Eva Maze: With Ballet in My Soul

A life spanning close to 100 years is noteworthy, if only because of its longevity. The rich life of a woman committed to a professional vision ahead of its time, filled with glamour, excitement, and adventure, is truly remarkable. Narrated in her own words, this is the story of such a woman, Eva Maze, who, from the time she left Romania as a teenager in 1939, dreamed of being a ballet dancer, and through a series a circumstances, became instead one of the most successful theatrical impresarios in Europe – with a career spanning more than 40 years.

Now in her nineties, Maze looks back at the path and passion that led her from Bucharest to the United States as an immigrant, and then, as a married woman, back again to Europe and Asia, where she found her professional calling.

Set against key historical events of the 20th century, including the building of the Berlin Wall, the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as well as the rise and fall of Pan American Airlines, Maze’s fascinating past is brought to life through a combination of serious commentary and amusing anecdotes about the risks and rewards of the business side of theater and dance, some of the personalities who were part of those worlds from the 1940s to the 1990s, her own motivation for being an impresario, and her personal life. Her narration is supported by more than 250 captivating historical and modern images going back to her birth in 1922.

Representing artists and companies abroad from a vast array of talent in the performing arts of the time – including The Alvin Ailey Dance Company, The Living Theatre, and The Swingle Singers – this unique woman became a prolific producer of more than 100 different types of theatrical programs from the world of dance, music, mime, cabaret, and drama.

When the publisher contacted me about Eva Maze’s memoir, the stunning woman on the cover caught my attention immediately. After reading the captivating summary, I couldn’t say no to the review request. I was expecting a regular black and white print copy, but when it arrived, I opened the envelope to find a BEAUTIFUL 200 page full-color coffee-table book!

We all have that one neighbor that we want to know more about–she’s lead the most interesting life, and if we could just sit down for tea with her we know we’d learn a lifetime of history. Eva Maze is one of those people, and opening With Ballet in My Soul is that afternoon tea. So you better have a big pot ready, because you’re not going to want to move from your couch until you finish listening to everything she has to tell you.

Eva has been pretty much everywhere. She was born in Romania in the 20s, and then convinced her parents to move to the US so she could see the World’s Fair–THE YEAR BEFORE HITLER INVADED. Her wanderlust saved her family, and from then on she just never stopped globetrotting. Ballet had a great influence on her life, and this book is intertwined with music and theatre and great talent.

But what I really loved about it were the pictures. Usually when you read a memoir, the pictures are a second thought that the publisher tosses into the center of the book. Not here. They are published along with the story, and as I said before, this is in full-color. It’s the kind of book you want to leave around for someone to idly pick up now and then, and glance through–though definitely actually read it. It doesn’t take long!

Moonstone Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. Affiliate links included in this post.

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Anne Bishop: Etched in Bone

New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop returns to her world of the Others, as humans struggle to survive in the shadow of shapeshifters and vampires far more powerful than themselves…

After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.

I’ve been waiting a year for the fifth and final book in The Others series to come out. And I’ve had the ARC in my collection for months–I had to have been one of the first to be approved for it. My willpower is SO STRONG, guys. Sometimes I don’t know how I manage to wait until the release month to read these. Probably because I just have way too many books in line.

Anyway, the anticipation was strong with this one. I’ve loved the first four, and the last one teased some mega romance. My body was ready.

But maybe my brain wasn’t? Or maybe it’s because I’m halfway through marathoning ASOIAF for trivia next week. THIS FELT LIKE SUCH A CHORE. I couldn’t make it halfway.

Something about Etched in Bone just didn’t measure up to the rest of the series. Slow doesn’t begin to describe it. It also barely focuses on Meg and Simon at all, which is what I was really looking forward to in this last edition.

One thing I noticed, in the slowness, is that Bishop is continually reintroducing characters to us, even though this is the fifth book. Really, if you’ve made it this far, you should know her world by now–how packs operate, why Meg is special, etc. A little bit of that is fine, but it shouldn’t still be happening more than 25% into the book. it makes the story/series seem very choppy and ruins the flow of it.

