Review: Every Day in December by Kitty Wilson

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Belle Wilde loves December. Yes, she’s just lost her job and Christmas is not a good time to find yourself ‘financially challenged’. And yes, her parents are still going on about the fact that she really should have it all together by now. But Belle believes that in December, magic can happen.

Rory Walters hates December. Whilst it looks like his life is together, he’s still reeling from a winter’s night five years ago when his life changed forever. Now back at home, he’s certain that this will be yet another Christmas to endure rather than enjoy.

But as midnight on December 31st draws closer, Belle and Rory’s time together is coming to an end. With a little help from a Christmas miracle could Belle find the one thing she really wants underneath the mistletoe?

Source: NetGalley and Harper Collins UK Rating:  2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Let me preface everything that comes after with the following: I really wanted to like this book far more than I did and I finished the whole thing!  With that said, I struggled with this book and found it quite the challenge to get through.  Belle frustrated me in so many ways: how can someone so smart and clearly talented also be so blasé about her life and her future?  What’s more how can she reasonably continue to float through life just waiting for the perfect Shakespeare-related opportunity to drop into her life and make everything better? 

Now, let’s talk about Rory.  WOW!  Rory was a singularly depressing character and I found myself losing patience with his “I can’t move on and betray my first love” shtick.  There comes a point when the guilt-ridden sadness just becomes ridiculous, and you have to pull up your Under-Roos and get on with living.  Belle’s over-the-top love of all things December and trying to lighten up Rory also wore thin really quick.  It’s hard to lighten up and/or make happy a person who is determined to be sad and hang on their past with a strangle hold. I fully believe that good characters can carry a weak plot and bad characters can ruin a good plot.  Unfortunately, the latter happened for me with this book.  I wanted so much more from and for each character and even as I approached the end of the book, I didn’t find what I was hoping for.  Even the HEA felt a bit desperate and forced which has led me to this moment and the writing of this review.  The description of this book held a lot of promise, but I never found that promise realized in the finished version.

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Review: The Inn on Sweetbriar Lane by Jeannie Chin

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June Wu always has it all together—only now, she’s in over her head. Her family’s inn desperately needs guests, her mother’s medical debts are piling up, and the surly, if sexy, stranger next door is driving away the customers she has left! When he asks for June’s help, though, she can’t say no. After all, his new bar could be just what the upcoming Pumpkin Festival needs to bring in more tourists. But with the fierce attraction between them, will working together be playing with fire?

Ex-soldier Clay Hawthorne prefers being on his own. He’s moved to Blue Cedar Falls for one reason—to carry out his best friend’s dream of opening a bar in the hometown he’ll now never return to. But the town’s business association is trying to stop Clay’s progress. June soon becomes his biggest supporter, and while their partnership is supposed to be only temporary, for the first time Clay wants something permanent—with June. Can two total opposites really learn to meet each other in the middle?

Source: NetGalley and Forever Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  June Wu is one of my favorite character types, the girl who can’t stay out of her own way in order to make some headway in her life.  June and her family are up to their butts in debt, but June refuses to ask for help, she simply waits for a solution to fall into her lap.  As Fate would have it, the solution to June’s problems is also the greatest pain in her butt. 

Clay Hawthorne has a single-minded focus that has him working all hours of the day and night.  He couldn’t care less that his hammering and power tool activities are driving away the customers from June’s bed and breakfast.  Despite the best neighborly efforts of the lady across the street, Clay is having none of the fitting in and helping others.  He’s going to build his little bar and to hell with everyone else!  Except, life in a small town is all about fitting in and helping your neighbors and if Clay wants to bring his bar into reality, he’s going to need the help of the pest across the street.

As it turns out, June and Clay are a power couple who both refuse to acknowledge such idiocies.  For each to get what they respectively want there is going to have to be cooperation and a little flexibility.  Oh, and there should also be some mind-blowing sex!  There should definitely be that last bit.  Oh, and there should also be a gang of scraggly bikers hell-bent on helping their friend 😊  From one extreme to the next, June and Clay begin to make a path that will not only see Clay’s dream come true, but increase business for the entire town, June’s B&B included.  In all, I really enjoyed this true enemies to friends to lover’s romance.  Y’all know my love of small-town reads and that certainly factored into my liking of this story.  However, the greatest draw would have to be June and Clay and their ridiculous games, shenanigans, and refusal to admit the obvious.  I found a load of humor in this read and that always ups the star rating for me.

