Book Review | The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

You hide in the herd. You wait. And you never forget.

I’ll preface my thoughts with the fact that I don’t typically read horror. I consider myself a “chicken” with an overactive imagination, so I’ve steered clear of horror movies AND books—until I saw the cover and description for The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.

“Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.”

Something about it intrigued me, and I’m glad I gave it a shot. The story starts off a bit slow, but I loved getting to know Lewis and his sense of humour. Slow-building suspense and social commentary lead up to a shocking, brutal, and bloody twist at the end of the first half. To be honest I almost abandoned it at that point. I was taken aback because blood and gore are out of my comfort zone. I frantically tried to explain to my husband the entire plot up to that point—I needed someone to share in my shock. I put the book aside for a few days, but it lingered in my mind. I just. couldn’t. stop. thinking about it. So I dove back in.


I was surprised when the perspective shifted halfway through the book, but I found that it kept me engaged. Throughout the novel all of the characters felt so real to me: flawed and memorable. I still get chills thinking about this story, and it is one that will continue to stand out in my mind. It is certainly unlike anything I’ve read before.

To sum up, I’d describe it as a unique, terrifying, and memorable novel from a master storyteller. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you’re intrigued, I definitely encourage you to check it out!

Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy—all opinions are my own.


Have you read any good horror novels lately? Or do you typically shy away from anything “scary”?

Book Review | Being Lolita: A Memoir by Alisson Wood

WOW!  This is one of the most powerful memoirs I’ve read.  Unique, poignant, and impactful—I could NOT put this book down.


Synopsis:

“‘Have you ever read Lolita?’

So begins seventeen-year-old Alisson’s metamorphosis from student to lover and then victim. A lonely and vulnerable high school senior, Alisson finds solace only in her writing—and in a young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. North. He praises her as a special and gifted writer, and she blossoms under his support and his vision for her future.

Mr. North gives Alisson a copy of Lolita to read, telling her it is a beautiful story about love. The book soon becomes the backdrop to a relationship that blooms from a simple crush into a forbidden romance, with Mr. North convincing her that theirs is a love affair rivaled only by Nabokov’s masterpiece. But as time progresses and his hold on her tightens, Alisson is forced to evaluate how much of that narrative is actually a disturbing fiction.

In the wake of what becomes a deeply abusive relationship, Alisson is faced again and again with the story of her past, from rereading Lolita in college, to working with teenage girls, to becoming a professor of creative writing. It is only with that distance and perspective that she understands the ultimate power language has had on her—and how to harness that power to tell her own true story.”


I am in awe of the courage and vulnerability it took for Alisson to share her story.  She delves into the dark and disturbing in a poetic and beautifully written memoir. It reads like a literary novel—which kept me enthralled despite the uncomfortable subject matter.

I found the incorporation and examination of Nabokov’s Lolita fascinating. It was expertly interwoven alongside Alisson’s own experiences.  I also love her discussion surrounding language and its impact.  Her choice to refer to Nick as “the teacher” is the perfect example of the power of words—a constant reminder to the reader of the power dynamics within their relationship.

I ended up feeling utterly connected to this novel in so many ways: as I recall my own experiences as a teenage girl; as a woman who has experienced dysfunctional relationships; as a high school teacher; and now, as a mother with a daughter.  So many aspects of Alisson’s story resonated with me.  I was going to say that this is a must-read for young women, but it should really be read by everyone who can handle the content. It speaks to current societal discussions of gender, power, consent and language.

A huge thank you to Alisson for reaching out and sending me an advanced copy of Being Lolita.  She writes: “To create something beautiful from something so terrible is my deepest desire.”  And that she has: a raw, enthralling, and impactful memoir.  She is a true inspiration.

Trigger warnings: sexual & verbal abuse, pedophilia, depression


What are some memoirs that you would recommend reading?

Book Review | The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Published August 27, 2019, 317 pages

“Where there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is a new life and hope.”

Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo

I finished The Beekeeper of Aleppo feeling speechless.  My heart ached. It still aches. I feel the need to thrust this book into the hands of everyone I see.  Maybe if more people read it, we’ll see more empathy and compassion. Maybe it would propel us closer to a remedy for the issues plaguing our era.  It’s not very often that a story touches my heart as this one did. I’m still crying for Nuri and Afra. Images of burnt hives and lifeless bodies are still etched in my mind.  I can still taste the sweetness of fresh honey, smell the smoke, feel the icy water, and hear the marble rolling across the floor. Books like this one remind me of the power that words truly have.

