Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Reading on a Theme: What the Dead Left Behind

We are back with one of our longest-running series. In this "What the Dead Left Behind" post, our main characters once again face the loss of a loved one. Be sure to have your tissues handy. 

 More "What the Dead Left Behind" posts here.


A Plan
Amelia and Jenna have been best friends since the terrible day that Amelia's father left. When Jenna dies in a car accident, Amelia feels bound to stick to Jenna's plan for their lives after high school, even though she was never sure it was what she wanted. Then Amelia receives a mysterious edition of her and Jenna's favorite book, and Amelia knows she has to find out where this book came from even if it mean straying from Jenna's plan. Amelia Unabridged is Ashley Schumacher's debut novel. The people that Amelia meets on her journey are what really make this book, which is at times a bit heartbreaking, as is to be expected. Out February 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 


Crushing Guilt:
The Cohens, Luke, Rowan, and their mother Mel, are Jessi's family--in some ways more than her own family is. Things get complicated when Mel is diagnosed with cancer and friendship turns into something more with Luke, the older of the Cohen boys. Some Other Now is told in two timelines. It took a long time to get to the reveals in this book. I wanted to know what Jessi had done that made her feels so guilty. Despite the animosity between the two in the later timeline, I desperately wanted Luke and Jessi to be together. Sarah Everett's new book is sad, poignant, and a bit of tearjerker. Some Other Now was out February 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 

The Day They Met:
This isn't the rosy story of first love because Jack Ellison King only has four months with Kate before she dies. But instead of the story ending there, Jack is sent back in time to the moment he met Kate, and it all begins again. And again. Maybe next time Jack will be able to save Kate. Opposite of Always is a mix of first love, first loss, and Groundhog's Day. I'm always a sucker for the parallel reality set-up, and this book kind of falls into that camp. A story like this can easily become repetitive, but I think Justin A Reynolds did a pretty good job of keeping the timelines fresh and continuing Jack's character arc even when the event did repeat. Out March 2019. Review copy from Edelweiss. 


Ava's parents and cousin died in the house fire that left Ava with burns over 60% of her body. Now, a year later, Ava lives with her aunt and uncle and the committee on her life has decided it's time for her to get back to being a teenager. In other words, it's time for her to return to public school. Scars Like Wings is a book about figuring out what comes next and learning that hard things are better when we do them together. I really loved Ava and Piper's relationship. It was so real and raw. What Ava and Piper are going through is hard, and it's hard to be a good friend when you need a friend most. Erin Stewart delivers a great debut with this book. Out October 2019. Review copy from NetGalley.

The Lake: 
Emma Saylor's mother died when she was ten. Now, at seventeen, Emma is going to stay with her mother's family in North Lake. Here Emma is Saylor, the name her mother always called her, and, as she gets to know her extended family and their friends, she realizes she's been missing a part of herself. Now the question is, can she bring Saylor home with her? The Rest of the Story is such a perfect summer read. I loved the lake and Calvander's little motel. I loved all of Saylor's cousins, and I especially loved Roo. I really like how in Sarah Dessen's hands the two sides of the lake come to symbolize Emma Saylor's two sides, her family, and her past. Out June 2019. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2020

It's my favorite time of the year for bookish content. Give me all the "Favorite Reads" and "Best Books" posts. 

I had a hard time selecting my favorites this year. 2020 made for a different kind of reading year for me. I did more rereading this year than I have done in probably a decade. Rereading was one thing that helped me manage the stress of 2020 and all that it entailed. I was thinking about creating a category for "Favorite Reread," and for pure, nostalgic enjoyment the winner would have been New Moon. But, because it was already so hard to narrow this list down to 12, I decided to not to include it after all. 

The other big reading trend for me this year is that I read a lot of historical fiction. I guess getting away from my own time and place sounded really nice in 2020. 7 of the 12 books on this list are historical fiction and 2 are history books, and honestly, it was hard to keep it to that. 

