Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

Tigerland by Sean Kennedy

  • Title: Tigerland
  • Author: Sean Kennedy
  • Series: Tigers & Devils, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ (M/M)
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($6.99 ebook)
  • Length: 295 pages
  • Trope(s): Established Relationship, Smartass Hero, Celebrity Athlete Hero, Beta Hero (x2!), Evil Ex
  • Quick blurb: Just as their lives are moving beyond the celebrity-coming-out scrutiny, an attention-whore asshole ex resurfaces to prey on every insecurity.
  • Quick review: I think everyone should read this book. But first read Tigers & Devils. And then read them both again because they’re THAT GOOD.
  • Grade: A

I reached forward and grabbed Dec’s hand. It pulled him back a little, and he turned, surprised. Then he smiled, a smile so full of love and tenderness it seemed to be brighter than everything around us — the white sand, the sun reflecting off the surface of the waves — it could envelop me and swallow me whole. The mantra I often repeat to myself in one of these rare moments of PDA begins: This is for those times when I want to take his hand, or he wants to take mine, but we don’t feel safe enough. This is for those times other couples get to take for granted, but we have to snatch in limited amounts when they become available to us. This is for those times when I can’t do such a simple thing as hold the hand of Dec as the tiniest gesture of affection and to show him how much I love him.

Simon is the best wanky smartass EVER and Dec is a saint for putting up with him, and I want every couple who feels ashamed or afraid to have lovely intimate moments like these and big fat happily ever afters. Holy CRAP, I love these guys.

The Duchess War and A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

The Duchess War

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

  • Title: The Duchess War
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.99 ebook)
  • Length: ??? pages (5068 Kindle locations)
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Parental Issues, In Disguise, Virgin Hero, Smartass Heroine, Blundering Hero
  • Quick blurb: Progressive but guilt-ridden duke brings unwanted attention to heroine who’s desperate to remain an overlooked wallflower.
  • Quick review: A lot I really liked and a few things that just didn’t work.
  • Grade: B-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “I’m winning,” he announced. “You can’t bore me into a surrender.”
  2. “Don’t tell me to look up. Don’t ask me to want. If I do, I’ll never survive.”
  3. “I’ve always found that the quickest way to make someone relent in his foolish edicts is to take every command literally and to perform it with flagrant obedience.”
  4. “A paste emergency!” she huffed. “A paste assault, that’s what we had.”
  5. It wasn’t fair that he could rob her heart of anger and her lungs of air with just one word.
  6. “The male of the human species has a fundamental flaw. At the moment when we most want to say something clever and impressive, all the blood rushes from our brains.”
  7. His voice was rough when he spoke again. “So beat me to flinders,” he said. “Win. Overmatch me, Minnie. And when we’re alone…” His fingers touched her chin lightly. “When we’re alone,” he whispered, “look up.”
  8. She was a shard of stained glass, casting colors about the room, and yet capable of slicing everything she touched.
  9. “No,” Minnie said bitterly. “I earned this, fair and square.” Well, maybe it hadn’t been fair. And maybe it hadn’t been precisely square. Still, she’d earned it legally. Legally and…rectangularly. That would have to do.
  10. It was messy and slippery and wrong, and it felt so, so damned right.

Stuff I liked:

  1. Heroine named Minerva. I am a complete sucker for this.
  2. Hero who’s an anti-Duke.
  3. Heroine who isn’t a TSTL doormat.
  4. Victorian NON-LONDON, NON-COUNTRY-HOUSE-PARTY setting.
  5. Relationship between Robert and his illegitimate half-brother Oliver (“…because he chose me first”).
  6. Robert struggling with his loyalties between Minnie and Oliver.
  7. Severe anxiety issue that doesn’t evaporate with a Magical Orgasm Cure.
  8. Awkward wedding night with Robert shutting his eyes and thinking of England and Minnie unashamedly taking matters into her own hands (literally).
  9. Dowager Duchess swooping in à la Lady Catherine de Bourgh and then acknowledging the literary reference herself.
  10. The non-threatening reason for the “Brothers Sinister” name of the series.

Stuff that didn’t work for me:

  1. Repetitive angstifying (on both sides) after the meet-cute and before the Paste Incident. I really struggled with the book until I got past the halfway point.
  2. Needlessly blatant telegraphing of yet another upcoming round of angst (“…a blood-red portent of things to come”).
  3. The over-the-topness of the Dowager Duchess (except for the incident mentioned above) with a complete personality overhaul in the schmaltzy epilogue as she turns into the perfect grandparent.
  4. The goat rampage. Yes, I was warned, but sheesh. Was that really necessary? I think NOT.
  5. On the whole, I found it surprisingly earnest and heavy-handed, without Milan’s trademark dark humor that sets her writing apart.

