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Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

I read and loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone the year it came out. I can’t believe it’s been four years since then! I don’t know why I put off reading its sequels, I think I wanted to wait until the trilogy is finished so I can read all three books together. I was in the mood to read about Prague and also to immerse myself in a good fantasy world so I picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone to reread and dove right into the second and third books. There are unavoidable spoilers for the first book in this combined review.

Days of Blood and Starlight
Days of Blood and StarlightVastly different from the first book in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight is all about the cycle of violence and vengeance involved in the never-ending war between the seraph and chimaera. Karou and Akiva are on opposite sides of the war and both are struggling to make the most out of their current situation, to find a way to atone for everything that they’ve done previously. The peace and tranquility of Karou’s human life in Prague gives a nice contrast to the war-torn world of Eretz. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about an epic love, its sequel is about soul-crushing heartbreak. Heartbreak not just for Karou and Akiva but also for all their people, for everyone who has only ever known war. I can’t say that I loved twists and turns that the story took but I have to admit that it’s a compelling read. Laini Taylor has a beautiful writing style. I wanted to keep reading but also didn’t want to continue because I didn’t want the characters to go through more pain. While it’s not easy to read, I did appreciate the empathy that this kind of story invokes in the reader. I really just want things to get better for everyone (well not the villains, of course). I started the third book right after finishing this one because I couldn’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Dreams of Gods and MonstersYou know how some series just keep getting better as it progresses? For me, this series was the opposite of that. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and thought it was a beautiful story. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the second book but I still found it an absorbing read. With Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I kept thinking more along the lines of, “What? What is going on here?” While Karou and Akiva’s storyline continues, other threads featuring new characters (Eliza and Scarab) are introduced. I wasn’t really invested in Eliza’s story and even skimmed some of the sections that were devoted to her. Scarab was more interesting but it might have been better if there was more than a hint about her people in the earlier books. At the end of the book, the varying threads of the story are pulled together but it didn’t feel seamless to me. I got the feeling that Laini Taylor was trying to tie loose ends and create an epic mythology encompassing Eretz and Earth but it felt a bit all over the place for me. From the start, the trilogy was focused on Karou, Akiva and the war between their people. The new elements in this last installment made the main focus of the trilogy feel smaller and less significant. I think there really was just one thing that I liked in Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which was the sweet secondary romance. Aside from that, I kept reading only because I wanted to see how the story would end. And even that wasn’t as satisfying as I would like. The end felt more like the beginning of the end – raising more questions than settling answers. It really makes me sad that I didn’t love the whole trilogy since it started really strong for me.


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I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I heard a lot of buzz about I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios months before it came out. Bloggers who have read early review copies were raving about how good it is. I was pretty excited to read it and started on it when I was in the mood for a contemporary YA novel. It’s been a few months since I finished reading this and I feel bad that I haven’t posted a review of this wonderful book until now but I’m trying to do my best to catch up on blog stuff, especially on reviews for books that I loved. I made the mistake of starting this book on a Sunday, which led to me staying up all night to finish reading it and I was a zombie at work the next day.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

I'll Meet You ThereIf seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Wow, this is the first book by Heather Demetrios that I’ve read but it definitely won’t be the last! I’ll Meet You There is beautifully written and captures a slice of California that most people won’t be familiar with. For someone like me who has countless friends and relatives who have migrated to the US because it gives people better opportunities than the Philippines, it’s interesting to read about Americans who struggle to attain what others take for granted. Yes, it’s true that most Filipinos who move to the States do get an improved quality of life than what they’d get back home (actually that’s true for me as well – I’m in Singapore for the same reasons) but the US is huge and there are places like Creek View where the inhabitants are in pretty bleak situations. The small town setting and the daily struggles of the characters in I’ll Meet You There all felt unapologetically real. The kind of life that Sky, Josh and their friends lead make your heart ache for them. I could see why Sky and her best friend Chris have always had this dream and vision of going beyond the confines of their small town, to go to places where they would have better lives. The book describes the setting as “the armpit of California” and I think it’s such a fitting description. It’s no wonder that Josh escapes from Creek View by joining the Marines but his military career is unexpectedly cut short by a life-changing injury and he has no choice but to go back to the town he desperately wanted to leave. While I know next to nothing about situations similar to what Josh went through, I felt that his experience is portrayed realistically.

