I Know I've Been Changed [NOOK Book]

Overview

Denial isn't just a river. . .

Raedella Rollins left the dusty town of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, on a Texas-bound bus with four mismatched suitcases, a newsroom job offer, and a promise to herself: never look back. Now, less than a decade later, she's a top-rated talk show host, a celebrity news anchor, and ...
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I Know I've Been Changed

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Overview

Denial isn't just a river. . .

Raedella Rollins left the dusty town of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, on a Texas-bound bus with four mismatched suitcases, a newsroom job offer, and a promise to herself: never look back. Now, less than a decade later, she's a top-rated talk show host, a celebrity news anchor, and fiancée to Houston's star councilman. The future looks bright for Rae, and Sweet Poke is nothing more than a distant memory.

. . . and she's paddling as fast as she can.

But now that she's reached the top, her ragtag family comes knocking. Mama Tee, the grandmother who raised her, calls with unwelcome family updates; and Shondella, her jealous older sister, guilts her into sending money. To Rae, nothing could be worse than an unexpected reunion with her over-the-top relatives. But when her picture-perfect life turns out to be an illusion, Rae's family calls her back to Sweet Poke and to the life she left behind. Can Rae let go of the pain of her childhood and open her heart to the healing that only faith and family can provide?
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Grabs you from the first page and never lets go. . . . One of the best reads of the year. Bravo!" — Victoria Christopher Murray
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416523178
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 2/1/2006
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 157,719
  • File size: 346 KB

Meet the Author

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the #1 national bestselling author of numerous novels for adults, as well as the Good Girlz teen series. She recently won the NAACP Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Say Amen Again. She is also the author of the nonfiction book The Motherhood Diaries. Visit her website at ReShondaTateBillingsley.com.
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Read an Excerpt


Prologue

1995

I'm outta here and I don't care what anyone has to say.

Shondella, Reno, Auntie Mel. Even Mama Tee. I don't need none of them. Tell me I ain't gonna make it. I'll show 'em all. They can have this funky town.

Here I was, standing in front of Eddie's Filling Tank, the lone gas station bus stop in town, with all my belongings stuffed into four tattered suitcases. There was no turning back, not that I'd even want to. I was tired of Sweet Poke and all that it didn't have to offer. The one-stoplight town didn't even have a movie theater or a mall. The only three stores in the town were the five-and-dime store, McConn's, an overpriced old-people clothing store, and Piggly Wiggly. We didn't even have a freakin' Wal-Mart. If you wanted a decent pair of underwear, you had to drive twenty minutes to the next town to get it. And the nearest major city, Little Rock, was an hour and a half away. Sweet Poke was simply not a place where you could thrive. And it definitely wasn't a place for someone like me.

Shondella, my jealous older sister, had laughed when I'd first announced my intention to leave and go work in Tyler, Texas. She said I would probably end up hooking on the street. Then there was my great-aunt Mel, who had helped my grandmother raise me since my no-account mama had decided she didn't want to be a mama anymore and left me, Shondella, and my twin sister and brother, Jasmine and Justin, at this very bus stop. Auntie Mel had prayed over me like I needed to be exorcised or something. Mama Tee wouldn't even say good-bye. She just acted like I was goin' to the corner store or something.

I glanced at my watch. The bus was over an hour late and the wind was kicking my tail, messing up the $40, spiral-curl hairstyle that I'd had to sleep sitting up to maintain. People were always telling me I looked like former Miss America Vanessa Williams, so I'd tried to copy the hairstyle she always wore.

Some of the dust being kicked around by the wind got lodged in my throat and gave me a coughing fit.

