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The Art of Lainey
The Art of Lainey
by Paula Stokes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.14

4.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant addition to the world of contemporary romance, 31 May 2014
This review is from: The Art of Lainey (Paperback)
The Art of Lainey is the sort of book I wish could read all day, every day. It’s pure fun, light and refreshing, with plenty of positive messages and some wonderful characters and relationships to boot. There is fluff and entertainment, realistic, witty dialogue, and even a nod to an ancient Chinese war guide.

I am normally not a fan of the fake-dating premise, and especially not a fan of the winning-back-the-ex storyline, and although The Art of Lainey has both of these things, it had me grinning all the way through to the end. The stars are Lainey and Micah, co-workers at the Mitchell family coffee shop, and two characters that agree to help each other win back their exes using the art of jealousy. The romance here is adorable. It’s total cuteness and swoon, albeit one that develops in a totally frustrating setup. It’s hard not to love Lainey and Micah, but it’s also hard to resist the urge to want to crawl into the book and demand that they forget about their exes and just FOCUS ON EACH OTHER. (And because I know what half of you are thinking right now, don’t worry, there isn’t actually any sort of serious love triangle or square, even though it feels like there might be at times.)

I adored Lainey, despite wanting her to open her eyes sooner. Admittedly, at the start, she comes across as slightly dramatic and shallow (and it did take me a short while to get used to her), but her growth is wonderful and authentic, and there is no doubt that she is a brilliant young woman. Micah’s character is absolutely delightful, the sort that makes me wish there were more mohawked punk-rock bakers around. Anyone who picks the House of Torture (And Pancakes) for a first date is a character that has my immediate attention, for sure. I completely loved his bluntness, his sweet moments and his entertaining cocky comments (oh how I laughed at that second best feature remark). I also totally appreciated the role his little sister played in the book, and the bond that she shared with both him and Lainey.

On the topic of positive relationships, Bianca, Lainey’s best friend, deserves a paragraph of her own. This girl is a darling, the stuff dreams are made of, and I’m quite tempted to snatch her away and just keep her for myself. It’s been a while since I’ve adored a female friendship so much, and found it to be anything less than certain and encouraging. Lainey and Bee have a great relationship, one that is almost effortlessly easy to understand and invest in. The loyalty and support between these two is completely heart-warming, even though the girls aren’t entirely alike. I loved how Bee was there for Lainey when she needed to be, and managed to always say the right things, without feeling like a superficial sidekick. It reminds how powerful an ordinary friendship can be in a character-driven story, when written well.

Ultimately, The Art of Lainey is a brilliant addition to the world of contemporary romance. The premise here could have alienated me from the book entirely, but it didn’t, and instead, Paula Stokes has convinced me of her ability to craft a great story and build fantastic characters. I need to name a shelf ‘hopeful, realistic and utterly fun’ and put this book straight on it.


Mortal Fire
Mortal Fire
by Elizabeth Knox
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.81

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars complex and unusual, 1 July 2013
This review is from: Mortal Fire (Hardcover)
It's clear from the start that Mortal Fire will only work for a very specific audience. The first few pages are almost excruciatingly slow-paced - though not at all poorly written - and the journey to the end feels largely like an uphill trek. It's demanding and full of detail, and, as a consequence, requires ample amounts of concentration and thought. Despite that, despite its almost irritating intricacy, it is wonderfully mesmerising and unquestionably original. There is something quite distinctly magical about the story and something quite utterly endearing about the main character. Although I had to use some brain power - which, you know, I don't always like to do - I really, really liked this book.

It begins with a note from the author, stating that Mortal Fire is set in a world mostly like our own and where the year is 1959. Our protagonist arrives in the form of Canny Mochrie, an unusual and perceptive 16-year-old girl whose vision is sharp enough to pick up on the `Extra'. These are floating, calligraphic threads that are occasionally semi-transparent in appearance (and what I imagine the lettering effect on the book cover is supposed to reflect). Her brother's interest in a mining accident takes them to Zarene Valley, where one of the survivors of the accident lives, and it's here where Canny learns that magic is real and that she can manipulate it herself. Along the way, we are introduced to a whole plethora of strange concepts, from lie-detecting wind chimes and the intimate power of an ideogrammatic language, to a hidden house where time obeys a different set of rules and to a 17-year-old who has been imprisoned for 30 years.

