[744]: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

A sparsely told tale of murder in the eyes of three dissimilar narrators.


Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka

Girl in Snow tells a detailed story of a murdered teen who didn’t lack for friends and enemies. Though the author didn’t necessarily focus on solving the case, per se. It was more an account of her life through the eyes of three unrelated narrators.

Unfortunately, I was wholly removed from the story. The writing lacked a certain quality that evokes empathy or enthusiasm to see through the ending. I’ve never read something like this before, where the main character is dead and the story backhandedly revolves around her but because the narrator isn’t her, it really wasn’t.

There are three narrators that are directly and indirectly related to Lucinda Hayes: there’s Cameron Whitely who had this obsession about her. He’d been caught stalking her a number of times and yet the author wouldn’t be so lazy as to pin the murder unto him. There’s the token girl who hated her very existence simply because they were friends before but since Lucinda belonged in the popular crowd, their friendship suffered until they could no longer stand each other’s presence. And then there’s the investigator solving the case. His only relation to Lucinda’s case was through Cameron. Officer Russ used to be Cameron’s father’s partner in the force until his involvement in a case led to his ruin.

In truth, I had a hard time unpacking this book. There were threads in the story that I struggle to unravel, leading to my disinterest in the story. The characters left me cold, and the writing, beautiful though as they may be, was just unattainably circuitous. The author offered a few red herrings, for sure. But because of the narrators’ respective stories, I got easily distracted and eventually lost interest.

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[742]: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

A darker shade of YA; prevalently sinister, rich in magic and suspense.


The Price Guide to the Occult
by Leslye Walton

I was over the moon when I got this book even though at the time, the extent of my knowledge was that it was written by the same author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. I was so excited that I started reading it right away. This book is darker than the usual YA. It has magic in spades and the persistent ambiance of an approaching mayhem. It’s ripe in history as well – which is surprising considering how slight this book is.

The book is about the generations of Blackburn women. Starting from the matriarch Rona Blackburn. All she wanted was to start a new life on a remote island and while she was received nonchalantly by some, the others have already pegged her for a witch that will bring down death and distraction in their small community. It didn’t end well, so she cursed them.

Fast forward to the present time, Nor Blackburn’s mission in life was to lay low and live a normal life. But because she’s a Blackburn, her last name comes with a baggage. Her childhood on the island wasn’t the best: her mother saw her as a burden who mistreated her at every turn until she abandoned her. But she’s not all alone in the world. She’s got good friends and great grand mothers who love her. If it weren’t for them, her life would be completely miserable. When a mysterious book of spell arrives on the island, promising to give the recipient of the book whatever their hearts desire – for a price, that is – Nor knew it wasn’t a coincidence. Especially when strange things started happening on the island.

Soon, the anxiety she felt manifested in the return of her mother. Superseded by missing townspeople, deaths, and mysterious behaviours of the flora and fauna variety.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It may look like it took me a long time to read it (February to May) but I didn’t really. I had to take a break to fulfill other reading obligations. Y’all know what that’s like. Lol. Anyway, it’s hard not to fall in love with Ms. Walton’s writing. She makes every creature, every character, and even the island seem larger than life. Like it could very well pop out of the pages of the book.

Nor’s story as a child wasn’t so fun to read. She went through so much abuse in the hands of her mother. See, the Blackburn women are gifted with witchcraft and her mother felt that amongst the Blackburn women, Nor was a dud. Also, they are cursed not to find the love of their lives. Nor’s father wasn’t exempt from this curse. Unfortunately, Fern, Nor’s mother, fell in love with a man who would never reciprocate. And because she’s a vindictive witch, he’ll never live in peace. And in turn, Fern took it out on the one reminder of her curse, which was Nor. The extent of her evil tendencies was boundless. Truly a hateful, sinister woman.

There’s so much to look forward to if this is ever going to be a series. The ending left the door wide open, for sure. There’s the temporary truce between Gage and Nor, who, for some reason hated her guts. I need to know why because that wasn’t explained here. The Price Guide to the Occult reminded me of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic but somehow even more darker.

