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We love to talk all things books, sharing reviews, features, lists, interviews and more, all penned by our team of six writers.

Getting lost in a book is escapism at it's finest and it's what everyone who contributes here thrives on.

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Never Let Me Go | Kazuo Ishiguro | Guest Review

Monday, 28 March 2016

Never Let Me Go | Kazuo Ishiguro | Guest Review

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'Never Let Me Go' is an emotional, heart-breaking novel. I went into it not knowing what to expect, but knowing that it was a powerful story. Not much is given away in the book synopsis.

Kathy is thirty-one and now looking back on her life with some nostalgia and wondering how things could have been. She was just one of many special students at the boarding school of Hailsham, where the students are told often that they are special and must look after themselves physically. They are encouraged to produce artwork of any kind, and to foster strong friendships. Kathy's best friends, Ruth and Tommy, help her to reflect on the life of being special people in a dark version of our world. It is hinted at from the very beginning that the students at Hailsham had a fate awaiting them once they left the confines of the school at age eighteen. Not even the children are particularly lucid when contemplating this, as they have never been encouraged to think on it. I really don't want to go into it much further as I don't want to give away the core discovery.

I enjoyed the way this book was written. It was not easy subject matter to digest, but Kazuo Ishiguro writes with elegance and a simplicity which shows us the bare humanity of his characters. He really shows us the vulnerability and fragility of the characters and the lives they lead. The novel explores, in-depth, the relationships we cultivate in our early lives and as young adults, and examines how well we succeed in holding onto that familiarity when everything starts to change. I did find Kathy to be a fine narrator. Sometimes her narration was sparse and she decided not to reveal everything at once. She focused more on individual experiences or moments in her life that counted towards where she was in the present. She cannot help but imbue her sentences with a tinge of loss and sadness, but we already know when we start the novel that things are not as they once were, for Kathy. A very interesting and well-written protagonist, in my opinion.

I really hesitated over giving this novel three stars, and did think about giving it four. However, I realised that I didn't -really- like it as a whole. I only liked it. I think it was a really interesting exploration of an idea, but as a whole the novel did not feel cohesive or exactly finished. Looking back on one's life, picking out anecdotal episodes to illustrate a point, did not make me feel like I had experienced everything and really understood everything. This unsettled feeling made me lean more towards three stars.

I do recommend reading this book, as I certainly did not dislike it. It is a sensitive handling of a difficult topic, and definitely food for thought if that reality was ours today. 'Never Let Me Go' is a subtle novel and should not be underestimated. Definitely give it a try.

★★★

This review was submitted by guest blogger Jemma.
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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bookish Links #15


Once again it's time to grab your hot beverage of choice and settle in for another list of awesome bookish links from around the web! Here's some of the articles we've been reading and loving lately...

1. It's A Classic - one genre we're always meaning to dedicate more time to is Classics. Jillian's post features a list of the classic titles she would love to read. Which titles would make your list? And which ones would you recommend to us?

2. Back In Time - this post from Bustle explores the emotional stages of re-reading the books you loved as a child. Do you enjoy revisiting old favourites?

3. Short & Sweet - over at A Novel Haul, Louise discusses her appreciation for short story collections. Do you read short stories? If so, leave us some recommendations in the comments section!

4. All About ARCs - in this post Amber takes a closer look at the issues with buying and selling Advanced Reader Copies, which some bloggers are lucky enough to get their hands on for review purposes. What are your thoughts on the subject?

5. The Golden Age - this unique post from Daisy Chain Book Reviews shares five recommendations for anyone who loves Golden Age cinema and the glamour of Old Hollywood.

6. Big Screen YA - The 5th Wave's leading lady Chloe Moretz stopped by Buzzfeed to talk about her role in the 2016 release and the need for more characters like Cassie.

7. Goals, Goals, Goals - we love having a nosey at other people's reading goals so enjoyed this post from Lorna. We especially love her 'Friend Recommends' challenge - have you ever tried anything like this?

8.  The Power Of A Book - sometimes we find those books that really stick with us long after we read the final page. Over at The Bibliolater blogger Denise shared four titles that she feels have changed her.

9. Three-Star - star ratings can mean different things to different people as explored in this Book Riot article from Brenna. What does a three-star rating mean to you?

10. Juno On YouTube - our final link of the roundup leads to the brand new YouTube channel of one of our favourite YA authors; Juno Dawson! Head on over to subscribe now! 

If you've read or written an interesting bookish article you think our readers would enjoy please let us know - it may be featured in a future post!  
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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Glass Sword | Victoria Aveyard | Review

I received this book from Hachette Publishing New Zealand, 
in exchange for an honest review. 