The plot also focuses around domestic abuse, and there is a LOT of victim blaming. For a series that unpacks mental illness and addiction, I was pretty grossed out by how this topic was being handled. Maybe it resolves itself later–but it wasn’t looking good.

I hated to DNF this, but I hated to finish it more. When a book becomes a chore, it just is not worth it, no matter how much I loved the rest of the series. I’m so disappointed.

NetGalley and Roc provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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William Daniels: There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny…

There I Go Again is a celebrity memoir like no other, revealing the life of a man whose acting career has been so rich that millions of Americans know his face even while they might not recognize his name.

William Daniels is an enigma—a rare chameleon who has enjoyed massive success both in Hollywood and on Broadway and been embraced by fans of successive generations. Few of his peers inspire the fervor with which buffs celebrate his most iconic roles, among them George Feeny in Boy Meets World, KITT in Knight Rider, Dr. Mark Craig in St. Elsewhere, and John Adams in the play and film 1776.

Daniels guides readers through some of Hollywood’s most cherished productions, offering recollections of entertainment legends including Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Mike Nichols, Jason Robards, Barbra Streisand, and many more.

Looking back on his seventy-five-plus-year career, Daniels realizes that although he never had the courage to say “no” to being an actor, he backed into stardom. With his wife, actress Bonnie Bartlett, by his side, he came to realize that he wound up exactly where he was supposed to be: on the screen and stage.

You know how they say “Don’t meet your heroes?” Sometimes…they are right.

William Daniels will always be Mr. Feeny to anyone of my generation. It doesn’t matter what else he is in–any time William Daniels appears on screen, calls of FEEEEEENY are heard.

Of course, as an actor of age, I assumed he had a career long before Boy Meets World, so his memoirs intrigued me. I snatched that book right up when it appeared on my NetGalley dash!

Unfortunately…William Daniels is not near as well spoken as our beloved Mr. Feeny. It sounds like he led a pretty interesting life–he grew up during the depression, was a child actor on Broadway, trained for WWII, and has been in show business his entire life. Even still, this book made me sleepy. I got to about 35% and put it down.

Sorry Feeny. Love you, but I’ll stick to watching Boy Meets World reruns.

NetGalley and Potomac Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Melissa Febos: Abandon Me

In her critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart, Melissa Febos laid bare the intimate world of the professional dominatrix, turning an honest examination of her life into a lyrical study of power, desire, and fulfillment.

In her dazzling Abandon Me, Febos captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection — with family, lovers, and oneself. First, her birth father, who left her with only an inheritance of addiction and Native American blood, its meaning a mystery. As Febos tentatively reconnects, she sees how both these lineages manifest in her own life, marked by compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Meanwhile, she remains closely tied to the sea captain who raised her, his parenting ardent but intermittent as his work took him away for months at a time. Woven throughout is the hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance love affair with a woman, marked equally by worship and withdrawal. In visceral, erotic prose, Febos captures their mutual abandonment to passion and obsession — and the terror and exhilaration of losing herself in another.

At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.

How do I know a book deserves an automatic five-star rating? When I have eight pages of quotes in my journal. EIGHT.

I could have copied this whole book down and still needed to go back and copy it all again. Melissa Febos’ prose is FLAWLESS. God. It’s so beautiful that I can not find a single thing to criticize.

It is also DRIPPING with sex.

In fact, most of the negative reviews on Goodreads say something like “Why does this book have to be so sexual?” Um, guys, you picked a book by dominatrix…did you expect something G rated?

This isn’t so much about her time as a sex worker–that’s another book–but about every other loaded section of her life. As she puts it:

“I am Puerto Rican, but not really. Indian, but not really. Gay, but not really. Adopted, but not really.”

