February 2019 Book Reviews | On the Daily EXPRESS

2/12/19

February 2019 Book Reviews

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Welcome to my February 2019 Book Reviews! As usual I have a mix of fiction and nonfiction. I read all of my nonfiction books on Audible, and a handful of my fiction books as well. That does affect my experience with the book (a narrator can really make or break a book!) so I'll note anything I read in audiobook format. With that said, here are the books I read this month followed by my reviews!
Fiction:
Watching You by Lisa Jewell
Basic Plot: Everyone is a nosy neighbor, and some people may have more scandalous secrets than others.
My Verdict: Recommend! This was a solid, entertaining suspense novel. The book starts with a dead body, and as we meet the neighbors and peek into their lives and secrets, we wonder not just who died, but who did it, how, and why. While this isn't an all-time standout suspense novel for me, I also have no real complaints. There were no super annoying or absurd characters or plot points. Just good page-turning entertainment! I'd say it's 4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars for this one!

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell
Basic Plot: The life and times of random people who have one thing in common: they originated from one sperm donor father.
My Verdict: Enjoyable as an audiobook...might be a bit boring otherwise. I think this one might be my least favorite Jewell book so far. Though I did enjoy it and end up getting invested in the well-developed characters, I suspect that the pacing would have made it tough to get through in written form. I have a higher tolerance for slow audiobooks as long as they have a great narrator. And this one does have a great narrator! It's a good soap opera type read if you just want to get involved in other people's lives with the unique twist of their unusual relationship.

Circe by Madeline Miller
Basic Plot: Circe is the daughter of Helios, and this books tells her story in a newly imagined way.
My Verdict: Did Not Finish. I gave up on this book at 30%. It has tons of great reviews on Amazon (4.5 star average rating with 983 reviews) but I just. could. not. get. into. it. If you are a person who enjoys fantasy genre or imaginative, elaborate writing style and creative, thorough visual details, perhaps you will enjoy this more than I did. But I need well-developed characters and a story to care about, and this did not give that to me. I was only moderately interested in what would happen to Circe, but not enough to keep going. At 30% I checked in on the three star reviews on Amazon (thinking they would be the most neutral) and several of them said it was okay but the last 25% was hard to get through. Well. If I struggled for the first 25% and was going to struggle the last 25%, that's 50% of a book I didn't enjoy! I have a hard time giving up on books but finally had to let this one go since I felt a sense of homework-like dread every time I picked it up, and I just don't need that in my fiction selections!

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Basic Plot: Historical Fiction weaving romance & politics in past and present day Cuba.
My Verdict: Disappointing. This book was heavy on the discussion of history and politics, light on the fiction and romance. And what little romance it did have was very weak. We alternate timelines between a modern day woman studying her Cuban roots and her grandmother's life in 1958 Cuba. Both women fall instantly for mysterious men, but it was hard for me to buy the romance because there was no spark or chemistry or build up. The history and politics were mainly presented as extensive dialogue (mostly the men explaining things to the women) and I didn't find that romantic or very interesting. With other historical fiction, you feel like you're living the experiences through the characters and learning the history in the process. With this, I felt like the characters were simply talking about it with each other and not really living it. It fell really flat for me and I don't recommend. I couldn't wait for it to be over. This was an Audible selection with two narrators, and both were just okay.

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
Basic Plot: Girl meets boy and boy seems perfect. Until girl meets his mother...
My Verdict: Frustrating but Entertaining. The story grabbed my interest and held it well, but the boyfriend's mother was infuriating! And the girlfriend/main protagonist was also incredibly frustrating because of the way she dealt with each situation. This is billed as a psychological thriller, but I disagree with that. It was a family/dating drama with a tiny mystery about what happened to a couple of characters. There's also a twist, and I didn't predict it but I also thought it made everything even worse and more unbelievable that certain characters would act the way they did. This was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick so read it if you want to understand the hype. It keeps you entertained, but not exactly in the most enjoyable way.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Sweeney
Basic Plot: Amber is in a coma and through her limited consciousness she's trying to figure out how she got there.
My Verdict: Recommend. This was a true psychological thriller that kept me interested and guessing through to the end. There are three timelines in this book: Now (what's happening while Amber/the main character is in a coma), Just Before (flashbacks to the week leading up to the coma), and Way Before (childhood diary entries giving some background to the main character). I enjoyed the suspense of trying to figure out which of the people in Amber's life might have had a hand in where she ended up. There were some twists I totally did not expect. The only thing I didn't love was the very end because it left me a bit confused. So instead of thinking, "Wow!" I was thinking, "Wait...what?" I had to go read some Spoiler-included reviews on Goodreads to get some clarity and possible explanations.

