cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I have individual entries planned for Ninefox Gambit (loved it), Too Like the Lightning (in the last few pages it finally developed a plot line that interested me; will read sequel but not out til next Feb), and Mary Berry's autobiography (am on season 6 of The Great British Bakeoff as my attempt to get back into watching television), but in the meantime I am trying to finish off everything I have out from the library before a clutch of deadlines.

Just finished:

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Starts with a court scene where the case is deliberately not revealed, a gimmick of which I am not fond, then flashes back to the moment when the narrator, a scientist in her early fifties, begins a no-strings attached affair with a security consultant at Westminster. I was not particularly grabbed by either concept and stalled out on this, and gave it one last chance before abandoning it. At which point it suddenly took a very interesting turn and had a fascinating middle, almost noir, before back to courtroom drama, which was solid and had some twists but wasn't quite as flashy. Would read another by the author on the strength of the middle.

Alex Adams, White Horse. Works through "Now" and "Then"; in "Then", a cleaner working at a pharmaceutical company finds a mysterious jar in her apartment and seeks therapy (she's in New York); as she deals with this, a mostly fatal plague, weather chaos and a war account for most of known civilisation. In "Now", it's after the collapse, and she's trying to find her former therapist (who became her lover in what the book does not consider to be a boundary issue at all), tracking him across the world through the blighted remnants. This is not a book where there is much point getting attached to characters as anyone remotely sympathetic who is not the narrator is killed off rapidly and graphically, an authorial tic that unfortunately pushes the book into farce. Zoe (the narrator's) first companion in "Now" is Lisa, a young blind woman Zoe rescues from sexual servitude to her father and uncle; Lisa goes on to get captured a few more times, lose an eye, make poor sexual choices and eventually die in a scene that manages to combine abortion and torture by a serial killer, although it's the serial killer's motivation that I actually found most offensive in this list. Spoiler. ) I do actually like some of the writing, and I feel for the author as the book, part 1 of a projected trilogy, does not seem to have done well - the second one may exist in ebook form? audiobook? the author (she has an NZ connection, which pushed me into picking this up in the first place) seems to have disappeared off the internet - but while I'm not opposed to destroying all of civilisation in literary prose Station Eleven did this much better without giving up on all of humanity in the process.

Tana French, The Secret Place. I read one other Tana French - Faithful Place and liked the writing a lot while being a little irked by the solution to the mystery. However, this was on the returns shelf, and I promptly fell into it and read nothing else until it was all over. Excellent writing, excellent characters, excellent mystery. And I am particularly impressed at any murder mystery that is set at a private girls' boarding school (most of the action, in fact, takes place over one day, with a retrospective parallel narrative leading up to the murder) but where the body is not female, something which should not be so refreshing. It is also brilliant about teenage girls, specific and abstract, and I liked it a lot. I have put the first two in the series on hold despite all my resolutions to stop reserving books until I've caught up.

Mabel Esther Allan, The ballet family again. Sequel (go on, guess the title of the first one) to a book I think I read in a hurry late at night at a relative's place some years ago. Nicely observed - Allan is one of those writers with a good sense of place, and this goes from London in winter to the north of England in winter, and then to Paris in spring. Good on ballet, too, and there's a plotline with the son of the ballet family getting disillusioned by a girlfriend using him for his connections, which is unusual for this sort of book and time period, although again I think that's something Allan's good at - her The School on North Barrule was, if I remember correctly, one of the very few boarding school books I read as a child that had a co-ed school and believable characters (the last rules out Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl, a kind of Summerhill with carefully illustrated morals).

Mercedes Lackey, A study in sable. Elemental Masters again, grown-up Nan and Sarah are sent to assist John Watson (yes, that one) and his wife Mary, elemental masters themselves who take on the cases that Holmes refuses to believe in. The main thread revolves around ghosts haunting an opera singer, with other things going on in the background; it's a much more coherent book than The Wizard of London, but it still doesn't really catch fire, and I miss the training neepery of many of her other books. However. The scene in which Holmes and an elemental master play a violin duet to ensnare the villain is great. Holmes in this overall works reasonably well for me but I found Watson a bit too domestic (I don't mind if he's happy! I just like a little edge).

