In Review: August 2010

August went by in the blink of an eye and I feel like I mean that literally.  This month, a lot of the time that I would have normally spent reading and blogging were consumed by work, The  Underground Literary Society (where Amy and I last talked about some of the books that have got our attention for September), and behind the scenes Book Blogger Appreciation Week stuff.

I think that it is safe to say that no one is happier than I am to have seen the shortlists for BBAW go up, except maybe Amy.  It’s so exciting to be getting on toward the fun of the entire week.  I am especially looking forward to the interview swap.  If you haven’t already, you can still participate by signing up today to exchange interviews with another blogger, which is the last day that you can do so.

With time and even the inclination to read being in short supply, I was super picky about what I spent my time reading this month. Mostly I just wanted to give my brain a vacation, but I did manage to read more than I thought I would, and as a result of my finickiness liked almost everything I encountered this month. August was the month of mood reading.  It felt fantastic.

Fiction

  • Folly, by Marthe Jocelyn – I picked this up on impulse because I couldn’t resist the cover.  It intrigued me.  It turned out to be a great historical fiction read about a young girl who finds love and loss while employed as a kitchen maid in a wealthy household.
  • Song Yet Sung, by James McBride – This landed on my TBR pile after writer Mary Sharatt mentioned that she had enjoyed reading it.  I loved her writing, so it made sense to me that I might also enjoy what she read.  I was right.
  • Procession of the Dead, by Darren Shan – I got this one from Jamie Levine, Executive Editor at Hachette Book Group, after confessing that I had enjoyed Cemetery Dance. This is one of the most absorbing mysteries I have read, and I can’t wait to read more books about The City.
  • Perfect Peace, by Daniel Black Perfect Peace came to my attention when it was selected for one of about three book clubs that I am in.  I have never heard anything like this story before.  It was well written and offered up lots of food for thought, even though it was a bit of a sprawling narrative which, covered many stories – not all of which I could track.
  • Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks – My buddy Meg and I have taken a little break from Shakespeare to tend to a few other obligations (but we’ll be back!).  In the meantime, I was reminded that I had this on my shelf when she posted about how excellent this book was.  I can not agree more!
  • Gallows Hill, by Lois Duncan – I couldn’t read any of Lois Duncan’s books as a child because I was a big baby with a vivid imagination.  I decided to see if I could finally face up to her after all of these years.  I had a few uneasy moments, but for the most part I survived the experience intact.  I still haven’t worked up to Stranger With My Face.
  • Chosen, by Chandra Hoffman – While reading Laurie Tharps‘ blog she mentioned that she had just finished Chosen, a book I had just received in the mail, so I felt compelled to compare notes.  Some of the characters didn’t work for me in this one, but I still found it to be a compelling read. Tharps’ own book, Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain is one that  I got earlier in the year and am looking forward to reading.  She also has a new book out, Substitute Me, which looks fascinating as well.
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson – While browsing the other day, I got this on impulse after seeing the hardcover, that I was about to leave behind.  Seeing a copy in trade paperback proved to be much more manageable to hold and too much for me to resist.  I found the size of the book daunting, but then easily read it in a few short days since I just couldn’t put it down.

Graphic Novels & Picture Books

  • Pride and Prejudice: The Graphic Novel, by Nancy Butler
  • It’s A Book, by Lane Smith

Other Reviews This Month

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty, by G. Neri & Randy DuBurke
Remembrance, by Jude Deveraux
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Man In The Woods, by Scott Spencer
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
The Stand: Captain Trips, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Mike Perkins, Laura Martin & Stephen King – Book Review

Movie Trailers: The Black SwanTwelveBuried

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane I am looking forward to more of the same for September.  More of the same.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – Book Review

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg LarssonMikael Blomqvist is a respected reporter and publisher of Millenium, a moderately successful financial reporting magazine that he owns with his long time lover Erika Berger.  His career and all of their prospects take a nose dive after he is convicted of making libelous statements against business magnate Hans Erik Wennerstrom.  Blomqvist is offered the opportunity to not only redeem himself, but to also make an enormous sum of money if he agrees to do some work over the course of the next year for Henrik Vanger, an aging business tycoon who wants him to write his family history and solve a crime that has been cold for forty years.

