Reviews by RebeccaR

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This Is Salvaged: Stories
by Vauhini Vara
Sad and Dark Lives Captured with Good Writing Skills (8/9/2023)
Author Vauhini Vara is a talented writer and her collection of short stories, THIS IS SALVAGED is sure to stir up a response in the reader. Vara seems to gravitate towards the dark side of life: there are houses that smell foul from dried vomit in one story and young girls desperate for employment applying for telephone sex jobs in another. These characters and their behavior may not interest all readers, but I am sure that all readers could agree that the author has captured the essence of sad situations and people desperate for a better life but not always able to escape. Everyone’s life is not a happy ending, and these stories are realistic in that sense. Not all stories were for me, but I appreciate the talent of the author.
King of the Armadillos
by Wendy Chin-Tanner
A Good 3.5 Story (5/14/2023)
This book is an interesting combination of a memoir about life as Chinese immigrants to the USA in the 1950s and an historical-based novel about a family member's life inside Carville, the "Louisiana Leper Home." The father and his two sons are operating a laundry business, but the wife (and mother of the boys) remains behind in China. What makes the book potentially more touching is the fact that the person sent off to Carville is Victor, a fifteen-year-old boy. In the author's forward to the book, she reveals that Victor also is her father. I wish I could round up my rating to a 4 because I do appreciate all of the work that went into this book. In addition, I enjoyed learning that in China, many people believed that leprosy was a curse inflicted upon those who were necropiliacs.

Here is what was amiss for me. The "hot intimacy" scenes just did not flow seamlessly as part of the story. I have nothing against romance books (even though they are not my genre of choice) or "love details," but when a semi-rough intimacy scene suddenly was interjected on page 22, I felt jolted out of the plot. This was not a lone occurrence. Throughout the book,the young character of Victor seemed much older than fifteen to me. To avoid plot spoilers, I will leave my comments at that.

Many readers may not agree with my opinion; I urge readers who find the subject matter interesting to read this book when it goes on sale in July and decide for themselves.
You'll Forget This Ever Happened: Secrets, Shame, and Adoption in the 1960s
by Laura L. Engel
Compelling Story with Wonderful 1960's Cultural References (2/8/2023)
For anyone who has ever met a person that was immediately interesting to talk to or picked up a book in a bookstore to glance at the first page and instantly knew that the book was one you just had to read, then chances are you will feel the same instant attraction to the first-person narrator in the memoir You'll Forget This Ever Happened. Now, don't let the genre of memoir hold you back if you happen to think that memoirs are not for you, because this book flows as smoothly as any literary fiction. The cover of the book features a subtitle of sorts that gives a hint to the conflict - a pregnancy in the 1960's and the mother-to-be is not married. However, the genuine voice of this frightened teenage girl is so authentic and realistic that readers will be gently pulled into the story, wanting to read just one more page (or 2 or 3) before turning off the light for the night.
One of the things I enjoyed a lot about this book were all of the 1960's to early 1970's cultural references, including popular music. I think the book will be appreciated most by the who avoid reading spoiler reviews with long summaries. Give this book a chance, and I believe you will be surprised at how much it pulls at your heartstrings.
Ghost Season: A Novel
by Fatin Abbas
Riveting Historical Fiction (11/23/2022)
The interactions of the characters in this book are so interesting that it is easy to overlook the fact that GHOST SEASON is important historical fiction. The setting of Sudan is extremely ancient, and yet many people around the world are unfamiliar with its history – that South Sudan only became a separate country in 2011. Like so much of the African continent, the original people of Sudan were colonized and inequalities became entrenched. This history permeates the plot, and knowing a little about the turbulence of this area will help a reader to understand the fear when a burned corpse is discovered and the compound's female cook did not show up for work.

I immediately felt transported by this debut. In fact, the perfect adjective for GHOST SEASON is immersive since I felt like the swirling dust of this remote Sudanese border town was in my nose as I sensed the tension among filmmaker Dena and American map-making aid worker Alex. The relentless heat, made worse by climate change, seemed to contribute to the intensifying worries and rumors about the civil war. The wall around the NGO compound is clearly no match for any advancing soldiers, but the young interpreter, Mustafa, is more. wrapped up in his dreams of making a better life for himself and escaping extreme poverty.