It is Canny who truly makes this book. Although she reads far more like a middle grade protagonist than an older one, her personality is so beautifully distinct that it doesn't at all matter. She is a problem solver, an adamant and calculative character whose occasional surliness is strangely charming. She does not think or act like you and I, but her eyes provide an interesting window from which to follow this odd story. One thing that feels a little superficial, however, is her reaction to Ghislain, the prisoner in the hidden house. The romance is difficult to grasp, or to even like, and in any other book it could be immediately labelled insta-love. When looking at Mortal Fire as a whole, however, it doesn't quite appear to be much of a flaw, but just something to note. It helps that Ghislain himself is an incredibly interesting character. His dry humour and secretive habits make him very intriguing, indeed.

As enchanting as much of this book is, and as easy as it is to thoroughly invest in all of the characters, I do think I would have personally enjoyed this book entirely if the turn of events towards the end had been a fraction clearer. We touch on magical anchors and spell cages, time travel and wandering spirits. I even put my glasses on at one point, and had my nose right in the book, but, try as I might, I could not absorb every single little detail and unravel them in a logical sequence. That's not to say that I lost interest, however. If anything, my attentiveness increased tenfold, and the clear imagination fuelled into the book did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I just merely wish a couple of things had been a little better explained or, better yet, simpler.

Despite the slow start and the (at times) overly ambitious plot threads, Mortal Fire is a book that unreservedly deserves some recognition. It's a complex and carefully-paced read, and perhaps better suited to the most patient and flexible of readers, but worth much of the concentration and time that it undoubtedly requires. It's different, more than anything, and sometimes that is all that I need.


Dare You To (A Pushing the Limits Novel)
Dare You To (A Pushing the Limits Novel)
by Katie McGarry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A stunning contemporary read, 1 July 2013
"We all have our fears. Those things that exist in the dark corners of our minds that terrify us beyond belief."

Angst-filled contemporary novels are hardly my favourite thing, yet there is something quite indefinably addictive about Katie McGarry's work. Pushing the Limits caught me by surprise last year (heck, it even made me cry), placing McGarry firmly and surely the auto-buy list. With Dare You To promising an equally powerful story, I couldn't not read it. Luckily for me, Katie McGarry seems to know exactly what I want and when I want it...

Ryan Stone and Beth Risk are almost polar opposites - a focused, career-driven boy and a troubled, hard-bitten girl. Ryan has opportunities and dreams, whereas Beth refuses to even chance the illusion of dreams. The two meet - and you know how this book ends. It is not exactly teeming with originality and the book description is transparent enough to predict the outcome. But it is the journey that is important here - the slow transition from the Beth Risk we meet at the start to the Beth Risk we depart with at the end. It is about the Ryan Stone that is instantly labelled the `golden boy' and the Ryan Stone that worries about the hidden cracks in his family. It is about two teenagers who inadvertently become each other's supports, who reluctantly play a game, and who dare to find reason to hope for better.

The two characters are likeable - very likeable, in fact - though Beth takes a fraction longer to warm to. This, I suppose, is expected. Her unsettled past with her mother leaves her in an emotional position no teenager should have to be in. She is covered in spikes, ready to expect and accept the worst, ready to withdraw within herself when needed, and ready to lash out without restraint. Trust is not something that comes easily to Beth, and this is reflected in her narrative.

"Emotion is evil. People who make me feel are worse. I take comfort in the stone inside of me. If I don't feel, I don't hurt."

Ryan helps draw the true Beth out of her shell, and as he does, Beth helps Ryan gain an entirely different sort of confidence. With a controlling father that refuses to believe in anything other than baseball, Ryan is a lot less free than most people assume. His problems might seem shades away from Beth's, yet there is never a moment when Ryan's situation feels any less important. There is angst, yes, and maybe even a little drama, but McGarry makes it work perfectly for her characters and their combined and separate stories. It helps (it helps a lot) that the romantic tension in this book is wonderfully handled, with plenty of chemistry-filled scenes to satisfy. Even better that the usual romance clichés are turned on their heads...