“In my essay for San Fran, I’d written about how I’d always felt like there was something magical about taking bits and pieces of the world around me and creating something whole. It gave me hope: if you could make a beautiful piece of art from discarded newspapers and old matchbooks, then it meant that everything had potential. And maybe people were like collages – no matter how broken or useless we felt, we were an essential part of the whole. We mattered.”

What I loved about I’ll Meet You There is that even though there’s a lot of sadness and emotional weight in the story, it never becomes overwhelming. I loved the balance between despair and hope, something which only the very best of authors are able to create. There’s a strong and beautiful friendship between Sky, Chris and Dylan – they understand each other so well and do their best to support each other even if they don’t always agree with what the other person is thinking or feeling. They have their way of coping with their problems like reminding each other of the vision, getting crazy on the dance floor or focusing on art by doing collages. Sky also finds refuge in her job at the Paradise Hotel where she has a great boss who is like a second mother to her. I think it’s pretty obvious from the book’s description that there’s a romance in this one. It was a very swoon-worthy, slow burn romance which I gobbled right up. So good! There was a point that had me worried for the two lovebirds, because I had no idea how things will unfold – I didn’t want the story to go in a direction where I wouldn’t be able to forgive one of the characters. But I’m happy to say that I was more than satisfied with what happened. A realistic YA novel reminiscent of Something Like Normal by Trish Doller and Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols, I’ll Meet You There was worth all the hype that it generated.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Pirate Penguin Reads
Alexa Loves Books
Perpetual Page Turner


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Ivy League Series by Diana Peterfreund

Secret Society Girl and seal

Photo taken using Instagram.

I hereby confess, Diana Peterfreund’s Ivy League series is not for me. It pains me to make this confession since this is a new adult series that has been highly recommended by several friends. I wanted to love it as much as they seemed to, but unfortunately, I just couldn’t relate to all the secret society drama. I felt that all the Rose and Grave issues were petty and I wanted the characters to focus on more important things. As a result, I wasn’t invested in the characters as much as I would have liked. When I was reading the first book, I thought Amy’s voice was funny and I was also curious about her love interest but those weren’t enough to sustain my interest. I read the first three books in the series and skimmed the last one just to find out what happened in the end. Even though I didn’t fall in love with the series, I’m glad I finally gave it a try since I’ve been curious about it for a while now. We can’t all like the same books so I would still recommend this to fans of books with a college setting or readers who find secret societies intriguing. Personally, I enjoyed Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Series a lot more.

Reading order for the Ivy League series by Diana Peterfreund:
Secret Society Girl
Under the Rose
Rites of Spring Break
Tap and Gown


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The Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen

I was chatting with my good friend Angie about books recently and she mentioned that the Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen is pretty good. Here’s the tweet where she recommends them:

Since this series has Angie’s stamp of approval, further evidenced by her glowing review of The Year We Hid Away, I read the books as soon as I could.

recommended by Angie

An image created by fellow YAcker Laura

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried ice skating (obviously it’s not common in sunny Manila or Singapore) and what I know of hockey is basically what I’ve seen on the Mighty Ducks movies when I was young. But I think it’s a fun sport, even if I’m not familiar with it, so that’s one aspect of the series that I enjoyed reading about. Another thing that I really liked was the fictional Ivy League college setting of the book. I loved my college years and it makes me happy to read about characters who are at that stage in their lives. So far, the only books that have a college setting that have made a positive impact on me are Easy by Tamarra Webber and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Now I can add Sarina Bowen’s books to that (short) list.

The Year We Fell Down and tea

The Year We Fell Down and TWG’s Grand Wedding tea

The Year We Fell Down

I started The Year We Fell Down late one night and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get into the story. I stayed up late and was able to read a good chunk of it, but had to eventually go to bed and get some sleep because I had work the next day. For a novel that has a main character who was recently in an accident, The Year We Fell Down didn’t have as much angst as I was expecting. I really liked Corey and sympathized with the situation she found herself in – to suddenly have lost the function of her legs is brutal for someone who has always wanted a career in sports. I feel like she handles her issues well in spite of all the difficult adjustments that she has to make in her life. At first, she mostly interacts with her roommate Dana and their neighbor Hartley, but eventually she starts exploring her options and expanding her circle. I really enjoyed reading about how she takes charge of her life. I liked the slow burn romance between Corey and Hartley and how it started with the two of them hanging out as friends. Hartley is a great guy but he has his own problems to deal with and I felt that it took a while for him to work through them. He was being quite dense for a while there. I also felt like the build-up of their relationship was much better than the final few chapters of the book. It’s still an enjoyable read overall but I think the other books in the series are stronger than this installment.