For anyone who was interested and horrified by the events in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, GHOST SEASON is a book for you.

I have been in a foreign country where the interpreter to make up for my limited ability to speak a local dialect was a twelve-year-old boy like Mustafa, and I have seen many cemeteries rigidly divided by religion. So perhaps this book appealed to me a little more than the average reader, but I urge anyone who is curious about the world to read this when it publishes in early January 2023.
The Bell in the Lake: Sister Bells Trilogy #1
by Lars Mytting
An Unexpected Wow! (10/12/2022)
I doubt that this book's cover design or pre-publication descriptions would have caught my eye or enticed me into reading the book. Hmmm, "exquisitely atmospheric" I mumbled to myself. Even as I read the first few pages I wondered if I was going to "get into" this novel. However, I slowly felt myself being pulled into the life of this remote village and starting to silently cheer and quickly read a few more pages every time that Astrid seems determined to change her life. This is exactly why I have loved being a member of BookBrowse for so very many years; I have discovered some incredible books.
THE BELL IN THE LAKE truly transported me back in time to this wooded area of Norway. I also marveled at the author's ability to convey the emotions of Astrid, the lead female character, as well as the emotional conflicts of two competing male characters. At no time did I feel that something was getting lost in the translation or that maybe the English translator had failed to capture whatever it was that had made this book an international bestseller.
This book was an immersive experience. I know it may not be a novel that all of my book-reading friends will necessarily love as much as I did, but perhaps I am as wrong about that as I was with my own first impression.
The Last Nomad: Coming of Age in the Somali Desert
by Shugri Said Salh
Even Better than I Hoped! (8/30/2022)
When I first saw a brief synopsis for THE LAST NOMAD, I knew I wanted to read it. I didn't know if it would be a dry, textbook telling of the author's life, but I can honestly say that it was far from dry or textbook; it immediately grabbed my interest. The author included details of the nomadic lifestyle - long treks to find and bring back water, living in tents, packing belongings on camels to move, the allure of the city in more modern times, but also the heartbreak of a culture that found value in male children. It was that attitude that led to Shugri's assignment as caretaker for the grandmother. This meant being withdrawn from school, separated from her family, and destined for a life of illiteracy in a world that was harder and herder to navigate without education. I think both YA and adult readers will thoroughly enjoy following Shugri's life which turned out so very different than she or her parents could have ever imagined. The book helps readers to understand how difficult life can be when one is transplanted in a totally different country and culture.
Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Oustanding! A New Favorite Book (9/15/2021)
The beautiful cover on this book hints at the beautiful writing inside. All of the events are not beautiful because this is historical fiction, based on real events which span a wide range of topics, from Civil Rights to gender rights and reproductive rights.

A reader of any background will immediately be drawn into the story of young Civil Townsend who is starting a new career as a nurse in the Family Planning Center of Montgomery, Alabama in 1973. There is a hint of some heartache with an opening statement by the adult Civil, " What we didn't know was that there would be skin left on the playground after it was all over and done with." Most likely, the reader is expecting this, given the location and time period, 1973; George Wallace is the governor of Alabama.

Civil is the first-person narrator, and the chapters occasionally alternate between 1973 -when Civil has recently graduated with her nursing degree- and 2016. The transition between time periods is seamless and easy to understand. There are no jarring interruptions to make a reader turn back a few pages and look to see which characters are being discussed.

For the eight young Black women (including Civil) who are staffing Montgomery's family planning center, there are, incredulously, additional janitorial duties of the building. Overseeing their work is a demanding red-haired woman who may remind readers of another cold-hearted nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Nursed Ratched. Despite Civil's upper-class background (her father is a doctor), she refuses to let any assignment bother her. However, the story is told honestly through Civil's eyes as events unfolded. So when the first home assignment takes Civil to the country, we readers are reminded that "country" back then and there meant outhouses and no running water and unpaved roads. In addition, poverty is neither glamorized (poor but so happy) nor glossed over; Civil is stunned by the ramshackle hut which a widowed father, two young daughters (ages 11 and 13), and an elderly grandmother call home. It smells like urine and "body funk."