I am coming way late to this party, and almost everyone who had read this book warned me that the first hundred pages were really slow.  I was expecting that I would be tempted to do a little skimming until I reached the good part, so imagine how surprised I was to find myself completely engaged by the financial intrigue and character development happening at the beginning of the novel.  I very much enjoyed the set up that compelled Blomqvist to take Vanger up on his offer.  While I also enjoyed getting into the second mystery, I found some parts of it to be slow going because of all the different Vangers I encountered when Blomqvist starts his investigation into the family history.  A lot of the character names are either the same (dealing with generations of the same family) or very similar, they also have similar histories and most of this involved Swedish names and history with which I am not familiar, so the reading was interesting but also taxing at the same time.  There were parts mixed in with all of this that dragged for me.

Thankfully Larsson breaks this history up by interspersing it with establishing the character of Lisbeth Salander, investigator extraordinaire with whom the world has fallen in love with through these books.  Larsson delves into her troubled life, antisocial tendencies and her developing relationship with boss, Dragan Armansky.  It is also during this time that we learn how Salander is connected with Blomqvist and eventually becomes an integral part of his investigation.  Through Salander’s violent history the reader is slowly drawn into the history of violence against women in Sweden, and how it permeates the lives of the characters and their loved ones.

This was a compelling read.  In the beginning I was a bit daunted by the length, but somehow I still managed to read it in a few short days.  That says a lot.  It was hard for me to focus on anything else but the story, my own speculations and what was going to happen next with not only Blomqvist and Salander, but also some of the minor characters.  I have seen Blomqvist criticized as something of a caricature, but I don’t think Salander comes off that much better, but I did enjoy the way they were fleshed out and their motivations understood.

There is a lot here for mystery readers, finance gurus and history buffs alike as the story delves into serial killers and sadists, Sweden’s Nazi past, and intricate financial shenanigans.  A lot of the main points were answered, but as with any good first in a series, there are several stories and questions left dangling to be solved in upcoming books.  I am sorely tempted to start reading the next book, especially since this one left off in such a tender place, but I am going to give myself a breather before I jump back in again.

Recommended.

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Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks – Book Review [TSS]

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, sees Anna Frith, a young mother and housemaid in a small village, grapple with the ideas of religion, scripture and the strength of her own faith when an outbreak of the plague cripples the community in which she was born and raised.  As the village and its inhabitants undergo a transformation precipitated by the fear, grief and betrayal that the plague brings as its handmaidens, Anna faces her own demons as she takes on the unexpected  role  of healer and the even bigger task of defining who she is in the midst of staggering losses.

I was looking for something to read that would fall into alignment with all of the other great books I have read this month, and I was reminded this was on my shelf when I saw Meg mention it on write meg!. At this point I have read two of Brooks’ other novels (March and People of the Book) and I have found this first one to be most impressive, if only because I was engaged immediately with the character of Anna, and very much enjoyed the depiction of life in England in 1665, when plague was ravaging the country.  Brooks excels at grounding history in her stories in very natural and appealing ways.  That this was her first fiction outing proves to be a harbinger of the great talent she owns for creating marvelously compelling historical fiction.

This is a thoughtful novel and read, and one that was impossible to race through.  I found this to be one of the novels whose words and images I savored.  Anna is a character who is forthright and honest in who she is and the superficial ways that she initially approaches her faith.  At first she is proud enough to be one in her town of mostly illiterate farmers and miners to know how to read, but eventually her circumstances, the town’s decision regarding the plague, and further contemplation of the knowledge she holds leads her to different conclusions and further from anything she had ever before considered.

