ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “When the Bullying Stops,” by Bernice L. Dunlap

Welcome to 2021!

And … on to the review!

When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

KEEPING SILENT ABOUT BULLYING ENABLES IT TO CONTINUE

This story is about an eight-year-old boy named Peter, who was in the third grade at Leonard Street Elementary School. Alex and his friends, Max and Jax, picked on Peter every day. These boys were also in the third grade at the same school. This bullying made life miserable for Peter, and he knew he had to find the courage to tell his parents how Alex and his friends were terrorizing him at school.

REVIEW:

Oh, how the world needs more books like this one.

In When the Bullying Stopped, written by Bernice L. Dunlap and nicely illustrated by Julia Andrzejewska, we start with three bullies and one victim: Peter. Peter is a bit less muscled and a whole lot less of a dominant personality than Alex, the bullies’ ringleader, as well as Max and Jax, Alex’s sidekicks. (I am curious why the author chose to end all three bullies’ names in ‘X’s! I found it interesting––but that may just be coincidental.) Alex and co. give poor Peter a rather rough time, trashing his lunch one day and stealing his lunch money the next. Peter is a good boy, although he feels mighty small when faced by those bullies, so while he is at first afraid enough to go hungry, he eventually brings his parents and the school principal into the conversation, and just desserts (suspensions) are handed out to the three villains. Two of these villains, Jax and Max, move out of town (and therefore the narrative) at this point, while Alex continues on.

The book then transitions to following Alex instead of Peter, and here is where the bully becomes the bullied. Some kids from another local school rough Alex up, and he is left injured and frightened by the experience. Peter, who is indeed a very good boy, attempts to help his former bully despite Alex’s protests and the other kids in the schoolyard keeping well enough away. (I assume this is because they themselves had been hurt by Alex and co. in the past, and were hesitant to get near him––but this might prove an interesting point for discussion.) Peter then searches out the principal on his own and finds Alex the help he needs. Receiving assistance from someone he has wronged in the past proves a good learning experience for Alex, who eventually changes his ways and makes friends with Peter, gaining the confidence of his other peers as well.

All of this, and in only 24 pages!

The book pages are divided evenly between alternating full-page illustrations and full-page text-centered pages. There is quite a lot of text on those latter pages, proportionate to the page number, so I do recommend that readers take it slow and spend ample time pointing out what they see mirrored in the illustrations. The text is nicely edited and formatted for When the Bullying Stops to be an easy read for those who, like me in my library life, have to read their picture books upside down. I appreciate a readable-while-inverted book!

While I did not notice any negatives while reading, I do have two suggestions in order to ensure that those using this book meet with the best possible success. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caregivers will want to make sure to define and contextualize some of the more advanced words or terms used by Dunlap; a word like “protruding” or a term like “fetal position” are entirely possible to explain, especially in context, but they are unlikely to prove easily understandable to younger readers in kindergarten or, possibly, first grade. My other suggestion for these same youngest readers would be to break up the reading of the book into two distinct readings with some discussion in between as well as after. While the story itself is straightforward, the first section deals with a victim of bullying making the great decision to report his experiences to his parents and principal, and the second section deals with the bully, who after he is suspended is bullied himself. The book ends with some possibilities for rich future discussion with young readers. Why did the other children, many of whom had been bullied themselves, not assist the bully when he was beaten up? What does this book tell us about forgiveness and compassion? How would you respond if someone threw your lunch in the trash? … and so on.

I’m excited to see what all this book can do out there in the world, in homes and classrooms. And speaking of classrooms, I’m very interested indeed to see how this next year of hybrid/remote/classroom education settles out. Here’s hoping we achieve a new (and healthy, happy) normal sometime soon!

As a final note, consider this book’s title: When the Bullying Stops. What does happen afterward? As Dunlap suggests, it may just be an opening for personal growth, change, and classroom rapport. I’m sure you all might have some suggestions, as well!

IN SUMMARY:

In a world where bullying is tragically common, an accessible picture book like When the Bullying Stopped by Bernice L. Dunlap might just make a big difference in a child’s life. I also highly recommend checking out Dunlap’s other books for children.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Stella the Rejected Star wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Stella the Rejected Star” by Marc McCormack

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Stella wasn’t like all the other stars in the skies above Bethlehem. She was a four-pointed star in a five-pointed world, and the other stars teased her because of it. Then one day, the stars heard an important event was about to happen-and God would choose one star to play a crucial role.