I think readers will enjoy discovering this book for themselves, so no plot spoilers will be included. Suffice it to say that Civil has some personal heartbreaks and tough decisions that change the trajectory of her life forever. For anyone who has ever been an idealistic young employee, determined to make things good and right, you will be as outraged as Civil herself. This book is destined to be a modern classic!
In Every Mirror She's Black: A Novel
by Lola Akinmade Akerstrom
I Loved It From Page One ! (9/4/2021)
One thing that I have really enjoyed about BookBrowse over the years has been my exposure to new authors and new books. In a brick and mortar book store (yes, I do enjoy those still, as well) I am not sure that the cover design oF IN EVERY MIRROR SHE'S BLACK would have immediately caught my eye.Fortunately, I almost always open a book and read the first page to test my interest; this debut novel is a winner from page one. No matter where a woman lives or what age she is, I think readers will relate to the career, dating, relationship issues of at least two of the characters- marketing executive Kemi (age 34) and flight attendant Brittany-Rae (age 38). The third female has had a life that fewer American women might be familiar with - being a refugee. The plot is enriched by both this third female, young Somali refugee Muna,working as a janitor in Sweden, and the fact that all three of the women are black, albeit from different countries.

These are not fairy tale lives or absurdly perfect romances or tales of young women whose parents provided them with such an auspicious start in life that there's no way they can fail. This is contemporary life where women who are dating past high school are going to run into some uncomfortable and/or insulting situations.

Tying together the lives of these three women is a fairly egotistical, unlikable guy. Good looking enough, it seems, to get away with it. Part of the fun of reading a unique book is discovering the book on your own. So no spoiler alerts, and I will stop my review here. I am telling my friends: you should read this!!
The Arsonists' City
by Hala Alyan
Loved This Book;Recommend It Often (5/19/2021)
"Grief will make you do crazy things...page211" and this novel proves that to be true.

This turned out to be one of my favorite books so far in 2021. It did not immediately start out that way; there are quite a few characters, and because I kept putting the book down, I would forget who was who. I urge all readers to not give up on this book. Also, do not start skimming since some of the little details come into play later in the book. Although the story begins with focus on the three adult children (daughters Ava and Naj; son Mimi) and their modern complications - faltering careers, faltering relationships, and faltering interest in the sale of the family home back in Lebanon, the real focus will become the parents Syrian mother Mazna and Lebanese father Idris. The parents grew up and went to school in the Middle East, then came to the USA later in life.

The relationship of the parents was complicated decades ago and remains so decades later. There are surprising twists, heartbreak, and hope as the author weaves together a very original story along with Ottoman history of "Greater Syria" and Lebanese independence.

Ultimately, this was a 5 star read.
Morningside Heights: A Novel
by Joshua Henkin
Very Realistic and Engaging Story of a Marriage (4/14/2021)
One of my favorite aspects of this modern story is that the characters are very realistic. Pru Steiner, for example, comes from a family in which the dad follows kosher rules but her mother does not. As for Pru, she feels too constrained - even as a kid- when attending the Torah Academy. So it is quite surprising when Pru, as a Columbia University student, begins dating and eventually moves into the apartment of the man she's fallen in love with that she makes his kitchen kosher.

Pru goes from being a person who made fun of female students who seemed to be in college simply to obtain that proverbial "MRS." degree to being a Mrs. herself.

Although this book is very much about love and relationships, it treats marriage very realistically. Pru and husband Spence Robin have great days and crummy days. For a while they seem to have it all, but life is not 100% perfect. There's also a challenging child from a previous marriage and then some unexpected, very serious challenges.

Throughout the book, author Joshua Henkin references the many landmarks and popular restaurants in the real Morningside Heights area of New York. It makes for fun reading. I have recommended this book to several friends. The reason I rated this with 4 of 5 stars is that it seemed a little slow at times.
Eternal Life
by Dara Horn
Unforgettable; Makes the Book's Premise Seem Believable (12/1/2020)
To start off, let me urge prospective readers to NOT read detailed book reviews which contain spoilers. Part of my enjoyment of this book was the surprise factor. Eternal Life was different than I expected since it began in ancient Biblical times. I am not sure how I thought the author would handle transitions for Rachel, the female protagonist, to move on to more of her life, but I certainly was not prepared for how the protagonist moved on. While I hate to say too much and ruin the book for anyone, the transitions are extremely emotional -almost frightening at times. These events always seem to happen just when the reader is hoping Rachel's life can go on "as is" for a while longer. Of course, since Rachel's two-thousand years on Earth have to be a secret, the segue into the rebirth of a new, youthful Rachel must involve some cataclysmic events within the family being left behind.
When I started the book, I had not thought about the eventual need to leave as one's other family members -especially children- started aging. Author Dara Horn does an incredible job of capturing the intense emotions of everything from young love and letting hormones hijack clear thinking to the omnipresent undercurrent of sadness, of always knowing that one's current family is part of the cycle of life and will have to be left behind.

