Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez Five Star Review

I recently read Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez and it was a total five star read! It will be one that’s added to the stack of Five Star Reads of 2022! This historical fiction based on true events will completely captivate you.

I selected this as one of my Book of the Month picks a few months ago. If you’re not familiar with Book of the Month, it’s a fantastic subscription service. I’ve been a member for five years with no plans to stop. Some of my all-time favorites like Pachinko, The Poisonwood Bible, and The People We Keep have been discovered through this service. You can click here and get your first box for only $5!

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Take My Hand

Take My Hand is one that will sit with you for a long time. Based on real events, this story takes place in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil Townsend is a young nurse who is determined to help her patients at the family planning clinic.

Two of her first patients are 11- and 13-year-old sisters that are being administered monthly birth control shots, despite not being sexually active. They are poor and Black, and for those in control of the family’s welfare benefits, that’s all that’s needed to justify mandatory shots.

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One day, Civil discovers something horrific and irreparable has happened to the girls. She vows then and there to advocate for these girls and their family. They take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

I was in the trenches for this one. Civil internally debates many of the issues that are still debated today, in respect to birth control and abortion. It broke me to keep remembering that this was based on real events.

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It’s moving and emotional. It was absolutely an “I’m not stopping until it’s done” book. A one-day read. The narration is incredible. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend the audio file.

Check out my review on Instagram for more on this beautiful book!

You can purchase Take My Hand here.

You can also browse all of my favorite books in my Amazon Storefront.

Have you read Take My Hand? Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts!

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Five Summer Romance Reads of 2022

These five recommendations come with a sweetness (and maybe like a poblano pepper level of spice) guarantee. Ones that not only will you love, but can feel confident recommending to your mother, too!

Summer isn’t over yet- at least not in Texas. We are still well within our stretch of 100+ degree days and there’s currently no end in sight.

If you’re looking for a light, lovey book to help take your mind off of these hot days, keep reading!

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I present to you five romance books I’ve read and loved in 2022:

Now, I’m not one to typically reach for the spiciest reads and definitely not someone who’s interested in dark romance. No shade to those that are, but I prefer love stories with a little more sweetness than spice.

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Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

I’m a huge fan of Abby Jimenez. No surprise here, I loved her latest novel Part of Your World. It’s spectacular. It’s sweet. It’s funny. It gave my heart a hug. She has such a talent for crafting stories that are full of humor and fun, yet still carefully carry heavy life topics.

Pick this one up and prepare to laugh and feel a twinge in your heart. You can’t go wrong with any of her titles, so while you’re adding this one to your cart go ahead and grab another like The Friend Zone or The Happily Ever After Playlist. There will be no regrets.

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The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Hannah is an Executive Protection Agent (a bodyguard) and she’s been hired to protect the household-name celebrity Jack Stapleton. The best way to protect “the principle” in this scenario? To act as his girlfriend. The more time they spend together, the harder it is to keep professional boundaries…

…and the harder it was for me to pace my reading because I couldn’t put this story down! It was a full sprint! I was sad when it ended because that meant I couldn’t keep living in this world with Hannah and Jack.

No shame, I fangirled so much over this book. I made an embroidery of the cover art and then gifted it to Center when she came to town on The Bodyguard tour. It was fantastic and she’s truly a gem of a human!

Center’s books are auto-reads for me and this one is no exception. I absolutely loved it! Along with Jimenez, you can’t read just one of Center’s books. So while you’re picking up this one, go ahead and grab some of her others like How to Walk Away or What You Wish For.

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The Dead Romantics by Ashley Posten

This one took me by surprise! Posten was a new author to me and when I read the synopsis of The Dead Romantics, it immediately reminded me of the 2005 movie Just Like Heaven, starring Reese Witherspoon. I knew I needed to read this ghostly love story!

Florence Day is a ghostwriter for one of the most well-known romance writers of our time. But, after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love and is having an all but impossible time writing to meet her upcoming deadline.

Oh yeah, and she can see ghosts. Just like her dad.

She travels home after her dad has passed away to find the ghost of her editor. Both are confused as to why and how he’s died. Not only that, but there is some unfinished business that has her second guessing everything she knows about love.

This story was so refreshing and creative! It’s a fast, summer read that will leave you feeling hopeful!

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Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

This was a case of star change! After initially reading this book, I gave it four stars. I completely enjoyed it! My opinion grew even stronger after I had the opportunity to discuss the book with our book club!

After discussing the intricacies of the plot and characters, I realized that I loved this book so much more. It’s light. It’s fun. It’s parent-trappy, but there are other complexities within it that make it so full. While other romantic comedies center on sexy, strapping men, Solomon was very intentional about creating a story around normal people with normal bodies and normal struggles.