After the Party by Lisa Jewell
Basic Plot: Ralph & Jem have been together for over a decade and have two small children. Whether they'll stay together is TBD since their relationship has seen better days.
My Verdict: Enjoyable as an audiobook...might be a bit boring otherwise. Yes, same verdict as "The Making of Us." The pacing is slow which means I don't think I would enjoy this as much in written format. What I do like is that Jewell does a great job of creating complex characters with lives and stories that seem real. I could easily understand a couple like Ralph & Jem and the not-so-black-and-white choices they make that affect their relationship. I do enjoy listening to this type of book while I work on other tasks since it's like a well done TV drama. One thing I also love in all of Jewell's books is the detail she gives about fashion! She does a great job of adding in some outfit details in this book and several others that help me picture the character more vividly. So while I don't think anyone needs to rush out and read this, it was well done and enjoyable enough. I am truly  impressed that Jewell is able to write both chick lit (like this) and suspense (like Watching You) so well!

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Basic Plot: Amber wants to get rich the old fashioned way....by marrying a rich man. The only thing is the man she has in mind is already married to someone else so she schemes her way into his life.
My Verdict: Entertaining but Not Enjoyable. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but the first half is narrated by Amber, who has zero redeeming qualities. Add that to the fact that she and all other characters in the book are one-dimensional and the writing seems amateur compared to Lisa Jewell's, and you can understand my lack of enjoyment. It also annoys me when authors don't check basic geography that can be easily Googled. (In this book, one character went to Santa Cruz in Southern California. Nope.) The second half has a different narrator and was much more enjoyable than the first half, which made it easy to finish. All in all it passes the time just fine and I did want to know how it would all play out, I just didn't really think it was all that. Funny, this was another Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick and it gave me a lot of the same feelings as The Other Woman. It also reminded me a lot of Behind Closed Doors (which I really didn't like), so if you did like that one you'll probably enjoy this!

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus
Basic Plot: Teenage twins (boy and girl) move to a new town to live with their grandmother and get caught up in uncovering some of the town's unsolved mysteries.
My Verdict: Good, not Great. First, this book starts off with too many characters and too much history/detail about the town mysteries. It was confusing, and it took me 45% of the book to get invested and feel like I really got what was happening. Mind you, the book felt short, so 45% of this book took me the same amount of time as 10% of Kate Morton's The Lake House. Also the first part was still fairly interesting even if confusing with all the characters and events, so I wasn't bored. But the last 55% of the book was fun and easy to zip through. I definitely did not like this as much as One of Us is Lying and could nitpick more details, but I'll just say I'd rate it about 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Nonfiction:
The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
This is a quick little read (3 hours) on the history of the Barbie doll, along with a little bit of analysis of her cultural impact. I bought this for two dollars on an Audible Daily Deal and I felt I got my money's worth from it! It was interesting enough and I learned a few things along the way. If you played with Barbie as a child you may enjoy learning more about her origins and history from this book. The narrator was solid. It's not "must read" but I have no complaints!

