Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Ink – Alice Broadway Review

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Rating: ★★★

You’ve probably seen this book making waves online – why? Because of the cover. It’s gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence me in wanting to read this, because honestly, this is a book that I went into knowing very little about. All that I did know, was that Ink is set in a world where people’s lives are tattooed onto their skin. In this case, I feel like there isn’t really much more to know than this, because not much else actually happens – and that is my main issue with the book – there was not much there in terms of plot.

Leora Flint’s father recently died, and in accordance with the rules of their society, his skin, chronicling his life’s events, has been removed and made into a book. The pages of his life will be read by the government who will decide whether he is worthy of being remembered, or whether his book will be thrown into flames, to be forgotten forever. However, when his book is confiscated for further investigation, Leora has to deal with the fact that her father hid something from her, and that his skin is not telling the whole story.

I loved the premise of the world that Alice Broadway has created. I was really interested in the culture around the tattoos. For example, the year marks that show hold old a person it; the different tattoos that show crimes a person has committed; the family tree on everybody’s back. I loved seeing how people would come up with ways of marking important events in their life. I would have loved to have seen more detail in people’s tattoo choices, because it’s something that I find fascinating even in real life, for example, the way that Lorea’s mother’s tattoos are all floral, or how one of Lorea’s school friend’s has a previous boyfriend marked on her skin in a dominating position. I just found all of this fascinating, and the notion that you could ‘read’ who a person was and what they were like just by looking at.

On the other hand, this novel was just lacking plot in my opinion. It wasn’t necessarily boring – rather, I really quite enjoyed reading about Lorea learning about the art of tattooing, and dealing with her father’s death. However, I just didn’t get the point of the book in general because there was no clear overarching plot. The end of the novel develops so quickly that I feel like Ink as a novel would have been much better if the story had unravelled more gradually over the whole plot. Instead, for much of the book, it just felt like I was just reading Lorea’s daily life without it having any relevance. This book is an example of one of my pet peeves – it is a book that sets up a series of novels by simply setting the scene for better things to come, despite having tons of potential to be a brilliant standalone whilst also being the first part in a series.

Additionally, I think that because the plot was so weak, it made the characters very one-dimensional for most of the book. Leora makes no decisions for the majority of the book because nothing happens, and so we barely get to see her humanity, and the secondary characters were little more than plot devices. If the book had a stronger plot, all of the characters would have felt more real.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that this book was bad or even boring. I actually really enjoyed it, and I finished it in just over a day. However, just because it was easy to read it doesn’t mean that it was necessarily a fun or gripping read. I would have loved for the plot to have been stronger and interwoven throughout the novel better, but Alice Broadway’s world was interesting enough to make the book generally enjoyable.

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Book Reviews, Poetry

Depression & Other Magic Tricks – Sabrina Benaim Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You may have seen Sabrina Benaim’s spoken word performance of Explaining My Depression to My Mother which at the time of writing this review has 6.9 million views on youtube. Her collection of poetry further explores mental health, love, and family and is full of similarly sharp and passionate poems.

I really adore Sabrina Benaim’s voice. I like the way that she repeats phrases and words throughout her poems, and how this reflects the way that anxious thoughts can swim around in your head, brewing and evolving as you mull them over, so that one simple thought can become, over a few lines, a complex metaphor to explain her feelings. I liked how you can’t always tell if she’s talking to herself, or to someone else, and how striking her voice is, so that you can almost hear how she would read it out loud as you read it.

Of course, Explaining My Depression To My Mother is a fantastic poem, but there were others that really stood out to me as well. The line “my heart has developed a kind of amnesia, where it remembers everything but itself” in What I Told The Doctor is beautiful, and The Loneliest Sweet Potato is a beautiful exploration of feeling lonely even though you are not, to the naked eye, ‘alone’. I loved how the poems (i) and (ii) are blended together in the later poem Avowal so that I was flicking back and forth to see how the words are intertwined to give them a whole new meaning.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but Sabrina Benaim’s collection blew me away. I loved the simplicity of her words, the intricacy of the imagery, the strength and passion of her voice. The poems had me blinking back tears, and then chuckling moments later. I also had the great luck to be able to see Sabrina Benaim perform during her UK tour, and it is another experience I could not recommend more. She is full of emotion, and captures your attention with ease.

i forgive myself even if i am the last person i want to forgive

whatever i have come from / wherever i am going

Book Reviews, Contemporary, Historical

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

Homegoing is a breathtaking look at the effects of slavery over centuries, spanning generations and continents. It is an epic family saga containing stories of love, trauma, loss, war, and friendship. it was a beautiful and moving read, and I was very impressed at how Yaa Gyasi covered so much in terms of scope, and yet managed to make each story feel personal.

