Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

6357708Sisters Red’s author Jackson Pearce and I went to college together. We were in the English program at overlapping times, but I’m not sure we ever properly met. Her face is extremely familiar, but I never knew her in any real way. I remember hearing when she published her first book, but then promptly forgot all about it. I started seeing her fairy tale re-telling novels recommended in various places and decided to give my fellow UGA grad a read. After languishing on my TBR shelf for close to a year, I picked up Sisters Red last week and looked forward to the Little Red Riding Hood re-imagining. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed by the time I reached the last page.

Scarlett and Rosie are sisters, 18 and 16 years old, respectively, whose grandmother was brutally eaten by a Fenrir (werewolf) before Scarlett managed to slay the wolf and save her and Rosie’s life. They were then taken in by their neighbors, a family of woodsmen. Scarred and missing one eye due to that attack plus her continuing mission to hunt down all the Fenrirs until they are destroyed, Scarlett begins recognizing signs of a strengthening in wolf numbers and wondering what could have them all upping the ante. Together with her sister and Silas (of the woodsmen), they move to the big city, where massive amounts of Fenrirs are gathering, in order to uncover the mystery and kill as many murdering wolfies as possible.

What worked? The darkness. Yes, this book is violent, gory, and apologetically brutal. These werewolves are not sexy and in no way bear any relationship to the likes of Jacob Black. They are blood-thirsty animals looking for a tasty human snack. I loved that. Werewolves SHOULD be scary. Pearce also creates a great sisterhood mythology. Scarlett and Rosie as bad-ass Fenrir hunters was refreshing. Reminded me a lot of Sam and Dean’s brotherly bond in the television series, Supernatural. There’s just something so appealing about sibling relationships and Jackson obviously has firsthand experience in this department – kudos!

What didn’t work? Almost everything else. Sorry. The fact that these wolves only target scantily clad club-going young females – so many things wrong with this scenario. I don’t want to get into a rape culture conversation or feminist theory, but you can hardly avoid it when discussing this plot line. Does it help that the hunters are female slayers? Perhaps, but not enough. I was also disappointed in Pearce’s constant harping on how ugly Scarlett was in comparison to her younger,  un-scarred sister. Scarlett’s scars were mentioned at least every other page. And as for Silas falling for Rosie – the obvious pretty girl – instead of Scarlett, that didn’t work for me either. How boring. It might be far more likely, but dammit – this is a fairly tale. Scarlett would have made the far more interesting choice.

Speaking of the romance plot, Silas is 21 and Rosis 16. Pearce doesn’t much care about this age difference and never even comments on it. And since the sisters and Silas don’t have any actual parental figures in their life, there’s no one to hold them accountable for their actions. It was weird. Why does YA always have these children (because that’s what they are) running around without any parental figures? Why is this a trope? Someone explain it to me. Can people only be interesting when they have absent parents?

Oh, and before I forget, the big twist ending was easily figured out within the first 50 pages. Also, the bit about all the wolves being wolves because they were the seventh son of a seventh son – yeah right. How many wolves could that curse possible produce? There can only be a very few humans born that meet that criteria. Not the thousands that occupy this novel. Insert dramatic eye-roll here, please.

As you can see, not a fan. I won’t be reading Pearce’s other companion novels which makes me rather sad as I had so looked forward to them in theory and wanted to support a home girl. If you’ve read any of her other books, let me know what you thought down in the comments!

Grrr…I forgot to mention something else and don’t want to take the time to properly edit it into the above review because I am LAZY! Something that bothered me – Pearce’s setting. The book takes place mostly in Atlanta which is my home and hers. She should have been able to fully realize Atlanta, but lost me so many times. Big yellow taxis? Last time I checked, that was NYC. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a yellow taxi in Atlanta. I believe ours are mostly white. The subway? Um…also NYC. We have MARTA, but it’s mostly above ground. If she hadn’t mentioned such landmarks as Piedmont Park, Atlanta would have been a complete stranger to me.