The State of Affairs by Esther Perel
Esther Perel is a well-known psychotherapist with a sex/relationship specialty. This book takes a look at modern infidelity and all of its causes and effects. When I say "modern" I'm just referring to the fact that in 2019 there are a lot more subtleties and lines to be drawn when it comes to what constitutes cheating than there were in decades past, especially when it comes to online behavior. The subtitle of this book ("Rethinking Infidelity") makes it sound like it's going to make an attempt to get you to be supportive of infidelity, but that's really not the case. It's an analysis of the complexities of marriage/relationships in the 21st century. This book was interesting but depressing. I chose it because I know Esther is well-respected and a lot of my friends who enjoy similar books to me like her work. So I wanted to read it to get more familiar with the buzz about Esther. But for me, it wasn't eye opening as much as sad and somewhat discouraging. It doesn't give a lot of hope for building a lasting marriage! At the end we listen in on her real-life marriage therapy sessions and those were heartbreaking. So this is by no means an uplifting read. For me to read another Perel book I would need to feel like it had more hope and more discussion of what is working for people in relationships, not just all the reason why they fall apart.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
If you enjoy a good memoir, make this your next selection! It was very well written, well narrated (on Audible, narrated by the author) engaging, thought-provoking and the audio equivalent of a page turner! I really wanted to know what would happen next with each phase of her search! In this memoir, a woman learns at age 54 through a DNA saliva test that her now-deceased father was not biological father. This takes her on a journey to find her true heritage as well as forcing her to re-consider her entire personal history, religious upbringing and other family relationships. This book was very much the real-life version of The Making of Us (review above in the fiction section). When I saw the topic for Inheritance I thought it would be an interesting follow up to The Making of Us, and it did not disappoint. It was actually better because it was real! But I enjoyed reading both in the same month and it gave me a lot to think about regarding the issue of egg and sperm donors. The science has been around for less than 100 years and there's a lot to be considered for the impact it has on the children.

Maid by Stephanie Land
This is the memoir of a single mom in Washington State struggling to get by on the wages she earns cleaning houses plus government assistance. It was probably a mistake to read it right on the heels of Inheritance because it just didn't measure up to that. But it was interesting and held my attention pretty well. She goes into some juicy detail (sometimes disgusting) about the houses she cleaned and the people who lived there, so at times in the book you feel like you're snooping right along with her. Overall I'd say it's a decent read (maybe 3.5 stars out of 5) but not a must-read.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
This one starts off a bit tedious with a lot of science-y talk about the brain that I can only understand on a high level. On top of that, the narrator was totally robotic. He sounded like Data from Star Trek, so that didn't help engage me. But I kept going with this because Rachelle recommended it, and we have similar taste in nonfiction. And I'm glad I did because there were quite a few chapters that were fascinating. The book is about what the title implies: Emotional Intelligence, i.e. our ability to understand and regulate our own emotions as well as our ability to empathize with and interpret the emotions of other humans. It goes into great detail about the underrated importance of Emotional Intelligence in our lives and our overall well being as humans. Chapter 8 (The Social Arts) and Chapter 11 (Mind and Medicine) stand out as my very favorites that made the book worthwhile.

Quick Picks
For quick recommendation without the specifics of what I did/didn't like, here are the books from this month that I'm likely to recommend to friends and family in real life:
Fiction: Watching YouSometimes I Lie
Nonfiction: Inheritance

Current Reads + Up Next:
I'm just starting Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  - no opinion yet but I'm worried now based on my luck with the two other Reese Book Club books this month! And I'm listening to American Dervish, which I'm really enjoying so far! I always like to mention that I'm signed up for the Audible Daily Deal email and highly recommend it if you like audiobooks! It helps me read more audiobooks each month without spending a lot more. Can't wait to hear what you all read or what strikes your interest this month!

Linking up with: Steph & Jana | Erika & Shay

CONVERSATION

46 comments:

  1. Im reading Circe this week so its sad to read a DNF. I kept seeing such rave reviews on Goodreads and on youtube. Crazy!

    Lisa Jewell has some really good books out now. I need to read some more of her.

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    1. Maybe you will like Circe! It could just be me since clearly LOTS of people love it!

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  2. I am always so impressed with your thorough reviews, I'm not sure I could write such a great review without giving away too much! As usual I will be pinning this so I can snag some of these - you know I have a penchant for psychological thriller! Ha!
    I read two books in January and now I am trying to take a break so I can focus on my bible study and spending my downtime researching things I need to do better as a blogger, oops, I mean "influencer" - hahahahaha! Anyway I realize I need to use my time wisely and I haven't been lately. So, I'll be saving these titles and hopefully grabbing a good one soon!
    xo,
    Kellyann
    www.thisblondesshoppingbag.com

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    1. Thanks Kellyann! It is to say enough without saying too much! And doing blogger/influencer research is a rabbit hole! LOL! Good luck on that!

