Charlaine Harris wrote " A Secret Rage" back in the mid-80's, long before she became famous for her mysteries and her vampire series.
It can be read as a short, well-constructed mystery that keeps the reader guessing while giving an insight into life in a small college town in the South, but it is much more than that.
At its core, " A Secret Rage" is a hard hitting, unflinching look at what rape is, what it does to the people it is inflicted on and to the people around them.
The rape scene is brutal and vivid without being exploitative. The descriptions of the impact of the rape, of the rage it produces, of the scars it leaves, of the bravery needed to face it and the love needed to respond to it are emotionally hard hitting because they feel authentic and unfiltered.
This is a novel with an agenda: no woman deserves to be raped and no rapist should be allowed to go unpunished.
It is also a story about how women can help and support each other or how they can inflict more pain through shame and blame.
Recorded Books produced "A Secret Rage" as part of the "Southern Voices" series. Johanna Parker's performance brings these voices to life and anchors the story in an authentic setting that makes it harder for the reader to distance themselves from the story.
This is not a light read. If you aren't in tears, if your rage isn't stirred, if your revulsion is not awakened, then you weren't listening to the same book I was.
Much as I love the Sookie Stackhous books (so much better than the TV series) and the Harper Connelly books, I think this is the book of hers that I will remember the longest.
"A Monstrous Regiment Of Woman" is well written, skillfully narrated, filled with memorable characters, and spiced with discussions of challenging ideas on religion and on the role of women.
In the first book, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice", Mary Russell was an "apprentice" to the Master Craftsman of detection, Sherlock Holmes. She was as young and as impressionable as she was passionate and talented.
In "A Monstrous Regiment Of Women" she comes into her majority in every way. She inherits her fortune, establishes her own household, prepares prestigious academic papers and gets her own "case" to pursue.
Holmes plays an important role in the book, Russell's relationship to him defines a great deal about her, but it Russell who is central. Her mind, her passions, her religious views, shape the events in this story and give it meaning.
One of the strengths of "A Monstrous Regiment Of Women" is how embedded it is in the period without being buried in historical detail. The book opens at Christmas 1920, when men, many of them damaged, had returned from the Great War to a land that was not "fit for heroes", when woman were being displaced from the jobs they performed while the men were at war and when the "doomed generation" haunted by death, and stalked by mental instability, sought relief in through sex and drugs and jazz music. The book captures the restless, fragmented spirit of the time beautifully by focusing on events around Margery Childe, a charismatic "Minister" who uses the bible to preach love and demonstrate the value of women while promoting pragmatic philanthropy. This opens up discussions on poverty, social inequity, misogyny, theology and mysticism.
I was fascinated by the effect that Childe had on Russell. Russel is a theological scholar, passionately devoted to studying the Jewish and Christian religious texts to learn their history and unravel the meaning their writers intended to convey. Childe is aware only of the St Jame's version of the Bible. She reads it to understand what God intends for the world. Russel's understanding of the text is superior to Childe's in every way except that Childe has the gift of deep, all-absorbing belief. Russell is suspicious of Childe. She is reluctant to accept that what she is seeing is a woman channeling God's grace. It is easier for her to believe that she is seeing a woman seeking power and perhaps wealth. Unfortunately for Russell she is too honest and her mind is too subtle to stop there. She has to confront the contrast between strength of Childe's belief and the depth of her own knowledge and wonder which of them is the poorer.
Childe's "sermons" are wonderful. Although I learned nothing new about the scriptures, I could feel the tug of her passion, the undertow of her belief. I understood the appeal of surrendering myself to it rather than swimming against that tide. That Russell did not surrender tells me a great deal about her.
One of the most memorable things about the book was the misogynistic quotes that open each chapter. King doesn't comment on them. She doesn't have to. Each one is breathtakingly appalling in its bigotry and anger. That these quotes come from educated men who were leaders in their time is astonishing. I have become so used to the aspiration on gender equality, no matter how seldom it is achieved, that I had allowed myself to forget the centuries of male thought and teaching that declared women to be less than fully human.
The quotes took the violence against the women in the book, especially Childe and Russell, and defined it not as some extraordinary melodramatic device but as part of the day to day world, an interpretation that is much more chilling.
