Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Au Pair and the Beast + Giveaway

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The Au Pair and the Beast
Aurora Russell

Word Count: 54,799
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 205
Genres: BILLIONAIRE, CHICK LIT, CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, FAIRYTALES

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Book Description

 

Veronica’s new job comes with a darling little boy, a Gothic castle and…a beast?

When recently laid-off Francophile Veronica Carson is recommended for an au pair job by the elegant leader of her French conversation group, she isn’t sure what to expect—but a Gothic castle deep in the wilds of Maine is certainly not it. Still, she’s drawn in by her joyful little charge, Jean-Philippe, and even more drawn to his brooding father.

Ruthlessly successful businessman Alain Reynard has loved before and has no wish to repeat the painful experience. The tragedy of his recent past is still fresh in his mind, and he wants nothing to do with his son’s lovely new au pair. Despite his best efforts, though, he can’t seem to get her off his mind.

A passionate romance begins to blossom but is put to the test when painful reminders of Alain’s past return. As ugly rumors swirl, the truths of the past and the present collide. Veronica must decide if Alain really is a beast and, if so, whether she can love him enough to break through the dark memories and secrets that tether him to what once was.

Excerpt

“Wait… He’s sending his own car and driver to pick you up from the train station? And take you to his castle? How deliciously Gothic! It’s probably set high up on some cliffs, overlooking an impossibly picturesque view of waves crashing onto the rocks.”

Veronica quirked her lips into a smile at Katrin’s words as they crackled through her cell phone, the reception seeming to go in and out as she rode along. Her best friend had a pronounced flair for the dramatic, which had only been enhanced by a number of drama classes in college.

“Well, when you put it that way…it does sound pretty glamorous,” she laughingly agreed. “If it looks anything like that, I’ll definitely text a picture of the view, complete with fog and sea spray.”

Her friend’s answering chuckle was amused. “How does Madame Montreaux know this guy again?”

Thinking back on it, Veronica wasn’t sure the woman who led her French conversation group had ever actually told her…not specifically, anyway. “Weird. I’m not really sure… She just pulled me aside after our group one day and mentioned she’d heard about a job she thought I might be perfect for, you know, since she knew I’d lost my job when Dumfries & Partners was acquired. I got the impression—maybe just from her voice or something?—that he’s some sort of family friend, but she was super skimpy on details.” She drummed her fingers on her armrest as she considered. “I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before they even sent me the job description.”

“Hmm-m.” The one short word seemed filled with both skepticism and suspicion. “How old are the kids?”

“Just one child. A boy. I think he’s four… Not in school yet, but he goes to preschool.”

Veronica watched as the increasingly rural and wooded landscape flew by outside the window. The day was gray and dreary, but the beauty of the wilds of Maine was still undeniable. The well-modulated, incongruously feminine automated voice of the announcer came over the loudspeakers.

Next stop, Grant’s Cliff. Grant’s Cliff is a flagged stop. Please notify the conductor if you are getting off at this stop.”

Excitement and nerves combined into one powerful spark that set off a flurry of butterflies in Veronica’s stomach, even as she stood and started to gather up her things.

“Sorry, K… Gotta go. They just called my stop. Call you later, okay?”

“Yes! Call, text, everything… I’ll be waiting impatiently to hear that you haven’t been chained up in this guy’s basement—or dungeon. Whatever. Be careful! And good luck!”

Cradling the phone between her shoulder and cheek as she reached for her bag from the overhead storage, Veronica barked a laugh, and it was muffled. “Thank you?”

“Anytime! Bye!”

“Bye,” Veronica answered, letting her bag drop into the seat and clicking to end the call on her phone. And it seemed it wasn’t a moment too soon as she caught the conductor’s eye and the train began to slow. She’d told him earlier where she was getting off and she was glad she had, since it didn’t look like anyone else on the train was making a move to leave. Grant’s Cliff was apparently not a popular destination.