Nuri is a beekeeper, and his wife Afra is an artist.  They live in Aleppo with their young son, Sami. Their idyllic life, filled with laughter, family and friends, starts crumbling as they witness the unimaginable horrors of the civil war.  War hits their home with an unthinkable tragedy, leaving Afra without her sight. As their lives in Aleppo become increasingly unrecognizable, Nuri convinces Afra to leave their home behind. They embark on a journey to escape Syria, with hopes of claiming asylum in England.

The story flows seamlessly between the present and past.  In the present, Nuri and Afra are living in limbo, as so many refugees are.  They’ve left their home in Aleppo and survived the perilous journey to England.  They’re living at a Bed & Breakfast, awaiting the results of their asylum claim. We’re transported back to their life in Syria and journey to the UK through Nuri’s memories, flashbacks, and dreams. While the novel follows their physical journey from Syria to England, it also follows the journey of their relationship, as they navigate seemingly insurmountable challenges while plagued by trauma and grief.

I found my heart aching for the memorable and complex characters in this novel.  It is full of raw emotion, and had me in tears several times within the first 100 pages.  Past and present are woven together skillfully, which is far more engaging than if it were presented chronologically.  Despite already having the knowledge that Nuri and Afra make it to the UK safely, I still desperately needed to find out how their journey unfolded.  My curiosity propelled me through the book at a speed that I didn’t think was possible with a 3-month-old baby.

Lefteri has drawn inspiration from her own experiences volunteering at a centre for refugee women and children in Athens.  She is also the daughter of Cypriot refugees. Her experiences and research are evident in the vivid details and descriptions throughout the novel.  I tend to gravitate towards books that tackle important social and political issues. While this book does that, it is so much more than that. It is a heart-wrenching, achingly beautiful story that touches your soul and reminds you of our shared humanity.

To sum up my feelings: READ THIS BOOK.


What is a book that you feel the need to thrust into the hands of everyone you meet? Tell me in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.

Book Review | The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

If you’re looking for a completely unique, thrilling, atmospheric, and immersive page-turner, this is it!

The book’s premise instantly intrigued me:
“At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed. Again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend. But nothing and no one are quite what they seem.”

I’ve heard this book described as “Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day/Inception,” and I’d agree, but it’s so ingeniously crafted that you really need to read it yourself. The dilapidated Georgian mansion surrounded by untamed, grim wilderness creates the perfect dark and mysterious atmosphere. From the beginning we are abruptly thrown into confusion, as the protagonist grapples with where he is, who he is, and what exactly is going on. We delve into a complex plot, guided by an ominous plague-masked man, and join Aiden in attempting to solve a murder to escape the time loop. Starting each day in a new body presents unique challenges, but each character holds secrets and keys to unlocking the perplexing puzzle. The twisted plot will have you guessing until the very end. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an exquisite, creepy, enthralling and mind-bending story that will keep you reading long past your bedtime.

This is certainly one of my top reads of 2018! It will be on sale September 18th in Canada. A huge thanks to Harper Collins Canada for giving me a first look at this!

Book Review | The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay

rain watcherTatiana de Rosnay’s latest novel The Rain Watcher is a beautifully written, emotional, and atmospheric story.

Title: The Rain Watcher
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Genre: Fiction
Publication: October 23, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: ★★★★☆
Goodreads Synopsis

The beginning of this novel drew me in INSTANTLY – probably because of my absolute love of trees:

“I will start with the tree. Because everything begins, and ends, with the tree. The tree is the tallest one. It was planted way before the others. I’m not sure how old it is, exactly. Perhaps three or four hundred years old. It is ancient and powerful. It has weathered terrible storms, braced against unbridled winds. It is not afraid.
The tree is not like the others. It has its own rhythm. Spring starts later for it, while all the others are already blossoming. Come late April, the new oval leaves sprout slowly, on the top and middle branches only. Otherwise, it looks dead. Gnarled, gray, and withered. It likes to pretend to be dead. That’s how clever it is. Then, suddenly, like a huge explosion, all the buds flourish. The tree triumphs with its pale green crown.”

