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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater - Review

Monday, January 28, 2019

Where did I get it? The library! I hadn't even heard of it, it just caught my eye because it was by Maggie. 

What's it about? It's set in the Colorado desert in 1962. There, one night, we meet three cousins, and their pirate radio station. The cousins are all in the Soria family; the Sorias left Mexico and set up a small settlement, Bicho Raro, in Colorado. There, the Saint of Bicho Raro performs miracles for the pilgrims who arrive to the village. But, the miracles never quite work out how the pilgrims think they will, making a motley crew living in the village. The Sorias can't talk to the pilgrims for fear of 'interfering' with their miracles, something which they've done in the past and which has had terrible consequences. 

Anyway, the cousins. There's Daniel, who is the current Saint of Bicho Raro because he has a lot of magic, I think? He seems pretty sick of pilgrims and performing miracles, to be honest. There's Joaquin, who seems quite desperate to get out of Bicho Raro and out of Colorado completely; he looks east for his fashion inspiration. He is the host of the radio show the cousins are putting it, under his alter ego name Diablo Diablo. Lastly there's Beatriz, second choice for Saint, but who is said to have no feelings, and who is quite worried about her parents, who are falling apart. 

Into the village arrive Tony and Pete. Tony is a DJ who needs a miracle, and Pete is a high school graduate who has been promised a truck in Bicho Raro and who is hitchhiking there. Tony gets his miracle, which backfires, and Pete is set to work. 

It took me a week to read this book, and it isn't that I didn't like it, but I found it quite dense. It skipped about a bit in point of view, which I find odd and somewhat confusing. I liked Daniel and Beatriz and some of the pilgrims, but not everyone. It's filled with Maggie's usual mix of realism and magic, which I liked. I wish we'd seen more of Beatriz's personality, and less history, but that's possibly just personal preference. It's a good book. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, they're all Mexican Americans, except maybe Pete and some of the pilgrims? I think Maggie did a good job of incorporating this folklore, but I appreciate she is white and so am I. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? No 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's not graphic

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? I just.... I didn't love it. I don't think it went deep enough. I'd have liked one storyline to follow instead of lots. 

Would I recommend the book? Yes 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Library deadlines

What other books is it like? Maggie's other books!

How many stars? Seven out of ten 

Where is the book going now? Back to the library... I've already had to renew it once as I didn't get to it over Christmas!

Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by L C Rosen - Review

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it on Kindle for 99p! A bargain. I'd read about it somewhere and was intrigued by the premise.

What's it about? Jack is seventeen and lives in New York with his mother. He is gay, he's been out for years and everyone knows about it. He has a healthy sex life, he spends weekends at parties and hooking up with boys. 

He has two best friends, Ben, and Jenna. Ben is also gay, and black, and really into costuming. He's also desperate for a big love story of his own. Jenna runs a political website about school funding and stuff like that, and she asks Jack to contribute a column about sex and relationships. He agrees.

He is gossiped about a lot because of his sex life, although reality is never as wild as the gossip makes out. He begins to write the column, and then begins to receive creepy notes. Dropped into his locker, written on pink paper and folded into origami, it becomes obvious that the note writer wants Jack for themselves and is also watching him closely. At first Jack ignores the notes, carries on with his life, but then the anonymous person threatens his friends and his mother. Jenna wants to go to the police (which would have been very sensible, says adult me), but Jack doesn't want to worry his mother. 

The book is sexually explicit - Jack has a lot of sex and enjoys it. It's always safe sex, and through his columns we see him give really sensible advice about all aspects of sex and relationships; I thought this was an excellent aspect of the book. Jack is entirely unrepentant about who he is, his sexuality, his clothes, his make up, even though under the threats you would understand if he didn't feel this way. I loved this so much, I thought Jack himself was an excellent character and I was happy that sex was portrayed so positively (and when it wasn't, it was made clear it wasn't the victim's fault). 

I liked Jenna and Ben, although I would have liked to see more about them. I liked Jack's mum and the fact that he was conceived through donor sperm - you never see stuff like this in books and it is a fact of modern life! I was happy to see that. I did think Jack made some stupid decisions, but I get that teenagers often don't and that it was in keeping with the book as a whole. I liked the ending. I think this is a great book and I can't recommend it enough!

