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Say Her Name
Say Her Name
by James Dawson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great teen horror, with plenty of charm and humour, 21 July 2014
This review is from: Say Her Name (Paperback)
James Dawson is single-handedly bringing the traditions and aesthetic of the teen horror and slasher films of the 80s/90s, coupled with influences from his much loved Point Horror books, into contemporary YA fiction. I really enjoyed Hollow Pike, his first book, and I am yet to read Cruel Summer (soon to be rectified), but with Say Her Name Dawson seems to have really found his groove.

As far as the story is concerned, Say Her Name does not have the most original of plots. The Bloody Mary folklore legend (and similar concepts) has been used in a number of films and TV shows in recent years (Supernatural, Bloody Mary, Candyman, Ringu), but James Dawson imbues his story with a charm and undercurrent of humour that is more reminiscent of the Scream films, and it is these elements that make it stand out from the rest. I say 'the rest' but as far as I am aware. there are very few other writers producing YA stories like this at the moment - the majority of other horror stories for teens around at the moment lack the aforementioned charm and humour that make Say Her Name such an enjoyable read.

Lifelong fans of US slasher films and Point Horror may find some of the plot twists a little easy to guess, but that does not make the book any less enjoyable, and teens who have not yet had the joy of watching the panoply of great (and less great) teen horror movies will find there are plenty of surprises in store for them in Say Her Name. I know that James is currently juggling his fiction writing with his non-fiction writing, but I hope that there is much more of the same to come from him in the future.


Zero Hour (Department 19, Book 4)
Zero Hour (Department 19, Book 4)
by Will Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Hill raises the bar yet again, 5 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
When I read the first Department 19 book, I stated that it was the best action horror that I had ever read. And then Will Hill raised the goddamn bar with his second book, The Rising. Then, like the great Sergey Bubka, he teased us by raising that bar even more for Battle Lines, and as spectators we were left wondering whether Will Hill had it in him to continue doing so. All we could do was watch and wait. And now Zero Hour is upon us, and yes, that bar has gone up again and Hill has sailed over it.

Before I continue, a word of warning. This is the fourth book in the series and as such this review will contain spoilers for previous books, so if you haven't read them then please do not read on. Secondly, I'm not sure how much I will be saying in this review anyway - with every new book that comes along in this series it feels more and more wrong to mention plot points in a review. Seriously - if you want to know what happens then just read the book.

As a quick reminder, the end of Battle Lines left us with 46 days till Zero Hour. Things had not gone well for Jamie and his team (understatement). Jamie's friends had also gone through hell, whether physically or emotionally, both in the UK and, for Larissa, over in the US. And then there is the matter of Julian Carpenter - alive and well, and back on British soil, but as a high security prisoner whose identity is known only to one or two people.

Zero Hour picks up the story with seven days till Zero Hour, and things are beginning to look very desperate indeed for the members of Department 19. The breakthrough they have been hoping and praying for just hasn't materialised. Kate and the Intelligence Division have data that predicts nothing but disaster of apocalyptic proportions for the world's non-vampire population. Larissa is wracked with guilt as she strongly suspects that Julian Carpenter is alive, but she can't find a way of telling Jamie. Jamie himself is still reeling from the events of Battle Lines, and also struggling with the growing realisation that his girlfriend is one of the most powerful vampires in the world, so where does that leave him, a mere mortal human? Matt Browning has been working night and day, desperately trying to find a cure for vampirism, but so far his efforts have all been in vain. And then there is Valentin Rusmanov, now allied with Department 19, but long absent, off on his own search for an answer to their prayers.

So, all things considered, things aren't looking good for the human race.

And then things get worse.