"Just another reason to get out of this place," I muttered. Sweet Poke, Arkansas, was known for its twisterlike dirt clouds. And that about summed up all this town had to offer. On the list of progressive places in the country, Sweet Poke would rank at the very bottom. That's why I had to leave. Ever since junior high school, I've known I was bigger than this place. My family, friends, Reno, none of them could ever understand that. Some of my relatives called me uppity, but they just didn't understand. It wasn't only the slow pace that was driving me insane. I simply couldn't live in poverty. Since the average salary in this town of three thousand people was just over $14,000 a year, poverty was very real. Growing up, we were dirt-poor, although you'd never know it because Mama Tee was always hollering 'bout we was rich in spirit. Yeah, right. Tell that to the light company. They ain't trying to hear nothin' 'bout no spirits.

No, my future would be nothing like my past. I refused to be like Mama Tee, struggling to make ends meet, yet still singing every church song in the book. Forget that. Don't get me wrong, I haven't completely stopped believing in God, I just don't think He makes frequent stops in Sweet Poke. If He did, everyone here wouldn't live such miserable lives.

I used to pray that God would make things better for us, that he would bring my mama back. That was a pipe dream. All the nights I cried, all the nights I prayed for hours, begging God to bring my mother back didn't make a bit of difference. I wanted, no I needed my mother in my life so much I tried to bargain with God, saying stuff like I'd get straight A's and never trouble Mama Tee again if He would just bring her back. Yet, it never happened. So despite what Mama Tee is always saying, to me it don't look like God answers prayers. Least he ain't never answered none I sent up.

That's why I stopped waiting on God to change my situation and set out to change it myself. I was headed for bigger and better things. I was going to show the world that I wasn't some discarded little girl.

I pulled my scarf over my hair. I definitely didn't want any dirt getting in my hair. After I was sure I had it adjusted to where it was covering my entire head, I stepped out into the parking lot and peered down the road. "Finally," I mumbled as I noticed the big gray bus making its way through the clouds of dust.

For the first time that day, a smile crossed my face. I watched the Greyhound bus pull into the service station, wishing it would just slow down long enough for me to jump on board, then keep going.

"Evening, ma'am," the portly bus driver said as he stepped off the bus. "Will you be joining us?"

"Naw, I'm just standing out here in a dust storm for my health," I snapped.

The driver narrowed his eyes. "No need to get smart, little lady."

"No need to ask dumb questions." I was not in the mood for cordial exchanges. I was anxious to get out of Sweet Poke, the place I'd called home most of my life. "Yes, William," I said, reading his nametag. "I'm waiting on you. I've been waiting for the last hour and a half." I thrust my ticket toward him.

William forced a smile and shook his head. "They don't pay me enough for this," he mumbled as he took the ticket.

"What?" I asked, my hands firmly planted on my hips.

"Nothing," William responded. "We'll be taking a five-minute break, then we'll be heading out."

"Fine." As irritated as I was, I had waited all my life for this. What was another five minutes?

The driver rolled his eyes, then made his way over to where my luggage sat and began loading it on the bus. My entire life, stuffed in four pieces of unmatching, frazzled luggage. One was a Samsonite I had borrowed from Auntie Mel, and the other three cheap pieces were Mama Tee's. She'd probably gotten them on sale at a thrift store.

I huffed and was just about to board the bus when I heard someone say, "So you really gon' do this? Raedella Rollins is really gonna just up and leave?"

I stopped and turned toward Reno, my boyfriend of six years. Make that ex-boyfriend. We'd broken up two months ago after I'd caught him coming out of the only motel in Sweet Poke with Ann Paxton, the town tramp. I was hurt by his actions, mostly because he knew in a town as small as Sweet Poke, he wouldn't be able to cheat and get away with it. Still, he did it anyway. In fact, it was my sister who had come running home, out of breath, to tell me Reno was at the motel. The motel clerk had called somebody, who called somebody, who called my sister. Since we mix like oil and water, Shondella took great pleasure in bringing me the news.

"I guess you thought I was joking," I responded as I made my way to the side of the bus where he was standing. "I told you, Reno, I'm outta here. I'm destined for bigger and better things."

