Book Reviews

Tomboy by Liz Prince

Zest Books (September 2, 2014)

Oh my gosh, do I love Zest Books’ graphic novels! Addressing everything from pop culture to going off to college to handling your parents’ divorce, these fun and well-made stand alone books are just engaging, while still providing teen readers with the information they crave.

In Tomboy, Prince takes a look at a life of not fitting in, of being bemused and befuddled by society’s norms for girls, norms that included not only ribbons and taffeta, but also included the people around her questioning her choices and making faulty assumptions about her. Even her peer relationships had their awkward and heartbreaking moments as the friends she had early on slowly “found themselves” in a more culturally-accepted gender role, while Prince herself was left behind in the land of baggy jeans and Converse sneakers.

Prince doesn’t hold back, but shatters the perception that a “masculine”-looking girl must be a lesbian as well. And interestingly, while she struggled to understand that idea herself, she was able to build her own identity and lift herself up in a way that far too many young people don’t have the tools and the self-confidence to do.

This is the perfect read for any teen trying to decide what her place is in the world, and will speak to readers of all ages. I enjoyed it as a look at the past and my own struggles to fit in with peers that decidedly didn’t look, dress, act, or think like I did. A great read for anyone!

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Terran Psychosis by Chris Votey

Verdict: 4 Stars

While the format of the narration wasn’t really my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate that there are readers who would snap this up. The author used a lot of ellipses and capitalized words that don’t usually get capitalized, which I have to admit is hardly the basis for me not preferring this title. Once I overlooked my own prejudices about the writing style, the story line itself is great. It’s a familiar plot (completely sane and truthful man inadvertently locked in a mental institution for his belief that he’s an alien), but Votey still managed to keep it fresh.

There were a few places where some editing would have helped, but overall, this was a fun, short read!
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Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Love 2: Lacto Ovo Vegetarian Recipes by Belinda Y Hughes

Verdict: 4 Stars

This was a total breath of fresh air. Whenever I go online to research new things my family can do to better our eating habits, I always end up bombarded with admonishments about how my kids’ Happy Meals are destroying the very fabric of society and single-handedly causing global warming. I really want to do my part and eat well, but sometimes, the information is so riddled with untruth, superhuman expectations, or strange and inedible ingredients, I end up walking away and pulling through the drive through again (I’m exaggerating slightly).

This book was very short, but it’s recipes were well thought out and are actually doable. They don’t require nectar from a fruit that only grows on a Tibetan mountaintop, but are things that I can easily find within a few miles of my small town or on a trip to the nearest larger city.

I do wish there were more recipes, so I’ll have to check out the first installment in the series. Keep ’em coming!
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First Fury by Thomas Macy

Verdict: 5 Stars

I am an absolute sucker for truth-based fiction, or what the industry is now calling a real-life novel. Authors like Phillipa Gregory and shows like The Tudors are my favorites, because I love to see a creative person’s take on what we actually do know about a real person or event, and then see how they fill in the gaps. In First Fury, Macy took what could have amounted to a blip on history’s radar and wove a powerful story around it.

Ann Johnson was a woman scorned by a scoundrel who promised marriage, but left her ruined in a strange city when he took off. Hearing that he’d joined a whaling crew, Ann assumed a man’s identity and signed on herself, determined to find the ship that Caleb had joined and have her revenge against him. What Ann–now George– didn’t know was that whaling assignments are three years long and the work is brutal, even deadly.

One of the greatest things about the author’s writing in this story is his ability to flip back and forth between Ann and George as male and female pronouns. There was never a point where he accidentally referred to George as “he,” as in this story it’s important for readers to remember that George is a young woman. The seamless transition between her two identities was flawless.

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Ellie Stanton by Aurora Zahni
Verdict: 4 Stars

Ellie Stanton is the quintessential disgruntled teen who appears to have one helluva chip on her shoulder towards authority. As a decidedly grownup adult, it’s easy for me to dismiss her angst as nothing more than misplaced, whiny anger. But she’s a far more complex character who deserves a much deeper look into who she is. Ellie is basically the product of her own upbringing and situation. In the poignant story–one that struck very close to home for me as a 16-year veteren classroom teacher–Ellie’s introduction into public school (and her eventual loathing of school and authority figures) happens all the way back in kindergarten when she’s treated horribly by a teacher who abuses her power and humiliates a five-year-old child.

While Ellie’s runaway car trip may seem selfish, it’s not. It’s an attempt by someone whose own control has been revoked to exercise some measure of participation in the decisions that affect her. Even if the choices she makes at times aren’t sound due to her age and maturity level, she owns them.