The premise of this novel is that two half-sisters, unknown to each other and who live in different villages, in eighteenth-century Ghana are thrust into different lives by chance. Effia is married to an Englishman and lives her life in the Cape Coast Castle, ignoring the slaves that are being held beneath her, destined for another life. Esi however is captured and taken to America, where she lives the difficult life of a slave. Each chapter of the novel follows a different generation in the two strands of the family, focusing in on one individual, at a significant time in their life. Effia’s descendants experience warfare between tribes in Ghana, and the fight for freedom from British rule. Esi’s descendants are bought and sold as slaves, live through the Civil War, forced labour prisons, jazz and crime.

Homegoing is a look at the history of two nations through individuals’ lives, and this is what makes it so moving. It is easy to talk of the historical and social events covered in this novel from a detached perspective without truly understanding the human impact. The main thing that struck me while reading Homegoing was that it makes it clear, in a visceral and shocking way, through the memories of the characters, how recent the events that we consider ‘history’ actually are.

I really loved the format of this novel, with each chapter following a different person. We get a snapshot of life at a particular time, band I liked the experience of becoming invested in a character over the course of their chapter and to feel invested in their story, only to have them ripped away at the end. Each chapter felt like it ended too soon, but I didn’t resent it. Rather, it felt like this served a larger purpose of giving the stories and emotions inside of them more immediacy, and it gives the book constant momentum as you are always being thrust forward. It may take getting used to, but the chapters are each so brilliantly written that you won’t struggle to get into them. The writing is also so excellent, with fire and water imagery running through the novel, and I didn’t find it difficult to follow who was who, because usually the character is introduced, at least briefly, in the previous chapter.

Overall, I really loved reading Homegoing. I loved how Yaa Gyasi wrapped up the novel in a bittersweet bow at the end, neat and tidy, but not forced or difficult to believe. When I put it down, I was left wanting aching to return to the characters and learn more about them. It gives you a lot of food for thought, and indeed left me thinking about its contents for days afterward.

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman Review

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Rating: ★★★★

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere for months, and was so happy that I finally got around to reading it, and I can definitely see what all of the fuss was about. Eleanor Oliphant lives a strictly regimented, monotonous, but ‘fine’ life. She has never questioned her life that consists purely of going to work, and drinking at the weekends, with nobody to talk to apart from her mother who calls her once a week, and the social workers who visit every once in a while. However, when she meets Raymond, who work in IT, and they help save the life of a stranger in the street, she begins to question her life, how she got there, and what it will take for her to get better.

I absolutely loved Eleanor’s character. She was so complex and interesting, and although she clearly suffers a great deal with trauma, anxiety issues and a lack of social skills, her voice is so unique and at times downright hilarious that it was a pleasure to read the book, even when if she is spending entire pages explaining how boring and lonely her life is. This doesn’t mean that you don’t feel bad for Eleanor. Her life is the same everyday, and she has nobody to talk to, she doesn’t even think she needs anyone to talk to, but what I liked was that even at the start of Eleanor’s story, before she sets out on her journey of recovery and self-discovery, is that there is a quiet strength to her. She has lived through horror, and now she is living through loneliness, and she deals with it in the only way that she can, which is building an armour around her. Even if we don’t relate to her specific problems and experiences, I’m sure every reader can relate to the way that Eleanor deals with her problems and anxieties, by simply ignoring them and pretending that she doesn’t need whatever she is missing out on.

I loved reading her development through relationships with people around her. Raymond was a wonderful character to read, and I loved how we see Eleanor thinking of him as nothing but a lazy, wasteful and immature man, to thinking of him as a friend and genuinely valuing him. She takes this journey with many people in her life, such as the people in her work, and so the book is a beautiful and heartbreaking exploration of Eleanor’s loneliness and the way that society plays a role in further isolating those who struggle socially, but ends with hopefulness that Eleanor can recover with the help of those around her, and lead a fulfilling and fruitful life that makes her more than ‘just fine’.

The only issues that I had with this book lay with the storyline of Eleanor trying to piece together the traumas that she experienced as a child. Without spoiling this story, the main issue that I had with this was that it only really became a plot point towards the end of the novel. Although we know from early on that Eleanor has had horrible experiences, it just isn’t a concern of hers. This is understandable from the context of her character arc, but I would have liked for there to have been hints as to what the story was, and elements of foreboding rather than simply dumping the story on us out of the blue in the final chapters of the book. In a strange sense, I felt like the book could have been even more striking if it had lacked the dramatic ‘tragic backstory’ element, as I felt a little like Honeyman shifted the story away from a character-focused story to a story that relies on shocks and plot twists to keep you hooked. By the time I found out what had happened to Eleanor, I found that I didn’t really care that much, cause I was too interested in the rest of her character.

