Getting Started

Someone asked me how to start writing.  Here are some tips:

  • Make the time.  Every day, if you can.  If you can’t manage some spare time every day, take time whenever you can.
  • Use your preferred writing medium:  computer or paper and start writing whatever is in your mind or heart. 
  • Write anything.  Write everything.  Don’t stop until you’re ready. 
  • Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation; you can take care of that later when you edit.
  • When an idea strikes, wherever you are, jot it down so you can use it later.
  • A good book to get you started might be Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  Easy to read with some good suggestions.

Remember, it’s not how well you start; it’s how well you finish.  So start in whatever way works for you and then work at it until you finish.  I tend to write fairly complete first drafts, but my novel may be in it’s 20th rewrite! 

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Multi-Media Publishing

Desk at Rustproof Records

When I was in college, the notebook or the typewriter was the medium used to write term papers.  Multi-media meant combining one or more medium with another.  That meant, for example, gluing or taping pictures to the written document or combining the projection of still photographic images with music.  During and post-college I produced multi-media “slide shows” which were individual projected images accompanied by a sound track. 

Very soon after this, the personal computer became available, and soon after that the internet.

Today, multi-media means much more than it did during my college days.  When I or another blogger or any online source publishes text, we can combine those words with music, video, pictures, etc.  I like simple presentations, so in many ways I despise today’s multi-media.  When I  am reading, I don’t want to be distracted by other media.  Websites that automatically play music don’t stay long in my browser.  When I click on a newspaper article, I don’t want to see moving animation unless it is directly connected to the article.  Much of today’s multi-media takes the form of advertising which I particularly wish to avoid.

I recently read an article from the New Yorker.  I found it interesting, but lengthy, so I printed it to read later.  Although the piece was interesting, it referred to embedded video which I could not view in the printout.  I printed a newspaper article about spiders for my files. It had two illustrations.  However they were presented as an animated slide show, so only one of the illustrations appeared in the print out; not the one I particularly wanted.  In each case, I was left wanting.

What does this mean?  Have we become a paperless society?  Future news and information will be read on devices like the Kindle or the Fire or any tablet or phone or computer that pulls video, still images, and music from the web to your device.  Is this better or worse or indifferent.

Let’s start with better.  Never a cognitive morning reader, I found a better way to read the poem: have a professional read it to me.  I always have trouble with some punctuation marks: semi-colons and long dashes.  I was able to find a site that not only made it clear, but read sentences so I could hear the difference.  Graphics, video, and audio files all add to our understanding.

Now for the worse.  I’m tired of being bombarded with pictures and music that add nothing to the text or detract from it.  Some of these are ads; some are simply irrelevant to the text.  You have all heard the webpage that has “stupid” music playing in the background, or the page with pictures that have nothing to do with the article or blog you are reading.  That is one reason why my blog posts contain few pictures.

As for the indifferent, this is more a perspective of the reader/listener than the web designer.  After awhile we learn to tune out all but the most obnoxious tunes, pictures, and videos.  Or if one site annoys, we’ll find what we want on another.

So, embrace the multi-media that improves your experience and when you do think about what life would be like without it and give thanks for these small, but significant advances in technology.

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Electronic Note Taking


When you visit any website, Amazon, a blog, a journal, any website, you might want to take notes on what you find there.  I take notes on information relating to my novels and short stories, my business, recipes, and other matters.  In the past I have recommended Microsoft One Note and have used it extensively.  The time has come to make a new recommendation.

First, let me explain why I have moved away from Microsoft One Note. Microsoft has put One Note in the place where Apple computers once lived:  in the land of non-compatibility.  In the past, if you wanted to play a certain game or use a certain app on a Mac, you couldn’t.   But Apple has gained wisdom while Microsoft’s petty attitude of superiority is costing it a loyal customer.  Simply consider one Apple app:  ITunes.  You can use it on a Mac or on a PC or on your smartphone.  Now consider the equivalent Microsoft app:  Windows Media Player.  You can use it on a PC or on your smartphone, but only if it is a Windows smartphone.  Get the picture?

The same thing holds true for One Note.  You can use it on a PC or on a Windows smartphone or an IPhone, but not on an Android phone, and certainly not Blackberry or Palm.  What if you want to use a PC, an Android phone, and an Ipad?  Say goodbye to One Note and hello to EvernoteEvernote works on almost every smartphone, tablet, and with Mac, PC, Android, Blackberry, and Palm. 