The memoir’s story follows her abusive relationship with a married woman and her constant struggle to escape it. She details her addiction to self-harm, then alcohol, then drugs, and then love–all in an effort to gain control over her own body. We get to know, some along with her, the heartbreakingly damaged people in her life.

But the most important point of this book is how she teaches us of the incredible psychological trauma of the Indigenous Peoples of America. At one point, she has a conversation with her agent about how no one wants to read about Native Americans, that she should write something more akin to her dominatrix book, something about her–urban and edgy. So she does just that with this book–writing her love story, but still managing to weave in Native American history in every stop that is made, and let us know just how that genocide and erasure has affected the people we have tried so hard to push down.

Prove that agent wrong. Order this book immediately, guys. It’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s IMPORTANT. There are LGBTQIA+ and Native and POC people everywhere in this. And you know, that agent is right about one thing–we don’t see too many Native American authors–but that shouldn’t mean a lack of wanting them published. We need more stories like this, and we can start with Melissa Fabos. GO ORDER THIS BOOK, YA’LL.

NetGalley and Bloomsbury provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Han Kang–Human Acts

From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a rare and astonishing (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

This book.

Deep Exhale.

This book is a ghost story. To read this book is to experience the mass casualty that overcomes a city in war. We see both sides–from the living and bereaved–trying to find closure in a city building overcome with overflowing death. We see, too, through the blind eyes of a trapped soul, panicking under the press of rot and gore, unable to release himself from the body that no longer lives.

And that is only the beginning.

This book is a ghost story–and there are so many ghosts. There are only 218 pages, but I could not read this for more than a few minutes at a time without putting my bookmark in and just breathing. I could not cry because I felt like every emotion I had was sucked right out of me.

I’m not sure how to describe this book–beautiful? amazing? great? All of those words could fit but mostly it just tore me to shreds. This short book is exhausting to read and in literature that is the exact opposite of a negative review. Just be prepared when you go into this. Han Kang does not need to waste 500 pages on dramatic world-building, she can do it in a whisper. You will be haunted by Human Acts. This book is a ghost story.

This book was provided by Blogging for Books and Hogarth for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

Read the World:  South Korea

DiversityBingo2017:  NonWestern Real World Setting

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Jennifer Ryan: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

As England enters World War II’s dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar’s stuffy edict to shutter the church’s choir in the absence of men and instead ‘carry on singing’. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir“, the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.

Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit — a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn’t understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past — we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir’s collective voice reverberates in her individual life.

In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

After all the super intense books I’ve been reading lately, I was in some pretty desperate need for something light and fluffy. And while war is never exactly fluffy…stories about it can be kept light and romantic. That’s how The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is–some big action written into a lovely easy read that would be welcome alongside a cozy fire or on a sandy beach.

There are some interesting characters in this book, for sure–and as with most WWII novels, some pretty strong women. There’s a few men around, but mostly the ladies run the show and all are incredibly unique. That said, there isn’t much actual diversity in this book, which is disappointing. The only attempt at a diverse character is one homosexual soldier, whose only real role is to further the moral curiosity of one of the leads. I liked that soldier…but he wasn’t in the book enough to really count as more than a diverse prop–not what we are going for, authors.

That’s really the only criticism I can give, and while that is a big one, I did enjoy reading the book. It was a nice, pleasant read. I’m not bouncing off the walls wanting to hand this to everyone, but it was a good way to spend two days. I feel refreshed and ready for something that requires more digging.

NetGalley and Crown Publishing provided an ARC for my unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Amanda Eyre Ward: The Nearness of You

In this profound and lyrical novel, acclaimed author Amanda Eyre Ward explores the deeper meanings of motherhood—from the first blissful hello to the heart-wrenching prospect of saying goodbye.

Brilliant heart surgeon Suzette Kendall is stunned when Hyland, her husband of fifteen years, admits his yearning for a child. From the beginning they’d decided that having children was not an option, as Suzette feared passing along the genes that landed her mother in a mental institution. But Hyland proposes a different idea: a baby via surrogate.