This book made me laugh, cry, and stayed with me for long after I finished it. I found it easy to read and loved the strong voice of the main character Eleanor, and how it drove the story forward and kept me hooked.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty Review

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Rating: ★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You have probably heard about this book. There was a little tiny adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and so many other A-listers. It was this that brought the book to my attention, and I have been itching to read it for months. Thankfully, NetGalley offered me the opportunity to read it and post a review, so here we go. In case you want the quick version: I loved this!

Big Little Lies centres around a small coastal town where everyone knows everyone, especially the mothers at the Pirriwee Public School. Madeleine, Celeste, and Jane meet on the first day of school, where they have all dropped their children off at their first day of kindergarten. However, when they pick them up, an allegation of bullying sets off a startling chain of events that ends in tragedy. The plot is riveting, and what made it so for me was that each chapter began and ended with excerpts from interviews after a fundraiser at the school, and through these excerpts, it becomes clear that somebody has died. But who died, and how they died, remains a mystery until the very end. Although this death is not premeditated and the central storyline is much more of a ‘family drama’ novel, there are signs that the tension in Pirriwee is increasing, and the novel slowly builds suspense until the big finale, making it a truly gripping read.

I also loved the differences in the three women. Madeleine is a fun and energetic woman, with three children, who struggles with the fact that her ex-husband has moved back to town with his second wife and child, who is starting school with her own daughter. Celeste lives in a golden cage of sorts, in a marriage that she questions from the start of the book, but is admired for her beauty and wealth. Jane is new to town, a young single mother, who falls into the friendship of Madeleine and Celeste with ease. The differences in these women made the book more interesting, and I also loved that they each had their individual storylines unfolding in the background, all of which came together at the end in an explosive conclusion.

My only issues with the book lay with the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I revelled in the plot twists and the dramatic ending to the Pirriwee Public School tensions, but what I hated was the way that Liane Moriarty tried so hard to tie everything up in neat little bows after that. I would have much preferred to have a more messy, more human ending to the book. Instead, there was forced romance which was completely unnecessary, predictable, and without chemistry, and an epilogue that made me cringe with information dumps about where the characters were months later, that also simply wasn’t needed. The forced nature of the happy endings simply didn’t fit with the nature of the book, or with the characters as they had been developed over the course of the books, and was simply unrealistic to the extent that I feel like it really weakened the book overall.

Overall however, I did really enjoy this book. I couldn’t put it down, as I was hoping, and the plot and characters stayed with me after I finished reading.

 

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I love fast-paced fantasy, unique magical worlds, female-led stories and friendships, so it’s no surprise to me that I absolutely loved Truthwitch! I had been waiting for months to read this book, for two reasons. First of all, my huge hardback edition is far too large to carry to and from school everyday. Secondly, I wanted to give it all of my attention, and I have no regrets (except perhaps that I should have given my full attention to my exam next week but never mind that).

The novel follows Safiya and Iseult, two witches who are trying to make a life for themselves. Safi is a Truthwitch, meaning that she can tell when someone is telling the truth, a power for which she would be hunted, so she keeps it a secret from all but those closest to her. Iseult is a Threadwitch, meaning that she can see their emotions in coloured strands that stem from them, and who these threads ‘tie’ them. The pair are Threadsisters, and when a brewing war threatens all that they hold dear – each other – they have to fight for their bond.

Safi and Iseult are both fantastic protagonists that come to life on the page and their friendship is the fire that keeps them going and that makes the story so interesting. They are lifelike, detailed and complex characters, each with their own stories, backgrounds, personalities and struggles. I loved that each character had their individual plot points, diverting for parts of the book and then rejoining, because it meant that we got to see the characters as independent women as well as a team, and understand the strength of their bond, as well as their individual motivations. This friendship was at the core of why I loved this book so much, as their friendship was so unmovable and strong that it survives all sorts of threats and dangers. Safi and Iseult are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, and they never give up on each other, which I loved.

I also loved Susan Dennard’s magic system and all of the different witcheries. This isn’t a book where you get bogged down by details and information, and lose track of the story while trying to get to grips with the world. She makes it easy and interesting to understand, and the information that she feeds you weaves into the story so you don’t get distracted. It is so expertly crafted that it never feels forced, but rather each witchery seems to make perfect sense. I loved how despite the witches having immense powers in their fields, whether it be manipulating blood or wind or fire, their powers still had clear limitations. For example, some witches can control the air that people breathe, while others can only control the air around them in the world. Some water healers can heal by manipulating the liquids in people’s body, whilst tidewitches control the waters in the sea. It was such a diverse and complex system, but beautifully designed and wonderful to delve into. I can’t wait to see what other witcheries come up in the rest of the series, and what other aspects of the Witchlands’s history and world Susan Dennard will expose us to.

