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Book Review: Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

middlegrade

beastkeeperBeastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Published: February 3rd 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format: Paper Book
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magic, Fairytale, Beauty and the Beast
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun. She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world. Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too. The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever.

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen is a beautiful, simple read that takes the Beauty and the Beast tale and twists the characters and events into a new story that delves deeper into the nature of curses and three generations of a family caught in the snare of magic, pride, and jealousy. Beastkeeper is a small book. It barely cracks 200 pages long. While I like stories that don’t overreach themselves and become rambling and unfocused, I do feel as if Beastkeeper could have been a little bigger. There are so many interesting characters that we learn so little of, that I wish the book had been longer just so they could have been fleshed out more. It’s a tease and we end up wanting more with no hope of getting it.

I liked Sarah as a character. She feels true to her age; as in there is a lot of crying when she feels overwhelmed and moments where she wants to give up and leave but the story won’t let her and she’s forced to grow up a little and deal with everything. Beastkeeper is dark for a children’s story. The ending is less a happy ending and more a balanced ending. The dead stay dead and the characters move on and deal with their fates for the most part. This is not your everyday fairytale revision. Hellisen creates an atmosphere with her writing that perfectly matches her story. From the cold in the forest to the twisting maze of the tower, her writing is magical and sets the tone for beasts and witches alike.

I found Beastkeeper in the young adult section of my library but the story is much better suited to a middle grade genre. The age of the main character and the tone of the romance angle are better aimed toward younger audiences (and adults like me who just like middle grade books for the stories they offer). Plus, there is the absolutely gorgeous cover. I’m seriously in love with it. I spent several minutes picking the hidden creatures out of the trees. I highly recommend Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen for anyone who enjoys stories based in folklore and fairytales that have a touch of darkness to them.

Thank you for reading!

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Waiting on Wednesday 7/17/13

waitingonwednesdaylogo

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

babayagaBabayaga by Toby Barlow
Expected publication: August 6th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

By the author of Sharp Teeth, a novel of love, spies, and witches in 1950s Paris—and a cop turned into a flea…

Will is a young American ad executive in Paris. Except his agency is a front for the CIA. It’s 1959 and the Cold War is going strong. But Will doesn’t think he’s a warrior—he’s just a good-hearted Detroit ad guy who can’t seem to figure out Parisian girls.

Zoya is a beautiful young woman wandering les boulevards, sad-eyed, coming off a bad breakup. In fact, she impaled her ex on a spike. Zoya, it turns out, has been a beautiful young woman for hundreds of years; she and her far more traditionally witchy-looking companion, Elga, have been thriving unnoticed in the bloody froth of Europe’s wars.

Inspector Vidot is a hardworking Paris police detective who cherishes quiet nights at home. But when he follows a lead from a grisly murder to the abode of an ugly old woman, he finds himself turned into a flea.

Oliver is a patrician, fun-loving American who has come to Paris to start a literary journal with the help of friends in D.C. who ask a few favors in return. He’s in well over his head, but it’s nothing that a cocktail can’t fix. Right?

Add a few chance encounters, a chorus of some more angry witches, a strung-out jazzman or two, a weaponized LSD program, and a cache of rifles buried in the Bois de Bologne—and that’s a novel! But while Toby Barlow’s Babayaga may start as just a joyful romp though the City of Light, it quickly grows into a daring, moving exploration of love, mortality, and responsibility.

Witches? In Paris? Yes, please! I stumbled across this on a suggestion through another witchy book. I have a soft spot for witches, especially those witches who aren’t so goody-goody two shoes. Everybody needs a little wicked, am I right? Good witches are great but every once and a while I want to spice things up with a witchy character who’s not so afraid to zap a few people who deserve it. I’m hoping Babayaga will fit the bill.

Thank you for reading!