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[734]: Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Monsters in human form. Courage from desperation.


Orphan Monster Spy
by Matt Killeen

This book will have you engrossed from the get go. From the time you realize that Ursula is more than your average teen, she’s already outwitted Nazi soldiers and have found herself working as a spy for the British government. All these at a tender age of 15. And considering her life hasn’t been the easiest and was only going to get worse, Sarah/Ursula is indeed a remarkable young woman.

I supposed a true mark of a legendary spy in the making is one’s ability to quickly overcome emotions to avoid certain death or just even to survive. Ursula passed every single test that came her way. She used her freshman acting abilities to get away from a strange man soon after witnessing her mother’s murder. She then followed her instinct to saved the same man from the soldiers by playing as his daughter.

Captain Floyd easily saw exactly how intelligent, multi-talented, and useful she could be to their cause. And he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of her. Ursula was only too willing to be used as life has left her an orphan without a choice or a future. And that’s how she found herself in a nightmare disguised as a boarding school. It is a boarding school that knows no kindness, just cruelty; gives no education, just Aryan ideology.

But nothing could diminish Ursula’s courage and strenght. Not the tortorous hands of teachers and students alike; not a music teacher whose admiration left her cold. Not even a fellow student’s father who used his own daughter to lure girls like Ursula to drug them and rape them. And not especially when she found out that Captain Floyd knew beforehand just what kind of monsters she had to deal with on her first mission.

This book was difficult to read most of the time. But oh, it’s so good. I couldn’t stop reading. My stomach churned at every turn. But I was glued to the pages because I was wholly vested in what happens to Ursula. I was happy for her when she met Captain Floyd. I thought she was saved. But like Ursula, I was duped. This novel is indeed about monsters. The obvious ones whose cruel intentions are visible, and the ones whose inhumanity is hidden in the facade of kindness.

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The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson


The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson: The Inspiration

This is a question writers get asked all the time. And some writers have really great, specific answers. Like: I was sitting on a bus and I saw a dog with a wooden leg and decided to write about wooden-legged, bus-riding dogs: their history and culture. But for a lot of writers, myself included, the inspiration for a novel, or indeed the inspiration to write in general, is a much more airy-fairy, metaphysical thing that’s hard to pin down.

My own novel, The Wolves of Winter, had a lot of different inspirations. I had the setting in mind: I wanted a snowy, post-apocalyptic Yukon. I wanted a father/daughter relationship that was prevalent (due to having a young daughter myself). And I wanted it to be part survival story, part coming of age story, part literary tale, part epic post-apocalyptic madness.

So why did I write what I did? Is it my passion for the outdoors? Is it the fact that I grew up on fantasy novels and love the blend of literary/fantasy or literary/science fiction? Is it my own family dynamics? Yes. Of course. The problem is, it’s all of those things. It’s everything that makes me who I am. From my memories to my passions, from the books I read to the movies I watch, from the myriad of people in my life to the myriad of personalities in my head. It’s everything.

So when an author tells you about that moment on the bus with the wooden-legged dog, I think she really is telling you the truth. BUT, I very much doubt it’s the whole truth. Maybe the dog was the spark that lit the fire, but the fire doesn’t burn without a giant pile of wood that’s already there. Books are like people, they’re messy things. They’re a bringing together of ideas and passions and wishes and fears. It’s why writing is so interesting. It’s why reading is so interesting. You never know what your readers are going to get out of your novel; you might not even know what you’re going to get out of it. While you thought you were writing a book about crippled dogs, in the end, you realize what actually inspired you to write was your deep-seeded fear of public transportation.

B  O  O  K    R  E  V  I  E  W  – 4 out of 5 Stars

The Wolves of Winter is a surprisingly fast read. I say that because, for all intents and purposes, it’s a book set in the post-apocalyptic Arctic where the environment enhances the feel of the desolation of the times. Whereas with other books in this genre tend to build a largesse narrative explaining the genesis of the world that they come to know, the bones of The Wolves of Winter is highly tangible; easily imaginable. I feel like we’re living in it now. The delicate global politics that only become even more so with the new American administration, it is indeed even more plausible now.