January Meetup: House Rules by Jodi Picoult

6614960I’m coming to you live still riding the wave of euphoria that always warmly overwhelms me after a Litwits discussion. Because, again, I love my book club more than words can express and today’s gathering was superb. We met to discuss House Rules by Jodi Picoult – selected, in part, by the amazing Bianca.

Before the discussion commenced, we took part in a Litwits fav – a book swap! We all kindly donated books we have read and loved or read and not loved to give away to our fellow members. It’s like one big giant book store exploded on my dining room table and everything is FREE. You can imagine how awesometacular this is. See where the previously mentioned euphoria comes into play? And then there was food with pumpkin chocolate chip cookies made by Bianca. Because she is made of sunshine and rainbows.

Once settled with our treats and new books, we eagerly began our month’s discussion. Bianca immediately led the way explaining why House Rules disappointed her as she’s an avid Picoult fan. The ending let her down. There was no interesting plot twist. Instead, the story was highly predictable from very early on and when you read 500 pages expecting some amazingness to find its way into the ending, the conclusion seen coming way back on page 50 is a huge let down. All of the members agreed on this aspect. Bad ending was bad.

Jodi naysayers aside, most everyone agreed that her writing is compelling and page turning. She researches her subject matter intensely and pays very close attention to detail and proper science. Emily wished there was a reference page so she could study up on the source material. She was also bummed that Picoult didn’t in some way inform her readers that the scientific basis for some of her information had been rescinded by the medical community – specifically, blaming childhood vaccinations for the recent prevalence of Asperger’s.

The story is told through several different characters’ perspectives – alternating between chapters. Some loved this and thought Jodi pulled it off well. Others preferred Jacob’s perspective above all others and thought the story would have been strengthened if told solely from his vantage point. As for me, I wasn’t a super fan of the alternating, but I did enjoy seeing both brothers’ perspectives. I thought both Theo and Jacob were intriguing characters.

So overall, I don’t think House Rules amazed anyone, but several Litwits seemed interested in reading more of her work. I’m glad I finally read something by Picoult and would read something else. Next month we’ll be diving into The Snow Child which I’m thrilled about. Have heard nothing but great things!

Oh…and if my previous Silver Linings Playbook recommendation didn’t convince you to go see the movie, then perhaps the Litwits endorsement will! Everyone is in love with the movie and we highly, highly recommend it to any and everyone!

P.S. Bianca’s favorite Picoult novel is Mercy! What’s yours?

 

The Sunday Salon: Giveaway + First 2013 Book Club

TSSbadge2I’ve been kindly allowed to give away one copy of the book I reviewed on Friday, The Expats by Chris Pavone. Click here to enter the contest. US and Canada residents only please!

Today marks the very first Litwit meetup of 2013 which excites me to no end! I’m so pleasantly surprised and somewhat baffled that we’re still going strong in 2013! Can’t wait for a new year’s worth of meetups, old and new friends. This year we are upping the ante with fresh ideas and activities. Both the April and May meetups will have an additional food theme – and who doesn’t like food, right? I’m also hoping to schedule more group outings – we have a group lunch scheduled for next Saturday and there’s a possible road trip in our future!!

This week (or whole month, really) was fantastic for reading. I devoured Persuasion by Jane Austen and I’m halfway through For Darkness Shows the Stars which is a Persuasion retelling. Jimmy and I also went to see Zero Dark Thirty on Friday night which was a mostly excellent film, although a bit slow at times. I’ve now managed to see 6 of the 9 films nominated for best picture. If I were choosing, Silver Linings Playbook would win but that choice is filled with nothing but my own biases.

Another major accomplishment this week was my first home-cooked meal of 2013. I made a white chicken lasagna and cheddar biscuits. For the first time EVER, the food I cooked actually came out quite lovely and I’ve added this meal to my playlist. It’s a rather short playlist.

I hope everyone had a gorgeous weekend!

The Expats by Chris Pavone + A Giveaway!!!

Expats-Ppbk-FINAL-189x300A book I reviewed a while back (last year) is being released in paperback!  That book is The Expats by Chris Pavone and I’ve hopped on the TLC Book Tour to help endorse this little espionage gem.  It’s a fun spy thriller that takes place in Luxembourg and other fantastic European cities.  The armchair travel was a definite high point!