“Right this way, miss.” The conductor’s weathered face creased into a kindly smile as he motioned her with one work-hardened hand.

“Thanks.” She gave an answering grin and slipped the strap of her suitcase over her shoulder crosswise, sliding it to her back so she could hurry down the center aisle more easily. “Am I the only one getting off?”

“A-yup,” he said, his Maine accent plain. She thought that was all he’d say, but as she stepped out of the open door onto the small platform, she heard him add, “Not much out here nowadays, apart from the castle and the beast.”

Startled, she turned back, but the doors had already swished closed and the train began to pull away. Okay then.

She turned back and surveyed the deserted station. It was really more of a booth set next to a concrete slab platform with steps leading up to it. The metal sign for the station name was no bigger than a street sign and looked weathered. The dreary day had given way to fog, and now that the train had left, the only sound was the muffled rustling of the wind through thousands of trees. Where the heck is the driver? she wondered. Even as she looked around, half of her mind was still on the conductor’s strange words. What did he mean by the beast? Why hasn’t anyone else mentioned it? Is this, like, a hotspot for sasquatch hunters? Or the home of a rogue grizzly? Wait! Are there even grizzly bears in Maine? She thought maybe there were only black bears. But still, a rogue black bear could definitely be a beast.

When someone’s gentle hand touched her shoulder, pulling her from her thoughts, she screeched and jumped what felt like three feet off the ground.

“Mademoiselle Carson? Veronica Carson?” The middle-aged man’s accent was unmistakably French, and he pronounced her first name as Vehr-oh-nee-ka. She quickly raised her hand to her neck where her pulse was still racing.

“Yes,” she nodded, a little breathless. “So sorry. I didn’t hear anyone.”

The man, who she noticed now was wearing a dark suit and even a driver’s hat, smiled understandingly. “The fog. When it is thick like this, well…everything is hushed.”

“Of course, that makes sense.” She was relieved at such a simple explanation.

He held out his hand formally. “Claude Hormet, in service to Monsieur Reynard for many years.”

She held her hand to meet his, and it was immediately taken into a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, Monsieur Hormet.”

His smile widened at her pronunciation of his name, and she thought she saw surprise flicker in his eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mademoiselle. We were told you spoke French well, and I can already hear it, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I’m happy to switch over if you’d like, so you can really hear me.”

Monsieur Hormet smiled again. “I would enjoy that, but later. For now, I will escort you to the château.”

He took her bag from her and led her to a shiny, black Lincoln sedan that looked pristine in spite of the fact that it must have been at least thirty years old. He opened the back door, and once she’d slid onto the back seat, he gave a little bow before closing the door behind her. She didn’t even hear the trunk close after he’d put her suitcase in, and when they began to move, the ride was so smooth that it felt like they were floating.

Monsieur Hormet didn’t speak again, and sensing that it would possibly be considered too informal for her to initiate conversation, Veronica maintained silence as well. Instead, she took out her folder with a copy of her resume and list of references. She reviewed her notes again, but they were sparse. From the barebones details that had accompanied the job description, she really didn’t know a lot about the open position and still didn’t know anything more about her prospective employer than his last name, so she rehearsed again in her head what she could say about her experience.

She was so deep in thought, comfortable on the sumptuous leather of the seats, that she didn’t really look up until the car began to slow. Then…wow. The mansion that loomed before her was truly a castle, made of stone with towers and turrets. If it had had a moat and not located in Maine, she would not have been surprised if someone had told her it was from the Middle Ages.

She must have made some sort of sound because Monsieur Hormet caught her gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Ah, the château is beautiful, no?”

Looking back at the lines of the massive structure, Veronica noticed that they were surprisingly delicate as well. Large it might be, but this was also a masterpiece of artistry, balanced and elegant. Still trying to look at every part of the castle at the same time, she answered with enthusiasm, “Oh yes, absolutely gorgeous!”

