Books · Honest Reviews

For the Readers on Your List!

If you’re like I am, you find yourself every year researching what to buy for the readers on your Christmas gifting list.

This year, HarperCollins has had several gift-worthy titles debut just in time for gift-giving. I’m excited to share four of them with you today!

Abridged Classics

Old classics (and ones just added to the list) are humorously summarized in this illustrated book by John Atkinson, Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t.

It’s a lovely hardbound book that will look pretty sitting on a tabletop….but what is inside will keep your gift recipient giggling with the turn of every page.

From books we all read in high school to classics that are so beefy you almost need a suitcase to carry them around, this book gives funny, one-or-two sentence “in a nutshell” teasers of what the books hold. Whether this just provides a bit of whimsy and entertainment or actually spurs someone to go out and buy and read these classics within, the book has achieved its probable mission.

 

The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters

If you have anyone on your list who is a Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis fan (or is it just ME!?) you will want to add this new book about her to their collection.

The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee  by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger debuted in September and has been receiving exceedingly positive reviews. It details the tumultuous relationship between Jackie and her sister Lee. Before reading, I had no idea that Jackie left Lee out of her will. Lee always felt as if she lived in her sister’s shadow, and the animosity grew. I can only imagine that the growing frustration affected Jackie, as well, whether she was fully aware of how her sister felt or not.

Though I’ve read numerous books about Jackie as First Lady, but this was different. I love reading “the story behind the story,” and this fit that bill. Heartbreaking and eye-opening, this is a must for every history buff or Jackie fan.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel

Harper Lee’s classic has been put into graphic novel form by artist Fred Fordham in To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel, and it gives us all another reason to fall for this story all over again. I love to see how graphic novel artists illustrate stories that were born with no pictures, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Especially beautiful is the play between light and dark, brilliance and shadows in the images. (I can only tell so much because my advanced reader’s copy is black and white — the published version has color illustrations, though, and those look beautiful.) From preteens to those of us who are older who read this book as a part of our school literature requirements, this volume sheds a different light on a book that will never grow old.

Year of Wonder

From Clemency Burton-Hill, a violinist and host of BBC Radio 3, comes Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day. Clemency takes what may be something that is boring and irrelevant to today’s younger generations and ushers in a fresh, new appreciation for one of the oldest music genres of all.

Every single day of the year, you are introduced to a new song and told about its composer. Those of us with Apple Music or Spotify can easily dial in each day’s tune as we read her inspiring introductions to songs overlooked or under-appreciated. The music ceases to just being a song — it lifts off of the sheet music pages and owns its unique story, which is dazzlingly laid out before us as we read.

A great gift for music lovers everywhere, even if their current musical repertoire includes nothing in the classical realm. (It surely will after this adventurous year!) Terrific Christmas idea so your recipient can include expanding his or her horizons and start this calendar of sorts on January 1st.

 

All of these books are available from HarperCollins.com’s online shop (save 20% off your entire order right now!), at Amazon.com, or wherever books are sold near you.

HAPPY READING!

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with these items at no cost in exchange for our honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Books · Honest Reviews

A Light So Lovely: Book Review

Zondervan contacted me about reviewing a brand new book about a beloved children’s (and adult’s) author Madeline L’Engle, and I jumped at the chance. Her Wrinkle in Time series captivated my husband’s heart as a kid, and it’s captivated mine and our kids’ ever since he introduced it to us. (I remember it growing up, just didn’t read it for some reason!)

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeline L’Engle is an in-depth character study into her background, her reasons for writing, and her spiritual journey and beliefs. It is written by a die-hard L’Engle enthusiast, a teacher who grades her class’s writing compositions on a “L’Engle-inspired curve.”

L’Engle lived in a time (and wrote in a time) when there was spiritual, and there was secular. There was not much deviation from those strict boundaries, and to attempt to create one created quite the controversy and questioning. L’Engle begged to differ when it came to this inflexibility, and it’s why her writing so beautifully combines things of God and things of nature (and some of the supernatural).

In my opinion, if God didn’t want us to be creative and imaginative, He wouldn’t have given us creativity or the mental capacity to be able to imagine.