Could that star be Stella? Not if the other stars get their way, and they will do anything to stop her!

Stella’s story shows us that often the ones considered different in the world are the ones who shine the brightest through their faith, hope, and love.

Stella the Rejected Star was written by Marc McCormack when he was eleven. Almost forty years later, Stella’s story has turned out to be his son Brady’s story. Brady, who is blind and nonverbal with autism, navigates his way through the world as both a star who has sometimes been rejected, and one of the brightest-shining ones.

Set against the first Nativity, Stella the Rejected Star is more than a Christmas story and is for everyone, especially those young readers with four points in a five-pointed world.

Stella’s story is the perfect one to teach children the importance of empathy and acceptance. If your child loves Christmas and stars, even mischievous ones, they will love Stella the Rejected Star!

Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to autism-related charities.

REVIEW:

Once upon a time ….

The first time I read Stella the Rejected Star, I found myself humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aloud to myself. There are definitely some parallels between the stories of Rudolph and Stella––bullying by one’s peers, physical difference as a subject to be grappled with, a sort of “inspecting of the troops” or competition to guide an important process, and a message involving the triumph of the innocent over the cruel––and I think this parallel provides a unique and interesting starting point for discussions between parents (or grandparents, or caregivers) and young children.

How are these stories similar? It certainly doesn’t hurt that both Rudolph and Stella literally as well as metaphorically shine brighter than their peers, or that when Stella and Rudolph are both brought to the attention of God and Santa respectively, they take the high road and refrain from punishing their peers, even though they have acquired the power to do so.

(A quick aside: I still feel uncomfortable about having put Santa into the same sentence as God, particularly since I grew up in a household where the secularization of Christmas was a regular discussion. Whatever your or my personal stances might be on this particular depiction of the divine, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’re all aware that the Nativity story occupies a sacred and beloved space in many households around the world, and I definitely do not want to imply I do not take the faiths of my friends, family, and neighbors seriously. I do think it’s important to specify that this book resonates specifically with mainstream Christianity as experienced in America, to prevent confusion.)

How are these stories different? Well, we’ve established that God is not Santa (and vice versa). And while Rudolph’s mission is one of spreading good cheer, Stella’s is to lead the shepherds and wise men to the newborn Jesus. McCormack also distinguishes his story with an added twist: in Stella the Rejected Star, faithfulness magnifies a star’s light, while the bully stars discover that their unkindness leads to a loss of this same light. Not only does this provide an opportunity to talk about bad behavior and bullying with kids, but it also introduces the concept of faithfulness and the relationship between faithfulness and behavior.

I find it incredible that an 11-year-old wrote this story, but that’s the background: McCormick wrote it as a boy and published it in honor of his son Brady, who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That Brady was himself was a preemie and only surviving twin underscores the importance of this story, both to McCormick, and to those who learn from his picture book. Beyond the value of teaching children to empathize with and be kind to those who stand out for their differences, there is another moral to this story. Hardship, McCormick hints, provides a backdrop against which both heartbreaking and incredibly beautiful stories can play out. All of this in 32 pages, half of them Seth A. Thompson’s colorful and evocative illustrations. I can’t imagine a better way for families of faith to finish out 2020 than with a story of hope, faith, and maintaining joy through hard times.

You can find another detailed review of Stella the Rejected Star on the Readers’ Favorite website, reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. It is encouraging to me personally that other highly-rated reviewers have begun to pick up on McCormack’s wonderful story.

IN SUMMARY:

Stella the Rejected Star is a sweet and wholesome picture book for those looking to re-invest the holiday season with the magic of love and kindness present in the Nativity story. Marc McCormack’s story and Seth A. Thompson’s illustrations combine to create what will quickly become a modern classic for English-speaking Christian families.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Stella the Rejected Star wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

There are several more children’s books in my TBR pile for me to get through before the end of 2020, with my next review scheduled for the afternoon of January 1st. I can’t imagine a better way to start off a new year than with a good book!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Integrity Based Policing” by Dan Barry (Memoir)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Experience firsthand policing in America’s Playground. This book contains stories that are based on my thirty-year career with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Despite all my “peaks and valleys,” I never lost my love of policing, or passion for the people I served. While many of my experiences are amusing, they also are enlightening for people considering a career in law enforcement. My most important lesson learned is that decisions must be based on ethical soundness, as opposed to other motivations.