This year I'm back to favorites from all publishing years. 7 books on this list were published in 2020 and the other 5 were published prior to 2020.

Onto the categories.

Another fantastic and hilarious book by the Lady Janies. Listening to this book was so much fun. So many Annie Get Your Gun references. So many werewolves. This book is borderline ridiculous, but it made me laugh out loud. There aren't enough funny books out there. 
Favorite Pandemic Book: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Earlier this year I created this post all about the many, many plague and pandemic books I've read. Believe it or not, I could now add several more books to the list, so I decided to make it a favorite category. This eerily timely book is set in Ireland during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. The main character is a nurse in a maternity ward for flu patients. This book is really fantastic, and I've thought a lot about it as the year has gone on. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Call the Midwife, WWI historical fiction, and/or anyone who is drawn to pandemic/plague stories. If you, like me, check all three of these boxes, this book will make you very, very happy indeed.
I read quite a few Young Adult and Middle Grade history books this year both on my own and with my boys. This one was my favorite. The twelve essays cover a wide range of topics from the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette's favorite portraitist to Sally Hemings' years in Paris with Thomas Jefferson to the Mutiny on the Bounty. It really was a fascinating look at a fascinating year, and I want to read the other book in the series, 1968, as well. 

Favorite Series: Scythe by Neil Shusterman
I listened to the three books in the Scythe series right in a row in February. I can't tell you how long it had been since I'd binged a series. Why didn't anyone tell me this series involved a sentient AI? I definitely would have picked it up sooner if I had know. If you too have a strange fascination with books with sentient AI, pick this series up ASAP. 
Favorite World War II Book: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
As with most years, I read quite a few WWII books. I do host World War II Wednesday, after all. This year for my favorite of the WWII books, I'm selecting this story about teens in the United States' Japanese incarceration camps. I loved that Traci Chee told this story with 14 narrators. It allowed her to examine multiple perspectives and experiences in the camps and in the trenches. 

Favorite Nonfiction Book: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
I highly recommend this book as a good introduction to issues concerning race and racism. It's very accessible, readable, and informative. Also, the audiobook is read by Bahni Turpin, and she's one of my favorite voice actors. 
Favorite Book Club Book: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild 
In the so-called "Scramble for Africa" King Leopold's plunder of the Congo is one of the worst of many horrible atrocities. If you are at all interested in Africa, history, or desire to understand a bit better the legacy of colonialism, this is an excellent tome. It made for a great book club discussion, and I think we all felt a little more informed after having read it.

Favorite Post-WWII Book: They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Narrowing my favorites down to one WWII book was impossible this year, so, although this category is a bit of a cheat, just roll with it. They Went Left is the story of Zofia, one of the 11 million people who were displaced due to WWII. She and her brother, Abek, were separated at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and, now that the war is over, she is looking for him. This book is so heartbreaking. It's both a very beautiful and very difficult read because Zofia's trauma is so visceral. I really loved it. The writing is excellent, and it conveys the pain and hope of Zofia's journey so well.
Favorite Historical Fiction: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Set in the 1950s in New Orleans, Josie is the daughter of a brothel prostitute who is dreaming of getting away from the French Quarter and going to an elite college. Then she gets entangled in a murder mystery. I have read all of Ruta Septys's books, and I loved them all, but this one is my favorite.
This books is is based on the life of Stefania Podgorska. She was a teenager taking care of her six-year-old sister, Helena, and living in Przemsyl, Poland during World War II, and she hid thirteen Jews from the Nazis in her attic. This story is a nail biter. There are so many close calls. It's remarkable it turned out as well as it did. I highly recommend the audiobook. It's read by Beata Poźniak, a Polish actress who now works in LA. She knew Stefania and Max personally and that connection really added to the reading. 
Favorite NTTBF Book: A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti 
Before the world shut down, I went to Dallas for the third year in a row so that I could attend the North Texas Teen Book Fest with my Book BFF. In preparation for the event I read 30 books, so it seemed most fitting that I would have a NTTBF category this year. A Heart in a Body in the World is the very definition of a "hard-hitting contemporary," and it definitely explores some timely topics. The story weaves Annabelle's present, as she runs across the entire United States, with her past as traumatic memories resurface even when she'd prefer they stay buried. It's a beautiful and visceral and powerful read.

