The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett

The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life
Robin Rose Bennett
North Atlantic Books, 2014

sw88 - review - gift of healing herbs review

Review by Rebecca Bailey.

In The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life, author Robin Rose Bennett sets a high goal: to write a 21st-century herbal that is practical for both rural gardeners and urban foragers, complete with a scientific look at the working systems of the human body and a thorough introduction to the concept of soulful healing. This book admirably and compassionately succeeds.

Bennett’s credentials for writing such a book are impressive. During her younger years, she studied with many well-known herbalists. Her biography states that she has been working as an herbalist in private practice since 1986, and that she has guest-lectured at prominent medical colleges throughout the United States.

The book’s organization is logical and systematic. The first four chapters cover the concept of healing, beginning with the statement that “All healing is spiritual healing,” and include the importance of ritual and ceremony in the healing process. The third chapter covers soulful healing. Bennett explains that “Soulful healing asks, while you are healing your body with herbs from the Earth, that you look for meaning in what is happening within your body as it related to your whole being . . . . The questions are: ‘What is the deeper teaching in this experience?’; ‘What is here for me?’; and ‘How can I make this experience an ally for my growth and transformation?’” (10). She goes on to stress the point that while we may see illness as keeping us from our path, “you cannot be off your path; your path is always under your feet” (11).

The largest, middle section discusses each of the body’s systems (the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the respiratory system, and so on) and the herbs which are most nourishing to each of those systems

What are generally considered the most powerful healing herbs (hawthorn, nettles, dandelion, burdock, lavender, oats, slippery elm, etc.) are discussed at length with reference to the body system to which they provide the most benefit—for example, mullein with the respiratory system. Bennett’s approach to using herbs focuses on the “pro” rather than the “anti”; for example, she prefers terms such as pro-digestive and pro-circulatory to terms like antiparasitical or antifungal. “I think that affirming what the herbs can help us with is more in keeping with the energy and spirit of herbal medicine!” she writes (17).

Many examples of healing remedies are given throughout the book, case histories, if you will, almost all given from Bennett’s decades-long experience as a practicing herbalist, including how she has used herbs in support of her own health. If an herb is traditionally cited in the literature for a particular treatment but she hasn’t used it in that capacity herself, she says so, and gives a reference for the information.

This is definitely a North American herbal, specifically of the eastern United States. The majority of the herbs are common in the wild or easily nurtured in a garden; most can be bought dried in health food stores. Endangered plants, such as American ginseng and goldenseal, receive less focus here than in many herbals, which I find a respectful way of honoring the plants.

The last section of the book is called “Everything is Medicine,” a chronicle of the many common foods in our kitchens can be used to strengthen and tonify specific body systems.

I especially enjoyed some of the less-expected information, such as herbs for treating tick-borne diseases, herbs for dental health, and how to make an herbal electrolyte replacer with two very common ingredients. I learned more about my life-long ally dandelion, and found some great ideas for additional ways to use her flowers. The author’s recipe for mullein cough syrup is similar to the one my grandmother used, and even though I once loudly proclaimed that I’d rather be sick than swallow it, I’m thinking that it might at last be time for me to make some myself.

The book is readable and rational, spiritual, creative, and inspiring. It’s fun to read. The section on making herbal preparations is clear and easy to follow, references plentiful, stories well-told and to the point. If you’re in the market for a new herbal, to update or begin your library of traditional medicine, Robin Rose Bennett’s The Gift of Healing Herbs is an excellent choice, not the least because the author obviously loves people as well as plants. This readable and useful book is very highly recommended.

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Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono

Women Healers of the World: The Tradition, History and Geography of Herbal Medicine
Holly Bellebuono
Skyhorse, 2014

sw88 - review - women healers of the world review

Review by Jamie Wood.

This colorful, vibrant tome is a well-researched, eclectic portrayal of more than thirty women who have studied, safeguarded and taught herbal medicine for centuries. This kaleidoscope of our herbal inheritance emboldens the reader as they follow the journeys, spirit and knowledge of the brave and resolute women who have dedicated their lives to their unique discovery and sharing of plant wisdom.