“If I am a sword, I am a sword made of glass, 
and I feel myself beginning to shatter.”


Warning: I feel like it's going to be difficult writing this without spoilers, so if it's a little bitsy to read, my apologies. Also, if you haven't read Red Queen yet, there may be a few accidental spoilers in here for that first book. You've been warned.

Picking up right where we left off in Red Queen, Mare and Cal are with the Scarlet Guard, running from Prince (now King) Maven and running for their lives. Having escaped from the kingdom and the mass-murder Maven, Mare is now on a mission to search the country for the before-unknown Newbloods; those people who have red blood but special silver abilities, just like her.

While she searches with her friends and allies for the Newbloods, Mare continues to train herself and the others in their abilities, but she starts to become something more than what she thought. She's on a deadly path, and while the others try to tell her, she's very stubborn and carries on, fighting for what she believes is right. As Mare and her team find the Newbloods, they are forever on the run from Maven, who is only ever a few steps behind them, and on a few occasions, a few steps ahead.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever? - Good Reads

For some unknown reason, it took me about a month to read this. Not because I wasn't enjoying it, but perhaps because it didn't grip me as much as the first book did. It could also be due to the fact that I was busy. But if it was really gripping me and drawing me in, then I would have made more time for it, or I would sacrifice other things just to read it.

Don't get me wrong - I loved this book. I've given it a 4 stars. I do feel, however, that it dragged a bit in the beginning, and only really picked up at the end. I think I just got a little bored of Mare and the others running around the country finding Newbloods. It needed to happen, yes, but I just feel like it took a few pages too many to gather them all.

Glass Sword is a great sequel to Red Queen though, and if you've read the first, then do make sure you read the second. Much like the Red Queen, Glass Sword had some great twists and turns in it, an unexpected death (although if you read enough dystopian books then you will see it coming), a falling out, a friendship on the rocks, and one on the mend. Lives are lost, lives are saved, and through it all all I can think of is "but I like Maven...". It seems that a lot of people feel the same.

Aveyard has written Maven in such a way that you hate him because he's an evil so-and-so who killed hundreds of people, but you love him and you're secretly rooting for him and Mare to be together. He's your typical bad guy, with a serious Mummy's-Boy complex and he betrayed his friends, his brother, his people. But guys...there's just something about him, and news on the street (aka Good Reads) is that people like him.  I tend to agree with them. He's barely in Glass Sword, but when he is you want more of him. Maven is a great character, like Mare, and Aveyard has definitely owned her characters. They're very well written, and I'm looking forward to reading the third book, and also Cruel Crown, the two novellas.

If you're a fan of Red Queen, make sure you pick up a copy of Glass Sword. 

If you've already read it, what did you think? 


Image from Good Reads. 



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Ted Saves the World | Bryan Cohen | Review

Monday, 21 March 2016

Ted Saves the World | Bryan Cohen | Review


Summary:

Ted is a stereotypical, unpopular, white, teenage boy. He only has two friends and gets bullied frequently. Like the rest of the world, he is unaware that there is an inter-dimensional civil war going on for the fate of his planet. Heck, even after he's given his powers, he doesn't know about it.

To help him out, the same entities that gave Ted his powers have sent someone to help him out, in the form of a recently deceased cheerleader named Erica, who was thought to have just run away. Of course, the powers that be wouldn't have given Ted abilities if there wasn't an emergency in the form of a super-powered villain named Nigel who is in charge of getting the dark souls into Earth's dimension.


Review:

I don't often say this, but this was a book where I was more interested in, and concerned for, the secondary characters. I was actually rooting for them more than the main characters. Dhiraj, Natalie and Stucky had more of my attention than Ted, Erica, or Nigel. There was even a scene that had me feeling bad for Stucky, a bad guy. 

This is definitely a good, light read for people with any interest at all in teenage superhero stories. The story is fairly straightforward, but with an interesting subplot of solving Erica's murder. I did end up getting more emotionally engaged in the story than I thought I would. Several characters took turns that were unexpected. 

If you're in the market for a good superhero origin story without all the emotional baggage they usually bring with them, Ted Saves the World is an engaging choice. 
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Group Collaboration | Favourite Literary Heroines

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Group Collaboration | Favourite Literary Heroines

We're celebrating Women's History Month here on the blog with an appropriately themed collaboration! We challenged our bloggers to list off who their favourite literary heroines and got them thinking which fictional female protagonists kick some serious butt in their respective stories.

