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China's Bending Bodies
Mariam Ala-Rashi, MA
Modern Vaudeville Press
B09RQ435FQ, $9.99 Kindle
China's Bending Bodies: Contortionists and Politics in China is a research study monograph that covers the theories, history, and development of global contortionists. It is highly recommended as a foundation guide for any collection strong in in-depth circus history and culture.
Cultural anthropologist Mariam Ala-Rashi grounds her survey in a world investigation of contortionist history before narrowing the focus to China. She conducts a thorough investigation of the events and influences that have made Chinese contortionism a different form than that in the West, creating a backdrop for better understanding the cultural and social influences on contortionists who work in different settings.
Scholars who look for the hallmarks of a well-researched study receive extensive footnotes and source materials listed in a bibliography which includes studies not just from Western resources, but around the world. They will especially appreciate the critical eye that Ala-Rashi casts upon other studies. These comments about other references enhance a survey rich in vetted research as it examines the 2,000-year history of Chinese acrobatic theatre's development in light of other acrobatic efforts around the world and the studies which surround them.
Scholars interested in the cultural influences of contortionism will also appreciate the discussion of what separates the Chinese art from other approaches. The result is a monologue that is a fitting and insightful survey essential for any library strong in well-researched histories of dance, circus performance, acrobatics, and cultural influences on performance.
While China's Bending Bodies: Contortionists and Politics in China is designed to be part of a trilogy, its key inquiries and extensive historical probe lends to its stand-alone acquisition by any library interested in Chinese culture, politics, and various influences on its arts.
The Business Shelf
Brain Boost Your Journey to Success
New Insights Press
9781735934495, $18.95 paper/$9.95 Kindle
Brain Boost Your Journey to Success explains fifteen principles involved in focusing the brain for business success and comes from a serial entrepreneur who has employed these strategies to achieve exceptional financial and personal results.
There are hundreds of business advice books on the market today, but this one adds to the literature in two ways. First, it tells the fascinating personal life story of its author who founded two companies and sold them at tremendous profit and, secondly, the 15 principles Cherry espouses are grounded in actual research linking how the brain functions with our thinking and performance styles. In this way, the book goes beyond the usual business advice to consider the actual brain developmental processes that encourage both creative and strategic thinking, promoting the process of both finding passion from work and tapping that fervor for superior business performance.
David Cherry learned, formulated, and applied each of these 15 principles to his business pursuits. He came from neither privileged roots nor was endowed with the money to enter into his entrepreneurial quests. He often alludes to his roots when referring to how he developed the motivation that directed his path to success: "I began setting goals for myself when I was around eight years old, the time when I crossed over from childhood into an awareness that my family was pretty damn poor." He went on to build his fortune based on a combination of dedicated hard work, savvy analysis, and astute passion, doing the kind of work that he "enjoyed more than making money.
"Brain Boost Your Journey to Success contrasts four different thinking styles, based on right-brain and left-brain research -- Conceptor, Knower, Deliberator, and Conciliator. Cherry points out some important rules about using these four thinking styles:
If you accept how your brain works and its speed of processing, you do not need to make comparisons when you see others thinking differently than you.
There are no bad thinking styles. No style is smarter or better than another. Each one has its strengths and its advantages.
People with the same thinking style may function at different speeds. Learned behavior occurs as well when you try to think through a challenge or express your thoughts; it's therefore possible for two people with the same thinking style to appear very different.Leaders and executives who understand these thinking styles can use them to improve their own leadership skills and create high-performance teams.
This book offers a refreshing approach to a business book, blending solid business advice with life experience, showing how Cherry constructed a powerful set of principles that can guide ambitious executives and entrepreneurs to the same type of success he achieved. Both business and self-help collections will gain by adding Brain Boost Your Journey to Success to their collections for its fascinating content and personal story of entrepreneurial success.
The General Fiction Shelf
Ethan T. Burroughs
Morgan James Publishing
1225 Franklin Ave, Ste 325, Garden City, New York, 11530
9781631956799, $16.95 Paper/$9.49 ebook
Readers who look for sweeping epic scenes in political history novels will find Writ Reveal just the ticket for a complex, engaging saga that follows a cat-and-mouse game played out through the Middle East. Clayton Haley's adventures are designed not just to entertain (which they do, thoroughly), but to explore and explain the cultures and beliefs that clash in the Middle East.