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A Kiss for Midwinter

A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan

  • Title: A Kiss for Midwinter
  • Author:  Courtney Milan
  • Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 121 pages
  • Trope(s): Ruined by a Rake Predator, Parental Issues, Blundering Hero, Non-Euphemistic References to Naughty Bits
  • Quick blurb: Eleventh prettiest girl in Leicester rebuffs wooing of doctor who knows her secret.
  • Quick review: I loved this one almost as much as A Governess Affair.
  • Grade: A-

Favorite quotes:

  1. “Work your way on to number twelve,” she snapped. “Number eleven wants nothing more to do with you.”
  2. But it was too late. Miss Lydia Charingford wasn’t just on the list. She was the list, and he hoped God would have mercy on his soul.
  3. She leaned in and whispered. “Let me tell you a secret. I’m not stupid.”
  4. “Well,” she finally said, “you’re doing it wrong.”
  5. Even if she swooned at whatever poetic nonsense he managed to spout, she would only be disappointed once they grew comfortable with each other and he went back to making jokes about death and gonorrhea.
  6. “Maybe,” he said, “I’m thinking that the days are dark and long, that midwinter is approaching. Maybe, Miss Charingford, all I really want is a kiss.”
  7. “I believe,” he said, “that there is a special place in hell for those who steal truth. And that man—whoever he is—I hope he is burning there.”
  8. “Once you speak,” he said, “you have no equal.”
  9. “Sometimes,” she said, “it feels like there are some hurts that can only be cured by this. By warmth. And touch.”
  10. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a question about gonorrhea. Those questions are so much easier to answer.”
  11. There was the mistletoe piled on a market table, a poisonous, parasitic reminder that kisses could lie.
  12. Even the way he talked to her. It was outrageous. It was blunt. It was impossible. And it was…precisely what she needed, the truth boned and filleted without garnish or flourish, placed in front of her for her decision. He made her wants seem ordinary instead of dark and dangerous.
  13. “The truth isn’t a gift,” she told him. “It’s a terror. And every time I look at you, I feel it.
  14. He’d never noticed before how much a breath could say. It seemed more than the transportation of air to lungs. The act of breathing with another person—of accepting silence together, of simply living in tune with the rhythm of someone else’s existence—was deeply intimate. They said more to each other with quiet respiration than they’d managed in sixteen months of bickering. [*SWOON*]
  15. I only said I would stop talking to you, he’d written. I never promised to stop loving you. [O.M.G. *~*~*SWOON*~*~* <thud>]

(Yes, I know that was longer than the list for the longer novel. Just shut up and keep reading.)

Stuff I loved:

  1. Blundering hero who knows when to just shut up and listen.
  2. Troubled heroine who finally learns to start talking.
  3. Lydia’s quiet but loving-no-matter-what relationship with her parents, especially her father.
  4. Jonas struggling with love for and utter frustration with his aging father, and no Magic Grandchild Cure in the epilogue.
  5. Jokes about gonorrhea. This novella had all the dark humor the novel was missing.
  6. The sense of equality between Lydia and Jonas, as a romantic couple and as equally important characters who are never shoved to the sidelines for the sake of the plot.
  7. The achingly lovely intimate moments with no dialogue.
  8. Use of the word “ensorcellment.”
  9. Non-kissy references to mistletoe. Yes, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m bitter and cranky and I haven’t started drinking yet. Shut up.
  10. Fascinating history without gratuitous info-dumping. I love it when authors are bigger nerds than I am.

Stuff I didn’t love:

  1. The premise seemed a bit too similar to A Governess Affair, with a gruff but sensitive hero overcoming the fears of a ruined heroine.
  2. See item #1. Other than that, I got nothing.

One-Quote Review(s): The Wild Quartet by Miranda Neville

The Second Seduction of Lady by Miranda Neville

  • Title: The Second Seduction of a Lady
  • Author:  Miranda Neville
  • Series: The Wild Quartet, Book 0.5
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($1.99 ebook)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Ruined by a Rake, Big Misunderstanding, Wicked Wager
  • Quick blurb: Five years after a torrid encounter, a repentant gentleman gets a second chance with the stubborn woman he still loves.
  • Quick review: Nothing heart-stopping, but everything a prequel novella should be.
  • Grade: B

It wasn’t a deep kiss but a slow investigation of taste and texture, a scouting trip with the promise of a full exploration.