I continued to enjoy the contrapuntal nature of the relationship between Russell and Holmes. She is a child of the twentieth century, a woman in a society where the old certainties on gender are starting to erode, a jew studying chemistry and theology with the same intellectual curiosity. He was raised to be a Victorian Gentleman, with all the advantages of gender and class on his side, has almost retreated from public life, has a passion for science but has no noticeable inclination towards theism. What binds them together is that they both see the world in a fundamentally analytical way, that allows them a clear view of the people around them while placing them at a distance from them. They both carry scars and guilt and both choose to retain their individuality even at the cost of living outside the bounds of respectability.
I'm hooked on this series now that it is clear that Russell is not the new Watson. I'm looking forward to the rest of the books.
"Midnight Come Again" opens like a Tom Clancy novel with a rogue Russian military unit killing people in an armed robbery in Moscow.
It was well written and intriguing but it left me with one big question: where is Kate Shugak?
I'm fairly sure this is the reaction that Dana Stabenow expected me to have as this is the question the whole novel sets out to answer.
The events in most of this novel are not seen from Kate's point of view but from Jim Chopin's. Jim has been asking around the Park to see if anyone knows where Kate is. No-one has any information for him but they all expect him to bring her back. Jim's search is cut short when he is sent undercover, working with the FBI to try and find a high-profile Russian crime boss who is thought to be in port. By chance, his assignment brings him face to face with Kate.
The Kate he meets is not the Kate Shugak I knew in the first nine books. She has literally vanished. Kate cannot or will not face that she is alive and Jack Morgan is dead. She has left her home, her friends and even her name behind. She is lost in guilt and grief and anger. Yet she does not curl up in a corner or dive into a bottle. She works, hard and long, mastering new tasks running an air-taxi/freight service. Kate shapes how the world she works in is organized because she doesn't know how NOT to do that. She works because work is better than having time to think and much, much better than having time to feel. Kate has a job but she doesn't really have a life. This seems to have been her goal: to be "the working dead".
Her meeting with Jim Chopin begins events that will force her out of the Hide she has built for herself. She becomes embroiled in the case and she becomes angry at Jim. It seemed to me that she rages at him because he is full of life and he will not let her deny her own life.
The plot in "Midnight Come Again" is strong, relatively complex and darker than some of the other books. I was struck by the contrast between Kate's drinking session with Russian seamen in this book and her session with the Russian sailors in "Dead In The Water." In "Dead In The Water" the session was lightly flirtatious, Kate was in control and there was nothing more sinister in the room than an exuberant excess of testosterone. In "Midnight Come Again" the drinking session has an undercurrent of threat, Kate is damaged and vulnerable, and there is serious cause to worry about her.
Kate is dragged back to herself, not just by Jim Chopin but through contact with an old school friend and her family. Kate is given a context for how she is seen by others, learns new things about her grandmother and incurs a moral debt towards a young girl.
The emerging dynamic between Kate and Jim injects fresh emotional conflict while also dealing realistically with reactions to grief. Not just Kate's grief for Jack Morgan, but Jim's grief for seeming to lose the woman Kate used to be.
This book is a good stand-alone thriller. It is also a very skillful bridge between the Kate we knew before the events of "Hunter's Moon" and the Kate who is finding her way after it. The emotional tone is perfect and made "Midnight Come Again" a very satisfying read.
The title sounded like a quote but I wasn't familiar with the source. An Internet search suggested that it might be from Theodore Roethke's poem "A Dark Time." The tone seems right. It's a good poem. Go HERE to read it for yourself
I almost didn't find this book because it has been relisted as "Jack Reacher: One Shot", linking it to the movie "Jack Reacher"
Don't let that put you off. The book is better than the movie if only because I didn't have to watch 5'7" Cruise playing 6'5" Jack Reacher.
This book starts a sniper killing people in a public square. The police do a thorough and efficient job and quickly find the killer. An absolute slam dunk. No doubt about it. Which immediately tells anyone who has read the other Reacher books that nothing is as it appears to be.
For once, Reacher is not pulled into the action by a damsel in distress but by a clever plot device that places him in am ambiguous position about wh0's side he's on and which undermines his credibility with the police.
Reacher's violent nature and huge size are used against him to force him into hiding. He then has to solve the case and kill the bad guys on his own. Except the plot doesn't quite allow for that so he recruits a temporary "Scoobie Gang" and takes them all with him to get the job done.
