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Mailbox Monday #667

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Scale Model of a Country at Dawn by John Sibley Williams for review.

With an impressive mastery of sound matched only by his alchemical imagery, Williams guides readers along mythic highways, above oceans, and towards the reimagining of a bridge no one remembers. To conjure is a recurring theme in this impressive collection—as if language holds the power to reconfigure a past, a mother, a child. And perhaps it can. Williams’ words are that convincing. Recasting home as conch shell, as ghost house, and as fire, we learn that we are held together by the tensile strength of our own narrative. I’ve circled and underlined lines on nearly every poem in Scale Model of a Country at Dawn. This is a book you’ll want to read, and then turn to the first poem to enter again. Even if no one is safe from the wolves in our hearts, John Sibley Williams helps us live within these contradictions. – Susan Rich

In Scale Model of a Country at Dawn, John Sibley Williams illuminates a world that while filled with tragedy and ruin is likewise blooming with life and celebration. Here, we navigate the “new constellations” and “vanquished sky” after a friend’s suicide; we contemplate the absence of earth and wonder if it can be “filled with prayers” again; and in between the oncology ward and the wildfires raging in Northern California, we see the quiet moments worth spending time with: a father witnessing his children coming into their own, a house in need of repair but still providing shelter, and the plethora of American landscapes where Williams’ speakers have a chance to reflect and be themselves. Although in the course of this collection we may come to realize that there are “far fewer gods” than we thought before, Williams’ poems are a gift that offer us something to believe in again and again. – Esteban Rodriguez

Black Under by Ashanti Anderson for review.

The poem from which BLACK UNDER derives its title opens with a resounding declaration: “I am black and black underneath.” These words are an anthem that reverberates throughout Ashanti Anderson’s debut short collection. We feel them as we navigate her poems’ linguistic risks and shifts and trumpets, as we straddle scales that tip us toward trauma’s still-bloody knife in one turn then into cutting wit and shrewd humor in the next. We hear them amplified through Anderson’s dynamic voice, which sings of anguish and atrocities and also of discovery and beauty.

BLACK UNDER layers outward perception with internal truth to offer an almost-telescopic examination of the redundancies–and incongruences–of marginalization and hypervisibility. Anderson torques the contradictions of oppression, giving her speakers the breathing room to discover their own agency. In these pages, declarations are reclamations, and joy is not an aspiration but a birthright.

What did you receive?

Giveaway & Interview with Mimi Matthews, author of The Siren of Sussex

Welcome to today’s tour stop with Mimi Matthews for her latest book, The Siren of Sussex.

Before we get to the interview, read a little bit about this book:

Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.

Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.

But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts?

I just love these kinds of stories about couples kept apart by social expectation and how they can overcome them.

Please welcome Mimi Matthews:

What has your writing journey been like? When and how did you start writing and what keeps you going?

I started writing very young, finishing my first manuscript at thirteen and signing with my first agent at eighteen. After that, my writing career was on hold while I finished college and law school, worked, and traveled a bit. It wasn’t until I suffered a serious neck injury that I returned to writing fiction. I love researching and writing about nineteenth century history. It’s a passion for me as much as it is a job.

How has self-publishing prepared you for publishing with a traditional publisher? How are these journeys similar and different?

I was traditionally published first, for my nonfiction history books. I think that’s part of the reason I had confidence to give the indie world a try. I had received an offer for my novel The Lost Letter from a smaller publisher, but ultimately decided to put it out myself. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The biggest difference between traditional and indie publishing is the level of control the author has over what happens to their manuscript. As for similarities, it really depends how you approach the indie publishing journey. I tend to follow a traditional publishing model, so it actually feels quite similar to me.

You’ve written historical fiction, what is your favorite time period to write about and why?

The Victorian era is my favorite time period. It was an era of enormous change. I love delving deeper into how people responded to those changes.

Your latest novel, The Siren of Sussex, has a very independent woman in the lead during a time period where women weren’t too much in control of their own lives. Why is it important to shed light on these independent women? How hard was it to keep modern sensibilities in check while writing a woman’s story during the Victorian age?

I love to write female characters who don’t fit the stereotypical Victorian mold—women who are independent minded, who think about bigger issues like race and class, and who manage to carve out unique niches for themselves in a society that exerted unrelenting pressure to conform.

Modern sensibilities don’t even come into because women like this actually existed in the Victorian era.