I would have liked to see a little more common characteristics that would let a broader audience identify with Ellie instead of just watch her from the sidelines, but over all, there needs to be more books like this one for all the Ellie’s of the world.

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“The Getaway Car” by Ann Patchett – Review by Niki Danforth

I just finished reading the essay, “The Getaway Car,” by Ann Patchett, as part of her longer collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. In this one essay, Patchett takes a stab at exactly what it means to pour everything you are into being a writer. The author says, “I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.”

Patchett masterfully weaves her lessons for authors into her own writing autobiography. It is not always an uplifting, encouraging lesson, however, but people who strive to be writers–people who put their intimate thoughts on paper–and not just authors–people who publish and sell books–will take comfort in her knowledge.

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Too Early for Flowers: The Story of a Polio Mother by Kurt Sipolski

Verdict: 4 Stars

As the mother of a special needs child, I am always in awe when I read stories of parents who faced their own children’s struggles head-on in times that were far less enlightened than now. Sipolski’s book, while a filled-in-the-gaps memoir and honoring of his mother’s life, really whispers to its readers about what it must have been like to face the prejudices and misunderstandings surrounding anyone who was “different.” His mother, Iris, faced obstacles that would be enough to break the back of anyone less strong, even if they were single obstacles: moving to a new city halfway across the country at eighteen, marrying a man who ships out to WWII and ultimately leaves her a young widow, two young children to raise on her own, and polio striking her family. Any of those would be enough to turn someone weak and bitter, but Iris handles all of them with as much optimism as she can muster.

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Creating a Culture of Profitability by Rob and Aviva Kleinbaum

Verdict: 4 Stars

I have to preface this by saying that I am not an avid reader of business books. Even though there are entire segments of the reading population that are big fans of the genre, I’m not. Still, I was able to read and understand, appreciate the look and feel, and enjoy the professional quality of the book.

I reviewed the book upon request and I did get a mostly clear picture of the importance of taking profitability and making it so much a part of a company’s mindset that it is indistinguishable from the company outlook. The authors made the point very clear that this business mindset should flavor every decision a company makes, and explained how to go about creating this culture within the company.

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The Redhead Plays Her Hand by Alice Clayton
Verdict: 5 Stars

In the final installment in the series which Clayton started with The Unidentified Redhead and The Redhead Revealed, “older” actress (she really hates to be called that) Grace Sheridan has a hit new series, a heartthrob sexy actor boyfriend, and a new house in LA. Unfortunately, she also has all of the baggage that goes with it, including stalker paparazzi, a manager who insists that Grace and Jack not take their relationship public for business reasons, sleazy egotistical fellow actors, and a producer who’s at his breaking point that she hasn’t lost another twenty pounds.

Add to that the blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter rants from fans who are outraged that the studly star of the hottest movie franchise of the decade is dating this Sheridan “cow,” and Grace is ready to turn her back on the dream she worked so hard to achieve. When Jack’s superstar behavior takes him down the path of all-night partying and illegal drugs, Grace is ready to give up on him, too.

In a book series that is both highly sexually charged and hilarious, Clayton has managed to create a girl-next-door persona out of a major name actress. As readers who watched Grace’s star slowly rise through the first two books, we are both enthralled and surprised when she makes it big in Hollywood. This feels more like reading a text message conversation with our best friend than a novel about the lives of the Hollywood elite.

If there was any criticism to dish out, it would be that Grace is far too willing to let Jack off the hook, sending the mildly irritating message that celebrities get special treatment. Ironically, Jack hits rock bottom for that very reason when he tires of being treated as a superstar everywhere he goes.

All three of the Redhead books in the series are available now.
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Learning to Love (Carson Hill Ranch Series Book One) by Amelia Rose

Very fun read, loved the environmental message. These six cowboy brothers live on a modern day ranch, but still ride their horses when working with the animals so as not to startle or upset them. When it’s time to head to market, they run an old fashioned cattled drive and let “city slickers” pay to come along for the dude ranch style vacation, but they also do it because it’s a safer, healthier way to get the cattle up north.

Along the way, oldest Carson brother Casey has been plagued by his dad’s meddling romantic ideas, going so far as to create an online dating profile for Casey and pretending to be him! When Miranda shows up at “Casey’s” invitation, there’s one cowboy who had no idea of what was in store.

It was a quick, fun read, with a couple of mature-themed scenes but nothing explicit. Looking forward to reading the next book!

