*** Please note that various posts will contain affiliate links for Amazon. Purchases from these links will make me a small percentage in store credit. ***

29 January 2015

Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary

When I was young I had daydreams of growing up to be just like those great fiesty spitfire women I got to watch on weekend tv or read about in the books on my grandmother's shelves.

Like Emma Peel.

Or Nora Charles. 

Or Tuppence Cowley Beresford.

First introduced to the world in Agatha Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary, Tuppence (whose given name is Prudence) is an old childhood friend of Tommy Beresford's. They meet up by chance after both having been released from wartime duties. They soon realize that they're without much in the way of funds or of prospects. Marrying into wealth isn't as easy as it sounds and neither is finding employment. Tuppence has an idea, though.

They decide to put an advertisement in the newspaper: "Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused." Their joint venture, The Young Adventures, Ltd -- and one of my favorite literary pairings -- begins.

Before the advertisement can even be taken to the paper Tuppence is approached by a man named Mr. Whittington who overheard their conversation and wishes to engage her services. When she goes to meet him she gives him a false name (so as to not have it get back to her clergyman father), Jane Finn. At the time she doesn't recall hearing the name from Tommy -- she believes that she just pulled it out of thin air. Mr Whittington's reaction is quite peculiar and he demands to know what she knows and who she's learned it from. Of course, Tuppence has no idea what he's talking about but plays along to a degree and he pays her off but tells her to return the next day. Later, Tommy reminds Tuppence that he's the one who first told her the name "Jane Finn" and they decide that they have to find out more by investigating Whittington.

"Sort of thing one reads about in books." Oh, Agatha ... you funny, funny author.

Sooooo the next day the two head for Whittington's office only to find that Whittington and the entire company has vanished! Mysterious, right? And all of this just in the first 11% of the book -- there's a lot more to come!

This is not a murder mystery. It's more political espionage and intrigue than cozy. Even though it's typically not my preferred type of story to read,  I still feel like I have to love it.

Because it's Christie.

Because without it we never would have had the BBC Partners in Crime series of the early 1980's (or the upcoming series in celebration of Christie's 125th birthday).

Because of that I love Tommy & Tuppence.

I'm typically one of the first ones to spout out that the book is always better than the tv or film version. Well ... The Secret Adversary is old enough that it's in the public domain and free in the US. No reason not to get it and give it a shot. You may love it. You may want to stick with the on-screen version like I tend to, though.

28 January 2015

Books n Bloggers Swap Show Off!

I was thrilled to be paired with Beverly of Booklady's Booknotes for the Chaotic Goddess Swaps' Books & Bloggers Swap!

Now, in case you can't remember, each blogger was paired with another and then we had to ship 3 books : 1 that we love, 1 that was on our partners wishlist, and 1 that we want to read but haven't. I knew right away that I would have fun shopping for Beverly and that I would love whatever she picked out for me because we have incredibly similar reading tastes! It was actually difficult for me to pick out one that I love to send her because I wanted to make sure that she hadn't already read it, too! (I think I finally succeeded in that, though, thanks to hours scouring her blog and her GoodReads)

I received my package today and was absolutely thrilled!
Yep. That's 5 books instead of 3
(And 2 bookmarks I came SO CLOSE to buying for myself the last time I was in B&N!)

So, the book from my wishlist: Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories : The Wishing Spell. I didn't realize when I first added the book to my wishlist that it's the same Colfer from the show Glee. I watched it religiously for it's first few seasons. The book (the first in a series) sounds right up my middle-grade-fantasy-loving alley. Even better? It looks good to John, too!

The book Beverly wants to read but hasn't yet: Maggie King's Murder at the Book Group. It's the first in a new series of cozy mysteries and we both love cozies!

And, finally, the book(s) that she loves: Darby Karchut's Finn Finnegan, Gideon's Spear, and The Hound at the Gate ... and they're all signed by the author! (John thinks that's super-uber-awesome ... and I have to agree!)

Thanks so much, Beverly! I look forward to reading my new treasures!

Caroline Dunford's A Death In The Family

A quick little ramble about a quick little read. If I hadn't been distracted by work and stupid Facebook games I probably would have finished it in a single work shift with time to spare!