Martin Millar, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies. Aristophanes is trying to put on a play for the Dionysia against all manner of earthly opposition (the ongoing war with Sparta, an offended patron refusing to fund the performance, an annoying lyric poet who keeps bothering him) when someone summons Laet, goddess of discord (granddaughter of Eris) to the city. The writing is very tell-don't-show and there are a number of verbal tricks that for me fall just on the side of irritating rather than endearing ("Walking down the street with Socrates, Aristophanes was disconsolate. "I'm disconsolate," he said. [Socrates] "You look disconsolate." ) but I ended up liking it a lot more in hindsight - it's fluffy, it's light, it gets through a lot and hits all the right beats, and underneath it there's quite a lot going on about war and responsibility. It comes down to a choice by Aristophanes - Laet will enter one room, and the people there will make the wrong decision. Either he picks the room with the judges of the Dionysia, or the one with the peace conference between Athens and Sparta.

Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Siblings without Rivalry. Nonfiction parenting book, very good on both parenting strategies to use with siblings and on examining your own sibling relationships and how they influence you as a parent. Very good, very useful. General principles; oversee, but where possible let children solve their own issues (they may surprise you), don't compare, don't stick people in roles, describe rather than judge, you can treat children unequally and still be fair. Example I liked - siblings arguing pancakes - "she got more than me!". Suggested response, rather than adjudicating over numbers sizes average density etc - "Are you still hungry? Would you like a whole pancake or half of one?" (yes, obviously need to work on this if all out of pancakes, but useful in how to think about problems differently).

In progress:

Jim Grimsley, How I shed my skin: unlearning the racist lessons of a Southern childhood. Memoir. Starts when he's eleven and three black girls begin attending his school.

Yoshitoki Ōima, A Silent Voice, v1 (manga). On [personal profile] gramarye1971's rec, about teenage bullying. I am at the bit where it is not that bad but I know it's going to get worse and I needed a break.

Mark Haddon, The red house. The other things I need to write up are theatre reviews; I picked this up because I was going to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Four adults and four children spend a week together in a house on the Welsh border; things happen. It's very well written, although all dialogue is in italics (arrgh!), but it hasn't really grabbed me.

Up next:

Well, deadlines. However. Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings has one chance left to convince me to like angels (I have really enjoyed all of the short fiction of hers that I've read), and while tidying out the car I found Jeanette Winterson's Why be happy when you could be normal?, both of which are due back within the next week. I also inexplicably ordered the first two of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January detective series.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Probably about a month's worth.

Just finished:

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests. Things did indeed go wrong - it turned into Lesbian Noir, with a side of court drama and class issues, but although it was still very well written it lost me quite a bit in the process - it's a tenuous thing, maintaining sympathy for characters in these circumstnces. Part of the problem is that the viewpoint character isn't at the very centre of the story - this does make for some interesting tensions but it shuts down options for action. I also had the same problem with this as I did with Waters'Affinity; moving into the novel's endgame, two options for resolution are presented, one of which opens up the story and the other shuts it down. As the pages tick by it becomes apparent that there is only space left for the latter option. Waters does pull a grace note out at the end that makes me like this better than Affinity, but it's still mostly shutting down. I haven't read The Little Friend yet but possibly the reason I've enjoyed The Night Watch most is because its structure means the ending isn't actually there at the end to bother me.