What are the functional differences between One Note and Evernote?  I set up Evernote on my Windows 7 PC and imported my notes from One Note.  All my notes from all my folders imported into a single notebook in Evernote.  However they were tagged with the name of their folder (Recipes, Cabin, Journal, etc.) so it was a simple matter to set up Evernote notebooks with those names and move the notes to the appropriate notebook. 

I used One Note mainly for saving web clippings.  I copied an article of interest to me and pasted it into Evernote.  It worked as seamlessly as One Note and looked better.  Like Amazon’s Kindle, Evernote give you an email address to let you send notes directly to Evernote.  I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like a good idea.  I can then forward an interesting email to that email address and have it saved in Evernote.  Cool.  Evernote stores your notes online, so you can access them from any computer.  Finally, Evernote is free for a basic account, which is all I and most people need.  If you want the Premium Account it only costs $5 month or $45/year. 

What else can you do with Evernote?  You can share your note by emailing it or posting it on Twitter or Facebook.  I emailed one to myself to test it and I received the body of the note in the body of the email.  I haven’t yet tried posting to Twitter or Facebook, but I expect it will work as seamlessly.

Is there any reason to continue using One Note?  I haven’t found one.  If you have, please let me know.

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A Whisper of Peace: A Review

A Whisper of Peace is a novel which takes place predominately in the 19th century Alaskan wilderness.  Of all the new novels by Christian authors I have read this year, this one was the most well-crafted and well-written.

A Whisper of Peace is the story of three people who are searching for peace in their lives.  Clay, the son of a pastor ministering to Paiutes, has left his home in the Oklahoma Territory.  Armed with high expectations of following in his father’s footsteps, he tries, with little success, to start a successful church among the Athabascan natives of Alaska.  His half-sister, Vivian, joins him to get a fresh start from the secret which haunts her past.  The first Athabascan Clay and Vivian  meet is Lizzie.  Deserted by her Caucasian father and an outcast from her tribe, she seeks peace through reconciliation with her grandparents and finding her father in San Francisco. Clay and Vivian try to heal a generational rift between Lizzie, and her grandparents, an action which puts Clay and Vivian at odds with the very people they want to help and creates a dilemma between helping the one and helping the many. 

These three characters find their lives taking turns that they had not expected.  Vivian finds that her secret is not as she had believed.  She changes her life to reflect her new perspective.  Lizzie discovers her life objective changed; She changes, too.  Clay realizes that church is not what he thinks it is--a brief note from his father and he immediately feels better.  Predictably Clay and Lizzie fall in love.  You will have to read the book for yourself to find out what happens.

I enjoyed the author’s depictions of wilderness life:  canoeing, hunting, snaring, and fishing, and her description of tribal culture. (You can learn more about the Athabascan people here.) I also enjoyed the two child characters that were links between Lizzie and the missionaries and her Athabascan people.  I found most characters’ physical descriptions believable. 

I have only two complaints about the book.  First, I couldn’t generate any particular like or dislike for any of the characters.  Clay and Lizzie both have clear-cut goals and a strong determination to achieve their goals.  Vivian doesn’t know what she wants.  I wanted to find some point of identification with the characters, but their problems seemed so easily handled.  Indeed, some major problems arise, then without further comment, they disappear.  One example is a head injury which debilitates Clay until all at once it is no longer an issue.  The heavy internal issues that the characters wrestle with don’t seem to consume them as they would a real person.  At the end, the novel skips ahead two years and shows all the characters perfectly happy. 

My other complaint, and it may be related to the first one, is that the book seems old.  Not old in the sense of a timeless classic, but old in the sense that it tries to communicate to someone living in another time period, I’m just not sure where.  I recently reviewed a novel that contained a “chaste kiss;”  For a love story, this novel has no kiss at all and little passion.

Sure, Clay shows great passion for what he wants to do for God, but little passion for anyone or anything else.  Indeed, his passion for Lizzie, the woman he loves, comes only in fits and spurts and he shows very little care for his step-sister Vivian. I want an author to make me feel what the characters feel and these characters feel very little. 

That being said, this is the most well-written new Christian novel I have read this year.  There were no glaring spelling or grammar errors.  If you want to read a book purely for entertainment and to get a small glimpse of 19th century frontier life, pick this up.  But if you want to enter the world of people who lead deep lives that resonate into the 21st century, find another novel. 


I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

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Ebooks and Their Readers

At a past writer’s conference, one of the presenters gave a talk on the ontology of books.  His main point seemed to be that the ebook was a failure. It was a failure because it did not give the emotional satisfaction of a book.  It was a failure because an ebook cost as much or more to produce than a book.  He spoke about the printing industry and the emotional bond he had with his father through his father’s library.