Will you, the reader, want to live forever at the end of the book? Highly unlikely. Every time you fall in love or give birth to a child or treasure your friends and family, you know they will die before you do or that you will have to leave them heartbroken when you must transition out of that era. Whew! I feel that this is an unforgettable story which just may leave readers more appreciative of the beauty in everyday life. It would be a good choice for book clubs because people could talk about poor choices in life, picking the wrong partner, parents' warnings that turned to have validity, and on and on. This might be a book that is more appealing for women. I am so glad that I read it!
At the Edge of the Haight
by Katherine Seligman
Realistic and Empathetic Without Being Judgmental (10/6/2020)
I understand why this book was the winner of The Pen/Bellwether prize for socially engaged fiction. First person narrator Madlynne (only 20 years old) has a life of homelessness, living on the streets of San Francisco. Sadly, she was pointed in that direction starting with her mother's mental illness followed by an uncaring foster home where food was strictly rationed and things like cookie packages were marked so that no child could take another cookie.

While many books promise to give readers an insider's view of name the situation or social program, author Katherine Seligman artfully avoids warning against bad choices, bad parenting, or bad society while also avoiding the over-glamorization of this alternative lifestyle. Instead, this novel empathetically pulls the reader into a realistic portrayal of homelessness and dumpster diving for food, along with sorrows of families who have lost someone to life on the streets. I don't think I will ever drive or walk by another homeless person without thinking of this book. I have always supported local, national, and international aid programs, but this book made me feel the relief of those homeless people who are able to grab a sweatshirt from a free clothing bin on a cold morning or who are grateful for some food that they can also share with their dog. Thank you to BookBrowse and Algonquin Books for the ARC.
Every Bone a Prayer
by Ashley Blooms
Loved the Basic Story (7/29/2020)
The lovely prose of Ashley Blooms’s book as well as the basic story line about the struggles of children living in the Appalachian Mountain hollers were 5 star. I immediately wanted to get to know Charlene, Misty and Penny, ages 8,10, and 12, respectively. I also thoroughly enjoyed Samantha who announces she is "Sam...everybody thinks I'm a girl, but I'm not. That's not me." The response of Penny is a delightful illustration of how immediately accepting children can be when she says, "I reckon you ought to know who you are" (page 111). Gender issues are handled with great sensitivity, as are the physical assault scenes. In fact, with the latter, readers may wonder at times if what they think is happening is also the actuality.

I enjoyed young Misty’s connection to nature and all living creatures. A couple of times I thought about Lois Lowry’s middle grade book THE GIVER, where a person with special capabilities could give memories to another human and perhaps save a life by transmitting memories of warm sunshine while lost in a freezing blizzard. However, in EVERY BONE A PRAYER, the stream of consciousness writing may not be appealing to typical younger audiences. For example, one sentence fills most of a page in chapter 21 with Misty’s stream of consciousness memories of scents and sounds. And while fantasy is a popular category in YA novels, I question younger readers’ receptivity of the magical glass sculptures in Misty’s holler. For me, the glass sculptures took me out of Misty’s compelling story and are the reason for my overall rating of 4 stars instead of 5.
Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters
by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Realistic Portrayal of Mary Lincoln's Mental Instability (6/14/2020)
The book began a little slow for me, but I was interested to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln and am glad that I kept going. Author Chiaverini did exhaustive research for this 331 page book; there is a lot to learn about the influential Todd family as well as life in general for women during the 1800's, including Mary Lincoln's status as the widow of a slain President. Most of all, it is clear that from a very young age Mary Todd Lincoln thought she was better than the vast majority of people, including her own sisters. Mary's excessive hubris, focus on materialistic possessions, and lack of empathy for others makes her a mostly unlikable character. I appreciate the fact that books such as this give realistic portrayals of famous people rather than some fantasy version that all of the political leaders in American history were wonderful, intelligent people with equally wonderful spouses. Previous accounts of Mary Lincoln usually attributed her sadness and depression to the death of her sons, but this book reveals a pattern of surprisingly self-centered and selfish behavior before she became a wife or mother. As the First Lady, she shocked some citizens with the amount of money she spent, particularly in light of the brewing political unrest and subsequent Civil War. Sadly, too, the child mortality rate in the 1800's meant that many women of all races suffered the same tragedy as Mrs. Lincoln, though few had the economic resources to have others care for them and only the elite could live in a spa-like asylum such as Belleview. It is easy to see why Robert, Mary's adult son and only surviving child, has her committed. Certainly, Mary's sisters are not fighting to free her or have Mary live with them.

