January 2017 Books

1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Audiobook. Eeeeeehhhhhh. I really wanted to love it, but I didn’t. I think I would have liked it much more if the guy was the nature loving witch and the girl was the techno geek. I feel like it would have forced the author to think about the characters more, if that makes sense? Idk, just, despite having ingredients that I love, the final product wasn’t really for me.

2. Cyborg Heat by Lisa Lace. Audiobook. Wow that was bad. Like, so bad I’m not convinced Lisa Lace isn’t a cyborg who has never actually had sex with a human. So bad that at one point the male lead shoves his penis (which had just been described as “almost too big”) into his female partner’s ass with no prep and she, of course, loves it. So bad that there’s not one but two near rapes of the female lead. So bad that the female lead used soap to masturbate. SO BAD. I’m reading the second book now.

3. Cyborg Fury by Lisa Lace. Audiobook. Well, it was less rapey than the first book but now featured an obsessed bordering on abusive ex, so kind of a wash. On the plus side, the author actually used the word “clit” instead of dancing around it with flowery language, so that’s a plus?

4. Scott Pilgrim vol 1 by that guy I’ll add in later. Ebook. I now dislike the casting of Michael Cera in the movie version even more.

5. Steel World by B.V. Larson. Audiobook. Somebody read waaaaaaaaay too much Heinlein in their youth but didn’t manage to notice any of the things that made Heinlein not totally terrible.

6. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Audiobook, reread.

7. Infinity Lost by S. Harrison. Audiobook. Holy unexpected really gruesome violence, Batman! I also guessed the “twist” about five pages in. And it didn’t even end on a cliffhanger, it ended in the middle of a scene. I’m debating reading the next one though because it was mostly decently written fluff (for various values of fluff, given the extreme violence (seriously, there was this thing with a thumb and an eyeball that was totally unnecessary) but you know what I mean) and that’s just what the doctor ordered sometimes.

8. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Audiobook, reread.

9. Scott Pilgrim vol. 2 by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Ebook.

10. Armada by Ernest Cline. Audiobook. I’m going to have to write a full review of this one. Long story short, it’s not a terrible book but Ernest Cline needs somebody who is more socially aware to avoid falling into sexist and racist pitfalls.

11. Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger. Audiobook. Fun, good, would recommend.

12. Proposal by Meg Cabot. Audiobook. Mediator novella. Squeeeeee! Not the best thing in the world but I enjoyed it.

13. Overheard by Maya Banks. Audiobook. Smut. Okay smut, not great.

14. Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix. Audiobook. Some stories were eh and some were great and none were bad.

15. 50 Shades of Gay by Jeffery Self. Audiobook. Lololololololol. Just as bad as you might imagine. Still not as bad as 50 Shades of Grey.

16. Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews. Audiobook. Good! Not sure I buy Kate being as sappy as she ends up being but a small quibble over all.

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The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, trans. by Joel Martinsen

UUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHHHH is my main reaction to this book.  My feelings can also be summed up like so:

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The whole thing was just so very, very frustrating mostly because there was some legitimately brilliant writing but the sexism was almost overwhelming.

There will be spoilers for the first book in this review and while I’m going to try to avoid major plot spoilers for the second book, it will be impossible to adequately convey my frustrations with the book without talking about some of the things that happen.

Okay.  So, in the first book, the world discovers that the Earth is going to be invaded by aliens in 400 years.  The aliens are intent on wiping out the human race and shaping Earth to fit their needs.  The aliens know that humans have the capability of making great technological leaps forward* so they have sent multidimensional subatomic particles called sophons, able to communicate instantaneously across space, to block certain kinds of research going forward and to spy on humans in general.  Some humans are sympathetic to the aliens (and think the human race need wiping out) and the  sophons also communicate with these humans, getting them to plan and scheme on behalf of the aliens.