At the time, I partially agreed.  I had no knowledge of the printing industry and how it compared to ebook production and his statements seemed reasonable.  My personal experience with my Kindle was a love/hate experience, but the love slightly outweighed the hate.  Sure the Kindle was expensive, needed to be charged, could be broken, and did not have the tactile feel of a book.  But I did find it convenient to carry.  I am usually reading several books at a time and don’t’ always know which one I will feel like reading in a particular situation.  It is also convenient not to have to move the book light every time I turn a page.  Yes, I read at night in bed.

As I have used it over the years, however, I have found the benefits to outweigh the detriments.  The Kindle is great for notes.  I don’t carry a notebook when I read; I lose notebooks.  Nor do I carry a highlighter or post-its.  The Kindle lets me mark passages and refer to them later.  If I have forgotten to mark a passage, I can do a search.  The search function is very useful when I review a book.  I can easily count the number of times an author has used a word or term.  And when I am ready to write my review, I can go back through my pages of notes and pick out quotes to use in the review.  My notes give me a link back to their location in the book so I can check context.

What don’t I like?  Sure, the battery lasts a long, long time, but I dread the day when I pick it up to write a review and it says “low battery.”   If that does happen, I can go to and find my notes, but not link to the context.  Kindle for PC or Mac or Smartphone lets you sync with your computer or phone.  You can find your notes and link to the context.  For some books this does not work at all.  If you, as I do, acquire some of your books from a source other than Amazon, you may not be able to see your notes anywhere but your Kindle.  (*Some of the publishers I review for have their own download link for review copies.)

Library books are available for the Kindle but they are limited.  I had been hoping that borrowing with the Kindle would provide a better experience than the library.  I don’t usually borrow library books, because I have trouble returning them by the due date.  EBooks can be borrowed for two weeks only.  That short time really doesn’t bother me because there are so few books available that I would want to read.

As a writer, I keep track of the publishing industry.  The latest figures show eBooks outselling paper books.  And why not?  An eBook is instantly accessible, never smells musty, never becomes damaged.  It’s a different method of reading but the words and thoughts are the same.  Whether you prefer paper or eBook is up to you.  I’ll push to have my novels published in both forms, but will read them on my Kindle.  They were composed on a computer; why not read them on an electronic device?  Let me know what you think about eBooks and Ereaders.  Are you using them?  Do you love or hate them?

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The Soul Reader By Gerard D. Webster: A Review

The Soul Reader: A Novel of Suspense
The Soul Reader has a name.  No it’s not simply the name of the book but also the description of the protagonist, Ward McNulty, who has the power (but only in sufficient light) to discern a person’s spiritual state.  Like any good hero, however, he fails to recognize his own failings. . . until the middle of the book.

This novel begins as a perilous adventure to discover the mastermind behind a series of murders.  McNulty, a journalist, has hit bottom: jobless, homeless, and crippled, when his erstwhile girlfriend, Carrie, hands him a book deal partnership where his investigative journalism skills come to the fore in their quest to expose the mastermind behind the murders of members of a large commercial fraud, including the murder of McNulty’s father.  The story unfolds with the involvement of a retired police detective, a member of the FBI, a Colombian saint, and an Italian businessman.  And let’s not forget to throw in the assassin with no identity other than “Culebra,” until the middle of the book.

Yes, it’s the middle of the book where the loose ends start to be tied while the novel falls apart.  First, let me state that if you are a traditional Roman Catholic, this novel may enthrall you.  But for other readers, it is a mess.  Disturbing news reports of McNulty’s demise cause McNulty’s mother and wannabe girlfriend to sit together and recite the rosary.  It calms them. Then McNulty, in the midst of danger, starts to say the hours, decades, or centuries. I’m not sure which, because I have no idea what any of it means.  To top it all off, I find my first textual error: a misspelled word.

You might think I am anti-Roman Catholic.  I’ll leave that to your perception.  I thoroughly enjoyed and recommended a novel where the lead character was a Roman Catholic “sister,”  and have great respect for other Roman Catholic authors including Flannery O’Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcolm Muggeridge, Walker Percy, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, and Thomas Merton.  What made “The Passion of Mary-Margaret,” a contemporary Roman Catholic novel, readable, was the simple and clear explanations of Roman Catholicisms.  And that is where The Soul Reader completely fails.