During our book club chat, she expressed that although this is a romance, she didn’t quite agree with the ‘romcom’ label it was getting. This is a precious, light, and fun story, but it’s presented with such refreshing normalcy!

You can check out my review here!

While you’re adding to cart, go ahead and grab The Ex Talk too! It’s equally amazing!

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Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Emily Henry is such a skilled storyteller. She has an incredible talent for building sweet love stories that make you swoon. I love that when summer comes around, I can count on a romance story that will give me little flutters in my heart.

Such was the case for Book Lovers! Nora is a literary agent- a fantastic one to boot. Charlie is a sharp editor with little room for admiration. While on a sister trip to small town Sunshine Falls, Nora keeps running into- of all people- Charlie! Their past encounters have them at odds, but as they get to know each other in a new light, they may be rewriting their story.

Henry’s stories are essential summer reading. If you haven’t read my favorite of hers, People We Meet on Vacation, go ahead and add to cart! You’ll be happy you did!

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So, there you have it!

My top five romance recommendations- of the summer, of 2022, in general. You won’t regret any of these sweet reads!

Have you read any? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think! 

What would you add to this list?!

For more recommendations, check out my list of Five-Star Reads in 2022!

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Top Five-Star Book Recommendations of 2022

Okay, okay, top five-star recommendations for the first half of 2022! I’ve done the vetting, so you don’t have to! Whether you’re looking for something sweet and sappy or criminally thrilling, there’s a five-star book for you on this list!

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For me, this is more than just a stack of books I enjoyed. It’s a stack of memories throughout the first half of this year. I can look at each of these books that had a profound impression on me and recall where I was during that time- physically and emotionally. That’s a sign a story has really stuck with me.

While you’re here, be sure to check out my other recommendations here!

So, without further adieu, here are 13 five-star books I’ve read in 2022!

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait long to get my hands on it! Identical twins? Hollywood child stars? Mysterious cult disappearance? It’s a read that will keep you turning pages!

I’ve linked I’ll Be You for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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If you’ve never read any of Abby Jimenez’s books, start with this one! This is the fourth book of hers that I’ve read and it’s now my favorite. Trust me when I say that is SAYING SOMETHING. She is a master crafter of stories that discuss hard topics that are well balanced with humor and love. This one will have you feeling all of the emotions!

I’ve linked Part of Your World for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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If you’ve spent any time on this blog or my Instagram page, you know I love Elin Hilderbrand. Her latest summer read is perfect! A medley of characters working to revive an old hotel with a bad reputation in order to gain sought after notoriety from an anonymous online hotel reviewer. I LOVED everything about it, especially the resident ghost, Grace. She had me laughing constantly. Pick it up for a sunshine escape wherever you are!

I’ve linked The Hotel Nantucket for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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It takes a LOT for me to give a thriller five stars these days. The more of them I read, the harder it becomes for me not to guess the ending. If I can figure it out, it’s not getting five stars. This one earned all of my praises! I ripped through it in a day, couldn’t put it down, and the ending had me in shock. This one has gone surprisingly under the radar and I’m not sure why. It’s fantastic!!

I’ve linked The Children on the Hill for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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“Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.” were the words I used to describe the read. I am a huge fan of Katherine Center’s. She’s talented, genuine, and intentional with crafting her stories. Once again, an auto-buy author for me doesn’t disappoint. In fact, this is my new favorite of hers.

I’ve linked The Bodyguard for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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It’s rare that I choose to pick up a non-fiction self-help book and even more rare for me to give it five stars. I don’t think it’s happened until now. I listened to this book on audio in a day and then immediately purchased a hard copy so I could reread and annotate it. It is filled with logical reasoning for implementing positive habits and breaking bad ones. Absolutely enlightening!

I’ve linked Atomic Habits for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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I’ll start by sharing this is the second book in a series. You can find the first Finlay Donovan book HERE. If you’re familiar with Finlay, then you know how funny and quirky she is! She’s finally gotten herself out of being wrapped up in murder for hire, but now someone is out to kill her ex-husband. I have LOVED following this series!

I’ve linked Finlay Donvan Knocks ‘Em Dead for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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The Night Shift was a wonderful 90’s crime thriller! On New Year’s Even 1999, four employees at a Blockbuster Video were attacked and only one survived. Fifteen years later and in the same town, there’s been a similar attack at an ice cream shop. The lone survivor of the first attack must relive that terrible time in order to help detectives solve this case.

I’ve linked The Night Shift for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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Shadows of Pecan Hollow is looking like it may be my favorite read of the year. It took ahold of me and I felt like I was living through the gritty experiences of the main character, Kit. This is a book that carries some really hard topics, but it’s one that has stayed with me the entire year. If you read one book from this list, let it be this one.