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Teaser Tuesday 6/18/13

teaser tuesdays logoTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a teaser. I don’t have a post planned for today and I’m still digesting my last book, so another day or two is needed for the review. Might as well tease for my current book.

winterwitchThe Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

At once her demeanor changes from sullenly defensive to furious. She rushes to the wooden box, falling on her knees beside it. She grabs the books, placing them back inside just as they had been, and then snatches up the lid and slams it in place. ~ page 47

Well, ok. That’s three sentences but whatever. It seems the main character is overly protective of her books. Girl after my own heart.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams

youngadult

witcheskitchenThe Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams
Published October 5th 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Witches, Young Adult, Questing
Reading Level: It says Young Adult, but I think it would be fine for Middle Grade
Goodreads | Amazon

Deep in the walls of a witches’ cottage lays an ancient magical kitchen. Dangling over that kitchen’s cauldron, pinched between the fingers of two witches, is a toad. And the Toad has no idea how she got there, and no memory of even her name. All she knows is she doesn’t think she was always a Toad, or that she’s ever been here before. Determined to recover her memories she sets out on a journey to the oracle, and along the way picks up a rag-tag team of friends: an iron-handed imp, a carnivorous fairy, and a few friendly locals.

But the Kitchen won’t make it easy. It is pitch black, infinite, and impossible to navigate, a living maze. Hiding in dark corners are beastly, starving things. Worse yet are the Witches themselves, who have sent a procession of horrific, deadly monsters on her trail. With some courage and wisdom, the Toad just might find herself yet-and with that knowledge, the power to defeat the mighty Witches.

I want to take a moment to state that if I hadn’t been mindlessly browsing the shelves at my local library, I would have never found this book. So, the next time someone tells you that bookstores or libraries are outdated you can whack them in the head and remind them of the joys of aimlessly wandering around and finding a really great book that you would have had zero chance of coming across on the internet. The book I speak of is The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams. This book gave me warm book fuzzes; the type of pleasure I get from a great fantasy book that is without the irritating clichés I often have to ignore in Young Adult fantasy books these days.

I have to admit that The Witches’ Kitchen reads more like a Middle Grade book, even though it’s marked as Young Adult. It’s a little creepy but there is nothing in there I wouldn’t want a young child to read. Plus, The Witches’ Kitchen has that creativity and originality that I only see in Middle Grade books. It lacks any type of romance angle and has the type of characters that I adore. The Kitchen is a world onto itself with a set of rules and laws unlike ours. It is a world that constantly changes with dangers around every corner. I would liken the world-building and tone to Splintered by A.G. Howard but without the annoying main characters that made me dislike that book. The Kitchen is a dark place with dark creatures and it’s fascinating. The characters are great and the plot pace fast. The Witches’ Kitchen is under 300 pages long, so there are no slow parts.

Every once and a while, I will stumble across a book that is classic fantasy and I just get that buzz of pleasure a good fantasy gives me. It does have the quest fantasy cliché, where a group goes on a quest to find something or fix something. (The Lord of the Rings has the quest cliché.) The conflict is pretty predictable. (As in it is obvious why the Witches want Toad.) But the journey is amazing. My favorite part is the clock and the Widow spiders. The details and side stories just add to the magic of the book. There are a ton of great illustrations. I’m so pleased that I stumbled across The Witches’ Kitchen by Allen Williams. It always pays to wander the bookshelves.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake
Published January 3rd 2012 by Signet
Length: 299 pages
Genre: Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary fiction
Reading Level: Teen & Up
ISBN 0451235525 (ISBN 13:9780451235527)
Goodreads | Amazon

Until three weeks ago, Darcy and Harper were working dead-end jobs and trying to put their troubles behind them. Then their aunt Velma delivered a bombshell: They’re actually Wishcrafters – witches with the power to grant wishes with a mere spell. Wanting a fresh start, they head to their aunt’s magic-themed tourist town to master their newfound skills.

But their magic fails them when a wannabe witch turns up dead – strangled with Aunt Ve’s scarf – and Ve’s sweetheart, Sylar, is found looming over the body. Ve is standing by her man, but Darcy overheard Sylar wish that the victim would disappear – forever. With Harper distracted by her handsome new crush, Darcy is determined to sleuth her way to the truth. But it’s takes more than a wish to unravel this mystery…

I don’t read many mysteries. For one thing, I suck at them. My brain just doesn’t work like that and I often find myself fumbling after the main character, wondering how they made that intellectual leap. I feel like I should be taking notes or making some sort of flow chart. I have a horrible time keeping track of so many clues and facts. But there have been a slew of witchy mysteries coming out lately and I finally decided for October to bite the bullet and read some. I’m glad I did! I still fumbled but it was an enjoyable fumbling. For my first witchy mystery I read It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake.