Beth and Ryan aren't the only characters capable of evoking a response here. It isn't often that I appreciate parent figures in fiction, but Beth's uncle - Scott Risk, baseball star and generally decent bloke - pleasantly surprised me. He has a good heart, and there are few things in this world that appeal to me more than simple human decency.

I may not have been as emotionally moved by this book as McGarry's Pushing the Limits, but even so, I liked it just as much, if not more. This is a truly stunning contemporary book and only further reason to read anything and everything that Katie McGarry writes in the future.

Rating: 4 stars!


Spies and Prejudice
Spies and Prejudice
by Talia Vance
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fairly entertaining, but nothing more, 6 Jun 2013
This review is from: Spies and Prejudice (Hardcover)
Spies and Prejudice, with its Veronica Mars-esque qualities and basic spy-story plot, is exactly the sort of book that you read for good, quick fun... and then forget about immediately afterwards.

There is nothing particularly outrageous about this book - the writing isn't poor, the characters are fairly likeable, the plot is not ridiculously clichéd - but there is also very little that sets it apart or gives it that special warmth associated with favourite reads. Despite that, for something undemanding and engaging, Spies and Prejudice is a more than satisfactory. It's entertaining for the most part, with its teenage spies and amusing helpings of romance, and fulfils the requirements for a temporary mood-lifter.

There is a certain amount of reason-twisting needed to enjoy this (we are talking about teens being involved in professional investigative work, after all), but once Strawberry Fields and her good friend Mary Chris Moss (!) capture our attention - and also Tanner Halston's and his stepbrother's - it's an easy ride from start to finish, so tucking logic aside feels almost effortless after a while. The second half of the story does lose some of the pure entertainment-factor present during the first, but the book remains readable throughout. It's a fairly enjoyable break from titles that require some concentration and thought, even if nothing more. Sometimes, that's all I'm after.


The Pirate's Wish
The Pirate's Wish
by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an original and adventurous tale, 6 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Pirate's Wish (Paperback)
Following in the footsteps of The Assassin's Curse (the first part of this two-book series), The Pirate's Wish delivers an original and adventurous tale that is (wonderfully) quite difficult to predict. Our pirate and assassin duo provide as much entertainment this time around as they did in the first book, now finally setting off to break the curse binding them together.

From this point forward, and as so many of us have been anticipating, the romance develops into something more substantial and definite than the subtle shades of attraction first seen towards the end of The Assassin's Curse. While the pacing is untidy in places, and the change in Ananna's personality as a result a little disappointing, the progression between the characters is a fairly satisfying one. The journey to the end result is a very bumpy, however, and, for me, not quite as rewarding as I would have liked. Despite that, the characters constantly engage and never fail to demand attention.

The storyline is where Clarke unleashes her true creativity and imagination. We have talking sharks from the Court of the Wave, ghostly threats from the world of the Mists, boisterous manticores from the Island of the Sun - there is so much going on in this book, and while large parts feel a little disjointed from the rest, The Pirate's Wish never strays too close to overwhelming. If anything, it's an effortless read, and the very sort of book that escapists will undoubtedly appreciate, even if only momentarily. This duology has served me well mostly for those reasons, and I'm sure that I'll be itching to get my hands on The Wizard's Promise (the first book in Clarke's new series) when it releases next year.

Actual rating: 3.5 stars


Sea of Tranquility
Sea of Tranquility
by Katja Millay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In some ways, The Sea of Tranquility is a stunning read..., 3 Jun 2013
This review is from: Sea of Tranquility (Paperback)
In some ways, The Sea of Tranquility is a stunning read. It effortlessly captures the quiet gloom of a sullen teenage girl whose only shield against the world is a self-inflicted vow of silence. Unlike Hannah Harrington's Speechless, which deals with a similar concept, the main character's narrative here is tinged with raw and genuine misery. This, to a degree, makes it more difficult to digest (certainly for someone like me), but there are moments of unexpected beauty throughout that make the ample helpings of angst feel just about bearable. While I am still of two minds about a few aspects of this story, as a whole, it had me more than thoroughly invested.

