Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Reading on a Theme: A Wedding Setting

What is it about a wedding setting that makes for such a great summer read. In this lineup we have a bunch of characters who are part of wedding season, for one reason or another. What are your favorite books that involve a wedding?

The Wedding Planner's Daughter and the Caterer's Son:
Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour are both heirs to family businesses in the wedding industry, but Quinn isn't sure being part of the family business is what she wants and Tarek wants more responsibility in his family's catering company. It's been nearly a year since Quinn saw Tarek and running into him at event after event isn't exactly the most comfortable situation seeing as he ghosted her last year. Quinn's got a lot on her plate this summer, and she has a lot to learn about love. I loved Rachel Lynn Solomon's Today, Tonight, Tomorrow, and I was so eager to dive into her new fun, summer romance. We Can't Keep Meeting Like This is out June 8, 2021.

The Wedding Chapel Owner:
Holly Nolan's grandfather left her his Las Vegas wedding chapel in his will. Grandpa Jim also left her a letter to deliver to Dax Cranston, the grandson of his mortal enemy and the owner of the chapel next door. The Chapel Wars is a deceiving little book. You think that it's going to all light and cute, but it deals with so much and so many emotions.On top of mourning Grandpa Jim and dealing with a budding relationship with Dax, the Rose of Sharon chapel is in financial straits. For Holly the chapel is more than just a job. It's family, it's home, it's her grandfather's legacy, and she's desperate to save it. Lindsey Leavitt really delivers with this one.

The Groom's Sister:
The follow-up to Saints and Misfits, reunites us with Janna just in time for her brother's wedding. Nuah, who has been off at college, will be there for the festivities, and Janna has decided that she's ready to tell him that she's interested in a relationship. However, it wouldn't be a wedding if everything went according to plan. I loved this sequel! S.K. Ali doesn't let Janna have it easy, and the book is all the better for it. Janna's life feels real in all its complicated messiness. There's also a lot of love here. The connections between family and friends in this book are so strong. (And that tie-in to Love from A to Z!) Janna is going to be all right. Misfit in Love is out May 25, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
The Florist:
Sophie Evans works for the local florist. She works at all the major events, from weddings to funerals, held in her small Alabama town along with her best friend, Micah Williams, who is the daughter of the local caterer. But, this year things are different because Micah's dad has won a mentorship with celebrity chef, Jet Hart, which means that this year the arrogant Jet and his annoying son Andrew are going to also be at all the events. I enjoyed the format of Maybe This Time. It takes place over the course of one year and nine events. The narration moves from event to event. Along with the romance (it is a Kasie West book), we also have some more complicated issues including some parent-drama, friend-drama, coming-of-age drama, and, of course, relationship drama. 

The Wedding Planner's Daughter:
Louna is the daughter of the popular wedding planner, Natalie Barrett, and every summer she works for her mom during the busy wedding season. This summer her mom decides to also employ Ambrose, an infuriating boy Louna's age.
I really enjoyed Once and For All. The wedding planner setting was so much fun, especially coupled with Natalie, William, and Louna's cynicism when it comes to lasting love. Ambrose, on the other hand, is full of optimism, even if he is an unabashed serial dater. It's tough to resist a hate-to-love romance, and Sarah Dessen's characters have just the right amount of chemistry. This book was the perfect summer read.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Reading on a Theme: Summer Camp

 I love a good summer camp setting. Campfires, hiking, bug spray and sunscreen, swimming in the late. Camp is such a great way to get into a summery mode. Here are five books that will take you to summer camp.

