characters in the first book, but I want more. I need to hear each of their unique perspectives. I cannot get enough of this story!

‘Give Me Your Answer True’ provides Daisy’s account of events. Erik’s perspective was provided in the first book and my heart broke alongside his. However, I needed to hear Daisy’s point of view. I had to know what the hell she was thinking and why she did what she did.

This book gave me the answers I had been craving. While I can’t say that I was satisfied with Daisy’s reasons, it is what it is. The truth is that she did something thoughtless and hurtful and had to live with the consequences of her actions for many years to come. I am still angry with Daisy. (Yes, I get angry with fictional characters!) However, nobody could be more disappointed in her than she was in herself. I had to remind myself that she was only human and, like everyone, she makes mistakes.

That being said, I was completely on-board with Erik’s total abandonment of Daisy. I know that most of my friends were like, “that’s harsh”, but not me. Nothing bothers me more than having a character that really screws up and then is forgiven with little more than an apology, like what they did wasn’t absolutely devastating. Nope! I expect for them to suffer and live with the emotional pain that they caused [me] when they screwed up. I expect some serious groveling before forgiveness is granted. Thankfully, that is exactly what I got with this book. Grovel away, Daisy!

Not surprisingly, Daisy’s story was heartbreaking. She definitely had to hit bottom before she could start to piece her life together again. While I felt for her, I never forgot that her pain was self-inflicted. She made her bed and was forced to sleep in it.

The same goes for David and John “Opie” Quillis. They may have wanted Daisy and even cared about her in their own way, but they knew whom her heart belonged to. I understood their motivations, but couldn’t really sympathize with them too much.

I guess I can be kind of harsh when it comes to any interference between the “original” love interests. I always want the first couple that I fall in love with to end up together. In this case, that would be Erik and Daisy. Rarely, do I ever come around to accepting a subsequent relationship for the hero or heroine of a story. Accordingly, I never got the least bit attached to Erik’s wife or any of Daisy’s boyfriends during the years that they were apart. They were just meaningless place-holders to me.

Although I continue to love this series, I can’t deny that I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. That is probably due to the fact that I was not as sympathetic toward Daisy as I was toward Erik. However, that isn’t to say that this book wasn’t fantastic. It was terrific!

I will definitely be continuing this series. I’m diving right into the third book and cannot wait to see what the future holds for Erik and Daisy. Finally, it seems as if they might get things back on track. I am also hopeful that Erik can repair the damage done to his friendship with Will. If his break-up with Daisy was her fault, only he is to blame for the rift in his friendship with Will.

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Review: The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1), by Suanne Laqueur

The Man I Love (The Fish Tales, #1)The Man I Love by Suanne Laqueur
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading ‘An Exhaltation of Larks’, I knew that I wanted to read every book written by Ms. Suanne Laqueur. Her writing is exquisite. The stories and characters that she brings to life are raw and emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring. I’ve definitely gone a little “fangirl” where she is concerned!

‘The Man I Love’ tells the story of a close-knit group of friends at Lancaster University. In many ways it is a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of a terrible tragedy. They were young and carefree until the unthinkable happens. Then, this group of friends struggles to survive in the aftermath of a terrible attack.

Each of them copes with the trauma in a different way. As young, college students, they don’t appreciate the need to seek out professional help. All of them develop some destructive behaviors. In the months and years that follow they fall into a downward spiral, nearly destroying themselves and their relationships with those that they love.

No relationship undergoes more strain that that of Erik “Fish” Fiskare and Daisy Bianco. Erik was a theatre tech when he met Daisy, a lead ballerina at the school. The two were head over heels in love. They had the kind of relationship that others envied…until that day. Nothing was the same after that day.

Aside from Erik and Daisy, there is a robust cast of characters that make this story memorable. Will Kaeger, Erik’s best friend/roommate and Daisy’s dance partner, also plays a pivotal role. He is left to live with guilt and questions whether or not his actions were to blame for the events of that tragic day. It was his brief love affair with another student, James, that seems to have been the motivator for James’ horrific actions on that day.

Spanning over a decade, the long-term effects of a single traumatic event are played out through these character for readers. This story was absolutely beautiful, but also tragic and highly emotional. These characters both broke my heart and inspired me.

The first book in a series, ‘The Man I Love’ proves to be an addicting read. I will definitely be reading the other books in this series immediately. I highly recommend this book. I am utterly captivated by this story and these flawed, very human characters.

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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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