At the start of this book, it is realized that to keep plans hidden from the aliens, humans must not write or speak their plans.  They must also not use any conventional strategies, since those are written in books of histories and tactics.  To this end four men are granted extraordinary powers and privileges.  They are the Wallfacers.  They have near unlimited resources for fighting the aliens and they must keep their plans a secret, having only to say that something is part of their plan to see it done.  Three of the men granted this power are respected statesmen or scientists.  The fourth is an unambitious Chinese professor, Luo Ji.  He is our main character.

Luo Ji tries to decline the honor of being named a Wallfacer but every word that comes out of his mouth is seen as part of the plan, even “I quit.”  So Luo Ji orders the project to find him his dream house in an idyllic location and goes to live a quit life far from the people who now want to kill him.  And this is where the problems start for me.  Well, the really big ones, at least.  Just as Luo Ji is able to describe his perfect house, so he describes his ideal woman.  She is tiny and beautiful and pure and flowerlike.  He thinks such an impossibly pure and lovely person cannot exist.  But the head of his security disagrees and says that finding such a woman should be no problem.  And it isn’t.  A couple weeks after her requests her, Luo Ji is sent the woman of his dreams.  She is told that she is part of the Plan to save Earth, to save humanity.  Her part of the plan is to make herself happy.  Apparently that involves falling in love with Luo Ji because the next thing we know the two are married and have a daughter.

But then a Wallfacer fails.  His plans are uncovered by an ally of the aliens, a Wallbreaker. So the world is growing increasingly worried about this Wallfacer Project and want to see something concrete from Luo Ji.  But as long as he has his wife and child and a beautiful place to live, why would Luo Ji do anything but what he is doing now?  So the world security counsel take his wife and child and put them in cryogenic sleep, to be woken when they are content that Luo Ji has really done all he can.  The main character’s wife (who, I remind you, was literally ordered up like delivery food (“No, not too much intelligence, wouldn’t want to ruin it too much spice.”)) is put on ice to motivate the main character.  ARG.

Authors, we’ve been over this.  Using the death/rape/harm of the female love interest of your male main character as motivation for that character is A TERRIBLE IDEA AND NEEDS TO STOP.  Esepecially when your book only has one other female character of significance and she has major daddy issue.  I repeat:

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The thing is, I can’t just call Cixin Liu a sexist asshat and call it a day.  Because The Three-Body Problem wasn’t sexist, as far as I can recall.  And I don’t think he meant to be sexist in this book?  Like, at one point it is mentioned that 50% of the people in the space fleet are women.  I honestly thing the author wanted things to come off as balanced?  But he failed so very, very badly in that.  But other parts.  Oh damn, he did not fail at all.  As I said, parts of this book were legitimately brilliant.  If the novel solely consisted of those parts I would be praising this as one of, if not the, most amazing sci-fi books I’ve ever read.

Do I think this book is worth your time?  If you like The Three Body Problem, then yes, absolutely.  I just also wanted to forewarn you that OH MY GOD SO SEXIST is also a reaction you will probably be having.

*Like, guys, planes were invented in ~1903 and we put a man on the moon in 1969.  That’s fucking astounding.  Go humans.

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Book review: J is for Jones #atozchallenge

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Okay, I am aware that I have totally failed at this challenge, but I had this entry already 90% completed, so I thought I might as well post it anyway!

Remember how I said I might change things up a bit of I didn’t have a book that fit the letter of the day?  Well, I have read several books that start with J but none of them are striking my fancy.  So instead I’m going to briefly review a few books by Diana Wynne Jones.  I’m going to limit myself to three because otherwise we might be here all day.  According to Goodreads, I’ve read 42 books by Diana Wynne Jones, because she is the best, yo.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is a hilarious and loving send-up of the epic fantasy genre.  It’s a fantastic novel in its own rights but it also pokes gentle fun at Tolkien, Lewis, Eddings, etc, etc.  It’s engaging and funny and clever and seriously, so much fun.  Read it now.