This attention to detail lends both Writ Reveal and protagonist Haley exceptional depth as it embraces such diverse topics as the guiding doctrines of Islam, the influence of white guilt, conflicts between factions and peoples in the Middle East, and suicide bombers and fighters: "When he gets to paradise, there's a piece of him for each of the seventy-two virgins awaiting him. He was the guy who reached for the grenade."
Readers will likely choose Writ Reveal because of its promise of intrigue and action centered on terrorism and an unusual treasure hunt. What they receive is far more: a study in contrasts that introduces a rollicking adventure through Middle East antiquities, beliefs, and politics. The novel's prequel, Messianic Reveal, set the stage for all these events, but it's important to note that no prior familiarity is required in order for newcomers to pick up the baton and run with it.
As Haley examines religious chasms in the area and the wellsprings of their ongoing angst, readers receive an eye-opening, sweeping epic story that is engrossing, educational, and hard to put down. The conclusion neatly winds up these events, but leaves the door well open for the next Clayton Haley adventure.
Libraries strong in novels of intrigue, Middle East politics and religion, terrorist encounters, and political action will find Writ Reveal a solid acquisition that promises to attract not only the attention of thriller audiences, but holds much food for thought that discussion groups will want to consider.
One April After the War: Louisville to Cumberland
One April After the War: Louisville to Cumberland follows a 725-mile journey made in April 1870 by young woman Mary Warner (who harbors numerous aliases and secrets) and two Secret Service agents (Argent and Merritt) who come to realize that their real assignment is not what they'd expected. As a projected short trip turns into an arduous three-month journey, Mary and her two companions face mystery, threats, and a spate of bad luck that challenges not only their different missions, but their wills to survive.
Argent and Merritt come to realize that the source of their assignment is difficult to tame or control as their task spirals out of their control: "What is 'off ' is Miss Warner's skewed since of propriety and her complete want of judgment. One day she will say the wrong thing to the wrong man, and it will cost her more than a mere fine or the inconvenience of an arrest."
With its ongoing investigation, clues, and clashes between personalities and propriety, One April After the War becomes a compelling study in not just intrigue, but a feisty woman's ability to confront her world and her traveling companions.
Author G.S. Boarman is especially versed at capturing the dichotomy of this woman as perceived by those around her, who find themselves constantly confronting their perceptions of how to treat and act around women. The result is a study in contrasts and purposes that uses a journey through country and stress to examine 1800s scenarios and a spate of bad luck that changes each of the characters.
It should be noted that One April After the War is the first book in a series, and ends with a cliffhanger. Readers who enjoy the history, mystery, and women's issues that arise in the journey of One April After the War will find Book II, which moves from Cumberland to Washington, a fine promise of ongoing adventure.
The Discontent of Mary Wenger
Tell-Tale Publishing Group, LLC
9781952020193, $35.00 Hardcover/$4.95 Kindle
The Discontent of Mary Wenger is a work of historical fiction that follows Mary Wenger's pursuit of happiness in becoming a middle-class housewife and mother. Born in 1922 in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town, Mary is living at the cusp of post-war social changes that will affect her status and opportunities as a female.
Whether her efforts lie in feminist ideas or traditional women's roles, Mary is constantly thwarted and disappointed in her objectives and their incarnation under a shifting social structure. Her discontent, in turn, affects her family as she strives to reinvent her dreams only to find that her legacy of longing passes equal vision and frustration to the next generation.
The origins of that restless spirit lie in her childhood, and are presented in the opening lines of the novel: "Since I was a young girl, I have always believed that death is stalking me. It lurks and hovers in the dark recesses of my mind like a virus waiting to strike and destroy when I least expect it."
Mary believes she knows what is best, not only for herself, but for those around her. She finds out otherwise as she navigates new territory to find all of her dreams being put to the test of time. The Discontent of Mary Wenger is a work of historical fiction, but it's also a thought-provoking psychological profile of a daughter of immigrants who forges her own new paths in life.