With the majority of the US population wiped out by a strain of Asian Flu, the McBrides fled to the remote Alaskan wilderness at first. But when the disease extended its reaches, they had very little choice but to flee even further up North. For years, it had only been Gwendolyn and what’s left of her family. They’d survived by hunting, foraging, and preserving their food for the bitter winter. Life was a cycle of monotonous humdrum until a fugitive named, Jax appeared in their midst. Suddenly, the quiet life of the town of McBrides – population 5 – had become far from boring.

Tyrell Johnson’s debut novel is a page-turner. There wasn’t a second when you’d lose interest in the goings on of Gwendolyn’s life. While she spent a lot of time immersed in her own self (for lack of company), her quiet introspective about the world and how it came to be pulled me that much deeper into the story.

There are a few aspects of the story that I wish was explored further, however. Ramsey, for one, had me speculating about his sexuality and his debilitating shyness when confronted with sex. Because he’s the only person not related to the McBride’s that’s close to Lynn’s age, it was only fitting that they’d be paired in all sense of the word. But any attempts at anything sexual with Lynn only led to tears and mortification. And yet, as soon as Jax entered the scene, Ramsey exuded attitudes attributable to jealousy.

There was also the appearance of white animals (foxes…crows) that I thought should’ve been better explained other than an adaptation to the new global climate of sorts. It felt like an afterthought that had no significance to the story at all. I also needed to read more about Jax’s abilities. I felt that it was one of this book’s strong points.

Regardless, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I’ve always loved reading post-apocalyptic novels, and Johnson’s debut hits all the right spots. It’s a page-flipper, a little desperate and sweet at times, but also violent. I especially loved Gwendolyn’s relationship with her father. They were close and was each other’s best friend. Lynn for her part is a strong character; stubborn and determined. Protective of those she loves. She is fearless and fierce and does what she can to adapt to a world that left her very little choice but to survive.

Overall, this was an outstanding debut. Vivid and bleak; exciting and tender at times.

Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018 | Simon & Schuster Canada | Amazon | Chapters Indigo | Book Depository |

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[723]: Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water
by Paula Hawkins


If you like unraveling twisted knots and threads, Into the Water is a must read for you. However, if you’re one of those impatient readers like me, you would probably have a hard time resisting the urge to DNF.

One of the things I typically don’t enjoy when I’m reading a book is when it has an overpopulation problem. Meaning, it’s laden with so many points of view that it had become difficult to discern whichever way the author wanted to take the story.

Paula Hawkins became an instant household name after her successful debut, The Girl on the Train. Many have waited upon bated breath for her follow up novel. While I can see the painstaking method to her mad talent, I just can’t see past all the POVs to consider myself a fan.

I’ve just about given up on this one. I grew impatient many a times while reading. It was like trudging through a jungle and having to whack my way past the overgrown vines just to clear a pathway. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t waste the time I’ve already invested in the story. And with due patience, I learned to ignore the white noise and focus on what was going on within the story.

The novel opens with a character casually telling the readers how she was about to die. Some hostile men, it seemed, were set on drowning her. When she came up for air, the man in charged told them to dunk her again until she drew her last breath. After, we’re introduced to Jules Abbott. The sister of the drowned woman that we’ll later know was a water creature all her life. That’s why Jules could not believe that she would kill herself by throwing herself off the river. Even mysterious still, was the number of women who have drowned in the same river.

Despite the 11 narratives featured in this book, the author would have you believe that Nel’s is the focal point of the novel. Let’s say that her story would drudge up some ugly truths, painful past, and mysterious deaths. But because the author withheld a lot of information as a way to build up the mystery, impatience leads the way to boredom and loss of interest.

It was a good story, all told. I just didn’t get it.

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[710]: The Girl Before by JP Delaney


A modern suspense that echoes the gothic secrets of Jane Eyre.