Hexwood is a mix of sci-fi (Other planets!  Robots!  Space travel!) and magic (Spelled swords!  Blasts of lightening!  Transformations!) and Arthurian legend (Spelled swords again!  Knights on quest!  A magic cup!).  It’s a bit more on the adult side of DWJ’s writing (see also Deep Secret) and deeply upsetting/sad in places (see any number of DWJ’s books because she knew kids could (and did) handle a lot more stuff that usually given credit for) but the characters are fantastic and it features one of my all time favorite romantic pairings.

I’m cheating a bit by writing about four books as one but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, dammit!  The Dalemark Quartet is a series that I accidentally read completely backwards.  I started with the last book and finished with the first.  Oops.  Still one of my favorite series of all time.  The series is set in the kingdom of Dalemark, a kingdom divided by both geography and political beliefs.  The books are about reluctant heroes, about the power of words, about not wanting to fight but recognizing that sometimes it is necessary.*

Overall, books my Diana Wynne Jones are wonderful.  Her characters are vibrant and relatable, she writes with great humor and emotional depth, her plots are diverse and interesting, just Diana Wynne Jones is the best, y’all.  Pick up a book by her today.

*Thanks to my lovely friend Zanna for helping me come up with that, the Dalemark quartet is really hard to sum up!

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Book review: I is for Island #atozchallenge

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Island in the Sea of Time by S.M. Stirling starts with a mysterious, never explained event which takes the island of Nantucket from 1997* and moves it, and its inhabitants (including a Coast Guard training ship just off shore), back in time to into 1250 BC.

It’s a really good book but I don’t have much to say about it at this time.  I liked that the main cast of characters were diverse.  I like that the more technologically advanced Nantucketers didn’t assume that their superior technology made them intellectually superior to the natives of the time period.  I liked the reversion of some technologies (Nantucket could not produce guns at the same level as the 20th century and had to revert to Civil War era technology) and how the mistakes of the past were used to recreate the wheel, as it were.  I thought the use of rape and torture as plot devices came up a too much.  I didn’t like the sequels as much as they felt like a series of battle scenes strung together.  But I did really like this one and if you enjoy speculative fiction, I encourage you to give it a try.

*Or so, I don’t remember exactly when the opening of the book took was set.  I’m guessing based off the fact that the book was published in 1998.

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Book review: H is for Harlequin #atzchallenge

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The Harlequin by Laurell K. Hamilton is the book that finally made me quit the Anita Blake series. And I can put my finger on the exact thing that set me over the edge. Spoilers, I guess, for the 15th book in a series only the first nine or ten of which I would recommend.

Towards the end of the book, the reader finally gets a description of the feared Harlequin, enforces and spies of the vampire authority. And at least one of them is wearing a tri-cornered hat with pom-poms hanging of the brim. What the fuck. Is that supposed to strike fear in my heart? Because, I don’t know about you, but fuzzy balls hanging off a hat don’t exactly have me quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots.

So, yeah, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Ms. Hamilton expecting me to be frightened of something I would have mocked relentlessly had I seen it in person, but the spilt was a long time in the making and was really due to my hating every aspect of the way the books were being written.  I originally fell in love with the Anita Blake books because Anita was a fucking badass. She was smart and terrific at her job and she took no sit from anybody. And then on top of that you have genuinely intriguing (and horrifying) mysteries.  And then Anita, formerly reserved and spare of affection, becomes somebody who literally has to have sex all the time to servive. Which, if it were just sex, I could have maybe dealt with because as I said in my Educating Caroline review, I’m down with the lady porn. But Anita is suddenly falling in love with all of these people. Jean Claude, Richard, Micha, Asher, Nathaniel, etc, etc. I liked that Anita was a frigid bitch! I too am a frigid bitch, I liked reading about a character like myself! The fact that Anita is cranky about falling in love with people doesn’t negate the fact that a formally reserved character has had a complete about face, okay?  And the less said about the character assassination of two former favorite characters, Richard and Edward, the better.