This novella wasn’t  an all-out swoon, but I loved how the quiet moments between Max and Eleanor showed a more mature and hard-earned romance in contrast to the ill-fated insta-love of their impulsive wards.

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The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville

  • Title: The Importance of Being Wicked
  • Author:  Miranda Neville
  • Series: The Wild Quartet, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, November 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Gambling Fever, Widow, Beta Hero, Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: Staid duke in need of an heiress is enthralled by his intended’s impetuous but impoverished chaperone.
  • Quick review: A bit iffy in the middle, but a full-swoon ending makes it worth the read.
  • Grade: B

The Duke of Castleton had been delightfully stuffy and teasable, and she’d managed not to make a fool of herself by leaping on him and ripping off his clothes.

Loved the relationship-building in the first half (especially the slug-fest at the masked ball), then got really annoyed with both of them, but they finally got their heads out of their asses and I got all swoony at the end.

One-Quote Review: A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

  • Title: A Notorious Countess Confesses
  • Author:  Julie Anne Long
  • Series: Pennyroyal Green, Book 7
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Hot Vicar, Soiled Dove, Widow, Small Town, Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: A newly widowed former courtesan asks a handsome village vicar to help her make friends.
  • Quick review: A worthy addition to the series, but not one of Long’s best.
  • Grade: B

Yes…yes! He felt a twinge of something! It was coming now!

He scrawled:

I kissed her I kissed her I kissed her

Well.

As a sermon, it was a failure, but his parishioners would doubtless find it edifying.

Notorious Countess worked much better for me than the previous book in the series. (Where in the hell did those people come from and why should I care? And I didn’t care, because I don’t remember anything about it beyond the cheesy title). This one is a bit more fairy tale-ish than her other books, but Long still manages to pull off the tricky balance of broad humor and intimate yearning.

Another romance novel art that Long consistently does really, really well is showing, not telling, how her hero and heroine fall in love. It might be insta-lust or even insta-love, but by the time the first kiss happens, we know why her characters are drawn to each other.

I also appreciated that both the vicar and the courtesan did a lot of self-reflection and said some very hurtful but honest things to each other. HOWEVER…I was disappointed in how their interactions with the rest of the village were perfectly scripted to make them always come out on top of the uncomfortable situations.

And despite my recently admitted weakness for Grand Gestures, this ending was WAY too Love, Actually, with shamefaced parisioners standing up and spouting Magical Bible Verses like the LA wedding guests with hidden trumpets and trombones.

The Summoning of the Siblings bit was good, though — enough to make up for the goats and bring this up from a B- to a solid B.

[NOTE: I read an ARC, so I forced myself to ignore the dreadful editing fails. If that kind of WTFery had shown up in a published version I paid for, the grade would have been much, MUCH lower. Even so, my respect for Avon Books is diminished once again.]

The ‘Oh Crap It’s Only A Week Until Christmas’ Holiday Book Binge, Part 2

I did a LOT of reading last weekend. My house is a complete disaster and I DON’T CARE. Santa and his stupid Naughty List can just bite my big ol’ you-know-what.

Unless he’s bringing me stuff from my wish list. I might even actually fold all the laundry on the couch AND put it away for one of those books.

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Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats (Anthology)

Naughty & Nice: Three Holiday Treats anthology

  • Title: Naughty and Nice: Three Holiday Treats
  • Authors: Ruthie Knox, Molly O’Keefe and Stefanie Sloane
  • Series: Crooked Creek Ranch, Book 2.5 (O’Keeffe)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Historical
  • Publisher: Loveswept/Random House, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($1.99 ebook)
  • Length: 210 pages
  • Trope(s): Grand Gesture, Family Drama, Small Town Guilt, Recalcitrant Farm Animals (thankfully not a goat this time)
  • Quick blurb: An homage to It’s a Wonderful Life, an HFN contemporary prequel, and a boring and silly historical.
  • Quick review: It’s all about Room at the Inn.
  • Grade: B

Room at the Inn by Ruthie Knox

Mother of God, he had great hands.

Carson Vance can put those hands on me anytime. I have a major Author Crush on Ruthie Knox because she knows exactly how to Push My Buttons. Including the Gloriously Groveling Grand Gesture. She makes me use Initial Caps.

