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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview GREAT BRITISH FAMILY NAMES AND THEIR HISTORY: WHAT’S IN A NAME? by John Moss (@penswordbooks) #history

Hi all:

I bring you a review for a book that I think is a great reference book for those of us always eager to find new sources of information.

Great British Family Names and Their History: What's in a Name? by John Moss.
Great British Family Names and Their History: What’s in a Name? by John Moss.

Great British Family Names and Their History: What’s in a Name? by John Moss.

For better or worse, what we are is often determined by our family; the events that occurred many years before we were born and the choices that were made by our forebears are our inheritance – we are the inexorable product of family history. So it is with nations. The history of Great Britain has been largely defined by powerful and influential families, many of whose names have come down to us from Celtic, Danish, Saxon or Norman ancestors. Their family names fill the pages of our history books; they are indelibly written into the events which we learned about at school. Iconic family names like Wellington, Nelson, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Constable, De Montfort and Montgomery… there are innumerable others. They reflect the long chequered history of Britain, and demonstrate the assimilation of the many cultures and languages which have migrated to these islands over the centuries, and which have resulted in the emergence of our language.

This book is a snapshot of several hundred such family names and delves into their beginnings and derivations, making extensive use of old sources, including translations of The Domesday Book and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as well as tracing many through the centuries to the present day.

https://www.amazon.com/Great-British-Family-Names-History-ebook/dp/B07RBDGKDH/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-British-Family-Names-History-ebook/dp/B07RBDGKDH/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Great-British-Family-Names-and-Their-History-Hardback/p/15684

About John Moss

John Moss studied Fine Arts and English in Wolverhampton and Manchester Art Schools, before taking early retirement after teaching and lecturing in Art & Design. He founded a Graphic Design company in 1997. Retired at last, he began writing: a science fiction trilogy in 2013, and now his first foray into historical non-fiction.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Let me clarify something from the very beginning: the book includes an ample biography and online resources for people interested in genealogy and doing their own research about the origins of their family (and an index to find specific information as well), but it is not a book where most British people (or people with British roots) are likely to find their direct ancestors. (Oh, by the way, because of the many historical changes and the way members of a family have moved across over the years, although the book centres on Great Britain, it does include both, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). The author explains, in his foreword, his method, including the documents he based most of his information on (oh, taxes and taxation documents are older than we realise, The Domesday Book features prominently, and quite a few others), and also his choices. As he explains, this book is only a snapshot and tries to include names of families who’ve played pivotal roles in the history of the country. Some are already lost, but many remain familiar, be it because of history books or, in some cases, because their descendants still play important roles that help maintain them under the limelight (in some cases, quite literally).

I am not British, have no British ancestors that I know of, and my interest in the book was mostly for reference. As an avid reader and writer, I am always intrigued by the historical connections between characters and families, and also by names. I’ve often read interviews with authors where they explain their process when researching the names of their characters and how, on many occasions, they look for names whose meaning or connections can become significant to the story, even symbolic at times. Although I haven’t done that too often, I must confess to struggling with surnames sometimes, and I can imagine this will be a much bigger concern for authors who write historical fiction. This book, divided into ten chapters covering the whole of Great Britain geographically, is a great starting point. It links the family names to their seats and areas by zones, including information on the origin of the name (many came with William the Conqueror from France, or followed shortly after, but not all), how the family fared later, the houses and titles they had, where the different branches of the family ended up, and where are they now (if there are any members of the family still connected to the name). Although it does not include all the details, it does mention members of the family who moved to Australia, America, etc., so it will be of interest to people from those countries aware of family connections and also to people interested in history and the ins and outs of the connections between noble and aristocratic families in the UK.

One of the things that grabbed my attention, and I hadn’t thought about before, was the information about the mansions, palaces, and houses that had belonged, at one point or other, to the members of those families. I love to visit historical houses (and the National Trust and National Heritage in the UK have done a great job of maintaining and restoring many of those properties and opening them up to visitors), and as I read, I discovered information about the owners of many of the properties I had visited over the years, some I was familiar with, but some that was totally new to me. I knew, for instance, that the Howard family’s (of Norfolk, yes, Thomas Howard, the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, that Howard family) seat was Arundel Castle (a beautiful Grade I listed building I recommend visiting. Don’t miss the Canaletto painting), and I knew they were related to the Howards of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, one of my favourite places. (If you’ve watched the Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, Castle Howard is Brideshead in that series and in a more recent movie adaptation. If you haven’t watched it, what are you waiting for? It’s a masterpiece!). I enjoyed learning more about the family, reading about the Fiennes Family of Banbury (a very illustrious and busy family, with current members of branches of the family as well-known as William Fiennes, author; Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer; Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, actors; and travel writer Celia Fiennes). The Russell (Roussel or Rosel) Family of Dorset has produce over the years members of parliaments, a Prime Minister (John Russell), and Bertrand Russell, Nobel Prize for Literature, and many more.

