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I Belong

Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

May 23rd, 2017 Tara Posted in Review No Comments »

The Black WitchTitle: The Black Witch

Author: Laurie Forest

Genre: YA Fantasy

Series: The Black Witch Chronicles (Book #1)

Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Format: Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0373212313 (Harlequin Teen)

ISBN-13: 978-0373212316 (Harlequin Teen)

Reviewed by: Tara

Synopsis:

A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.

Quick & Dirty: A fantasy debut novel that deals with timely and difficult social issues.

Opening Sentence: The woods are beautiful.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Note: There has been a significant amount of controversy surrounding this book, which I did know about before beginning this book. This review is entirely my own opinion.

As I was reading The Black Witch, I was struck by how much the narrative structure reminded me of a Tamora Pierce book (which is oddly appropriate considering that Pierce blurbed this book). The plot proceeds at a rather meandering pace throughout a school year that culminates in a short but defining action sequence. For those readers hoping for a high-action fantasy series with a strong, kickass heroine, this is not the book for you. However, the pacing does allow the author to create a nuanced, thoughtful reflection on prejudice and how it shapes an individual’s view of the world.

At times, this was an uncomfortable and difficult book to read. There is racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia. Abuse, self-harm, slavery, and extreme cruelty are depicted in this novel. If any of those are a trigger, this is not the book for you. Of note is that The Black Witch includes these uncomfortable subjects in order to offer a social critique on the role upbringing and society play in influencing an individual’s prejudices. Elloren is far from the only prejudiced character in this novel. However, since the story is told from her perspective, her prejudices are the most obvious. The other races – Lupine, Fae, Urisk, Icarals, Kelts, etc. – all harbor their own beliefs and preconceptions.

Throughout the novel, the author begins to deconstruct the ideas that each character harbors about the other races. This process begins with small doubts that multiply into larger actions. The university setting is particularly apt since the characters begin to think for themselves and to doubt the prejudices so pervasive and entrenched in their societies. Prejudice does not disappear overnight and the author does not simplify the process or flinch away from showing how slow and difficult the journey can be. Elloren and the other characters are not perfect. They are flawed, inconsistent, scared, and occasionally relapse into their previous beliefs. As Professor Kristian said to Elloren – “Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardener, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.”

Many of the characters were beautifully multi-dimensional. However, the antagonists were woefully underdeveloped. Having Fallon Bane, the most powerful female Gardnerian Mage, harass Elloren to the extent she did over a man was a let-down and somewhat unbelievable. Additionally, Aunt Vyvian and Vogel were more of shadowy, sinister figures, although I do believe that they will play a much greater role in future books. I hope to see the antagonists developed more in future books as I think that they have promise.

I loved that Elloren was from a very powerful and prestigious family and yet had a rustic upbringing and was essentially powerless. There are hints scattered throughout the novel that she is more than she seems, however the possibility isn’t really explored in this book. The other main characters – Aislinn, Diana, Jacob, Rafe, Tristan, Tierney, Ariel, and Wynter– were my favorite part of the novel. The variety of relationships that Elloren had with them and that they had with each other grounded the novel and added a level of realism to this fantasy world. The romantic relationships that developed between some of the secondary characters were simultaneously heartbreaking and wonderful. The author does an excellent job of maintaining the romance while also outlining the difficulties each interracial couple faces. Elloren actually had the least realistic and developed romance. There is a bit of a love triangle and, while I liked the idea of her falling for a non-Gardnerian, there wasn’t any believable chemistry between them.

The Black Witch was an insightful debut novel by Laurie Forest that dealt with difficult and timely issues. This is a book that is meant to challenge you and make you think long after you’ve turned the final page. There are some flaws – the writing could overall be better and the antagonists are somewhat flat. Despite these, I truly enjoyed this book and will definitely be continuing with the series.

Notable Scene:

“Aim your wand and speak these words,” she instructs stiffly.

I look the words over. They seemed vaguely familiar. Like something from a dream. A dream with fire.

I lift the wand awkwardly and point it at the candle. “Illumin…” I begin, my voice high and shaky.