Anyway, I really do recommend the first nine or ten books of this series. They are a ton of fun for fans of horror/thrillers and well worth your time. But the drop off in quality after that is STEEP, so fair warning.

If you’ve read these books but also gave up at some point, I’d love to know when/what made you quit! If you’re still reading, I’d love to hear what you think of the more recent books! Let me know what you think!

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Book review: G is for Galore #atozchallenge

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Galore by Michael Crummey is a book I can’t tell whether or not I like. I absolutely think it’s a well written book but I don’t recall any of the characters being likeable, which is a huge ding for me.  The novel is set in a remote fishing village in Canada, where the residents are barely eking out an existence. One day a dead whale washes up on shore and when it is cut open, out spills a living man. He is taken in and cleaned up and fed but he is mute, so he cannot tell his story. He also cannot seem to get rid of the strong fish smell which clings to him. The people of the village name him Judah and he becomes an integral part of life in the village and soon becomes entangled in a feud that ends up spanning two hundred years.

Like I said, this is absolutely a well written book. The plot ticks along, some of the prose is lovely, and the characters are well written. They’re just…not nice. I will definitely be reading this book again at some point just to clarify in my mind whether or not I like it, but for now, have any of you read it? Did you find any of the characters likeable? Am I missing something here? Let me know!

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Book review: F is for Fine #atozchallenge

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Oh, where to start with Peter S. Beagle.  I love his books so much, you guys*.  His writing breaks my heart, in all the best ways.  A Fine and Private Place is no exception.  Where to start, where to start.  Well, let’s start at the beginning.  “The baloney weighted the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door.”  Why is the raven stealing a whole baloney?  Because there is a man, Jonathan Rebeck, who has been living in a nearby cemetery for 19 and the raven is his only source of food.  Quoth the raven:

“Ravens brings things to people. We’re like that. It’s our nature. We don’t like it. We’d much rather be eagles, or swans, or even one of those moronic robins, but we’re ravens and there you are. Ravens don’t feel right without somebody to bring things to, and when we do find somebody we realize what a silly business it was in the first place.” He made a sound between a chuckle and a cough. “Ravens are pretty neurotic birds. We’re closer to people than any other bird, and we’re bound to them all of lives, but we don’t have to like them. You think we brought Elijah food because we liked him? He was an old man with a dirty beard.”

But for all that he is cynical, the raven is kind to Rebeck in his way, bringing him not only food but over time and from different places, the pieces of a chess set.  Not that the raven plays chess with Rebeck.  No, that task falls to the spirits on the newly deceased, who wander the graveyard for a while after their deaths, before settling in to sleep.  A Fine and Private Place focuses on two such spirits, Michael and Laura.  Michael is convinced his beautiful wife killed him and Laura isn’t sure what she did before dying can strictly be called living.  Also entering the fray is Gertrude Klapper, recently widowed and at a bit of a loose ends when she notices Rebeck in the cemetery one day.

A Fine and Private Place is a quiet story, an introspective story, a story full of melancholy, a story about finding joy.  It’s a story about learning to live, about coming to terms with the past and death, about moving forward.  It’s a novel which Mr. Beagle wrote at just nineteen, which is made all the more astounding when you realize the depth of understanding of human nature with which the book is written.  I’m pretty sure at nineteen my greatest contribution to culture was posting online that The O.C. would be a much better show if Ryan and Seth would just make out already.  Which, in fairness, is still true!

Anyway, please consider reading A Fine and Private Place*** soon.  It’s a lovely, heart wrenching book well worth the few hours of your time it will take up.

*So much so that the one time I had an opportunity to meet him, I both almost cried and accidentally insulted him** because I couldn’t get my brain to work in his presence.