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  3. Happy you ended up enjoying emotional intelligence and I totally agree with you. Can't wait to hear what you think of Eleanor.

    xo
    Pinksole

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    1. I read a few chapters yesterday and it is cracking me up so far!! I haven't read a funny book in awhile so I'm enjoying this.

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  4. Thank you for sharing these. i intend to read more this year and will take a look at a couple of books which you have made me interested in. Jill stylishatsixty
    www.stylishatsixty.wordpress.com

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  5. Do you know your book reviews are some of my favorites! I am a big fan of Lisa Jewell so I was so excited about that first book you mentioned as it has been on my list. Thank you for giving it to us honestly and I am with you, there is just some times that I have to give up in the middle of a book if it is not luring me in and making my brain happy, LOL

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    1. Thank you Andrea! And yes...I just don't like feeling dreading a book. Reading is supposed to be fun!

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  6. Looking forward to reading some more Lisa Jewell sometime. I loved Circe on audio but I can see 100% where you are coming from. I am struggling to get into her other book which I've also heard good things about but it is a very specific genre, that's for sure. Bummer too about Havana - I have heard nothing but good things about that one! That's just the way it is though!!

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    1. I think if I had listened to Circe on Audible I would have finished it! But now that I've already purchased it on Kindle and didn't enjoy it, I can't justify using a book credit on it! And yes, I guess it's just a different strokes thing with Havana, too. Both books weren't bad, they just weren't right for me!

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  7. I definitely want to read Watching You. It sounds like a perfect fit for me. I just read One of Us Is Lying (finally) and really enjoyed it. I'm curious about Two Can Keep A Secret, but I have heard that people like her debut better.

    -Laruen
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Yeah...One of Us was definitely the better of the two! I feel for authors because I'm sure it's hard to follow up something like that!

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  8. I'm totally with you- if I can't get into a book, I just abandon it. Reading should be fun and you should look forward to diving back into the story!

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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    1. I kind of hate reviewing books I didn't finish, but at the same time if other people didn't enjoy it I want them to know they're not alone!

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  9. I currently have Next Year in Havana from the library, but I'm quickly reconsidering that decision. Ha! Thanks for the honest review. I recently finished my first Lisa Jewell book (Then She Was Gone), so now I'm itching to pick up another one of hers - Watching You sounds great. Always love the great mix of books you review here!

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    1. Then She Was Gone was my first and favorite Jewell book!

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  10. Sometimes I laugh so hard reading reviews, just because how differently people can feel. I WISH I had given up on Parrish...it was like reading a Lifetime movie. Circe, on the other hand, rocked my world and I loved it so hard :)

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    1. The Lifetime Movie comparison is spot on for Mrs Parrish!! It really was exactly like that. I do understand why people liked Circe. I probably should have read more detailed reviews first and I might have guessed it just wasn't my type.

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  11. I saw Next Year in Havana on amazon but I think I ended up getting a different book. And now I am glad I did! I can't stand it when men are constantly explaining things to women like we don't have brains ourselves! That would seriously hamper the enjoyment of reading it. Inheritance sounds fascinating!

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    1. In the book it wasn't as bad as it might sound from my review since it didn't feel like mansplaining! But still. I don't find long historical lectures to be romantic! Ha!

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  12. I always look forward to your book reviews! I'm added Sometimes I Lie and Watching You to my reading list. Emotional Intelligence sounds interesting too! I just watched a documentary on the history of Barbie so maybe I'll read the book too!

    Jill - Doused in Pink

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    1. The Barbie book was short and easy! And I do think you'd like those two fiction books!

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  13. Circe was definitely not for me. This is the second post I see about Next Year in Havana. I need to read it!

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  14. Yes on Maid - decent but not must read. I think it's important to know how gig workers live but maybe better as an article.

    I decided a while ago Circe was not for me - based on your review, I'd say I was right.

    I am looking forward to the second McManus book though.

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    1. Maid was definitely eye opening in that way. It also made me want to keep my house spotless!