Find it HERE!
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Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

CREEPY!
Dr. Frankenstein had two daughters, and they went completely ignored until his death. Bent on claiming their inheritance, they return to his castle–and his experiments. This title offers twisted, scary fun, a dash of romance, and a supernatural twist that we would expect from the mad genius who created a man from cadaver parts!

Don’t let the publisher fool you. Sure, it’s a Scholastic title and it’s probably aimed at upper middle school, younger high school. But it’s got all the creep factor of a mainstream suspense title.

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Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
This book should come with a warning: Don’t even open the cover until you’ve got your adult diapers firmly in place. Even from the Introduction, Brosh will have you crossing your legs while you laugh.

Fans of Brosh’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half, turned out to purchase the author’s debut graphic novel (Touchstone), complete with her intentionally crudely drawn illustrations that just put the finishing touches on her amazing storytelling capability. In what is probably not even close to the weirdest thing about this book, it is at this very moment the number one bestseller on Amazon in the Love/Sex/Marriage, Satire, and Biography & History Graphic Novels categories. There’s not a metadata genius on Earth who can explain that.

For the most part, Brosh’s writing serves as an amazingly hilarious cautionary tale for the rest of us. Our lives look stellar in comparison, and that’s even if we were facing jail time for a minor but repeat offense. However, the author also pours open several veins when she tackles the topics of self-loathing and clinical depression, even while making you laugh.

Some of the criticisms of this graphic novel have been that there’s not enough new material, citing that most of the content within the book has been posted previously on the author’s blog. While frustrating for longtime fans of the site, new readers will delight in the side-splitting stories; additionally, a number of well-known bestselling titles that were curated from popular blogs contain previously published content. Readers will still enjoy having a collected volume of their favorite Brosh stories.

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

VERDICT: 2 Stars

Just when you think you’ve endured as many pages of suffering and hurting as is possible to squeeze between the covers of a book, it gets worse.

Allegiant is the long-awaited final book in the Divergent trilogy, a young adult series by author Veronica Roth. Without having to write the dreaded words “spoiler alert,” let’s just say that Roth spent a great deal of time torturing many of the characters that readers already suffered alongside in the first two books.

Interestingly, part of the problem with this final installment was the amount of time it took to come to readers’ bookshelves, a by-product of the spoiling nature of digital- and self-publishing. Where readers are growing more and more accustomed to the rapid release dates afforded by ebooks, having to wait for a traditionally published sequel–especially one whose title wasn’t even released by the publisher until this fall, as if titles are now top secret–was not exactly agonizing, but more like irritating. In the time I’ve waited since first falling in love with Tris and Four and rooting for the factions and factionless alike, I’ve found twenty other authors that I like better, and just as many story lines and compelling characters to keep me entertained.

Okay, fine…spoiler alert: I feel ripped off by the publishing industry over this book. I became a fan and a believer, only to spend two years of my life waiting for THIS ending to the series. Read at your own risk.
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REVIEW: How Not to Be a Dick by Meghan Doherty

VERDICT: 5 Stars

The dubiously inappropriate title aside, How Not to Be a D*ick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide (censorship mine) is like Emily Post for normal people, people who don’t go around presenting their calling cards to household butlers and waiting in the drawing room for their lady friends to descend the stairs. No, this book features actual daily life application social norms. It contains important chapters on topics like how to get along with peers and co-workers, how to cook your food in the office microwave so as not to offend people, even little reminders like get in the bathroom, do your business, and get out…don’t tweet while chatting to someone using the facility. And don’t forget to wash your hands.

Doherty’s guide is a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at the manners that we all just assume everyone learned at home but in truth–if the comments section on YouTube or Yahoo! News is any indication–they didn’t. Part of the fun of the guide is the appearance of Dick, Jane, and Spot-era line drawings of the characters in these exact social scenarios, acting out the right and wrong way to behave for our reading pleasure.

Published by Zest Books, whose titles are distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is known for publishing edgy-but-instructional non-fiction for teens. Doherty’s title definitely speaks to a broad age range, covering cliques and bullies at school and the appropriate way to ask someone to the dance, as well as how to behave on an airplane or little things to keep in mind if you’re using your local Starbucks as a temporary office. Perhaps most important of all are the many reminders of how to not get drunk at the office party and snatch your boss’s toupee before running around the room with it and declaring it to be a flying cat. If the worst should happen and you do, in fact, snatch the toupee, there is also information on how to recover from that little faux pas gracefully the next day, all while hoping you still have a job.