They pulled up right to the front steps, and Monsieur Hormet came around to help her out of the car. The air that buffeted her face was cooler than at the train station, damp and heavy, carrying the unmistakable salty tang of the ocean. She curved her lips into a small smile when she heard the distant crash of waves on something. Katrin was going to be overjoyed that her guess had to be at least partly correct.

“If you’ll follow me, Mademoiselle, I’ll show you to the large salon.” Monsieur Hormet glanced at the front windows and nodded slightly at some small movement inside. “Eveline will let Monsieur Reynard know you’ve arrived.”

Still craning her neck as discreetly as possible to see everything at once, Veronica followed him up a large number of stone steps and into the château. She had only a glimpse of the enormous entry hall before they went down a spacious hallway into a room that looked like some sort of formal parlor. There were several seating areas around the room, and he motioned for her to sit in a straight-backed armchair in the cluster nearest to the windows. Even with the fog, she could still tell that the windows here overlooked the ocean. A gray-green expanse of icy-cold Atlantic water, the view looked imposing rather than inviting. She loved it.

Fighting the urge to press her nose to the glass of the windowpanes, she sat down on the chair instead in what she hoped was a professional, dignified manner. She took out the folder once again and waited. An ornate gilded clock, which looked like an antique that would have been at home in the art museum in Boston, ticked, and the sound was loud in the otherwise-silent room. At the snick of the door handle turning, she leaped to her feet and turned to greet her interviewer. The figure that entered was considerably shorter and faster than she’d expected, though.

As he barreled toward her at full tilt, Veronica saw that the little boy had a mass of golden-blond hair, bright blue eyes and cheeks that glowed pink with good health. His happy face was dominated by a huge grin. She braced for possible impact, but he stopped abruptly right in front of her and eyed her curiously.

“You’re pretty,” he said in French, “but I don’t like your coat. I’m not supposed to say ‘hate’ or ‘ugly’.” He looked up at her expectantly.

Veronica stifled a laugh as she darted a glance down at her suit coat. It was something she’d bought for interviews, and she internally agreed that it wasn’t the most attractive thing she owned—more about practicality than fashion. But still…

“It sounds like you’re doing a good job listening, then,” she answered in French, skirting around the question. She set her folder, which she’d still been clutching, on the seat of the chair and crouched down so she was eye-level with the boy. “What’s your name? Mine is Veronica.”

“Jean-Philippe. Yvette says you’re here to take care of me, but only if Papa likes you. I don’t have a maman. She died. Our dog died too. Sometimes I get sad and cry and Papa says that’s okay.” Veronica’s heart clenched at the childish words, but she fought another laugh at what he said next. “Did you bring a present? Papa always brings a present and hides it in one of his pockets. Oncle Marius too. Is that why you’re wearing that coat, to hide presents?” He eyed her outfit with more enthusiasm.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jean-Philippe,” she answered, then shook her head regretfully. “I didn’t know, so no presents today, but I promise that if I stay, I’ll bring you something next time I go into town. How’s that?”

He bobbed his little head as he nodded, making his fine blond hair glint, even in the dim sunlight from the gloomy day. “That sounds good,” he agreed. “I hope you go to town soon.”

She couldn’t have hidden her smile this time if she’d tried, so she didn’t bother. Another noise made her look up again, toward the door, where a young woman stood, looking a bit harried. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, as if she’d been running. She wore some sort of uniform dress, not black-and-white but something about it made Veronica think she might be a maid or housekeeper. Her look at Jean-Philippe was a mix of exasperation and affection.

The man who entered on her heels, though, made Veronica shoot to her feet and straighten her back. He was tall, probably close to six-and-a-half feet, and his shoulders and chest were broad and muscular. He wore a suit that must have been custom-tailored to fit his large frame so perfectly, and he exuded an air of pure power. Confidence. She would have had to be blind or utterly oblivious not to feel an awareness of such a man.