Throughout the book, the healers consistently stress that direct experience with plants is essential to develop trust in the healing power of herbs and confidence as a healer. Their collective knowledge is derived from scientific labs to the forests, but all the healers view reciprocity and mutuality with plants as crucial to understanding and using the life essence of the land to heal and maintain health.

As the book presents five different traditions (Plant, Body, Spirit, Land and Handcrafting), readers discover a plethora of herbal practices and approaches to plant medicine. From this broad expanse of knowledge and story, the reader is drawn to the method and teacher that will bring out the healer in them. Within the Plant Tradition, the reader is introduced to influential herbalists and teachers in Western, Native Nations Medicine, Polynesian Medicine, Folk Medicine, Gypsy and Bedouin Traditions, Alchemy and Aromatherapy. In the Body Traditions section, readers learn more about healers in Ayurveda, Eastern Oriental Medicine, Midwifery, Allopathic Medicine and Pharmacology. Within the Spirit Traditions, a wealth of knowledge is presented about Flower Essence Therapy, Homeopathy, Gaelic Pharmacy, Shamanism and Spirit Medicine. Women leading Conservation, Gardening and Ethnobotany are discussed under Land Traditions. Under the Handcrafting Traditions, readers are treated to recipes with oils, pastes, salves, ointments, extracts, concentrates, water remedies, spiritual and ceremonial and what author, Holly Bellebuono, calls “earthly delights.”

Excerpts on etymology, mythology, specific herbs and their uses as well as descriptions of geography are sprinkled throughout the book. The etymology provides a “popcorn trail” to rediscover the deep connection to the power of words and highlights their journey through time to influence our world culture. Mythology grounds the information in the profound resonance of story that allows the plant wisdom to settle into the mind, body and spirit. Profiles on a variety of herbs introduce unique uses and the benefits and is rather like being introduce to a new friend at a party. Picturesque depictions of the healers’ homeland provide the framework that has inspired and guided these powerful women.

The power of this book lies in the legacy of these women and the long lineage of herbal knowledge to encourage and support the reader to become a healer in their own right. This book is a mentor, just as these women have relied upon their teachers, and provides a guiding hand, which moves from gentle to fierce, and instills a powerful confidence that we women have been healers for millennia and will continue to bring the healing powers from the natural world into the future.

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Tarot For Healing by Kara Owl

Tarot for Healing
Kara Owl
Jupiter Gardens Press, 2012
176 pages

Reviewed by innowen

Tarot for Healing by Kara Owl describes a healing journey/pathworking that readers can learn to incorporate into their practices. Owl recommends that you have a basic knowledge of tarot (in that you know the card meanings, and can do readings for self and others) before diving in and using the techniques. The author has over 20 years of tarot experience. I think she puts the book best in her words when she says, “Why use the Tarot? Because the cards can pinpoint problem areas, and the reaction of the individual can aid in finding the proper path to solving them. Healing with the Tarot is a journey, a path to greater understanding of self.”

Owl begins the book by laying down her ideas of what tarot can do for healing, picking a deck, how to deal with ethics of healing work and doing healing readings. Throughout these introductory chapters, she does give small bite-sized techniques that you can try out and apply immediately to your practice. The meat of the book then focuses around card meanings, card meditations, and a sampling of spreads to use in your practice. The final chapters discuss setting up a practice, case studies, and ends with a note on trusting one’s intuition.

What I Liked
I liked that before Owl gets into the meat of the book, she instructs readers how to ground and take care of themselves first. Healers often forget that they need to be in “perfect” shape in order to effectively heal others. I also liked how she suggests that readers develop their own strengths into what subjects they’re willing to tackle and when to call in extra help on the areas/issues they are weaker in. The chapter on Tarot Healing Meditations was great. Owl gives a small guided meditation for each major arcana card to help aid the practitioner in diagnosing client issues. The spreads chapter, although short, gave a wide variety of created and modified spreads to use.

