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Show Us Your Books, August edition: The one with short books

Second Tuesday of the month. You know what that means. 

Don’t forget to visit both me and Steph, some of the others linking up, and let me know what you’re reading in the comments if you forgot to write a post and/or you’re a non-blogger. 


You guys. The Devil in the White City is murdering my reading mojo. The parts about the serial killer are fucking fascinating but getting through the parts about the coming together of the World’s Fair is a tedium I’ve never read through before. Since I’m still working through it, and cannot read more than 20 pages at a time (although I have taken to skipping the World’s Fair chapters completely and just reading the murdery ones), I also have a side book. As you do. And the side books this month have all been rather short. I don’t think I read one that was more than 350 pages. I was more eclectic than usual this month as well. No real reason. 

If you follow me on Litsy (I think my user name is just my name, Jana, because I am insanely creative), you’ve seen these reviews and I apologize but I am way too lazy to rereview them. 

Hurt People by Cote Smith. A decent thriller that I liked, not loved. The premise was great, the plot well executed, the tension was palpable, and he’s an engaging writer but the fact that that narrator was what I pictured to be a 9 year old boy became tiring after awhile. I don’t know how to properly describe it but there was a lot of what the narrator imagined would happen in a scenario before there was actually what happened. It bothered me. Also, the two main characters didn’t have names. I’m sure it’s a stylistic choice to make a point but it bothered me.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin. Emily, you and I are done. Between the last book and this piece of shit, I can’t read you anymore. In fact, the best thing I can say about this book is that it was better than your last one. I loathed the characters, the plot, and it was difficult to care about anything that happened, even the sad stuff. And, having struggled with infertility issues, the whole pregnancy/baby daddy/sperm donor storyline was oversimplified and borderline offensive. This was an ARC from NetGalley and I think I’m supposed to thank the publisher for the book, too, but I can’t remember who it is. Sorry, publisher. 

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson. This book sort of reminded me of a literary version of Defending Your Life (the movie with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep where he dies and goes on trial to see if he goes to heaven or has to try life again. It’s a great movie if you’ve not seen it). What I liked most about the book was not the writing or characters, which were good and interesting, respectively, but the way it makes you think about the value of happiness and how we measure a life. It’s a quick, thoughtful read and while it starts off slow, it’s worth it to keep going. This was a NetGalley ARC as well. 

Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa. After this book, I am now obsessed with her and I swear it has nothing to do with the fact that she regrammed my blurb about her book on IG. She’s just fucking awesome and I cannot wait to get my hands on her other books. This book, though, is funny and real and honest and packed with self-help information that anyone of any age can use and she gives it in such a noncondescending way that you feel empowered after you read it. She says that she loves Amy Poehler (there’s a whole chapter about it) and this book actually reminds me of Yes Please. Personal stories with a tinge of self-deprecation intertwined with life lessons and almost no ego or braggadocio (and trust when I say she has plenty to brag about). Even if you don’t like self-help books, read this one. 

The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon. If you listen to The Armchair Librarians, you know my thoughts on this book but to sum up: what a badass, pioneering, smart, determined woman we have sitting on the bench. This country is better because of her. Not only did she advocate and fight for equality but her own personal struggles and triumphs over the discrimination she faced made it all that more compelling of a read. Her relationship with her husband was incredible and the chapter at the end for how to live like RBG is probably my favorite. The only con is reading through the legalese but the authors break it down pretty well. 

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. I’m not sure exactly what it is about this book that made me enjoy it so much. But there was something about the way the characters intersected and the way she wrote, like she was in my living room, telling me a story instead of writing it, and the backdrop of 1980 and the NYC arts scene that made it a compelling, heartbreaking, and beautiful read. I feel like this book is what Sweetbitter tried to do. 

Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard. I enjoy Hannah Pittard as a writer. Having read all of her books, I say that with certainty. She weaves a story with beautifully and perfectly choiced words, and, since her books are short, precision. She tells wonderful narratives and constructs realistic plots. That said, this book did not do what I wanted it to. The defining moment of the plot was rushed, and I felt completely misled as to what it was going to be, and there was too much minutia instead. And that type of climactic moment usually reduces me to tears but in this book, it felt too clinical and matter of fact. There was no emotion connected to it. And Mark, the husband, is a raging turd. He almost ruined the book. I hated him and wanted him to go away. 

TL;DR–Add Tuesday Nights in 1980, Real Artists Have Day Jobs, The Notorious RBG. The Invoice if you need a quick vacation book. Avoid Emily Giffin. Watch Defending Your Life

Your turn. You know what to do. Next one is September 13. 

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Show Us Your Books, July edition: The one with lots of intensity

Well this Show Us Your Books sneaked up on us pretty damn quick, didn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me because I’m still on my blogging break (mostly). I wanted to come back sooner but I’m struggling with some things and want to sort that all out before I start writing consistently again. We’ll hash all that out in a post later on because today is all about the books.

This past month was full of intensely intense books. I’ve never been one to read with the seasons (i.e., light and fluffy in the summer, heavy in the winter) and this month definitely proves it. I read some seriously batshit crazy books with some seriously batshit crazy characters. I also read a book about a plane crash while actually on a plane so that shows you just how good my decision making skills are. 

Note: for the most part, these reviews are the ones I’ve written on Litsy (you can follow me there if you want, @saysjana, but only if you have an iPhone. It’s not available for Androids yet). I’ve learned that I’m terrible at most of the social media but this one is a bit different and it helps me track my reading and reviews for this here linkup. It also helps me keep my reviews a bit shorter because, as we all know, I’m longwinded. #sorrynotsorry 


True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner. I fucking loved this book. Read it in one sitting. I think it helped that I wasn’t familiar with the case so all the information was new to me. I adored his writing style and how he interwove his life with his obsession in solving Maura’s disappearance. To me, this is how you do a memoir.

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’ve said before that TJR is an author I’ll never quit mostly because her books are predictably good and reliable. She’s just the right mix of solid writing, chick lit, and likable characters set in what feels like realistic situations. Her books consistently entertain me and this one was no different. I got this from NetGalley AND it was a book I read for Erin and Dani’s challenge. 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. You know how I said I read a book about a plane crash while physically on a plane? s: It’s this one. The plane crash is not at all a spoiler, I promise. I loved the writing and the storytelling and the way he told the story of the passengers on the plane but the plot had so much going on and too many characters that it got annoying and lost me at times. However, it’s still worth the read. Just not on a plane. That’ll freak you out. Also a NetGalley book and a book for Erin and Dani’s challenge. 

Breadline USA: The Hidden Scandal of Hunger in America and How To Fix It by Sasha Abramsky. The best thing I can say about this book is that it was decent. I like a good social policy book but this was not it. I found him pretentious and obnoxious and out of touch and, roughly 7 years after the book’s publication, it seems woefully out of date. This seems like a topic he seized on because at the height of the recession it was trendy but it lacked passion and a genuine concern for the problem he’s discussing. 

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman. Steph and I will be discussing this on an upcoming episode of The Armchair Librarians so you’ll get a more in-depth review then. But for now we’ll say that this is one of those books that when it’s good, it’s kick ass awesome and intense and fucked up and you can’t put it down but when it’s not, it’s boring and tedious and whiny. The ending is MESSED UP so proceed with caution. 

Shelter by Jung Yun. This is a well-written examination of the repercussions of a violent event that hits (no pun intended) a Korean-American family (this last part is important because the book examines a lot of cultural family dynamics). It deals with all the things: debt, marriage struggles, domestic violence…so many issues are addressed here. This is not an easy, light read. It is hard. But it is so, so good. I also got this one from NetGalley (I know! Three in one month!)