Commander Vin lets out a sound of impatient disgust. “Elloren Gardner!” she barks. “You are holding the wand incorrectly. You must make contact with the palm, or the wand energy cannot flow through you.”

I rearrange the wand so that one end is pressing against my palm and point it at the candle once more. My hand shaking, I life the grimoire and begin to speak the words of the candle-lighting spell.

As soon as the words roll off my lips, a pure, crackling energy begins to prick at the balls of my feet, and the image of an immense tree bursts into the back of my mind. I gasp as a much larger jolt of energy shoots up through me toward the wand, slams against it, and then violently and painfully ricochets backward through me.

I drop the wand and it falls to the floor with a sharp clank.

Stunned, I looked over at the candle.

Nothing. Not even a tendril of smoke. But my arm aches as it it’s been burned from within.

The Black Witch Chronicles:

1. The Black Witch

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FTC Advisory: Harlequin Teen provided me with a copy of The Black Witch. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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Review: Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis

May 22nd, 2017 Tara Posted in Review No Comments »

GivenToTheSeaTitle: Given to the Sea

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Genre: YA Fantasy

Series: Given Duet (Book #1)

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages

ISBN-10: 0399544615 (Penguin Teen)

ISBN-13: 9780399544613 (Penguin Teen)

Reviewed by: Tara

Synopsis:

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

Quick & Dirty: Politics, war between kingdoms, complicated relationships, and tradition-dictated sacrifices to the sea.

Opening Sentence: It is in my blood. It is in my bone. It is in my brain.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

I went into this book knowing nothing about it except for the synopsis. While it does have some flaws, I ended up enjoying this one. I was very intrigued by the ending and can’t wait to see how the story develops in the sequel.

The politics in this book were very interesting – rather than describing what took place during the meetings or how the king rules, the focus was on what it means to rule. Witt’s story was the one that captivated me. A ruthless leader who has more of a heart than he reveals, I saw how worry and love for his people weighed on him and informed every decision he made. The contrast between Witt, a leader who has to fight for the survival of his people, and Gammal, king of a prosperous and complacent people, was stark. I hope that the Pietra will play more of a role in the next book since we’ve only had glimpses of them so far. Additionally, I really enjoyed that the idea of memory versus fact and the role of myths is explored in this book, particularly toward the end of the book. Overall, I was left with a lot of questions about the world and its history, which will hopefully be answered in book two.

I had a love/hate relationship with the multiple points of view. On one hand, I felt that having so many offered a more in-depth view of the world than the reader would have otherwise gotten. Through Witt’s POV, both the Pietra and Feneen are humanized, portrayed as societies who have adapated to their circumstances. Through Dara and Donil, the reader learns the story of the Indiri and sees how they are treated. However, the POVs of too many characters were centered around the Stillean castle. Since the POV changed every chapter, it was jarring to experience an event with one character and then be thrown into another character’s life. I would have preferred longer with each character but towards the end I began to see that the author had included all of them because of the role each character will play in book two. Since the story was split up between so many characters, it was a very fast paced book with a lot of action. The ending was a little bit too deus ex machina for my taste but I’m hopeful that more answers/world development will come in the sequel.

Onto the very complicated love square. Usually I’m not a fan of love triangles (let alone anything more complex) but the author wove such an artful and tangled web of love, desire, and family that I didn’t mind as much as usual. Khosa was a unique character, unable to stand the touch of any human except for one (who is the one man she can’t be with because of his race). I loved how sweet her scenes with Donil were, although I would have liked to see more depth to their relationship. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of how Dara was treated by Vincent. There were many better ways of having Vincent express his preference for Khosa than having him lust after Dara and then forget about her in an instant. Even if magic was involved, Vincent should have treated his childhood friend better than that.

There is a focus on sexual relations in this book that somewhat surprised me. Many of the male characters talk about their conquests and how they have kept girls to satisfy their needs. Additionally, Khosa’s role in life as the Given is to produce a child and then sacrifice herself to the sea (which leads to some dangerous situations after she refuses to produce a child). While I wish that the female characters had been stronger and better developed overall, I do respect that the author only allowed them agency and development within the constraints of the world she had built.