What I Didn’t Like
Early on Owl recommends that healers “be ever vigilant that those you read for do not become reliant on you.” I understand that we, tarot readers, do not want to be seen in a bad light. I know I hope that one day the health care community understands the power of tarot and how it can help uncover issues buried deep in our bodies. But… I disagree that we need to be hyper-vigilant to this need. There are just as many bad clients as there will be readers, and it’s our goal as healers to try and help everyone… even if it’s just a placebo.

However, my biggest beef with Tarot for Healing is that once again, we’re treated to a book with card meanings and the Minor Arcana are left with smaller info than their Major Arcana counterparts. Owl does an amazing job at describing how each of the majors relate to various areas of a client’s life. But, the minors are left to contend with generic “upright” and “reversed” diagnosis meanings. I am happy to report that the court cards get a small chapter with suggested meanings based on their rank in the court and their elemental and astrological connection. Oddly enough, Owl still gives the Court Cards the generic meanings alongside their other suit-mates in the minors sections.

This “shortening” feature was once again done in the Meditations chapter where Owl suggests mediations such as, “Two of Swords: For this meditation, ask how you can free yourself from things blocking you. Alternately, you can ask how to find a good compromise. Either way, the swords people can tell you the answers,” rather than giving the healer sample scripts to use.

I also want to mention that I’m not good with astrology and tarot yet, so the reader is left to decide whether the information Owl gives for astrological meanings in the Court Cards chapter and the Spreads chapter are correct.

Bottom Line: Interested in doing healing work with Tarot, or combining the divination system with another type of healing? Then Tarot for Healing is a good place to start reading, learning, and developing your own style.

Three Pawprints Out of Five

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Sacred Plant Medicine by Stephen Harrod Buhner

Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism
Stephen Harrod Buhner
Bear & Company, 2006
208 pages

Reviewed by Ser/Ket

This book presented a lot of interesting, thought-provoking information, though it proved tough for me to get into. I believe the largest disconnect lay in the frequently referred to concept that the world we live in (the everyday, mundane world) is less “REAL” than the sacred world. For me, all is sacred in some way, even the rainbows of oil slicked across the parking lot, and doesn’t exist in a separate space. I’m not claiming any view is right or wrong, but it did require me extra work to stick with the writing.

The author explores a variety of belief systems and traditions used by indigenous people throughout history. This was enjoyable to me, as I’m not familiar with very many of these practices, though at some parts the writing came across as dry and, at times, repetitive. I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the beginning, however, where many of the plants have a lengthy discussion not only of what the plant is used for, but also their appearance, location, associations in other cultures and belief systems, and personal interactions with the plants through meditation as well as personal use.

The most resonant part of the story for me was a personal one from the author, describing his journey from doctor to doctor to determine the cause of his debilitating pain. I myself spent many years trying to root out the causes of my own pains and can empathize with his frustration and disenchantment with the world of pharmaceuticals. The author’s story ends happily, by discovering a medicinal plant and working with it to heal, and leading him on the lifelong quest documented in this book. Through his work, I can see others joining him on this path, learning to work with the plants both in their local area and featured in this book.

A final point I’d like to mention were the inclusion of occasional songs, including sheet music and lyric translation. Not something I was expecting, but a nice touch!

Overall, I would give this book a score only slightly higher than “average” due mainly to it’s writing style. For me, I need the style to move me through the material presented, and I felt this book’s style was a bit halting and difficult. The dryness, coupled with an initial difficulty to relate to the content, kept me from really enjoying my reading experience. Of the positives in the book, the songs weren’t numerous, and the author’s experience with the plants contained much of the “REAL” belief system that I’d had trouble adapting to.

Three pawprints out of five.

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Pain and Faith in the Wiccan World by Crystal Blanton

Pain and Faith in the Wiccan World: Spirituality, Ethics, and Transformation
Crystal Blanton
Megalithica Books, 2013
188 pages

Reviewed by Hilde

There are a lot of self-help books on how to work through and recover from grief, trauma, and pain for both secular and Christian audiences. While some people are able to utilize these resources despite the conflicts with their own faith, others may feel the need for a book that resonates with their own beliefs.