Check out who they picked below!

marchgroup-hermione marchgroup-ria marchgroup-rebecca marchgroup-rachel marchgroup-cat marchgroup-anjali



Contributors: Anjali, Cat, Ria, Rachel, and Rebecca
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Next month we'll be picking our favourite debut novels from new and established authors! If you'd like to get involved just email bloggersbookshelf@gmail.com or drop us a tweet @blog_bookshelf!

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Friday, 18 March 2016

Features | Audiobooks


As a child I went through a phase of listening to the audiobook of Roald Dahl's Danny the Champion of the World almost every night before I went to sleep. I would usually fall asleep not long into the first side of the cassette tape but sometimes I would wake up a few hours later, turn the tape over, and listen to the second half of the story until I fell asleep again. I can still perfectly recall the music at the start of the recording and I have the same version of the audiobook on my iPod now but it makes me far too nostalgic these days to help me sleep at all.

Audiobooks seem to have had a real surge in popularity over the past few years, thanks largely I'm sure to Amazon's subscription site Audible, and I've tried to get on the bandwagon but they just don't seem to work for me anymore. Whenever I'm listening to an audiobook I feel as though I want to be doing something else at the same time, otherwise I'm just sat around staring into space and might as well be reading the book myself. However, as soon as I start to do something else my mind wanders and I find that I'm not really paying attention to the book anymore so I'm missing huge chunks of what's going on, which is obviously no good if I'm trying to listen to a book I've never read before.

I know a lot of people listen to audiobooks when they're running or driving or doing creative things like knitting or painting, but I don't do any of those things, and even if I did I would probably just get distracted and start to think about other things. Even when I first listened to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as a child (tapes borrowed from a friend who was sick of waiting for me to actually read the book) I very vividly remember flip-flopping between sitting at my desk, concentrating on every single word that Stephen Fry said, and jumping up and pretending to be Hermione on the Hogwarts express while listening to a completely different chapter.

Maybe I don't have the attention span for audiobooks, or maybe I need to find something to do with my hands while I'm listening to them, or maybe I need to take up running (unlikely!) but for now at least, I just don't think audiobooks are for me.

What about you? Do you struggle to listen to audiobooks too? Or do you listen to books more than you read them? Do you have any tips for someone who just can't get to grips with them? I'm all ears!
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Rose Under Fire | Elizabeth Wein | Review

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Rose Under Fire | Elizabeth Wein | Review


“Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet. But as long as you're being lifted you don't worry about plummeting.” 

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women's concentration camp, Rose's story is one of courage in the face of adversity.

--- --- ---


Rose Under Fire throws you into a much more harrowing and isolated world of a women's concentration camp at the tail end of World War II. Rose Justice's story is an amalgamation of many from the camps and the narrative follows her brief time in England before being captured flying over Europe and sent on to Ravensbruck. Wein holds nothing back in her vivid descriptors of the camp. It's uncomfortable reading and so utterly hopeless at times, but more often that not Rose's narrative simply makes you feel angry. There are no spoilers really, these women's stories were real and some of the women listed were actually held at the Ravensbruck camps in World War II.

I've seen a lot of comparisons between Code Name Verity and 'Rose', but in my opinion to bundle the two together would do both novels a disservice. Though there are some characters interlinked between the novels, these are two very different stories told from the point of view of two very different women.

What is common with both novels is the power of female friendships and relationships. The bond of sisterhood is boiled down to it rawest form in 'Rose'. The situation in the Ravensbruck women's camp is sad, it's desperate and it's deeply upsetting but despite this Wein has weaved so much humanity in the narrative. There's hope and friendship despite disgustingly inhumane circumstances. Many of the characters are broken both physically and mentally but that makes her feel all the more real. Rose's fellow captives, Elodie, Karolina, Irina, Roza, Lisette and Anna are all capable women who remain defiant and brave despite the odds and that's so, so wonderful to read in a YA novel.
Rose herself is an incredibly resilient character and her undeniable American fighter pilot spirit and soldier mentality courses through her accounts of her time as Ravensbruck, and yet Wein allows her so many moment of vulnerability to grieve, allows her guilt to pour out, and allows her PTSD to be laid bare on the page.

Ultimately the word I keep coming back to when I try and describe this book is powerful. The story itself hits home hard, as a historical war novel the story really doesn't have a happy ending. But as the blurb states Rose's story is one of 'courage in the face of adversity' and the power of the story truly lies in the hope and bravery demonstrated by Rose and her friends.