Author Robert Tucker is especially adept at employing the first person to capture Mary's background, perspective, philosophy about life, and the tumultuous undercurrents of feminism and tradition that buffet her evolution and her family's structure. He also is particularly astute in how he captures Mary's ideals and reactions to the cultural and social norms of her life: "Other than an occasional hug from my Dad, I had never been held so closely by a man...The romantic waves of the music washing over us made me wonder if I were falling in love."
Tucker brings to life the social milieu Mary traverses, blending historical references with personal observations to bring Mary's entire world to life; not just her emotional forays into it. As she raises her family and "makes every effort to support and be involved," Mary continues to evolve in response to her childhood lessons, her adult convictions, and the social winds of change that buffet them all. The result is a fictional memoir based on facts that brings to life one woman's ongoing evolution as America changes.
The Discontent of Mary Wenger's vivid recollections of the past make it a winning choice for not just historical novel readers, but women's fiction and literature audiences. Groups interested in how women absorb social changes which contrast and sometimes collide with their upbringing and moral compass will find it gives much fodder for discussion and debate.
The Historical Fiction Shelf
Barton Paul Levenson
Another Century is an alternate history novel set in a world where the Viking-controlled Vinland occupies North America and rules with a rigid hand. Thorvald Winchester leads a good life in this world. He is courting the pious but pretty Jenny Nilsson (despite the fact that he's a confirmed atheist), he has a good job as a programmer of the Lundqvist and Chesterfield Analytical Engine, and he is living a life uncomplicated by the changing politics of his times. Then the Vinland government recruits him to program simulations of a device that could defeat the dictator-led country of Puustinia.
In the midst of testing his creation, Thorvald finds himself dropped into the center of a controversy which creates turbulence in his formerly-predictable life. Barton Paul Levenson's alternate history scenario features elements of steampunk sci-fi paired with astute political and social analysis to keep readers involved.
These attractions are cemented by an attention to strong characters as Thorvald encounters ideas and political challenges above and beyond his scientific duties, and finds his life changing as a result. The changes he experiences move into his habits and exchanges with others, pairing alternate history with recognizable social encounters. As war emerges and the prototype aeromobile becomes the heart of controversy, readers receive a story that operates on many levels, from political and scientific confrontations to personal faith: "Forgive me, Thorvald. I cannot marry an atheist. I do respect your position, but my faith is very important to me. The bible says not to be unequally yoked to an unbeliever." Only a short while later, Thorvald reflects "God help me" as he steps into a gunner's role.
Levenson's ability to blend issues of faith, science, political change, and personal evolution creates a fast-paced story steeped in a quasi-Victorian atmosphere. Replete in personal and political conflicts as a Victorian culture confronts the threat of totalitarianism, Another Century is a highly recommended read for sci-fi enthusiasts who like their alternate histories firmly rooted in conundrums that change hearts, minds, and societies alike.
The Literary Fiction Shelf
All the Rivers Flow into the Sea & Other Stories
All the Rivers Flow into the Sea & Other Stories is a literary collection of short stories that capture love, life, and Vietnamese culture. Many of these stories have appeared elsewhere, from anthologies to literary magazines; but having them all under one cover gives readers a powerfully interconnected set of voices that, when read together, form a compelling bigger picture of lives under siege in various ways.
Take the introductory "The Woman-Child," for example. Here, twenty-three-year-old narrator Minh reflects on his return from America to Vietnam with a youngster who has many questions for him about his heritage and life. The contrasts between these very different worlds come to life in the course of their conversation: "You should wash your hair every day, too." "Easy for you to say, chu. Clean water is treasured here." Minh questions the child ("Why are you so kind?"), and the answers influence his purpose in visiting his native country (to study Vietnam's environmental degradation caused by shrimp aquaculture some twenty years after the war).
His study would seem to preclude knowing much about the human lives affected by these events. In fact, it is everything, as scientific and cultural revelations evolve. Contrast this with the title story "All the Rivers Flow into the Sea," which doesn't introduce, but concludes the collection. Here, a different encounter between American Jonathan and Vietnamese girl Phuong depicts a jungle journey where the realities of survival prove quite different for each character.
These stories draw close connections between disparate cultures, Vietnam's changing environments, and the American and Vietnamese people who engage on a different playing field than the war which brought them together in the past. The stories also provide vignettes of history, beauty, and inspection that capture different perspectives of life, death, love and growth in Vietnam. "The Girl on the Bridge" is one such example of a fierce contrast between the nation's beauty and the clashes between man and nature that affect the environment and everyone in it.