The Malegarde family arrives in Paris for a family celebration. Linden, a successful _Travel is never predictable. That's how adventure shows up._ (1).pngphotographer, has traveled from America to join his sister and parents in celebrating his father’s 70th birthday. As they begin their celebrations, the River Seine rises at an alarming rate each day, due to unprecedented rainfall. Family relationships are strained as drama unfolds amidst the flooding. Their holiday is certainly not going at all as anticipated. As the flooding worsens and wreaks havoc throughout Paris, complicated family dynamics and secrets come to light. Linden’s experience in present-day Paris conjures vivid memories of his past – often painful and emotional. The suspense of the family drama is perfectly paralleled with the dramatic natural disaster. As the Seine rises beyond its banks, the Malegarde family’s secrets and issues that have been held below surface begin to rise as well – demanding to be dealt with.

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The excerpts at the beginning of each chapter (above) add an air of mystery to the already building suspense. Why does everything start with the tree? Whose memories are we reliving? What do they have to do with the present day? She knows what she’s doing…

Tatiana de Rosnay certainly has a distinct style, expertly capturing the setting and atmosphere through vivid descriptions. Although you could describe this as a slow, emotional read, the events unfolded in such a way that kept me constantly wondering and anticipating. She also created realistic and well-developed characters. I just loved Linden as the protagonist! He had such a strong voice throughout the novel, and I felt increasingly connected to him as each part of his past was revealed. The scene with his father – near the end of the novel – had me in TEARS! Not one glistening tear in my eye, but SOBS!

_Travel is never predictable. That's how adventure shows up._ (2).pngThe Rain Watcher highlights how intricately places are connected to memories and emotions. We are transported to the gorgeous, idyllic settings of Paris and Vénozan, which are contrasted with the dark memories attached to those places. It also shows how people are able to survive through challenging times, and accept one another, as well as oneself. And of course, this story is yet another testament to the power of nature. As much as we’d love to be able to control it (or anything else in life…) you just have to accept reality, mitigate the damage, and move on!

This is definitely not a light read, but if you love character-driven, emotional, atmospheric reads, I’d suggest waiting for a rainy day to snuggle up with a blanket, coffee/tea, and this beautiful novel.

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Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and Tatiana de Rosnay for a digital Advanced Readers Copy. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

Book Review | Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

 

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Title: Fawkes
Author: Nadine Brandes
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: July 10th 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★✰

 

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Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters Indigo

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fawkes2.jpgFirst of all, can we please take a moment to appreciate how STUNNING the cover of this book is!? The cover was 100% the reason I gravitated towards this book. I’m happy I did.

The protagonist of the book is Thomas, Guy Fawkes’ son. Essentially it is a coming-of-age story in which he learns more about himself, his father, the plagued world of Igniters and Keepers, and of course love. Although some parts seemed a little drawn out (it could probably be 50 pages shorter), the rest of the story kept up a pretty good pace.

I found the world absolutely fascinating. For the first 200 pages, I was constantly asking questions about how the whole colour power thing worked, and I felt like the difference between the Igniters and Keepers was so vague. When I reached page 204, I realized that the reader was kept in the dark just as Thomas had been until that moment. Thomas actually says on that page, “Finally, I was getting answers,” and that’s exactly how I felt! It was at this point that my history nerdiness crept in and I was giddy to see how Brandes has taken the conflicts between religious sects during this period in England, and rewritten it as a war between two groups with differing magical practices: the Keepers and the Igniters. All of the pieces came together in my mind, which of course I exclaimed out loud; then I had to explain to Ryan everything that had happened in the book, how I had been feeling about it, as well as the revelation that had just occurred.

_Travel is never predictable. That's how adventure shows up._.pngI did struggle to connect with most of the main characters. Thomas became slightly annoying at times, and I wanted so much more from his father (as I’m sure he did as well). We also meet Fawkes’ co-conspirators (who really existed!), and Emma (who is entirely fictional). I think that the choice to include Emma – strong, determined, and independent – was a great one. She was definitely my favourite character.