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  15. i am currently reading next year in havana and i admit i am struggling with parts of it that i don't particularly care about. she has another romance series i also got from the library that is apparently romance so i'm gonna give that a go next. oh my gosh, when authors get something wrong that can be easily googled, it makes me want to DNF immediately. how lazy are you, and how was that never caught in editing??? such a bummer about two can keep a secret. high expectations after one of us is lying. really hope you like Eleanor - it took me a bit to get into, but it was one of those books that when i finished i was like, wow, i really liked that. sometimes i don't have strong feelings until i finish. i've never read a lisa jewell book, but they are on my list!

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    1. And I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on Havana. I can't believe the rave reviews. It's a typical 3 star book for me.

      The geography mistake happened at the verrrry end of the book so at that point I was too invested! Honestly, Two Can Keep wasn't bad at all. Just not as good as the first. So far Eleanor is cracking me up!

      And WHAT in the what?! You've never read a Lisa Jewell book?! Since you're a not a big suspense fan maybe you'd like her chick-lit types more. They do remind me a bit of the Kate Morton book I read. Similar to Kristin Hannah too, but not as depressing! I actually don't know if you'll love Lisa Jewell but probably wouldn't hate them, either.

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  16. I was seeing Circe all over the place when it first came out ... so much so that I was burned out on the book and I haven't read it. I added Watching You to my list!

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    1. I know what you mean...I worry about hyped books because how can they live up to it?? They usually can't. But sometimes curiosity gets the best of me!

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  17. What a great roundup of books! I really liked Watching You too, and Maid and Two Can Keep a Secret are on my shortlist to read soon hopefully.

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    1. Thank you!! Glad you liked Watching You as well! It really was an easy, enjoyable read. Hope you like the other two well enough!

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  18. I couldn't finish Circe either! I was into it for a little while, and then I thought, "Where could this even go?"

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    1. YES!! Thank you for replying! This is exactly why I posted so hopefully someone else who read it/tried to could relate!

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  19. I actually thought Two of Us Can Keep a Secret was a stronger book than One of Us. As far as Maid, I think it's a must-read if you want to understand how someone survives living in poverty, or want that perspective. There are better books on the topic but this one gives great insight from her point of view. Obviously it doesn't speak for all women in her situation but it provides insight for someone who wants to better understand it.

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    1. Interesting that you liked Two Can Keep a Secret better than the first!

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  20. I read Watching You this month and also enjoyed it. Too bad, Jewell's other books you read weren't as great. I've only read a couple of hers but have enjoyed all that I've read. I really liked Sometimes I Lie and The Last Mrs. Parrish. I also thought that The Other Woman was just okay. Maid and Inheritance both sound interesting.

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    1. All of the Jewell books I've read have been good, some were just not AS good or page-turning etc. But I haven't regretted one entirely as yet!

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  21. Sometimes I Lie - OMG, I loved that book because it was weird and confusing and awesome. But I did a really stupid thing when reading it, I inadvertently jumped to the last page on my Kindle and read it, then realized what I did. Oops. And yes, the ending was a bit confusing. I'm still not 100% sure I got it straight - need to go check out those spoiler reviews I guess but I liked it. A lot. Circe and Havana are both on my TBR. I love seeing people both love and dislike the same book because it fascinates as to why they feel that way because neither are wrong. And I wonder which camp I will find myself in once I read it.

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    1. I think it's good that you get to go into those books with a love/hate expectation! And i loved hearing your thoughts on Sometimes I Lie! Glad you felt the same!

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  22. I love your book reviews! Emotional Intelligence was recommended in a marriage conference we attended last weekend and it's on my list.

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    1. Interesting that they recommended it a marriage conference! I guess they did talk about marriage quite a bit, mostly quoting from Gottman's research!

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  23. Bummer that you didn't enjoy Circe or ... Havana! I've heard good things about both. But abandoning is a good thing to do when you aren't feeling it! :) The Barbie book sounds entertaining! :) XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

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  24. I am adding several of these books to my TBR, especially the other woman! I'm sorry to hear you didn't like next year in havana, I read the book and liked it but I've also been to cuba so maybe I am biased :)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I sincerely appreciate each and every one and always do my best to answer questions promptly!