This book details the infinite number of ways Madeline L’Engle influenced writers and authors. You’ll learn about her affection for science and her insatiable appetite for scientific news and breakthrough developments fueled her journey towards Christianity (contrary to what most may reckon would have driven one in the other direction). You’ll gain insight into her reasons behind her characters she fleshed out on the page, and get the inside, back story into not only her Wrinkle in Time trilogy but also her later books (that deal with more adult-centric themes such as an aging parent or death of a spouse….she gets raw and real and suddenly relatable with everyone with those published volumes).

I have more respect and awe for Mrs. L’Engle than I did before, and I love how this book is set up and arranged….mostly based on information gleaned by interviews from the author herself and those who most intimately knew her.

You can purchase A Light So Lovely directly from Zondervan as well as from Amazon, ChristianBook.com — most offer e-book formats, as well — or wherever books are sold near you.

 

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for our honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Books · Honest Reviews

Famous Father Girl: Book Review

My favorite genre to read of all time? Memoirs.

There are so many interesting things in the world we live in, aren’t there? I find that there isn’t much more interesting than a person and the life he or she has lived. Everyone has a story, a unique story. I enjoy celebrity memoirs but also “plain, ordinary people” memoirs. This one is sort of a mix of both.

Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein is written by famous musician Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie. She gives a peek into the life of someone who was in the spotlight for years and years, and vividly paints how that affected life for her, her mother, and her siblings.

Again, as I do with all of my book reviews, I don’t want to spoil anything here. This book starts with Jamie’s birth and continues up past her father’s passing. You will learn of her relationship with her father, as well as her parents’ unique relationship. You’ll read more about the rumors and taboos related to Bernstein’s private life, as well as Jamie’s mother’s battle with illness. You’ll meet their friends, as well as “brush shoulders” with some of the celebrities they shared life with. You’ll read about a girl just trying to have a normal childhood, then a normal life (going to college, etc.), but who’s constantly feeling like she can’t fully do just that. A private, normal life is something that the children of most celebrities and geniuses cannot attain.

When I started out, I wasn’t sure I’d really like this book, but I devoured it in just a few short days. I know much more about Bernstein and his struggles, demons, and triumphs. I learned more about the Jewish faith and its traditions, and how all of that was woven into this particular family. I learned a bit more about music. And I simply….just enjoyed the story. Thank you, Jamie.

You can purchase Famous Father Girl from HarperCollins directly, via Amazon, or wherever books are sold near you.

 

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for our honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Books · Honest Reviews

Barracoon: Book Review

One of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. A truly moving read. A unique perspective and long-ago voice much awaited. A heart-rendering true story. A treasure.

These are all things I could say about the just-released Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” Zora Neale Hurston (author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God”) submitted her manuscript for Barracoon to a publisher almost 100 years ago. It was rejected because it was written in “black dialect.”

The manuscript was finally published last month via HarperCollins, and it’s like a rare gift from the past.

Hurston was an author, yes, but she was also a historian, folklorist, and anthropologist. When she set out to interview her subject in 1927 rural Plateau, Alabama, she knew that the human race had very little time left to seek out the last surviving slave trade victims and get their stories. She did just that.

Though 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis was a bit difficult to pin down, Hurston was able to convince him to let her interview him with promises of company….and little gifts (many in the form of agricultural bounty). The stories of his life began to pour out of his mouth, little by little, and Hurston captured it all in his own dialect, beautifully and amazingly.

In this book you will follow Cudjo as he is at first at home in his native land, then to the raid that caused him to be forced on board a slave ship as one of the last Atlantic slave trade cargo.

I won’t spoil it too much for you. Though a short read, it’s packed full of parables, heartache, love, and loss. My heart broke with Cudjo as he described some of the great sadnesses of his life.

When he fully realizes what Hurston is there to do, he graciously allows her entrance into his private thoughts and life, but with one condition: “I want you everywhere you go to go tell everybody whut Cudjo say, and how come I in Americky soil since de 1859 and never see my people no mo’.”

You can purchase Barracoon directly from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or wherever books are sold near you.