I enjoyed this book and am definitely planning on reading the sequel. Given to the Sea was definitely setting up the game and the players for book two and I can’t wait to see where the author takes this story next. I would recommend to the young adult reader who enjoys both romance and royal schemes.

Notable Scene:

She breaks out of the trees like a wraith, her tattered dress barely keeping her decent as she spins, her body exultant in its throes as she clears the beach, her face a twisted display. I cannot tell if she is beautiful or horrific, and it does not matter for I know who she is in the second that all the trapmen instinctively take a knee to bear witness to the dance.

To see a Given dance is a blessing and a comfort, assurance that the sea has taken this generation’s offering, her death solidifying our hold on life. Yet I cannot let it happen. Whether it is because she has not delivered a replacement yet, or because of the helpless terror I see, I do not know, but I run to intercept her. The beach fights me, sucking at my naked feet as I head for her, demanding the right to take what is being freely given.

Given Duet:

1. Given to the Sea

2. Given to the Earth (2018)

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FTC Advisory: Putnam’s Childrens/Penguin provided me with a copy of Given to the Sea. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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Early Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

May 22nd, 2017 Tara Posted in Review No Comments »

Dark Breaks the DawnTitle: Dark Breaks the Dawn

Author: Sara B. Larson

Genre: YA Fantasy

Series: Untitled Duology (Book #1)

Publication Date: May 30, 2017

Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages

ISBN-10: 1338068695 (Scholastic Press)

ISBN-13: 978-1338068696 (Scholastic Press)

Reviewed by: Tara

Synopsis:

On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price.

Quick & Dirty: Prequel to a Swan Lake retelling set in a world of Light and Dark elves.

Opening Sentence: The jeweled forest blurred into a tapestry of color as Evelayn sprinted away from the castle.

Excerpt: No

The Review:

As soon as I heard that Dark Breaks the Dawn was a Swan Lake retelling, I knew I wanted to read this book. Once I got a few pages into the book and realized that the story was set in a world of Draíolon (who are essentially elves), I was hooked.

Evelayn is the crown princess of Eadrolan, the realm of the Light Draíolon. As the story begins, she turns eighteen and has access to her full powers. This book starts off in a somewhat light-hearted way as Evelayn explores her new-found powers and has a somewhat embarrassing run-in with a Draíolon who turns out to be a new High Lord. While Evelayn was somewhat of a special snowflake in terms of magic, she also worked hard to hone her non-magical skills. She trained hard for years to gain her speed and skill as a warrior. Still, it would have been nice to see her struggle a bit more to control the magic, or perhaps even fail at something magical. However, there was so much more to her as a character that I didn’t mind too much. The inclusion of Ceren, Evelayn’s best friend, and Tanvir, the love interest, allowed the reader to see the stress and pressure behind the veil of royalty.

I thought that the romance between Tanvir and Evelayn was adorable. The author included dialogue and action that made me understand why Evelayn fell for Tanvir. I loved that there wasn’t a love triangle and that the romance developed naturally, if quickly, over the course of the story. Some of the dialogue between them was somewhat overly formal, particularly when Tanvir was saying insightful or thoughtful things to Evelayn. I thought that Tanvir was a nice balance and steadying force for Evelayn and was rooting for them from their first serendipitous meeting.

The story is written in third person omniscient, which was confusing when the focus switched between characters in the middle of a chapter. Overall, it read well though and the switches weren’t overly distracting. I did enjoy the glimpses of Dorjhalon and its princes, Lorcan and Lothar, that were interspersed between the action taking placing in Eadrolan. I think that both Lorcan and Lothar were very interesting characters and I can’t wait to learn more about them in Bright Burns the Night. The chapters in Dorjhalon served to play with my expectations of what would happen, adding some mystery and tension to the plot. Some parts of the plot weren’t too difficult to guess but others truly surprised me. Only a few strands of the original Swan Lake story are used in this book, although the stage is set beautifully for book two, which will likely be more of a retelling. I would have liked to have seen a more fleshed-out backstory to many of the secondary characters. I think it would have brought them to life a little bit more and contributed to overall stronger world-building.

I loved how dark, treacherous, and wonderful this book became. The ending sets up book two very well and leaves the reader wanting more. Larson takes the Swan Lake mythology and artfully spins a new fantasy tale in Dark Breaks the Dawn that was dark and engrossing.