Readers who think they know Vietnam's people and culture (albeit from afar and through studies of history) would do well to pursue the living history in these literary pieces. Each story captures a facet of Vietnam and interactions with the nation that bring it to vivid life. Each story is another step towards understanding and reflecting on the peoples, politics, and experiences unique to that nation.
Libraries strong in literary short works that cultivate cultural inspections, as well as those interested in stories of Vietnam's people and places, should place All the Rivers Flow into the Sea & Other Stories high on their reading lists.
The Mystery/Suspense Shelf
A Gathering Storm
David E. Feldman
A Gathering Storm is the second book in David E. Feldman's Dora Ellison mystery series. Dora is enrolled in the police academy, but is struggling with her experience, independent spirit, and the rigors of an instructional approach that would place her efforts and problem solving skills in a routine police procedural box. Her prior success in solving a local corruption case isn't helping her present milieu as a student who is supposed to be subservient to more experienced instructors.
It also doesn't help that Dora is pulled into yet another mystery when Jesse Burrell, the brother of a city council member, vanishes hours after a family gathering and is murdered. As Dora's unofficial probe into the murder brings her in conflict with police department official procedures, she finds herself navigating a fine line between her convictions and standard operating procedures. Further complicating matters is the fact that the victim's brother-in-law Rudy may hold a clue to events that he doesn't even know he possesses.
David E. Feldman writes a fine mystery that revolves as much around family relationships and personal and professional clashes as it does on a murder puzzle that challenges Dora on many different levels. There's an unusual romance, too many possible perps, and Jesse's own life, which also holds clues about what really happened. Developing all these threads in one mystery involves a dance between subplots and character-building - one that Feldman deftly performs as he leads readers to question not only Dora's modus operandi, but the victim's relationships and choices.
From instructors who reject Dora's abilities and consider her protests "backtalk" to Dora's penchant for refusing to give up when the going gets tough, readers will be immersed both in her personal revelations and trials and the professional conundrums she faces in pursuing the truth against all odds. Murder mystery readers interested in a full-flavored story that embraces not just a whodunit but the evolving trends of Dora's life will find A Gathering Storm both a worthy compliment to its predecessor and an excellent stand-alone read.
Dora's pursuit of her life purpose and passion is a draw that will attract beyond the usual genre audience, as well: "She loved police work. She loved solving crimes. In a way, she had always known that. She loved puzzles that manifested in real life, and she loved delivering justice where it was needed. Where she was needed."
The Fantasy/SciFi Shelf
DX Varos Publishing
7665 E. Eastman Ave. #B101. Denver, CO 80231
9781955065276, $19.95 Paperback/$4.99
"How do you anticipate the inconceivable?" Kat's Cradle is the first book in the Webolution series. It's billed as sci-fi, but will also attract readers who enjoy stories of awakening, transformation, and self-discovery that lead to a new chapter in evolving human consciousness.
The prologue introduces a bodiless observer who observes a solar flare that erupts and speeds towards Earth. This first-person observation of a powerful event blends into the third-person story of Kat, who is teaching bored college Millennials about the Earth's weakening magnetic field when she collapses mid-lecture. What seems like a simple blackout portends new abilities that bring with it expanded possibilities and new restrictions, and Kat embarks on an unexpected journey far from the scholarly educational trajectory she was on course to realize.
From arguments about God, free will, and belief systems to the nature of human consciousness and possibilities in how the mind may take another evolutionary leap forward, Kat's Cradle creates a dichotomy between characters that approach cosmic inquiry from very different perspectives.
Agents investigate mystical communities and both capitalists and thinkers consider different paths in connecting to the universe, testing belief systems within many circles as Kat finds herself the voice of a consciousness operating within and beyond her own mind.
Vivid chapters intersperse Kat's life with the perspective of the "conscious conscience" in a story that comes full circle between awakening, revelation, and abiding. To bill Kat's Cradle as a sci-fi read alone would be to do it an injustice. It's an inquiry into the nature of consciousness, evolution, and perspective that makes Kat just one of a series of strong characters whose lives intersect in unexpected ways.