If I had to make any recommendations to the author and the publisher, it would be to consider including some family trees. I know there are far too many names and families to be exhaustive, but the family trees of some of the most significant family names —with many branches and connections— would make for fascinating visual documents and clarify how closely-knit some of those family circles are. Photographs of some of the family seats, the wonderful mansions, castles and properties, would also enhance the appeal of the book and make it visually more exciting.

I recommend this book to authors, historians, and researchers looking for general information about the big British families and their origins, and also to people interested in learning more about an area’s history and about how the ownership of the big properties in a region have changed over time.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

THE SNIPER ENCYCLOPAEDIA: AN A–Z GUIDE TO WORLD SNIPING by John Walter (@penswordbooks). A must for researchers and a fascinating book for anybody interested in the topic #referencebook #militaria

Hi all:

I’m coming a bit left field with this book. I’m not a big fan of firearms, although I’ve used them in some of my books (no personal experience beyond a BB-gun my dad used to have when I was younger), but I was fascinated by this book.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter
The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter

The Sniper Encyclopaedia: An A–Z Guide to World Sniping by John Walter.

The Sniper Encyclopaedia is an indispensable alphabetical, topic-by-topic guide to a fascinating subject.

This is a comprehensive work that covers virtually any aspect of sniping. The work contains personal details of hundreds of snipers, including not only the best-known — world renowned gurus such as Vasiliy Zaytsev and Chris Kyle — but also many crack shots overlooked by history. Among them are some of more than a thousand Red Army snipers — men and a surprising number of women, who amassed sufficient kills to be awarded the Medal for Courage and, later, the Order of Glory. Some of the best-known victims of snipers are identified, and the veracity of the most popular myths is explored.

The book pays special attention to the history and development of the many specialist sniper rifles — some more successful than others — that have served the world’s armies since the American Wars of the nineteenth century to today’s technology-based conflicts. Attention, too, is paid to the progress made with ammunition — without which, of course, precision shooting would be impossible. The development of aids and accessories, from camouflage clothing to laser rangefinders, is also considered.

Finally, The Sniper Encyclopaedia examines significant locations and specific campaigns — the way marksman have influenced the course of the individual battles and places which have played a crucial part in the history of sniping, from individual sites to sniper schools and training grounds. The book contains authors’ biographies, a critical assessment of the many books and memoirs on the world of the sniper, and a guide to research techniques.

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.amazon.es/Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Z-Guide-Sniping/dp/161200721X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sniper-Encyclopaedia-Hardback/p/16001

About the author:

John Walter, born in Glasgow in 1951, is among the world’s most prolific writers on small arms—author of seventy books, translated into more than a dozen languages. Walter has worked with edged weapons, bladed tools, firearms, railway locomotives, warships, scientific instruments and even heraldry. Among his published works have been several studies of the Luger pistol; four editions of Rifles of the World; The Airgun Book; The Rifle Story and The Handgun Story; Guns of the Elite and its current successor, Guns of the Elite Forces; The German Rifle; and The Greenhill Dictionary of Guns and Gunmakers.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback review copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Let me be clear about this: I know next to nothing about weapons in general, and I only know about snipers and their weapons of choice what I’ve picked up in TV series and documentaries, movies, and books. So this is not an expert’s review, rather the opposite.

You’ll probably ask why I was interested in this boo. Partly, because I’ve watched movies and news items about snipers (both modern and historical), and it’s impossible not to recall certain events and think about the people and the weapons behind them. Also, because I’m a writer, and I know how important it is to have reliable sources to research topics we want to write about. I’m also a translator, and after dedicating a fair amount of my time to working on books by other writers, I’ve discovered how complicated it can be to find the right word or term to refer to an object or device you know little about, and how complex it can get to describe an action that might come natural to an expert on the field, but is anything but for somebody totally new to it. Of course, you also have to think that not all readers are going to be experts either. How do you explain something that you don’t understand yourself? After trying to make sure a fight scene in a petrol tanker sounded accurate without having any idea what it looks like inside, I can tell you it’s not easy.