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Review: Claret and Present Danger (Book #4: Literary Pub Mystery Series) by Sarah Fox

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The Trueheart Renaissance Faire and Circus has rolled into town, attracting locals who can’t wait to spend a few summer days lost in a whimsical world of all-knowing fortune tellers and daring acrobats. Well-read pub owner Sadie Coleman is swept up in the magic herself when she serves drinks to the faire’s resident wizard, the shamelessly brazen illusionist Ozzie Stone, and scores two tickets to his opening performance.

Sadie has no complaints about indulging in a free show with her new beau, craft brewery owner Grayson Blake. But while Ozzie is an instant crowd pleaser, the real surprise comes when he collapses in the middle of his set. It’s not part of the act—Ozzie is dead, seemingly poisoned by someone who wasn’t clowning around about writing the roguish showman’s final chapter.

The terrifying situation intensifies when the police eye one of Sadie’s employees, last seen caught in a suspicious fist fight at the fairground. With so much at stake, Sadie must strain through a suspect list longer than her cocktail menu to find the real knave of a killer. But when another performer is murdered, it becomes clear that bringing the mixed-up murderer to justice will be about as dangerous as walking the high wire after happy hour.

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: As always, I adore the setting of this series.  A quaint small town, a wonderfully appointed pub, and residents that support and care for one another.  Add in the literary bent and the awesome cocktail descriptions, and this series is often a recipe for success for me.  Unfortunately, this particular installment fell a bit short me and it has everything to with presence of the Renaissance faire and the characters that come with that experience.  This is a bias on my part and is no reflection on the writing skills of the author.  I just don’t care for books that prominently feature carnie folk and/or fairs and that is precisely who is featured in this book.  I will reiterate, I still love the core cast of characters and the setting of the series, and I will absolutely be back for book five and beyond.  For me, this individual book just didn’t live up to the other books in the series.

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DNF Day

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Strawberries and Crime by Elle Brook White

Book #2: Finn Family Farm Mystery Series

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  One of the great things about cozy mysteries are the quirky characters all collected in a single small town.  A great cozy mystery will have such an array of crazy, fun characters all pulling together to solve a mystery.  When the characters are so flat as they are in this book, there’s nothing for me to truly enjoy and want to know more about.  Even the idyllic setting and promise of yummy food descriptions were not enough to overcome the flatness of the characters for me. 

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The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line: Oh, how I wanted to like this book!  In an effort to get through this book, and hopefully thoroughly enjoy it, I tried both reading and listening to this one.  Although there are some fun bits in here – the invisible library and witchcraft – the story just isn’t interesting.  I normally love a story with loads of backstory/history, but I believe the author’s writing style did me in on this one.  I never could find a flow or rhythm to the writing that would allow me to keep reading/listening. 

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The Glitter End by Vivian Conroy

Book #3: Stationary Shop Mystery Series

Source: NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  UGH!  I pride myself on the variety of locations my beloved cozy mysteries take place within.  I have ice cream parlors, bakeries, tea shops, veterinary clinics, and a music box shop.  Having a stationary shop just added to my happy little list, but the time has come to mark this particular locale off my list.  After multiple, multiple attempts to enjoy this book and series, I must accept it is never going to happen.  The greatest issue with this book/series is how very flat the characters are.  I need my characters to feel like friends I can drop in on and visit with about their latest bit of shenanigans.  There just isn’t enough here for me to keep coming back.

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The Woman at the Gates by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Source: NetGalley and Bookoutre

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  The stories and tales related to the Holocaust are historically among my top reads each year.  This is a time in history I both abhor and find endlessly fascinating.  I gave this book multiple tries and never could get anything, characters, or plot, to resonate with me. I understand the need to lay some groundwork/provide some world building, but the bit I made it through, was repetitive and, truthfully uninteresting.  At some point, one just has to call it a day and I did so with this book.

Review: The Cider Shop Rules (Book #3: Cider Shop Mystery Series) by Julie Anne Lindsey

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The Fall Festival is in full swing. Civil War reenactors from three counties are partaking in Blossom Valley’s tribute to John Brown. Blue Ridge Mountain foliage is in full bloom. And best of all is Jacob Potter’s pumpkin farm where his hay rides, piglet races, pumpkin picking and corn maze are time-honored draws for locals and tourists alike. That’s why it’s such a shock when Mr. Potter is found dead, hidden under a tarp in the back of Winnie’s pickup truck. This certainly betrays Potter’s reputation as one of the town’s most popular citizens. Fortunately, when it comes to solving a murder, no one has a patch on Winnie. Now, all eyes are on her to do it. Unfortunately, that includes those of the killer who’ll do anything to keep an orchard full of secrets buried.