Mercedes Lackey, Wizard of London. Lackey seems a bit unclear whose story she's telling here. We start off with Sarah, the psychically gifted orphan with an African Gray parrot companion, being sent from her parents' incredibly tolerant mission in Africa to London for training, and then it's all about Nan, the Cockney girl she befriends who is also a psychic warrior and gets one of the Queen's Raven's from the Tower for her companion, and then it jumps between Nan and Isabelle, the teacher who runs the school the two girls are at, and juggles a psychic threat to the school with an Elemental magician Isabelle used to be in love. Most of the Elementals series have a fairy-tale basis, as well, but this didn't really - bits of A Little Princess and The Snow Queen, perhaps, but nothing more. Oh, and Puck has a significant guest role. It wasn't a bad book, but it wasn't particularly good. However. I have just picked up A Study in Sable, which has the same characters plus Sherlock Holmes, and I'm fascinated to see what she does with it - her not-quite Peter Wimsey is endearing.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton, and My Friend My Father. Arrgh. I finished the latter in the work lunchroom and then had to avoid eye contact with everyone as I was crying. Cairnton is lighter - it goes back to her time in Cairnton, and then forward to St Jago, and basically ends up with one of those nightmarish dinner parties to which an impeccably decorous married couple, the longstanding mistress of the husband and the drunk platonic companion of the wife have all been accidentally invited. My Father goes back more, into early childhood, and has some great sections on the process of realisation children go through, that click in the mind as they work out how to count, or to tell the time, and then this carries on into other realisations. There's a particularly neat piece about realising for the first time that everyone else exists at the centre of their own universe (something quite a few adults have yet to realise), there's the relationship between Janet and her father changing and deepening over the years, there's the war again - and then the end. I think I need a small strategic pause, not least because I have half a shelf of pending reads, but she's such a great writer that I just want to keep going.

Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park. The romance in this worked much better than that in either of the other two of hers I've read, possibly because I am a total sucker for a couple bonding over sharing issues of Alan Moore's Watchmen. I'm just a little bit younger than these characters (I read Watchmen in the collected trade) and the references really worked for me. As did the story. It's a very delicate book, neatly constructed, and I liked it a lot.

Stephen King, End of Watch. More sobbing at the end. It's good; not as good as Finders' Keepers, and I felt King ducked out a bit on really pushing the villain here, but it still ticks along and I still cared a lot. Nice use of social media and ereaders. I do wish King would do more historicals, because his research is always so solid.

Not entirely:

Leslie Parry, Church of Marvels. Turn of the century (20th) New York, an odd assortment of characters interact in the darker parts of the city. A nice hook where a night soil guy finds a baby and takes it home with him, which is why I picked it up, but then it becomes yet another book about People with Secrets, about which they will allude frequently without elaborating until the inevitable revelation at the end. I skimmed most of the middle. Nice writing, some good images, but I didn't really connect with it.

In progress:

Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning. Arrgh again, but for different reasons. I want to love this book - it is doing so many interesting things! The prose style, which is 18th century with universal personal trackers generating the (apparently) omniscient point of view, the unreliable narrator, the post-Scarcity future semi-utopia setting, the toying with gender (the narrator assigns gendered pronouns according to what they think will make things easier for their imagined Reader, who is, um, definitely not us), the use of languages, the fact that I love the author's blog and want her to do well. Etc etc etc. And yet I'm 307 pages in and it's still a bit of a slog.

It's a weirdly static book. Reading it makes me feel as though I'm contemplating a series of paintings while a very educated guide with their own peculiar agenda describes them to me (everyone in this book apparently picks out every piece of clothing and accessory to convey a particular message, which is not "this was the nearest thing on my floor and it's comfortable"). It's an enjoyable experience, but not what I want from a novel. There's very little actual witnessed action and when it does happen, it's not convincing - Cherryh's Cyteen is equally full of people who sit around talking incessantly, but when she does action, I'm there. Arrgh. It is also two days overdue from the library and on hold, so I have to finish it tonight.

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard. Woman has affair with the wrong man. Framing sequence has everyone in court, for what I am not yet sure. Not really my thing, but I am finding it compelling enough to keep going.

Up next:

The next Mercedes Lackey, plus a bunch of thrillers I have picked up, and Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit to which I am looking forward.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Just finished:

Tim Pratt, Heirs of Grace. Arts student grad Bekah, adopted at birth, inherits a house from her biological father, who turns out to have been a near immortal and powerful magician. The house is full of magical gadgets and traps, and Bekah also has an older half-sister who thinks the inheritance should have been hers.