There are some good things in the this book: great exposition of the original police investigation, lot's of stuff on how to shoot with a long gun that's actually kept quite interesting, a fight staged like a ballet and a reasonably well-drawn set of characters.
Unfortunately the elaborate plot and the implausible violence of the denouement stretched my suspension of disbelief so far that it snapped and came back and hit me in the face before the end of the book.
"One Shot" is an enjoyable read but far from Lee Child's best.
It didn't help me that this Jack Reacher novel was narrated by Dick Hill who, to my ears, sounds too old to be Jack Reacher. I much prefer Jeff Harding.
I listened to the audiobook version of "Written In Red" in December 2013. I didn't write a review because I was so blown away all I'd have been able to say was: "Best fantasy novel I've read in a long, long time." I needed a bit of distance to get some perspective on what I enjoyed and why.
Last weekend, I was in "Forbidden Planet" in Liverpool and saw that the third book in the series, "Vision In Silver" had just been released in hardback. It was an instant and joyful buy. So I figured it was time to review the books that have brought me so much pleasure.
In my view "Written In Red" is closer to classic science fiction than it is to urban fantasy. Anne Bishop isn't writing about supernatural creatures roaming city streets. She's created an alternative reality, imagined the way good science fiction should be: starting with two small changes to our familiar reality - humans are not at the top of the food chain and shapeshifters are not only real but dominant - while keeping everything else the same and then working through the consequences. She then delivers complex, credible, I'm-hungry-to-know-more world-buidling in simple prose. But what makes this book unmissable is the way she made her world real to me by creating characters I cared about and putting them in peril.
The back story to Anne Bishop's alternative reality is that humans evolved and developed their civilization away from the wilderness that covers most of the planet. Then they came into contact with The Others - predatory shapeshifters and fierce elementals - who dominate the planet and to whom humans are "clever meat". The two cultures clashed. The humans lost, again and again, over centuries. Eventually the humans negotiated the right to specific pieces of land in exchange for services rendered.
At the time of the events of "Written In Red", humans are thriving on their "reservations" and are being supervised by Others living in Courtyards from which they observe what the clever meat is up to.
The Others in "Written In Red" can be described as werewolves or vampires or even werecrows but Anne Bishop only uses the familiar tropes to twist away from them. The Others are not humans who shift into wolves. They are wolves who occasionally choose to put on human skin. The Others are fundamentally alien. They literally eat humans that displease them. They are fiercely loyal to each other. They have a strong sense of pack or flock or hierarchy. They are civilized but they are not at all like us.
Into this world comes Meg Corbyn, a homeless waif with a secret. A Courtyard takes her in as their "Human Liaison" and the history of the world starts to pivot. Meg is engaging vulnerable, empathetic, curious, kind, and dutiful. Her innocence is explained by her sequestered life as a cassandra sangue, a woman who can see the future if her is skin is sliced. That she is kind and extremely likable is explained only by the fact that she is Meg.
The interaction between Meg and the Others is one of the most enjoyable things about the book. They laugh at her and puzzle over her but they also give her shelter. They declare her to "Our Meg" and protect her even though they are unaware of her background. She becomes, in effect, a valued pet human.
The treatment of the cassandra sangue by humans is far more monstrous than anything the Others do. When the Others sell human flesh as "Special Meat" it is an honest, malice-free act. When humans exploit the cassandra sangue, their actions are both fundamentaly inhumane and realistically human.
Anne Bishop's alternative reality is as dark and threatening as an ancient forest. Immediately after reading the book, I might have said that the darkness came from the constant threat the Others pose to humans, but the darkest image lingering in my imagination is Meg's razor: the one with her number on it, the one that was used to slice her skin to force her visions, the only thing she carried with her to her new freedom. The razor is a source pain and pleasure, a sign of slavery and a badge of honour, a bone-deep fear and a heart-felt desire. The razor and all it means, makes Meg Corbyn much darker than she first appears to be. In many ways it brings her closer to being one of the Others and makes her disturbing as well as engaging.
In "Written in Red", most humans who have power or are seeking it, are not mentally equipped to accept a status quo in which they are not at the top of the food chain. They are constantly plotting, looking for an edge that will enable them to become the apex predators. This seemed realistic to me, although I think the human evil-doers would have been more interesting if they had been a little less irredeemably venal.