After her father, a vicar, unexpectedly falls dead face first into his dinner 18 year old Euphemia ("Effie") Martin takes it upon herself to get a job in order to help support her mother and younger brother. She answers an advertisement for service help at the home of Lord and Lady Stapleford using fictional experience and soon after arriving at the home finds a dead body in a service corridor. Being newly there and obviously not a professional housemaid, she's immediately on the top of the suspect list. She tries to explain herself by admitting only that she's in service because of her father's death -- but omits the fact that her family is actually of higher social standing than her employers. (Her grandfather is an Earl but pretty much disowned Effie's mother when she married or something like that.)

The year is 1910 which gives the tale a feel of the original ITV run of Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey. Please note, though, that I've ONLY mentioned the shows in case you're not otherwise familiar with the time period and the separation of the servants from the family. I saw it suggested that the book was some sort of spoof on Downton. This, of course, would be hard to pull off since the book was first published a year before Downton hit the air. I'm nitpicking. I'm in one of those moods. (These are the same types of reviewers who complain that English spellings are used instead of American. Eesh.)

Anyway, it's a pleasant enough read. Euphemia is often quick to act/speak before she thinks things through. She's 18 years old, after all, and I can imagine that 18 year olds in 1910 weren't all that different than 18 year olds now (at least as far as the whole ability to keep their mouth shut part goes). Of course not everyone in the household reacts well to her but she does bond rather quickly with some of the members from each side of the house -- the servants as well as the family. In fact, she ends up teaming up with one of the Stapleford sons to clear her name, keep her position, and solve the crime.

For me the relationship between Euphemia and Bertram is the highlight of the whole book. The mystery aspect was decently written, but for me it was secondary to Effie and Bert. They play off of each other quite wonderfully and it makes me eager to see what (if anything) may happen between them in the future. This is, after all, book one of a series that is so far 6 1/2 books long....

26 January 2015

Alan Finn's Things Half In Shadows

***I received this title for free thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books. 
Receiving this at no charge in no way influenced my feelings.***

It's 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Civil War had ended only 4 years prior and the Spiritualist Movement was having a boom. People were desperate to reach out to their lost loved ones and looked to mediums for help in doing so. While some mediums were thought to truly have a gift at connecting with the dead, many were thought to be tricksters and illusionists.

Edward Clark is a war veteran-turned newspaper reporter who mainly covers crime in the city, has been given the assignment of uncovering the truth about the mediums working in Philadelphia. Not only is he familiar with crime, but also with illusions -- having performed several for coworkers in the past. Illusions, the reader soon learns, that he learned from his parents who were performers when he was young. At the age of ten he witnessed his mother's death during a performance and saw his father arrested for her murder. His own life, in fact, is an illusion. Edward Clark, you see, is a borrowed identity.

Setting out on his task to take down the charlatans, Edward encounters the "medium" Mrs Lucy Collins and quickly figures out the truth behind her "gift."  Lucy also figures out the truth about Edward, though, and convinces him (through blackmail) to work with her to take down her competition. He gets his story, gets to keep the secret of his identity, and she gets the business left behind when the others are shut down and/or run out of town.

Their first visit is to a séance at the home of Lenora Grimes Pastor -- the most well-known medium in the city. Pastor appears to be authentic but, before the end of the night, she dies. The police declare it to be murder and all those who were in attendance, of course, are suspects. This includes Edward and Lucy, a married couple who lost their son in the war, a widow, and the famed showman (and known skeptic of Spiritualism) P.T. Barnum. Knowing that their lives will be in limbo until the true killer is discovered, Edward and Lucy continue to work together to seek out the truth.

There's so much that I love about this book.

There are ghost stories, of course, and I love a good ghost story.

There are mysteries upon mysteries ... with more mysteries upon those.

There's Philadelphia. (Tom and I have discussed at great length how the only other city we could see ourselves living in happily is Philly.) The setting is laid with such vivid detail that I feel like I can clearly place myself in 1869 Philly complete with the sights and sounds and smells and, for lack of a better word, feels.

You know, like "the feels?"

