Total Quack Up by Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

Author: Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

Synopsis: Authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome line-up of writers and their funniest stories. Not only will the stories make you laugh out loud and feel good, royalties from sales of the book go to Dymocks Children’s Charities – so you can feel extra good!

Total Quack Up! features stories from Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Oliver Phommavanh, Sally Rippin, R.A. Spratt and Matt Stanton, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

~*~

Total Quack Up is a new anthology of short stories aimed at children, and published by Puffin for the Dymocks Children’s Charities, with royalties going towards these charities to help children learn to read and engage with reading. In these stories, there are superheroes, animals and magic, as well as robots and siblings, and practical jokes – all the things that kids find enjoyable and funny, in stories that they will enjoy and engage with, at all levels.

Each story is a quick read, starting with How to Be A Superhero by Deborah Abela – and ending with a story from a schoolkid, Ella Wallace, who won a competition to be included in the anthology. Each story stars a child as the protagonist, navigating life at school, at sport, or as a superhero, and with family, friends and siblings. Written by some of Australia’s most popular male and female authors, this makes my count for the Australian Women Writers Challenge seventy – with another review to write for a quiz book, and many more reviews to come – I hope. This will be included in my next challenge catch up post.

AWW-2018-badge-roseWith a uniqueness to each story, every reader who picks up this book will find a story and character they will enjoy, love and laugh with. From Arabella von Champion, a superhero who sees herself as extraordinary and is quite daring, to the little brother at the end who blocks up the dunny with everything imaginable, and the soccer team with the pig as a mascot – all other animals are banned from the sports field, to everything in between from some of the best-loved Australian authors, and some new voices to discover between these red covers, all aimed at raising money to help with children’s charities in Australia.

The variety of stories shows just how diverse and eclectic Australian authors are, and how different stories and characters will appeal to different children, and what will hook them into reading. This book offers bite-sized pieces of Australian talent for new readers to discover, and for old readers of these authors who have enjoyed their previous works and books over the years, and for the adults who would have read some as children, now able to pass these authors down.

Another great book aimed at kids, and with stories to enjoy and laugh with, I hope all those who get to read this enjoy it.

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The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears, Illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

the cat with the coloured tail.jpgTitle: The Cat with the Coloured Tail

Author: Gillian Mears, Illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Walker Books

Published: 1st September 2015

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 80

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Mr Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail travel through the countryside in their ice-cream van. They enjoy looking for heart shapes (their favourite game) and making people happy with their delicious moon-creams. But a dark feeling is following the cat. Something is wrong. When the ice-cream van enters the forest, Mr Hooper and the cat realise the heart of the world is in danger. Will they be able to save it? A lyrical fable about love and healing.

  • “Gillian Mears’ distinctive voice is undimmed, and her yearning fable is a sweet and gentle reminder of the two great forces that lie dormant within us – kindness and hope. Her work hasn’t just described life; it’s enhanced it. And we owe her thanks.” Tim Winton
  • Gillian Mears is an acclaimed award-winning author of adult fiction. This is her first book for children and is inspired by personal experience.
  • A tender fable-like tale about love and healing that works on many levels. The story is rich in symbolism and with a subtle yet powerful environmental message but is still able to be enjoyed as a magical story.

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In this charming tale, Mr Hunter travels the countryside with his beloved cat, whose tail changes colour, and who can see hearts in the world. The Cat also knows what kind of moon-cream people need to make them feel better when they are sad. And right now, the whole world is sad. Mr Hunter has stopped seeing hearts, and doesn’t know why – and his beautiful cat, The Cat with the Coloured Tail. is frustrated with him and can feel the sickness seeping into the world. Darkness, and sadness and cruelty – the light seems to be dimming everywhere they go as they approach their holiday. The sick, blackened heart of the world needs to be healed, but can Mr Hooper and his cat do it – and how will they do it?

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Told in a fairy-tale, or fable like manner, Gillian Mears’ heart-warming story can be read by any age group, and touches on the goodness of humanity, and the little things people can do to help those having a bad time, or in need of a bit of fun and a smile. Alongside this, is a message about the world and its destruction, and the healing power of selfless sacrifice to help heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon the world by cruelty.

In this story, it is up to Mr Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail to find out why the heart of the world is sick, and how to fix it, by following the trail of sadness that the cat’s tail can sense. What they find is distressing, yet the find and what follows are so beautifully and magically told, that there is a sense of calm even as the worst begins to happen.