Alexandra Harris does an excellent job as the narrator, particularly with the voice she uses for Meg.
"Written In Red" is original, rigorously thought through, passionate and written in deceptively simple prose. I believe it is the start of an outstanding series.
This is one of those books that it's easy to misrepresent. I've seen it described as a SF techno/polictical thriller about an ass-kicking, sexy, killer android. And it is. Except... it really isn't.
What keeps me reading these books is that it is not about how exciting it is to see a fembot in action. Cassandra Kresnov, who calls herself Sandy. is not human but she is a person, with emotions as well as an intellect, opinions and preferences as well as an accurate grasp of the data and in search of friendship and freedom and meaning rather than just personal survival.
The themes of the book are trust, loyalty, belonging, being loved, and what it means to be a person. The themes are explored against the background of a power struggle between competing ideologies carried out at the political and paramilitary level. No simple lines are drawn here. Sandy has to deal with the reality that politics are complex and many of the players are neither wholly good not wholly bad, that she is hated by many, marked for death by some and loved by a few people close to her. By the end of the novel she seems to have decided that what matters is who she loves and who she is loved by - not a classic fembot orientation.
Another deviation from the fembot stereotype comes when Sandy is asked to rescue a boy who is being held hostage by terrorists. Her reaction is one of regret. She is completely certain that, despite how impossible the task would be for a human, she can kill all three terrorist and save the child. She doesn't want to do this because, in her mind, the certainty of the deaths turns these kills into murder. Yet she kills the men and saves the boy because she can't see an alternative. In her mind, this means that she did something that was wrong because she decided that it was necessary. No excuses, just an evaluation of her own actions.
Joel Shepherd has given the book a good rhythm. It starts with action scenes: fast, graphic, lot's of explosions and gunfire and mayhem in public places; then moves on to personal reflection, usually by Sandy, on what the action meant; then he dives into complex and fascinating political intrigue, then dwells on the beauty of the city and the civilization it represents, before repeating the sequence from the top. He manages the rythm with skill and produces a much better book as a consequence of it.
"Breakaway" carries straight on from the first book, "Crossover" starting with one of what is to be many intense action scenes, chasing down bad guys bent on murder and mayhem. The person doing the chasing isn't Sandy but a new character, Ari Ruben, a hacker turned security guy who will give Sandy a lot to think about. Sandy will also be challenged by the political changes in The League, the alliance who created her and who she defected from in the first book. The political stress between Earth and its colonies continue to grow. Joel Shepherd has created fertile ground for a long series here.
Dina Pearlman, the narrator, continues to mangle the text with the use of random inflections that frequently slowed down my ability to process its meaning. She remains very good at dialogue and accents but I really wish they'd picked a different narrator for these books.
"A Fine And Bitter Snow" moves right along from "Singing For The Dead" continuing the "we're really a series now" feeling that has been there since "Hunter's Moon".
This book brings Kate back to the Park and gets her reinvolved with the regular cast of characters from the previous books. Kate is most fully herself in the Park. Seeing her in this environment shows how she has changed: her quite assumption that she can and should intervene in Park politics, the hole in her life where Jack used to be and her dawning recognition that, although she still values her solitude, she yearns for a man to share her life with.
I can also see what hasn't changed: Kate's loyalty to her friends, her refusal to be pushed into anything, her bravery in the face of danger and her practical compassion in her dealings with people in trouble.
"A Fine And Bitter Snow" gave me another opportunity to see Kate through Jim Chopin's eyes. Somehow this seems a clearer and more passionate view than I ever remember getting through Jack Morgan's eyes.
There is, of course a murder and Kate involves herself in investigating it. The death takes Kate back to her childhood and beyond, to the very early days of the Park being formed and shows once again that you can never leave your past behind you. The murder mystery is not particularly challenging but that is more than made up for by how well drawn the characters are.
I dislike murder books that seem fascinated with the murderer, revelling in the violence they do to others and relegating the victims to incidental plot devices. Dana Stabenow draws real people and describes real grief. In many ways, this makes her murders much more terrible than those of her more blood-thirsty contemporaries.