"This is about Ann, isn't it? I told you she don't mean nothing. She kissed me." Reno smiled that crooked smile that had captured my heart when I was just a freshman in high school. His eyes twinkled as he stood there in his Dickies overalls, holding a can of Coca-Cola. I'd known Reno since I was a little girl. But he'd moved away when he was nine years old, after his parents divorced. When he returned to live with his father, he came back a handsome young man who had every girl within a hundred miles of Sweet Poke feenin' for him. Even now, he was as handsome as he was the day he'd first stepped foot in my freshman English class. His honey-brown complexion, short-cropped hair, enchanting eyes, and deep dimples almost made me think twice about my decision to leave. Almost.

"Whatever, Reno," I said, snapping out of the trance his eyes were luring me into. "That was your tongue down her throat, not the other way around. Anyway, I'm not going down that road with you again."

Reno displayed a big, cheesy grin. I used to believe Reno was one of the good guys. He went to church all the time. He was loving, attentive, and honest, or so I thought. That's why his cheating hurt me so much. I never saw it coming. He tried to give me some line about Ann claiming she had dropped something down the sink in that motel room and needed his help to get it out. I told him he must think I was Boo-Boo the fool if he expected me to believe that.

Reno reached out and tried to take my hand. "But we're a team. Always have been, always will be. Even when you tried to play hard and break up with me, I knew where your heart was. We belong together."

"Save that crap for your next victim," I said, jerking my hand away. "We broke up months ago. And this is about me wanting more than this two-bit town can offer. So Ann can have you because I don't want you."

"Tell that to someone who doesn't know you." Reno laughed, infuriating me.

"Let me explain something to you," I said, wiggling my neck. "You are a country bumpkin, a low-down, stank dirty dog. That's why I wouldn't get back together with your broke behind. And you have no aspirations to leave this place. You're happy working your minimum-wage job at the railroad. But me. . . CNN is calling, baby." I stood with my head held high.

Reno narrowed his eyes, looking at me like I was crazy. "Shondella told me you're going to Tyler, Texas. That's a long way from CNN."

"But it's on the way!" I was sick of people degrading my decision to take a job as a reporter in Tyler. Auntie Mel said I was just jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire by leaving one small town to go to another. Both she and Mama Tee had blasted me for going away to a town where I didn't know a single soul. But I'd let my family talk me out of going away to college, even though I'd desperately wanted to leave this place. Between being broke and madly in love with Reno, I'd been suckered into commuting to college at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, which was about thirty minutes from Sweet Poke. Still, I stayed focused, earning my degree in broadcast journalism and sending out audition tape after audition tape until I finally got a job offer in Tyler. "I have to pay some dues. Anyway, I'll only be there a few months before some big-time television station snatches me up."

Reno doubled over with laughter.

"Forget you, Reno. You ain't gotta believe in me. That's why I'm leaving your country tail. And you will be sick when you see me on CNN, or Entertainment Tonight or 60 Minutes!" His disbelief made me even more determined to fulfill my dream of becoming a nationally known news anchor.

"Yeah, right," Reno said between laughs. "You call me country? Your behind still talking 'bout 'Can I axe you a question?' How you gon' be Barbara Walters and you can't even talk right?"

Reno eased his laughing and leaned in, running his hand across my face, which was on fire with fury. "Baby, face it. Sweet Poke is where you belong. You just a little ol' country girl. Your people are here," he stressed as he leaned in closer. "It's where you were born, where you gon' die. You can't run from it. It's in your blood."

His words made me shiver. This couldn't be my destiny. I'd get away from Sweet Poke or die trying.

"Lady, if you're catching this bus, you best get moving."

I hadn't even noticed the driver get back on the bus. I shook myself out of the trance Reno's words had put me in. "We'll see who has the last laugh," I said.

With that, I turned and boarded the bus, leaving Reno standing in the midst of the dust storm.