Blanton combines modern therapy techniques with the tradition of Wicca to provide a resource that is easily accessible for those who are in the midst of their struggle and those who wish to support them.

While the author gives accurate definitions and explanations on the topics of pain, growth, grief, and forgiveness, she gives these topics life by including the experiences of herself and others throughout the narrative. The additional use of quotes by other authors gives extra insight and additional valuable resources for the reader to pursue.

Each chapter is accurately titled and includes a quote at the beginning to enhance the topic. One of the things I especially liked about this book is the number of techniques the author makes available for the reader in her TIAT (Tips, Insights, Action, and Tools) section at the end of each chapter. General suggestions like journaling, questionnaires, self-care, and cognitive-behavioral techniques comfortably sit alongside candle-lighting, prayer, object burials, and other rituals.

The main portion of the book is devoted to helping the injured person, but at the end there is a section specifically tailored for the supporters. It discusses the many ways to support the person, including the importance of being objective. It also stresses the importance of self-care when assisting somebody through such a difficult time.

If a reader has read self-help books about grief, trauma, and pain this will be old territory; however, it does an excellent job in reframing these topics within the Wiccan faith.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown

Coming Back to Life: Practice to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World
Joanna Lacy and Molly Young Brown
New Society Publishers, 1998
224 pages

I first encountered Joanna Macy’s work when I began to learn about ecopsychology. While she is not expressly a psychologist, her work in systems theory and deep ecology in particular tie in very nicely with ecopsychology, and her writings are considered foundational to that field. Her work with exploring and working through grief, as well as broader ritual practices, give her a solid place in the study and practice of modern rites of passage.

Pagans ought to be very aware of her works, especially those who enact group rituals. This text, cowritten by Molly Young Brown, herself a practitioner of ecopsychology among other disciplines, is a great starting point for those unfamiliar. It is a book for leading and guiding group rituals, without specific spiritual or religious trappings, that are designed to facilitate connection with the self, with others, and with the world around us. The context for the rituals is explained in great detail, from the feelings of grief, loss, and other emotions that often go unspoken in polite society, to the importance of caring for the emotions of ritual participants and how to help them through difficult catharses. Much of this may already be known to seasoned priest/esses and other pagan clergy, but there are some useful guidelines nonetheless.

The rituals themselves are fantastic. There’s the classic Council of All Beings, in which participants speak as various nonhuman entities. There are also exercises like Tape Recording to the Future and Letters From the Future which help us to place ourselves in context of the enormity of Time As a Whole, but also bring us into immediate awareness of the effects our actions have on those who will come after us. Narrative, art, and other forms of expression feature prominently, and there is much to utilize in working with pagan groups.

I highly recommend this as a guide to ritual practices, not only for eco-centric or politically minded pagans, but those wishing for inspiration for more emotionally involved rituals. There’s plenty to think about and even more to do, and I am nothing less than amazed by the creativity and effectiveness of what is presented here.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Pagan Clergy’s Guide by Reverend Kevin Gardner

The Pagan Clergy’s Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention, and Otherworld Transitions
Reverend Kevin Gardner
Waning Moon Publications, 2009
212 pages

As both a pagan and as a student working on a Master’s in counseling psychology, this book interested me greatly. The number of books on counseling for minority groups is on the rise, and to my knowledge this is the first one to specifically address counseling neopagans. However, rather than being strictly psychological counseling, it is instead a text on spiritual counseling–a distinction that is incredibly important to note, as I’ll explain shortly.

Pagan spiritual counselors don’t have nearly the resources available that spiritual counselors in some other faiths, such as Christianity, do. Gardner does an admirable job of delineating some of the common issues that clients may bring to the table, from relationship woes to the need for facilitation of rites of passage. A large portion of the book is dedicated to grief counseling of various sorts. There’s also a good selection of basic ritual scripts for funerals and other rites of passage, including a few specific to individual neopagan traditions. This makes the book invaluable to pagan spiritual counselors.