On finishing Zero Hour I sent Will Hill a Twitter message, congratulating him on what I thought to be his best book yet, and I told him it was his Empire Strikes Back. There are two reasons for this: the first is that the first two three quarters of the book are a gradual build up to the climactic final quarter (more about that in a minute). The second was the feeling you get, as you turn the pages, that things just can't get any worse. And yet then they do. And again, you think, oh well, at least things can't get any worse. And then they do, again. And this continues again and again as the plot progresses, and all of the time you know that every crappy little thing that is thrown at the D19 team is only a precursor to everything hitting the fan when Dracula finally reaches full strength. There were times when I felt slightly sick with nerves reading this as I have become so invested in these characters over the past few years. Especially given what happened to Shaun Turner in The Rising: we already know that Will Hill has the balls to kill off key characters.

So how could things possibly get worse for the D19 team? Well, I've thought long and hard about what I should or shouldn't reveal, and I decided that I would expand on one key plot point only. Simply put, word gets out. We sort of guessed this would happen following the events of Battle Lines, but now we are talking worldwide media coverage, social media and YouTube, and all the grief that that brings with it: protests (by both vampires and humans); condemnation of the work of D19 by the press; accusations of ethnic cleansing. Not exactly what the team needs to keep them focused as they prepare to do battle with their greatest foe and the biggest ever threat to mankind. However, as far as things getting worse for the team, this is only one of them, and in some ways fairly minor considering some of the other big reveals that come in this book.

Just now I said I would mention more about the climactic final quarter of the book. However, before we reach that point I want to touch on three moments in the first three quarters that pretty much took my breath away. The first was a major fist-pump moment which happens just as the clock has ticked over to two days until Zero Hour. I'm not saying any more other than it sort of relates to my favourite character in the series and it's nice to see justice done. I reckon Will Hill took great delight in writing this particular scene. The other two key moments happened within twenty pages of each other and I actually uttered a word that I can't and won't repeat here when I read it and I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. And if that wasn't enough, twenty pages later I was left with more than a few tears in my eyes as Hill tore out my heart and crushed it. Will Hill has balls of steel and does not hold back in this book!

And then there is the climactic final portion. Seriously, if you have any energy left when you get to the chapter titled "The Calm Before" I suggest you put the book down, go outside and get a breath of fresh air. Perhaps treat yourself to a bar of chocolate and a can of red Coke (or whatever your beverage of choice happens to be) because hell, you are going to need it! The final part of this book is fast, furious, bloody, violent, and definitely takes no prisoners. It's a no-holds-barred climax that comes with one rule only: kill or be killed, and should come with a theme park style warning about readers with heart conditions, etc.

You also need to make sure that you have plenty of time to finish the book, as once you start reading this chapter you will find it impossible to put the book down until you have reached the final chapter, more than 100 pages later.

With the fifth and final book titled Darkest Night I have a feeling that things are probably going to get even worse before this series comes to an end.


The Tin Snail
The Tin Snail
by Cameron McAllister
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect warm and funny family reading, 24 May 2014
This review is from: The Tin Snail (Hardcover)
I'm always on the look-out for books like this: well plotted middle grade stories with great characters and plenty of typically British humour (yes, it is set in France, with Italian and French characters, but the writing is undeniably British). The publishers make mention of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dad's Army in their blurb, which covers the car aspect, the WWII setting and, to a degree the comedy, but this book is much more than that (and I am a lover of both of those). The humour is never slapstick or farcical (so no allusions to 'Allo 'Allo here whatsoever): it is subtle, heartwarming and intelligent and readers will find themselves grinning from ear-to-ear without even realising it.

The story itself is a fabulously well-plotted character driven piece, that uses action set-pieces and the tension of the villagers' anti-German 'resistance' to add to keep the pace moving and readers turning pages. It is one of my favourite books of 2014 so far, and Cameron McAllister writes with a voice that is reminiscent of the likes of Frank Cottrell Boyce and David Walliams. In fact, much as I am a great lover of Walliams' stories and their TV adaptations, if I had to choose it would be The Tin Snail that I would much rather see adapted for TV at Christmas this year.

Another great plus about this book is the 'is it fact, or is it fiction?' feeling that you get when reading it. At no point in the narrative does the author mention Citroen or the 2CV, but as readers we know there is only one car that is being designed by Angelo and his father. In his author's afterword McCallister gives us a very brief explanation about the event that inspired him to write about this special car, and as a reader who knows nothing about the history and development of the real Citroen 2CV, I loved the fact that at no point was I able to distinguish between what was a product of the author's imagination and what was something rooted in historical fact. Young car lovers will probably do exactly what I did on finishing this book - read up on the real history behind the development of such an iconic car.