And oh are there ever feels! Especially when it comes to our sleuthing do, Edward and Lucy.

Edward tries so hard to be proper and gentlemanly and not the son of a convicted murderer/illusionist. He lives in a proper little house making a proper living and is engaged to a proper young lady from a very proper family. And then there's Lucy. She's a handful and they butt heads quite regularly (let's not forget that they came together because he was making her out to be a fraud and she blackmailed him into not going through with it). She fascinates him, though, and seems to give him the spark that was otherwise missing in his proper little life. Likewise, he seems to give her a sense of legitimacy and importance that was probably missing from her not-at-all-proper life.

You should know by now that I won't tell you what happens. You should pick up the book yourself (the cover image at the top of the page is a link, by the way). What I will tell you is that it seems as though this may not be the last we see of Edward and Lucy and I, for one, cannot wait to see what comes next.

23 January 2015

Colette London's Criminal Confections

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books I was able to read Colette London's Criminal Confections in advance of its January 27th release date. Receiving this at no charge in no way influenced my feelings.

Criminal Confections is the first book in the new Chocolate Whisperer series -- a cozy featuring chocolate expert Hayden Mundy Moore. It's also the first book penned under the name "Colette London" ... but that's just a pseudonym. I finally figured out who "Colette London" is and I must say I was suprised. I had actually expected it to be a cozy mystery author I'm already familiar with since it felt as though I was reading a new tale from someone I consider an old friend (I grow quite attached to authors even if I've never actually met them).

Anyway, pretty much right off the bat I knew that I was going to like Hayden. She's my kind of girl. Well, the "monkey on NoDoz" part of her, anyway. 

As I mentioned, Hayden is a chocolate expert. She knows pretty much everything there is to know on the subject -- and how to fix problems for chocolate sellers/creators/whatevers in a discrete manner. She loves her work but hates the reports that come at the end. In exchange for receiving an extension on her latest report's due-date, she agrees to attend a retreat with her friend/ex-thug/security specialist Danny as her "plus-one" for chocolate industry professionals. The retreat is being held by her latest client, Christian Lemaitre, at a chocolate-themed spa resort owned by the company.

Early on during the retreat one of the company's employees dies. The police rule it an accidental overdose but Hayden's intuition tells her that there's been foul play. Because Hayden had quite liked the woman who died, she feels that she owes it to her departed friend to find out what really happened. 

Because of the fact that people are so happy to "dish" to her, Hayden learns quite a lot of inside secrets about the industry and the people around her at the retreat -- and even her "plus-one," Danny. I think at one point or another everyone is suspected of being up to no good except for Hayden and her financial advisor, Travis. (He's not even at the resort where the retreat is being held. We just get to eavesdrop on a lot of phone calls between Travis and Hayden. She has a crush on his voice, you see. I get it. I've had them, too.)

People are on and off and on and off the suspect list at an almost alarming rate. It may drive some readers crazy with confusion but it is a first person narrative from a girl who doesn't know anything about detective work, after all.

I find it rather endearing that she gets so boggled.

Of course, I'm not about to tell you how it ends. Forget it. You can even try plying me with chocolate but I won't give you even a hint.

On the other hand, please. Try. Ply. After reading about so much chocolate in this delightful book I really want some chocolate. Maybe in exchange for a little teeny tiny hint?

Don't forget -- January 27th you'll be able to buy your own copy. If you enjoy chocolate and you enjoy cozies, I really think you'll enjoy this.

21 January 2015

Initial Thoughts on Rhys Bowen & C.M. Broyles Dreamwalker

I received Dreamwalker from NetGalley and was beyond thrilled. I have always loved dragons and I'm already a fan of Rhys Bowen thanks to Her Royal Spyness. What would be better than a book about a dragon school of some sort written by Bowen and her daughter? Right?

From the cover: "Seven children. Seven powers. One enemy."

Ooooooh this could be good!
It could be good.

I'm at the 40% mark in the book and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I'm not used to that.

Had this feeling of "meh" happened several months ago, I would have just been all "well, it IS written for children" and called it a day. I can't blame it on being "written for" a younger audience or for having a 12 year old as a main character, though.