Psychologically speaking, however, the book is on shaky ground for a couple of reasons. First of all, there’s no indication that the author has a license for psychological counseling, something that’s a grey area when it comes to spiritual counseling. He does make it clear that there are times when referrals to licensed psychological practitioners are necessary, and that this book should in no way be seen as a sole reference for the psychological elements of spiritual counseling. However, he also has had much more experience–counted in decades–of experience, something most readers will not have, and so I hesitate to recommend this to a newer spiritual counselor who may not have learned through trial and error how to counsel for deeper psychological issues. Additionally, in perusing the bibliography, many of his resources on psychological counseling are outdated; while, for example, the works of Carl Rogers are classics, there are newer approaches to client-centered counseling available.

As a text for spiritual counseling and being clergy in the sense of ritual facilitation, I think this is an excellent guide, and I recommend it highly. My misgivings about the psychological aspects of counseling should be noted, but not to the point of not buying the book. Supplement with other works or, better yet, get formal training in psychological counseling (particularly since there’s very little formal training available for pagan spiritual counselors).

Three and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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Shamanic Mysteries of Egypt by Scully and Star Wolf

Shamanic Mysteries of Egypt: Awakening the Healing Power of the Heart
Nicki Scully and Linda Star Wolf
Bear & Co, 2007
230 pages

Okay. I’m going to give this book some leeway because the authors make it very clear that what they’re presenting is New Age material. While they may take some concepts and flavorings from Egyptian mythos, what they’ve created are only very loose semblances, and they’re up front about that. Therefore I won’t pan the book as I would if they’d tried to convince me that the material was ancient, but I will have a few caveats.

Not that I dislike the book; for what it is and was intended to be, it turned out great! It’s a rather Aquarian pathworking system using Egyptian and sort-of shamanic elements. The pathworkings are arranged in groups. Two of them are–again, very loosely–based on the major arcana of the tarot, though the connections to the original cards might not immediately be evident. Then there are a number dedicated to the elements, as embodied through Egyptian phenomena (such as the Nile for Water). The authors then bring everything that the pathworker has done up to this point into a cohesive path toward “love” and “healing” (however you wish to interpret those particular concepts).

Kemetic pagans and others may disagree with the fairly light interpretation of the deities and other Egyptian beings; they’re shown as being a bit more nice and cooperative with the developing human spiritual being than ancient mythos describes (but again, this isn’t supposed to be grounded in the older mythos). I’m not sure I entirely agree with this being described as a “shamanic” text; guided meditations aren’t journeys, and while there is a death-rebirth theme to more than one of the pathworkings, that doesn’t make something automatically shamanic.

However, it’s still a quite useful text. The pathworkings, despite my qualms with the trappings, do build on each other, and do challenge the pathworker to delve deep within and wrestle with things that may not be easy to face. Certainly this books offers a good bit to think about and meditate on.

I didn’t like it quite so much as Scully’s Power Animal Meditations, but this is another decent collection of pathworkings along a specific theme. If that’s your style of working, this may be just what you’re after.

Four pawprints out of five.

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Beyond 2012 by James Endredy

Beyond 2012: A Shaman’s Call to Personal Change and the Transformation of Global Consciousness
James Endredy
Llewellyn, 2008
220 pages

Leave it to James Endredy to write a book on 2012 that actually makes sense. I’ve liked what I’ve read of his work, particularly Ecoshamanism (which is one of my absolute favorite books on shamanism). It took me over a year after I first learned about the book to get it and read it, but I’m glad I did–it came at a good time.

Most of the books on 2012 are gloom-and-doom–the world is coming to an end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar says so, and all the bad things in the world are just more reasons to sit and mope and/or pontificate about this. And yet….and yet….this always struck me as really nowhere near constructive–especially since the end of the world had been predicted numerous time and had never happened. Beyond 2012 completely reframes the 2012 situation. Not only is the world not ending (except, maybe, as we know it) but 2012 is a good marker for a shift in consciousness and the way we make our decisions regarding the very real world we face right this moment, rather than some apocalyptic fantasy near-future. Endredy takes the root information on the 2012 phenomenon and manages to make a great deal of sense about it.