Where his frame and his very presence seemed to fill the room, it was his face that really captivated her. Dark, wavy hair framed the most attractive face she thought she’d ever seen. He wasn’t what she would call handsome—his Roman nose was just a little too prominent—but his features were masculine, strong and absolutely stunning. His eyes, which she could tell even from this distance were a deep brown like melted dark chocolate and framed with thick dark lashes, seemed to see all the way into her from across the room. She felt goosebumps rise on her arms and up her neck, and she couldn’t seem to tear her own gaze away.

When he started to move, whatever spell that was keeping her silent was broken. To her surprise, she noticed that he walked with a cane in steps that looked like they carefully concealed pain.

“Oh, Monsieur, I’m so sorry. He got away from me when he was supposed to be following me,” the young woman apologized to the man who she guessed must be Monsieur Reynard.

He inclined his head slightly, and although his face remained impassive, Veronica somehow got the impression of tolerance.

“I understand, Yvette. You may return to your regular duties.” His voice was deep and rumbling, full of gravel. It rolled through the quiet room, filling every corner, though he spoke quietly.

The young woman gave a little bow and hurried from the room gratefully, leaving only Veronica, Jean-Philippe and Monsieur Reynard.

“Papa!” the little boy exclaimed, confirming Veronica’s guess at the identity of the man. She saw him grimace almost imperceptibly as his little boy crashed into his leg in a show of preschool affection.

“I see you’ve met Miss Carson, my son,” he said, looking at Veronica as he tousled the baby-fine mop of hair.

“Oh yes! Do you like her? Is she staying?”

The question fell heavily in the quiet room, and Veronica turned to pick up the folder again.

“I brought a copy of my resume and a list of references—”

“No need.” Monsieur Reynard interrupted her, gesturing with his hand as if to wave her words away. “I’ve seen enough. The job is yours.”

Veronica’s mouth fell open. “I, uh… We just met.”

He raised his dark eyebrows. “So we did.”

She shook her head. Why was he making her so unsettled? Good Heavens, she was usually more articulate than this! “I mean, you haven’t interviewed me. Don’t you want to know…more?”

He shrugged and inclined his head to one side. “Mademoiselle, I’m known for being a good judge of character, with very few exceptions. It’s part of what has made me so successful. Jean-Philippe needs someone who is good with children, experienced and speaks French. From what I heard, you are all of these things.”

Veronica felt a warm flush rising up her neck, straight to her cheeks then right on up to her hairline. For some reason, the idea of not being aware of this man, with his outsize presence, made her beyond flustered. “You were listening?” she asked in a voice that was, she congratulated herself, almost normal.

He shrugged in a wonderfully Mediterranean way. “Not on purpose, but the door was cracked open and sound carries down the hallway.”

Mentally replaying her conversation with Jean-Philippe, Veronica couldn’t figure out what she could possibly have said to warrant this instant acceptance. “And I said enough to give you such confidence?”

She thought she had gotten over her initial shock of awareness at how very handsome he was, like someone jumping into cold water who starts acclimating. She was wrong. When he turned the full force of his dark, soulful eyes on her and turned up the corners of his mouth in what might have been the beginnings of a smile, she nearly had to catch her breath. She felt the goosebumps rise again all over her arms.

“You did pass the background check with flying colors, and you must know your accent is beautiful. But mostly, you didn’t miss a beat when my son insulted your er…ensemble.” He motioned tactfully to her suit and she opened her mouth in indignation, only to snap it shut at his next words. “I truly believe you to be a young woman of good sense, patience and kindness. Those are qualities I value beyond all others.”

His praise warmed her and was so close to describing the kind of person she hoped she was that she felt like another piece clicked into the odd connection she might be starting to feel with him.

“Thank you. In that case, I accept the position.” He didn’t return her smile, but she thought maybe his eyes crinkled the slightest bit at the corners.

“I’ll have Monsieur Hormet bring in the paperwork. Come along, Jean-Phillipe,” he said, turning and making his slow, deliberate way to the door with a gait she suspected concealed very-well-hidden pain. Jean-Philippe overtook him to sprint out of the door before his father.