I like Bekah herself, and there are some fun bits to the book. I am less convinced by the romance with the handsome lawyer Who Knows More than He's Telling, and there's a tendency to set up each danger/conflict and resolve or defuse it very quickly. I was also deeply irked by the "Little did I know that everything was going to go wrong" comments that are far too frequent, largely because I have no idea where they were coming from - Bekah at the end of the book, knowing the ending? Bekah from the next day? On the other hand, the time-travelling spoon and the cost for its use was great, and the opening where Bekah writes down three questions for the lawyer, who then presents her with the answers written by her father years earlier worked really well.

Tiny spoiler. )

Jane Duncan, My Friends the Mrs Millers. Absolutely brilliant. The first few books set on St Jago set me on edge a bit at times with Janet's reaction to the black inhabitants there, and her apparent reliance on the opinions of the established white locals. What becomes perfectly clear in this book is that the author has been aware of these weaknesses all along, and this is where she exposes them. It is also a book which deals with something I knew was coming and didn't want to have happen, and does so with impressive and unflinching specificity. I am very glad the library seems to have all of this series available but I think I am going to want to track down my own copies as well.

Rainbow Rowell, Carry On. Hmm. I liked it more than I feared, less than I hoped, and I am still not a Harry/Draco fan. This book has to do a lot - set up an imaginary fandom, riff on it and on the original inspiration, resolve everything - and it does this via multiple points of view, some of which worked for me better than others (Lucy and the Mage did not work at all; on the other hand, Simon worked better for me in Baz's viewpoint than in his own). I enjoyed it but it didn't really have much of an impact (apart from Ebb. I liked Ebb a lot). Also, I have yet to read anything by Lev Grossman that doesn't irk me, and he continues this by providing a blurb here that says, "you have never, ever, seen a wizard school like this". This is not even slightly true. The only unexpected thing about Watford for me was that they used to have a creche for the children of the staff, which although a good idea is hardly world-shaking.

In progress:

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests. Post-WWI genteel poor mother and daughter take in married lodgers, daughter falls for the wife. I'm about halfway through and am pretty sure I'm at the bit where everything is about to go horribly wrong but as I have avoided reading the blurb I'm not entirely sure how this is going to happen.

Jane Duncan, My Friends from Cairnton. Just started.

Mercedes Lackey, The Wizard of London. I am sure I've read this before - it's the fifth Elemental Masters book - but can't remember details. I am not sure if it's going to turn into a specific fairy tale or carry on being vaguely like A Little Princess with all the typical Lackey bits where people explain the best way to do things to each other. Soothing.

Up next:

All the books listed in this update are library ones - I'm trying to clear my account out. Finishing all of these will leave me with one random acquisition that I think is about a magic circus, another Rainbow Rowell, two more My Friends and a book about the emotional life of the toddler. This will justify my picking up Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning, which I just got the reserve notification for today and am very excited about.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
This is more a couple of weeks' worth.

Just finished:

CS Pacat's Captive Prince series - re-read the first two and then read the new (and final) one, Kings Rising. I am very fond of this series and will try to discuss them properly later. Spoilers for emotional reaction to <i>Kings Rising</i> )

Jane Duncan's My Friend series - I finished My Friends the Miss Boyds (Janet's childhood) and read My Friend Muriel (bits of WWII, Janet meets Twice), My Friend Monica (early days of Janet & Twice's relationship), and My Friend Annie, (back mostly to Janet's school days and then university, and then on to her and Twice going out to the West Indies). More enthusiasm. )

Mercedes Lackey, Blood Red. Elemental Masters series, does the fairy tale in the prologue. Competent, especially compared to the terrible Tin Soldier one.

Reading now:

Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk. I've been meaning to read this for a while and found it at the library. Still too early to say.

Up next:

I also snaffled Kate Elliott's Court of Fives from the returns section, and am looking forward to Hugner Games/Little Women crossover action. I also really do want to get to the latest Bujold and must find a way to get it on my phone.
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
I am going to type for twenty minutes and try to clear some of my backlog.