Favorite YA Contemporary: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Y.O.E. You over everyone. Layla has been Cleo's best friend since she was twelve-years-old. They start sophomore year as close as ever but slowly their friendship implodes. By Christmas it's over. Ashley Woodfolk's sophomore novel is so excellent. Although, told from Cleo's perspective, it's clear that Cleo made some huge mistakes too. A friendship breakup can be so devastating, and I love that I ended When You Were Everything feeling like, although they went through a lot, both of these characters are going to be okay.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Reading on a Theme: The Revolutionary War

We've got book recommendations today for all of you who have already watched Hamilton 1000 times since it dropped on Disney+ in July, but still need more. 

Wartime Romance:
It doesn't get more obvious that this recommendation. The meeting and marriage of Alexander and Eliza takes place over the course of one song in the musical, but Melissa De La Cruz's book gives the first months of their romance the full treatment. The book begins at the ball where Eliza and Alexander first meet. I really like how this book gives Eliza center stage. She's the type of character you can't help but adore. The book isn't just about romance there's also nursing and spies and dangerous rides through the countryside. I enjoyed Alex & Eliza a lot, and I think it would be a great recommendation for teenage fans of the musical.

Smallpox and the Ethiopian Regiment:
In The Pox Party and The Kingdom on the Waves, M.T. Anderson tells the story of Octavian. In the first volume, Octavian is an enslaved child growing up in a house of science in the years just prior to the American Revolution. He eventually learns that his own physical and mental development is part of the experiments. Volume II begin with Octavian and his tutor Dr. Trefusis fleeing to British-held Boston. From there they make their way to Virginia where Octavian joins up with Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, organized when Dunmore promises freedom to any slave who fights for the British. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is such an original and fascinating story.

The Lady Spy:
We know that Agent 355 of George Washington's Culper Spy Ring was "a lady," but we don't know who that lady was. Veronica Rossi's Rebel Spy is a novel that imagines this spy was a girl by the name of Frannie Tasker. Frannie lives a double life. She escaped from her lecherous stepfather in the Bahamas by becoming Emmeline Coates and that transformation allowed her to be accepted into New York Society. But Frannie hasn't forgotten where she came from or her revolutionary ideals. I enjoyed this book. It's got a big big dose of romance, but the set up was really interesting, and Frannie is a fascinating character. Rebel Spy was published June 23, 2020. Review copy from NetGalley. 

The First Sparks:
My Name is Resolute spans most of the 18th century. It begins in 1729 when Resolute Talbot and her siblings watch their parents' Jamaica plantation burn as they are carried off to sea by pirates. The first half of this novel sees Resolute encountering a cross-section of the peoples who inhabited North America in the 18th century. She's enslaved by radical Puritans, captured by Native Americans, and imprisoned in an abbey by Catholics in Montreal. Finally, Resolute settles in Lexington, Massachusetts, and we begin to see the sparks of Revolutionary fervor fly. Resolute is a fantastic character. Nancy Turner tells an expansive and gripping story.

Peggy's Story:
L.M. Elliott's Hamilton and Peggy! is about Peggy, the Schuyler sister who gets the least amount of air time in the musical. Turns out Peggy was a pretty fascinating person. She was the only one of the three now-famous Schuyler sisters who was living at home during the Revolutionary War, where perhaps she might have been privy to some of the work her father did as Washington's spy master. L.M. Elliott's historical fiction is always so well-researched, and she does an excellent job rooting her readers in the historical moment. Peggy is feisty and so bright. It was really fun to get to delve a little deeper into her story.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Reading on a Theme: Inspired by Classic Literature

I love retellings of every variety. Here we have books inspired by classic literature. I've been thinking of this bunch in particular as the "Inspired by the Classics: Fantasy/ Sci-fi Edition." Watch for the "Inspired by the Classics: Contemporary Edition." More "Inspired by the Classics" here.