First of all, cover love. Look at all the pretty! Secondly, kudos to Blake for such an original witchy power. Darcy can grant other people’s wishes. Sort of like a genie, only with a pointy hat. Another reason I don’t read many mysteries is because there is often a love story threaded through the rest of the plot. Of course, by ‘love story’ I mean basically ‘he’s cute/hot and does funny things to my body just by standing there’. For which my response is ‘They have medication for that. You should probably see a doctor’. The point is, it’s never believable and is almost always one-dimensional. I love Darcy. Her reaction to Nick, however, falls under ‘eye-roll’ for me.

I adored the setting. The Enchanted Village sounds like my type of place and all of the characters are awesome and quirky. Just like you would think a town full of secret witches would be. The murder mystery was okay. (Not that it’s hard to trick me or anything.) Of course, with a mystery anybody and everybody is a viable suspect. Throw in some witchy powers and general confusion and you have one sparkly mystery to solve. So, of course the real killer is the one person neither the reader nor Darcy thought it would be. I’m a tad disappointed because a really great mystery has the killer up front and center but still manages to make the audience think they are innocent. This killer isn’t a suspect because she is only mentioned in passing in the book. It could have been tighter and more ‘under your nose’ than it was presented.

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake was a cute and fun read. It’s not very long but a light read that introduces a fantastic new heroine and an amazing location that I can’t wait to read more of in future books. The romance was a touch cliché for me but the characters themselves more than made up for the lack. As my first foray in witchy mysteries I think I picked a winner and will definitely be reading some more for October.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Between Okay and Good)

Book Review: Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn

Whoa, it’s been awhile since I had a book review up. I need to get back into the game. I picked up a bunch of books during my trip to Main Street Books a few weekends ago and I really need to get cracking on them. In fact, I believe they would be perfect for the Wicked Wildfire Readathon starting up on Wednesday. For today, I’ve got the review of Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn for you all. This review is going to be fast and dirty. You’ve been warned.

Summary from Goodreads:
When her widower father inherits a castle-like estate in the mountains of West Virginia, 12-year-old Jen is thrilled. It seems like a wish come true. But she quickly realizes that not all change is positive. Her dad has a mysterious new girlfriend, Moura, who slowly drives a wedge between Jen and her father. Furthermore, Moura has an unusually strong—almost obsessive—interest in the antiques that fill the mansion, especially a beautiful glass globe that Jen finds hanging in a window. When Jen’s cat accidentally breaks the globe, which Moura calls a “witch catcher,” strange things begin to happen….

Witch Catcher was another of those books that tells a classic fairytale, emphasis on the fairy. Like with Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick that I reviewed a few weeks ago, Witch Catcher gives us a story that is embedded in our collective psyche. It feels familiar, reaching back into oral tradition. The intrepid heroine faced with danger to her family and a new friend in need of help, rising above herself and becoming more than she ever thought she could have been. This is the story where magic invades everyday life and those are the best fairytales.

I adore the characters, especially the aunts. The fairies are well done and I liked how even they weren’t completely good. I’ve studied some Fae lore, and that little fact right there made the whole book for me. Witch Catcher by Mary Downing Hahn was a pleasure to read. It’s simple and the plot is as old as time, but it’s a good book for the nostalgia factor. Don’t expect to be wowed but it’s a solid story with likeable characters. It’s a story you’ve heard before but still speaks to the place deep inside that still believes in magic. I’d recommend it for a lazy evening read.

Booking Through Thursday – Ever written a book?

How is it possibly possible that a short week can feel so bloody long! I can’t believe it’s only Thursday. It should be Friday. This is the longest week ever and we weren’t even at work on Monday. (Memorial Day. It rained. I stayed inside and read.) Ugh. There is some sort of time bubble going on here. I know it. However, it is time for Booking Through Thursday! Enough procrastinating! Let’s book it!

Our prompt for this week is: If you could write a book, what would it be about, and why? (Though, of course, some of you already HAVE.)

I’m a wanna-be writer. (hangs head in shame) I have lots of ideas but rarely ever finish things. I do write fanfiction and I’ve finished a great many of those stories. But for every fanfiction story I finish, there are about 3 others languishing as half done or just a nice idea. It’s the same way with original fiction. Every year in November, I participate in National Novel Writing Month. NaNo, for short, is a month long game, I guess you could call it, where writers write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Or at least we try to. I’ve participated the last 5 years and I’ve reached the 50K mark 3 times. These stories are at least half done. But, inevitably, I lose interest or don’t know what to do with it after that and the story will languish in that state forever more. (headdesk) God, I suck…

Almost all of my fiction stories feature witches or some sort of paranormal element or character. During NaNo I’ve written a Banshee story, 3 different witch stories, and one ghost story told from the ghost’s point of view. I have no shortage of ideas; I just lack a drive. Maybe I need a cheerleader? Somebody to crack that whip and make me finish things! This is probably why I’m more likely to finish a fanfiction story than an original story because I post the fanfiction pieces on the internet. Even one comment is pretty much enough to keep me writing something. (See, dear fanfiction readers? Your comments do matter!) All of my stories are fantasy or paranormal.