The reasons for Nastya's silence are not revealed instantly. The mystery surrounding her past - one involving her left hand, a boy and some possible violence - is slowly and subtly unravelled as the book progresses. The author handles this incredibly well. Although its presence is mostly muted for the vast majority of the story (with the focus being on the romance) it is weaved back in at the most appropriate of moments, aptly stirring up the interest and curiosity needed to keep reading. In the meantime, our somewhat hostile main character is continuing life in auto-pilot mode, but now in a new town and with a new high school to get acquainted with. It's here where silent Nastya - whose questionable dress taste draws eyes like moths to a flame - meets the boy with his own human force-field. It's here where our tortured female lead meets Josh Bennett, the invisible furniture-crafter.

It is one of those romances - the ones that have the ability to make your heart pound as much as they have the potential to exasperate. It's situations like this where my patience as a reader is woefully tested. One thing that feels very transparent from the start (or just from reading the book description, in fact) is that Josh and Nastya will undoubtedly get together. It's this assumption and/or fact that makes getting through parts of this (the very angst-filled and drama-driven parts) incredibly challenging after a while. The quiet, smouldering tension manages to be equal parts masterful and infuriating. Give me this book on a happy weekend and I will giddily drink it all up. Shove it on me first thing on a Monday and there's a good chance that I'll resent everything and everyone by the end of every chapter. Conflicting emotions, to say the least.

This, to some extent, feeds into the characters. Nastya is a thorn. A pained and justifiably low-spirited thorn, but a thorn, nonetheless. She is, however, also quite loveable, despite the less-than-inviting outer image. The selective mutism is difficult to fully comprehend at first (it feels a tad theatrical initially), but Josh Bennett slowly falls in love with her, and, along the way, so do we. It's far more interesting seeing Nastya from Josh's perspective, which is one of the high points of the dual narrative. Josh's character, although a little more ambiguous, is instantly intriguing, as is best friend Drew, who conforms to as many clichés as he breaks. In fact, with Drew and Clay and several others, I was really quite impressed with Millay's control of the secondary characters here.

The Sea of Tranquility probably isn't capable of leaving a substantial impression on me (actually, it hasn't), but I did struggle to turn away from this book when I was reading it (even when I wanted to). It impressed me when it needed to, which is good enough for now. I'd more than happily read more from Katja Millay in the future.

Actual rating: 3.5 stars (though it's really more like 3.9 recurring)


The 5th Wave (Book 1)
The 5th Wave (Book 1)
by Rick Yancey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read for sci-fi fans, 20 May 2013
This review is from: The 5th Wave (Book 1) (Paperback)
4.5 stars

It has been a while (a very, very long while) since a book has tackled this area of science fiction so incredibly well. It has been a while (maybe too long a while) since I have been genuinely terrified (and maybe even a little thrilled) by the thought of an alien invasion. Believe what you want, but they are out there. Yes, admittedly, they are probably microscopic, leg-less organisms on some distant moon in some distant solar system, but they are out there... My aliens, however, have nothing on the Others.

In Cassie's world, half a million people died during the first wave. Another three billion waved goodbye during the second. Come the third wave, and those unlucky enough to have survived the first two faced an airborne virus, The Pestilence or the Red Death. Then there was the fourth wave, which forced the remaining survivors into solitude, ready to be picked off one by one. Cassie is one of them, scouring the empty country with nothing but the items on her back and a trusty M16 by her side. She wonders if she is the last human left on earth, possibly even the last human left in the universe, but she made a promise to her younger brother, one that she is determined to follow through. What she doesn't expect is to stumble across another survivor. Warm, clean Evan Walker.... Whose every trait and sentence is a contradiction.

The Fifth Wave isn't just Cassie's story. We are treated to a handle of other perspectives, from the distant Silencer to the guilt-driven Zombie and his team of child soldiers. Cassie's however, is the strongest of these, with an apt amount of bleak humour and sarcasm defining her personality. And not to sound completely sexist, but it is always impressive when an older male author manages to so effortlessly capture the voice of an ordinary teenage girl. Cassie is a true delight here - so very determined and wonderfully amusing. Her reaction to Evan is a little eye-roll-inducing on occasion, but she is, on the whole, a fantastic and well-developed character. Evan demands an equal amount of attention, though for entirely different reasons. There is a little ounce of predictability where his character is concerned, but, for the vast majority of the book, he is incredibly likeable.