The heart-warming end will bring a smile to your face, and is a perfect read for all readers – to be read to them, or individually, and can be enjoyed by all ages. The Cat with the Coloured Tail is a lovely read, with a message about caring and healing for all.

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What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

what the woods keep.jpgTitle: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Katya de Becerra’s stunning debut combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home – on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden has tried to put the past behind her, and so far it’s worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and flatmate, Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, Del in tow, it begins: neighbours whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible – something that threatens reality itself.

~*~

What the Woods Kept is the haunting and disturbing, yet intriguing and captivating debut of Katya de Becerra. For ten years, Hayden has lived in Brooklyn with her father, following the disappearance of her mother when she was eight in a town called Promise in Colorado near the woods. But for the past decade, Hayden has been able to put the past behind her, focus on getting into college and hanging out with her flatmate, Del. It all starts on Hayden’s eighteenth birthday, when she inherits an old manor in Promise where she spent her early years. Best friend Del in tow, she ventures into the town – and her past, where she is confronted by her nightmares, and the whispered secrets about Hayden’s mother and many secrets kept by those she thought she could trust. Over the course of a few days, Hayden’s life will go from being completely normal to filled with mysterious myths and legends that hint at a supernatural heritage from her mother that Hayden could never have imagined.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a dark fantasy, filled with hints of mythology, science fiction, mystery and magical realism, this is a dark and creepy story for young adults and older readers who enjoy unusual stories, and marks my sixty-eighth book of the year for my Australian Women Writers Challenge and my 134th book overall. It is one that whilst slow to begin with, picks up later on, and using first person perspective, interspersed with reports hinting at Hayden’s troubled past and how events in her childhood were explained. The early reports have a creepy feel about them, where the supernatural ekes in, yet there is also a sense of discomfort, as though there might be a perfectly logical explanation as well that Hayden held back from those writing the reports. It is through these reports, and her trip back to Promise, that Hayden discovers there is no logical explanation, that she’s different in many ways.

This is the crux of the novel – Hayden’s journey to uncovering the truth about her mother, and what happened to her, and Hayden’s own identity and what this means – what her father has been hiding from her all these years. To Hayden, these secrets force to her think about leaving – and ignoring everything in Promise, but something is keeping her and Del there – something that cannot be explained. It is haunting in its plot and execution, with short, sharp chapters that heighten the tension and gives an ebb and flow pace to the story, where, as soon as things seem to calm down, the degree of panic and uncertainty rockets sky high, leaving fates of characters uncertain all the way throughout the novel, and the final revelations are a shock to the reader and characters.

What the Woods Keep it is the first horror-like novel is the first I have read in a while. More mystery, fantasy and speculative fiction than horror, there were elements of several genres woven throughout, but with the primary mystery and mythological connections at the forefront of the novel, and driving the plot and Hayden’s story, to a rather uncertain, and very open conclusion that leaves the reader guessing and stays with you in a haunting way.

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The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) by Nancy Springer

enola holmes 2.jpgTitle: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Sherlock Holmes’s sister, Enola, is back on another case! Enola Holmes is being hunted by the world’s most famous detective – her own brother, Sherlock Holmes. But while she is on the run in the world’s biggest, darkest, dirtiest city, she discovers a hidden cache of charcoal drawings and feels as if she is a soul mate to the girl who drew them. But that girl, Lady Cecily, has disappeared without a trace. Braving the midnight streets, Enola must unravel the clues to find this left-handed lady, but in order to save her, Enola risks revealing more than she should. Will she be able to keep her identity a secret and find Lady Cecily, or will the one thing she is trying to save – her freedom – be lost forever?

Author bio:

Nancy Springer has published forty novels for adults, young adults and children. In a career beginning shortly after she graduated from Gettysburg College in 1970, Springer wrote for ten years in the imaginary realms of mythological fantasy, then ventured on to contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and women’s fiction and suspense before turning her attention to children’s literature. Her novels and stories for middle-grade and young adults range from contemporary realism, mystery/crime, and fantasy to her critically acclaimed novels based on the Arthurian mythos, I Am Mordred: A Tale of Camelot and I Am Morgan Le Fay. Springer’s children’s books have won her two Edgar Allan Poe awards, a Carolyn W. Field award, various Children’s Choice honours and numerous ALA Best Book listings. Her most recent series include the Tales of Rowan Hood, featuring Robin Hood’s daughter, and the Enola Holmes mysteries, starring the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes.