Why? Well, that’s just how my mind works. I have a very active imagination. (An imagination I wished would slow down because it’s always racing to the next idea before I get a chance to finish with the current idea. I have the shortest attention span and I bore easily.) I read to escape. So the further away from the real world a book can take me, the better I like it. All my story ideas function the same. They are created for the sense of the fantastic and unreal. I don’t read much contemporary fiction for this reason. If I wanted realism, I’d stay here. But here is boring with work and bills and leaking faucets and humidity that is killing my hair. So, I read and write fantasy. As for why I write at all? Well, if I didn’t write at least some then I’m pretty sure my head would just explode and nobody wants to clean up that mess.

Book Review: Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick

We are going to call this a mini-review because this is a very small book. I was browsing aimlessly through the library when the name caught my eye. I’d been on the waiting list for Marcus Sedgwick’s new book for about three weeks and I thought perhaps a peek at some of his early works might whet my appetite and give me some idea of his writing style. So I picked up Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick. It’s a short book, not even 150 pages long, and I raced through it in a little over an hour while at my favorite coffeehouse. I irritate the workers by camping out on the couch and abusing the bottomless cup they offer at least once a month. I’m evil that way.

From book jacket: The fire in his home was a family tragedy that Jamie can’t forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don’t realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft – and with ancient buried powers that are unleashed by Jamie’s presence. A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, and an ancient crone: for a single moment, their lives are fused by fire.

This is the type of story that feels so familiar you could have sworn you’ve read it before. (It’s entirely possible I have and just can’t remember.) It’s the type of story that is told around campfires and is ingrained into the human consciousness from our long oral history. It’s a classic with a thousand retellings and drags up the memory of being a young child, wondering at the shadows of our bedroom. Every thump and dump in the night is the boogieman coming to get us. However, the writing style is jerky. It’s as if you’re being yanked along a rough draft rather than a complete, polished book. There is no flow and Witch Hill ends up feeling like something unfinished.

I sincerely hope this is not all that Marcus Sedgwick has to offer. Witch Hill was first publish in 2001 and is a juvenile book, so it is possible that his writing has improved since then. I’m really looking forward to Midwinterblood and I hope it deliveries something different from Witch Hill. I was left dissatisfied by Witch Hill and feel like with more effort it could have turned into something fantastic. I can see the potential in the book and it’s frustrating to be presented with a story that falls so short of what it could have been.

Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick
Published September 11th 2001 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
147 pages
Stand alone; not part of a series.

 

Book Review: Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

It is incredibly hard to get back into a reading routine after falling off the book wagon, as they say. I won’t be back to the review a week schedule I was maintaining before the New Year but I want to at least get several reviews done a month. I don’t want to be a slacker and what’s a book blog without book reviews? I also need to get cracking on my back-log of “to read” books. Today, I bring you my review for Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Princess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, longs for a life of adventure far beyond the staid old kingdom of Montagne. Tips, a soldier, longs to keep his true life secret from his family. Fortitude, an orphaned maid, longs only for Tips. These three passionate souls might just attain their dreams while preserving Montagne from certain destruction, if only they can tolerate each other long enough to come up with a plan. Tough to save the world when you can’t even be in the same room together.

Magic, cunning, and one very special cat join forces in this hilarious, extraordinary tale by the author of Dairy Queen and Princess Ben. An incredibly creative tale told with diaries, memoirs, encyclopedia entries, letters, biographies, even a stage play, all woven together into a grand adventure.