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REVIEW: Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

Cheryl Rainfield has done it again. As one of the powerhouse young adult authors who championed the #YASaves hashtag on Twitter, a cause that was taken up by authors and readers alike who felt that powerful teen literature had helped them survive high school and shaped them into the adults they are today, Rainfield often writes about the characters and topics that teen readers hunger for but that the adults in their lives want to pretend aren’t real.

In this latest work from Rainfield, who has openly shared that her childhood of physical and sexual abuse is a strong motivation for what prompts her to write for young adults, teen Sarah Meadows has lived with taunting, staring, and bullying for a birth mark that covers half of her face. But when she is kidnapped one day on the way home from school, she has to look inside herself and find the courageous person who hides inside her, or risk further torture and death.

As with all of Rainfield’s books, what drives the story isn’t so much the very real circumstances that far too many teens today find themselves in, but the very real characters she creates on the page. All of us can identify with the main and supporting characters in her stories because she knows teenagers and their struggles like virtually no other writer today.

In an interesting aside, Rainfield’s most recent title was basically sent back to the drawing board by book retailers who felt the original cover was too intense for their shelves. Stained has been redesigned, but still contains the same thrilling plot structures and real-life characters that have made Rainfield such a force in young adult literature.

Stained (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) will be available on October 1st from book retailers everywhere.

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REVIEW: CREDARA: Rise of the Kraylen by J.E. Henderson

Verdict: 4 Stars

I always hate when people give a book low stars and then have the nerve to admit, “I never read this genre.” Well, why in the world did you review it then? I reviewed this book as part of author J.E. Henderson’s blog tour for CREDARA: Rise of the Kraylen, and I have to say…I never read this genre. BUT…for the genre, it was an excellent story.

One of my chief complaints with high fantasy is that it often feels like authors sit around with a bag of Scrabble letters, dump them out on the table, and then grab any nine letter tiles to come up with a character’s name. And yes, probably to the delight of fantasy fans, Henderson’s characters do have some odd names that I found hard to remember. Luckily, unlike some authors who don’t put the effort into back story, Henderson obviously knew his characters very well before he ever set out to write their story. Each had a distinct voice and unique personality traits that helped the reader keep them all straight.

I also particularly enjoyed the fact that this wasn’t the tired, worn-out depiction of a good-versus-evil. Agean had some unique aspects to his personality that kept this from being just another “let’s defeat the bad guy even though we’re just a rag-tag bunch of half-elves” type of book.

CREDARA is available now, and I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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REVIEW: Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno

Verdict: 2 stars

One of the most highly anticipated recent book launches has been Shields’ and Salerno’s Salinger, billed as an exhaustive biography of of one of the most reclusive writers of our time. What was actually published, unfortunately, was nothing more than transcripts written in interview format of discussions about the author with people who claimed to know him, nearly 200 people, in fact.

While there is the occasional insight into the author’s life or the briefest of pieces of new information about the man, a lot of the material uncovered is very anecdotal tabloid-quality stuff. Was it really vital to share the status of Salinger’s testicles? No, I think not. (spoiler alert: apparently Salinger only had one, and for some reason, the authors of the book felt that knowledge was somehow important to our understanding of their subject)

Over the years, Salinger’s son Matt has developed quite a reputation for taking his father’s privacy to extremes, even going so far as to disparage his own sister’s memoir as “gothic” and “unsupported.” At one point, he even sued for the return of a letter his father had written after a collectibles dealer put it up for auction, claiming that it was his father’s writing and therefore the property of the estate. Given that Salinger is the end result of not blocking the publication of information about a very private man, it’s easy to understand why Matt Salinger may have felt the need to be so protective.

On a brighter note, the book is apparently almost a word-for-word transcript of the documentary film on the life of J.D. Salinger, and the film might be far less difficult to wade through given that it will be presented in video by the people who actually claim to have stories to share about the author. The film was released September 6th.

Salinger is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

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REVIEW OF BASEBALL AND QUIT SCHOOL by Francis Bennett

Hillbilly Hunting

A very interesting story with a flowing cadence. The major characters’ voices speak through. The McGee family principles set a tone that will sit in my thoughts for quite some time. Education on family values and morals. Fair ending too and good use of words.

The Blind Man’s Sight

Again, good use of words and a fair story. Interesting dialogue. Just didn’t get the ending.

Death At The Track

A very, very nice story. Interesting characters. Emotional. Teaches a few minor lessons about gambling and one major: don’t do it. Felt for the main character at the end. The only fall was a formatting issue somewhere down the middle.

Crooked Ass Annie

Weird fiction, keeps you guessing until the end. Mystery with authenticity. Brilliant premise and development throughout. Cliffhanger at the end.