The Raven: 
In Cat Winter's story, Muses take physical form. Seventeen-year-old Edgar Allen Poe meets his dark Muse, Lenore, who appears as a young woman with raven-like characteristics. Torn between his desire to write and his duty to his foster family, Edgar hesitates to fully embrace his Muse, trying to keep Lenore a secret as he straddles two worlds. I loved the historical setting in this book. It begins in Richmond and follows Edgar to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I would have loved the book to follow even more of Edgar Allen Poe's life. The Raven's Tale is so atmospheric while remaining to true to Poe's actual life. Published April 2019. Review copy from NetGalley.

Arthurian Legend:  
Princess Guinevere is not who she seems to be. She's been sent by Merlin to protect Arthur, but magic is no longer accepted in Camelot, so she must keep her powers and her objectives a secret. I have really loved Kiersten White's recent retellings And I Darken series and The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, and I was really looking forward to this book. It didn't quite meet all my expectations, but I think the series has a lot of potential. One thing that we see White doing in her recent work is centering female characters and figures who have traditionally been secondary. I really enjoy that aspect of this book. Guinevere is a character who is too often a pawn or vilified in the Arthurian legends. Published November 2019. Review copy from NetGalley.

Les Misérables:
The Court of Miracles isn't so much a retelling of Victor Hugo's classic, as it is a reimagining. In Kester Grant's story, the French Revolution of 1789 failed, and Paris's unwanted banded together in an underground court system of their own. The central character is Éponine, who goes by Nina. She is a member of the Guild of Thieves and an excellent cat burglar, but her true goal is to save Ettie (Cosette) and her sister Alezma from the Lord of the Guild of Flesh. The setting is really rich and diverse, but it took me a bit of effort to get all the characters straight. I loved seeing how the threads of the original tale were woven into something that felt utterly new. Published June 2020. Review copy from NetGalley.

I'm definitely here for Jane Austen in space. Alexa Donne's retelling stars Leo, the heir to a derelict space ship, who is reluctantly participating in her society's match-making season. Marriage for money could save her family, but Leo would rather save her family through ingenuity. It doesn't help that she's still pining for her first love, Elliot. Elliot has returned to the ship, and the former-servant is now wealthy and an heir himself. Enduring the season was bad enough. Now Leo has to watch as other girls flirt with her former flame. I really enjoyed The Stars We Steal. The world building is really well done. Leo has an interesting circle of friends, and I whipped through this book. Published February 2020. Review copy from NetGalley. 

The Bird and the Blade is a retelling not of a classic novel but a classic opera, Puccini's Turandot. Megan Bannen centers the story on Jinghua, a fairly minor character in the opera, who is enslaved to the Kipchak Khanate. The story takes place during the Mongolian empire, which was vast but also fractured, and the Kipchak Khanate is at odds with some of the other Khanates. To save his people and restore their fortunes, Prince Khalaf sets out to marry the daughter of the Great Khan, Princess Turandokht. I was so delighted by this book. It is a little mushy, but that seems appropriate for a book based on an opera best known for its highly emotional music. Published June 2018.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Young Adult Books for Pride Month

Last year for Pride Month, I put together a post of some of my favorite YA books that feature LGBTQIA+ characters. This year I decided I wanted to feature books that came out this spring. The majority of these are debuts, as well. Have you read any of these books? What new 2020 releases with LGBTQIA+ themes do you have on your reading list?