The Year We Hid Away

The Year We Hid Away

Oh boy! Bridger and Scarlet sure have some pretty serious problems in their lives and none of it is their fault. Both are caught in difficult situations because of their parents. Bridger and Scarlet are just doing the best that they can and taking things one day at a time. Bridger doesn’t even have room in his life for a relationship and he doesn’t plan to get involved with Scarlet but they just click and become friends anyway. It’s a very realistic college development: how they hang out during lunch, walk to classes together and study together. It’s funny that these two are both hockey players but they don’t even bond over the game because they both have their reasons for not joining the varsity team this season. That’s one thing that I wish we got to see more of, it would have been nice if they got to spend some time together on the ice. I’m glad we got to see more of Bridger than how he was shown in the first book, basically a player who parties hard. There’s really so much more to him than that and it’s amazing how he copes with everything that’s going on with his life. I really liked Scarlet and could understand her need to move away from her parents and get a fresh start in college. Bridger and Scarlet are pretty similar in the sense that they felt like they had to deal with their problems on their own, so I liked seeing them rely on each other as their relationship developed. I was hoping to see more of Hartley and Corey in this installment but Bridger was actively distancing himself from his friends because he didn’t want to burden them with his problems. But that’s a minor issue that I had with the book and I was fully absorbed from start to finish. I was happy with how things worked out towards the end.

Blonde Date and granola

Blonde Date and breakfast (granola with almond milk)

Blonde Date

Blonde Date is different from the rest of the books in the series because it’s a novella that occurs in between books 2 and 3 and has nothing to do with hockey. If you read The Year We Hid Away, you already know how Blonde Date will end. I enjoyed this quick read because it features secondary characters from the second book. Andy was such a nice guy and was a huge help to Bridger so I liked seeing him in the limelight. He really deserved to get a date with a girl he’s been crushing on. It was also nice to see that there was Katie had more depth than was initially depicted in the earlier book. Short and sweet, Blonde Date was a fun read that had its funny moments (e.g. Andy’s internal monologue).

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year and green tea brioche

The Understatement of the Year
Rikker and Graham! Oh my goodness, these two boys have such a bittersweet romance. So much history between the two of them. And then so much tension when they meet again a few years after they’ve parted ways. I wanted to hug these two and tell them that everything will be all right. I love that Sarina Bowen chose to do something different by bringing in an M/M romance in a series that has earlier M/F novels. I found it fascinating to read two different perspectives in this novel: Rikker who is openly gay vs. Graham who has hidden deep inside the closet. It’s funny that the situations they find themselves in are so different and yet they’re both so isolated and lonely. Rikker struggles with being accepted and recognized as a part of the hockey team and also has to deal with being a transfer student. Graham can’t even figure out whether he’s straight or gay and therefore, can’t really be true to himself, his friends or his family. He tries to numb himself with as much alcohol as he can take the moment Rikker enters the scene because he has no idea what to do. To be honest, there were moments when Graham was being frustratingly difficult but I forgive him because he has reasons for being like that and he really is sweet and loyal in his own way. I was a little nervous while reading their story because I really wanted things to work out for them. They’ve already had enough heartbreak in their lives and they deserve to have some happiness. I liked that the story didn’t just revolve around these two guys but also involved their teammates (Hartley was a steady presence in this one), their friends and their family. I loved Graham’s mom, Rikker’s grandma, their mutual friend Bella and even Rikker’s ex Skippy. It was a pleasure reading about Rikker and Graham and their story stayed with me days after I finished the book. A solid installment in a series that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

___________

These books are companion novels and can stand well enough on their own. Some characters overlap but I don’t think one book spoils any of the others. If anything, I wanted the books to be more closely tied together – to see all of the characters hang out and be good friends to each other because they all deserve to have trustworthy friends who will stand up for them. I feel like Sarina Bowen has a knack for writing about characters in messy situations, with more serious problems on top of the usual ones that a regular college student would have. I always root for her characters and I’m more than satisfied with how their problems are resolved. The Ivy Years is a really good series and I’ve been recommending it left and right, definitely one of my favorite discoveries this year. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, I heard it’s going to be about Bella, who was a pretty important character in The Understatement of the Year. Good to know she’ll be getting her own story!