What age range is it for? Sixteen plus, I guess, due to sexual content 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously. Also one of the boys Jack slept with was bisexual! Yes for bisexual representation! This was dealt with really nicely, too. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Jack mentions at one point that he has more privilege than Ben because he's white and Ben isn't. In fact Jack acknowledges his privilege quite a lot of times, which I liked. He lives in New York and repeatedly says that he has it easier than someone in the middle of nowhere. I feel like the author thought a lot about this and made it clear. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Jack does suffer from anxiety when he starts getting threats, I liked how this was portrayed. 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, lots. It is frank without being gratuitously explicit, but if this isn't for you, well, don't read the book 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, the three of them smoke pot a couple of times, but
nothing else. 

Is there any talk of death? No I don't think so. 

Are there swear words? Yes. Again, I thought it was just very realistic, but your mileage may vary 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none. I loved this 

Would I recommend the book? Yes. Buy it now. What a fantastic example of YA literature. 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I'd just bought it and I couldn't sleep so I ended up reading 40% of it without even really realising. 

What other books is it like? It's a lot like Simon vs, only... better. It's apparent how far YA lit has come since Simon vs was published, and I'm glad about it (and that's not to say I don't love Simon vs!). Talking about sex explicitly and safe sex specifically, and privilege, and other things like that is just fabulous. 

How many stars? Ten out of ten. Read it now!

Year in Review - 2018

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Here's my round up of books read in 2018. It was a good year for reading, but I don't feel I read anything that completely wowed me like I have in previous years. I did read some great stuff, though!

How many books read in 2018?
80. Goodreads has me at 81, but I think there's a mistake there with something I didn't finish.

How many were on paper and how many electronic?
I read 47 paperbacks, twelve hardbacks, and the rest were ebooks. 

Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio?
79:1, apparently. The only non fiction book I read was Clampdown by my friend Rhian. 

Male/Female authors?
I read 8 books by men and two that were co-authored by men. Most of the men I read were queer men. I'm happy with this ratio, I like to support women writers. 

Most books by a single author?
Robin Stevens, I think. I read two Wells and Wong books this year. Oh, I read three Elly Griffiths books! And two Catherine Johnson books. 

Favourite book(s) read?
I loved The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding and The Last by Hanna Jameson. 

Least favourite?
There were a couple of books I didn't finish, but I don't review those unless I have a huge problem with them. I also read a book set in Ireland that I found really tough, but I don't think I reviewed that either. 

Oldest book read?
I think it was probably Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski, which I also really liked even though it's not my usual kind of thing. It was published in 1949. 

There are some books I read through Netgalley that aren't yet out. I do try to say when something will be published if it isn't yet out. I don't always remember, but I do try!

Longest book title?
It's got to be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burgers in Los Angeles). Although Oh My God What A Complete Aisling is a close second, and Dress Codes for Small Towns is probably up there too. 

Shortest title?
The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, or The Last by Hanna Jameson, or The Lido by Libby Page. 

How many re-reads?
Just one - The Future Homemakers of America, which was exactly as good as I remembered it being. 

Any in translation?

How many of this year's books were from the library?
As far as I can remember, seven of them, and all of those were after I started going to my craft club in May. I am keeping a better track of these for 2019! 

Moose Baby by Meg Rosoff - Review

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

And finally here's my last book of 2018. Not reviewing any books in November 2018 really put me behind, and I'm sorry. Happy New Year, anyway. I hope you read some brilliant books in 2019.

I needed a small book to read on the 30th, because I wanted to get to a nice round 80 and I knew I wouldn't have any time to read on the 31st. I usually read in bed and after you've been out on New Year's Eve who's got time for reading? Not me, for sure. I plugged my phone in to charge at 2am and went to sleep.

Lee pulled out a few short books for me, and I picked this one up. It's yet another of those short Barrington Stoke books which are easy to read and good for dyslexic people, I must own at least ten of these novellas and I think they're great little stories.

This book is about Jess, who is seventeen years old and who, at the beginning of the book, has just had a baby with her boyfriend, Nick. Only this is no ordinary baby... Their baby is a moose.

A bit unusual, sure, but Jess and Nick soon get used to it. They have to navigate social workers, nurseries, and puberty, all before they're twenty-one years old. This is a really funny book, I liked it quite a lot. I'm giving it four out of five.

Grave Matter by Juno Dawson - Review

Saturday, January 19, 2019

I'd picked this up at the library on my last visit there before Christmas, it's one of those easy to read Barrington Stoke books but I liked the premise of the book so I picked it up.

Samuel has just lost his girlfriend, Eliza, in a car crash that was his fault. He's finding it really hard to move on without her - he can't sleep, he doesn't want to go back to school, and he just feels depressed. His parents - his dad is a vicar and his mum is a doctor - are no help either. But then Samuel remembers his dad's sister, who is estranged from the family, and goes to ask her for help in raising Eliza from the dead.