Without a doubt, Rick Yancey is a clever man, and as much as I enjoyed the brilliantly crafted characters in this, it's the world-building and plot that truly mesmerised. There is a distinct cinematic feel to the story here (movie rights, I see you!), with some wonderful scenes of action and even a hint of psychological thrill. A part of me itched to enter the book myself (the part of me that is convinced that I have survival skills), while the other part of me sat bouncing on the edge of my seat. Yes, this book is exciting. It's also gritty and uncompromising - a combination that only makes the sci-fi nerd in me grin.

The ending isn't too excruciating, though it does make me want to get on my knees and beg for the sequel. August, 2014? Who thinks I'll last that long?


Reboot
Reboot
by Amy Tintera
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.64

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not without faults, 20 May 2013
This review is from: Reboot (Hardcover)
"Humans had a brightness to them, a glow that only death extinguished."

Amy Tintera's Reboot is, in some ways, fairly original. Instead of your typical, run-of-the-mill zombies, we have Reboots, humans aged 20 or under that are rebooted to life mere minutes after their death. The longer the wait between death and the process of rebooting, the less humanity is preserved when they awake. Wren Connolly was dead for 178 minutes.

At a training facility for the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation, Wren uses her incomparable strength and speed to prepare new Reboots, who are, essentially, puppet soldiers for HARC. Enter Callum Reyes, or Callum Twenty-Two, a boy whose measly 22 minutes of death make him more human than most Reboots. Of course, from here on out we have a romance, but thankfully, this is a romance that is fairly pleasant for the most part, even if a fraction too rapidly paced. It is Callum who helps clear the fog behind Wren emotionless eyes. It is Callum who draws to surface the flickering strands of Wren's true personality. It is Callum's smile and Callum's boyish enthusiasm... He is adorable, to put it simply, and even Wren can't quite disagree.

While Wren and Callum make a great team together - one that you can't help but root for - the romance does, on occasion, overshadow the plot and dampen the whole concept of Reboots. Wren's development from cold, determined One Seven Eight, to (arguably) love-struck teen is questionable. Nevertheless, Reboot remains entertaining and engaging throughout, though it must be said that the second half loses the vigour present during the first. The ending is brilliant, however, and a sure enough reason to return to this series.

Rating: 3.5 stars


The End Games
The End Games
by T. Michael Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.12

3.0 out of 5 stars A solid debut novel, 20 May 2013
This review is from: The End Games (Hardcover)
End-of-the-world stories are nothing new, especially not those of the zombie-apocalypse variety. Insert a deadly virus or contagion and we're still talking about roughly several dozen other books. No part of me expected The End Games to be original, or even mind-blowing (and I was right to think so), but this slightly bothersome fascination that I have with apocalyptic situations refused to let me ignore this debut novel entirely. And I'm glad, because while The End Games is not being relocated to the favourites' shelf any time soon, T. Michael Martin's first book is still wonderfully gripping and surprisingly emotional.

I was not expecting there to be such a distinct personal edge to the story. The characters here are not forgotten in place of the world-building or plot, and neither are their relationships. Michael Faris and his younger brother Patrick are alone in a Bellow-infested world, separated from their Mother and on a silent journey to what they hope is a `safe zone'. There are the usual zombie-like creatures we have met countless times before - the Zeds or Bellows, in this case - whose howls and animalistic shrieks keep Michael and his rifle on constant alert. What's interesting about the two brothers' situation here is The Game. The Game means that the Bellows are more than just mindless monsters that echo human words and phrases - they are creatures to be defeated in the interest of winning The Game. They must earn points (and do as the Game Master says) if they ever want to reach The End, where the safe zone and their mother lie.