*image via Goodreads
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Hoot | Carl Hiaasen | Guest Review

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Hoot | Carl Hiaasen | Guest Review

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Let me start this review with the disclaimer that I am probably not who the author envisioned reading his book. Not his "target audience".

The story follows Roy Eberhardt who has moved to a new school in Florida and, as the new kid, is obviously picked on by the biggest bully at Trace Middle School. The principal is unsympathetic and he has a skateboard-obsessed follower, who I wish he had bothered to become friends with. Roy gets caught up in a plot he doesn't understand at first when he decides to follow a boy he sees running through the town who is not wearing any shoes. Strange things start happening at the site where there will soon be a Mother Paula's Pancake House, including alligators in the portable builders' toilets and spray paint on an officer's car windows.

I thought the book was fairly fun, but Roy's parents are the most cardboard, two-dimensional characters I ever saw. Actually, most of the characters were. We don't even know that much about Roy other than he just wants to blend in and he misses Montana. I guess younger readers don't need all that much in the way of character-building. I did enjoy that the site is home to burrowing owls, and the whole idea is to save them from death because they're a protected species. They sounded quite cute, these little owls. There are some funny-ish shenanigans and switching places, tricking parents and running from the police.

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this book to anyone my age because it was a rather linear plot and everyone's intentions became clear very quickly. There was no thinking involved, and honestly I just couldn't wait until it was over. Carl Hiaasen's writing style is not bad, but I won't be looking for more of his books.

★★

This review was submitted by guest blogger Jemma.
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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Mosquitoland | David Arnold | Review



I have such mixed feelings about this book, I don't even know where to start. Mim sets off across America on a Greyhound road trip when her parents divorce and a new step mother comes into the picture. With only a few ambiguous letters and some stolen money, Mim makes a thousand-mile journey where she learns more about herself, her family and friendship than she could have ever hoped. 

Firstly, Mosquitoland has a strong theme of mental illness and I feel it tackled the topic really well, without being overwhelming and bordering on being a "topic book." There is a slight trigger warning for sexual assault and suicide but whilst being touched upon throughout the book, they aren't a major aspect to the storyline. 

I liked the way the book was written, although it felt very quirky and try-hard at times. It felt very John Green-esque to me and whilst I love his unique style, I felt this book was too similar in its descriptions. 


"I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange."

I felt myself losing interest around half way and that interest didn't really pick back up until the very end, when I was just glad to be finished to be entirely honest. I didn't hate the book, definitely not. It just didn't seem to gel with me as well as I felt it should have. This is the type of book that I can see having a huge impact on someone else's life and meaning so much to them, but to me, that element was missing. 

I was looking for a fun road trip book that would offer me some escapism and this book fulfilled its purpose. I would recommend reading a couple of other reviews over on Goodreads such as this one or this one, if you're not too sure on this book, as I'm sure plenty of other people loved it but sadly, it wasn't for me. 
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Little Red Fish | James Moffitt & Bizhan Khodabandeh | Review

Monday, 7 March 2016

Little Red Fish | James Moffitt & Bizhan Khodabandeh | Review

*Image and books provided by NetGally in exchange for an honest review.

Summary:

This series is an allegory for the Iranian Revolution for adults and an adventure story for kids. The books tell the story of the fish who are under the harsh rule of the egrets. Their only hope is the eagle who is the only one able to take down an egret, but will he be able to do all of it himself?

Review:

I've been sold on this series for a while now. I first found it on NetGalley and thought the idea of an allegory for the Iranian Revolution (of which I know painfully little) would be a good way to start piquing my interest. I was not prepared for how beautiful the art work would be nor how quickly the story would draw me in. I've actually started immediately reading these books after getting approved on NetGalley because I need to know what happens next! 

Of course, I could do some research on the Iranian Revolution to find out what's going to happen next, but I will not get to see it in such a beautiful art style. I cannot understate how well the art and design work for this series. It actually takes me longer to read these books than most graphic novels because I like the artwork. 

This series a beautiful allegory for a piece of Iranian history that is under researched. Even if you don't care about learning history, the story is amazing and dramatic. I'm happily addicted to this series and I hope you will give it a read as well. 
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Features | #5books7days Readathon Roundup

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Features | #5books7days Readathon Roundup

readathon roundup

Last week I crossed off one of my 2016 reading goals by taking part in my first ever readathon! I opted for the #5books7days readathon which took place from 22-28 February and was hosted by @lottelikesbooks over on Instagram. As the title suggests, the aim of this particular challenge was to read five books over the course of seven days; here's how I got on...