Notable Scene:

She stared at the target across the field and took a deep breath. Not too much, not too little, Evelayn coached herself as she lifted her hand. Aim with precision.

She called upon the power that had always been there, deep inside her. Only it wasn’t the same at all—it was like comparing the trickling of a tiny stream to the rush of a torrential waterfall. The tidal wave surged within her and out of her hand in a blast of light that exited her body with such force it knocked her backward off her feet, to land unceremoniously on the ground, breathless and embarrassed.

But also exhilarated.

That morning she’d been too overwhelmed, too shocked, to truly take in what she had access to now. But this time, she’d felt it—she’d felt all of it. There was so much power. Far more than she had ever imagined. And despite her ignominious start, Evelayn couldn’t keep herself from laughing with a surprised joy that filled her entire body.

“Are you all right, Princess?” Lord Tanvir was there, holding out his hand to help her up. But she ignored it, climbing to her feet on her own.

Untitled Duology:

1. Dark Breaks the Dawn (May 30, 2017)

2. Bright Burns the Night (TBA)

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FTC Advisory: Scholastic Press provided me with a copy of Dark Breaks the Dawn. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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Review: Entry-Level Mistress by Sabrina Darby

May 18th, 2017 Roxanne Posted in Review No Comments »

Entry-Level MistressTitle: Entry-Level Mistress

Author: Sabrina Darby

Genre: Romance

Series: N/A

Publication Date: March 6, 2013

Format: Paperback, 224 Pages

ISBN-10: 1482388758 (Createspace)

ISBN-13: 978-1482388756 (Createspace)

Reviewed by: Roxanne

Synopsis:

Daniel Hartmann and Emily Anderson have every reason to hate each other. Her father destroyed the lives of his parents and he in turn sent her father to jail. Now Daniel’s a successful billionaire and artsy Emily is his newest employee. Both of them intend to make the other pay for the sins of the past, but revenge has never been so sweet.

Quick & Dirty: Revenge is a dish best served cold, but what happens when the fire spins out of control?

Opening Sentence: For the seventeenth time in the last five minutes, I looked at the clock on the upper right corner of the computer screen.

Excerpt: No

The Review:

Emily took a job at Harmann enterprises in hopes of getting revenge on Daniel for sending her father to jail. She wonders if he knows who she is especially when he asks her to lunch. The attraction is instant and it takes everything Emily has not to kiss him during the lunch. He soon asks her to dinner and she wonders what will happen between them. She begins to wonder if she can hold true to her plan for revenge.

During the dinner, the sexual tension between them escalates, but then cools off when he mentions that she is Mark Anderson’s daughter confirming his knowledge of who she is. They just barely manage to hold off falling into bed, but soon the relationship between them is hot and heavy. Emily knows that she is losing control of the relationship and her plans for revenge.  Soon she is asked to leave her job, and she decides to make a clean break with Daniel.

But he begs her to stay and to go the Hamptons with him and after the trip ends Emily and Daniel are all over the tabloids. Her father shows up angry that she is in a relationship with him, and that his name is in the press again, which has ruined his chances of getting a good job. Emily confronts Daniel and things don’t end well. But is their love really over? How will she handle the new challenge on the horizon? Can Daniel really let her go?

This was a cute, quick and steamy read. I enjoyed every minute of it, although I am pretty sure Emily was pudding in Daniel’s hands from the get-go, so it was pretty light on the revenge and I was a little disappointed in that. Overall, I liked them as a couple. I was just expecting more revenge and more twist and turns during the course of the relationship.

Notable Scene:

My words charged the air, laid out a challenge. We both understood where this was leading. There was no doubt the attraction was there. What I didn’t know was, would I gather my clothes and be driven home in the wee hours of the morning, or would there be breakfast and normal, awkward, next-morning conversation? And why was I considering sleeping with a man I didn’t like? On the first date! When only half an hour earlier I had rejected the possibility.