The juxtaposition between Anna’s burgeoning faith contrasted with the lost faith of her pastor and employer unfolds slowly and in satisfying ways throughout the novel, along with the exploration of superstition, witchcraft, and the ideas and application of guilt and punishment.  The operations of the town and amazing unfolding events prompted endless speculation on my part about the choices made by the characters, and where my own inclinations would have led.  Brooks’ complex working of the material made it easy to be simultaneously understanding of, fascinated by, and disappointed with some of the decisions and behaviors in which people were engaged.

Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Write MegAt Home With BooksFizzy ThoughtsSerendipityLesley’s Book NookMedieval BookwormAge 30+…A Lifetime of Books

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Chosen, by Chandra Hoffman – Book Review

Chandra Hoffman’s Chosen arrived as an unsolicited review copy a few weeks ago from Harper Collins, and I wasn’t sure when I would get to it.  Any book that promises to examine the adoption issue from all angles is definitely high on my list of books to be read, but it was this review of Chosen by novelist Laurie Tharps, author of Kinky Gazpacho and the newly released Substitute Me, which intrigued me enough to pick up my copy and start reading.

Chosen chronicles the lives of three couples.   John and Francie are an older wealthy couple, Francie desperate to adopt a child after several failed in vitro fertilization procedures; Paul and Eva, are college sweethearts who turn to adoption when faced with their own fertility problems, eventually going on conceive a child of their own; and Jason and Penny, a down and out couple whose baby will change the lives of one expectant couple, while wreaking havoc on their own.  Connecting the trio of couples is Chloe Pinter, the idealistic social worker whose own troubled family history leads her to make a career out of creating the perfect family.

I haven’t had much experience with adoption, and don’t know any of the intricacies of the process other than from the perspective of some friends of mine who are in the process of adopting from another country.  I have heard the horror stories about black market adoptions, and how hard it is to adopt in this country – especially when seeking to adopt a healthy white baby, so this novel was definitely an eye opener of insight into the workings of private adoptions, and the lives of the different participants. Chosen is a compelling read, and even though my feelings for the characters and the actions undertaken by them still require some sorting on my part, it was hard to put this book down for any length of time.  It is haunting in that it has stayed with me for several days after I finishing it.

Most of the characters are well drawn.  I like the way that we get to see the genesis of the couples and the quality of their relationships, but a few of them didn’t quite hit the mark. I reached to understand them, but failed to truly do so in a few instances.  I also wanted to hear more from John since he is the only one of the seven to never have his perspective shared and explored.

Hoffman doesn’t shy away from the desperate circumstances that force people to consider and ultimately place their children with other families.  The details about what the expenses the agency pays, when they sever responsibility, and the business of bringing in clients and birth mothers were uncomfortable to contemplate and in some cases appalling.  The online culture of the moms trying to adopt was fascinating.  It becomes evident how high a premium needs to be placed on careful consideration and discretion in the sharing of information in such delicate situation.  The mounting suspense and thriller aspects of the novel really drives that point home.

Recommended.

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To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – Book Review

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper LeeIn To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a single father raising his two children, Jem and Scout, in Maycomb County, Alabama under the watchful eyes of dear and eccentric neighbors.  Atticus rules the roost with a seemingly lenient hands off approach (he has Calpurnia to more strongly keep the kids in line), but also  does his best to raise his children with principles and respect.  When he is called upon to defend a young black man accused of raping a white woman, he refuses to shirk his duty though, his actions will have far reaching consequences for himself and his children.

I decided to take the plunge last month when Heather, from A Capricious Reader, announced festivities to celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary. I had yet to read this highly acclaimed and much loved novel, though I have spotted To Kill A Mockingbird on the favorites list of many a reader.  I wondered about this book, and why it is almost universally loved.  This will be a pretty short review as “read this book” basically sums up my thoughts on the matter, and most people probably already have!  You have to experience it for yourself.