I don’t want to describe the plot too much in fear of spoiling the finer aspects.  Kate Moore is a wife and mom with a secret past that’s about to come to light when her husband arrives home one afternoon with job relocation news.  The small family is picking up their less-than-perfect D.C. existence to move to Luxembourg and join the elite expat society.  All the new money promises to make their dreams come true until Kate begins to suspect something fishy in her husband’s new job and that their new friends aren’t exactly what they seem.  And that’s all you should know!

I definitely enjoyed The Expats.  I loved that the main character in this espionage thriller was female and a mom.  Reminded me a good bit of Alias at times – kind of like, Sydney Bristow, the later years!  Definitely a page turner, but not in an over-the-top way.  The action is actually held to a minimum with Pavone choosing instead to turn his pages with slowly building paranoia and the promise of answers just a few pages further.  I liked the subtlety of the plot and the web of questions and lies deftly built and sustained from beginning to end.  Just when you think you’ve figured out everything, a new web is un-spun that surprises even our narrator!

I give major props to Pavone for keeping me entertained from page one.  I finished the book within 2 days which is fairly quick for me!  His writing style is extremely readable and he alternates between telling the story in past tense with little snip-bits of present day drama you know the past is leading up to.  The end is jammed packed with information – I had to read certain parts twice just to keep up which might not be such a great thing, but didn’t detour me too much.  Also, the ending might not be plausible in real life, but was a ton of fun in the world the book created!  Sometimes, you need a little escape and The Expats was perfect for that!

Note: Book received from publisher (thanks Crown Publishing/Random House!)

Guess what! Fill out the entry form here and be eligible to win a copy of The Expats! Contest open to US and Canada residents only – ends Jan. 31st.

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This review is brought to you by the good ppl at TLC Book Tours and the views expressed above are my own honest opinion. To follow the rest of the tour hop over here! (Giveaway now closed!!)

Chris-Pavone-Author-Photo-credit-Nina-Subin-300x298About the Author:

Chris Pavone, a book editor for nearly two decades, recently returned to New York City after a sojourn to Luxembourg. The Expats is his first novel.

Visit the author’s website at www.chrispavone.com.

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The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

13500737I’ve wanted to read the Percy Jackson books for as long as I’ve known about them, but have never made the time. This fact is quite shocking knowing how many readers compare the novels to the Harry Potter series and how ridiculously in love with HP I am. Even my sister, a fairly lazy reader, has gotten around to this series! When I got this new job, I immediately needed some audiobooks to fill my long commute and thought Percy Jackson would be the perfect fit.

I know y’all know what this series is about. Percy, a middle-schooler, discovers he’s a demi-god and that all the Greek mythology is actually real life. In The Lightning Thief, Percy uncovers the truth about himself and fulfills his first hero quest – recovering Zeus’s lost lightening bolt power thingy. Along the way he becomes besties with Annabeth and Grover, demi-god and satyr, respectively. If you haven’t read the book, you’ve most likely seen the movie starring Logan Lerman.

I hadn’t listened to an audiobook since the beginning of 2012 when I gave up on the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. After getting re-accustomed to the format, I fell in sync with Percy and Jesse Bernstein’s reading of Percy fairly quickly. The story is a fast-paced romp – a road trip tale with action, adventure, and mythology in spades. Obviously, the book’s target audience is middle-grade readers, but adults can find something enjoyable in Percy’s quest as well. The writing wasn’t particularly stunning, but then I wouldn’t have expected it to be. Bernstein’s narration might grate on the nerves of some adults as his characterizations are decidedly teenage-esque, but I’m sure kids eat it up.

As far as the Harry Potter comparisons are concerned, they aren’t too off the mark. Riordan appears to have drawn great influence from the structure of the HP story. Three friends, hero man-child, great obstacles to overcome, and an evil trying to come back from some kind of dead place. But nothing about these similarities distracted me in this first book (the second is another story). I was able to overlook them with relative ease, perhaps because I’m currently a bit removed from the HP mythology and hype.