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for our honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Uncategorized

Review: Gonna Be Great! {Music for Kids}

From singer/songwriter David Tobocman is an album your kids are gonna love. Like the title, it’s “Gonna Be Great!” A great addition to the musical repertoire in your household (and car!), that is!

Tobocman’s Gonna Be Great! album debuted last year and is a collection of sing-able, multi-genred songs that kids everywhere will learn quickly and enjoy.

We’ve had Gonna Be Great! playing in our car for the last couple of months, and it’s been quite the ride! Tobocman’s songs (with stories intertwined) are lively and carefree.

The album’s first and title track, “Gonna Be Great,” is one of those songs you play on a happy, carefree, sunny day. (Or one of those songs that you can play on a humdrum, dreary day to brighten it back up again!) It’s snap-worthy and catchy.

“Dalia” (Track 2) is more of a pensive, story-telling type of song, reflective and positive.

We were enamored and entertained by “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” (Track 3), “Don’t Put Money in Your Mouth” (Track 8), and “Take the Spider Outside” (Track 10) are all hilarious ditties that teach kids some of the fundamental rules of, ahem….how to act. (Not just how to act their age!)

“Tell Mama I Love Her” (Track 5) is probably my personal favorite. It’s a love letter to a mom as a kid gets ready to leave summer vacation behind and start a new school year. (Bittersweet! But so relatable!)

“Something Like King Lear” (Track 7) is reggae-ish, and “The Driveway” (Track 9) is very blues-y, and the last track, “Smile for Me,” is folksy-country in style. There’s something for everybody on this album!

You can download Gonna Be Great! from Amazon.com, or email veryhelpful@earthlink.net if you’d like to purchase a physical CD like the one we have!

Check out David Tobocman’s website for more news and info on his projects!

 

 

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for our honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Books · Honest Reviews

Seven Amazing Stories of Rescue

From bestselling author Jim Cymbala (with Ann Spangler) comes a short, easy-to-read-in-one-afternoon book of seven true stories of miraculous rescues from dire circumstances.

The Rescue: Seven People, Seven Amazing Stories is a brand new book from Zondervan that will seek to inspire anyone who’s had a rocky past or currently undergoing trials of some kind.

In The Rescue, you’ll meet Lawrence Punter, Timiney Visser and Rich Crissali, Robin, Kaitlin Pinkleton, Alex Colon, and Dr. Toni Gines-Rivera. (Two people are listed together because their stories intertwine.) They are all friends of pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, and each one carries with them a unique and seemingly futile life story…at the beginning. Through their willingness to be raw and vulnerable, they share their stories one at a time and show that their stories don’t end the way they began. With each story, you’ll see in a real, fleshed-out way how God reached into people’s lives and makes beauty out of ashes, hope out of hopelessness.

This book has an introduction and a wrap-up chapter that ties the meanings of each of these stories together, but what I do like about this book is that the stories aren’t 100% wrapped up, perfect story endings. These are real people, like you and me, whose stories are still being written. Giving their lives to Christ was the catalyst that set them all on a new and hopeful path, but not every story over. The way each story ends makes them more believable and relatable, since none of our stories are ever perfectly sorted out and made perfect the instant we become Christ followers. There’s still life to live, there’s still forgiveness to seek and hand out, and there’s still some consequences for past decisions. BUT overall, the theme rings true and is woven throughout each life here — that God can take a mess and create a masterpiece. A WORKING masterpiece….one that’s constantly evolving and changing and being purified.

Jim Cymbala poses the idea that he wishes he could be sharing these stories with the reader over a cup of coffee in a living room instead of broadcasting them from printed pages, but in a way, I feel as if he somehow is. These stories feel open and honest in a very down-home way, and they are stories that stick with you long after you shut the book cover.

You can purchase The Rescue from ChristianBook.com from Amazon.com, or wherever Christian books are sold near you. You can also watch a handful of the stories on video on Zondervan’s website/product page.

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Honest Reviews · Pets

Pettsie: Review + Giveaway

Anyone have kitty cats like ours who 1) hate wearing collars, 2) are sensitive to the material of most collars, or 3) both?