So, beyond my personal curiosity, (and yes, I must confess I’ve always wondered about the kind of training and personality required for somebody to be able to focus on such a task and not think… well, you know what I mean), I thought this sounded like a great resource for researchers and writers, and the reviews from people who knew about the subject reassured me that it wouldn’t disappoint.

And it didn’t. The book is fascinating and, as you can imagine, packed with information. The author explains his methodology, and clearly states that although he has tried to include as much information as possible, the sheer numbers of people and weapons made it necessary to scale down the size of the project. The availability of data was another difficulty. The book refers mostly to USA, UK, German and Russian snipers, and mostly those in the military (Simo Häyhä, a Finnish sniper credited with somewhere between 505 and 542 kills, depending on the sources, and who proved to be a nightmare for the Russians, who called him ‘the White Ghost’, is also included, and his memoir, called The White Sniper, sounds fascinating, I must say) and/or security forces, and Walter explains that in some cases (for example when having to choose weapons and manufacturers), his personal taste has played a part. He has also included more detailed entries about snipers whose biographies have been published, as people can easily access more information. (There have been, and are, many snippers in the armies of other countries, but their details are not available to outside researchers).

The author includes a page on bibliography and sources, dividing it into general studies, genealogical details, weapons and equipment, and tactics and training. Those include online resources and books that will delight people keen on digging deeper into the topic.

The encyclopaedia is, of course, organized in alphabetic order and full of illustrations, mostly photographs, but also drawings with details of sights and weapons. There are also lists of snipers, some about specific conflicts (WWI, for example), or even battles (Leningrad snipers is one of those), but also lists of male and female top snipers (they are both Russians, as it seems the Russian army uses snipers far more than any others). As an outsider it is a bit strange to think of what these numbers actually mean (the top male “scorer” has over 700 “scores”) and reading this book one’s mind boggles at times. I was fascinated, at the same time, by the female snippers, their pictures, and their stories. Among them, one that will stay with me is the story of Nataliya, or Natasha, Kovshova who fought during WWII and died with Mariya Polivanova after being badly injured, by pulling the pin of a grenade and taking some of the enemies with them. They were made Heroes of the Soviet Union posthumously and, although it seems there have been some questions as to what exactly happened, the basic facts are correct.

As I said, there is especial attention given to snipers who have written books about their experiences or have had books written about them, and that makes this encyclopaedia interesting to those trying to explore or find personal accounts on the topic, as it provides biographical information and also information about the content of the book, if available in English. As the back cover summarises, this book includes: 750 standard entries, 100 extended features and ‘top 20’ lists, over 400 biographies and 200 illustrations, and I recommend it to anybody who wants to gain a solid basis in the knowledge about sniping, the people involved and their weapons. Another great book by Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Rosie, the team of Pen & Sword and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling! 🙂

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 2,000 YEARS OF MANCHESTER by Kathryn Coase (@penswordbooks). Packed with facts and curio, a fun read and an excellent reference book

Hi all:

A book I thoroughly enjoyed for this Monday.

Cover of 2000 Years of Manchester
2,000 Years of Manchester by Kathryn Coase

2,000 Years of Manchester by Kathryn Coase.

This is not a chronological history of Manchester with lists of facts and figures. Rather, it is an eclectic mix of fact, fiction, legend and myth which presents the history of Manchester from its beginnings as a Roman settlement, then as an insignificant market town, to its place as a city at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and beyond. The author has attempted to capture not only the often tragic lives, times, struggles and beliefs of the city’s ever-expanding population, but also its resilience and humour. Including photographs, illustrations, poems and quotes, the book ranges from the humorous, including the stories of “Spanking Roger” and the “Manchester Mummy” to the tragic stories of “Cholera” and “Mary Bradley”, together with the bizarre “Pig Tales” and the criminal “Scuttlers” and “Purrers”.This is a well-researched, well-written and, most importantly, entertaining and informative read, presented in an unusual yet accessible and easy-to-read format, intended to appeal to the widest audience.

https://www.amazon.com/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.amazon.es/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/2000-Years-of-Manchester-Paperback/p/15099

About the author:

As a Mancunian, Kathryn Coase has been interested in the history of Manchester for many years and has possessed a longstanding ambition to research and write a book on the subject. After 30 years of teaching, she has finally decided to take some time out in order to fulfil this dream.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I lived and worked in the outskirts of Manchester (in Worsley, Salford) for a couple of years and liked Manchester from my first visit, quite a few years earlier (before the 1996 IRA bombing) although I don’t remember a lot about the first occasion I visited. It is partly because it reminds me, somehow, of my hometown, Barcelona. Not architecturally, or even for its location, but because of its history, its industrial past, and the way it has always been a driving and innovative place, despite not being the capital of the country (and yes, being in the North, I guess). It’s also a city that has reinvented itself many times, and like most big cities has undergone transformations and changes (some more successful than others). Oh, and of course, both have a Roman origin. (And the football. Let’s not forget football). So, when I saw this book and the description, I was convinced I’d enjoy it. And I did.