Some segments of society questioned Mary Lincoln's sincerity in backing her husband's political platform of anti-slavery. After all, Mary Todd had grown up in a household with slaves. This included the Todd home before her Mary's mother died as well as after with her step-mother. The pace of historical fiction tends to be a little slower than other commercial fiction, and for me this was not a five star read. The chapters shifted back and forth between Mary's adult and earlier life, and this format - rather than a linear timeline - was probably necessary to hold the reader's interest. However, I appreciated receiving an ARC from Morrow/Harper Collins.
Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim
Riveting, Shocking, Disturbing - This book has it all. (4/18/2020)
Don't let the lengthy character list inside the front cover discourage you from reading this novel. The plot is truly unique and covers a wide range of emotions. Reviews which label this book as a courtroom drama simply do not do it justice; it would like saying the television series BREAKING BAD is about a science teacher with a health problem or that To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of an older dad who is a widower in a small town. Author Angie Kim weaves together the struggling Korean immigrant couple (the Yoo family) whose teenage daughter Mary is not totally thrilled with her new country. Still, Mary's lack of friends at school and privacy at home, particularly at her age, make her sympathetic.There is also a mixed-race couple (Matt Thompson and wife Janine Cho) who are enjoying their financial success as medical professionals despite a traumatic injury to radiologist Matt. However, characters whose names are further down on the list (which extends to a second page) have pivotal roles as well. There are some small town elements such as gossip, competitiveness among the mothers (who"mothers" best?) and emotional struggles while raising children with autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. The characters' lives become more deeply involved as a result of the experimental hyperbaric oxygenation treatment center. No character is left unaffected by the tragic event, and no reader will progress through the chapters without experiencing changing loyalties toward the characters. This is a book that lends itself to intense book club discussions.
He Started It
by Samantha Downing
Totally Enjoyable, Twisting and Turning Plot. (2/29/2020)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and perhaps part of the fun was that I had no idea what to suspect. I had not yet read author Samantha Downing's previous bestseller, MY LOVELY WIFE. The premise of the book sounded like a universal event - the death of a family member. The few additional details continued to sound enticing. There is going to be a reunion of some kind, involving a road trip with siblings that had not been particularly close; okay, that's certainly understandable since many people agree on the concept of friends being the family one chooses for oneself. However, nothing could have prepared for me this fun read. My memories of grandparents are all so positive that I still miss them to this day, but the grandfather of Portia, Eddie, and Beth was something else. In addition, the siblings all seem quite different, and their relationship issues from the past are going to be intensified by the multi-million dollar inheritance. It is one they can access only after they meet a very specific requirement. Here is where the lies, deceit, and lack of trust intensify since the money comes with a very personal twist orchestrated by deceased Grandpa himself. The road trip, which was not a pleasant memory, must be recreated.