I’d recommend this book to those readers who are specifically interested in this particular middle grade story. I’m not sure it will win over any mythological naysayers, scholars, or those looking for the next Harry Potter. I know Percy gets lots of praise, and while I understand why, I’m not so sure I can jump on the bandwagon as quickly as everyone else. An enjoyable story, yes, but nothing special. An great audio to listen to while commuting through terrible Atlanta traffic. If I miss a line here or there, no need to rewind as everything is fairly easy to figure out on my own.

If you loved the Percy Jackson series, let me know why in the comments! Should I continue one with the third book because the second book is going rather slowly for me?

As a side note, the film drastically changes many of the book’s plot points. Be prepared for a very liberal interpretation and not a particularly well-done one. I did enjoy the actors who played Annabeth and Grover, however. One of my biggest complaints with the book was how underdeveloped Grover was. He had so much my potential and was my favorite character, but he wasn’t written thoroughly enough. I enjoyed him so much more in the movie!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

10931946Horses! Again! Not a fan. I don’t know what a horse did to me in a previous life, but the only horsey thing I can think of that I’ve loved in the past 29 years is Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken – remember that movie? My aunt used to take us horseback riding when we were little and I was never impressed. Perhaps Mr. Ed had something to do with it – I hated that show.

Anyway, I had a copy of Black Beauty growing up (who didn’t?), but I never read the thing due to my horse aversion. I would hold it, smell it, and generally love it – but no reading about the horse inside was allowed. A strange child – absolutely. And to be honest, the only reason I bought the book as an adult is because it was part of the Penguin Threads editions. I feel like I should write Penguin a letter now and thank them profusely for providing the proper incentive to read a book about a horse.

Black Beauty tells the story of a horse living life in England during the Victorian era. I was surprised to learn that the narration is told by Black Beauty himself! Getting into a horse’s mind was quite fascinating and even I crumbled a bit under his trials and tribulations. Beauty goes through many owners – some wonderful, many wicked – and learns much about the ways of humans and horses alike. Seeing humanity through his eyes was somehow more powerful, more engaging, and extremely more damning than through ordinary human eyes. You’ll be hard-pressed not to shed a few tears at Beauty’s ending, even if you have been known to turn a cold shoulder to these beautiful, majestic creatures.

Sewell’s writing is nothing less than lyrical. Every so often, I did find myself slogging through some of the more obvious preachy moments about such things as bearing reigns and the like. Characters would have conversations entirely devoted to making a rather bland point about how to rightly treat a horse. I’d sooner have seen these ideas depicted through the novel’s actions rather than repeatedly summed up through dialogue. But I know Sewell’s intentions weren’t necessarily to write a masterpiece, but instead to bring light to a troubling problem.

I also found Sewell’s rainbow of human characters well done. Yes, many are morally upright and well behaved and others are downright cruel – fairly black and white. But she also populates her story with all the in-between which always makes for more convincing moral tales in my own opinion.

Don’t let the horse keep you away from this story! It was lovely and a great book to share with a child you know and love. So many important lessons, fun characters, and a swiftly plotted pace can only make this book the beloved classic known and beloved by so many over the past decades. Spending an afternoon with Black Beauty was time more than well spent!

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cropped-classicsclub3I’m on a roll with my Classics Club reads this year! How about you?

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

9593911Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series and not one I was anxiously awaiting. My feelings for Delirium can only be described as lukewarm and it has been over a year since I finished that one. But with the third and final book, Requiem, due to hit shelves in March, I decided to dust off my copy of Pandemonium with hopeful, yet tempered, expectations.

I definitely won’t completely spoil (there are light spoilers sprinkled throughout) the first book for y’all Delirium virgins out there, but the general plot line of this series involves a world where love is seen as a disease and children undergo the ‘cure’ (essentially, a form of lobotomy) by the time they reach 18. Lena lives contentedly in this world until she falls for Alex and he opens her eyes to the truth of the world she has come to know and trust. You can read my full review of Delirium here.