Camp Reynolds:
After taking a mail-in DNA test, Abby learns she has a full sister, Savannah, whom she's never met. Confused over why her parents never told her about her sister and feeling like a consolation prize, Abby doesn't tell them she's found out about Savvy or that she will be spending the whole summer with Savannah at camp. Suddenly having a sister doesn't mean that you suddenly have a new best friend, and clearly there's some backstory behind the sisters' parents. You Have a Match would make for a great summer read. Emma Lord doesn't take the easy way out with this story. Finding out you have a secret sibling makes for a rocky ride. Out January 12, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
Bear Meadow Camp:
A Kasie West book set at summer camp! Count me in! Avery Young is headed for two months of family summer camp in the California mountains. Being off the grid makes it easy for Avery to avoid the drama she left behind at home, for better or worse. A series of events makes Avery realize that she needs to take more risks and that happens to include spending time with Brooks, the lead guitarist of the camp band. As a member of the staff, Brooks is strictly off limits, but as Avery sees Brooks reaching for his goals, it makes her want to face her fears too. Sunkissed is sweet and very cute. While it is a little predictable and requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, it is also the best kind of fun and fluffy summer romance. Out May 4, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley.  
Camp Daybreak:
Lucy has spent every summer at the church camp run by her father. but this summer is different. Her mother's cancer has returned, and Lucy's mom might not have much time left. Somehow Lucy's parents talk her into taking a job as a counselor at the summer camp on the other side of the lake. It's a camp for kids who have been through tough times, and Lucy feels a little out-of-her depth. What do you say to kids whose world is falling apart when your world is crumbling too? I found Lucy's struggle with her faith after finding out that her mom's cancer has returned to be so poignant and heartfelt. I've long been a big fan of Emery Lord, and The Names They Gave Us is my favorite of her books. 
Camp Blue Springs:
Sam is off to summer camp to be a counselor to a group of young girls. Her boyfriend, Eli, is headed to Europe, all summer, and at camp, Sam is undeniably drawn to Gavin. What I really liked about Just a Boy and a Girl in a Little Canoe is that it shows how you can be doing awesome in one aspect of your life (it was so gratifying to see Sam hit it out of the park with those campers) while simultaneously really flubbing up another aspect of it. It's not pretty, but it is very realistic. Sarah Mlynowski's book is definitely on the older side of YA. Sam has just finished her freshman year of college, and so this book is not appropriate for younger reader of YA. (CW: There is cheating here if that is a turn-off for you.)
Knights Day Camp:
On her first birthday Abbi Hope Goldstein became the face of 9/11 when she was captured in a famous photograph and dubbed Baby Hope. Fifteen years later, Abbi is looking for one summer of normal where she's not Baby Hope. Her solution is to become a camp counselor at a day camp two towns over. She won't find the anonymity she seeks, but she will find Noah Stern, who has his own reasons for obsessing over the Baby Hope photo. Hope and Other Punchlines is a beautiful, poignant, funny, and hopeful read. I absolutely loved the relationship between Abbi and Noah. Julie Buxbaum's books always perfectly balance serious subjects with a bit of lightheartedness and a whole lot of humanity. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Reading on a Theme: U.S. Incarceration Camps

It's been too long since our last World War II Wednesday. These books all tackle the incarceration camps that were built on American soil to hold primarily Japanese but also German and Italian Americans.

Haruko and Margot:
I absolutely adored Monica Hesse's first World War II novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, and, when I saw she was writing a book about the United States' WWII incarceration camps, it was a given that I would read it. Haruko is of Japanese descent and Margot is of German descent. The two would never have met if their families hadn't been detained in the same camp in Crystal City, Texas. The War Outside is the story of their secret friendship (and maybe more) across the invisible divide between the Japanese and German detainees. It's a book about the injustices of these events, made more poignant because it is about how those injustices impact individuals. 
The Takei Family:
They Called Us Enemy is a graphic memoir that recounts the years George Takei spent in Japanese Incarceration camps as a child during World War II. Personal stories like this really help to humanize history. To know the camps existed is one thing. To see how they impacted real people is another. It helps that George Takei is a household name these days. These events are not the distant past, and I'm glad that he was willing to tell his family's story. The incarceration impacts Takei's family, and how he understands his father. Their growing understanding of one another was one of the more poignant parts of the book. The artwork in this graphic novel is also stunning. It makes for a very emotional and resonant read. 
Evalina and Taichi:
Evalina Cassano is part of a close-knit Italian-American family, but she doesn't feel like she can tell them that her boyfriend is Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Evalina and Taichi's relationship is further strained after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Japanese-Americans begin to be sent to incarceration camps. The narration in Stephanie Morrill's Within These Lines switches between Taichi within the camp and Evalina, who is studying political science at Berkley and getting involved in political activism. I really enjoyed Evalina's character and how studious and passionate she was about current events. Also, the romance between Evalina and Taichi was so sweet.
Fourteen Teens from Japantown, San Francisco:
We Are Not Free tells the story of a group of young Japanese Americans who must leave their homes in San Francisco for the Japanese Incarceration Camps of the World War II Era. I loved that Traci Chee told this story with 14 narrators. It allowed her to explore the whole range of experiences and attitudes that went along with life in the camps. She was also able to move beyond the camps to the war front itself as some of her characters joined the 442 Regimental Combat Team that was made up primarily of Nisei soldiers. At the same time, the connection that all the characters had to one another and their home in San Francisco really kept the story grounded. This was a really powerful read. 
Elise and Mariko:
In 1943 Elise Sontag and her family are relocated from their home in Iowa to Crystal City, an incarceration camp for United States residents of German, Italian, and Japanese descent. There Elise meets Mariko, a Japanese-American from Los Angeles and the two become inseparable, and they dream of their life together after the war. Often with war fiction, the story ends with the conclusion of the war, but Susan Meissner's tale doesn't stop with the Sontags' return to Germany or V-E Day. The Last Year of the War is a reminder that the consequences of war linger far beyond the last shot fired.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Reading on a Theme: Troubled Sisters