I can't finish this review without also mentioning the wonderful black and white illustrations of Sam Usher that accompany each chapter heading, and also the lovely overall effort that the publishers have put into packaging this book. The Tin Snail comes as a lovely hardback edition, sans dustwrapper, and makes for a very attractive and enticing present for a reader, young or old. Yes, this is one of those rare books that will delight readers from 8 up to 80 and beyond, and deserves to become a much read family favourite in the future.


The Forbidden Library
The Forbidden Library
by Django Wexler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, from beginning to end., 14 April 2014
This review is from: The Forbidden Library (Hardcover)
How many times have you read a book and wished that you could be literally sucked into the story to get the girl/boy, kill the baddies and save the world? I cannot believe that there is a single lover of fiction out there who has not at some point in time wished this could happen. if you're now sitting there nodding your head with a far-away look in your eye and a wishful smile on your face then you need to read The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler as it is a dream come true for book lovers, child and adult alike.

I'm not going to go into too many details about the story as the above publisher's blurb tells you all you need to know. When I read The Forbidden Library I was very much reminded of the first time I read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, which I loved. However, that was many years ago and so it is difficult to compare the two books in detail. All I will say is that I remember the warm, magical glow I felt as Bastian started realising that he had become part of the story, and I experienced that exact same feeling as I read The Forbidden Library.

Doubleday have drawn some daring comparisons with the blurb that they have used for this book. To reference the Narnia stories, The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland in their opening paragraph is a bold move that could have reviewers up in arms, and yet this reviewer feels that The Forbidden Library compares incredibly favourably with these classics of the genre. With so many books published for children these days it is impossible to identify which ones will stand the test of time and become recognised as 'classics', but The Forbidden Library is certainly deserving of becoming a classic in the future, in my humble opinion. I have rated this book five stars and, as happens with a very small number of books, I would like to have given it a sixth to distinguish it from some of the other books I have rated five stars.

The other day I wrote a lengthy post about my favourite female protagonists in books for young readers, as part of the Boys Read Girls campaign, and after it went live I mentioned to a fellow Tweeter that no doubt I would remember another one the next day. Well I did exactly that - Alice in The Forbidden Library is up there with all the female characters that I mentioned in that post. She is courageous, intelligent, resourceful and inquisitive and the kind of character that will have both boys and girls rooting for her as she fights for her life, and agonising with her as she has to grapple with a number of moral dilemmas that are thrown at her during the course of her adventures.

The world that Django Wexler has built for his character to adventure through is even cooler than his name. It is a world where magic revolves around books - not as repositories for spells, but as magical items in their own right. In this world books are portals to the worlds mentioned within, and those with the magical ability to read about and then enter these worlds are known as Readers. However, as Alice very quickly finds out, entry into some of these books can be at a huge cost. Some of these books contain creatures that must be conquered in order for the Reader to be able to return to the real world. However, Wexler adds a further twist to his magic, in that once conquered these creatures fall under the control of the Reader in question, and can be summoned to assist in further adventures. This is where the author has great fun with his main character and her conquests - I won't spoil the fun for you by going into details, but the Swarm are both a terrifying creation and an incredibly exciting one.

I can't finish off this review without a mention of the amazing pen and ink illustrations of David Wyatt, of which there are sadly not enough in this book, for this reader at least (yes, I am greedy). Lovers of modern children's books will recognise the name immediately - David is a prolific illustrator of children's book covers, and occasionally their interiors. Just head on over to his website to see his work and you will understand what I mean.