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. A gorgeously, if sometime overly, written story of grief and friendship and hope and sadness and loss and love filled with characters I cared nothing about. Except Jacob and Irene. I cared about them. They made the book worth reading. This one reminded me a little bit of A Little Life if that helps describe it. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. I don’t know how to fairly review this wonderfully insanely fucked up book. It’s bizarre and twisted and packs so much into it’s 200ish pages but honestly, I have no idea what the hell I just read. I finished it and reread the last 15 pages 4 more times and then the beginning twice more and I think I got it but wow. The decent into madness is harrowing to read and it’s gruesome and if someone has read it, please get in touch with me because I really need to discuss this book.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I was so excited to read this book and then…I read it. At best, it’s annoying. At worst, it’s obnoxious. Snobby and elitist about food and wine, which I care zero about, and I feel like it’s the epitome of everything people love, hate, idealize, and romanticize about New York and New Yorkers. Like it’s one big New Yorky stereotype. And the characters are all assholes. I also could not stand the perpetual vagueness and unanswered questions about Simone and Jake’s relationship. It felt purposeful and it bugged the shit out of me. But she writes well.  

TL;DR: Add I’m Thinking of Ending Things, True Crime Addict, and One True Loves. Maybe Before the Fall. Steph and I are discussing Girls on Fire in an upcoming podcast episode. 

That’s it for me. Now it’s your turn. Link up with what you’ve read. Make sure you visit some other readers and most definitely me and Steph, your lovely hosts. Nonbloggers, leave a comment with what you’ve been reading lately. 

Next linkup is August 8.

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Show Us Your Books, June edition: The one where I take a break from a break

Hey there! It’s Show Us Your Books day which means I’m taking a break from my break to talk books with all of you. 

It’s been 5 weeks since our last Show Us Your Books so I have a higher amount of books on the list than usual. That also means I’m going to (try to) abbreviate my reviews. We all know I’m long winded and paring down the words is a challenge, especially when I’m talking books, but I’m going to try. 

Also, don’t forget to visit Steph and some of the other bloggers who’ve linked up. As for me, I’ll be visiting all of you when I return from Phoenix (yes, this post is coming to you live from Phoenix!) since my computer access is limited and I’m also taking time to spend with the husband and some friends. If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen some pictures already. 

But today is not about that, it’s about books so here’s what I read: 

Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano–A NetGalley book! Given the hit or miss nature of ARCs, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It was probably one of my favorites of the month, in fact. It’s a YA thriller that could easily be a non-YA thriller, if that makes sense. It had supernatural/sci-fi elements that worked rather than being distracting. Actually, it was sort of a YA Shawshank Redemption. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. Warning: there are some pretty graphic scenes of child abuse and if you’re planning on reading this book in public, prepare to choke back tears. I had to. 

The Bed Moved: Stories by Rebecca Schiff–A perfectly adequate book of short stories, mostly about sex and relationships and honestly, it got repetitive after awhile. If you like short stories, you might enjoy this book since her observations are pretty dead-on and she’s funny but if you’re not a short story fan, go ahead and pass on this one. 

The Girl from Home by Adam Mitzner–This was a standard thriller that started off strong and then tapered off, becoming pretty meh at the end. It had a predictable twist, basic characters, decent writing. I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. It’d make a good beach or plane book, though. 

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold–How do I even talk about this briefly? I had so many emotions, thoughts, and opinions as I read it (if you listen to The Armchair Librarians you caught a bit of this conflict). It was the most emotionally taxing book I’ve ever read. Not so much from the perspective of reading about a real school shooting (Columbine, which was essentially the watershed moment for planned school shootings) but because Sue Klebold is a fucking asshole. I seriously cannot figure out her motivation for writing this book. It felt like a defense of herself as a parent and there was a lot of “look at me! Look how great of a mother I was!” and blaming Dylan’s mental illness (which she calls “brain health”. That’s its own topic) and Eric Harris for what Dylan did and how she’s been victimized by Columbine. She tries to minimize his role in the massacre, which is infuriating, and constantly refers to Columbine as Dylan’s suicide. While technically true, it gave me all the rage because it ignores his actions. That said, she does raise some important points about depression and suicidal tendencies in teenagers and implores parents to be vigilant and pay attention to their kids. Side note: I watched her Diane Sawyer interview after I read the book since I didn’t want to go in biased. It did not help. The interview only confirmed that I think she’s an asshole. 