One of the ways that the people in the Park deal with grief is through holding a Potlach. Kate sets this one up (another way in which she is unconsciously stepping into her grandmother's shoes) and her choice of the picture as a Potlach gift sums up the focus on celebrating the person's life. The stories told at the Potlach reminded me of the ones that were told at the wakes my (Irish) grandfather's generation used to hold.
I'm hooked on Kate Shugak now and no longer constrained by books not being available on audible (at least in the US - there are still gaps in the UK) so I've downloaded the rest of the books and will be rationing them out at one a month (unless I give way to weakness and read more).
The Kate Shugak books are usually credible, compact mysteries, set against a backdrop of some significant aspect of life in Alaska. "Dead In The Water" has Jack Morgan getting Kate to go under-cover as crew boat fishing for crab off the Aleutian Islands, to investigate the disappearance of two former crew members.
What follows is a vivid description of what life on board is like and an mystery with enough twist and turns and action and physical danger to keep everything moving along nicely.
For me the "whodunit" aspects of the Kate Shugak novels are secondary considerations, a frame for hanging the important stuff from. When the book is back on the shelf and time has passed, it's not the plot twist that stay with me but the vivid scenes of Alaskan life and what I learn about Kate Shugak.
"Dead In The Water" has several of these memorable moments: Kate drinking with a crew of Russian fishermen in a bar in the port, all of them trying to woo her in a semi-serious, larger than life kind of way; Kate's enounter with a young, deformed, Aluet girl who interprets life by using a storyknife to draw in the sand on the beach and her basket-weaviung grandmother who shares details of the history of her people and Kate's plunge into the freezing depths, trapped in a crab cage. All of these are told with a skill and an eye for detail that makes them real and compelling.
Kate is the centre piece of all of these novels. She is the reason I keep coming back. I this novel I got to see her as a woman confident enough of her own attractiveness and her own strength to spend time with the Russian sailors without feeling threatened by them or offending them. I saw the softer side of her in her gentle teasing of her young, over-enthusiastic Californian-surfer crewmate who loves EVERYTHING Alaskan. I saw the heart of her in her passionate relationship with Jack Morgan. I saw her again tracing the impact of her heritage and her culture in her deference to the elder who teaches her to weave and her affection for the young girl telling stories written in sand.
That is more than enough to make any book successful and is quite extraordinary for a short, crime-fiction novel.
I bought this book for all the wrong reasons: it was on offer, I liked the title and I loved the cover.
Two chapters in, I was so taken aback by the style and the content that I thought, "Damn, I knew those were stupid reasons to buy a book" and almost stopped reading.
Then I examined my own reaction and realized that I was in a kind of reader's shock. The problem with reading something original and different is that the WTF reaction can produce complete disorientation. My imagination struggled for traction, not because the writing was difficult or obscure, but because the style and the content of the story were so different from what I'd expected. I was having difficulty figuring out what I was supposed to do with the book.
The answer, of course, was open up my imagination, relax my preconceptions, and listen to what the author had to say.
A third of the way through the book, I was in love: with the characters, with idea of a story told as a series of first person accounts on tape to a third-party, with the deft skill Marie Manilla showed in moving back and forth along the timeline in a way that enhanced my enjoyment and deepened my understanding and with the constant dance between magic and reality, belief and logic, love and hate, fate and choice, that was presented in a series of bravura performances, ranging in intensity from a broadway musical, through classical ballet to a passionate flamenco.
This book made me think, made me cry and made me hope. Two thirds of the way through, I wanted it to go on forever. I wanted to wrap myself up in this world and never leave.
Sadly, I found the ending week and disjointed. I got nothing at all from the last chapter, which, although it bookended the first chapter, seemed so disconnected from the action of the novel that I became irritated with it.
There are things about the book that people may find challenging: the plot and the narrative style walk a tightrope between the reality and myth, making it hard to know what I was meant to believe or not believe; forcing me make and re-make my own decisions on the truth of the tale. The language in the book is casually (but deliberately) offensive to modern-day ears (Poor Italians in America who live on DagoWop Hill - insult, humour, honesty, all of the above?). The attitude towards the Catholic Church, the clergy and the nature of miracles is antagonistic to the point of insult. Men are depicted, for the most part, as nasty, brutish and short-lived. The rich are shown as selfish, vain, and vicious. The poor are shown as superstious and ignorant.