Truth be told, the Bellows and their presence did little for me. I fear I may have finally reached desensitization point where descriptions of rotting skin and hanging limbs are concerned (it was bound to happen sooner or later). Instead, I was far more interested in the religious cult sacrificing survivors, a somewhat frightening Captain Horace Jopek of the United States Army, Michael and Patrick's backstory, and the origins of The Game. Jopek, especially, proved to be an interesting part of the story. His blunt attitude alternates between protective and deceitful, from dependable to threatening. If anything, Jopek is a lot more unnerving than the Bellows are.

What really stands out in this book though is Michael's need to protect his younger bother. The relationship between the two siblings here is unexpectedly affecting. With Patrick's belief in The Game sheltering him from the true horrors of his situation, Michael is the weight-bearer of the duo, the brother with all the responsibility. Despite the nail-bitingly intense plot, we find out a great deal about these two and their life before the events of Halloween and the start of the end of the world. We learn that 5-year-old Patrick is susceptible to episodes of `Freaking', in which moments of distress quickly transcend to self-harm. We learn that Michael is very much a normal teenager, with a less-than-cheery home life, and whose only friends are those on Xbox Live, his mother and his younger brother. There is a great amount of attention and care given to the characters here. My heart broke for Michael over and over.

While I hesitate to recommend The End Games to those who are more experienced with this genre, I do think T. Michael Martin has a lot to offer as an author. His debut novel is a solid introduction to his writing and I definitely look forward to seeing what else he has in store for us in the future.

3.5 stars


School Spirits (Hex Hall)
School Spirits (Hex Hall)
by Rachel Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.85

3.0 out of 5 stars a swift and entertaining read, 19 May 2013
Actual rating: 3.5 stars

Despite the slight character and plot clichés, the Hex Hall trilogy has always been a firm favourite of mine. Rachel Hawkins' witty style is irresistibly good - so much so that turning a blind eye on some of the weaker aspects of her books in the past hasn't been too difficult. This is where the reading experience with School Spirits differs slightly. While the writing doesn't lack that distinct sharp and humorous quality that Hawkins is known for, there is a disappointingly diluted feel to the storyline here. Nevertheless, for a swift and entertaining read on a rainy weekend (which, let's face it, is most weekends where I am), the first instalment of this Hex Hall spin-off series is just about good enough. I certainly had a lot of fun with it...

Although, for me, main-character Izzy is no Sophie Mercer, her light and effervescent personality is instantly infectious. She is a Brannick - stronger than most people and built for hunting and capturing out-of-hand Prodigium. This includes the usual; vampires, fae, witches, werewolves... and the odd wayward ghost. When a haunting at a local high school draws Izzy and her mother to a new town, Izzy finds herself on a solo mission, one that involves acting like a `real' teenage girl. This, of course, is easier said than done (no matter how many episodes of `Ivy Springs' Izzy manages to get through with mirror-bound Torin). Cue the grins from this point forward! Izzy finds herself in all manner of unfamiliar social and high school situations, each and every one of which prove to be highly amusing from the reader's perspective. It's only when she joins the school's 3-member paranormal society that things really pick up, though.

Romy, Dex and Anderson adopt Izzy into their small group pretty quickly. While the three of them are not (knowingly) investigating the haunting for the same reasons as Izzy, the friendship between them feels genuine from the get-go. Witty dialogue is the weapon of all weapons here, and Rachel Hawkins is the skilful administrator. While the plot is lacking in some sophistication (it's nothing particularly exciting when you think about it), the light banter and playful group dynamics just about make up for it. The highlight here is Dex. As someone who has been known to `rock the occasional manbracelet' (his words, not mine!) and has an impressive collection of purple clothing, he is a refreshingly original love interest, and also incredibly delightful. Admittedly, it probably won't take a great number of weeks before I struggle to recall his name (or any of the characters', for that matter), but he is likeable enough, for what it's worth.

The ending is very weak. The hurried pace gives it an almost nonsensical and juvenile feel. Coupled with the indication that there may not be a sequel for a while, this is the most disappointing part of the whole book. Still, despite the less-than-satisfying final chapters, Hawkins leaves enough of an impression with her new book to stir up some interest for more. If nothing else, I definitely want to revisit Dex's character one day.


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