The Girl Before
by J.P. Delaney

Last year, I’ve developed an affinity for the minimalism movement. I’m not a pack-rat by any means, but it was still hard to get rid of stuff. I am infinitely in awe of the people who practice this lifestyle. Not only do they live the uncluttered life in physical terms, but their way of thinking is streamlined as well. They’re focused, determined and disciplined.

In this book, you’ll meet a person whose practice of minimalism goes to extreme – borderline insanity, to tell you the truth. Initially, I was like, yes, a man who speaks my language! But that slowly dissolved into horrified reaction as the novel progressed. His ability to distance himself from thoughts and feelings with which he felt bore no significance made him cold and calculated. He’s a controlling man who hates a deviation from schedules and plans. Everything in his life has a place and a meaning. You’re discarded if he considers you an excess. And yet, for all the clean lines and openness of the house he built, there was no place in which he could keep his secrets.

Edward Monkford is a genius; a much-sought-after architect notoriously known for combining minimalist and technologically smart construction. One of those builds is the house on One Folgate Street. The house has been empty since the death of his wife and son and has become a revolving door for renters, whom in one way or the other, found the house’s oddities just too strange for their liking. The story unfolds in alternating chapters between Emma and Jane. Emma, the former tenant, and Jane, the present. The first sign of trouble was their uncanny physical resemblance. Weirder even, that they looked like Edward’s dead wife.

Edward has an irresistible magnetism; he’s attractive, filthy rich, and mysterious. As you get to know him further, you’ll find that Edward shares the same need to control his women with one popular control freak, Mr. Christian Grey. They got the same “I don’t do regular relationships” speech; they were given pages-long rules and regulations. Then pearl chokers to complete the look. Both women knew what they were getting into when they entered the relationship but with one glaring difference: one pushes her boundaries, and the other pushes his. Arguably, Christian Grey was redeemed by love – as cheesy as that may sound. Edward, on the other hand, wasn’t dictated by any romantic notions and was as realistic a character as one can be. There was not a cuddly bone in his body even if some of his actions proved otherwise.

But if you think the novel is cut and dry, you’ll be wrong. The mysteries that unravel is nothing short of surprising. It’s easy to consider Monkford as the guilty party here much like we immediately wrote off Rochester in Jane Eyre. This book is just as mysterious as the owner of One Folgate Street and the crumbs we were given were the perfect follies for the amateur sleuths trying to solve all its mysteries. Overall, this is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. It’s morbidly sexy, frustrating at times, but holy hell, I could not put this down.

 

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[709]: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

A scopophobia inducing thriller that will take you on a journey full of twists and turns by way of the London underground.


I See You
by Clare Mackintosh

 I don’t have much experience in public transportation. I know for a fact that bussing in my city is an adventure in itself. I’ve heard some horror stories.  After reading this book, I’m kinda glad that I don’t have any to share. I’ve only used a train system twice: whenever we’re in San Diego and when I went to New York. I wasn’t courageous enough to take them at night, though.

The New York subway system is a whole other beast altogether. There, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, it always feels like either the walls are going to cave in on you, or a rat is going to drag you to its nest. But that’s nothing compared to the menace hiding in the dark corners of the London underground, apparently. The feeling that you’re being watched is worst than you could ever imagine. This book, in comparison, will make you forget the normalcy of taking the public transport. It will have you looking over your shoulder, unsettled and a little anxious. But you’ll never know who’s hunting you until it’s all too late.

I See You started ordinarily enough. Zoe Walker was looking forward to spending a quiet night after a hard day’s work. Somewhere in her house was a bottle of wine with her name on it. So when her train stalled during her commute, she hardly paid any attention. She picked up a paper in an attempt to pass the time while they sort out what was happening on the tracks. As she was browsing through, an advert of a woman looking for romance caught her attention. Upon closer inspection, she realizes that she’s staring at her own face. Coincidence, right? Her family thought so, too. But things went from odd fortuity to scary reality in an instant when the women on the ads started dying.