American Youth by Phil Lemarche–Interesting choice to read on the heels of Sue Klebold’s book. This was another book (like 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl) that I liked in concept more than practice. The writing was decent but the story was all over the place and rushed. Too much crammed into a short space with a reprehensible main character, which is fine, but the author tried to make him sympathetic and interesting and failed. 

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson–Tied for Holding Smoke as my favorite read of the month. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about this book I liked so much. I just did. It was a mystery that was less thriller and more standard mystery. The characters were all weird and quirky, which you typically don’t get in this kind of book, and having a cello as a major plot point was unique and definitely drew me in. The writing was suspenseful without being overdramatic, and all the storylines tied together really well.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman–Not a terrible book, not an amazing book. I liked it and read it fairly quickly because it’s a fast read. You sort of figure out what’s going on right away so the whole big family secret isn’t really a secret which, for me, hurt the plot a bit but knowing it up front made reading what happens to the families as a result different. Like, you’re not trying to figure it out but rather watching them unravel as a result. I loathed the ending, though. It was too simple and felt like a cop out. I wanted more drama, and there should have been given all that happened throughout the book, and there was just…nothing. It seemed fake, like the author wanted a happy ending for these miserable people to vindicate them for their suffering. 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix-Sweeney–This book did what Fates and Furies did. It left me itchy with anticipation, I stalked it at the library and then…meh. I did enjoy the voyeuristic look at this highly dysfunctional family and it gave you pause to think about the things you take for granted and what family really means but there was just too damn much going on. So many subplots and side characters. SO. MANY. It became bothersome to read after awhile. And there was just one subplot that meant absolutely nothing and had zero contribution to the overall storyline (which, at the very least, the rest of the supporting characters did do). I liked the ending; I think she did a good job with that, it had a little surprise, and it remained true to the characters. Oh, and Cynthia? The Mets haven’t played in Shea Stadium since 2008.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt–This was a middle grade fiction taking place in 1967-68 Long Island (I think near where I’m from but he never actually gives the town. He made one up), and the main character is a 7th grader dealing with not only his burgeoning adolescence but all the societal things like Vietnam and MLK’s assassination and atomic bomb drills. It’s all set against his relationship with his teacher, who, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, has a tremendous impact on his life. There’s lots of Shakespeare references, which was kind of different and interesting. 

TL;DR–add Holding Smoke and The Never Open Desert Diner to your TBR. The Wednesday Wars if you’re feeling it. The rest were just fine but definitely not priority reading. As for Sue Klebold’s, save yourself the time and energy and frustration and just watch her interview. 

Now it’s your turn! Link up and show us what you read! Nonbloggers, leave a comment with your favorite read from the last month: 

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Show Us Your Books, May edition: The one with all the time jumping

I love that this month’s linkup falls the same week as Book Expo America. I thought I’d be able to get there this year but alas, it was a no go. But chatting books with you guys is a perfect substitute. 

This month’s reads. I swear, they made me feel like I was driving around in a Delorean, trying to fill up my flux capacitor. Every single book I read had time jumping in it. ALL OF THEM. I generally don’t mind it as a way of telling a story but it’s a gimmick that gets old after the third consecutive book you read does it. It doesn’t mean they were bad books–most of them were quite good–but it became annoying. 

Admin note: Steph and I will be discuss Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy for the May 26th episode of The Armchair Librarians. As always, it’ll be spoiler free but just in case you want to read it ahead of time, you can. I’m also discussing it in this month’s recap if you can’t decide if you want to read it or not (unlike what I typically do in a review, I’m including a bit of a plot summary to help you out).


Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy. This book tells the story of Alice, diagnosed with cancer, and Harvey, her lifelong friend and boy who’s in love with her. Thinking she’s going to die, Alice exacts revenge on those who’ve wronged her but then she goes into remission and she has to live with the consequences. I enjoyed the journey, told at different points in time, and the revenge fantasies she carried out but the way Alice used Harvey enraged me. As did the way he mostly accepted it. It wasn’t quite as good as Dumplin’ but overall, it was a very good, well written YA book. She writes strong, real characters and has a knack for dialog which carries the story when the plot falls flat. 

We’ve Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey. I thoroughly enjoyed this book of short stories about the residents of a hurting town. The stories all wind up being connected, and most can trace to a single event, and they’re just enough real, sad, happy, and weird to keep you engaged. If you’re a fan of short stories, definitely read this one. If you’re not a fan, I don’t know that this would be the best book for you to read. 

Liar by Rob Roberge. This is a NetGalley book (see, NetGalley! I do read the books I request!). At first, I was all “holy fuck, this book is incredible and I love it and this is how you do a book about mental health and addiction”. Then I was all “this book is too weird and this guy is seriously fucked up and how many more shitty things he’s done do I need to read about?” I mean, it was a very open and honest book about his struggles with rapid cycling bipolar disorder and a pretty serious addiction, and he’s a hell of a writer, but most of the time, I just fucking hated him. I mean, I get that his diseases made him do most of what he did that was so despicable but still. He’s not really a likable guy. And the time jumping made me dizzy. It was all over the place. OH! Stylistically, he wrote it in present tense. So that was cool and different. 

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad. I liked the idea of this book more than the execution. Lizzie, the main character, made me constantly sad and frustrated and while I enjoy varying POVs in books, including this one which had Lizzie looking at herself and her life at different phases like she was a different person, it just didn’t really work in this book. Also, it read more like short stories than a novel. I like short stories but when I want to read a novel, I want it read like one. BUT. I loved how the author addressed body image and happiness and how they’re not always connected (skinny does not always equal happy, for instance). And Lizzie was extremely complex and well written. Like an actual person. So, I can’t really decide how I feel about this book. 

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz. I read this book because of Lauren. She read it last month and I told her it was on my TBR and now, here we are. This also had time jumping and different POVs but it worked quite well. Like The Girl on the Train, the book’s main characters are wholly unlikeable yet together, they told a weird, incongruent, messy story that I could not stop reading. Part mystery, part character study, part ugly facets of life, this book hit me in a bunch of different places. So much so, I stayed up until 1:30AM to finish it, fell asleep with 40 pages left and didn’t get out of bed the next morning until it was done. 

Currently reading Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano. I got it from NetGalley. Don’t remember requesting it but when I checked my shelf, there it was. I think it archived so it made sense to pick it up.  

Now it’s your turn! Leave your link below and tell us what you’ve read. Non-bloggers, let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to visit some of the other participants, too!

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Show Us Your Books, April edition: The one with the reading slump

Before we get started, let me just wish all my awesome booknerds a happy National Library Week! It’s mostly a coincidence that this month’s Show Us Your Books happens this week but it’s not a coincidence that libraries are The Armchair Librarians’ topic this week (well, we hope. Lots of tech problems) so make sure you look for the new episode landing on your favorite podcasting app this Thursday. 

Now let’s talk books. I had a huge reading slump this month, leading me to only read 5 books which is the same as last month but given the extra week between linkups it should have been more. I mostly blame Skippy Dies by Paul Murphy. I just could not get into that book (it was a DNF after 10 pages) and it sort of put me in a tailspin. But I accept that reading slumps happen and I’m not overly stressed about it. Mostly because I’ve come out on the other side but also because I read so much that to go a few days of not reading a book isn’t really the worst thing in the world. show-us-your-books-2016-300by300

As I predicted, Evicted by Matthew Desmond brought me out of the slump and now I’m back to my old reading pace. I need the library to stop holding out on me and give me what I want (namely, the 7 books I have on hold) but I’m finally working through all my NetGalley books. I also have a bunch of books on my bookshelf I’ve been meaning to read (and, thanks to Erin, I’ll plan to do that this summer. She and Dani are launching another reading challenge in June and this one is dedicated to reading the books you have on your shelf that you just haven’t gotten around to reading. Make sure you’re following her to get updates about that challenge which, incidentally, has a prize at the end!)