I appreciate this unique combination of historical fiction and fantasy. I was also highly invested in the setting, as I have studied the time period throughout various history courses and have visited many of the locations in my travels. I also liked how the novel delved into some of the complexities of wars, disease, and racism – rampant in 1600’s England – but also of relevance at pretty much any point in human history.

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Despite some points that lagged, and my inability to connect to some characters, I did really enjoy this book! Magic-infused 1600’s England was a fun (and slightly terrifying) place to hang out for awhile.

★★★★✰

Have you ever read a book that combined historical fiction and fantasy?

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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for a review.  All views and opinions expressed are my honest and unbiased, as I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Book Review | Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Do you listen to audiobooks? They’re relatively new to me, and I must admit that a good audiobook can be the perfect way to experience a story. I first started listening to them out of frustration, really; I was slogging my way through the fifth novel in the Outlander series – The Fiery Cross – and I was struggling to get through it. I had abandoned it months before, opting for lighter and shorter reads. Determined to finally finish it, I checked out the audiobook version from my library’s app. Although seeing the length of the recording (55 hours and 34 minutes *GASP*) was daunting, I soon realized that listening to an audiobook made monotonous household tasks – cleaning, laundry, cooking, and snow shoveling – SO much more entertaining! This also happened to be last winter, when our tractor was broken down for the duration of the season and we got seemingly endless piles and piles of snow; I finished the second half of the audiobook ONLY listening to it whilst shoveling snow.
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I’ve also recently listened to Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky and Naomi Klein’s book about climate change: This Changes Everything. Although I enjoyed those audiobooks, Born a Crime, narrated by Trevor Noah (the author), was a completely unique experience. I had seen various clips of Trevor Noah on YouTube, but to be honest I didn’t know much about him. I had been eyeing up Born a Crime every time I entered a bookstore. I had read the synopsis and a few reviews; I was not-so-patiently waiting for it to come on sale… aaaand it didn’t. I recently subscribed to Audible, and when I first saw Born a Crime on there, I was hesitant, mostly because I had been waiting to buy the print version for so long. Upon noticing that it was narrated by Trevor himself, and after skimming a few reviews, I dived in.
I haven’t read the print version of the book (I think I’ll buy it eventually… if it ever comes on sale!) but I wholeheartedly recommend listening to the audiobook regardless. Perhaps it was destiny that the hardcover book just wasn’t coming on sale. Even if you’ve read the print version, LISTEN TO THE AUDIOBOOK! Sorry, I feel like I am shouting this from the mountaintops, but that’s how good it is!
Listening to this book felt like sitting down with Trevor Noah over coffee and hearing him tell his life story. He is such a natural storyteller, and is downright hilarious; he had me regularly laughing and guffawing out loud, which garnered concerned looks from my fiancé. His voice brought this emotional, brutal, insightful and hilarious story to LIFE.
Trevor Noah was born at the tail end of apartheid: the period of systemic, institutional, government-sanctioned racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa. He was born to a deeply religious, independent, and charismatic mother. He starts out by describing how he was, quite literally, born a crime:

“On February 20, 1984, my mother checked into Hillbrow Hospital for a scheduled C-section delivery. Estranged from her family, pregnant by a man she could not be seen with in public, she was alone. The doctors took her up to the delivery room, cut open her belly, and reached in and pulled out a half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations—I was born a crime.”

As a mixed-race child, Trevor straddled the various groups in South Africa – he looked “colored,” but identified as black. His childhood was complicated, as he tried to find his identity and place in a divided society. He effortlessly weaves hilarious anecdotes and escapades with heart wrenching and tragic accounts of poverty, violence and racism. His story is both entertaining and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it – and in fact, I actually cleaned and organized beyond what I needed to, just to keep listening. I learned a lot about life during and following apartheid in South Africa, and I completely fell in love with Trevor and his mother.

Now I am listening to it for a second time with my fiancé, because I just had to share it with him. If you end up listening to it, I’d love to know your thoughts about it.

Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Publication Date: November 15, 2016
My Rating: ★★★★★

(P.S. The Hardcover book is actually on sale now… now you know my next book purchase!)

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters


Do you listen to audiobooks? Please leave your awesome audiobook recommendations in the comments below.

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Review | Times Square by Rich Walls

An unexpected scavenger hunt forces a woman to confront her past and present loves in New York City. Featuring a sparkling Manhattan lit late at night, Times Square is the novella which pinpoints what it means to live and love in a city that readily challenges and astonishes, so often in the same breath.