Within minutes, I was settling into a seat near the front of the bus. As the bus took off I leaned my head back and closed my eyes tightly. I refused to look out the window at Reno or Sweet Poke. All of that was my past. I was headed to my future.

Copyright ©2006 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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Introduction

Description: In just seven years, Raedella Rollins has reinvented herself from a small-town girl into the star news anchor at a Houston television station. When she left behind her hometown of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, she also left behind her family and all their embarrassing foibles. In Houston, her new friends and colleagues know her as the girl who has it all: fame, fortune, and the man of her dreams. Then everything changes when Raedella's eccentric relatives show up in Houston, and her carefully constructed world starts to crumble. But when everyone deserts her, Raedella finally realizes that no matter how wacky or bizarre, she's only got one family, and family is the only thing that counts.

Questions for Discussion

1. Describe Raedella at the beginning of the novel. What kind of person is she? How sympathetic are you toward her in the first few chapters? Is she a likable character?

2. As Raedella waits to board the bus that will take her away from Sweet Poke, her ex-boyfriend Reno tells her, "Sweet Poke is where you belong...you can't run from it, it's in your blood." How does Raedella's past in Sweet Poke affect the life she leads as Rae Rollins, television star, in Houston?

3. Discuss Raedella's relationship with Myles. What is your first impression of Myles? Does this impression change as the story unfolds? What are the first indications that Myles may not be what he appears?

4. After learning from Mama Tee that Justin is back in the hospital, Raedella must quickly compose herself and go on the air. "If there was one thing I was good at, it was that — shaking everything off and putting on my TV face." Why is Raedella so successful as ananchor and talk show host? Discuss the relationship between image and reality in Raedella's life in Houston.

5. Though a relatively minor character, Raedella's friend Shereen plays a major role in the story. What impact does Shereen have on Raedella's transformation?

6. Discuss Raedella and Shondella's relationship. What are the origins of the conflict between them? In spite of the obvious differences, do you see any similarities between the two sisters?

7. "Don't get me wrong," Raedella explains in the prologue, "I haven't completely stopped believing in God — I just don't think he makes frequent stops in Sweet Poke. If he did, everyone there wouldn't lead such miserable lives." How does Raedella's relationship to God change as the story progresses? Identify three turning points in her spiritual transformation.

8. Relationships between mothers and daughters play a central role in I Know I've Been Changed. Discuss the many different versions of the mother-daughter relationship portrayed in the book, and the impact of these relationships on the central characters.

9. At the end of the book, Raedella is living in Sweet Poke and working at the local television station. She is still single, and still working out her relationships with Rose and Shondella, and it is unclear what will come next for her. Why do you think the novel ends this way, rather than with a more conventional "happy ending"?

10. Why does ReShonda Tate Billingsley choose to wait until the last chapters of I Know I've Been Changed to reveal the details of Jasmine's death? Why do you think Raedella remains silent about it for so long?

Questions for the Author

1. How did the character of Raedella Rollins take shape in your imagination? Did you conceive of her all at once — her history, her emotional transformation, etc. — or did she develop as you were writing the book?

2. Writers sometimes talk about their characters taking on "a life of their own." Did Raedella ever do something that surprised you?

3. How do you balance your life as a reporter with your work as a writer of fiction? Are these entirely separate activities for you, or do they somehow interconnect?

4. Which aspects of your own experience did you draw on to write I Know I've Been Changed? How much do you identify or not identify with Raedella?

5. In some ways, I Know I've Been Changed reads like a fairy tale in reverse. Raedella's dream job, dream marriage, and dream life dissolve, leaving her to confront realities that she has long denied. Do you see your writing as a critique of "fairy tale endings," or of fantasy in general?

6. The Reverend Simon Jackson and his daughter, Rachel, characters from your previous book, Let the Church Say Amen, make a brief appearance in I Know I've Been Changed. Do you see a connection between the two books?