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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

There has been a lot of buzz about I’ll Give You the Sun in the book blogosphere. I’ve seen bloggers who received review copies of this, raving about the book. I read Jandy Nelson’s debut novel The Sky is Everywhere back in 2010 and I have fond memories of it even if I barely remember the details since it’s been so long. I’ve been looking forward to I’ll Give You the Sun and it made me happy that I had an added reason to bump it up when it got chosen for our book club discussion.

I'll Give You the Sun

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways… until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else — an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

I found I’ll Give You the Sun an absorbing read. It was easy to get into and kept me interested until the end. It reminded me of some of the Aussie YA contemps that I’ve loved because it has a similar feel and tone. It’s a novel filled with flawed characters who have experienced difficult situations, who are trying to live life one day at a time. Jude and Noah are teenage twins, both filled with a lot of artistic potential. Noah paints and draws the world as he sees it. Jude creates sand sculptures of women, and also designs and sews dresses, which she learned how to do from their grandmother. The narrative changes from Noah’s point of view when the siblings are 13 years old to Jude’s 16-year-old perspective. These two have such strong personalities and it was fun to read their narration. They’re super close at the start of the story but drift apart later on. I kept reading because I wanted to know the events that led to the emotional distance between two people who were previously inseparable. I also wanted to see them heal their brokenness together. This leads me to one point that kept me from truly loving the book. I felt like there was a lot of grief, hurt and pain in I’ll Give You the Sun and yes, there was also hope, forgiveness and healing but I don’t think there was enough to create a balance. Maybe it would have been better if the ending was extended a bit? I don’t know if that would have worked but I just felt like I wanted more from the story. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading I’ll Give You the Sun. There’s a lot to like in this book – such as the complex relationships between family members, the slow burn romance, the quirky narration and all the descriptions of art. I think most readers of contemporary YA would enjoy reading this. I will definitely be watching out for Jandy Nelson’s next book.


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Retro Friday: Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I became curious about Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant back when Angie did a Retro Friday review of it. It seemed like a very interesting, under-the-radar historical fiction novel. I was delighted when I found a bargain copy of it in one of the used bookstores in Manila. I thought the cover looked great and I liked the gold accents in the design. That copy has been patiently waiting in my TBR pile for years. Since I’ve been trying to be better about reading books that I have physical copies of, I picked it up when I was in the mood for historical fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:
A warhorse.
A fair maiden.
A just cause.

Will has a horse – a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight.

Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant – Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna…

Blood Red Horse instagram

Blood Red Horse is set in the time period when Richard the Lionheart serves as the king of England and he leads his men on a crusade against the Muslim leader Saladin. To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about this part of history because it wasn’t included in the curriculum in schools back home in the Philippines. It doesn’t really matter since I was able to enjoy reading Blood Red Horse even though I’m not familiar with the historical setting of the book. I liked how the book starts with Ellie, Will and Gavin as young children and how we see them grow and develop throughout the course of the book. More so in the boys’ case as they march off to join the crusade with their father. The boys were thoroughly excited to be knights of the crusade, not knowing that war is such a bleak and miserable business. Ellie was left at home but she was destined to have adventures of her own.

Even at a young age, Will has the skills that make him a fine horseman. When he is finally permitted to choose a Great Horse, he sees something special in Hosanna, and immediately knows that he’s meant to have that particular horse even if Hosanna wasn’t exactly meant to be a warhorse. With the title of the book being Blood Red Horse, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that majority of the story focuses on Hosanna and how the horse influences everyone who gets to know him. However, I thought it was a bit strange how fixated everyone was on Hosanna. I understood Will’s fascination because Hosanna becomes his reliable and faithful companion for years, but everyone else that comes in contact with Hosanna? I just thought it was a bit much for a non-magical horse. (If Hosanna had magic, I think it would have made more sense why he inspires such strong emotions in people.)