Innocence Ends

Mysterious too. I Like haunted house stories. The relationship between the two main characters, however brief was full of information.

She Loves Me She Loves Me Not

Didn’t really understand this story. Had the same formatting issues as in Death At The Track

O’Grady’s Wake

It started out complex. Rather than sympathize with the widow, everyone seemed to wish their farewell with a hint of riddance. Felt for Maevis. Thank God for Seamus

Baseball

A most touching story. Even with its brevity, the sudden slap of event nearly made me cry. It goes to show that the relationship of brothers could be the strongest bond in the world. Why did the writer have to Bobby off. To make the story real and incisive and it was done perfectly. It was indeed original and good! The best in the collection served appropriately last.

Generally

An entertaining collection of urban tales, with mystery. Enjoyable stories, good clean, clear and simple writing and good, useful information and counseling. Good flow. There was a lack of grammatical errors in the beginning but later, errors started to peek through the writing, though not much to deter reading flow. There were, too, formatting issues down the middle of the collection.

It was a worthy collection, altogether. Should it be rated, I’d give it 4 of 5 stars or 5.5 of 7.

Good work, writer. Keep it up.

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Review by MP: Don’t Judge Me by Quanah Edwards

This is a work of erotic urban fiction that focuses on two people, ZA and Chrissy, who try to make a go of a relationship despite having been good friends for years before testing the waters romantically and physically. There are some nearly insurmountable odds working against their happiness, namely Chrissy’s fear of commitment and ZA’s drug problem. While it is a fairly graphic book with explicit sex, the author does a good job of trying to make the scenes realistic, setting up their tentative romance without just gratuitously throwing down-and-dirty sex in there.

The book really could use a good editor, though, but only in terms of the grammar conventions. Erotica fans, especially those experimenting with reading urban fiction, will enjoy the story if they can overlook the errors.

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Review by LH: Trust by L Chapman

Trust is a sweet story about finding love after hurt. Megan must let down the walls she has built around her heart after past betrayals and risk getting hurt or she will forever close off the possibility of true happiness.  There were times that I felt like something big was about to be revealed and then it would take several pages for that thing to happen, and that can cause readers to lose interest, but I am glad I did finish reading it!

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Review by LH: The Easiest Way to Survive the Undead by Graham Elliott

This title keeps your interest from the very first page. You can almost forget this is fiction as you anxiously wait with the narrator for the results of his experiment to save humanity. We can feel the desperation as he meticulously plans his experiment, feverishly working against time.  We experience his fear as the camera reveals the monsters circling his hiding place.   Deliciously suspenseful, and I’m looking forward to reading his upcoming collection, “Tales from the Grave.”

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Review by LH: The Darkness Within by Robert Friedrich
“The Darkness Within” is a gripping psychological thriller.  The main character, the ship’s captain, leads us on a surreal journey into madness.  He is Everyman as he confronts the interior evil that lurks in all of us. With some editing and a bit more detail this will be a good read!
FYI: I get the sense that the author is not a native speaker of English.  Sometimes he uses homonyms that change the meaning completely, but might have been spelling mistakes. Overall, it’s a great story but he should spend a little more time on it.
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Review by Robert Friedrich: Driving the Demon by Lorca Damon

I’ll be honest here, at first I wasn’t expecting much from this book. The only thing that was striking to me was the title, but this book really surprised me.

First, its written from a First Person point of view, and that is not one of the easiest ways to write. Not many pull it off in a short story let alone a whole book, but Lorca delivers that.
The story was fun, exciting, gripping and more. Not what I would normally expect from a Young Adult book. The protagonist Caid is interesting and you will enjoy reading his journey in Driving the Demon.
Highly Recommended Read!
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Review by MP: Shift by Hugh Howey

A lot of the focus on Hugh Howey’s books has been about the Cinderella story of his publishing career, about how he made a killing as a self-published ebook-only author and now one of the Big Four-and-a-Half picked up the print rights to his books. What a lot of people keep missing out on is the fact that his books are just that good.

Wool was incredibly original and action-packed, and the multi-part sequel Shift is no less intense. Flip-flopping between the very first days of the operational silo from book one, and the Washington, DC power play that got the silos built in the first place, we already get the sense that the treachery of the silos started long before the IT people in Juliet’s world got their hands on things.

My only criticism is I kind of felt the sense of urgency to get this book out there, almost like maybe the die-hard fans knew more information than I did. But true to his self-published roots, any rush to get this book in the hands of readers was because his fans demanded it, and not because a corporate contract writer insisted on it.Learning to

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