Day One | pages read: 220
I kicked off the week with In A Dark Dark Wood (Ruth Ware, 2015), a thriller which centres around a hen party in the middle of nowhere. I was definitely off to a good start, reading around two thirds of the novel on day one.

Day Two | pages read: 265
On the second day I finished In A Dark Dark Wood, leading me to the conclusion that thrillers are the best genre for speed reading - I'll remember that for any future readathons!

I also started two other books, YA novel All The Bright Places (Jennifer Niven, 2015) and non-fiction title The 100 Most Pointless Arguments In The World... Solved (Alexander Armstrong & Richard Osman, 2013). Right from the beginning I knew I wanted to include a non-fiction title that I could dip in and out of between novels, so selected one from the five I vowed to read this year back in January's group collaboration. Of course, when I wasn't looking one of my rabbits thought it would be fun to chew on the book...

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Here's Squidge "helping" with the readathon!

Day Three | pages read: 177
On day three I decided to focus mainly on reading a good chunk of All The Bright Places but also managed to squeeze in few chapters of The 100 Most Pointless Arguments. Despite making good progress on the first couple of days, at this point I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it to five books!

Day Four | pages read: 145
On the fourth day I read another 100 pages of All The Bright Places, but also decided to pop The 100 Most Pointless Arguments in my bag and thanks to my lunch break at work ended up squeezing in a few more pages.

Day Five | pages read: 111
I decided that Friday's goal would be to finish All The Bright Places, leaving the weekend free to start a new read!

Day Six | pages read: 0
This was the only day of the week where I didn't manage to sneak in any reading! Instead I spent the day catching up with friends, visiting The Museum Of London's current exhibition The Crime Museum Uncovered. We also spent a good couple of hours perusing the shelves at Foyles, although surprisingly I didn't end up buying any books!

Day Seven | pages read: 288
On Sunday morning I finally finished reading The 100 Most Pointless Arguments - day 7 and only 3 books down!

Knowing that I wouldn't have time to fit in two more novels before the end of the day and the end of the challenge, I decided to pick up a novella. Whilst I must confess to being a little behind on my Rowell (having not yet read Landline or Carry On), I always love her writing style and the characters she creates so I took to my Kindle to read her World Book Day release Kindred Spirits. The story follows Elena as she queues to see the new Star Wars movie and I really enjoyed tagging along on her adventure.

To finish the readathon I made a start on a fifth book, Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian's co-written Burn For Burn, managing to read 47 pages before the end of the day.


Despite not completing the full challenge of five books, I managed to read a total of 1206 pages over the week which I think is a pretty good result! Aside from other commitments taking priority, the thing I struggled with the most was actually sitting down to read throughout the day. Generally, I only read before I go to sleep or when I first wake up and I found it quite difficult to concentrate on reading at other times of the day.

If I were to participate in another readathon like this I'd definitely think more carefully about my TBR beforehand, which would also allow me to figure out how many pages I'd need to read each day to complete the challenge. As mentioned above, I think thrillers and shorter YA titles would be the best picks to ensure as much reading as possible!

Have you taken part in any readathons? What would be your top tips?
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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Features | Thick Books


I am generally of the opinion that there are very few books that need to be longer than 500 pages. There are some exceptions, of course, (The Harry Potter books, for example, could be 2000 pages each and I wouldn't bat an eyelid) but for the most part I just think it's kind of unnecessary.

This probably explains why I don't read a lot of fantasy.

I just tend to start getting bored when I hit page 450 and the story is still firmly in the middle. In fact, that tends to be the number one reason for me putting a book down to come back to later, after I've had a little break and read something else. I took a break of almost a year in the middle of reading T. H. White's The Once and Future King, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but just because it was taking such a long time that I needed a pause.

So it's probably no surprise that I was pretty apprehensive when I started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. This book is 1000 pages long. That's twice the length that I can normally stand! However, read it I did, and I loved it. I didn't even have to take a break in the middle, I just plowed straight on through. It took me over a month to read and I thoroughly enjoyed every page. I like that the length and the writing style are evocative of popular books from the period the story takes place in and I really enjoyed being immersed in that world for so long. In fact, I ordered Susanna Clarke's other book The Ladies of Grace Adieu as soon as I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell because somehow, even though I had just had a month's worth of it, I wanted more of that world.

But I still think it probably could have been a little shorter.

This is definitely a personal thing and I'm not sure if it's one I will ever be completely over but reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has definitely encouraged me to give more longer books a chance! Although, I will admit, I was pretty relieved when I saw how much shorter The Ladies of Grace Adieu is.

How about you? Do you struggle with longer books too? Or are you more of the opinion that a book can never be long enough?
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