And now I must digress.  The two women find comfort in repeating “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”  They repeat it over and over.  I have been to Roman Catholic funerals and seen and heard this.  Why not pray scripture?  Perhaps one of the Psalms?  From my perspective, reciting those words over and over is no different from reciting any word or words for meditation reasons.  Whether the word be Om or Jesus or Holy Mary, such repetition may be designed only to clear the mind for meditation.   If a Christian is in distress, as I believed these women were, why wouldn’t they call on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith?  Why wouldn’t they tell him how they feel?  Why wouldn’t they use an appropriate Psalm?  I often pray Psalm 121 or Psalm 139 in my distress.   One of the women says that she thinks of Psalm 61 while she is reciting the rosary, but that’s as far as it goes.  The Psalms are all directed to God in joy or distress or thanksgiving.  It seems to me, that if we’re calling on God is our distress, we’re going to want to directly entreat God as did our examples in the Bible,  and not call on the mother of Jesus, a practice nowhere mentioned in the Bible.   

But, digression aside, let’s return to the text.  It is in the center of the novel where I became aware of Culebra’s identity before any of the novel’s characters knew his identity, and where I began to see the secret behind the Italian businessman.  At this point, I wondered if I even wanted to read through to the end.  I have read so many bad novels by Christian authors in the past year; I would love to be proven wrong about a book that started with so much promise.

Did it prove me wrong in the end?  Partially.  There were a couple of twists I hadn’t anticipated.  There were also a couple of misspelled words, bad placement of the word “only,” one word used for its opposite meaning, and an office pulled out of thin air.  I was also irritated by the 28 times the author used the word “feature” instead of “face” or spiritual “state” or “condition.”  The author used the word “basically” three times in a single paragraph.  He used the word animal magnetism only once but once is too often in any writing.  I also found problems with simile and comparison.  Perhaps I am too literal, but does this work on any level? 

. . . as insensitive to the feelings of others as a buzzard would be to the feelings of roadkill.

Or how about this comparison?

Mercy was more foreign than Mercury. . .

No, there was no science fiction or space travel in this novel and no consideration of the night sky.

This Soul Reader was a good start for this author.  With a good editor, he could lose the middle and the very end and add some real passion and emotion rather than a “chaste kiss,” He might then have a book full of exciting moments.  As the book stands, however, only a Roman Catholic reader might truly enjoy it. 

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

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When I Wanted to Quit the Church

Have you ever wanted to quit church?  Perhaps you never started.  Here is the story of why I wanted to quit church and why I ended up staying.

Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. 

Fourth grade had been the worst year.  New school, new city, no friends.  Even though I loved the quiet area where we lived, I felt like I was drifting through life, like I was being done to rather than doing.  I wasn’t yet old enough to see the light ahead. 

Following fourth grade, fifth grade was the worst year of my life.  New school, new city, no friends, and a densely populated area.  Life was horrible at home and I only wanted to hide under my desk at school.  My walk from school took me past a library.  I hid in my room and read books.

After fifth grade, sixth grade was the worst year of my life.  Same school, same city, no friends.  I grew my hair long and continued to cart home as many library books as I could carry.  In school I hid behind my long hair and at home I hid in the books I read.    

But seventh grade was the worst of all.  Same city, new school, no friends; it was the other changes that brought new lows.  I no longer passed a library on my walk to school and I was expected to go to school dances and participate in school  and church activities. 

The high points:  I had a poem published in the school paper and I met a friend.  It wasn’t a particularly good poem and we were friends for all of the wrong reasons.  We were the kind of friends who never spent the night at each other’s house.  So what made us friends?  We were the ones who didn’t fit in.  We went to dances and agreed not to dance so neither of us could feel bad that we weren’t asked.  We went out for cheerleading knowing that we both would fail.  This friendship of avoidance and failure ended when I left that school after two years. 

The low point:  my search for meaning.  I was enrolled in catechism classes that year.  They were taught by the pastor of the church.  I loved church.  I loved the music, the liturgy.  It was a place of safety and security.  The one place with the promise of “all is well and all will be well.”  My heart leapt with the words of the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) which we sang as a sort of chant. 

We praise thee, O God :
    we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
    the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
    the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
    continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
    Lord God of Sabaoth*;

Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
    of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee. . .

But the same man who led that church couldn’t be bothered with the questions of pre-teen girl  searching for meaning.  I don’t remember what I asked; nor do I remember the response.  I only remember that his response ridiculed me in front of the others in that catechism class.   I begged my mother to let me drop out, but she refused.  I begged to stay home from church, but she refused that, also. 

I finished the class and to this day remember only these words:  “I will fear and love God,” a phrase that appropriately states the ambiguity of faith.  But I had no room for ambiguity in my life; fear overwhelmed love.  I finished that class without asking any more questions, donned the white robe, and was subsequently accepted into the church, a church that was no longer safe and secure.  A church of hypocrisy and fear.  