This book, as the description explains, is not a chronological account of the history of Manchester, although most chapters (but not all) do tend to deal with the topic at hand in a chronological fashion, when relevant. There are tonnes of images, mostly archival, and the author thanks the Chetham Library, the Greater Manchester Police Museum, and the Manchester Local Images Collection for their help and resources. They make the book a joy to leaf through and stop at whatever attracts one’s fancy, be it a drawing of some odd contraption (the chapter on Crime and Punishment is particularly fascinating on that account), or a picture of a building that might still be recognisable today. There are also highlighted boxes of text containing titbits of curious or remarkable information —from ghost legends to who Tom and Jerry where— and there is the rest of the text, that is packed with information: historical, sociological, artistic… written in an engaging and entertaining manner. At no point did I find myself wondering what happened next (when talking about buildings or historical figures), and many of the topics and the stories opened my eyes to places and people I’d like to know more about.

Manchester is a place of many firsts (some disputed, of course): like the oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking word, the first department store, the first telephone line in Britain, the first passenger railway line (a rather sad story behind it), the first Marks & Spencer shop (Marks started trading in Leeds but opened the first store with his partner in Manchester), the Manchester Exhibition that helped open art to the general public, the first lonely hearts ad (the poor woman was committed to the lunatic asylum for four weeks by the mayor, in 1727)… It also has seen quite a few  historical figures come and go, both international and local: Marx and Engels, Oswald Mosley, John Dalton (now I understand why the Eye Hospital is so important there), Harold Brighouse (I love Hobson’s Choice), Dodie Smith (101 Dalmatians), Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Raffald (an amazing entrepreneur who invented the ready meal, wrote a cookery book, created the first trade directory, run an employment agency…), Peter Mark Roget (the creator of the first thesaurus that’s become one of most writers’ best friend), Old Billy (the oldest horse who survived to be 62), Mark Addy (who rescued more than 50 people from the river), Alfred Pierrepoint (who held the record for the world’s fastest hanging, at only 8 seconds, at Strangeways Prison), Ernest Rutherford, Marie Stopes, Alan Turing…

The book is divided into 21 chapters, which can be read individually, and works perfectly well as a reference book for anybody looking for information about Manchester, its people and influences. It is fairly comprehensive as it includes: early history, from town to city, conditions of the working class, politics, to battle!, religion, crime & punishment, health, education, science & technology, transport, the press, entertainment, creative Manchester, ‘incomers’ (the great explosion in population following the industrial revolution makes one think about current international concerns and the sheer difference in scale), disaster!, Manchester characters,  what’s in a name, shopping, iconic buildings (past and present), and sports. There is a certain overlap of content in the chapters: what’s in a name, shopping, and iconic buildings, because some of the relevant information is shared in other chapters as well depending on the subject, although that is an advantage for those thinking of the book as a reference or for research, rather than reading it from beginning to end. And I thought that “what’s in a name”, which looks at where the names of many streets come from and how they have changed, could be followed as a guide to explore the city for anybody interested in a historical tour.

The book also includes a bibliography and an index that should further aid those keen on locating specific information or looking for precise research topics.

In sum, this is a highly entertaining and informative book that I recommend to anybody who’s ever wondered about Manchester’s history (or the history of the UK). It can be read whole or by topics and it also makes for a great reference book. It is full of inspiration for writers and historians trying to get a sense of how things have changed over time and to get a perspective on the evolution of a city and its people. Fabulous.

Thanks to Rosie and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade (@penswordbooks) #sci-fi

Hi all:

I’m sharing a review for another of Pen & Sword’s books today, one that I think will delight many of you.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction. A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade
The Golden Age of Science Fiction. A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: A Journey into Space with 1950s Radio, TV, Films, Comics and Books by John Wade. Wonderful illustrations, gloriously nostalgic and charming.