We have two kitties — one hates wearing collars. The other doesn’t mind them, but his skin don’t care for many of the ones we’ve bought in the past. It’s been a chore to get both cats to wear a collar — and to us, it’s important that they do, despite them being all-indoor cats. We like to have ID tags and rabies tags on them in the unlikely scenario that they sneak outside (which they have done the past) and get lost.

Cat collars, as you probably know, are not one-size-fits-all. There are different materials, closures, widths, and of course, fashion choices. When researching new cat collars to replace the nylon ones we’d recently tossed out, I knew I had to find a collar for our more sensitive cat that was made of a more natural, less irritating material.

The clasp is also something we find important. Our cats are playful and adventurous, and I want them to be able to escape out of a collar if they were to get caught on something, risking harm. I knew that a safety-release (breakaway) type clasp was essential for our kitties.

Lastly, aesthetics! Yes, our kitties are both boys, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t sport an attractive accessory! I knew I wanted something that was unique and attractive that would compliment their colorful personalities.

Enter Pettsie. I stumbled across this company while reading up on natural cat collars. I was immediately smitten with the attractive prints. The wooden bead accents were icing on the cake! The natural cotton, hemp, and wood craftsmanship materials were just what I was looking for.

I contacted the owner of Pettsie and she graciously agreed to send over two of the turquoise collars with wooden hearts for our review. In just a few days, I received the package via US Mail. Pettsie’s collars also come with a friendship bracelet for you, the cat owner, to wear! What a nice surprise.

Here’s a little unboxing video to give you an idea of the packaging and the product! (And of course, our kitties’ reactions!)

Both cats (and I) are extremely pleased — we all have a bit of colorful bling to brighten up these dreary, winter days. The collars appear to be extremely high quality, so I am anticipating them to wear well and hold up for a long while!

Pettsie graciously offered a collar (with matching friendship bracelet) (a pink one with a wooden heart!) to one Muse Reviews reader. To enter to win, leave a comment below telling me another Pettsie collar style your feline friend would enjoy, and complete the form below. I’ll pick a winner next Thursday, February 15th, 2018.

Pettsie Cat Collar + Friendship Bracelet Giveaway

UPDATED: Congrats to the winner, Brenda Elsner!

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Books · Honest Reviews

Book Review: The Saboteur

Are you looking for a WWII nonfiction book to read this winter that doesn’t fit into the typical “mold” of WWII nonfiction? Maybe a book about someone on the side of the US’s allies vs. a US soldier? Paul Kix’s The Saboteur is just the ticket.

The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando is an adventure like no other. Harper Collins released it this past December. It starts out setting the scene of what dove Robert de Rochefoucauld into action: Watching his family home get taken over by the Nazis at the start of Europe’s involvement in WWII, all the while knowing that the enemy held his father captive elsewhere. He couldn’t sit idly by and let these things continue. What follows is a chronological account of his becoming involved with the French Resistance.

Starting off by being trained by Churchill-approved British Special Operations Executive, Rochefoucauld learns the ins and outs of spy tactics, survival training, and skill sets. He returns to France to join forces with the Resistance. His letters and diaries are expertly picked apart by the author and a very probable play-by-play of Rochefoucauld’s adventures ensue.

Starting off slowly with minute details of the subject’s draw into the war effort, the book quickly escalates into hold-your-breath action sequences, daring feats, and extremely narrow escapes. It is truly a side of the war I have never read anything much about other than a broad covering by overall history texts. I love reading about the personal adventures of one person, since the war involved many just like him. The willingness to forsake and leave behind all of the comforts of his aristocratic background in order to serve the greater good was amazing to me. The Saboteur truly showed that it was the combined efforts of many others like Rochefoucauld that helped the Allies win this conflict in the end.

You can order The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando from Amazon (in both hardback and softcover) or wherever books are sold. Digital copies also available, of course.

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Honest Reviews · Multimedia

Carol’s Lost Christmas! Review + Giveaway

I grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show. Though the show ended airing just before I was born, re-runs were plentiful on TV in the evenings. My parents and grandparents adored the show. As I grew older, I began to appreciate more of the humor that was more understated. Now? I absolutely love to watch it. That’s why I jumped at the chance to review The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Lost Christmas DVD, brought to retail shelves from Time Life.