I loathe books written in letter form. It’s annoying slow, very limiting, and ruins the flow of a book for me. I just can’t get into a book written entirely in letters. (Not alphabet letters! Letters as in written correspondence between two people. Don’t be cheeky.) Wisdom’s Kiss is a story told in letters, journal entries, and one part memoir. There are two characters who write in letters, two characters that write in journal entries, and one character whose part is written as a third person memoir. There are even little snippets of a play thrown in for flavor. I don’t have to tell you that the constant change in view point is very jarring and kept me from finding my feet among so many characters. The number of characters does not help either. There seems to be two main female characters and one main male character with a lot of secondary characters running around being confused or evil depending on the moment. The reader doesn’t know who to focus on and the book ends up feeling like a badly skipping film.

I was about 1/3 way into Wisdom’s Kiss when I realized “it’s effing Puss in Boots!” and that was only because the swordsmen/acrobat being called The Booted Maestro repeatedly. This tale has been turned on its head and is only barely recognizable as Puss in Boots. After that point I heard Antonio Banderas’ voice everywhere. I couldn’t help it! I never knew whose story I was reading either. Was I reading Tips’ story? He was a moron in my opinion. Should I be cheering for Princess Wisdom? She was a brat. Or was Trudy the real star? She was bit of a featherbrain and lackluster for me. Nobody really stood out because we were always jumping from character to character.

I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Despite it being written in my least favorite format, it was still a complicated story that you could really sink your teeth into. You had to keep on your toes. It would have probably been my favorite book so far this year if it had been written in third person. Wisdom’s Kiss is a fascinating retelling of the Puss in Boots fairy tale but it’s a retelling that sort of gets tangled up in itself. It took me awhile to muddle through it and while I liked it, the book would have benefited from a different, more linear formant.

Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Published September 13th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
284 pages
Stand alone; not part of a series

Book Review: Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

As a reader of fanfiction, stories with gay characters are very familiar to me but I was still excited to find a published book with a gay character. Published books with LGBT characters are rare and it’s only recently that I’ve seen such books floating around. I really enjoy books with non-traditional characters and was looking forward to seeing how an LGBT character was handled. So I’m very pleased to bring you my review for Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey.

Goodreads summary: Braden was born with witch eyes: the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, darkness, and magic. The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but at the cost of horrible pain. After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden retreats to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties. As rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe desperately try to use Braden’s powers to unlock Belle Dam’s secrets, Braden vows never to become their sacrificial pawn. But everything changes when Braden learns that Jason is his father–and Trey, the enigmatic guy he’s falling for, is Catherine’s son. To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—and risk losing the one he loves.

My biggest fear when reading this book was that the author would merely change the sex of the main character and that would be it. I was probably going to do something violent to the book if the gay character turned out to be a thinly disguised girl (because of course every gay character is completely effeminate). But, I was pleasantly surprised to find Braden a convincing gay character, clearly male and believable as a teenage boy. He was not helpless, weak-willed, or any other stereotype I was afraid to find when cracking open Witch Eyes. Braden is a confused teen who is doing the best he can with no information and a power he can’t control and the gay relationship is almost secondary. The characters are very well balanced.

Nobody is annoying and I don’t want to stab any character in their eye for being too stupid to live. (In case you haven’t noticed by now, not having a character that annoys the piss out of me is the biggest compliment I can give a book. That’s about 80% of a good review in my opinion.) There are a lot of characters running around this book, two of them we never even see. There is a lot of history in Belle Dam and many great characters that I wished had a bit more development. The story isn’t crowded or jerky but you do have to do a bit of work to keep track of everyone. The story branches off into several paths, some of them a dead end. We’re never quite sure what once happened in Belle Dam or even what is happening in the present.

The only complaint I could possibly make is that the beginning is a tad slow and you’re not sure anything is really happening until the action explodes and suddenly there are hellhounds and shapeshifters and Braden is badass with his powers and things start happening. (Wow. Run-on sentence.) But you are stuck the first half of the book waiting for all the pieces to come together and even then the book ends with only half the conflicts resolved. Witch Eyes is written in first person, which means we know what Braden knows and that is it. There is history and facts we are only vaguely aware of by the end of the book and it leaves a few gaps.

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey is the first published book with a LGBT main character I’ve ever read and I’m very impressed with how the gay character was portrayed. There is an intricate, twisting plot in this book that is slowly peeled back and leaves the reader guessing even at the end. The true villain is a huge surprise and kudos to Tracey for the complex labyrinth of secrets and lies. There are more than a few things left unfinished, including the gay relationship, and the second book in the series, Demon Eyes, is slated to be released October of this year. I look forward to it.

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
Published September 8th 2011 by Flux
332 pages
Witch Eyes #1; first in a series

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