All in all, Veronica was feeling pretty darn satisfied and relieved at avoiding the stress of a real interview when she heard Monsieur Reynard’s last words before he left the room.

“Such a relief to meet a young woman who doesn’t trouble herself too much over her clothes.”

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About the Author

Aurora Russell

Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

You can find out more about Aurora at her website here.

Giveaway

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AURORA RUSSELL IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET YOUR FREE AURORA RUSSELL ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 9th March 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Silent Speak + Giveaway

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The Silent Speak
by Val Collins
Publication date: February 23rd 2021
Genres: Adult, Thriller

“There’s a lunatic out there who butchered five innocent people and nobody is looking for him.” 

Aoife Walsh has plenty keeping her busy—finalising her divorce from her manipulative husband, settling into her still-new relationship with Detective Conor Moloney, and trying to win the trust of his teenage son. So for the moment, her fledgeling career as a freelance journalist has been put on hold.

Then comes the horrific news that an entire family has been slaughtered in their own home. Aoife is shocked to discover two of the victims were members of her on-again-off-again book club. Even more disturbing is the revelation that the police believe it was a murder-suicide.

That’s when Aoife receives a tantalising offer. Lisa, the main suspect’s sister, will grant Aoife access to the victims’ extended family for an exclusive news story—if Aoife will help find the real killer. Moved by Lisa’s unwavering belief in her brother’s innocence, Aoife agrees to help.

As she digs into the secrets of her fellow book club members, Aoife discovers potential suspects everywhere: people having affairs, a jealous husband, and a power-hungry business partner who’s clearly hiding something.

Aoife keeps pulling at the threads of the story, untangling more and more deception. Is the killer really dead and buried? Is it someone Aoife already knows? Could the lunatic be closer than Aoife ever imagined?

You won’t be able to put down this twisty thriller from international bestselling author Val Collins.

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The Silent Speak

PROLOGUE:

She read the note again.

Twice in the past three years, similar notes had been splashed all over the newspapers. She knew immediately what it meant, but her brain wouldn’t allow her to process it. For several minutes she just stared at it. Her lips formed words that never came. When her brain caught up, it went straight to denial.

This could not be happening.

Things like this did not happen in ordinary families.

Not in families like hers.

She pulled down the door handle. The door was unlocked. That was a good sign, right? She would go into the house and find everything exactly as it had always been. There just had to be some simple explanation for that note. Yes, she nodded to herself, relieved to have come to a decision. She nudged the door open and put one foot on the wooden floor. The house was eerily quiet. No kids running around. No noise from the kitchen.

‘Now don’t panic,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Everything will be fine. Just go inside.’

She tried to lift her foot, but her brain wouldn’t cooperate. Hands shaking, she pulled out her mobile and dialled 999. She was still frozen in the doorway when the police arrived.

Author Bio:

Val Collins is the author of the award-winning psychological thriller GIRL TARGETED, the international bestseller ONLY LIES REMAIN and her new release THE SILENT SPEAK. All three books feature heroine Aoife Walsh.

A native of Ireland, Val began reading at the age of three and still devours books at the rate of one per week. Her favourite authors range from Philippa Gregory and Sophie Kinsella to Lee Child and Linwood Barclay.

Join Val online at valcollinsbooks.com, and on social media @valcollinsbooks.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Cinderellis +Giveaway

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Cinderellis
by Evie Drae
(Once Upon a Vegas Night #2)
Publication date: February 25th 2021
Genres: Adult, Fairy Tales, LGBTQ+, Retelling, Romance

As the son of music industry royalty and a famous rock star in his own right, Henry “Cinder” Cinderford has spent his life on the road. Craving stability, he signs on to do a special limited engagement in Las Vegas and plans to spend the next six months discovering the meaning of home.