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FTC Advisory: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform provided me with a copy of Entry-Level Mistress. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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Review: Ruins & Revenge by Lisa Shearin

May 17th, 2017 Roxanne Posted in Review 2 Comments »

Ruins and RevengeTitle: Ruins & Revenge

Author: Lisa Shearin

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Raine Benares World (Book #9)

Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Format: Paperback, 320 Pages

ISBN-10: 1620512661 (NLA Digital LLC)

ISBN-13: 978-1620512661 (NLA Digital LLC)

Reviewed by: Roxanne

Synopsis:


An ancient power.

Beneath a mountain on an uninhabited continent is said to be a fabled city, a city occupied by an ancient goblin civilization founded for only one reason—to protect and defend the Heart of Nidaar, an artifact that can harness the forces of nature as a weapon.

An elite team of combat mages.

Chief mage and goblin duke Tamnais Nathrach must help the guardians keep the legendary power out of the hands of a malevolent goblin brotherhood and their otherworldly allies, whatever the cost. Together with his hand-picked team—which includes elf pirate (and team demolitions expert) Phaelan Benares—Tam descends into a vast subterranean world both wondrous and terrifying, a world laid with deadly traps and filled with apex predators from another age.

The countdown to the end of the world.

Some secrets are meant to stay buried. When the Heart of Nidaar is accidentally awakened, and aimed at the west coast of the Seven Kingdoms, Tam and his team are in a race against time to prevent the deaths of millions. To succeed, they must confront their deepest fears, unmask their darkest secrets, and reveal their shameful pasts, testing the bonds of friendship and beyond. To fail means death for them all—and the end of all life in the Seven Kingdoms.

Quick & Dirty: In a race against time Tam and his team have to get to the Heartstone and save the world.

Opening Sentence: I knew that saving the world wasn’t going to be easy, but I would have appreciated fewer personnel issues.

Excerpt: No

The Review:

Tam has selected his team and they have finally made it to the lost continent and are beginning their journey into the mountain. He just has to make sure his team knows that Phaelan is needed in order to complete the mission. As they get closer to the mountain and must go down underneath it, they discover the bodies of their enemies and they know that time is running out. The closer they get the more Tam begins to dream of the goblin Queen. She is warning them not to come closer.

Once they are inside they must get through traps and whatever has been eating their enemies. The Heartstone is guiding them and drawing them in, but what powers does it hold and will they be able to destroy it. When Tam shakes Agata out of dream state, he realizes that the Heartstone has bonded them, in a way that the goblins recognize as deeper than marriage. Tam has not informed his team of his visions.

When they realize that someone or someones are following them, Tam knows that time has run out. Will they be able to reach the Heartstone before the confrontation with their enemies? Will the Chi Nidaan accept their help? Will Tam and his team be able to save the Seven Kingdoms?

I have not read any of the Raine Benares books, so I started with Treasure & Treason in order to sort of understand this world. I am not sure that it fully helped, but I did recognize a name from the SPI series and that helped me connect to these characters. I was worried that my confusion would carry over to these books, but with the focus and some back stories told in this one, I really didn’t feel so lost. That being said, after reading those two I am glad I added the Raine Benares books to my list because I love Tam. I want to go back and read more about him.

I loved his interactions, and the storyline and I loved how connected her series are. In SPI they are on Earth, but here they are in the other world mentioned in those books and I love discovering this world. I think it is safe to say at this point that Lisa Shearin is becoming a must read for me.  Her books are full of action, romance, fantasy and just about everything I love. Plus, I love her goblins, like words cannot describe how much I love her goblins. Gone are evil little creatures, or ugly little creatures. Her goblins are just as beautiful as the elves, and it is amazing!

Notable Scene:

A null and thief such as Phaelan Benares. In addition, the Khrynsani would be looking and listening for goblins. Not listening with their ears, but with their magical senses. An elf registered differently than a goblin; an elf null would register as background noise, if at all.

Raine Benares World:

1. Magic Lost, Trouble Found

2. Armed & Magical

3. The Trouble with Demons

4. Bewitched & Betrayed

5. Con & Conjure

6. All Spell Breaks Loose

7. Wedding Bells, Magic Spells

8. Treasure & Treason

9. Ruins & Revenge

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FTC Advisory: NLA Digital LLC provided me with a copy of Ruins & Revenge. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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