These sister have been through a lot. Despite the complications inherent in the sisterly relationship, these sisters have got each other. 

See more books about complicated sibling relationships here.


Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa:
The Torres home is not a happy one. It wasn't happy before Ana, the oldest of four sisters, fell out her window and died, and it certainly isn't happy after of her death, especially as Ana seems to be haunting her sisters. I'd describe Tigers Not Daughters as a work of magical realism or fabulism. The writing has that lyrical, ethereal feel that I associate with these genres. Samantha Mabry alternates between the perspectives of the three living sisters: Jessica, who has a tough exterior, Iridian, who hasn't left the house in months, and Rosa, who believes she can talk to animals. This is a strange and quiet book. I definitely recommend for anyone who likes a little weird. Out March 2020. Review copy from NetGalley.

Camino and Yahaira:
Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios are sisters, but they don't know each other. Their father travels between New York City and the Dominican Republic, keeping each of his families a secret from the other. Then their father dies in a plane crash and his secrets are spilled. Elizabeth Acevedo's novel in verse, was inspired by the crash of flight AA587 in November 2001 that devastated the Dominican community in New York and on the island. I really like how this book reminds the reader that behind every news story are the people who were personally impacted. Clap When You Land alternates between Camino and Yahaira's perspective and is a story of family and community. The ending of this book is also really satisfying, and that is always nice. Out May 2020. 
Jayne and June:
Mary H.K. Choi is so good at writing damaged characters. This book features a set of sisters who are each damaged in their own ways. The sister relationship in this book is so good. Jayne and June both love and need each other and also drive each other mad. I don't want to give too much away, but both Jayne and June have health issues that they are not dealing with in the healthiest of ways. They are also struggling to negotiate the relationship they have with their immigrant parents and some lingering childhood trauma. Yolk is just as gritty and raw and fantastic as Mary H.K. Choi's other books, and I am so glad I read it. Out March 2, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley. 
Abby and Savvy:
After taking a mail-in DNA test, Abby learns she has a full sister, Savannah, whom she's never met. Confused over why her parents never told her about her sister and feeling like a consolation prize, Abby doesn't tell them she's found out about Savvy or that she will be spending the whole summer with Savannah at camp. Suddenly having a sister doesn't mean that you suddenly have a new best friend, and clearly there's some backstory behind the sisters' parents. You Have a Match would make for a great summer read. I love a good summer camp setting. Emma Lord doesn't take the easy way out with this story. Finding out you have a secret sibling makes for a rocky ride. Out January 12, 2021. Review copy from NetGalley.
Agnes and Beth:
Agnes and Beth live in a Red Creek, a religious community isolated from the world and led by a visionary prophet. Beth chaffs at the restrictions placed on her, and Agnes is devote but conflicted. Agnes has been secretly meeting with a nurse from the outside to get medicine for her little brother's diabetes. The collision between inside and outside becomes more fraught when a deadly pandemic touches the community. Kelly McWilliams's debut is such a genre mashup. Part cult book, part pandemic book, part zombie book, part apocalypse book. I wish that I knew someone else who had read Agnes at the End of the World so we could discuss its weirdness. Out June 2020.


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 Po┼║niak, 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.

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