Gwenhwyfar: the White Spirit, Mercedes Lackey. Arthuriana, gives Arthur three queens all called Gwenhwyfar (one dies with her children, one runs away/abducted, the third is the protagonist), and goes for a bit of druids vs Christians (although given Lackey, both sides contain reasonable people who totally agree on things) and a bit of Celtic battle stuff. There's some interesting bits in here with Gwen's younger, evil, sister (Little Gwen) and the battle training is good, but the set up Lackey's chosen means that a lot of the Arthur story is taking place elsewhere while this is sidelined, and then everything happens with a sudden rush and it's all sailing off to Avalon.

The blurb says this is Lackey's tribute to her friend Marion Zimmer Bradley; Lackey's notes at the end, however, say nothing of the sort. Readable, anyway.

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory. Harrrison Harrison (the fourth, I think) lost his leg and his father to a mysterious sea creature in childhood. As a teenager, he travels with his marine biologist mother to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, a quaint seaside town where the school vocab quiz words are "squamous" and "rugose", the school swimming lessons are in an apparently bottomless dark pool in an underground cave, and the locals participate in weird cults. It's fun, it has a dry sense of humour, and some very neat characters, and there are lots of quotes from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to break things up. I have bookmarked the definition of a cultural anthropologist as "someone who bores you to death at a dinner party", the glum fellow student Bart who prefers not to answer questions, and the bit where Harrison's eccentric aunt refuses to eat at food courts because all the food has been found guilty. The librarian is particularly good as a character.

Against it - hmm. It breaks first person point of view for a couple of chapters, and I always find that a jolting thing as a reader. It has a cliffhanger ending and no clues (there or author's website) about whether a sequel is planned. Most unfortunately for it, I read it after reading Ruthanna Emrys' The Litany of Earth, which is also Lovecraftian but which has a depth and pathos that means this feels a little thin by comparison. I enjoyed it, though.

Five Came Back: a story of Hollywood and the Second World War, Mark Harris. I read this because of skygiant's review, it's good, and I have nothing of note to add to it regarding the book itself; however, the back cover bio informed me that the author is Tony Kushner's husband, and so I have a whole host of Angels in America warm fuzzies to add to the book itself. (one day. One day I will see Perestroika. At least the last time it played anywhere near me I managed to actually get tickets.)

(twenty-five minutes!)
cyphomandra: fluffy snowy mountains (painting) (snowcone)
Because why not? I have yet to write up books read January but ended up doing so in brief while writing this, as follows: Sarah Caudwell's The Shortest Way to Hades (great fun, largely for the voice), Mercedes Lackey's Steadfast (bad, bad, hanging plot threads and a complete failure to deal with the tone of the source fairy tale, which like most Hans Christian Andersen is deeply depressing) and Unnatural Issue (much better by comparison, objectively okay but wobbles with balancing fairy-tale plot vs WWI plot, and she's also lucky that I found her Peter Wimsey homage entertaining rather than irksome), the Pullein-Thompson sisters' joint memoir Fair Girls and Grey Horses, which was interesting but had less horse than I expected, and I found myself more interested in their mother's books (have read at least two of her horse books but didn't realise she'd done so many adult ones), and Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, which is good and the characters are great but it did suffer a bit by my having read so much favourable press beforehand. I do like the moment when Maia meets the revolutionary who has, in fact, put him on the throne, and how he feels about this.

Just finished: Star Wars: Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn. Before that I re-read a Biggles book and I also have half a Dick Francis on the go, so I guess I am looking for action in some respects and predictable competence in others. Choices of One has to fit in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and it has to show off Mara Jade and Admiral Thrawn (I believe both are Zahn's creations) without undoing any of his chronologically later but written earlier works, plus not finding this enough challenge Zahn also brings in a group of idealistic Imperial Stormtroopers, and really has a lot of fun dealing with ostensibly bad and good guys working together against common evils etc. More often I don't like prequel work because it doesn't change anything, but this is appealing largely because of how it deals with that challenge - and there are enough little nudges to the characters that you can see an evolution.