Pandemonium opens in the first few moments following the cliffhanger ending of Delirium. Oliver’s narration has changed a bit, however, in that we now switch back and forth in time from then (immediately following Delirium) to now (a few months into the future). While many non-linear plots can feel more harrassing than pleasantly plot progressing, I must give Oliver props because I thought Pandemonium handled this back and forth quite well. It added a little something extra to the pacing that I felt was lacking in Delirium. I never once felt bored as the scenery was constantly changing and I was learning new things from page to page. Lena, herself, also felt like a much more developed and relevant protagonist.

I was pleased that Lena spends a large majority of this book without a boy by her side. Yes, Oliver does eventually introduce a love triangle of sorts, but the romantic relationship aspect doesn’t overwhelm the plot like so many YA novels, including Pandemonium’s predecessor. As for the love triangle, this one didn’t bother me. Nothing about Lena’s situation with Alex and Julian rings untrue. It’s only natural for Lena to move on thinking that Alex is dead, especially at such a young age and having been with Alex for so brief a time. I appreciated her ability to deal with her grief and move on struggling with her guilt all the while. That being said, Julian wasn’t my favorite character and of everyone present in Pandemonium. I definitely think he was the least well-rounded. He does have excellent potential, however, and I hope that Requiem does a better job garnering an emotional attachment to him.

For once, I actually thought the sequel outshone the first book and I’m eagerly anticipating the third book’s release! I’m glad I kept reading and think that Oliver fixed all the nitpicky problems that bothered me so much in Delirium. What most intrigues me about the next installment is yet another narrative switch – instead of alternating time lines we’re getting to see the trilogy wrap up through the perspectives of both Lena and her best friend Hanna. Can’t wait to see how things play out!

At the Cinema: Silver Linings Playbook

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I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled book review this lovely Wednesday morning for a very important announcement! You must run (no walking!) to the nearest theater to see Silver Linings Playbook. What a fantastic script and brilliant performances by all involved. I thought I loved Jennifer Lawrence before, but now I want to have her babies. She and Bradley Cooper just really impressed me with their portrayals of these deeply wounded people struggling with mental illness.

I can’t wait to read the book. If you’ve ever had experience with bipolar disorder – personal experience or just knowing someone affected – this movie will touch you deeply. And even if you haven’t, this story is such a human story that I can hardly see how anyone with a heart could not find this both heartwrenching and heartwarming. I left the theater grinning my ridiculous goofy grin and wanting to tell everyone to skip work on Monday in order to view this film – do not wait for the DVD!! Normally, I hate anything love story related, but this one just got me in the gut.

In case you don’t know what this film’s about let try to sum it up fairly concisely. Pat (Cooper) has been sentenced to 8 months in a mental institution after nearly beating his wife’s lover to death when he catches them together. During his time in the hospital, Pat is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and begins to understand that it’s something he’s battled his whole life. Deciding to change his life permanently in an effort to overcome his negativity, he takes up a strict regime of exercise and intellectual pursuits (reading!) to better himself and get his wife back. Along the way he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a similarly diagnosed woman healing after the tragic death of her husband. Their relationship is the heart of the movie.

Okay – I’m going to leave you fine people be and stop spewing all the sappy gooey gushing all over my otherwise (yeah right) slightly more mature blog.

P.S. So happy Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globe! I might have given her a standing ovation in the privacy of my living room and frightened my dogs a good bit.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

8240080The Bronte sisters are some of my favorite writers EVER, but I had never read anything by Anne until this reading of Agnes Grey. It’s my first Classics Club read of 2013 and a superb way to begin my classics reading list for this year.

Agnes is a young women born into a family of good standing, but lack of money. Her mother was once a Lady, but married out of love instead of proper social climbing etiquette. When her family’s monetary situation begins to worsen and her father’s health to decline, Agnes goes in search of governess positions to save her family or at least make their lives a little easier. She’s met with spoiled children and a solitary life until she meets a clergyman she can’t stop thinking about!