Sesame Seade Mysteries: 3: Scam on the Cam
Sesame Seade Mysteries: 3: Scam on the Cam
by Clementine Beauvais
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and exciting mystery story, 10 April 2014
Move aside Darcy Burdock, I just may have got a new favourite female main character, and her name is Sesame Seade. Actually, to be precise, her name is Sophie Margaret Catriona Seade, but who am I to argue with such a headstrong and forthright young lady. Sesame's third mystery adventure, Scam on the Cam, was published last Thursday and this is as much a review of the series so far as it is on this particular book. All three Sesame Seade books arrived at the same time, and they were so good that I couldn't help but chain-read them, each one in a single sitting.

We are first introduced to Sesame in Sleuth on Skates, where she informs us that for the whole of her life she has wanted to be a sleuth, but it is only now "after eleven years, five months and seventeen days of waiting, a mysterious mission found me". We are also introduced to Sesame's parents, Professor and Reverend Seade (who seem to be in a state of constant despair at their daughter's precocious and strong-willed nature - her personality certainly does not appear to be inherited); her best friends Gemma and Toby; her vicious cat Peter Mortimer; and her teacher Mr Barnes (more commonly referred to as Mr Halitosis, for reasons that I probably don't need to go in to here).

Sesame's first mystery involves a missing student journalist and a scandal that could rock the very foundations of the City of Cambridge and its world renowned university. The second book in the series (I've read somewhere that it might just be a trilogy but I'm keeping everything crossed for more and this is a series that could, and should, go on and on), titled Gargoyles Gone AWOL, sees Sesame hunting for a mystery person who appears to be stealing gargoyles from the roofs of some of the Colleges.

This third book in the series, Scam on the Cam, is probably my favourite of the series so far (rather obstinately, I'm going to continue to refer to these as a series rather than a trilogy). The book opens with Sesame and her friends involved in an enforced rowing activity on the Cam, where they discover a mysterious, locked treasure chest. Naturally, to a child with Sesame's imagination, this can only mean PIRATES! However, just as she is about to start investigating, another mystery comes her way - it appears that a number of the Cambridge rowing team are coming down with a mystery stomach bug, and, with The Boat Race only a short time away, foul play is suspected. Sesame is put on the case as, in the tradition of all great child detectives, who is ever going to suspect an 11 year old of being an investigator?

The Sesame Seade books have enormous appeal to both boys and girls, as they are delightfully subversive in a very similar way to many of Roald Dahl's stories. It's kids vs adults and you probably don't need me to tell you who comes out on top. Sesame does not suffer fools gladly, especially those in adult form, and even more so when they are her stuffy and image-conscious parents. Thus, she takes almost every opportunity to break their rules, but of course in this case it is all perfectly justified as how else would she be able to solves the mysteries that come her way? So we see Sesame sneaking out of her bedroom at night to 'borrow' a boat so that she can paddle down the River Cam to a nearby village or climb a drainpipe to a college roof so she can stakeout the gargoyles. Yes, these are just two of the activities that Sesame gets up to - she is certainly not one to avoid action, adventure and peril (although running is one of the few disciplines at which she does not excel).

Clémentine Beauvais' books are the perfect example of why I love Middle Grade so much. There's no angst (apart from that suffered by Sesame's parents), no love triangles, no unhappiness or despondency, no teen problems - just pure, unadulterated fun. Like the aforementioned Darcy Burdock, Sesame has a unique and refreshing outlook on life, and as the books are narrated in the first person we as readers can take great delight in her observations and commentary. If Ms Beauvais based even just a small part of Sesame's character on herself as a young girl, then I can't help but feel sorry for her parents and any teacher that crossed her path.

As with many comedy books written for this age group, the words in the Sesame Seade Mysteries come accompanied by illustrations, and refreshingly, brilliant though they are, it is nice to see illustrations by someone other than David Tazzyman or Tony Ross. The Sesame Seade books are illustrated by Sarah Horne, and I would not be surprised if we start to see Sarah's illustrations being used for a multitude of children's books in the future, as they complement Ms Beauvais' story perfectly. In my opinion, Sarah has really captured the essence of what makes Sesame Sesame, and young readers (and their parents) will find their reading experience all the more enjoyable for them.