According to Amazon:
Dreamwalker -- grades 4-8. The Gates -- grades 5-9. How To Train Your Dragon (reading with John and LOVING it) -- grades 3-7. Flavia de Luce -- 11 year old main character. Sophronia Temminick -- 14 year old main character.
According to a hospital in St. Lawrence County, NY:
Me -- 39 years old

So it definitely doesn't have anything to do with the itty bitty age gap. And it's not a bad book. If it was a bad book I wouldn't have made it all the way to 40%, right? It's just not holding my interest all that much. (I find John's book-crush/fictional-girlfriend Judy Moody more interesting than Addy Walker ... and at 40% she's the only one of the "seven children" mentioned on the cover that we really know anything about!)

If this was a television show -- say, your standard hour long primetime CW program -- and I wasn't hooked 40% in to the first episode I would be probably be turning it off and I think that's what I'll be doing now. (Granted, like your standard CW program I may try again at a later date and love it. It took me several "restarts" before I really got into Arrow, after all. There's still hope for Dreamwalker and an updated review .... some day.)

19 January 2015

In Which We Say Goodbye to Samuel Johnson .... For Now

The Gates has been finished and I loved it at the very end just as much as I loved it at Chapter 13. I'm so very glad that there are two more books in this series -- and that I already have both of them in ebook form. I'll need to get them in actual book-book, of course, but when I went to Barnes & Noble they were sold out. I guess I'll have to break down and order them at some point. (Hmmmm ... maybe when I get my next Amazon Affiliate credit.)

So on to the next. I signed up for a NetGalley account against my better judgement (since I already have so many to-be-reads it makes my head spin). Quite a few of my fellow book bloggers oooh and aaah about NetGalley so I figured I would at least take a look. The first book I saw (and then received)? The first in a new series geared toward 4th-8th graders by Rhys Bowen and her daughter!

Rhys, of course, writes the Royal Spyness series (amongst others) and I'm already a fan from those. I can't wait to see how she and her daughter tackle dragons! (It fits in my alphabet-series-random-alphabet-Christie schedule, too!)

Next up (thanks to NetGalley):

GoodReads Blurb:
Seven children. Seven special powers. One enemy.
Addy is a typical California surfer girl until her mother dies and she is sent to a strange boarding school in Wales, where one hallway leads not to another part of the school but to another universe. Addy has always had vivid dreams. Now it seems this power to dream has made her the enemy of the powerful ruler of Gallia.
How can Addy and her new friends be any match for the powerful Grymur who calls himself The One in a world where nothing makes sense.
If you loved Harry Potter, this is for you. By New York Times bestselling author and her daughter.

16 January 2015

John Connolly's The Gates - Initial Thoughts

I'm just about to start chapter thirteen of The Gates and it seems like the perfect spot to pause and go
Well, you don't have to. I mean, it's not like I'm going to hunt you down and strap you to a chair and force you to read it. Even if I did do such a thing, it's possible (I suppose) that you wouldn't like it. It's possible that you have no sense of humor. You may live a life with no whimsy in it at all. You may be such a sucktastic stick in the mud that it would be entirely wasted on you. (If any of these ring true, please leave now.)

So, let's start at the very beginning -- a very good place to start. (Go ahead ... just ask Maria von Trapp.) 

See? I told you. A very good place to start.

But even BEFORE the first paragraph .... the table of contents!
This is worth picking up just for the chapter titles. 

No. Not just for the chapter titles because that would be awfully silly. Who in their right mind would get a book just because of chapter titles?

[In regards to the title for Chapter II : The "small boy" is the main character, Samuel. He's 11. And awesome. His dog, Boswell, is pretty awesome as well. The people who are up to no good? Well, not so awesome. You know, being up to no good and all.]

Okay, so maybe if I had picked up the book and only glanced at the contents I would have, indeed, taken the book home with me just because of the chapter titles. No one ever said I was in my right mind, though. And, really, the footnotes are even more awesome than the chapter titles.

Yes. Footnotes.

26 of them, in fact.

So far I've encountered the first 20 and they're all hilarious:

and, sometimes, even educational:

Nurd? You meet him in Chapter V. For a "bad deity" he, too, is pretty awesome so far. At least he's entertaining.