Tell us a little bit about the Siren’s main love interest, Ahmad Malik, and what some of the obstacles are facing this pair.

Ahmad Malik is a brilliant tailor who dreams of becoming a society dressmaker. Born of a Muslim Indian mother and an English father, he’s spent most of his life as an outsider.

When he meets Evelyn Maltravers, he sees a way to improve both their fortunes. He doesn’t anticipate falling in love with her. To make a success of his work—and his burgeoning romance with Evelyn—Ahmad must face the prejudice of some members of fashionable society; He must also overcome his personal qualms about becoming involved with a lady of a different race and class.

Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Write what you love. You won’t stick with it otherwise.

Thank you, Mimi, for agreeing to the interview.

It’s wonderful to know that forward-thinking women have not been lost to history and that we can shed light on them through fictional characters.

About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, BookBub, and GoodReads.

GIVEAWAY: Jan. 4, 2022 to Feb. 7, 2022


Terms & Conditions:
Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited.

The Giveaway Package: ENTER HERE

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives the following:

  • Signed print copy of The Siren of Sussex
  • Horse scarf
  • Pewter sidesaddle brooch (made in Sussex, England!)
  • The Siren of Sussex tote bag
  • Three candles in scents: Fresh Hay, New Saddle, and Winter Ride
  • Box of Ahmad Tea (60 count, assorted flavors)
  • The Siren of Sussex bookmark

The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog at 8:00 pm Pacific time on Feb. 8, 2022.

The Last Night in London by Karen White

Source: the publisher
Hardcover, 480 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Last Night in London by Karen White is an epic WWII novel with dual narratives set in during the Blitz and in 2019. Young, Yorkshire girl Eva Harlow, whose run from her life of poverty where her mother is a laundress and her father is a drunk, meets Precious Dubose, a young Tennessean, by happenstance at the train station and become like sisters as they navigate early 1940s London as models. Meanwhile, Madison Warner in 2019 is tasked with writing an article for British Vogue about Precious Dubose and the fashions in war time. She’s struggling to live life even as she assumes she’ll have a short life.

“Pushing herself against a wall, as if she could hide from the noise and the terror, she closed her eyes. Moonlight Sonata. Someone — she couldn’t remember who, in an underground club perhaps — had whispered that that was what he called the music of the nightly bombings.” (pg. 2)

Eva Harlow is a woman eager to reinvent herself. Her mother has lived her life under the hands of a drunk husband, but when he’s sent to jail, her other moves away from their home and hopes for a new life. This pushes Eva to seek out her own way and become someone more than an uneducated Yorkshire girl. She drops her real name and morphs into an elegant model, learning new languages from fellow models and reading books and newspapers to become more educated. Precious becomes like a sister to her and they work so well together and are often mistaken for one another because they are both slim, blond, and elegant.

Madison Warner travels to London to write an article on Precious, who is now nearly 100 years old, and the man she’s pushed out of her mind will be sharing a flat with her and Precious. Colin is a dreamy Brit who still holds a candle for her, even as she’s pushed him away when she left Oxford.

This book is epic. Karen White has outdone herself with these characters and the story. I was along for the entire ride. I couldn’t put this book down. What happened to Eva and her RAF pilot Graham St. John? Why does Precious have all of Eva’s things? What is she hiding? And what is Alex Grof’s role in this?

As for Madison and Colin, there is the navigation of past hurts, as well as the mystery they are both so eager to solve. Colin’s nana Precious, though not by blood, loves him like her own and vice versa, while Madison is a distant relation, according to a genealogy project. As they unravel the mystery, will they be closer than before? Will Maddie get a grip and take life by the horns and just live life to the fullest? Will Precious help them both move forward?

There is so much beauty in this novel. There are family bonds, friendships that become like family bonds, romance, and intrigue. The Last Night in London by Karen White will capture your imagination and hold you hostage as you whisk yourself around London’s streets during the Blitz and immerse yourself in Precious’ memories of fashion and so much more.

RATING: Cinquain

Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday

Take this time to reflect on the freedoms we have in this country, and how there was a lot of sweat and blood that went into making them a reality.

Also take a moment to think about how precious those freedoms are and what you are willing to do to keep them.

Finally, the time is NOW to take action to actively preserve your rights.

What would you do, if you were Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Mailbox Monday #666

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Surviving Home by Katerina Canyon from Book Publicity Services.