I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee
This one is for all the K-Pop fans out there. Skye Shin wants to be the first plus-sized, bisexual K-Pop star. After wowing everyone with her audition for a popular television singing competition, she is thrown into the world of reality TV drama.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Although Liz Lightly has never had much interest in doing the prom queen thing, she really needs the scholarship that goes along with the crown. So she starts campaigning and then starts falling for her competition, Mack, the new girl in school.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
In this novel in verse, Micheal, a mixed-raced gay teen, struggles to find his place. Then, at university, he discovers Drag Society and takes on the persona of The Black Flamingo. Finally he feels at home.

The Summer of Impossibilities by Rachael Allen
The perfect summer read. Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett, and Amelia Grace don't really know each other, but their moms drag them along to their reunion. This book features a budding romance between two of the girls, a hate to love romance, and friendships that will last.

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
Activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, youth, and college years in this book of personal essays written with young people in mind.

The Fascinators by Andrew Eliopulos
Sam, James, and Delia are members of their school's magic club. Well, actually, they are the only members. It's magic that brought these three together, but their little group is starting to grow strained under unrequited love, frustrated ambitions, and threats from a dark magical society.

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen
Codi isn't really a part of the cool crowd at her high school, but when she and her friends decide to crash a party Codi meets Ricky. He takes her on epic adventures filled with late nights, new experiences, and a cute girl named Lydia. 

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix, who identifies as Black, queer, and transgender, wonders if he'll ever have a happily-ever-after. Yet somehow he ends up in  a love triangle after setting out to get revenge on an anonymous transphobic classmate.

The Circus Rose by Betsy Cornwall
This queer retelling of "Snow White and Rose Red" stars twins Rosie and Ivory who have grown up in the circus. When disaster strikes it's up to Ivory to save their home and their circus family.

The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
Saoirse isn't so sure about love. There's too much going on in her family to believe that she could be happy right now. Then she meets Ruby who proposes a summer fling of fun dates and romantic cliches that will end in the fall no questions asked. You can guess what happens next.

Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith
Pony is looking for a fresh start at his new high school. Coming out as transgender at his old high school was a lot, and he thinks he'd rather just fly under the radar at his new school. But then there's Georgia. Georgia is a cheerleader who is looking forward to moving on from high school. She's not interested in romance. But then there's Pony.

The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lamberti
Set in New Orleans in the 1920s, this book is a historical murder mystery. Millie takes over at the Cloak & Dagger, her aunt's speakeasy, while her aunt is out of town. The most popular act is Marion, the boy in the red dress. When Marion's accused of murder, Millie is on the case. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Young Adult and Middle Grade Books about Racism

I've found that the best way for me to learn about racism is to listen, and a good way to listen is to start reading. Here are own voices books that tackle racial injustice, police brutality, and systemic racism.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
When Justyce McAllister and his best friend are victims of police brutality, Justyce begins writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help make sense of his world.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
This nonfiction book is a reimagining of  Kendi's book Stamped from the Beginning. It discusses the history of racism in America and how individuals can move toward antiracism.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This nonfiction book about Bryan Stevenson's fight against the systemic racism in the justice system has been adapted for young readers. 

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone
Quan writes letters to Justyce while awaiting trial for the shooting death of a police officer. Nic Stone's new novel tackles the racism in the criminal justice system. This book is out in September of 2020. Add it to your TBR.

This is My America by Kim Johnson
Tracy Beaumont's father is on death row. He's innocent, and Tracy has spent years writing letters to an organization that she hopes can help him. Then her brother is accused of a crime, and Tracy is determined not to see history repeat itself. This book is out July 28th, 2020. Put it on your TBR

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
After an incident involving racial stereotyping at her school, aspiring rapper, Bri, channels all her anger into a track that ends up going viral. The lyrics are hardhitting, and Bri soon discovers that they aren't being taken the way she intended. This book asks questions about the power of the media, stereotypes and perceptions, and what it means to "make it."