Anne’s writing, at least in my opinion, is the perfect combination of both Emily and Charlotte. Her prose is perhaps more simplistic (like Emily’s) and straightforward, while her subject matter mirrors Charlotte’s a great deal. Once you’ve taken the supernatural, spooky undertones of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre out of the equation, you’re left with a lovely story of a young woman’s coming-of-age, some social commentary, and the common marriage plot.

There’s nothing overly complex about Agnes Grey with the entire plot and characterizations being grounded in realism and concision, but Agnes was a joy to meet among the pages. Her descriptions of the wild heathen children she taught were bitterly humorous at times and the sense of her own loneliness was often heartbreaking. Many readers criticize Agnes’s ‘goody-goody perfection’ and believe that she lacks development. I tend not to agree – I love her struggling with her affections and attractions for the first time, her often unpleasant thoughts and emotions towards her pupils, and can see her underlying struggle to remain the upright and moral woman her parents have raised her to be.

If you’re new to Victoria literature, Anne Bronte would be a superb introduction to her more flowery sisters and other writers of the time. The story is short and sweet and offers a gentle first glimpse of mid-nineteenth century England. Anne is a protagonist that we’d all like to be friends with and who we root for against the nasty little sprites that only hope to see her fail!

I wish Anne had lived much longer (she died at 29) because as a writer she could only have grown more focused, mature, and amazing. She and her sisters are very deserving of your attention and I’m so very close to having read all their novels! Add them to your classics list if you haven’t already!

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cropped-classicsclub3First Classics Club read of 2013! I’m off to a great start.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

15818362Into the Darkest Corner is a psychological thriller centered around a young woman, Catherine Bailey, and her abusive boyfriend, Lee Brightman. The story is told through alternating timelines – first, when Catherine meets and starts dating the charming Lee and second, four years later when Lee is in jail for what he did to Catherine and she’s moved to London to start a new life. Just when she thinks she’s free of her tormentor, Cathy receives the phone call that Lee is out of prison and back on the streets.

As an intensely psychological novel, I think Into the Darkest Corner succeeds tremendously. Cathy experiences severe PTSD and OCD disorders as the side effects of her traumatic experience with Lee. Haynes writes Cathy’s state of mind with authenticity and complete conviction. You experience the obsessive compulsions with Cathy as she constantly has to check and re-check the safety features of her apartment, at times taking 2-3 hours just to leave her house. I think some readers might get bogged down in the repetitious nature of the ODC descriptions, but I thought they were terribly beneficial in helping the reader understand the depth of Cathy’s illness and fear, while also showcasing her strength, determination, and survival instincts.

The alternating timelines (normally something I’m not a huge fan of) work well here, too. Seeing Cathy’s mental state as a result of the past timeline adds such a great foreboding to the events of four years earlier and help make those pages turn quickly so that we can see for ourselves just how horrible things had to go to reach such a devastating breakdown. Having two extremely suspenseful narratives weaving in and out of each other made for great plot, action, and pacing.

A word of warning – the novel is graphic. Haynes does not paint a pretty picture or cover our eyes to shield us from the worst of Lee’s abuse or Cathy’s party girl ways. You get both humans raw and bare and their relationship in full, gritty detail. You might find Catherine’s sex, drugs, and clubbing nature repulsive – sometimes feeling unable to relate or empathize with her. But I think her indecorous behavior challenges our moral values in the best of ways – did she deserve what she got, did she ask to be abused, or is she completely above recrimination. You see these types of moral conundrums every day. And while I wholeheartedly believe no one deserves such abuse, it was interesting to ponder what might or might not have been.

I think what ultimately pleased me most about Into the Darkest Corner was Catherine’s growth as a character and as a survivor of domestic violence. I appreciated how her journey to recovery was not easy or pretty, but she was determined to find herself again. I couldn’t help but root for her page after page and loved the moment she finally stopped fearing Lee, the moment he no longer had power over her. Kudos to Haynes for keeping the creepy vibe strong throughout the story, right down to the final word.

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Elizabeth HaynesELIZABETH HAYNES is a police intelligence analyst. She started writing fiction in 2006 with the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the encouragement of the creative writing courses at West Dean College. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of Into the Darkest Corner in exchange for my honest review! Check out the other tour dates here!

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