I definitely give this book 5 stars and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. If you haven’t read it and you love fantasy novels, I could not recommend this to you more. Now excuse me, I need to order my copy of the sequel!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Goodbye, Perfect – Sara Barnard

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Rating: ★★★★★

Eden and her best friend Bonnie are inseparable, and Eden knows that she can rely on Bonnie for anything. After all, Bonnie is pretty near perfect. However, when Bonnie runs away with a new mysterious boyfriend and it is revealed that this new boyfriend is no-one other than their music teacher, Mr Cohn, Eden has to face up to the fact that she didn’t know her friend as well as she did. Further, when a nationwide police search begins, Eden is forced to question her unfaltering loyalty to her friend.

Sara Barnard took on a really challenging topic in tackling the relationship between Bonnie and her teacher, Mr Cohn. It is a story that I have seen play out in the news multiple times, and it would have been easy for her to take a very sensationalist approach, or on the other hand, an approach that attempted to justify the relationship. Instead, she took another stance altogether and looked at the relationship through Eden’s eyes. Eden struggles throughout the book with the realisation that her friend kept a major secret from her, but also values loyalty more than anything and believes it is her duty to trust her friend when she tells her not to tell anyone where she is. Although I didn’t always like her actions, I understood Eden and her thought processes, and through reading Eden’s thoughts on Bonnie and Mr Cohn, we see her go through the different perspectives on the relationship, and come to her own conclusion by the end of the book.

I loved that female friendship took centre place in this book, and what happens when a friendship is challenged by the actions of one party. Through Eden’s difficulties in coming to terms with everything that is happening, we get to see so much of her character and personality. Her loyalty is a stand-out characteristic, and although it leads her to make not-great decisions (in my point of view), it is something that you can also admire. The journey that the friendship takes, as well as Eden’s relationships with her boyfriend, Connor, and her family, were all fascinating to read. They all had ups and downs, and every single character felt multifaceted and fleshed out to me.

Sara Barnard’s writing really helps to bring all of this to the forefront as well. It is deceptively simple, with little to no flowery language, but rather she lets the characters, their actions and thoughts speak for themselves. This book is easy to read, but not an ‘easy’ book. It challenges you with every page, and the storylines and the characters keep you hooked from start to finish.

Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult, Young Adult Historical

Stalking Jack the Ripper – Kerri Maniscalco Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★★

I first heard about this book on booktube, and it immediately piqued my interest. A young woman in Victorian England studying forensic medicine, sneaking away at night to work in her uncle’s lab dissecting corpses, who sets about investigating the infamous Jack the Ripper serial killer who is plaguing London at night. It took me forever to find a copy, but once I managed to read it, I could not put it down.

First of all, the plot is tightly woven and moves along quickly. There wasn’t a single part of the book that bored me, but rather there was always something happening or something that would become relevant later on. I loved that the mystery unfolded in a way that makes sense in the context of the protagonist, Audrey, being a student forensic science. I was worried that the identity of Maniscalco’s Jack the Ripper would be easy to figure out, that the protagonist wouldn’t be that great at investigating, or that the mystery would actually end up taking a back seat to other storylines such as a love interest or Audrey’s family drama. Instead, Audrey is genuinely intelligent, a quick thinker, and I really enjoyed following her footsteps for the book. I was genuinely surprised by the plot twists, and was kept guessing until the last moment.

I also loved the secondary storylines in this novel. I loved reading about Audrey balancing her practice of forensic science and macabre investigations with being a Victorian lady. The parts of the book that dealt with ‘normal’ society weren’t boring and didn’t feel detached from the main plot, but rather were woven seamlessly into the main plot and helped to flesh out Audrey as a character and make her even more relatable and enjoyable. There was also a brilliant slow-burn romantic subplot, and what I loved the best about it was that it was just that – a subplot. It didn’t overpower the central mystery, or divert the story away for extended periods of time, and added to the book rather than distracting me from its core.

This book didn’t disappoint at all. It was fun from start to finish, and was that perfect blend of dark, macabre, gore, and a fun, exciting mystery adventure, with romance and a witty, clever female protagonist. It reminded me a lot of The Dark Days Club, which I also loved, apart from the fact that it was historical fiction rather than fantasy, and I would recommend you read it for a creepy but fun read!