His aunt can't help, but her assistant tells Samuel to visit a man called the Milkman. There, Samuel gets a recipe to, indeed, raise Eliza from the dead, so he sets about getting everything on the list and digging up Eliza's body to put the potion in her mouth.

I really did like the premise of this book, I liked Samuel and I liked the spell he had to do, and I liked what happened after he did (no spoilers!). However, I thought that parts of it were quite hackneyed and a bit stereotyped, which I didn't like at all.

I'm giving this 3.5 out of five, sorry to be a bit of a downer but the stereotypical bits ruined it for me a bit.

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas by Andrea Pyros - Review

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Where did I get it? I requested it from Capstone on Netgalley, but when I went to download the ebook, it said that the licence had expired. This isn't something I've seen before, so I tweeted Capstone and got a reply from Jennifer, who was really helpful. She said she would send me a physical copy of the book, which was really lovely of her! It arrived really quickly and I decided to pick it up straight away. Thank you Jennifer, you really went above and beyond!

What's it about? Josephine is twelve years old and lives with her twin brother Chance and their mother. Their parents are divorced and their dad lives a couple of hours away so they don't see him too often. Josephine has a lot going on with a group of new friends, but then manages to get an invite to THE party of the year, where each of the girls can invite a boy. Josephine has a crush on her brother's friend, but feels nervous telling her friends about it!

Then her mum reveals that she has breast cancer and will need treatment. Josephine doesn't want anyone to know, not even her best friend. She feels conflicted because while she's obviously worried about her mum, she's also still worried about her brother, her crush, her friends, and the party. Does that make her a terrible human?

This is a really gorgeous middle grade book, I'm so glad I got to read it. I loved Josephine and her family, I thought the mother was one of the best I've ever seen depicted in a book like this. I liked Chance and his approach to life and how it was so different to Josephine's but how they came through for each other when it was needed. I thought the depiction of cancer was really well done - informative and clear but without sugar coating anything. I would love for there to be a sequel to this book, and if not then I'll definitely look out for something by the same author. 

What age range is it for? 11+

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? I'm not sure

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I guess the mother's cancer diagnosis comes under this heading. As I said, I think this is deal with appropriately. I liked how each kid reacted 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? There's mention of chemotherapy which I suppose comes under this heading 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's quite brief and is just discussion because Josephine and Chance are obviously worried that their mother with die 

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? None! I loved this, I thought it was a really well written and interesting book 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Well after Jennifer made sure I got a copy, I really wanted to return the favour and review it as soon as possible!

What other books is it like? I'm really not sure! A lot of the middle grade I read tends to be set in Britain 

How many stars? Five out of five 

Where is the book going now? I'm definitely keeping it - I mean look at that beautiful cover!

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas is out in February 2019. I received a free copy from Capstone and decided myself to review the book, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Heartstones by Ruth Rendell - Review

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Margaret at my book club lent this book to me. She and I don't have similar choices in books at all, but she did choose Little Boy Lost which I ended up really loving. She brought this to the Christmas meeting for me because "it's about young people" and she thought I'd like it, which was very sweet of her! I picked it up almost immediately so that it would be ready to give back to her in January.

I've never read anything by Ruth Rendell although my dad loved her stuff, so her novels were always around in our house when I was little. So I was interested to read this novella.

The main character is Elvira, who lives in a university town with her family, in a haunted house near the town's cathedral. On the streets outside are the titular heartstones, cobbled stones. Elvira lives with her sister, Spinny, and their father Luke. Their mother is dead. Elvira is obsessed with Luke, in a very incestuous way. Spinny sees ghost cats in the house and is never settled. Elvira is immediately suspicious when Luke hosts a dinner party and introduces the girls to Mary, a fellow professor.

He tells the girls that he plans to marry Mary. Elvira is immediately jealous and plots to get rid of her. On a visit to the cathedral, Mary falls to her death; is Elvira guilty or not?

This is a really sickening and gothic little book, it really intrigued me and I really enjoyed it. An unexpected book, but I'm really glad I read it!

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths - Review

Sunday, January 13, 2019

As you know, I'm a huge fan of Elly Griffiths and went in November to meet her in Derby. The Stranger Diaries was published on the day that we saw Elly, and it was obviously for sale so Elly could sign it. I got a copy for me and I also got one for my friend Laura for Christmas. Elly very nicely put a nice Christmas message in for Laura, which was really lovely of her, and indeed Laura really appreciated the message and has already read the book!

I couldn't wait to get to it either, so I picked it up in December. It's a standalone novel. Previously Elly has written the Ruth Galloway novels and the Stevens and Mephisto novels, all of which I've read and liked, so I thought I would like this one too. It's described as a bit of a gothic horror, a bit of a thriller, a bit of a crime novel. I liked how all these elements came together; I found it genuinely scary in parts and I liked the different points of view.