Author Karuna Das creates an unexpected conclusion to the story that takes the usual focus on a main protagonist and shifts it. This demonstrates that the events of Kat's Cradle are only one step in a Webolution series that needs no single protagonist or entity in order to prove a continuing lure.
Libraries strong in not just sci-fi, but novels of expanding consciousness and discoveries about the universe and humankind's place in it, will find that Kat's Cradle reaches across genres. Book clubs should also consider it for its paradigm-changing inspection of humanity, spirituality, and forces beyond human ken.
This World of Love and Strife
DX Varos Publishing
7665 E. Eastman Ave. #B101, Denver, CO 80231
9781955065238, $18.95 Paperback/$4.99 ebook
This World of Love and Strife is a supernatural thriller that will appeal to readers of both suspense stories and paranormal fantasy. It tells of a secret organization called the Vanguard, whose purpose is to blur the lines between human perceptions and the supernatural world that exists alongside our own. The Vanguard, having done its job almost too well, is now failing due to inner corruption, as disgraced former member Cato discovers.
He's not the only one to have fallen from grace with the Vanguard. Aldous, too, is on their 'dubious assets' list. His newfound appetites as a vampire seem to make him more of a candidate for the dark side than the Vanguard's efforts...and yet, his skills are too valuable for him to be rejected outright. He operates somewhere on the borderland, supporting the Vanguard's ideals, but outside of their control.
The story focuses on the conflict that evolves between Cato, Aldous, and the Vanguard as both outsiders and insiders begin to put the puzzle pieces together to arrive at the truth. Aldous is behind some of these evolving disasters, but he's not the only one circumventing the Vangard's mission. From Vanguards who kill werewolves "for the sport of it" to questionable alliances between Aldous, Rebecca, Cato, and others who also hold their own agendas, the secret war between demons and within human factions comes to life.
As an author, Shawn Mackey is skilled at creating and pitting characters against one another and, sometimes, their own special interests. Lucien, Rebecca, and others face loyalty questions, suicide missions, and conflicts that require them to make difficult choices. Their psychological profiles and interactions drive a story replete with action and interpersonal inspections.
This World of Love and Strife is a suspenseful horror/fantasy story about forces unleashed in the world that move beyond their stated objectives and boundaries to force characters to change and grow. While This World of Love and Strife will reach horror audiences, it also should be included in fantasy and thriller library collections as a strong example of the strengths that can emerge from a story that embraces different genres with powerful characters and scenarios that are unpredictable and engrossing.
A Life with Beasts
DX Varos Publishing
7665 E. Eastman Ave. #B101. Denver, CO 80231
9781955065252, $18.95 Paperback/ $4.99 ebook
A Life with Beasts presents a paranormal mystery revolving around Fawn Malero, whose magician father heads the supernatural community in Seattle. Fawn and her brothers were supposed to help in its management, but she's been largely ignoring her duties... until dead cats begin appearing, along with childhood friend Logan. Suddenly, Fawn's responsibilities to her father, the community, and herself assume new importance as she's faced with a mystery and threat that resonates with her strong bond with animals and her goal to become a vet.
As a liaison between human and supernatural species, her father has served the community well. Fawn never saw herself quite in his position before, but circumstances both supernatural and human draw her to do so as new developments challenge and change her uncertain relationship with Logan and other supernatural forces.
Courtney Davis does an excellent job of blending supernatural and mystery elements, cementing these facets with the strong personality of Fawn, who finds herself buffeted between forces that attract her in different ways. There are also moments of comic relief, as when powerful werewolf Logan confesses to a fear of flying in a plane. Apparently, Fawn didn't know her boyfriend as well as she'd thought. Nor does she really know Logan. The processes of discovering truths about both lead Fawn to analyze her own ideas about friendship, romance, and what lies between the two: "If it was both what made me thrive and die, then could it also be tangled into what I thought of as attraction and love?"
A Life with Beasts is a story of intrigue and attraction that is especially recommended for mystery and fantasy readers who enjoy more than a light dose of paranormal encounters and a touch of romance. Library collections strong in any of these genres will find A Life with Beasts exceptional because it takes the time to build the community and world of a circle of supernatural beings living alongside humans, following the investigations and revelations of a woman who subconsciously seeks a new direction in her life even as she's forced to reconsider possibilities she'd once rejected.