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The Blue Ridge Mountain region is never more beautiful than in the fall when all the leaves change, there’s a nip in the air, and the residents of Blossom Valley are bringing their best to the Fall Festival.  The atmosphere is crackling with excitement as the Civil War reenactors gear up for their annual tribute to John Brown.  The valley is filled to the brim with residents and visitors alike which means it is also the perfect time for a new mystery for Winnie to solve.  When Winnie (and half the town) discovers the body of old Mr. Potter in the bed of Winnie’s truck, it becomes a race to find the guilty party before more bodies begin appearing.  As if one crime weren’t enough, Winnie also discovers the fugitive who has threatened she and the sheriff is back in town and looking to settle old scores.  Helping Winnie is her usual cast of characters and one special guest, the sheriff’s hot as sin brother who is in town for the Fall Festival.  Winnie’s sleuthing skills, her patience, and her crush on the sheriff are all put to the test in this read and it is a delightful ride from beginning to end.  Oh, and the goat faints . . . again 😊

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Review: Hop ‘Til You Drop (Book #3: Jules & Bun Mystery Series) by J.M. Griffin

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Juliette “Jules” Bridge is devoted to rabbit rescue and rehabilitation on her beloved Fur Bridge Farm in rural New Hampshire, but she also likes to do volunteer work wherever and whenever she can. This spring she’s offered to help hide painted eggs at the Hop ’Til You Drop Easter egg hunt—and of course she’s bringing along her black-and-white rabbit, Bun. In fact, he insists on it. Jules knows, because Bun communicates with her telepathically . . .

But their egg hiding is disrupted by a hare-raising scene: their unpleasant supervisor, Della Meany, lies peacefully on the grass with stems of Lily of the Valley on her chest, surrounded by garishly decorated Easter eggs. Is someone sending a message by staging the corpse? As they begin to examine the crime scene, Jules spots a tall, two-legged rabbit fleeing into the woods. Perhaps late for an important date? If their prime suspect is a person in an Easter Bunny costume, it seems a safe bet the killer is a real basket case. Jules and Bun will need to put their heads together—because the hunt is on . . .

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The thing I generally love about cozies is the fact that the lead never goes looking for trouble, it just tends to find him/her.  Then, there’s Bun, who actively looks around and tries to sniff out the next mystery or murder for he and Jules to involve themselves in.  With his naturally inquisitive nature and lust for adventure, Bun knows there is always going to be some sort of mischief he can drag Jules into.  In this instance, the dynamic duo stumble upon the body of one of the town’s most hateful residents which leaves them with a laundry list of suspects.  Though Jules is hesitant to get involved, she does see the importance of bringing justice to the victim despite her surly attitude.  As Bun and Jules dig deeper into the woman’s life, they uncover more than a few secrets, stumble upon an even bigger mystery, and risk life and limb to bring all the culprits to justice.  I am such a fan of this series, and it has everything to do with the cast of characters.  I have a hard time resisting a book with a talking animal so, Bun for the win!  I also truly love Molly, Jessica, Jules, and their intrepid sheriff.  The relationships between these characters add such dimension and weight to each read that I truly feel as if I am dropping in on old friends.  I also very much like the diversity of the farm: from the bunnies to the vet clinic to the yarn shop, there is always something interesting to read about and the fact that they all connect to one another makes me an even happier reader.  There’s a great deal of promise in this series and I sincerely hope that promise is met in future installments.

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Review: A Letter to Three Witches by Elizabeth Bass

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Nearly a century ago, Gwen Engel’s great-great-grandfather cast a spell with catastrophic side-effects. As a result, the Grand Council of Witches forbade his descendants from practicing witchcraft. The Council even planted anonymous snitches called Watchers in the community to report any errant spellcasting…

Yet magic may still be alive and not so well in Zenobia. Gwen and her cousins, Trudy and Milo, receive a letter from Gwen’s adopted sister, Tannith, informing them that she’s bewitched one of their partners and will run away with him at the end of the week. While Gwen frets about whether to trust her scientist boyfriend, currently out of town on a beetle-studying trip, she’s worried that local grad student Jeremy is secretly a Watcher doing his own research.