What lifts the book above a rant or a semi-mystical piece of nonsense, is that it is powered by a deep understanding of the need for love: the love between father and daughter; mother and daughter, husband and wife. It shows families in different configurations and holds them to a single test of worth: do you love each other?
This book is bold and innovative and ambitious so it is inevitable that there were points were I found myself momentarily pitched out of the story when my ability to believe had been stretched too far, but the book as a whole is a joy I'm glad I didn't miss.
The thing I've enjoyed most about the previous White Trash Zombies books has been the development of Angel Crawford from junkie, high school drop out, loser to hard-working zombie morgue worker with a good heart and firm friendships.
I'm not sure whether this book presses the turbo-charge button on that development or sets us off on a completely different path. It's unsettling. I think Dianne Rowland means it to be. By the end of this book, it's clear that we're not going to have a series of Angel books that repeats the same plots and characters like a familiar soap. There is a story arc here and I suspect the ride is going to get very bumpy
Angel Crawford goes through a series of changes in this book that make her look less familiar. She is taken away from her home town to the bright lights of New York City which she gawks at like any first-time tourist and which also has some unpleasant surprises in store for her, one of which is a store owner who tries to rape her. Suddenly Angel becomes Wasp from "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" and is one step away from killing her assailant. Next we see her in action against the Saberton bad guys (and the things they do really are I-think-I'm-going-to-throw-up bad) where, with the help of special chemical "mods", she becomes Ninja Angel, moving at speed and killing with ease. It doesn't stop there. She for plot reasons that I won't reveal, she goes on to be the one who negotiates with Saberton and becomes Power-play Angel, right down to the fancy clothes and bringing her own armed muscle who always politely refers to her as "Miss Crawford."
All of this is well done. The action scenes and the dialogue work, the plot kept me turning the pages and there's still a sort of did-I-do-that amazement, tinged with self-deprecating humour that keeps Angel from being simply monstrous.
When the time came to go home, I stated to wonder if it was "Miss Crawford" or "Angel" I'd be reading about next.
It turned out that Dianne Rowling had one more change to throw my way: the re-emergence of the old Angel who is still connected to her old boy friend, still having fights in bars, still fighting the same urges.
By the cliff-hanger end of the book the old angel and the new angel are ready to produce something different - good or bad is still to be seen but you can bet that I'll be buying the next book to find out.
"A Fatal Thaw", the second Kate Shugak book, is a substantial improvement on the first: the plot is more complicated, the characterization is stronger, the descriptions of Alaska and its people are sharp, vivid and memorable. This was the book that made me eager to read the rest of the series.
Dana Stabenow makes Alaska a character in her books. In " A Fatal Flaw" we experience the ferocious beauty of Alaska's mountains via an avalanche that Dana Stabenow makes frighteningly real.
The plot of the book provides a vehicle for exploring life in a very small bush town. Kate has to dig through the things people would like to keep secret, the histories they hide, the passions they disguise, the failings that are usually politely ignored unless someone turns up dead.
The spree-killer at the start of the book, who goes from homestead to homestead, shooting everyone he can find, pulls out a darker aspect of Alaska, which is famous for attracting the strange loners. The way Kate and Mutt bring him down is also a lesson in Alaska. Here you can't wait for the police to arrive. You have to act, and it you're Kate Shugak, you have to do more than protect yourself, you have to stop the killing. If you're Mutt, you have to do whatever it takes to keep Kate safe.
What really lifted the book above the norm for me was finding out more about Kate. It becomes clear that Kate is hiding out on her homestead, isolating herself so that she can get through life one day at a time after the trauma she's been through. It's equally clear that her former boss and many members of her community expect more of her. No-one is in the least surprised that it is Kate who takes down the killer at the beginning of the book and no-one objects when she is asked to investigate further.
Kate engages in the investigation reluctantly. It doesn't fill her with the joy of the hunt. . She understands and empathises with the weaknesses of the people around her and is mindful of their privacy. She is not motivated by enforcing the law. She acts to bring a natural justice that will restore people's ability to live as neighbours and to live with themselves.
By the end of novel, it's clear that Kate has started slowly to re-engage with the world, her culture and her community. Dana Stabenow captures this through a memorable and moving account of Kate at a Potlatch for the dead where she dances with an Elder and begins her own emotional thaw.
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