7. In your vision of the book, what role does God play in Raedella's transformation?

8. At the beginning of the book, Raedella is not a particularly nice person, and yet we care what happens to her. How did you manage to create a deeply flawed character that we still feel is redeemable? How sympathetic were you toward Raedella at the beginning of the book?

Activities to Enhance Your Book Club

1. Invite each member of your group to share a memory or artifact from his or her hometown. Give members a few minutes each to talk about where they come from, and how it has impacted who they are today.

2. Hold your discussion on I Know I've Been Changed over a soul food dinner. For recipe ideas, go to http://www.soulfoodcookbook.com/ or check out Real Men Cook, published by Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books.

3. Celebrate the spirit of Raedella's acceptance of her difficult past by asking each member of the group to share a humorous but embarrassing detail from her past. Examples may include everything from photos from an awkward age to stories about relatives' embarrassing behavior.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is the author of the nonfiction book Help!  I've Turned into My Mother and six previous adult novels: My Brother's Keeper, for which she received the prestigious Gold Pen Award for Best New Author from the Black Writer's Alliance and the Nova Lee Nation Award from the Greater Dallas Writing Association; the national bestseller and #1 Essence bestseller Let the Church Say Amen, chosen for Library Journal's Best of 2004 list for Christian fiction; I Know I've Been Changed, a main Selection of the Black Expressions Book Club and #1 Dallas Morning News bestseller; the sequel to Let the Church Say Amen and a USA Today 2007 ?Summer Sizzler? and Essence bestseller Everybody Say Amen; The Pastor's Wife, also an Essence bestseller and Can I Get A Witness.  Her previous teen novels are Friends 'Til The End, Fair-Weather Friends, Getting Even, With Friends Like These, Blessings in Disguise, and Nothing But Drama, all available from Pocket Books.  She is also a contributor to the anthology Have a Little Faith.  She welcomes readers to her websites at www.reshondatatebillingsley.com.

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Reading Group Guide


Description: In just seven years, Raedella Rollins has reinvented herself from a small-town girl into the star news anchor at a Houston television station. When she left behind her hometown of Sweet Poke, Arkansas, she also left behind her family and all their embarrassing foibles. In Houston, her new friends and colleagues know her as the girl who has it all: fame, fortune, and the man of her dreams. Then everything changes when Raedella's eccentric relatives show up in Houston, and her carefully constructed world starts to crumble. But when everyone deserts her, Raedella finally realizes that no matter how wacky or bizarre, she's only got one family, and family is the only thing that counts.

Questions for Discussion

1. Describe Raedella at the beginning of the novel. What kind of person is she? How sympathetic are you toward her in the first few chapters? Is she a likable character?

2. As Raedella waits to board the bus that will take her away from Sweet Poke, her ex-boyfriend Reno tells her, "Sweet Poke is where you belong...you can't run from it, it's in your blood." How does Raedella's past in Sweet Poke affect the life she leads as Rae Rollins, television star, in Houston?

3. Discuss Raedella's relationship with Myles. What is your first impression of Myles? Does this impression change as the story unfolds? What are the first indications that Myles may not be what he appears?

4. After learning from Mama Tee that Justin is back in the hospital, Raedella must quickly compose herself and go on the air. "If there was one thing I was good at, it was that -- shaking everything off and putting on my TV face." Why is Raedella so successful as an anchor and talk show host? Discuss the relationship between image and reality in Raedella's life in Houston.

5. Though a relatively minor character, Raedella's friend Shereen plays a major role in the story. What impact does Shereen have on Raedella's transformation?

6. Discuss Raedella and Shondella's relationship. What are the origins of the conflict between them? In spite of the obvious differences, do you see any similarities between the two sisters?

7. "Don't get me wrong," Raedella explains in the prologue, "I haven't completely stopped believing in God -- I just don't think he makes frequent stops in Sweet Poke. If he did, everyone there wouldn't lead such miserable lives." How does Raedella's relationship to God change as the story progresses? Identify three turning points in her spiritual transformation.