Clare Mackintosh builds a layered story in a slow crescendo which makes the race to the end even that much more exciting. The readers stumble through the mystery blindly – effectively. She made a case for each red herrings, giving the readers the confidence with the suspects they had in mind. May it be Zoe’s boyfriend/partner, her ex-husband who was very much still in love with her, and the boss whom may or may not still be carrying a torch for her.

This smart thriller erases any doubts (if there were ever any) of the one-hit-wonder assumptions left on the trail of her debut novel, I Let You Go. It is easy to see that she’s found her niche so easily in the age of Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train wannabes. I haven’t read I Let You Go, but if I See You is any indication of the kind novels we can expect from this author, I say she’ll be a household name in this genre in no time.

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[705]: The Burning World by Isaac Marion

An Unrecognizable sequel that sheds all the heart-warming fluff of its predecessor.


The Burning World
by Isaac Marion

Question: Did you read Warm Bodies? If so, do you remember how it ends? How about the movie? Did you see it? Yes? No?

Well, let me spoil it all for you with this little scenario: most of the zombies slowly gained back a semblance of their humanity. Gone are the instincts to devour human flesh, replaced by a pause that gives them a chance to hold back the monster that hungers for the living. So much so that they’re able to cohabit with the humans inside the wall. The last scene had Julie and R watching as the walls were blown to bits. The sun is setting; they were holding hands…fade to black. Really hopeful shit, right? Makes you think that a peaceful coexistence between zombies and humans are entirely possible.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble but The Burning World did not start right where Warm Bodies left off. At least, the atmosphere was not the same. If you’re expecting much of the same lighthearted and somewhat funny shtick of the undead in this novel, you’ll be disappointed. Because these zombies are just a sad caricature of the rabid monsters we’ve come to fear and love. They’re stuck in between the beast that craves for warm flesh, and the humans inside of them clamoring to be born again. It was dark, nostalgic, and terrible in the sense that they’ll break your heart (R’s zombie wife and kids. *Sobs*) It was depressing, and it made me wish they were the terrifying stuff of nightmares we’ve all read about our lives. Because then I won’t feel so heartbroken.

This is a changed world; one that you won’t recognize from the first book. There’s a new villain in town whose primary goal is to convert the changing zombies into an army of drones possessing some robot-like consciousness. The last vestige of humanity left are being hunted and “phased out”. And this includes the tiny population inside the wall. They especially want R and Julie for their ability to speak to the evolving zombies. In short, this sequel had become the action-packed, pulse-pounding, scary-as-shit thriller that Warm Bodies never were. I’d even go as far as to say, it echoes the atmospheric dread of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Yeah. I can’t believe it either. But reading The Burning World brought out the exact feelings when I binge-read Cronin’s vampire series last year.

By the by, R slowly gains his memory as a human – and from what he can remember, he was not a good person at all. He is miles remove from the sweet zombie we’ve come to know. We also see Julie in a different light. Driven by her sense of familial loyalty, she becomes a completely different person. She’s angry, compulsive, and even a little selfish. She’ll make you mad. She’ll make you cry but eventually, she’ll gain your sympathy albeit, tentatively.

We’re introduced to new characters and new plot lines that converge with the old ones. There are far more nuances explored; surprising and thrilling revelations. If I were to keep it simple, I say Warm Bodies was stripped of everything that was cute to show its true form. It had me on edge at all times because at the back of my mind, I keep waiting for the “awaken” zombies to revert back to their monstrosity – most especially R. Over all, The Burning World opens the series to a whole new set of possibilities. And with that ending, I say Marion has a lot more dark days in store for his ardent readers.

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[702]: Guarding Mr. Fine by HelenKay Dimon

Funny, sexy, and a whip-smart follow up to an already enjoyable series.


Guarding Mr. Fine
by HelenKay Dimon

This series gets better and better with each installment, you guys. I’ve been loving everything that HelenKay has been giving us! I was especially looking forward to reading Seth’s story because he was hilarious in the previous books. I knew that there’s more to him other than the smart ass CIA agent we’ve come to know and he didn’t disappoint.