As soon as I started reading, I loved it.  The language is rich and inviting, and I was captivated by the world of Scout and Jem, their interactions with the neighborhood, and with Atticus.  I loved getting to know the eccentric habits of the townspeople that Scout and Jem encounter – with whom they bond, and from whom they learn valuable lessons which will inform the adults they become.  Lee excels with this novel because the characters and the town that she portrays are so vivid and fully realized.  The relationship that Scout has with her father, brother and Calpurnia are touching, and I loved the fact that the she wasn’t perfect, but was a little girl of her time, learning and growing when experiences demanded it of her.  This was one of the few books this year that I wanted to start reading again as soon as I had finished it.  I can see how Harper Lee would have retired from writing after such a wonderful novel such.

A Must Read.

Read More Reviews At: Diary of An EccentricBooking Mama – A Novel Review – The 3R’s BlogHelp! I Have My Nose Stuck in A Book

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The Black Swan – Movie Trailer

Did you see what happened at the 1:09 minute mark!?!?  As a child/tween/teenager that was my biggest fear!  It might still be. But more on that in a minute.  This movie is out December 1st, and it looks like what excites me most – a smart and suspenseful psychological thriller.  Just from this clip I am wondering what in the world this girl’s (Natalie Portman) deal is and if she has some kind of breakdown from a pushy stage mother or demanding mentor? Is that other girl trying to drive her crazy?  Is there some supernatural thing out to get her and make her seem crazy and will kill her?  Is she just turning into a black swan?  So many possibilities, and it looks like it might be well done.  Of course that is the trailer’s job.  This one seems pretty successful to me.

In another bout of synchronicity, which is happening all the time lately, I started reading Gallows Hill.  It’s a young adult novel by Lois Duncan.  I picked it up because the bookstore didn’t have the one book that has caused me to have many an uncomfortable moment in front of the mirror, Stranger With My Face.  I have been terrified of looking into mirrors and seeing my reflection wink or blink are do something else that I knew I wasn’t doing since reading this book years ago.  It was a bit of shock to see an old fear of mine so vividly played out on the screen just as I  am revisiting the author who inspired such thoughts in the first place.

The cast in this one looks really good.  In addition to Natalie Portman, there is Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, and Lincoln Center.

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The Rise of the Book Trailer? And Why I Never Watch Them

I have watched with interest as a growing number of books have accompanying book trailers or some other form of visual promotion.  It’s all over the place.  More and more, because of conditions in which artists are having to resort to innovative ways to get others to experience their craft, multi-faceted strategies are needed and being used in order to engage and best reach wider audiences.  I have decided that I am not the audience for the book trailer.

It’s funny, because I will go to see a movie before I have read the book.  In fact these days, I prefer it. Past experience has lead me to believe that I am 95% likely to enjoy a book more than its movie counterpart in a side by side comparison.  So, I stopped comparing.  I have accepted that books and movies are different art forms.  I miss explorations and the characterizations that a book can delve into, but  I know that most of the things that I loved about the book would be unwieldy in a movie – you have to focus, pick and choose more when making a movie, when adapting a book.  If  I see the movie first I am better able to see it for what it is, a separate entity from the book, that can disappoint or delight me on its own merits. I enjoy reading the book later on and getting deeper into the story and often times getting a completely different and much richer story and experience.

A book trailer is much more personal to me, and therefore so much more capable of spoiling a book for me.  The author is more often than not deeply involved in translating the vision of their work, what they feel is compelling and to what they think readers will respond.  Some book trailers go so far as to cast their books, and some are like mini movies — laying everything out for you, so much so that you don’t even have to read the book anymore unless you want to check how you think it will end against the actual ending. Considering the way that I approach books, that is the last thing that I want.