The three Sesame Seade books are without a doubt some of my favourite reads of 2014 and if you have a 9-11 year old who loves the likes of David Walliams, Laura Dockrill and Roald Dahl then I urge you to get your hands on copies of these books as I am pretty sure your child will love you even more for doing so.


ZOM-B Mission
ZOM-B Mission
by Darren Shan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This series goes from strength to strength, 31 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: ZOM-B Mission (Hardcover)
As this series progresses, it is getting harder and harder to write reviews of Darren Shan's Zom-B books without creating spoilers for previous episodes. So please be warned - if you have not yet read the previous books in the series then I urge you to stop reading this review and go and do something more interesting... such as reading the previous books in this fantastic series!

As with all of the previous books in this series, Zom-B mission is a relatively quick read and I finished it in a single sitting. It is almost my favourite of the series so far. Only almost though, and I will come to the reason for this in a bit. In Zom-B Mission, B and her team of Angels are tasked with taking Emma and Declan, the mother and child they took in to their care in Gladiator, to a sanctuary out in the countryside. On their way, they are also to stop off in Hammersmith to pick up another group of human survivors. B and the team are excited that they have finally been given a mission, but calamity strikes before they depart which dampens their excitement considerably (you'll have to read the book to find out what).

Escorting the zombie version of fast food through infested territory is not without its risks, and the journey is not without incident (hell, this is a Darren Shan book so of course it isn't!). However, I don't think it is spoiling things to say that the group eventually reaches the 'safe' compound of New Kirkham (is that an almost nod to another master of the genre?). This journey and their eventual destination gives us a much greater insight into what is going on outside of London, as until now the books have very much focused on the revitalised, and the occasional human or monster that has come their way, and Shan smoothly reveals a little more of the post-apocalyptic world he has created, and some of the many hazards that face the small groups of survivors, many of which I would never have even considered. In addition to this, B's past also starts to catch up with her and we see how far she has developed as a character, and how even in her semi-zombified state she is more human than many of the humans out there.

So why is it only almost my favourite so far? Long time readers of my blog will know that I am not averse to cliffhanger endings. I loved the way Shan finished the first book in this series - it really was one of those jaw hitting the ground moments. However, in this one I felt that the cliffhanger was just a little too extreme, and almost left me feeling like the book hadn't been finished properly, and that i had been cheated. I can't tell you how this episode ends (obviously), but all I will say is that yet again Shan reveals an evil in his horrific world that is sadly all too human in nature. Oh yes... and the Owl Man is back! Hurrah! Which kind of makes up for the cliffhanger in my mind :-)


Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom (Circus of Thieves 1)
Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom (Circus of Thieves 1)
by William Sutcliffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sinister circus fun, 27 Mar 2014
Do you remember the days when Enid Blyton and other chidlren's writers used circuses to great story-telling effect? Ever wondered why they are so absent from modern children's literature? Is is just the way society has changed, with the arrival of a traditional circus being far less an exciting event for kids these days? Are there just far less circuses around these days due to vastly improved animal welfare laws? Whatever the reason, I have been thinking for some time that we need to see a resurgence in the circus as the background for a story, especially as so many people find clowns to be so damn creepy.

Writer William Sutcliffe has thankfully arrived on the kidlit scene to start bringing circuses back into the world of children's literature with his delightfully funny debut for children, Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom. This first book in what I hope will be a long series introduces us to Hannah, a young girl whose life 'boring, boring, boring!' However, in a classic case of be careful what you wish for, things suddenly become a whole lot less boring for Hannah when Shank's Impossible Circus arrives in town. Hannah very quickly makes friends with Billy Shank, camel trainer extraordinaire, and heir to the Shank Entertainment Empire. However, not all members of the circus are as friendly as Billy circus owner Armitage Shanks being a particularly nasty piece of work, and Hannah soon finds herself on a mission to foil a scheme so dastardly that it would make you swoon.