Suzette agrees, and what follows is a whirlwind of candidate selections, hospital visits, and Suzette’s doubts over whether she’s made the right decision. A young woman named Dorothy Muscarello is chosen as the one who will help make this family complete. For Dorrie, surrogacy (and the money that comes with it) are her opportunity to leave behind a troubled past and create a future for herself—one full of possibility. But this situation also forces all three of them—Dorrie, Suzette, and Hyland—to face a devastating uncertainty that will reverberate in the years to come.

Beautifully shifting between perspectives, The Nearness of You deftly explores the connections we form, the families we create, and the love we hold most dear.

So here’s the deal. I almost didn’t make it past the first chapter. I even tweeted that I was fully prepared for this book to piss me off all the way through.

The premise of this book is that Suzette doesn’t want children. Her mother has a mental illness so bad that she is hospitalized (we never meet her), and Suzette also suffers from “issues.” Those issues are vague, but referred to throughout the book, and she’s deathly afraid of anyone close to her getting sick too. She was very clear on the first date with Hyland that she was not going to have children. They made a decision, she was firm on it, he seemed happy.

But after 15 years of marriage, he suddenly decided that he wanted a baby, and pretty much gaslights her into thinking she wants one too. So they get a surrogate. And then he spends the rest of the book making her feel HORRIBLE for being a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule–even though she has ALWAYS BEEN a successful pediatric surgeon with a busy schedule.

This is my absolute worst nightmare–and my husband knows this–that he will suddenly decide 15 years into our marriage that he wants children. It is the cruelest thing a person could do, in my opinion–worse than cheating–to go against something so fundamental in your marriage foundation.

I know, I’m ranting, but this is all just to say that it soured my opinion of the book from the first chapter–and it only went downhill from there. I did finish it, and had that big nope in the beginning not happened…I don’t know, there were a few other things that made me go ehhhhhhhhh…

The story certainly has hooks, and I could see people liking this. But it has way more problems than good things.

NetGalley and Ballantine Books provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post does have affiliate links.

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Elan Mastai: All Our Wrong Todays

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

Writing science fiction always seems like the hardest genre to me–there is always a problem to solve. When done right, the reader is transported directly into an alternate universe; when done wrong, all of the focus goes on the lack of research and the awkwardness or lack of world-building. The author has to be able to explain the problems and solutions well enough for a person like me to at least grasp the concept to make it believable–and also hold up to those smart enough to pick apart the numbers and equations in their heads.

All Our Wrong Todays is science fiction done WELL. I was immediately immersed into Tom’s whorling world of time travel between 2016 and 1965–and I had previously put down two books as DNF because I could not focus on anything. I was in serious danger of a book slump when I picked up Elan Mastai’s first novel. But instead, Tom’s fictional memoir saved both me and his world from total destruction.

This book does have some problems. Everybody in the book is straight, and while there are POC, they are mostly background characters.  Also, the relationships are a little sketchy, although the narrator does acknowledge that fact. He knows he’s an awkward guy going about everything the wrong way. Still–they are a bit problematic.

I am conflicted, because I hate “mental illness as a twist”–but I don’t think that is what is being done here. The book is a legit time travel story, but it does unpack some heavy mental illness and domestic abuse issues as a part of the plot. The narrator challenges and discusses them in the text. I can’t explain further without spoiling the book, but I think the author does a really good job of writing these issues in without using them as a plot device.

At first, I thought this was going to be a really great escape book for Inauguration Weekend. And it IS a good one to dive into, for sure. But this one will hit you deep. Can a book be fun, challenging, and heart wrenching all at the same time? Because All Our Wrong Todays certainly makes the effort.

NetGalley and Dutton provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Derek Palacio: The Mortifications

Derek Palacio’s stunning, mythic novel marks the arrival of a fresh voice and a new chapter in the history of 21st century Cuban-American literature.