Reading a book for me has always been an interactive creation between author and reader.  Reading is magical to me because of the way that I translate another’s words into an experience that is unique to me…especially for me. Initially, it is much less about criticism of the book, comparing my opinions to what others have thought, or seeing these characters as others have seen and envisioned them.  The beauty of books is that we are all given the script but the translation of that script is our own.

While reading a book, you engage with it, you cast it, you feel it, you choose the interpretation and the delivery of the scenes and the words.  In a movie you are shown what a charcter looks like, the ways in which they carry out their behaviors are pre-determined.  The entire audience will look to a movie and accept the same things, including whatever actor/actress is portraying the character.  Give this description to a hundred different people…

Paul Nova checks his reflection in the leaded floor-to-ceiling windows across the well-laid Thanksgiving table of their hosts’ formal dining room and takes stock of his life.  Thirty-one years old, moderately attractive, full head of hair, reasonably fit — not as regular to the gym as he would like to be, but the physical demands of Paul’s line of work keep him in decent shape.  He is the owner of an inherited, steadily growing electrical contracting business, transitioning somewhat smoothly  from the middle to the upper middle class.  – from Chosen, by Chandra Hoffman

I know what Paul looks like to me, but I doubt if my Paul is quite like your Paul.  We each get to have our own version of Paul, and how he looks and behave, that we carry with us throughout the book, and later on to our discussions of the book, and how we talk to others about the book, or recommend or don’t recommend the book.

I am a reader that wants the barest hint of what a story is about because the fun for me is seeing how it will unfold on the screen in my head, and what my first thoughts are about whatever world I am inhabiting, and the characters I am meeting.  I want to know what others thought, and share impressions and understandings, and be further enlightened about the books I read, but only after I have a chance to experience them without someone else telling me the way they  think I should perceive them.

I do watch certain trailers after I have read the book (my title was just catchier without mentioning that part!), just to see how much they give away and how much they shape perception. They usually do both a little too much for my taste.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

What about you?  Do you like book trailers?  Do they help you decide what to read? Do they complement and enhance, or hinder the way you read books?  Do you seek them out?  Before or after you read the book?

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Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty, by G. Neri & Randy Duburke – Book Review

Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty, by G. Neri

Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty, by G. NeriYummy:  The Last Days of A Southside Shorty, by G. Neri & Randy Duburke
Lee and Low Books – July 30, 2010 – Paperback – 96 pages
Source: Review Copy

I can’t recall when I first heard the story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, but I remember that it was sometime earlier this year.  I was captivated and immediately haunted by the story of the eleven-year-old who, in 1994, was executed by members of his own gang after police attention in the wake of the shooting and killing of an innocent young bystander made him a liability.  The sadness I felt at the death of his young victim, Shavon Dean, Yummy’s role in it and his own terrible suffering from severe abuse, and his eventual murder by two teenaged brothers, stayed with me for quite some time.  No child should grow up this way, nor be faced with Yummy’s choices.

In May, I visited the office of Lee & Low Books with friends Amy and Natasha.  We were given advance copies of Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty.  Natasha was excited because she was familiar with the author’s work, but I had not yet made the connection between the graphic novel we were given, and the story that for days had left me with an ache in my heart.  Using a fictitious character, Roger, a young boy Yummy’s age, as a witness and narrator to Yummy’s life, G. Neri and illustrator Randy Burke attempt to make sense where sense can hardly be made.  They succeed, in words and illustrations, by asking the questions that prompt examination and hopefully inspire different choices than the ones Yummy made.

I strongly suggest that you check out this story for yourself.  Both author and illustrator did an excellent job of portraying the complexities and intricacies of Robert Sandifer.  The super sweet child who slept with a teddy bear and loved his grandmother -nicknamed Yummy for his love of sweets, and the unrelenting bully who would eventually kill in his search for a place where he belonged. As familiar as I was with the story, this was still an emotional read for me.  The author did a wonderful job of sifting through the facts and rendering all of the pertinent details in a way that is accessible to young readers while  complex enough for adults.  This is a work that demands discussion.  Prepare for a story that won’t easily let you go.