**I implied that he was only releasing new editions of books to get more of my money, oh my god, shut up, Amanda.  Especially since he can fucking have my money!  Please, let me give you money so you can write more wonderful, wonderful books.  That seems like the best deal in the world, I promise!  I love you, Peter S. Beagle!

***While looking for a Kindle editions to pull quotes from, I discovered that A Fine and Private Place, The Last Unicorn, and Mirror Kingdoms^ are all available via Kindle Unlimited.  So if you have Kindle Unlimited you should go download all three because, seriously, Peter S. Beagle is the best.

^A volume of short stories.  And if you recall, I said Peter S. Beagle was the king of short stories.  I’m willing to hear arguments otherwise, but only if you’ve done your research and read this book first!

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Book review: E is for Educating #atozchallenge

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Educating Caroline by Patricia Cabot (aka Meg Cabot) is, plot wise, a fairly standard romance novel.  Two unlikely people meet and fall in love, despite not really wanting to, and then after a few hiccups, they live happily ever after.  Nobody reads romance novels for the inventive plots.*  The devil is in the details and Meg’s** novels, generally speaking, have really good details.  One of my favorites is that Meg has her heroine wear period appropriate under garments, which, in this case, is ALL OF THEM.  Seriously, authors, please stop having your heroines wear next to nothing under their dresses.  I know it’s annoying to have to have them all taken off for certain scenes but hoop skirts had to have hoops supporting them, there is no way around this, omg.  Okay, sorry, rant over.

Other good details in Educating Caroline!  The characters.  Meg always has great characters.  The main character, Caroline, is a fantastic mixture of smart and naive, again, very believable for the time period in which the book is set.  And the love interest.  Let’s just say Meg knows how to write a love interests.  Always hot and smart and kind and, just, yes.

The humor.  Meg’s books are always so funny, y’all.  It is so nice to know of an author whose books are reliably funny and fluffy and well written.  There are so few authors out there who consistently hit all three, but Meg is one of them.  It’s a great combination that I think isn’t valued enough.  For years when I’ve been in a bad mood and I don’t want to risk a book that might be secretly depressing or bad, I’ve known I could pull a Meg Cabot book off the shelf and be reliably entertained and uplifted. It’s great to have an author like that in your pocket.

Last, but certainly not least, the sex scenes.  If you’re in this solely for the lady porn (which, no judgement, I have absolutely read books solely for the lady porn) Meg has your back.  They’re hot.  Good escalation of events, not repetitive, no weird metaphors that take you out of the moment, very solid lady porn.

To summarize, standard plot but with great characters, a lovely sense of humor, good writing, and hot sex scenes that make this romance novel very worth your time.

*If you do, please tell me which books you are reading because seriously, I’m a lifelong reader of romance novels and I don’t think I’ve ever read one with what I would call an inventive plot.

**I know it’s generally considered bad form to use an author’s first name like that but I was/am part of a message board that Meg Cabot helped found and while she abandoned us fairly quickly due to needing time to write because of her ever increasing popularity or some such nonsense like that, I did interact with her a bit waaaaaaay back in the day (approximately 842 years ago in internet time) so I feel entitled to use her first name.  I refer to Tamora Pierce as Tammy a lot of the time for the same reason.

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Book review: D is for Dream #atozchallenge

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater is the second book in The Raven Cycle series (fourth and final book to be published later this month). This review is likely to have spoilers for the first book just by nature of being a review if the second book.  You can read my review of the first book here if you would like a spoiler free introduction to the series.

In the first book the ley line is awakened but in The Dream Thieves we see that the power fluctuates wildly, causing, among other things, the ghostly Noah to blink out of being unexpectedly. Cabeswater also disappears, leaving the group scratching their heads over what to do next.

The Dream Thieves is very much Ronan Lynch’s book. Which is just fine with me, because Ronan Lynch is my favorite. He is angry and volatile and sometimes a shitbag but he’s also loyal and secretly generous and smart and fearless and honest (which isn’t to say he doesn’t have secrets). Seriously, Ronan is the best, y’all.