All I Want for Christmas Is You by Molly O’Keeffe

“Any promise you make…half of the promise is commitment and the other half is faith. Faith that your commitment is enough.”

This was my first by O’Keefe — I was disappointed in the story as an happy-for-now prequel, but there was enough honest emotion and realistic angst to keep her Crooked Creek Ranch series in my TBR queue.

One Perfect Christmas by Stephanie Sloane

Blast that word, “if.” Two letters, without which there was no hope.

Also a first for Sloane — unfortunately, nothing about this impressed me. I’m a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope and the MCs were likeable, but the story was oh-so-predictable and I found some of the smexing to be awkward instead of sexy.

Any Regency has to be very, very different to stand out among the hundreds of others out there, and this one was just too cookie-cutter to be memorable.

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Twelve Days by Ros Clarke

Twelve Days by Ros Clarke

  • Title: Twelve Days
  • Author: Ros Clarke
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Provided by the author (99¢ ebook)
  • Length: 35 pages
  • Trope(s): Big Misunderstanding (Big. HUGE.), Family Drama, Reunited, Flash Mob
  • Quick blurb: A public marriage proposal doesn’t go quite as planned.
  • Quick review: Sad-cry + happy-cry = *happysigh* (all in only 35 pages!)
  • Grade: B+

The singers had already reached the three French hens verse, and on cue a chicken ran across the road.

For anyone who cringed at the grand gesture in Room at the Inn, read this. Trust me.

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Wish List by Sylvia Day

Wish List by Sylvia Day

  • Title: Wish List
  • Author: Sylvia Day
  • Series: White Hot Holidays
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2005 (originally published January 2005 by Ellora’s Cave)
  • Source: Amazon, $2.51 ebook
  • Length: 40 pages
  • Trope(s): Lawyers, Secret Santa, Secret [NO SPOILERS!]
  • Quick blurb: Law firm Secret Santa gift exchange gives attorney the opportunity to fulfill his colleague’s no-longer-secret wish list.
  • Quick review: Hero goes from Alpha to Beta in only 40 pages. I love it when that happens.
  • Grade: B+

“This isn’t about getting laid,” he insisted hoarsely.

“I know.” Her hands clung to his straining, sweating back.

“This isn’t temporary.”

“I – I…”

This is another author first (I know, I know), but I shall remedy that soon.

The ‘Oh Crap It’s Only A Week Until Christmas’ Holiday Book Binge, Part 1

I was going to call these “lightning” reviews, but I’m going with “magical reindeer fly-by” reviews because they’re more ephemeral than electrocution-inducing.

Yes, I’m an Alliteration Whore.

In no particular order….

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‘Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

'Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

  • Title: ‘Twas the Night After Christmas
  • Author: Sabrina Jeffries
  • Series: Hellions of Halstead Hall, Book 6
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Gallery Books, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Angst, Big Misunderstandings, Parental Issues, Smartass Heroine, Alpha Hero Who’s Secretly a Beta Hero, Plot Moppet
  • Quick blurb: A widowed hired companion tries to reunited her unseen rakish employer with his long-estranged mother.
  • Quick review: Angsty and gooey and predictable, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.
  • Grade: A-

She kissed like a woman who didn’t know her own sensual power. Most women did – even the virginal ones. The fact that she didn’t made him want to show it to her. Graphically. Thoroughly. Over and over, until she realized what he’d known since the moment she first stood up to him – that she was one of those rare women who understood how the game was played…and then played it by her own rules.

This might be my favorite of the Hellions of Halstead Hall series. Yes, the setup is standard formula romance, but Jeffries really pulls it off by making this a very intimate and emotional and oozingly romantic story.

The minus in the A- minus is for the price — I know it’s a full novel and not just a novella, but it’s Christmas, for crying out loud. And don’t try to use “But we released it in October!” as an excuse.

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Red Hot Holiday (Anthology)

Red Hot Holiday anthology from Carina Press

  • Title: Red Hot Holiday
  • Author(s): Anne Calhoun, K.A. Mitchell and Leah Braemel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Erotica
  • Publisher: Carina Press, December 2012
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 262 pages
  • Trope(s): Angst, Big Misunderstandings, BDSM, Menage, Beta Heroes, Widow
  • Quick blurb: A unique and unexpected mix of holiday-themed erotic stories
  • Quick review: A bit uneven, but definitely not the usual gooey Christmas schmaltz
  • Grade: B-

Wish List by K.A. Mitchell

“Feel small, like I could crawl inside you, but big too, like all of you would fit inside me.”