The challenges facing American police officers have never been greater. Besides the dangers from criminals, they also need to navigate through administrations that are often more concerned about tomorrow’s headline, than providing true leadership. As opposed to considering ethical soundness, agencies are often most concerned with only the politically popular path.

My prayer is for police agencies to work in partnership with the citizens they serve in making our neighborhoods a safer place. For this to be achieved “Integrity-Based Policing” must become the new standard for all agencies to adopt.

REVIEW:

This is the year, and this is the book, my friends.

Dan spent thirty years in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and in those years, he saw many things: the rise and fall of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), the development and erosion of trust within the department’s command structure, and the unfolding (as well as conclusion, in some cases) of careers as those he worked with rose through the ranks and came into their own. He worked in a number of assignments, from serving as a patrol officer to commanding the Organized Crime, Criminal Intelligence, SWAT, and Patrol bureaus. Basically … he’s seen it all, and he’s probably worked almost every possible position within the LVMPD in order to write a memoir that is also, in many ways, a call to action to re-orient the direction of policing in the United States.

Have I mentioned that this book is timely yet?

The elephant in the room here has to be addressed: There are presently numerous calls to “defund the police” as a result of widespread protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks attempting to understand what exactly this means, and while there are likely a range of opinions all being voiced under the umbrella term, the general idea seems to be not so much “get rid of all police, all police are bad” but rather “let’s reroute some of the funding currently going toward policing into community-based programs that aim to eliminate the root causes of crime.” And while I’m sure some would say that’s a very gentle interpretation, I do think it’s one that in many ways is relevant to the work Dan Barry did within the LVMPD, the changes he witnessed, and where he hopes to see policing go in the future.

Barry emphasizes ethics time and time again throughout Integrity Based Policing, drawing a line under the fact that much of the leadership he saw was warped by appointees jockeying for perks and power within the police hierarchy. From the first page to the last page of this memoir, Barry argues in favor of Community-Oriented Policing (COP), which I probably can’t do justice to in summary but which seems fairly well defined by its name. Throughout his service, he privileged what he called “face time” in the community, with officers stationed within the communities they served so that they could better serve their needs before a crisis situation could develop. He describes several examples of COP in action during his time commanding various bureaus, and the erosion of public trust that took place every time a unit was taken from his command and required to move away from the COP mentality. And trust is a big deal to Barry, to the point where it is actually his central mantra and service motto:

  • Truth
  • Respect
  • Understanding
  • Stability
  • Transparency

To Barry, all five of these elements must be present in order for a police unit to be effective, and these five elements do seem to be exactly what many of today’s protesters most want (particularly transparency and respect, I think). Whatever else we think of the BLM movement (I don’t want to get hung up on that for the purposes of this review), I am grateful that conversations around trust and community policing are back in the public dialogue. And I’m even more grateful that we have Dan Barry’s thoughtful, experience-based memoir as well. I think that readers of all demographics and political perspectives will find something useful and compelling here, whether it’s Barry’s dedicated pursuit of eliminating corruption among the city commissioners, his years promoting policing as something more than just once-and-done interactions with the public, or his growing exhaustion after years–decades–of pushing back against all of those who used the police bureaucracy to promote their own personal agendas. His calm and fact-based writing keeps readers invested, and more importantly, keeps readers’ trust.

As in policing, so too in writing.

IN SUMMARY:

Dan Barry stuck with his vision for ethical policing through thirty years of difficult policing, and continues to do so in his memoir, Integrity-Based Policing. He provides exactly the kind of experience-based evidence that point toward effective means of reforming police departments across the country and winning back public trust–and it centers on being part of the community, of being in the community, and being of the community. His emphasis on preventative measures and face time are a refreshing change from the charged dialogue currently dominating the news; change can be made, should be made, and here are some additional, practical ways to bring it into being.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Integrity Based Policing wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m going to completely pivot directions and take a dive into some health-related writings next time!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?”

Religion 531 cover art

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

You Are Much More Powerful Than You Think You Are—And, Unfortunately, Are Totally Responsible For What Happens In Your Life.