I’m usually not a fan of stories about war and true enough, I didn’t really enjoy the passages that centered around the crusade because I found it such a sad experience for the boys and everyone involved. As expected, there’s some violence in there but in an understated way. What I did like was how readers get to see two sides of the war, instead of being biased towards one side. They may disagree about their faith/religion but both leaders of the two groups, Richard and Saladin, see the other person as a brave and worthy opponent. As a result, there’s no clear villain in the story. What we have instead is two groups of people fighting for what they believe in. As I mentioned earlier, I also liked the character development of Ellie, Will and Gavin and I’m really curious what the next books will have in store for them. While I didn’t fall in love with Blood Red Horse, I did think it deserves more attention than it’s currently gotten. If you’re a fan of the historical period of Richard the Lionheart’s reign or of stories about horses, then I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this book.


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Isla and the Happily Ever by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After was one of my highly anticipated releases for this year since I really enjoyed reading both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. Those titles are quite a mouthful, aren’t they? I kept seeing other bloggers post pictures of their review copies of Isla and this just made me want to read the book more. Also, I’m still bummed that Stephanie Perkins visited Manila and I wasn’t able to attend the event (so many authors have visited the Philippines since I moved to Singapore). I was so excited when I finally got a copy of Isla so of course, I read it as soon as I could.

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

I really enjoyed reading Isla and the Happily Ever After and I think I like it just as much or maybe even a bit more than Anna and the French Kiss. Isla and Josh are both great characters. I liked how there’s so much more to them that what was previously shown in the first book. I found it interesting that Isla is named after an island because “isla” is the Filipino word for island (pronounced is-lah instead of eye-lah though). I always think it’s awesome when of the characters in the book I’m reading is a reader herself. I could understand Isla’s thirst for adventure and how she satisfies that thirst by reading books. Also, how cute is it that Isla and Josh bonded over Joann Sfar? They made me want to read his graphic novels even though I’m not much of a graphic novel reader. I could really relate to Isla and her insecurities about not having a clue about what she wants to do in terms of her career – heck, I’m a decade older than her and I’m still figuring things out. I could also understand how she’s so forgiving of others but so hard on herself, to the point where she questions whether she’s worthy of being loved. I loved her friendship with Kurt and how she had to learn how to balance having a guy best friend with having a boyfriend. On a counterpoint to Isla’s ambiguity, Josh is very passionate about his art and he knows that he wants to pursue a degree that would enable him to focus on this field. My artistic talent is limited to stick figures so I’m always in awe of artists. I enjoyed reading about Josh and his art and would have loved to see samples of them if that was possible.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is partially set in New York, Paris and Barcelona. I’ve never been to New York so I can’t really say anything about the scenes set there. But having read Laura Florand’s vivid and detailed descriptions of Paris, I feel like Stephanie Perkins’ imagery pales in comparison. Isla mentions that she’s comfortable enough in Paris for it to feel like home but I don’t think she was able to portray that in a believable way. I did love the Barcelona scenes since they were from the perspective of tourists, with both Josh and Isla visiting the city for the first time. It reminded me of my own trip there earlier this year because we visited the same tourist spots, mostly the sites of Gaudi’s work.

I think Stephanie Perkins excels in portraying realistic teenage romance. She gets how awkward it is to have a serious crush on someone. And how tentative things are at the start when the two parties realize that what they feel might be mutual and there’s just all this tension between Isla and Josh. Then it transforms into a new-found relationship that makes both of them giddy with happiness. Even the issues that they they had to deal with felt authentic. I was really rooting for them and the way they changed and matured throughout the course of the novel was satisfying. I had so much fun reading this book and would recommend it to any fan of YA contemporary.

Here are some pictures from my Barcelona trip that are related to the book. Casa Batllo is probably my favorite Gaudi-designed house:
Barcelona - Casa Batllo Barcelona - Casa Batllo (2)

The awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia:
Barcelona - Sagrada Familia1 Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

On top of the world a.k.a. the view of Barcelona from Parc Guell:
Barcelona 2014 - view from Parc Guell

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