After losing his mom at a young age, Ellis Tremaine survived a childhood with an abusive stepfather who took out his anger on the son he never wanted. Nearly two decades later, Ellis continues to struggle against the emotional manipulations of his family, even in his career. But when he meets none other than the Prince of Pop himself, things start to change.

From attraction to friendship to something so much more, Ellis and Cinder become the celebrity ‘ship known as “Cinderellis.” But when reality threatens their storybook romance, all they can do is hope there really is a happily ever after for every once upon a time.

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EXCERPT:

Ellis leaned his elbows on the handrail of the narrow metal catwalk overlooking the frontstage area and closed his eyes, allowing the music below to encompass him from all sides. Surrounding his senses. Filling his soul.

About three-quarters of the way through Cinder’s set, there was a song that dripped with passion and heart, making exquisite use of his stunning vibrato. It had become a favorite of Ellis’s almost from the get-go, most especially because its simplicity allowed him a moment to breathe, to open himself, and to fall heart-first into the music.

The constantly moving parts of the high-concept production ground to a halt during those three minutes and forty-two seconds. The fly space he occupied went still and quiet as a single bloodred spotlight focused on center stage, highlighting a lone wooden stool and a microphone stand. Following his third wardrobe change of the night, clad in skintight black jeans and a white ribbed tank, Cinder stepped onto the stage clutching the neck of an acoustic guitar. As if on cue, the audience swooned into the orchestrated mood change.

They all knew what came next, and with a soft, collective gasp, the whole theater held its breath. Then, like the beat of a heart, as Cinder rested a hip on the stool, adjusted the strap of his guitar, and drew the microphone close, the crowd exhaled as one.

With the first note of the now familiar song, Ellis’s chest tightened. Music had always held an important place in his life, affecting him in ways he couldn’t explain. But nothing in his twenty-six years on this earth had ever latched on to his very being the way Cinder could with his haunting tenor as it trembled up an octave before plunging in both register and depth. Straight into his heart.

He looked forward to this brief respite more and more each day, surprised to find himself curious about the man who made such soul-moving compositions. Ellis rarely cared about anything other than the music itself, but something about Cinder’s music was different. Something about Cinder was different; Ellis just couldn’t put his finger on what.

Growing up in Vegas with a stepfather in show business, Ellis had never been impressed by celebrity. He admired the effort that went into reaching and maintaining stardom, but he could say the same thing about a lot of jobs out there. If someone put in a full day of hard work, they earned his respect, no matter what the end goal or result.

But Ellis’s curiosity over Cinder wasn’t based on the novelty of his fame or even over the man himself. It was the music Ellis yearned to delve deeper into. It affected him in ways he didn’t understand, but he wanted to. It was like Cinder saw into a part of Ellis even he had never known was there, and he needed to know why… and how?

He wanted to put a face to the voice if only to prove Cinder was real. To prove the responses he drew from Ellis weren’t figments of his imagination. To prove he was still capable of emotions that ran so deep they could penetrate the walls he’d built around his fractured heart after his mom’s death.

To prove he could still feel.

Author Bio:

Evie Drae (Ze/Hir/Hirs) is a registered nurse by day and a best-selling, award-winning male/male romance writer by night. Ze has won first place in seven Romance Writers of America® (RWA®) competitions, including the prestigious title “Best of the Best” in the 2018 Golden Opportunity Contest. Ze was a double finalist in the 2019 Golden Heart® in both the Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense categories.

One of Evie’s favorite things to do is encourage hir fellow writers. To that end, ze started the #writeLGBTQ and #promoLGBTQ hashtags on Twitter to support and promote LGBTQ+ authors and allies while providing a safe space to connect and grow as a community. Ze is married to the love of hir life, is the parent of two wonderful fur babies, and runs almost entirely on coffee and good vibes.

Evie loves to link EvieDrae@gmail.com or find hir on hir social media accounts listed below. Twitter is where ze’s most active but be sure to check out hir blog too. Ze focuses on reviews for LGBTQ+ authors and allies with the occasional quirky advice/recommendation post just to toss things up.

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