Basically what we have here is another so-called "children's book" full of awesome. (Amazon lists it as "Age level: 10-14.") To be fair, though, I'm not sure yet that it's full of awesome. According to my handy-dandy ereader it says I'm 34% through. Of course, because of the footnotes and whatnot the book actually ends at 88%.

I'm not about to do the math to figure out how far through the actually story I actually am. So far it's awesome. Just take that and run with it.

Seriously. Run.

Go get this book. Read it. Love it. I'll even wait for you catch up with me so we can discuss it togeth.......

Ah, who the hell am I kidding? I'll have it done in a day or two. 
Less than that if I decide to sleep and feed my child at some point.

14 January 2015

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles

This is going to be far more of a ramble than a "review" so bear with me.

Growing up, I was spoiled by superstations. The biggest culprits being WOR and WPIX -- Channels 9 and 11 out of New York City. They aired the greats. They introduced me to Laurel & Hardy, Twilight Zone, The Three Stooges, F-Troop, Charlie Chan, Jim Rockford, Cary Grant, Danny Kaye ... and Agatha Christie. My absolute favorites were And Then There Were None and Murder On The Orient Express (it amused me to no end that Charlie Chan and Hercule Poirot were so similar ... of course, both being played by the late great Peter Ustinov).

Anyway, being quite young when I first started to watch them, I had yet to fall in to the "Must. Go. In. Order." mindtrap once I realized that they actually came in book form as well. My grandmother had several Agatha Christie books on her shelves and I would read them as best as I could and as often as I could. When I started to acquire the ebooks to lead up to this year's birthday read-a-thon I realized that I may not have ever read the very first: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

(Do yourself a favor and get a hard copy ... or at least make sure that 
your e-copy indicates that it has the illustrations. They're pretty nifty.)

The tale is a first-person narrative given by Arthur Hastings (much like John Watson tells the tales of Sherlock Holmes).

Yay! I big puffy-heart LOVE Hastings! Especially the ITV Hastings. Ooooh Hugh Fraser and those eyes ... SO much dreamier than the Hastings of my youth. Seriously. The best part of the TV adaptations has been the increased presence of Hastings as he only really appeared in eight out of thirty-three Poirot novels.

Anyway, back to the novel at hand.

Hastings is off to stay with his old friend, John Cavendish, and his rather dysfunctional family -- wife, brother, stepmother, her new husband, her niece and several servants. During an early conversation with John's beguiling wife, Mary, she asks Hastings what he might do with himself now that he's back.

So, yes. This is the first Hercule Poirot novel ... but we don't even see the little fellow until Hastings literally runs into him about 10% in:

It is quite the stroke of luck that Poirot is so close since, of course, a mysterious death occurs a short time later. It's John's stepmother and he asks Hastings to have Poirot investigate. Poirot agrees and Hastings tries to help.His earlier mention of using his friend's method of detection but having "progressed rather further" is seen to be a bit of an exaggeration.

Often left in the dark with what his little friend is thinking, Hastings still tags along hoping to come up with some way to be of use and show his worth.

Suspects are plentiful, of course. Even we, the readers, are left to wonder "who-done-it," what Poirot is thinking, and whether any of his "little ideas" ever mean anything at all. That's one of the glorious things, I believe. We go along for the ride with Hastings and the rest of the crew wondering what the heck is going on.

Arrests are made, acquittals are made, and at times even Poirot is frustrated that things don't seem to be falling into place. Then voilà! Poirot calls everyone together and reveals all -- arranging all of the facts into their proper places and making sense of it all.

Is it the best mystery novel ever written?
Of course not.
Is it well worth reading?
Mais oui, mes amis.

11 January 2015

Alan Bradley's The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie

Have you ever woken up the morning after finishing a book with a sense of utter grief after remembering that the book has been completed?

I woke up this morning, grabbed my phone, and pulled open my reading app ... and then remembered that I had finished The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie before going to bed last night. I was forlorn. I gave a little sniffle and added my next book to my GoodReads. Even though I've been looking forward to the next read, Sweetness is going to linger in my head and heart for a good long while. It almost seems unfair to read something else right away.