Even though The Dream Thieves is largely Ronan’s time in the sun, the other characters get their chances to shine. Noah and Blue share a hilarious and sweet scene that is one of my favorites in the series. Adam learns more about the bargain he made in the first book. Gansey fights feelings he knows will have big repercussions on the group. The women of Fox way provide endless sass. And a new character, the weirdly but wildly sympathetic hitman, Mr. Grey, provides lots of narrative tension.

I really cannot express how much I adore this series. It hits all the character tics I love best, while having an engaging and inventive plot. It’s filled with humor and warmth and cleverness. Just, seriously, go read this series, asap.

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Book review: C is for Chalice #atozchallenge

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Chalice might be my favorite book by Robin McKinley.  I say might be because, generally speaking, I really love books by Robin McKinley.  Sunshine is another contender for the favorite spot and Pegasus might be too, someday, if McKinley ever get around to finishing it*.   What I’m saying it, Robin McKinley is a really good author and if you have not read anything by her, you can pretty much pick any book to start with because with the notable exception of Pegasus** all her her books are self contained stories.  So if you stumble across any of her books at a used book store, I recommend you buy them and read them, because seriously, such a good author.

Now, Chalice.  Chalice is the story of Mirasol, who was a beekeeper and a keeper of a small woodright.  Mirasol who, upon the death of the previous one, becomes Chalice, second of the Circle.  A Circle rules over each demesne, each of the 12 members with different duties which keep the demesne running smoothly.  The Chalice binds.  The Circle, the people, the land itself.  It is Chalice’s duty to make one united whole.  The previous Master (first of the Circle) and Chalice died in a great, calamitous fire,*** and the common people are in shock, the earthlines which run through the land weep, and the remaining members of the Circle find themselves unable to help, so Mirasol find uniting the fractured demesne a very difficult duty.

Part of the difficulty is due to the fact that the new Master must be a blood relative of the previous Master and the only suitable person, the previous Master’s younger brother, was sent to become a priest of the Fire years ago.****  He has entered the second stage of his priesthood, where it may no longer be possible for him to live among humans, but his deep sense of duty obligates him to try.  But he is a long time coming and during that time Marisol must try to hold together a demesne and a people who seem to be falling to pieces around her.

When the new Master finally arrives, his condition is shocking.  Previously a light skinned brunette, his skin and hair are both now charcoal black and he can barely move like a human.  He tries to preform the ceremony of welcome but has not the strength to lift the cup of welcome the Chalice offers him on his own.  Mirasol helps him but glancing contact of their two hands leaves the back of her hand charred to the bone.

Can such a Master bring peace and prosperity to his land?  Can Mirasol bind the fractured Circle into smooth whole?  Will the Overlord’s political machinations spell disaster for the weakened demesne?  Chalice is a novel of struggles, of coming to term with the past, of learning to trust the new and unknown, of learning self confidence, of duty, and of honey.  It is a novel of both delightful and detestable characters, of a well built fantasy world, of slow moving plot, and delightfully descriptive writing.  It is a novel well worth your time.†

*Because, to me, Pegasus does not read like the first book in a series, it reads like the first part of on unfinished book, seriously it ends on the worst cliffhanger ever.^

^It says worlds about how good Shadows is that once I started reading it I forgot to hate it because it wasn’t the much desired Pegasus continuation, but instead a totally unrelated novel that McKinley decided to write instead of the much desired Pegasus continuation.

**Nope, not bitter at all.

***Due to a flagrant disregard for duty and an inability to bind her Master to his duties, respectively.

****The younger brother of an unmarried Master should not have been sent away thus, but the two brothers (who have always been said to have been born in the wrong order, the younger much more suited to the duties and responsibilities of Masterhood) could not bear each others company.

†If you’ve spotted the tribute to Robin McKinley’s own blogging style, congratulation, you are a huge nerd and I love you.

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