Okay so Clare is a teacher at a school in Sussex, a school where reclusive writer R M Holland lived. Clare is a bit of an expert in his life and most famous work, a short story set on a train called The Stranger. So when her colleague is found murdered with a line from The Stranger on a piece of paper next to her, suspicion falls on Clare. Clare keeps diaries about her life, and one day she notices some writing in her diary that isn't hers... writing that looks like it comes from the killer...

Meanwhile Detective Harbinder Kaur is looking into the crimes. I have a feeling that Elly will write another book with Harbinder as the detective; she's a likeable character in a modern police force. She has plenty of reasons to suspect Clare, or someone in Clare's family.

We also see Clare's daughter Georgia's point of view. She's fifteen and goes to the school that Clare teaches at. She has a much older boyfriend and she has three friends that she does creative writing with. Suspicion falls on these friends, too...

The setting was fantastic - I could really picture the school and everything connected to R M Holland, and I could really picture the house where Clare lived in the middle of nowhere with an abandoned factory behind. I think setting is something Elly does particularly well, and I think it always helps to immerse the reader into the narrative. I liked Clare, I liked the creepy story of The Stranger and how it was incorporated into the book. Really cleverly done and nicely woven together!

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo - Review

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Where did I get it? I bought it on Amazon in April 2018 when it was just 99p, and kept meaning to get around to reading it. I finally did! 

What's it about? It's a novel told in poems, like Sarah Crossan's books. Xiomara lives in Harlem with her parents and her twin. Her family is from the Dominican Republic and her parents are strict. X constantly feels like she's too much for everything, her body, her family, her life. She's not allowed to date, but she's developing feelings for a boy in her biology class. She writes poetry that she keeps to herself, but a teacher at school encourages her to join the slam poetry club. X is risking a lot but she can't help it, and along the way she writes some gorgeous poetry about it. 

What age range is it for? 13+ probably

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yep but I'm not spoiling anything! I thought this was a fantastic element to the book, though. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Obviously. I liked how X wrote about her family background and about her home in Harlem. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? I don't think so? 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Not as I recall? 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, a little 

Are there swear words? Gosh I think like two. 

What criticisms do I have? None, it's gorgeous. I loved X, I thought she was such a fantastic main character, I would like to be her friend! I liked her family and the sometimes difficult relationships she had with her parents and her twin, and I liked the boy X liked (whose name escapes me now, sorry)

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I needed something easy on my Kindle because I was away, and this fitted the bill perfectly. 

What other books is it like? It deserves its comparisons with Sarah Crossan's novels in verse, but it also reminded me a lot of The Hate U Give. 

How many stars? Five out of five. I can't wait to see what Elizabeth writes next!

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris - Review

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

This is an adult book, but it's an adult book about older teenagers, so I am recommending it to any teenager from around seventeen onwards. I will bear that in mind while I'm writing this review.

When I read The Power, I was aware that Naomi Alderman was from a Jewish background and that she had written Disobedience, a novel about a rabbi's daughter who is a lesbian, who has to return to Orthodox Jewish London after her father dies. I think Judaism is really present in The Power; I think it informs the novel a lot and I liked picking up on that. So when I saw an article about Disobedience, and how Naomi was frum when she wrote it but had since given up practising Judaism, I was really interested to read it. Hang on.... This is the article. In it, Naomi mentions some other books about Orthodox Jewish communities, so I bought three of them on eBay for a few pounds each. I find a lot of fundamental religious communities utterly fascinating, I've read a lot of books about different ones.

I picked up The Marrying of Chani Kaufman not long after these books all arrived. 

It's nominally about Chani, who is nineteen, and who are the beginning of the book is about to get married to Baruck, a suitable frum boy from a suitable family. She's anxious, unsure about what will happen between them on the wedding night, unsure about what kind of man Baruck is, and unsure about how to be a good Jewish wife. At school she was considered "spirited", and her new mother-in-law dislikes her. Chani has had some help from the rabbi's wife, Rivka, but Rivka has secrets of her own and other things on her mind.

The book goes backwards in time so that we see how Baruck and Chani met, how the community matchmaker was involved, how both Baruck and Chani fit into their families and what they hope their marriage will be like. We meet Rivka as a much younger woman in Israel in the 1980s, when she was less Orthodox and known by her birth name Rebecca (Rivka is the Hebrew for the name Rebecca), we see how she met her husband and how they became Orthodox Jewish. We see their son Avi, Baruck's friend, and how he is going against the wishes of the community. It's a really expansive novel but never confusing, and I really liked seeing so many points of view and different people's actions.