There were so many aspects of Circus of Thieves that I loved. I'm sure I'm not the only reviewer who will find it impossible to start talking about this book without first mentioning the fantastic cast of characters. William Sutcliffe obviously had a great deal of fun creating the many different characters that populate his story. Naturally, a circus setting gives a writer a great opportunity to let their imagination run wild, and so we have Armitage Shanks, the vicious and despicable ringmaster, Maurice (pronounced 'Murrggghhhheeece') the trapeze artiste and his assistant Irrrrrrena his assistant, Jesse the Human Cannonball and Hank and Frank, the clowns who simply do not get on with one another. And the great list of supporting characters doesn't stop there: there's also Fizzer the dog, Fluffypants McBain the cat, and a stick-wielding granny.

Despite sharing an illustrator with Andy Stanton's Mr Gum books (the increasingly prolific and totally wonderful David Tazzyman), the similarities with Stanton's anarchically bonkers books ends there (apart from the occasional made-up word, that is). The humour is at time brilliantly off the wall, but it is not as in-your-face wacky as the Mr Gum books. The publishers, Simon and Schuster, are pitching this books as being great for fans of Andy Stanton and David Walliams, and the humour is somewhere between the two. The writing is also of the highest quality, and 7+ readers will love the story of good versus circus evilness. It is also another to add to the ever growing list of books that are great to be shared between parent and child as a bedtime story (or any time story - reading together is not just for bedtime!).

Another technique that William Sutcliffe employs to add a further level of wackiness to his story is the use of footnotes. I've seen this used in books before, and it doesn't always work as sometimes they do little but distract the reader from the flow of the story, but in this case I totally loved them. In Circus of Thieves they are invariably funny, and the reader is drawn to them, not by reference numbers, but by little pictograms.

There are some stunningly good and very funny books being published for this age group at the moment and Circus of Thieves is definitely up there as one of the best.


Urban Outlaws
Urban Outlaws
by Peter Jay Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leverage for 9+ kids, 21 Mar 2014
This review is from: Urban Outlaws (Paperback)
Urban outlaws is Leverage for 9+ kids and I loved it! Leverage is one of my favourite TV shows - I love the chemistry that exists between the characters, with each one bringing a different skill to the party, and this is exactly what Urban Outlaws does. Yes, suspension of disbelief will be an essential requirement when reading this book, and the cynical among you should just p*** off right now and go hunt for your inner child before picking this book up. Seriously, if books like this had been around when I was a kid I may never have left my home except to go reluctantly to school.

This is one of those books that you will have to prise from kids' hands to stop them reading (although shame on you for even contemplating such a heinous act). I certainly refused to do anything until I had finished it, and read it from cover to cover in a single sitting. However, it is a fairly quick read as almost every chapter is full of great action sequences, peril for our team of heroes and great uses of high tech gadgets, so readers will find themselves flying through the story at a frenetic and almost heart-bursting pace.

This is a book for every kind of kid - the sporty ones will love Slink, the free-runner; the tech geeks will love Jack, Charlie and Obi; the couch potatoes will love Obi and the action junkies will love all of them; there are great male characters and great female characters, with even Wren, the youngest and newest member of the team, having her moment (although I really hope she will get more of a chance to shine in future books). Hell, I'm over 40 and I really, really wanted to be one of the team so I can only imagine how excited younger readers will get at the thought of having adventures like these.


Film Listography
Film Listography

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun for movie fans, 14 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Film Listography (Diary)
I bought this as a present for a film-loving friend. He and his baby daughter share the same birthday and I thought it would make a great gift - something he could fill in and then one day pass to her. (At the same time I bought the Music Listography book - just as much fun as this one.)

I couldn't help but have a sneaky flip through the book before I wrapped it up and immediately put in a second order so that I had a copy as well.


Music Listography Journal
Music Listography Journal
by Lisa Nola
Edition: Misc. Supplies
Price: £9.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun for music fans, 14 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this as a present for a music-loving friend. He and his baby daughter share the same birthday and I thought it would make a great gift - something he could fill in and then one day pass to her. (At the same time I bought the Film Listography book - just as much fun as this one.)

I couldn't help but have a sneaky flip through the book before I wrapped it up and immediately put in a second order so that I had a copy as well.


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