The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie is the first in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. 

(First of all, how awesome is that name?) 

I was in love as soon as I had read the first paragraph:

The tale is told by Flavia de Luce (sometimes referred to as Flave), an 11 year old girl in 1950 England. She's obsessed with chemistry (especially poisons), tortured (literally) by her sisters (13 year old Daphne and 17 year old Ophelia), beloved by the family's live-in Jack-of-all-trades, Dogger, and often lost in the shuffle by her philatelist Father. Her mother, Harriet, disappeared when she was still an infant so she doesn't have any clear memory of her. It is said, though, that she's quite similar. 

One day a dead bird appears on their doorstep with a stamp on its beak. That night Flavia overhears an argument that her father is having with a man she doesn't know in his study. The man ends up dead in their cucumber patch, her father ends up being arrested, and Flavia ends up on the case.

It's a beautifully written book and one that I fully intend on purchasing in hardcover so I can have a copy of it "for real" on my bookshelf with my other treasured reads. Flavia, as the narrator, is a delight with "her" descriptions and observations. Considering that Alan Bradley is a 70 year old Canadian man writing as an 11 year old English girl, this is quite the amazing feat. The way she works out the problems that she is faced with made me hoot, more than once, "You go, girl!" There were also times when I wanted to wrap her in my arms and give her a giant well-deserved snuggle.

After-the-fact I read some of the negative reviews on GoodReads. Several of them complained about Flavia being a brat. Well, she IS eleven. And they complained about how "unrealistic" it was for her to be so knowledgeable about chemistry and for her sister Daphne to be so well-read. I call poppycock. I started sitting in on my mom's college courses when I was about 8 or 9. I read whatever the professors assigned and became enchanted with Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Not typical reading material for most children. I also went through a phase of knowing more than a child "should" about aeronautics. And architecture. And I'm fairly certain that if I lived on an estate with a fully decked out chemistry lab with a complete library of chemistry texts that I would have known more than a typical child about chemistry. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not being typical.


Earlier I mentioned on the Facebook page about how I was breaking my attempt at being random and going back to doing my A to Zs in order. And then I got thinking about how if I just did THAT it would take me a freaking eon to get back to my dear Flavia. And THEN I got thinking about how this is, still, the 125th birthday year of Agatha Christie and how I still really want to read a crapton of Poirot's. SOOOOO here's the Thing for the Thing:
Alphabet, Series, Random, Alphabet, Christie
Lather, rinse, repeat.
SO I did A (Auxier), then a Series (Peter Shandy), a Random (the CYOA), B (Bradley) and now next up:

Amazon Affiliate Link:
GoodReads Blurb:

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot Series #1)

Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Inglethorp, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery.

10 January 2015

Reading With John : Judy Moody Gets Famous!

We've had a bit of a crazy week this week with me having to work long strange hours, horrible weather, and then John coming down with a nasty little stomach bug. I have tonight off from work and he's feeling a little bit better so it's time for another edition of:

Today John did his mini-review of Judy Moody Gets Famous!

We first got to know Judy because of her little brother, Stink. Last year John read several of the Stink books and decided that this year he would move on to Judy since she's in the third grade like he is. I tease him about how if Judy Moody were real she'd probably be his girlfriend. (One of several, I have to admit!)

(everything in parentheses with an asterisk was said but no written)  

Title: Judy Moody Gets Famous!
Author: Megan McDonald
Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
What type of book is it? (funny? scary? serious?) funny (*more funny than serious, anyway)
Who is the main character? Judy Moody
Who are the secondary characters? Stink, Rocky, Frank, Mom and Dad, Jessica
Where is the setting? school, home, town (*which includes everyplace else)
What happened in the story? Judy wanted to get famous like Jessica and everybody else.
Did you learn anything? Being good is better (*and more important) than being famous.
Did you like it? Why? I liked that it is part of Judy's life. I love when she fixed all the dolls. (*I don't want to say too much because it might spoil the story for someone.)

06 January 2015

The Reading Thing 2015 - Now with LESS STRESS!




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