Next up: the rest of the Dick Francis, probably, which I have actually abandoned in the middle of a sex scene (it's Dick Francis. A school teacher in her 40s asks the jockey/accountant she has just rescued from inexplicable kidnappers to have sex with her to rid her of her virginity, basically, so all calculation and very little passion so far). Possibly the Courtney Milan I have on my Kindle, or the Josh Lanyon I need to put on Stanza?
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
My book order from the Book Depository showed up on Friday, so yesterday I sat on the couch and read Elizabeth Wein's Rose Under Fire, another excellent WWII novel, this one about an American pilot working for the ATA who ends up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. I will get back to that, and Ginn Hale's The Rifter, also excellent, when I have more time, but as I was on a roll yesterday I also finished the last of my (overdue) library books, Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles.

Let us pretend I am not spoiler-cutting for a narrative that is over two and a half thousand years old. )

Mercedes Lackey, Trio of Sorcery. Three shorts, a Diana Tregarde at college story (potentially interesting setup, too much explaining the obvious to like-minded individuals), a Jenny Talldeer I have totally blacked out, and a technomage story with a monster in a MMORPG that went exactly where you'd expect it to. This collection also comes with irritating forewords pointing out all the old technology, lack of smart phones and internet etc.

Dick Francis, Bonecrack. Sometimes, I want to read about a competent protagonist, emotionally guarded to the point of dysfunction, who is forced out of his comfort zone and has to be competent in an entirely different arena while fighting malevolent forces, suffering stoically through viciously personal assaults, and forging new functional (and unexpected, or at least non romantic) relationships. Horses a plus. This totally met all my needs.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I have a bunch of half-finished posts as per usual, but basically a) happy new (Gregorian) year! b) I am back in my earthquake-damaged but book-containing house, although ultimate fate of house and land is unknown c) I have been reading Stephen King again (22.11.63, Duma Key, and yet another re-read of It) d) I am vaguely fiddling with Dragon Age and being bitter about it not being ME3 and e) I got two Kaze Hikaru stories for Yuletide (yay!) and wrote Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH fic, which is actually where the Stephen King came from as I re-read Firestarter for what seemed like perfectly valid reasons at the time. Anyway. In addition to the Stephen Kings...

Foundation, Mercedes Lackey. The blurb from the Romantic Times on this says, “This book has everything you'd expect in a Valdemar book: protagonist from a miserable background, miraculous rescue by a Companion and immediate excellence at pretty much everything.” Sometimes, this is exactly what I want to read.

Foundation, Mercedes Lackey. )

Catching up

Jun. 9th, 2007 11:05 pm
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
I lost internet access for a week, which was good in overall terms of getting work done, but less good in the specific work I needed internet access for, which is now somewhat imminent. To deal with this stress I read more books. This post gets me down to a backlog of three, although an anime/manga post is definitely lurking in my future.

The best we can do, Sybille Bedford. )

Holocaust tours, Julian Novitz. )

The Demon and the City, Liz Williams. )

Death of a Murderer, Rupert Thomson. )

On, Off. Colleen McCullough. )

Phoenix and Ashes, Mercedes Lackey. )

How Ethel Hollister became a Campfire Girl, Irene Elliot Benson. )

Moroccan Traffic, Dorothy Dunnett. )
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
Everything else I read in December that I haven’t mentioned earlier. I did a lot of travelling this month, which means a lot of reading, but this is still a little startling. Still haven't mentioned Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania, but I have The Tourmaline to read, and will get to it then.

New (to me) books: )

Re-reads: )

Catching up

Sep. 3rd, 2006 07:36 pm
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
I am, ultimately, intending to use this as my book log, but I'm currently miles behind and also part way through far too many books. Anyway, I finished two today to start with, even if one is really the sort of book I like to pretend I don't read anymore...

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, When Darkness Falls (third in the Over-Capitalised Obsidian Trilogy). )

Isabelle Holland, Cecily. )


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