John Wade grew up in the 1950s, a decade that has since been dubbed the ‘golden age of science fiction’. It was a wonderful decade for science fiction, but not so great for young fans. With early television broadcasts being advertised for the first time as ‘unsuitable for children’ and the inescapable barrier of the ‘X’ certificate in the cinema barring anyone under the age of sixteen, the author had only the radio to fall back on – and that turned out to be more fertile for the budding SF fan than might otherwise have been thought. Which is probably why, as he grew older, rediscovering those old TV broadcasts and films that had been out of bounds when he was a kid took on a lure that soon became an obsession. For him, the super-accuracy and amazing technical quality of today’s science fiction films pale into insignificance beside the radio, early TV and B-picture films about people who built rockets in their back gardens and flew them to lost planets, or tales of aliens who wanted to take over, if not our entire world, then at least our bodies. This book is a personal account of John Wade’s fascination with the genre across all the entertainment media in which it appeared – the sort of stuff he revelled in as a young boy – and still enjoys today.

https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Age-Science-Fiction-Journey/dp/1526729253/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Age-Science-Fiction-Journey/dp/1526729253/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Golden-Age-of-Science-Fiction-Hardback/p/15998

Author John Wade
Author John Wade

About the Author

John Wade is a freelance writer and photographer, with more than forty years’ experience in both fields. He has written, illustrated, edited and contributed to more than thirty books, plus numerous magazine articles, for book and magazine publishers in the UK, US and Australia. His specialities are photographic history and techniques, as well as social history. His most recent books include The Ingenious Victorians (Pen & Sword, 2016), and London Curiosities (Pen & Sword, 2017).

https://www.johnwade.org/

My review:

My thanks to Rosie Croft and to Pen & Sword for sending me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review, and I recommend to fans of the genre (the illustrations alone are a delight and worth recommending).

This is a book at very personal for the author (Wade explains early on why he chose the 1950s in particular, and although I agree with him, I am sure many might not) and at the same time packed with information that will delight casual readers and also those looking for anecdotes and a quick and easy catalogue of resources about the science-fiction genre in the 1950s. I am not an expert in science-fiction, and although I suspect that those who are might not find anything truly new here, there are nuggets of information and also the personal details and anecdotes collected by the author that help bring to life some of the lesser known facts about the individuals who played an important part in making the genre important and popular, especially in the UK in the 1950s.

The book is divided into five chapters that delve into science-fiction in different popular media: radio, television, films, books, and comics and magazines. As I have already mentioned, the book’s focus is on the UK, although it also includes the USA, but I felt the amount of detail included about British radio and TV programmes is one of the strong points of the book. Not having been around in the 1950s and growing up elsewhere, I was fascinated by the information about how the radio programmes came to be (I am a radio fan, and I’m always keen on learning more about it) and also how British television worked in its early years. Imagining trying to broadcast a science-fiction story life in a studio (in black-and-white, of course) makes one’s mind boggle in this era of computer-generated special effects and high-tech, and I loved the anecdotes and the pictures about it. It felt like travelling back in time.

I was more familiar with the information about films (although there are many mentioned I’ve never watched, and I’ll be on the lookout for in the future), and books (Wade chooses to talk in more detail about John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, with mentions of many other writers as well), but even within those subjects I discovered things I didn’t know and kept writing down the titles of books and stories to try and get hold of. The chapter on comics and magazines talks more about the genre in the USA, the differences with the British scene (and the difficulties some of the magazines had due to the somewhat “lurid” covers, at least to the British taste of the time), and also the crossover from one medium to another (already evident when magazine serials moved onto the radio, or popular radio programmes ended up on the telly).

I’ve mentioned the illustrations, and as you can guess from the cover, these are wonderful. There are pictures, drawings, movie posters, book and magazine covers, comic strips… Although there isn’t a full bibliography (I suspect much of the information comes from the author’s own archives), there is detailed information about most of the illustrations, in case readers want to use them in their own research.

Wade has a conversational and easy writing style, and he is happy to share his own opinions and memories of programmes, books, comics, and his personal experiences with those involved as well, and it can easily and quickly be read from cover to cover, it would also work perfectly well as a book to pick up, look at the illustrations, and read about whatever piques the curiosity, or simply enjoy the imagination of the artists of the era and compare some of the images with later reality.

This is a book that will bring joy to many people, and not only to those who are into science-fiction, but also readers who want to relive their memories of the time, or who have become attached to the programmes or the stories in later years (Quartermass, Dan Dare, The Lost Planet, Superman, The Day of the Triffids, The Eagle and many others). And anybody who might be looking for a source of casual information (writers, for example) will also enjoy this easy-to-read resource.  I am not sure everybody will finish the book convinced that the Fifties were the golden age of science fiction, but I bet anybody reading it will be delighted.

And I leave you with the dedication:

For everyone who understands the true significance of the words ‘Klaatu barada nikto’.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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