Amazon.com and at other select retailers (for a specialty price), this DVD is bound to be the perfect stocking stuffer for anyone who used to or who grew up watching the show. Better yet, go ahead and purchase it now so that you can watch and enjoy it several times throughout the holiday season!

Here is an in-depth blurb with the specifics on The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Lost Christmas

From 1967 to 1978, The Carol Burnett Show was the benchmark for prime-time variety programs, bringing together the best in sketch comedy, song and dance. Carol and her cast members Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, and later, Tim Conway and Dick Van Dyke, entertained millions of viewers with a spontaneity and go-for-broke attitude sorely lacking elsewhere. The annual Christmas shows soon became a popular event in Burnett’s regular season schedule. And now, for the first time ever, Burnett has opened the CBS archives to release three Christmas shows from the first four seasons of her Emmy Award®-winning program in THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW: CAROL’S LOST CHRISTMAS.

Across three hilarious episodes not seen in more than 40 years, home audiences will receive the gift of non-stop laughter and entertainment: Think Santa knows who’s been naughty or nice? Jonathan Winters as St. Nick has other ideas, along with a strange collection of dolls. The old lovebirds Bert and Molly (Harvey and Carol) exchange a few choice words while they slowly rock themselves into the New Year. Carol and Vicki join the Bob Mitchell Singing Boys for a touching performance of “Do You Know How Christmas Trees are Grown?” And pitchmen Garry Moore and Durward Kirby reach out and touch the pocketbooks of parents with an array or ridiculous toys for kids. Also not to be missed are:

Dancing Santas, Christmas carols, yuletide poetry and more – including a visit to a boozing Kris Kringle at the North Pole in Carol’s very first Christmas show

Classic sketches “The Old Folks,” “Carol and Sis,” “V.I.P.,” and “The Charwoman”

Hilarious vintage “Mrs. Peter Piper” courtroom sketch with Garry Moore and Durward Kirby, written by Neil Simon and first performed on “The Garry Moore Show”

The Early, Early Show movie parody “Goldman’s Boy”
Steve Lawrence singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “One Day,” 16-year-old Julie Budd singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and more.

Carol’s Lost Christmas DVD giveaway

PS – Check out Bloggy Giveaway Directory for even more giveaways going on!

 

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with this item at no cost in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Beauty · Health · Honest Reviews

Skin MD Natural: Review + Giveaway!

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when my hands cease being smooth and soft and instead turn into something resembling lizard skin.

Ha ha?

No, but really.

Dry winter air wreaks havoc on my sensitive skin. My hands get washed frequently while cooking, cleaning, taking care of pets, etc. — and more exposure to water plus cold, dry air means not-so-pretty hands for a few months.

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way!

Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion is a non-greasy, light, unscented dry skin therapy that will help protect and preserve your hands’ soft skin this winter.

I have used Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion in the past and loved it. Recently, I received another bottle to try and it how has a permanent spot beside my kitchen sink. It’s in a visible location so I can remember to reapply as needed throughout the day.

Ninety-three percent of Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion’s ingredients are from nature, and the remaining are on the FDA’s “most safe” list. Here are a few more facts:

  • Hypoallergenic, non-greasy.
  • Fragrance and colorant free.
  • Paraben and petrochemical free.
  • Will not clog pores. Vegan.
  • Manufactured in the U.S. using 100% solar power

I love that it’s not heavy — neither on coverage OR scent. I’m fairly sensitive to strong scents and have tossed new bottles of lotion in the trash in the past if they’re too “loud.” Not Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion!

The best part? If you’re not entirely blown away by how well it works, Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion comes with a 60-day, 100% money back guarantee.

Want to try it for yourself? You can locate a store near you who carries it — or simply order online.

GIVEAWAY TIME!

Skin MD is graciously offering one Muse Review reader a 4 oz. bottle of their Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion! To enter the giveaway, use the Rafflecopter below. Don’t miss the extra entry opportunities.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: Muse Reviews was provided with a bottle of Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion at no cost in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are exclusively my own and are not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”