Why was this road trip so bad? It wasn't just the usual hardships of periods of boredom, restlessness, and varying bathroom needs for everyone in the vehicle. This one involved a plethora of strange day trips as well as downright scary behavior at times from Grandpa who is the the 'HE' in the title. Beth even refers to him as an a- -hole at one point. Get ready for this twenty-years-later reunion, narrated by Beth, as the two-week road trip unfolds. Any family member who fails to complete the trip is out, but another provision in Grandpa's will - that anyone who ends up in jail is out- builds a lot of unexpected suspense. Why jail? People will have fun discussing this contemporary story with other readers, and I am so pleased to have been fortunate enough to read an ARC from BookBrowse!
The Paris Diversion: A Novel
by Chris Pavone
Wow- what a page turner! (12/18/2019)
This book has everything going for it - a fun Parisian setting, dangerous but believable situations, and characters who are realistically imperfect. They have a blend of both good and bad qualities that keep the reader guessing about what will happen next. Author Chris Pavone seems extremely knowledgeable about Paris, so readers who have traveled there will be able to picture the scenes perfectly.

One critic compared this book to John le Carre; that seems like a good match to give you an idea of the fast paced action. However, at the same time, Pavone weaves in the day-to-day life events of American ex-pats Kate Moore and her husband. The irritation of dealing with the "Hashtag Mom" who seems to plan her actions and comments around how well she can present her life on social media is a classic.

When you want a good story that holds your interest, this book fits the bill.
Evening in Paradise: More Stories
by Lucia Berlin
I Enjoyed This Immensely ! (11/9/2019)
Although some of the titles of Lucia Berlin's works were familiar to me, I had never actually read anything written by Berlin prior to receiving a copy of EVENING IN PARADISE. In addition, I almost always prefer a novel to a collection of short stories. However, I not only thoroughly enjoyed Berlin's stories, but I now want to go back and read some of her other works and find out what I've been missing. There is something very honest about her characters in EVENING IN PARADISE and the everyday events they experience. I could picture the children playing in the heat of a Texas afternoon, the astonishment of passing through Miami airport and seeing little dogs dyed to match their old women-owners. I have visited, traveled through, or lived in many of the places in which these stories are set, and I was charmed by Berlin's ability to capture the sensory impressions of these places and realistically convey the first-person narrator's impressions. I have already recommended this book to several friends and am so happy that I was one of the fortunate people to receive an ARC.
Ordinary Girls: A Memoir
by Jaquira Díaz
An Intense Look at the Effect of Poverty (9/9/2019)
Although ORDINARY GIRLS is a memoir, it is also an intense bird's-eye view of poverty and its particularly devastating effects upon females in America. For readers who liked the YA novel The Hate U Give, there's no doubt you will like Jaquira Diaz's memoir. However, for readers who might have been disappointed in The Hate U Give or who never read it because YA is not a genre you cross over to, do not let this "for fans of" type comparison prevent you from reading ORDINARY GIRLS. Diaz's book reads like a novel but does not spare any gritty details or romanticize poverty. There are no cliche we-were-poor-but happy scenes here. Young Jaqui's debilitating hunger and exposure to pedophiles openly preying on unsupervised children help the reader understand just how bad urban poverty can be. Interestingly, the author does not condemn any one person or sector of society for her horrible childhood or her horrible life choices. When the book wraps up with references to well-televised moments in Puerto Rico after 2017's Hurricane Maria, it is a vivid reminder that these 319 pages deal with real people.
The Shadow King: A Novel
by Maaza Mengiste
A Stunning Epic Tale (6/13/2019)
Although there have been many books written about or set in the time frame of World War Two, Maaza Mengiste's epic story is unique. There's no one book to which THE SHADOW KING can be compared; this is a 'Hotel Rwanda,' 'Gone With the Wind,' and "All Quiet on the Western Front,' rolled into one but set in Ethiopia and told with an emphasis on the female perspective of Hirut, an African enslaved to other Africans. Woven into this story is also the history of Emperor Haile Selassie who has loved his position of wealth and power and can not come to grips with the disintegration of his position.
There are so many powerful sentences that make a reader stop and think about the truth contained in the words that you will never finish the book if you stop to log them all. Another strength of this book is its unflinching honesty about the ravages of war, from the rape of women to the important part that female fighters played in Ethiopia as Mussolini stepped up his quest for world power and personal glory at any cost, to the insensitivity of some wartime photographers, along with the horror of brave warriors fighting with spears against tanks and planes with mustard gas. At 419 pages (in my ARC) and a smaller font than many books these days, this is not a book for the faint of heart, but it deserves to be read!
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