You are NOT a physical being with a Spiritual nature. You are a Spiritual being that happens to be in a physical body at the moment. It is almost certain you have lived many physical lives. Your mission (and everyone else’s) is to return to God as an eternal companion to him. You do this by learning what brings you closer to God and what moves you farther away. In this book, you will learn:

  • God judges no one—You are your own moral agent—You will reap everything you sow
  • Whether you are religious or not, you are on your ‘correct’ path, for all paths lead to God
  • In 325 CE, a schism split ‘Christianity’ into those who believed in the ‘Mystical’ Jesus and those who believed in the ‘Mythical’ Jesus—the ‘Mythical’ believers won
  • Long lost, and recently rediscovered, writings indicate the ‘Mystical’ Jesus is a better choice
  • The ‘Mystical’ Jesus taught reincarnation, Karma, The Law of Return and other long-suppressed truths
  • Jesus did not start the Christian religion you practice

REVIEW:

Many books on religion are a minefield of biases, whether the author is conscious or unconscious of that fact. Refreshingly, Josephus the Scribe is extremely up-front about his goals from the very beginning of Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It? (I’ll shorten the title to Religion 531 from here on in this review). I always read introductions, without fail, because they are critical to my trust and faith in a book’s content, in that I can’t quite relax into a book until I know I grasp the author’s intent and baseline character. In his introduction, Josephus lays out his relationship to the facts (discoverer, not proprietor) and the analyses within the book. He both acknowledges his credentials and admits that credentials do very little to persuade those who disagree with the facts as written. So, by the time he gets around to saying:

Forty years of work experience, particularly those with the federal government, coupled with an extensive informal study of many religions, reinforced what I learned in college and illustrated repeatedly how ‘good intentions’ get derailed by bureaucracy and dissent.

… I believe him. I believe that he is not setting out to (as I’ve heard often during my childhood about those outside of Christianity) “undermine the Church.” (Capitalized to represent the entirety of orthodox believers, according to whatever the speaker took to be orthodox.) Even on my first read-through of his introduction, I understood that Josephus’ goal was to lay out the commonalities and shared beliefs between groups that have been divided from each other in public debate for eons, and to provide perhaps some talking points for those wishing to build bridges between various faith-based groups. In fact, later in his “About This Book” section, Josephus writes that “You do not have to deny your faith (whatever it is) to learn from this book. […] This book attempts to identify some of the common threads that are woven through all.”

In my mind, that’s an admirable goal.

As a reviewer’s job, my question is to ask if he achieved that goal so that you can feel equally as confident as I do in reading that introduction.

Let’s talk about the book in terms of clarity first. I appreciated Josephus’ warning (in “How to Read This Book”) that “The concepts in this book are difficult to follow. They are also difficult to explain.” A part of me, the sassy teenage daughter part, wants to roll my eyes (just a little bit) at his need to defend the book’s existence as-is, but mostly I’m grateful for the warning. He might as well have posted a big warning sign: IT GETS COMPLICATED. Which, well, that fits with the way life is working out, doesn’t it? “It is also likely that you will need to go back to previous pages of the book to understand fully concepts that you are reading in later pages,” Josephus writes: “This is expected, as absorbing a new way of thinking is tough.”

What is this new way of thinking? It’s not “scholarly,” as the author points out, but it is primary-text-driven. As he also notes that he’s primarily anticipating that his readers will mostly be Christians (presumably, protestant ones), it’s also not an attempt to “validate or refute” existing understandings. Josephus is clearly attempting to slow down the tendency to leap for an Apologetics-driven reading when his stated goal is to simply get people thinking and to a place of connection.

In some ways, the book’s structure is a hybrid between something like a traditional devotional book and a philosophy textbook for those looking for something more digestible than Plato or Kant. Each chapter is short, between roughly 5 and 15 pages long, excepting only the chapter on “What Does This All Mean?” which is broken out in 1 to 2-page bite-sized chunks. The opening Table of Contents and the closing Index are your friends, since some chapters are indeed worth revisiting as Josephus’ thoughts circle back later on. (I suggest sticking a post-it note there to make them easy to find. I don’t dog-ear books, but if you’re okay with me gasping in horror, go ahead and you do you! JOKING.) The book is fantastically easy to navigate.

Religion 531 is extremely accessible when it comes to voice as well as structure. Sentences are short and to the point, as well as what my writer friends like to call “voicy.” That is, there’s a lot of personality on the page, with humor and emphasis writ large on the page using punctuation, asides, and metaphors. Not all of the paragraphs are short, but they are all way shorter than you will find in typical textbooks and philosophy books. (Thank you, Josephus!) I love a good and to-the-point paragraph. The only stylistic choice that gives me pause is Josephus’ regular use of quotation marks (“”) to set apart words or expressions tied to common religious principles or beliefs. It can make him come off as skeptical, even though it would overall appear that he is nothing of the sort.