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr witnesses her unarmed childhood friend get shot and killed by the police. Starr is the only one who knows what happened, and she has to decide if she's going to stay quiet and safe or speak the truth.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
Marvin and his twin brother Tyler are at a party that turns into a shooting and then a police raid. Now Tyler is missing, and soon it's discovered that he was shot and killed that night by a police officer.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This is the story of Rashad and Quinn--a black boy who was beaten when he was accused of stealing and the white boy who witnessed it. Told in dual perspectives, this book confronts the very real aspects of prejudice, bias, and racism.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This middle-grade books is about bi-racial brothers Donte and Trey, one presents black and the other presents white. Donte, the black-presenting brother, faces prejudice and discrimination at school, culminating in the principal calling the police in to arrest him.

I'm Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Two teen girls, one black and one white, must rely on one another and confront their prejudices if they are going to survive the race riots that have broken out in their town. 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one. He was only twelve. Now a ghost, he observes the aftermath of his death and its impact on his family and community. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Reading on a Theme: Losing a Friend

The end of a friendship can be so painful. A book might help. Here we have five YA books about losing or nearly losing a friend.

James and Kat:
At the beginning of their senior year, James and Kat are best friends. By graduation they aren't speaking. Amy Spalding tells the story of the disintegration of their friendship. We Used to Be Friends is told in alternating timelines. Kat's timeline moves forward in time and James's moves backward. The plot becomes a puzzle that the reader tries to put together, but what becomes clear as the timelines converge is that neither James nor Kat is completely at fault or completely blameless. Both characters are unlikable at points in the story, are both are also dealing with external circumstances that impact their well-being and friendship. Published January 2020. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Cleo and Layla:
Y.O.E. You over everyone. Layla has been Cleo's best friend since she was twelve-years-old. They start sophomore year as close as ever but slowly their friendship implodes. By Christmas it's over. Ashley Woodfolk's sophomore novel is so excellent. She tells the story through Cleo's eyes and alternates between the past and the present. Although, told from Cleo's perspective, it's clear that Cleo made some huge mistakes too. The dual timeline grants us access to the breakdown of the friendship but also to Cleo's recovery. A friendship breakup can be so devastating, and I love that I ended When You Were Everything feeling like, although they went through a lot, both of these characters are going to be okay. Published March 2020. Review copy from NetGalley. 

Ellory and Ret:
Bex, Jenni, and Ellory were three stars rotating around their sun: Ret. But then everything fell apart. See All the Stars takes place in two timelines. In the earlier timeline Ellory has three close friends and her first real boyfriend. In the later timeline she has no one. So what happened? Kit Frick's debut is a story of (borderline?) toxic friendship and a massive falling out. It's a great concept. Friendships end and not all friendships are healthy. And a friendship breakup comes with its own mourning process. Kit Frick's writing is really lovely. It's the kind of writing that gives you that melancholy feeling in your chest. I was struck by it right away. Published August 2018. Review copy from NetGalley.

Denver and Abigail:
Only an invitation from her crush could get Denver to attend a party hosted by her ex-best friend Abigail. She very quickly regrets that decision when a tsunami hits the coast of California. Now Denver is adrift in the Pacific ocean on a boat with four people who hate her, including Abigail. Kathy Parks sees your friend drama and takes it up several notches by mixing it with a survival story. The history between Denver and Abigail is inserted periodically throughout, and the reader gets to see how they became best friends and how it all fell apart. The fight for survival is no less harrowing, but maybe a life or death situation is the only thing that can bring these two back together? A+ for The Lifeboat Clique. I really enjoyed it. Published March 2016. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Willa and Flor:
Best friends Flor and Willa are keeping secrets from one another. Willa kissed the boy next door, who is also Flor's ex-boyfriend, and she doesn't know how to tell her. Flor isn't telling Willa about all the trouble she's having at home with her dad's new girlfriend. These types of secrets are enough to break a friendship. Unlike in the other books on this list, there's no outright fighting between friends in The Me I Meant to Be, but sometimes the things that aren't said can be just as destructive as the things that are. Sophie Jordan's book also has not one but two swoony romances.  Paperback out March, 31 2020. Review copy from NetGalley.

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