Classic Monsters Unleashed
Black Spot Books (print)
Crystal Lake Publishing (ebook)
9781645481218, $31.99 Hardcover/$21.99 Paper/$5.99 ebook
Fantasy horror libraries and collections catering to patrons who enjoy horror literature will find Classic Monsters Unleashed a fine addition. It's an anthology that pairs big-name authors (Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Richard Christian Matheson and Dacre Stoker) with lesser-known writers who offer their contrasting takes on classic monster themes. The horror atmosphere is enhanced by black and white illustrations throughout that capture the murky horror visually with compelling embellishments.
These stories are diverse in subject. All reinvent and re-imagine classic horror figures from Frankenstein and the Invisible Man to the Wicked Witch of the West. With their foundations in the classics, each story provides a satisfying contemporary twist and interpretation that many readers won't see coming.
Owl Goingback's "Blood Hunt" is one example of this diversity under the horror umbrella. It is set in the Dakota Territory in 1885 and tells of an old Indian medicine man Sitting Bull, a friend of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The tale receives compelling visual portraits by Colton Worley as it explores a changing West that affects both of them. The horror component builds slowly from its Western roots as a train engineer faces Count Dracula, who has turned this train into a death ride. As Cody and Sitting Bull face different demons, the story becomes a study in slavery, freedom, and efforts to survive. Each story in this collection features both a familiar backdrop and a contemporary twist to delight reader of the unexpected.
These classic monster stories are unleashed into the modern world via a collection designed to appeal to literary horror audiences who want creative approaches to the genre that build upon past themes, but layer them with contemporary experiences. Classic Monsters Unleashed is to be celebrated for its diversity and ability to stay true to the monsters of its origin while featuring stories that are delightfully original.
P.O. Box 1403, Riverdale, NY 10471
Two excellent new titles from Baen provide engrossing reading for sci-fi fans and are highly recommended.
Sean Patrick Hazlett edits Weird World War IV (9781982125967, $16.00), a collection of odd military scenarios by Steven Barnes, D.J. Butler, and others who provide tales connected by the scenario of a world war after Armageddon. Readers who enjoy stories of dystopian worlds, strange battles, and revised visions of good versus evil will find the diversity in this collection satisfyingly disparate.
Larry Correia and Steve Diamond's Servants of War (9781982125943, $25.00) is the first book in the 'Age of Ravens' series, and follows a hundred-year war between Almacia and the Empire of Kolakolvia. A villager whose life is turned upside down finds himself serving in an elite military fighting group called The Wall, becoming involved in a battle between two goddesses as he fields human and monster alike.
Both of these new titles from Baen Books are unique presentations that dedicated sci-fi readers will appreciate.
The Poetry Shelf
Z is for Zapatazo
Z is for Zapatazo is a literary collection of poetry and writings that is steeped in family, faith, and Puerto Rican culture. It is highly recommended reading for those who look for contrasts between social, political, and psychological experiences.
Ruben Rivera explores the paths between and through these experiences. One example is his poem "Miss Rice": "You resembled water seeking the best path/through the hot, compacted asphalt/that was school..." Those who guided him and led the way, and the milieus that birthed his cultural and literary roots, are reflected in imagery that allows both poetic and essay forms to burst forth, embracing political angst as much as social and personal reflection: "Americans, they love freedom but not for brown people. They love him who had "no place to lay his head" but not poor people. And they sure love Indians - that defeat rival football teams, and win baseball pennants, or faithfully assist a masked, Clorox-clean avenger of justice of a yesteryear that never was, but they do not love Indians. America, the Houdini of republics." As he "re-merges with the brimming world," so do the passionate observations, anger, and moments of discovery of these writings.
Z is for Zapatazo is particularly highly recommended for literary collections where social and political reflection is of interest. More than just a gathering of philosophical insights, Z is for Zapatazo holds the ability to hit - and hit hard. Teachers of poetry and essays who want to make solid connections between social and political process and individual pursuits (especially those interested in the "in between" connections linking revolution and learning) will find that Z is for Zapatazo a unique, powerful example of how literary and social interests can neatly dovetail.
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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Diane C. Donovan, Editor & Senior Reviewer
12424 Mill Street, Petaluma, CA 94952
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