While Endredy’s shamanism does play a significant role in the material in this book, it is not strictly a book on shamanism. The techniques that he includes are more open than that, and are practices for those who wish to put forth conscious effort in making a better world in the face of environmental, social, and other destruction. Building altars, for example, is a fairly common technique in modern spiritual practices, and many of the techniques he provides for self-reflection aren’t so different from many of the concepts I’ve been learning about in my graduate-level psychological training.

What Endredy does provide is a keen awareness of the interconnectivity that humanity has with all of the rest of Nature, and a thoroughly developed, deeply-felt series of relationships with natural phenomena. A large portion of the book is written to reflect dialogues he’s had with the various phenomena of Nature, some of his most important teachers. What has always struck me about his work, both through his writing and in the occasion I was able to participate in a rite of passage he facilitated, is how sincere it is–he’s about the least pretentious person I’ve ever run into, and this includes within his shamanic practice. The material in Beyond 2012 reflects a primary focus on rebuilding that connectivity and awareness on a greater scale, and offering people a variety of tools to choose from. I know I’ll be keeping this text in part for work with my therapeutic clients, because there’s a lot of versatility here.

And in fact, this book has a lot of potential readers. In addition to shamanic practitioners and pagan folk in general utilizing this in spiritual and other manners, environmental activists and mental health professionals both can take the ideas into the wider social sphere. Additionally, I would love to give a copy of this to every person who’s convinced that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket come 2012, to show them that there are much more constructive ways to look at this potentially transitional period. I never thought I’d give this rating to a book on this subject, but here goes:

Five optimistic pawprints out of five.

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Ancestral Airs by Verda Smedley

Ancestral Airs
Verda Smedley
Dim Light Books, 2008
700 pages

As I was reading this book, I was trying to figure out where to fit it into the categories on this blog. On the one hand, it’s purportedly a reconstruction of a culture 6,000 years old; this includes extensive research into botany, mythology, history and other scholarly studies. But, when you get right down to it, it’s also a fascinating set of stories with well-developed characters, settings, and plots.

Beyond a certain point, we can really know only so much about cultures prior to written history in a region. The stories supposedly tell about the people who lived in the British Isles 6,000 years ago, well before there were any written records; while the author draws from texts about the Celts and other older cultures, these are still newer peoples than what Smedley describes. Whether the people of 4000 BC lived in ways the book described is unknown; nonetheless, the author does a lovely job of weaving together a solid description of her thoughts on the matter, and we get a good picture of what it is they did and believed.

So I chose to primarily read this for its storytelling value. Similarly to my experience of reading MZB’s The Mists of Avalon, it didn’t matter whether the story was literally true or not. I found myself sinking into a world where animism was the central belief, where the plants, animals and other denizens of nature were so important to the people that they took their names from them. I read about the rituals these people performed, as well as the participants’ feelings about them. I witnessed the interactions between individual groups of people, and how they wove into the greater overarching culture of the time. It didn’t really matter whether this was the way things “really happened”; it was a great journey anyway. Even if seen only as a novel, it’s a worthwhile read.

I can’t entirely vouch for the validity of the herbal information; the author knows more about that than I do. A lot of the information about plants peppering the stories dealt with magical uses; however, there were some medicinal uses mentioned as well. For those intrepid enough to backtrack the author’s research, there’s an appendix with the common and Latin names of all the plants (numbering in the hundreds) mentioned. Additionally, she included a thorough bibliography for further research and fact-checking.

This is a book I had to read in bits and chunks over time; at 700 pages, it’s a lot to read! The formatting left a bit to be desired, most notably the complete lack of page numbers which, in a book this length, is frustrating when trying to find where I left off, or where I found a piece of information or a snippet of story I wanted to go back to. Also, I can’t for the life of me find information about the publisher, the owner of the publishing company, or the author.

Ancestral Airs is a thoroughly enjoyable read, regardless of how much salt you choose to take the research with. Whether you choose to read it as I did, in little pieces, or simply spend several hours going from cover to cover in one fell swoop, I hope you like this unique combination of research and narrative.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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