Cousin Trudy is so stressed that she accidentally enchants her cupcakes, creating havoc among her bakery customers—and in her marriage. Perhaps it’s time the family took back control and figured out how to harness their powers. How else can Gwen decide whether her growing feelings for Jeremy are real—or the result of too many of Trudy’s cupcakes?…

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  This was a very quick read for me as I was able to sink into the plot and the characters from the beginning.  With the sending of a letter filled with nothing more than the power of suggestion, one family is left scrambling in an effort to understand the forces involved in their likely demise.  Thanks to a generations-old mandate, the family isn’t allowed to practice magic yet with arrival the letter, magic seems to be leaking out of everyone.  The cupcakes are imbued with magic, the dirty rotten husband is a bunny, and the cranky old aunt is a story unto herself filled with magical revelations . . . . and amphibians.  From the blunders and the accidents to the revelations and resolutions, I found this to be a wonderfully fun read that ticks nearly all the boxes I have for fiction. 

P.S.  The way this book ended seems to indicate there is more to come.  I wouldn’t mind seeing this book become a series 😊

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Review: Archangel’s Light (Book #14: Guild Hunter Series) by Nalini Singh

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Illium and Aodhan. Aodhan and Illium. For centuries they’ve been inseparable: the best of friends, closer than brothers, companions of the heart. But that was before—before darkness befell Aodhan and shattered him, body, mind, and soul. Now, at long last, Aodhan is healing, but his new-found strength and independence may come at a devastating cost—his relationship with Illium.

As they serve side by side in China, a territory yet marked by the evil of its former archangel, the secret it holds nightmarish beyond imagining, things come to an explosive decision point. Illium and Aodhan must either walk away from the relationship that has defined them—or step forward into a future that promises a bond infinitely precious in the life of an immortal…but that demands a terrifying vulnerability from two badly bruised hearts.

Source: Purchase Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Light: Like every other Guild Hunter series fan, I have waiting more than a decade for the coming of this book!  I had no expectations going into this book other than knowing I would love it no matter the outcome.  Oh, I had some hopes and suspicions, but I never let myself get too devoted to those hopes and suspicions.  I recognized immediately, I would not do my usual devouring of a Guild Hunter book but would savor this read.  Sinking into and savoring this read is exactly what it demanded as the story is slower, less hectic, less frenzied than so many of the books that have come before.  For the first time in many, many books there is no great battle nor has the next enemy shown him/herself; there is only the silence of the world rebuilding after the threat of Lijuan is finally gone.  In this quiet, everyone has time and space to think which leaves both Aodhan and Illium with too much time and space; the absence of the other is heartbreaking and requires much contemplation.  As each assess their respective lives it becomes clear that something must change, the relationship between them must evolve or it will begin to fade.  In light of these very troubling facts, both men begin to gently poke and prod at the other to get to the heart of the matter. 

I see so many utterly unique and fascinating levels in not only this book, but in the future of this series.  This is a very subtle and quiet book that brims with possibility.  Just under the surface of every word in this book is a threat and a promise of what is still to come for all the players in the game.  This true union between Illium and Aodahn creates a power base that is, in the current series world, nearly unparalleled. (One must remember Titus and the Hummingbird 😊) The possibility of Illium ascending with Aodahn at his side and their intense connection to Raphael and the rest of the Seven is disturbingly awesome.  As it stands now, there is virtually nothing in existence that can upset the hold on peace that currently exists.  That, my friends, means Nalini Singh is going to have to dig deep to come up with a foe who can challenge not only Illium and Aodahn, but the rest of the Seven and the world at large.  Better get a wiggle on, ‘cause I’m waiting to see what’s next!

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Review: A Pairing to Die for (Book #2: Colorado Wine Mystery Series) by Kate Lansing

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It’s fall in Boulder, Colorado, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. Parker Valentine, owner of Vino Valentine, is finally settling in to her winery and her new relationship with Reid Wallace, a local chef. But their delicate pairing is endangered when Reid’s estranged family comes into town to celebrate the opening of his new restaurant.

Reid and his family are immediately at loggerheads, given their often acidic temperaments, but Parker still wants to make a good first impression. However, her efforts might be in vain when Reid’s sous chef is found dead in the alley behind the restaurant, and Reid is implicated in the murder. In order to save Reid, Parker will have to find the real killer, even if the truth is difficult to swallow.