8. Relationships between mothers and daughters play a central role in I Know I've Been Changed. Discuss the many different versions of the mother-daughter relationship portrayed in the book, and the impact of these relationships on the central characters.

9. At the end of the book, Raedella is living in Sweet Poke and working at the local television station. She is still single, and still working out her relationships with Rose and Shondella, and it is unclear what will come next for her. Why do you think the novel ends this way, rather than with a more conventional "happy ending"?

10. Why does ReShonda Tate Billingsley choose to wait until the last chapters of I Know I've Been Changed to reveal the details of Jasmine's death? Why do you think Raedella remains silent about it for so long?

Questions for the Author

1. How did the character of Raedella Rollins take shape in your imagination? Did you conceive of her all at once -- her history, her emotional transformation, etc. -- or did she develop as you were writing the book?

2. Writers sometimes talk about their characters taking on "a life of their own." Did Raedella ever do something that surprised you?

3. How do you balance your life as a reporter with your work as a writer of fiction? Are these entirely separate activities for you, or do they somehow interconnect?

4. Which aspects of your own experience did you draw on to write I Know I've Been Changed? How much do you identify or not identify with Raedella?

5. In some ways, I Know I've Been Changed reads like a fairy tale in reverse. Raedella's dream job, dream marriage, and dream life dissolve, leaving her to confront realities that she has long denied. Do you see your writing as a critique of "fairy tale endings," or of fantasy in general?

6. The Reverend Simon Jackson and his daughter, Rachel, characters from your previous book, Let the Church Say Amen, make a brief appearance in I Know I've Been Changed. Do you see a connection between the two books?

7. In your vision of the book, what role does God play in Raedella's transformation?

8. At the beginning of the book, Raedella is not a particularly nice person, and yet we care what happens to her. How did you manage to create a deeply flawed character that we still feel is redeemable? How sympathetic were you toward Raedella at the beginning of the book?

Activities to Enhance Your Book Club

1. Invite each member of your group to share a memory or artifact from his or her hometown. Give members a few minutes each to talk about where they come from, and how it has impacted who they are today.

2. Hold your discussion on I Know I've Been Changed over a soul food dinner. For recipe ideas, go to soulfoodcookbook.com/ or check out Real Men Cook, published by Simon & Schuster/Fireside Books.

3. Celebrate the spirit of Raedella's acceptance of her difficult past by asking each member of the group to share a humorous but embarrassing detail from her past. Examples may include everything from photos from an awkward age to stories about relatives' embarrassing behavior.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    To Tell the Truth.

    This novel has a storyline similar to other novels of this type, yet it is different since each woman sees her situation through her eyes, her emotions, and her attitude and personality. In this storyline the protagonist has many lessons to absorb. One of several lessons is to address your past because until you do it will continue to return to you. Once you read to chapter three then the story picks up and you'll be hooked. You'll keep reading to find out what eventually occurs with the protagonist and the supporting "cast." Wonderful character development along with all the drama and excitement, and some perverse language keep the story moving. Worthwhile reading for the valuable lessons the protagonist learns, and we can extract from her life lessons for our own life as well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 19, 2012

    Great book

    I would recommended this book to anyone who likes a good churchgoing read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2011

    Excellent!

    You will enjoy this story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2006

    FAMILY IS FAMILY

    This book touched me and Mama Tee was talking to me. All the sayings Mama Tee quoted I've heard them from my grandmother. I was taken by Mama Tee, because she was so strong and bold and no matter what, she took care of family. This book really made me remember that family is family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2006

    Very interesting and a page turner.

    Never judge a book by it's cover or Ebonics type title. I was very pleased with the main character, events and the style of writing. I even laughed out loud a few times. The characters were well defined and I was completely wrong about the ending. This was an EXCELLENT read! Bravo to the author!!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    My impression

    Was not terribly impressed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted December 15, 2011

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    Posted January 17, 2009

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    Posted January 17, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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