I’ve linked Shadows of Pecan Hollow for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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Poignant, reflective, contemplative. Those are all common descriptors of Serle’s writing, but this one was special to me. There are lines of advice in this book that hit me square in the face. Set within the gorgeous scenery of Positano, Italy, One Italian Summer had me crying, laughing, and hopeful.

I’ve linked One Italian Summer for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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Told from the perspective of a young Maddie Sykes, this is a story of women standing up for what is right in a post-war tobacco industry. When Maddie sees unsafe and unethical practices in the town’s tobacco plant, she sets on a mission to expose the truth. But, the truth doesn’t come without costs.

I’ve linked The Tobacco Wives for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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Oh, wrap me up in a cuddly blanket and give me this book! It is cozy, joyful happiness with a refreshing dose of reality. The coworkers to lovers trope, the imperfections in personality, and the humor that Solomon brings in this book makes me want to read it again for the first time!

I’ve linked Weather Girl for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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Competing with Shadows of Pecan Hollow for favorite book of the year is Lessons in Chemistry. This historical fiction centers on a female scientist who becomes the nation’s first on-air cooking host. Through educating and empowering her audience of primarily women she breaks the status quo on more than one occasion and refuses to fit into the mold of homemaker.

I’ve linked Lessons in Chemistry for you at Amazon, Bookshop.org, and Libro.fm

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You can check out other recommendations at my Amazon Storefront!

I’d love to know which you pick up next! Leave me a comment and let me know!

This post contains affiliate links.

Children’s Art and Literacy Festival

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Children’s Art & Literacy Festival in Abilene, Texas! You may not know that Austin and I used to live in Abilene. He grew up there and we met while both attending Abilene Christian University. Over the last decade, we’ve seen this beautiful quiet town take off in development! The people are what make this place so special and the secret is finally getting out! This year the C.A.L.F. set a new attendance record, hovering around 5,500 registered attendees!

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What is the C.A.L.F.?

To start, Abilene is the Storybook Capital of America. It’s home to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, a museum that rotates installments of original illustration pieces from some of the most renowned artists in the industry.

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The Children’s Art & Literacy Festival is an annual event that emphasizes the importance of families, art, and literacy. It takes place the second weekend in June. 

The C.A.L.F. celebrated its 10th anniversary this year by honoring the work that Sophie Blackall has given to children’s literature. This three day event consisted of dramatic readings, interactive shows, educational workshops, hands-on extension activities, and community involvement all centered around children’s literacy. The joyful smiles and giggles were impossible to miss.

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Here’s an outline of what I did in two days. . .

If it seems like a lot, that’s because it was! This festival was packed with activities!

  • Dramatic Reading of Finding Winnie
  • Meet and Greet with Sophie Blackall
  • Musical Performance by Joe McDermott
  • Cookie Decorating
  • Petting Zoo
  • Kornpop Balloon Art Interactive Show
  • Nancy & Her Friends ventriloquist show
  • Dramatic Reading of Hello Lighthouse
  • Birds of Prey presentation
  • Puppet Show by Gepetto’s Marionette Theater
  • Dinner with Sophie Blackall
  • Meet the Storybook Characters in the Sculpture Garden
  • Dramatic Reading of Wombat Walkabout
  • Dramatic Reading of The Mighty Lalouche
  • Dramatic Reading of Big Red Lollipop
  • Dramatic Reading of Negative Cat
  • Dramatic Reading of No, David Read and Dog on a Bicycle (previously honored author/illustrator David Shannon)
  • Hands-on activities and experiments connected to Blackall’s books
  • Reading aloud to therapy dogs
  • Storybook Train Ride
  • Live performance “Wild Boars Cook: Live!”
  • Instrument Petting Zoo
  • Live performance “Ivy + Bean: The Musical”
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Friday:

I started the morning in the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL), where we listened to a vibrant reading of Finding Winnie, the book for which Sophie Blackall’s sculpture was created. More on that later!

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I met Sophie Blackall and had my copy of Finding Winnie signed. It was such a treat meeting her!

After leaving the NCCIL, I walked down Cypress Street to find Stilt Walkers entertaining kids with exciting costumes and dance moves.

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My next stop was at Minter Park, where I saw Joe McDermott perform his original silly songs and poems. He had both kids and adults captivated with his wit and humor!

Did I mention that it was a weekend of record breaking heat?! Well, next I stopped at Monks Coffee Shop, an Abilene staple, and ordered an iced lavender vanilla latte. Amazing, 10/10 def recommend. 

With my coffee, I headed across the street to McKay’s Bakery, another unofficial Abilene landmark, for cookie decorating. McKay’s set up a decorating station within their bakery for kids (and adults) to try their hand at the culinary arts!

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As I made my way to the next scheduled event, there were so many examples of community involvement. Students from a local private school volunteered to host a face painting and hair chalk station that STAYED BUSY! This was the place to be in between readings and performances!