I reserve the right not to step into the minefield of attempting to review this book on the merit of its religious or religion-adjacent points. As a child of Christian missionaries, I know exactly how fraught that can be, no matter who I’m’ in conversation with. I am growing increasingly immune to taking offense when someone disagrees with me on arguments (I’m not naturally good at it) pertaining to the Deep Things (my umbrella term for faith, mental health, relationships, human nature, natural history, and science)–but in large part I can thank my brother-in-law’s family for making it clear to me that many people in this world just naturally love debate, love pushing thought to the outer edge of the envelope, and arguing over topics without taking them personally. I think Josephus would love having dinner with that side of the family. (You’re welcome to sub in for me at the next reunion, Josephus!)

If you’re more like me and prone to care very deeply about these things and feel utterly wrecked when the ground shifts underfoot, I still think it’s worth going on the adventure (or roller-coaster ride, depending) that is Religion 531. You just might want to take it slow and remember, always, that Josephus’ goal is to expand both your mental and emotional vocabulary for thinking about and connecting over items of faith. That’s an admirable goal, but he leaves the success in your hands!

That’s pretty brave, I think.

IN SUMMARY:

Josephus the Scribe tackles the core tenets of world religions, with an emphasis on modern protestant Christianity, in an attempt to broaden readers’ understandings and possibilities for connection over matters of faith in an easy-to-read, voicy book that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Josephus the Scribe’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be wrapping up A Sense of Urgency for my next review! It has been a process working through these two books side-by-side, but a very enriching one. Watch this space!

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

Tuesday Book Review: “Population Control: The Life & Crimes of Terryn Masters”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.
When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review:

amy cottrell population control

Population Control: The Life and Crimes of Terryn Masters

by Amy Cottrell

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN: 9781478758525

Synopsis*:

When Terryn Masters was offered an opportunity she couldn’t pass up, a means of survival and a way off the streets, she never thought it would mean being asked to kill the identical twin sister she didn’t even know existed, the only link to a mysterious past she’d give anything to uncover. After an unfortunate life of bouncing haphazardly through the foster care system, Terryn Masters finds herself as a young adult braving the unforgiving streets in the dead of winter. Just when she thinks her luck has completely run out, a beautiful but secretive Winnie Alexander approaches her and offers her the chance to not only get off the streets, but a chance for a life of privilege and luxury, one like she’s never imagined.

There is, however, a catch, and it’s a big one. In exchange for the new penthouse and fancy car, Terryn must become a slave to The Agency, a secret government entity founded during The Great Depression to control the United States’ population. She must agree to kill American citizens, targets picked at random, in order to keep the necessary economic balance. Merely as a means of survival, she reluctantly accepts Winnie’s proposition. After months of training and a torrid affair with Winnie, Terryn, who has been groomed to look like a lady but think like a killer, meets and becomes seriously involved with an older and irresistible Agent Wade Warner, who further complicates her already complex existence.

While struggling to come to terms with her violent occupation and simultaneously juggling two lovers, she gets an assignment that is not only impossible, but the key to uncovering who she is and where she came from. The sinister Agent Mercer, the very agent who trained Terryn to be the skilled killer she has become is also dangerously obsessed with Winnie and sends Terryn on a mission to kill the identical twin sister she knew nothing about, turning her world completely upside down. With The Agency hot on her heels, she goes on the run to save hers.

 * courtesy of Amazon.com

Featured Review:

This book was so cleverly written– so many twists and turns. It was so descriptive–I felt like I was there with the characters. I could not put it down. I will definitely recommend this book to everyone!!
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– Review and image by Paige Freeman

 

Here’s what some other reviewers are saying:

This book not only grabs your attention from the very first chapter it keeps you focused all the way through!!! I could not put this book down.. I read it in 8 hours!! Anxiously waiting for more from Amy Cottrell!!!

– Amazon Reviewer k jones

You can not put this book down. Every page is filled with excitement. You will enjoy this book. Can’t wait to see if the author can bring it again.
Looking forward for the sequel.

Amazon Customer


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Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space!

Self Publishing Advisor

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