In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

Each struggles and flourishes in their own way: Isabel, spiritually hungry and desperate for higher purpose, finds herself tethered to death and the dying in uncanny ways. Ulises is bookish and awkwardly tall, like his father, whose memory haunts and shapes the boy’s thoughts and desires. Presiding over them both is Soledad. Once consumed by her love for her husband, she begins a tempestuous new relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer. But just as the Encarnacións begin to cultivate their strange new way of life, Cuba calls them back. Uxbal is alive, and waiting.

Breathtaking, soulful, and profound, The Mortifications is an intoxicating family saga and a timely, urgent expression of longing for one’s true homeland.

I can’t believe it is only January 5th (when I’m writing this), and I am already sick of reading books by men.

I really wanted to like this. I don’t think I’ve read anything by a Cuban author previously, and there was some intriguing chatter about Palacio. It began well too, I finished the first quarter pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay this way, and I lost interest by the midway mark. I tried to keep going for a bit, but it just got progressively worse and I had to put it down. My grimace just got bigger and bigger and it just wasn’t worth continuing.

Soledad and Isabel were both solid, interesting characters. The mother, escaping Cuba during the boatlift, builds a successful life in New England for her children. Isabel, her daughter, is maybe the most complex character in the book, becomes The Death Torch–a novice nun who “helps” dying patients find peace on their way into the afterlife. I found the two main men in the story to be sort of flat and dull.

Unfortunately, this is a man’s literary fiction–and so that is the perspective we mostly get. The Mortifications is more about bland sexual relations than actual human relationships. And wow is there a LOT of sex in this book. Maybe I shouldn’t call it bland–just unrealistic. The kind of sex that if I read one of the scenes to you without telling you who wrote it, you would still know it was written by a man. I found it to be quite Oedipal and stomach churning. It wasn’t sexy at all, just wrong.

I stopped a little after the halfway point, but I have a feeling the second half of the book was going to turn even nastier. The letter leading up to it was a gaslighting mess, hinting at a direction I did not want to go.

I hate that this is such a big no, since it is a POC author and has diverse characters. But I just can’t recommend this. I am still very much interested in reading books by Cuban and/or Cuban-American authors, so if anyone has recommendations, I’d love to read them. I’m going to search for some myself, too. There are great ones out there–let’s go find them.

Blogging for Books and Tim Duggan Books provided a copy for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Louise Gornall: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

How do some books just find you at the perfect time? It seems that I’ve read bad book after bad book lately (with one or two exceptions), and then blammo, right when I needed it, this book happened. Two days after I was FINALLY diagnosed with OCD, I pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

I was hooked within the first couple pages. The narrator described her obsessions almost the exact same way I had written about them in my journal the day before my therapist appointment, and I got CHILLS. So much of what she talked about rang true with me. Mine is not near as severe, and I don’t have agoraphobia, but it was incredible to have such representation in a book.

But enough about me and back to the review. There are a lot of similarities between Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. However, Norah doesn’t have to be “fixed” to have a relationship with Luke. Instead, he comes to her. He makes an effort to learn about her disorder. In the process of their relationship, she does heal some, but she isn’t magically better. It’s baby steps, or “new pathways,” as her therapist would call them. Luke helps her grow a bit out of her comfort zone.

This book is going to be triggering for some people. There is a component of self-harm, and a very traumatic scene. Norah also experiences panic attacks throughout the book–those were difficult for me to experience, as they were very vivid. Right on target, but also hard to read through if you are one who has panic attacks yourself. Representation is everything, and amazing…but just proceed with caution if you also suffer from these kinds of mental illness.

I loved this book, I found it so helpful to read about someone like me. We need so many more Own Voices books about people with mental illness in this world. Definitely put this on your list for 2017!

DiversityBingo2017:  MC with an Invisible Disability

NetGalley and Clarion Books provided an ARC for unbiased review. This post does contain affiliate links.

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