Highly Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: A Patchwork of BooksReading In Color

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TSS: The Really Lazy Days of Summer

How is everyone this fine Sunday morning?  It is a merciful 71 degrees in NYC, and I have had (gasp!) my windows open for the first time in weeks.  It is so wonderful to have a week where the high temp is 80.  I am really, really grateful.

A couple of weeks ago I was complaining about it being the dog days of summer.  So since things have gotten even slower now than they were before, I am not sure what to call it.  I have read four books so far this month (Folly, Song Yet Sung, Procession of the Dead and Perfect Peace) and have spent the last week on the first third of my fifth, Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks.  I am thrilled with the quality of what I have been reading.

There is something to be said for me  in taking the time to carefully choose the next book I want to read, and reading according to whim.  I have enjoyed books so much more than reading something because, for whatever reason,  I felt like I needed to read it.  I will continue with Brooks today, but I just have a feeling that I won’t get very far.  If I read ten pages a day, that seems to be a huge accomplishment lately.  At this rate I should finish this book at the end of August.

My cousin has been staying with me for the past week, so that has contributed a lot to my reading decline.  She’s ten, so if we read for an hour,in her mind, we have read already for the day and it’s time to go and do something.  It has been a lot of fun to have her here with me for the week.  I think the highlight of the week may have been when we volunteered at the Farmer’s Market and she got to water tomatoes and wash mustard greens.  She also got a big kick out of My Friend Amy’s Amy interviewing me on That’s How I Blog! She keeps asking me if I am famous because I have an internet radio show, and then she googled me and saw lots of search results.  She wants me to name drop her.

Never a dull moment, and boy, I never realized that she talked so much.  Once a month she comes to have a sleepover with me, but I guess there is a big difference in 24 hours and 168 hours!  She talks no matter what I am doing and whether it requires my concentration or not. It has been quite an experience.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Is this what it’s like to have children? If it is I think I am already tired on behalf of children I haven’t had yet. 🙂

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Remembrance, by Jude Deveraux – Book Review

Hayden Lane is a romance writer living in New York City.  While writing her next novel, she becomes enamored of the lead male character in the book, so much so that she literally cannot stop writing about him even though her manuscript is long overdue. Through time travel via hypnosis, Hayden finds herself trapped in the body of Lady de Grey, a haughty and promiscuous yet unhappy Edwardian era wife whose marriage is on the verge of collapse to the very hero of her book!  Hayden goes even further into the past to solve the mystery of their doomed marriage, sure that it is connected to her twentieth century romantic troubles.

Remembrance is the book that my book club selected as a lighter read in celebration of Valentine’s Day last February.  I recommended this particular book after having enjoyed some of Deveraux’s books back in college.  As it turns out, I had this confused with another of Deveraux’s books, A Knight in Shining Armor, and though I didn’t enjoy this one as much upon a second reading, it made for a great book club discussion.

Deveraux starts the novel off with a rant, via Hayden, on those who malign romance novels and their writers as a criminals worse than terrorists and goes on to discuss some of the attitudes facing romance writers, who only want to spread some joy.   Deveraux’s novel is  well written and easy to get into and I, as well as others in my book group,  was intrigued by the reincarnation aspect of the story.

I was engaged through the first level of the story and curious as to how Lady de Grey and Hayden’s paths connected.  It was when Deveraux went back to another incarnation that the story began to lose me.  The lives of Tally and Callie were my downfall. Deveraux starts to follow their story from infancy and I really didn’t enjoy the cloying way that Callie lived and breathed for Tally from the moment they were born.  It drove me crazy, but for others it was the best part of the story.  I loved Deveraux’s use of history in the novel and the scenes of the past were vivid and realistic, and the saving grace of the novel for me.  On the whole I like my romance mixed in with other stories and plots, but if you like it straight, then Deveraux is a fine place to start.

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