Beasts and Children by Amy Parker. This is a book of short stories all about, well, beasts and children. It is extremely well written but all kinds of horrible things happen to kids and animals and that made it hard for me to read at times and, if I’m being honest, I actually did not finish a few of the stories because I just couldn’t do it. I did enjoy how many of the stories were connected to each other, which is different from most books of short stories I read, but overall, this not my favorite collection of short stories. Definitely not my favorite book of the month either. I did like it more than Skippy Dies, though. 

American Housewife by Helen Ellis. Also a book of short stories but one I absolutely adored. All of the stories revolved around different types of women, mothers and wives mostly. My favorite ones were her “how to…” stories but there were some with crazy ladies, overworked ladies, and a few that were just straight up bizarre. The variation kept me reading and engaged and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened in the next story. I read this while on vacation in Massachusetts and it was a perfect vacation read. It’s really a good anytime read but it worked well while in the midst of a reading slump on vacation, too. 

Fallout by Ellen Hopkins. The final book in the Crank trilogy. This one is told from the perspective of three of Kristina’s kids, and while it still was in that sonnet/poem format which plucks all my nerves and I wish she’d written these books as novels instead, this particular book was probably my favorite of the three. She did an incredible job telling the story of her grandkids and the impact having a meth addicted mother has on them. This could probably be a standalone book if you don’t want to read the first two. I’m not sure that I’ll read more of Hopkins’s writing but I’m extremely glad I read this particular trilogy. I like books that tackle ugly subjects and take care not to sugar coat anything but still handle the subject with respect. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I love the quirkiness of the characters, the obvious affection for books (this book is essentially a love letter to books and authors), the addressing of what happens to dying towns, and the writing. On the other hand, the book had A LOT going on, it was pretty slow until the last 100 pages, and there were way too many characters. I needed some sort of character map to keep them all straight. It was a decent book and had I read it not in the midst of a reading slump, I might have felt differently about it because this is the kind of book you need to read at the right time. I don’t know what that time is, exactly, but definitely not on the heels of a book you hated. 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Holy fuck, did I love the hell out of this book. I got it as an ARC from NetGalley because it’s right in my wheelhouse for nonfiction, and I figured I’d like it. Never imagined I’d love it as much as I did. It’s an ethnographic study of renters and landlords in Milwaukee, focusing primarily on 8 families and their quest to find safe, affordable, decent housing and two landlords who own the properties and how they make money on the dilapidated properties they own. There’s a lot about eviction (as expected from the title), relationships between landlords and tenants, and housing policy and it was fucking fascinating. Also, he is an incredible writer and the amount of research he did for this book beyond his own field work is amazing. Fun fact: The author won a MacArthur Genius Grant for his work on poverty. 

Currently reading but didn’t finish in time to include it in the linkup: Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel. So far, it’s a decent read. Update: thanks to a raging case of sleeplessness, I finished this book. Don’t bother with it. I give the author an A for effort but it’s a terrible mess of a book. It can’t decide what it wants to be and while it’s definitely a cozy mystery, it’s poorly done. It worked too hard when it didn’t need to and then no hard enough at other times. I can’t even with the dialogue throughout, and the rest was just meh. P.S. This was also a NetGalley book. 

Now it’s your turn! Bloggers, link up with your posts and nonbloggers, tell me in the comments what you’ve been reading. Don’t forget to visit Steph as well as some of the other bloggers joining us this month: 

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