Katerina Canyon’s poems offer intimate accounts of home as the locus of danger — and homeland as a state of oppression. They are at once urgent and mysterious, full of ocean depths and surging currents. Far from nostalgia, home inspires in this poet a vigilance, keeping watch on herself and others. Her very language is charged with the alert intelligence that offers a means of survival, and metaphors that transform pain into poetry. —Devin Johnston, author of Mosses and Lichens

Katerina Canyon’s poems dive into history unafraid to explore the complexity of home and family and acknowledge: the sea is filled with bones. This powerful, engaging collection where we see the billowing skirt of sunset asks again and again: How do get past our pasts? Smart, poignant, compassionate, Canyon’s poems remind us that strength happens despite one’s childhood and one’s country; they exclaim, We can choose whether we are stuck / In darkness or in light. Kelli Russell Agodon, author of Dialogues with Rising Tides

In lush language and startling images, Katerina Canyon unveils a story in blood and bone of a speaker who survives domestic cycles of addiction and abuse, terrors handed down from the plantation through generations of her kin . . . Like the Phoenix, the speaker dares to draw near destruction to name our violent histories in order to claim a survivor’s eternal understanding of how to love, how to mother, and how to teach the world that We cannot be bound. We are free. We are infinite.  —Katy Didden, author of The Glacier’s Wake

What did you receive?

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: GBF
Paperback, 98 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell is a short story collection of disturbing and horrifying stories about dolls and other playthings. Each story breathes life into Barbie’s friends, teddy bears with guns, and so many other body-less beings. These nine stories may seem like innocent looks into the lives of our childish playthings, but these toys are not childish and they are far from innocent. Campbell weaves her tales with such precise language, you’re swept up into this horrifying world in which rape and voodoo have serious, life-threatening consequences and the phrase “let them eat cake” emerges from an entirely different context.

From “The Box”: “Miss Holly raises empty palms. ‘At this point motives are immaterial. All we can manage now are the consequences.'” (pg. 4)

The opening story, “The Box,” finds a number of dolls languishing in the darkness not only of the physical place, but the emotional space. They are unsure why they have been removed from their children and why they can no longer be in the playroom, but once the consequences of events that “happened to them” and were “beyond their control” are revealed, the parallels between these dolls and many young women become clear. The uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety, the shaming. It is all here in this short story, and if it makes you uncomfortable, it should. It should also make you rethink your actions and reactions to young women who find themselves similarly situated, especially when things beyond their control occur. Sympathy, rather than judgment, should be given, along with a helping hand.

Campbell’s stories are haunting and unsettling. They will leave readers looking for the flashlight to not only provide themselves with a sense of hope, but to also reveal some harsh truths. Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell is a delight in horror and twisted storytelling that shouldn’t be missed.

The last story I read that had dolls in it was hugely disappointing. You can check out my review of The Birthing House.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

With a BA in English, an MA in German, and an MFA in Creative Writing, Tara Campbell has a demonstrated aversion to money and power. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 – 2022. She is also a 2017 Kimbilio Fellow and winner of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Tara earned her MFA from American University in 2019, and is a fiction editor at Barrelhouse. She teaches fiction with American University, the Writer’s Center, Politics and Prose, and the National Gallery of Art’s Writing Salon. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, narrated by the author, is a delight by itself. If you want to here Grohl talk about his life as written in the book with some riffs and musical interludes, you should pick up this audio.

There’s a lot of unbelievable moments in his life, and I think his ability to just “go for it” and say “yes” to any opportunity really helped him become as successful as he is. I do think some will be disappointed about the lack of gossip about Nirvana and Courtney Love, etc., but most will have to recall that Nirvana was already a band for three years when Grohl joined. He’s spent a very small amount of his career with that band. This is a memoir about Grohl’s life in music and life.

I don’t need to say much else, because I already reviewed the book.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #665

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Poems from the Asylum by Martha H. Nasch, introduction by Jodi Nasch Decker, edited by Janelle Molony from the editor for review.

Anthology of harrowing and insightful poems written by Martha Hedwig Nasch, patient-inmate #20864 at the St. Peter State Hospital for the Insane.