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: It was nice to fall back into Parker Valentine’s world and winery.  Unfortunately, just as things are beginning to go well for Parker, her business, and her boyfriend, the world turns upside down and Parker finds herself in the midst of another murder investigation.  With her boyfriend behind bars and looking very much like the killer, it would be easy for Parker to cut her losses and focus on her own life.  What I like about Parker is her loyalty and refusal to believe her boyfriend is what everyone, including his wretched family, believes him to be.  Yet again, against the advice of the police, Parker dives into the crime, putting herself in harm’s way and doggedly pursuing the truth.  In truth, this series is one of the lower-key series I read and that matches perfectly with the setting and emphasis on wine.  A sort of slower, boozy/buzzy kind of read that I find quite pleasing.  I liked this story and how it deepened the relationship between Parker and Reid without him being in much of the story.  I also completely loved Parker’s assistant and sincerely wish he would make a surprise appearance in future reads.  In all, this book is exactly what it says it is, a cozy mystery that draws you in and keep s you happy from start to finish.

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DNF Day

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Alice loves her job and wants to keep it – whatever the price. But then she’s told the company is switching to flexible working and hot desking…Alice’s desk might look a mess, but she knows exactly where everything is. Or she did. Until she found out she’s going to share it with the most annoying guy in the office.

Jamie can work from anywhere. He’s quite happy to sweep his work life into a box at the end of the working day. But can sharing a desk with Alice be as much fun as teasing her in person?

With no option but to try it and see, will their relationship turn into open warfare or will it ever progress beyond a post-it note?

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: None, DNF at 54%

The Bottom Line:  Honestly, I can’t believe I made it to the 54% mark with this book.  The synopsis sounded so fun, and I do love a well-organized desk, but Alice’s whining simply became too much, and I had to throw in the towel.  From the moment the book opens, Alice is whining either aloud or via her inner monologue about one injustice or another and at some point, I realized I was reading the same sentences (figuratively speaking) over and over again.  I think I held on as long as I did hoping the book would take a turn and Alice would begin to evolve, the become something more, and really bring me around to rooting for her.  Unfortunately, none of that happened by the halfway point and I had to, sadly, give up on this read.

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Vivian Wainwright is living her dream. The middle-aged widow owns the Misty Bay Tearoom, a quaint, English-accented shop on the Oregon coast. But on the eve of the tearoom’s second anniversary, the dream turns nightmarish when a man falls to his death from a hotel balcony.

The body belongs to Dean Ramsey, ex-husband of Vivian’s assistant, Jenna. Detective Tony Messina quickly zeroes in on Jenna as prime suspect, since she was seen leaving the hotel shortly before the body was found.

Vivian and her other assistant, Gracie, set out to help clear Jenna’s name, using their wit and a bit of criminology know-how Vivian picked up from her late attorney husband. Detective Messina is on board, but he’s starting to develop feelings for his number one suspect. Puzzling questions persist–chief among them, whose clothes was Dean wearing when he landed on the rocky shore?

To complicate matters, Vivian’s friend, pet shop owner Hal Douglass, seems to know some secrets about the hotel that could add a long list of names to the suspect list…including Hal’s own. Vivian must work quickly because if she can’t, Jenna faces a murder rap…or worse.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: None, DNF at 15%

The Bottom Line:  Historically, Crooked Lane Books has been a great publishing house for me, and I have fallen in love with several of their series.  Unfortunately, this series isn’t going to fall into that category.  At 15% I realized all the characters were reading as the same person for me and I couldn’t really connect to the story.  Even with an early murder, I found the pacing to be incredibly slow and with no real sense of urgency.  It was easy for me to set this book aside and move on to the next offering.

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Returning home from the daily hunt for the rationed ingredients necessary to keep his family pâtisserie open, André Albert finds his four-year-old son in the street, his wife gone, and an emaciated Jewish woman cowering behind the display case.

Without Mireille, the foundation of André’s world crumbles. He desperately searches for her, but finds more trouble than answers. Lives are further jeopardized when he agrees to hide Émilie, the escapee, and a Nazi officer shows up to investigate Mireille’s disappearance.

André will do anything to bring his wife home, catapulting him, their son, and Émilie on a perilous journey impeded by temptation, past trauma, and stunning revelations.

Source: NetGalley and Mortal Coil Books Rating: None, DNF at 30%

The Bottom Line:  UGH!  Yet another World War II era read that just didn’t hit the mark for me.  I very much like the premise of this book but found the execution lacking.  There are simply too many issues with this book to get me beyond the 30% mark.  I found Andrė to be a rather tiresome character, his response to his wife’s disappearance to be rather unbelievable, and the appearance of the Jewish woman to be odd.  I’m sure that last bit would have eventually been explained, but for me, it was too little too late, and Andrė, as a character, became unbearable.  I wanted this story to come together and be interesting and engaging, but that didn’t happen by the 30% mark, so I set this one aside for a different story.