It is a rainy evening in New York city. Angie is at home talking to her husband on the phone, when she receives a mysterious letter, hand-delivered by the building’s night manager. The ice blue, silver-scripted letter initiates a scavenger hunt through the dazzling streets of New York City at night. Each place Angie is guided to relates to the romances of her past. We are swept through the streets of the city, meeting the men who have impacted her life. But who is sending her on this scavenger hunt – and why?


This novella felt whimsical and magical. I’ve always wanted to experience New York City, and this novella gave me a glimpse of its wonder for an evening. Although I had a hard time following the story at the beginning, eventually everything started to align and built up to the “grand reveal” at the end. I love that this novella illuminates how places are so utterly intertwined with our memories and our pasts. One city can be comprised of so many memories – people, experiences, conversations, decisions, and feelings. All of those pieces come together like a mosaic to form who we are as a person.

If you are looking for a vibrant, fun and quick romance read, definitely check it out!
A huge thank you to the author, Rich Walls, for sending me a copy of this novella. Now I am even more determined to visit New York City!

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Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website

Review: Auschwitz Lullaby by Mario Escobar

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Auschwitz Lullaby brings to life the story of Helene Hannemann—a woman who sacrificed everything for family and fought furiously for the children she hoped to save.”

 

 

Auschwitz Lullaby is based on true historical events involving the Nazi persecution of gypsies, Jews, and other minorities during WWII. Helene Hannemann was a German woman — married to a Gypsy man — with five young children. As her husband and children are brutally arrested in their own home, Helene (as a “pure” German) could have evaded arrest; however, she refuses to leave her family and ends up separated from her husband and imprisoned with her children in the Gypsy camp at Birkenau. As a German nurse, her talents are recognized by the famed Dr. Mengele, who instructs her to open a nursery and school for the camp’s children. We are shown in great detail the suffering and daily horrors that life at Auschwitz brings for Helene and her children. For many of the women and children, the nursery ends up becoming a “ray of hope in the midst of the darkness,” and although Dr. Mengele has provided them with this hope, the reality of his medical experiments weighs on Helene. She grapples with one of the enduring questions of humanity: how can humans be capable of such good and also such evil?

“I preferred to see the Nazis as inhuman monsters. The more human they acted, the more horrifying they became, as it meant any and all of us were capable of becoming as despicable as they were.”

I adore historical fiction, but it is a difficult genre to master. This novel is an enthralling and exceptional example of what historical fiction should be. I will admit that I am biased; as a history teacher, I’m fascinated by WWII fiction and non-fiction, and have been to Poland to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Despite my bias, I think this novel would be an enjoyable read for most people. Escobar expertly describes the setting and characters while maintaining an engaging and fast-paced storyline.

I also enjoyed the writing, which was staightforward but also poetic. I found myself constantly pausing to re-read sections that were written so beautifully:

““It’s all coming to a close like a Shakespearean drama. Tragedy is inevitable, as if the author of the macabre theatrical work wanted to leave the audience with their jaws on the floor. The minutes are marching inexorably toward the final act. When the curtain falls again, Auschwitz will keep writing its story of terror and evil, but we will have become souls in purgatory haunting the walls of Hamlet’s castle, though unable to actually warn anybody about the crimes committed against the gypsy people.”

One of the reasons I find World War II so intriguing is because of the ineffable horrors inflicted upon others, essentially due to ideas of superiority based on race and ethnicity. It is hard to comprehend how such tragic and brutal events could transpire. I am fascinated by the resilience of the many people who endured these horrors, and reading about them serves to remind me of my blessings, cultivate greater empathy, and take stock of what is really important in life.

“Sometimes we have to lose everything to find what is most important. When life robs us of what we thought we could not live without and leaves us standing naked before reality, the essential things that had always been invisible take on their true value.”

As Auschwitz Lullaby is based on true events and real people, it is brutal, honest, and heartbreaking — but it is a beautifully written testament to the strength of love and the sacrifices we make for family.ausch

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Rating: ★★★★★

View on Goodreads

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Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book through NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? What is one of your favourite historical fiction books? Leave a comment below to let me know!

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