I have read and will continue to read anything and everything by K.A. Mitchell, and I *love* that a non-Christmas, non-het story was included in this anthology.

I Need You for Christmas by Leah Braemel

“I wasn’t the only one who pulled Kevin out of the water. It was a team effort.”

“I know. But I’m not in love with any of them.”

I’m generally not a big fan of Gift of the Magi takeoffs, because the conflict and resolution are always so blatantly telegraphed, and this was no exception. The fact that the heroine was a kick-ass Mountie and the hero was a believable Sensitive Artist almost made up for some of the external melodrama — but not enough for the gratuitous sex swing.

Breath on Embers by Annie Calhoun

Ronan the Rescuer loomed over her, big and tough and willing to throw himself at whatever fire appeared, literal or metaphorical, but this wasn’t hot flames. This was the cold fire of hell no one could rescue her from, because nothing was wrong, except her husband was dead.

Like nearly every other reader, I was blown away by Calhoun’s gorgeous writing — the balance of characters and setting and holiday angst was perfect. HOWEVER… I know I’m in the minority on this… I felt the resolution of the conflict was a cop-out to make this story more “erotic” and fulfill a “Stop the presses! We need a menage!” trope quota — even more than the gratuitous sex swing. I just didn’t buy it.

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A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley

A MacKenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley

  • Title: A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift
  • Author: Jennifer Ashley
  • Series: Highland Pleasures, Book 4.5
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Trope(s): Family Reunion, Big Misunderstanding(s), Plot Moppets (a LOT of them), Pregnant Ladies (a LOT of them), Testosterone in Kilts (a LOT of it)
  • Quick blurb: The Boys of Scotland and their Lovely Lassies and all their children and pets and servants and horses and in-laws.
  • Quick review: If you love the MacKenzies, you’ll probably read this book and like it. Just like me.
  • Grade: B

Hart looked like someone had kicked him repeatedly.

Every single character from all four previous books was crammed into this book, along with their numerous spawn. Those who weren’t the main characters of their own book all got smoochy cameos in this one, including Crabby Old Fart-Muffin (my son’s favorite epithet) half-brother Lloyd Fellows AND Bellamy the Boxing Butler (oh, fine then, he’s a valet, but that’s not alliterative).

The subtitle of “The Perfect Gift” was the often obscured yet charming plot thread, but it really wasn’t the point. It did, however, remind me how much I looove Ian and Beth and then I had to go and read their book again. And then I had to double-check to make sure I had Elliot’s book AND Daniel’s book on my “Coming Soon But Not Soon Enough Hurry the Hell Up” list.

One-Quote Review: A Question of Time by Joanne Renaud

A Question of Time by Joanne Renaud

  • Title: A Question of Time
  • Author: Joanne Renaud
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Fantasy/PNR
  • Publisher: Champagne Books, November 2012
  • Source: Provided by the author ($3.99 ebook)
  • Length: 112 pages
  • Trope(s): Time Travel (god help me), Teacher Crush, Reunited, Beta Hero
  • Quick blurb: Fantasy author finds herself transported to her high school days, where she realizes she has a chance to save a favorite teacher from death.
  • Quick review: An alternately angsty and lighthearted 1980s’s flashback — but I found myself thinking about it for DAYS after I finished reading it.
  • Grade: B

Why, she could take her salad fork and jam it into her wrist right now, and it would probably really hurt.

It’s a good thing this story was a “stable time loop,” or I would probably never forgive Ms. Renaud for suckering me into reading another time travel book. However, the 1980s setting was a welcome reminder of why I skipped a certain milestone (mumblety-fifth) high school reunion this year.

But I still don’t understand what “stable time loop” means, because a loop could get all twisty like a Möbius strip and that’s all ABTRACT MATH and ABSTRACTION seems inherently UNSTABLE *shudder*. That makes the OCD part of my brain work really hard to kick its way past the “woohoo, party like it’s 1989!” part. And that’s why I kept thinking and thinking about the story arc and resolution of this book.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have any spectacled swoon-worthy teachers like Alan Forrest, because the opportunities for public embarrassment would have been exponentially higher.

This is probably one of the most blathering and unhelpful reviews I’ve written so far. I blame the sinister influence of time travel on my fragile cranial ecosystem. Also, I was so caught up in reminiscing about KITT and teal shadow and bitch flips that I forgot to eat lunch.

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NOTE: I did manage to resist the nearly overwhelming urge to use a “Rickrolled by God” quote. You’re welcome.