I liked Chani a lot, she is a likeable heroine and I felt for her a lot throughout the book. I hope she had a good marriage - I hope she and Baruck made it work!

This is, I think, as a complete Gentile, a good introduction to Orthodox Judaism in a really accessible way. There's a glossary at the back for unfamiliar words, but a quick google of anything else would help if you're completely ignorant of Jewish life (my undergraduate degree was in Theology and Religious Studies and I studied Judaism, so I'm familiar with quite a lot of it. I liked Chani and Rivka a lot and wanted them both to succeed and be happy. I would really recommend the book if you're interested in the subject matter. 

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton - Review

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Where did I get it? At the library where it was new in 

What's it about? It's set on a strange island in the Pacific Northwest, and at the beginning we learn about Rona Blackburn, a witch, who landed there over a century ago. She was treated badly by the eight families already there, so she cursed them and their descendants. She had a daughter, and her daughter had a daughter, and now Nor Blackburn is the last of them, the eighth from Rona. She just wants to live a normal teenage life, but that's unlikely to happen. 

She lives with her grandmother, and her grandmother's female partner, because her mum disappeared when Nor was little, leaving her pretty traumatised. Nor works in the island's witchy shop, and one day she sees a new book - The Price Guide to the Occult - in which a witch is selling dangerous spells. Nor is convinced that her mother is responsible for the dark magic contained within the spells, and she knows that casting such dark magic requires terrible sacrifices - that she has lived through before.

I loved the mythology of this book. The setting of the island, of Rona and her family, and of her legacy on the island were all well thought out and nicely described; I could picture the place so well and I loved the characters of many of the islanders. Nor is a likeable if unwilling hero, and I liked her house and its inhabitants too. I thought there were parts when nothing happened and it made time skip oddly, but I liked the ending and felt it was really fraught with menace. The book really reads like it's the first in a series and I would definitely read more because I liked the setting a lot. 

What age range is it for? 14=, probably, depending on the 14 year old. It does have a real sense of doom to it and there are some traumatic parts. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes, and it's entirely unremarkable, which I really liked. 

Are any main characters people of colour? I don't think so? Oh, maybe Nor's grandma's girlfriend? I'm sorry, it's been a while since I read it 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yeah, I think Nor has some mental health issues going on. She is also scarred, but I don't think it's badly. 

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, I think so? 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and some of it could be triggering because it's quite gory. 

Are there swear words? I don't think so. 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none, apart from the random time jumps which I found odd. 

Would I recommend the book? Yep definitely. I don't know this author but I'm really glad I took a chance on this book! 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? It just intrigued me in the library 

What other books is it like? I think it's a lot like the Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater, it has the same feeling of magic and non-magic worlds crashing together. 

How many stars? Four out of five 

Where is the book going now? It went back to the library just before Christmas!

True Sisters by Keren David - Review

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Where did I get it? The library in Penistone! As I've said, the teen section there is really nicely laid out and always looks really appealing with really up to date books, I'm so glad it's there. 

What's it about? It's another of those Barrington Stoke books on thicker paper that is easier to read especially for dyslexic people and other people with needs like that. I find them really cute little books with often really hard hitting issues but told in a simple and engaging way.

This one is about two girls, who end up as foster sisters. One, Clara, has had a very difficult and sheltered childhood, controlled by her mother. When her older sister gets away, she raises the alarm and Clara ends up being taken into care. 

Meawhile Ruby lives with her mum, a foster parent. Her parents are divorced and her dad has a wife and new child, and Ruby has a stepbrother, Adam, too. Ruby is struggling with her place in the world too, especially with her sexuality. She's auditioning for drama school, and through Clara she begins to tell her own story. 

I thought this was a lovely book, I liked the care aspect and the foster family. I liked both Ruby and Clara a lot, and Ruby's mum, too. My only criticism is that I wanted to read a whole novel about these characters, and not just a novella. Maybe a sequel?!

What age range is it for? 12+, although it depends on your twelve year old as there is so depiction of abuse and other hard hitting stuff. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Ruby is mixed race. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Clara's mum has some kind of mental health problem

Is there any sex stuff? No 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I don't think so?

Is there any talk of death? A little bit, it's age appropriate

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none - gorgeous story 

Would I recommend the book? Yes absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? Because library books have deadlines!

What other books is it like? I think it's quite like Non Pratt's writing 

How many stars? Eight out of ten!

Where is the book going now? I took it back to the library the very next week when I was next there!


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