And yet, I knew there was something more. Somewhere. 

Now an adult,  I know that all churches are filled with the same types of people we find anywhere else:  the broken narcissists, the depressed hypocrites, the maudlin pundits.  (Yes, I had to throw them in to lighten this dire non-diatribe.)  But the churches I respect most are those where the people realize their own lack and look to Jesus, where they acknowledge that we live in a stasis between what is and what should be, and where none of us is bigger than God. 

Yes, I said “we” and “us.” I cannot leave the church because, as it hobbles along, its crutch is Jesus and that’s the same secure aid I need in my life.  And the people hobbling with me are the ones I need to be with in my worst of times and my best.

But I will never stop searching; not for the best church or the best people, but for the best life lived in Christ in his church.  I want to stand in the church of the here and the yet to come, the church of the crumpled and crushed, the church of the damaged and destroyed, the church without pretension.  As part of that church, I am part of something bigger and more important than an Ohio State Football game and its fickle fans (no pun intended.).  As part of that church, my life has greater purpose than I could have ever envisioned.

Church is the place of the holy ones of God who are called together through wars and hardship, wins and losses, struggles and pain, to lie prostrate, kneel, or stand and worship the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Here is where I join the saints, angels, and martyrs to shout, sing or whimper, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Here is where “the saints go marching in” and I do, do, do “want to be in that number.”

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call
Some say this world of trouble,
Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.
Oh When the new world is revealed
Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Does your heart cry to be in that number?  Do you feel outcast, rejected?  As I was writing this, I happened upon a video that may say it better.  And no, going back to church doesn’t have to happen on September 18, December 25, or any other propitious date.  Whenever you go, it is the right time. 

If you are looking for a church like the one in the video or the one that I want, don’t be afraid to ask me for a recommendation.  Here are two I recommend:  Vineyard Church of Columbus, Vineyard Chillicothe.  And there are many others.  Please leave a comment and let me know whether your pain kept you from church or brought you to church. 

I leave you with a lighter song from the early 1980’s.

*Sabaoth is the Anglicizing of the Latinizing of the Greek of the Hebrew word for “armies.”

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Camping in Georgia by D. Harkness

Camping in Georgia

The darkest dark of moonless night
around that Georgia lake
the tent went up by car headlight
the poles, the nylon, and the stakes

Happy to be safe inside
we touched, we kissed, and more
the night was warm and as we drowsed
the water lapped the shore

But terrors of the night abound
which ears and flesh invade
and unseen creepy crawly things
a camper's nightmare preys

Just a dream I knew it was
until I felt it there
and in the light I knew it true
creepy crawly in my hair

First love, now rape
in every crevice every pore
ants within and on my skin
ants covering the floor

Grabbing cover; To the showers!
No quiet sleep that night
the car seat was the bed of choice
until the first daylight.

The brightest bright of Georgia day
showed truly where we faltered
the entire lakeside was their home
the ants thought we were squatters!

The moral of this story strange
is not what you might expect
for only in that one state park
did ants arrive unchecked.
So never set the tent by dark
and never in that Georgia park
where ants control entire tracts
and danger lurks behind your back.

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The Scroll by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky (A review)

The Scroll: A Novel
The Scroll is a novel in which many of the characters are archaeologists.  Lest you immediately think of the dull painstaking removal of ancient dust by means of a small paintbrush, these archaeologists get right to business using the latest technology and reluctantly blowing holes in standard archeological practice, while avoiding having holes blown in themselves. 

Dr. David Chambers is the lead archaeologist, ready to change archeological and life direction until called back to Israel by his mentor, Abram Ben-Judah, to lead a group looking for treasure places described by a copper scroll discovered in the Qumran area.  The novel gives the reader a taste of current archeological method including the difficulty in deciphering ancient text and location when spelling, iconography, and geography have changed or disappeared in time.   We are also introduced to new methods of surveying beneath the earth’s surface for long buried evidence.

The story is a straightforward archaeological mystery,  intertwined with a volatile political situation.  There is love and death and subterfuge, but this novel cannot be described as suspenseful or romantic.  Although the character of David Chambers is multi-faceted, the other characters appeared one-dimensional.  I was left wishing for more danger, more action, more emotion, and better characterization.  I was wishing for anything to make me feel something for the characters.  If this novel is made into a movie, I definitely want to see it. 

The Scroll is an easy read for a summer beach or a winter fire, especially if you are interested in Biblical archeology. 

I received this book free from the publisher.  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.

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