Once I made my way to the Convention Center, I spent a few minutes outside before heading in. Along with a petting zoo, there was chalk galore on the front patio, an invitation for children to express their creativity throughout the event. There was also a chalk art installment by a local artist that represented the lighthouse from Blackall’s illustrations in the book Hello Lighthouse.

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Inside the Convention Center, I watched the adorable Kornpop Balloon Art Interactive Show. Kornpop (yes, that is his real name) had every kid mesmerized with balloon art and magic tricks. They loved him!

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After the silliness at Kornpop, I walked to the historic Paramount Theater to watch an educational show titled “Nancy & Her Friends.” This was my favorite show of the weekend! Nancy is a skilled ventriloquist and kept her audience (kids and adults) captivated with interesting facts about butterflies and spiders and funny jokes from her puppet children. 

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Next up was a short walk to Nora Hall to listen to a read aloud of Hello Lighthouse. After each read aloud, there was a related craft for children to complete!

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I had a quick lunch at The Local before heading over to Frontier Texas for some outdoor fun! There, I learned about hawks, vultures, and owls, and the Birds of Prey show. I also got to get up close and personal with the most adorable warthogs I’ll ever see! Remember, each event connects to Blackall’s books. These two were extensions of The Crows of Pearblossom and Meet Wild Boars.  

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Last event of the day was a marionette show at The Well put on by Gepetto’s Marionette Theater from Dallas. 

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I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literacy, where we all got to observe a Q & A with Blackall. It was spectacular! 

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Saturday:

First up on Saturday was Meet the Storybook Characters in the Sculpture Garden located next to the Convention Center. I found Winnie, as well as many other characters!

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I stopped for another coffee at Monks and headed to the Grace museum for two dramatic readings: Wombat Walkabout and The Mighty Lalouche.

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Next were two more dramatic readings at the Community Foundations Center: Big Red Lollipop and Negative Cat.

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No, David Read and Dog on a Bicycle dramatic readings (honoring David Shannon from years past) were presented at the Majestic Theater.

At the Center for Contemporary Arts, was a “STEAM Room” full of hands-on activities and experiments that were extensions of Blackall’s books. “STEAM” stands for Science Technology Engineering Art and Math.

They also had an area for children to practice reading aloud to therapy dogs provided by Hendrick Pets.

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I stopped for a quick turkey sandwich at Cypress Street Café and then was off to the Storybook Train Ride at the T & P Depot!

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One of my favorite shows was the Wild Boars Cook: Live! Show presented by Abilene Christian University’s theater department at the Abilene Public Library! 

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The afternoon ended with a unique experience, an Instrument Petting Zoo at the Wooten! This event allowed children to explore all kinds of instruments, providing early exposure to musical arts.

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I wrapped up the weekend’s event on Saturday night with a live performance of Ivy + Bean: The Musical at the Paramount theater. It was the perfect way to wrap up a weekend of children’s literacy and honor Sophie Blackall’s work.

What a fantastic experience! This event is incredibly centered around the child’s experience, making it the perfect family friendly summer bucket list event! If you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, or bookworm, the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival is a must!

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Five Star Read: Shadows of Pecan Hollow by Caroline Frost

3 Reasons Why Shadows of Pecan Hollow Should Be Your Next Read

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“Is it better than Crawdads?!”

That’s the question I’m still hearing in my head. Someone asked me this question on Instagram and my answer was. . . Yeah, I think it might be. This is not a comparison I make lightly.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished Shadows of Pecan Hollow and I’m still thinking about it. Here are three reasons why you should pick up a copy for yourself!

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Shadows of Pecan Hollow by Caroline Frost

Reason #1: Rich Character Development

I was immediately enveloped by the characters. Frost had me feeling like I’d known them forever in the first 50 pages. How is that even possible?! To my delight, the characters only got deeper and deeper. Some I loved with my whole heart, and some, well. . .

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Reason #2: Emotional Roller Coaster

Frost’s writing took ahold of my heart and did not let go. I got mad. I cried MORE THAN ONCE. My anger was resolved. I felt pride for these women. I even laughed through some tears. The suspense kept me gripped! I forced myself to read it slowly, in small bits because I didn’t want it to end.

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Reason #3: Texas Setting

As a native Texan, it’s no surprise that I hold a high standard for the way that my state is portrayed. It’s my home, as it is Frost’s. I love living here. Our history is rich with blood, sacrifice, and strength.

Frost nailed it. She told me she was trying to win over the Texans with this one and she surely did. Aside from geographical accuracy, there was special attention to community.

Texas is called The Friendly State for a reason. Although there are inevitably bad people like Manny, there is no shortage of community to rally behind you through difficult times.

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Order your copy of Shadows of Pecan Hollow here and thank me later!

This post contains affiliate links.

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