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner Review

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Rating: ★★★

I went into this book completely blind, having been sent it a few months ago by the publisher. This isn’t a book I would typically pick up, but it did impress me. It also confused me a bit, as I couldn’t quite figure out the genre or the age of the intended audience. I wish it had been a little bit longer with some more exploration of some of the characters, but the short length was also part of its appeal.

The main narrator of the book is Jazmin, who has been shunned by everyone since the disappearance of her best friend Becky, who jumped off of a tall building, but never landed. Jazmin told people what happened, but nobody believed her, and now, she is telling her story again. Other narrators also tell their story, in separate but linked tales that eventually interweave in order to tell us what really happened to Becky when she jumped off that building. It’s a slow-burn drama, but mystery is enough to keep you hooked, and the narrators’ voices are strong and clear.

I really liked the narrative style of this. It is told in a second person narrative by various people who are being interviewed about their experiences. They tell the events of the story as they unfolded in their perspective. This means that you don’t have the same reading experience as you would in another novel, where you might feel like the events are happening to you. It isn’t really possible to disappear into the story, so to speak, because at no point does it stop feeling like you are just reading about it, rather than living it. If the book was longer, this might have ended up bothering me, but for its short length that meant I finished it in two days, I didn’t mind this.

Although it wasn’t completely clear from the blurb or even the first few chapters, this book is science fiction. Aliens are mentioned pretty early on, but for a big chunk of the book I couldn’t figure out if the characters were mad or not. This made reading it a bit strange. Also, the age range of this book wasn’t clear either. I was sure from the cover art and the simple style of the narrative that this was a children’s or young adult book, but the narrators are all adults, so I’m not so sure. If you prefer your genre fiction to have very strong elements of that genre, this might not be for you, but otherwise, I enjoyed the mystery and gentle unfolding of the truth.

Whilst the short length worked well in some respects, I think that the book failed to explore some elements of the story. For example, the characters themselves were not very well developed, and many of them simply felt like they were there to push the plot without their identities really being clear. This was especially confusing when they all resulted to be relatives or friends of each other in some way, because I couldn’t tell one apart from the other in order to remember their significance. The romantic storylines also felt forced and very shallow, as the characters seem to fall in love out of nowhere, with no real reasons for their attraction or development in their relationship. This was a major flaw for me as Gardner tried to make love a central theme of the book.

Overall, there were strong and weak points in My Side of the Diamond. I liked the style of narrating, especially the parts where the second-person perspective was clear, and I liked that the book was short. However, I would have preferred for there to have been more character exploration. There were sections of the story that, in my opinion, could have been sacrificed for more character development, or the book could have been a little bit longer to make room for that.

Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but sometimes there are books that I just have to read. This was one of them. I love shopping for books in the used books stores on Charing Cross Road, and when I discovered there was a book on the same subject, I was instantly in love. This book was even more enjoyable than I expected, I am happy to report, and a brilliant sweet, short read.

Helene Hanff was a struggling writer in New York who loved to buy second hand books. Wanting to get the best value for money, she wrote all the way to London’s Marks & Co bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road to have her books delivered to place her orders. Over the course of 20 years, she struck up a friendship with many of the shop’s staff, but mainly with Frank Doel, a bookseller who took personal responsibility for her orders, and even with his family. Although she never had the opportunity to meet Frank in person, or even to see the bookshop – Frank having died, and the shop having closed by the time she managed to visit London – this makes the letters between them even more moving to read, and especially in this day and age, it was really touching to see how such long lasting relationships could grow across oceans, through the medium of letters. My own copy was followed by the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury, Helene’s diaries from when she finally managed to visit London. Although I didn’t enjoy this section as much, her wit and unique voice is equally strong here.

The thing that really makes this book so great is Helene’s brilliant writing. Her character really came through in her writing, and her letters are so witty and teasing that you will find yourself chuckling away at them. You could really get a feel for all of the characters through the letters, from Helene’s cheery humour to Frank’s more stiff-upper-lip reserve, the gossiping receptionist and his caring wife. It was also lovely to see the passage of time through their letters, and see how the relationships evolved into genuinely caring friendships. Frank remembers requests that Helene made years before, Helene asks after his family and even talks to his wife in separate letters, and although they plan for years to meet each other in London, the evolution of this slow-burn friendship is cut tragically short by circumstance, the event that prompted Helene to publish her letters.

Being such a short book with such lively writing, this was a really enjoyable read. It is barely over 100 pages but in that short period you feel like you have gotten to know Helene and the staff at Marks & Co. I definitely recommend it for a lively, sweet book about book, friendships, and friendships about books!

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