After noticing something strange from a secret medical procedure in 1927, St. Paul, Minnesota, Martha Nasch’s doctor claimed she just had a “case of nerves.” With a signature from her adulterous husband, Martha was committed against her will to the asylum. She spent nearly seven years in the Minnesota hospital during the Great Depression and tried to escape twice. Martha’s poems from behind bars include shocking eyewitness accounts of patient treatment and a long-suffering adoration for her only child, now being raised alone by her deceiving spouse.

When not a soul believed Martha’s story, she sought an explanation for her mysterious condition that led her to a spiritual answer for the mystifying curse. Would her findings make her a metaphysical guru of the Breatharian lifestyle, or would she become the laughingstock of her Depression-era family?

Editing and arrangement by Martha’s great-granddaughter, Janelle Molony, with an introduction by Jodi Nasch Decker, granddaughter and family historian. More than fifty photographs and illustrations are included with the historical research that accompanies this beautiful collection of poems.

Run by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, which I purchased.

The sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series March—the continuation of the life story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Selma voting rights campaign.

To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington.

It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory.

But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell—the award–winning illustrator of the March trilogy—and are joined by L. Fury—making an astonishing graphic novel debut—to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history.

What did you receive?

From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 1+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford, narrated by Catherine Bilson, is a delightful short story that occurs after Mr. Darcy’s unexpected and terrible proposal to Elizabeth Bennet at Hunsford, but in this story, Longbourn has burned down. Elizabeth and Jane are the only surviving members of the Bennet family, and they are forced to live with their relatives.

Bilson is a precise narrator, with perfect pronunciation and inflection. However, her narrative voice for Jane and Elizabeth is very similar, which makes it harder to discern who is speaking, especially if you are engaged in tasks other than listening to the audio. Her inflections for Mr. Darcy are spot on, however, making her rendition of him a standout.

McMann and Hanford have created a delightful alternative for our Austen characters, and while the romance is quickly tied up at the end, it works well with the characterizations early on in the story and the storyline. From Ashes to Heiresses by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford, narrated by Catherine Bilson, was a delightful distraction.

RATING: Quatrain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

Best Books of 2021

It’s hard to believe that 2021 is already over.

In 2021 I read 100 books, but I didn’t do a breakdown by genre this year. I do think I read nearly 50 poetry books last year, which is a lot. I found that I struggled to concentrate on fiction last year. But reading poetry was easier and calming.

Not all of the books I read in 2021 were reviewed last year. I lost some of that reviewing mojo.

There are some books that I couldn’t review last year because they are in the running for the local festival and others have an embargo. You’ll see those reviews throughout 2022, but they will be tagged as “read in 2021.”

What books did you find easier to read last year? Did you struggle with your reading?

Here’s my Best Books of 2021 (though not all were published in 2021): Links go to my reviews of the books.

Nonfiction:

Children’s/Kids:

Fiction:

Poetry: (originally there were at least 12 top books on my list – I’ve narrowed that down to these 6)

Please share your Best of 2021 lists in the comments.

Mailbox Monday #664

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to 2022!

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Admit This to No One by Leslie Pietrzyk, which I purchased.

In Admit This to No One, we meet a group of women connected to a central figure either personally or professionally, and for better or for worse―an all-powerful and elusive Speaker of the House, whose political career has only stopped short of being Presidential due to his myriad extra-marital affairs. The Speaker’s daughters from his several failed marriages have a complicated relationship with him to say the least―alternating between longing for his affection or bristling with resentment, and occasionally relief at being left out of the spotlight.

His oldest daughter Lexie, from his “real family, the first one,” once his favorite who knew the real him, is now an adult who has blown up her career due to a sex scandal of her own. His long-time fixer and keeper of secrets, Mary-Grace, is relentless and uncompromising in her devotion to him, making the lives of the interns and aides under her purview in the Capitol miserable. When the Speaker’s life is in danger, the disparate women in his life will collide for the first time, but can their relationships be repaired?

These stories show us how Washington, D.C.’s true currency is power, but power is inextricable from oppression― D.C. is a city divided, not just by red or blue, right or left, but Black and white. Segregated by income and opportunity, but also physically by bridges and rivers, and police vehicles, Leslie Pietrzyk casts an unflinching and exacting gaze on her characters, as they grapple with the ways they have upheld white supremacy and misogyny. Shocking and profound, Pietrzyk writes with an emotional urgency about what happens when the bonds of family and duty are pushed to the limit, and how if individuals re-evaluate their own beliefs and actions there is a path forward.

What did you receive?