In here, he’s tasked to guard the newly appointed US consul general in Munich. However, he knows that it’s a cover for something else because no one knows anything about the guy. He seems to have come from out of nowhere. There’s something mysterious about his background and the real reason why someone inexperienced like him got the job. Not only does Seth knew next to thing about this guy but he’ll figure out soon enough that Rick Fine knew him in more ways than one.

One of the things that I look forward to when I read a romance novel is the serendipitous meeting of the main characters. Admittedly, their meet-cute wasn’t so cute. They went from 0-60 in a blink of an eye. It was kind of hot! They met at a bar and hit it off so well that they ended up having a tryst in the shaded part of the club. They thought it was a one-off thing, a one-night stand without sleeping together. But they had another thing coming since Ric knew a bit more about Seth than Seth knows about Rick. Their history is for you to find out, readers.

Rick Fine was sent to investigate the apparent suicide of the former consulate general. But the investigation is only a front for why he was there. As usual, there’s never a dull moment in this installment. Aside from the sleuthing that the boys were involved in, the romance will also have you engrossed. There’s a battle of egos and dominance between the two that heightens their chemistry to a fever pitch. What else could I ask for, right? Seth is a man-of-the-world kind of guy. He doesn’t have a commitment phobia per se, but he’s smart enough to know that a relationship between two CIA agents is not realistic nor it is advisable. So yeah, he’ll do what he can to sabotage his feelings towards Rick. There’s also that history thing that I mentioned above. Whatever it is, Seth has to learn to forgive and forget if he ever wants their relationship to foster.

Overall, HelenKay has been hitting all the right notes with her books. I keep saying I need to read more books by hers, but it keeps slipping my mind. Well, adding the rest of her books on my wishlist for future downloads when I’m in need of something fun, fast, and sexy.

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[700]: A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

Armstrong’s talent in writing smart thrillers on full display.


A Darkness Absolute
by Kelley Armstrong

We’re thrust back into the remote Northern Territories with Casey Duncan on the hunt for another killer. An unforeseen storm that throws them off track led them to a girl who has been missing for more than a year. Trapped in a hole no more than the size of a small person, the emaciated girl is rescued from her harrowing isolation. Days and months of endless physical, sexual, and mental abuse left her on the brink of madness.

Now, the Sheriff’s office has to track down a killer who upon further investigation might be responsible for several deaths of missing women.

Casey Duncan has all but acclimated to the life living in remote Northern Territories. Rockton and its people have grown on her – especially one person in particular. But if peace and quiet were what she’s after, Rockton apparently is the wrong place. Because once again, the town is facing deadly crimes with very little suspects to consider.  And since this is Rockton –  remote, a touch primeval, and wild – finding the killer will prove to be difficult. They’re not only racing against time, there’s also the brutal changing weather to contend.

Kelly Armstrong does a marvelous job in immersing her readers in her story in such a way that descriptively immortalizes an otherwise fictional town. The town of Rockton and its vicinities are beautiful as they are harsh. Not only do we get to experience all its wildness, but the townspeople themselves add a certain brutality that makes it seemed more sinister. Characterization has always been Armstrong’s forte. She writes the most credible kick-ass women.  Surprisingly enough, the men play a pivotal role in further empowering her heroines. It’s hard to explain. I guess the best way to describe it is like a marriage between a couple and each unit has the ability to qualify each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

She keeps the pacing of the story at an even keel. Giving her readers time to adjust and savor their own observations. Short chapters also help as she effectively pulls the readers into the nuances of the plot. Armstrong was very stingy with suspects. Since the town’s population is small, I felt like I already know everyone so you can pretty much tick off one townie at a time.  But in the end, and after the pieces of the puzzle have been connected, she made a very convincing case for the killer’s motives, psyche, and eventually, his identity.

A Darkness Absolute is a fantastic sequel. It hits the ground running right from the first page and doesn’t let up until the very end. There’s never a dull moment and you’ll feel like you can’t flip the page fast enough. This is the perfect book to cozy up to on cold winter nights with your reading socks and a nice cup of tea on hand.

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