~*~

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady is the second in the Enola Holmes series, picking up shortly after the end of the first novel, where Enola has managed to evade Sherlock and Mycroft, and the boarding school they wish to send her to. During her escapades as Ivy Meshle, and under other identities she has crafted for herself using the ciphers her mother left her, Enola, along with her new friend, Joddy, as she hides in London, quite under the nose of Sherlock, and uses tricks he knows against him.

Whilst hiding, she discovers a cache of charcoal drawings, that lead her to a new case – a missing girl named Lady Cecily whom she feels a connection with – but what is that connection? Is it merely the art that connects them, or is there more? As Enola investigates Lady Cecily’s disappearance, clues as to who Lady Cecily is are beginning to fall into place, and Enola discovers that Lady Cecily is left-handed – and begins to ponder the lady’s mysterious disappearance as she wanders the streets in disguise. To find the missing Lady Cecily though, Enola risks revealing who she is, and where she is to her brothers.

In the second instalment of this series, the mystery is just as intriguing, and engaging as the first. I enjoyed that the thread of Enola evading her brothers was continued through, and it would be very fun and interesting to see Enola and Sherlock working together. For now, their mental sparring will have to suffice, with ciphers and codes and games to draw each other out and into the open as Enola works to solve cases on her own, in a world where it is not expected that she should, would or even could do so.  Enola is smart, determined and sneaky – everything you’d expect a sister of Sherlock Holmes to be, in a world where other things were expected of her, yet she flouted them.

These books are exciting because they reveal insight into the Victorian world, and its class and gender divisions specifically, with the backdrop of the dark streets of London traversed by Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people. They explore the expectations of gender and through Enola, turn these around and become a heroine that girls can aspire to be and look up to. She is a remarkable character with guts and a willingness to do whatever it takes to solve the cases.

I look forward to the next books in the series.

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Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 1.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Mystery/Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers-all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

~*~

When Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes, awakens on her fourteenth birthday to find herself quite alone – her mother has up and left, leaving no clues as to her whereabouts, apart from a book of ciphers that Enola must follow to uncover the truth. In the days following her mother’s disappearance, Enola’s much older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock arrive to make proper arrangements for their sister in London in light of the situation they find her in, where her education befitting a proper lady has been woeful, and the money sent to assist has been spent elsewhere. So, whilst Mycroft prepares his sister for boarding school, and Sherlock returns to his mysterious ways in London, Enola sneaks off and soon finds herself embroiled in disguises, a search for her mother and knowledge of a kidnapped marquess, whom she is determined to track down. At the same time, she must dodge her brothers, so they cannot find her, hide from her murderous villains and help the marquess get home. With all this chaos going on, can Enola maintain her cover and make sure she is undetected?

The Enola Holmes series takes a new look at Sherlock Holmes and his family, and inserts a what if – what if Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister – what would she be like? In this reimagining, she takes more after Sherlock, the detective, than Mycroft, who is the more responsible of the two.   Written in a style akin to the original Holmes stories, but with a feminine twist, the Enola Holmes mysteries looks to be an intriguing series, with books one and two published by Allen and Unwin out today.

Enola is very much like her brother, Sherlock, taking advantage of disguises she picks up along the way and puts together with the clothes Mycroft orders for her to attend boarding school. She is good with ciphers, and manages to elude those pursuing her, and is a master of escapes. Using her skill with ciphers to create new identities for herself, Enola is about to embark on a series of quests and mysteries that will hopefully lead her to her mother, whilst her brother, Sherlock, is hot on her heels – it will be interesting to see whether they eventually team up to defy Mycroft in future books.

What I enjoyed about this book was not only the female lead, but the very different take on the Sherlock Holmes stories and the detective story trope, set in Victorian London with the underlying theme of Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people weaving in and out of the shadows Enola keeps to, yet fears as she tries to find her mother and solve the mysteries that she stumbles upon along her way.

An excellent start to the series, and my review of book two will be following this one.

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Secrets Hidden Below (The Adamson Adventures #1) by Sandra Bennett

NJ1798-Secrets-Hidden-Below-Cover-v4-copy-e1533336263504.jpg

Title: Secrets Hidden Below (The Adamson Adventures #1)

Author: Sandra Bennett

Genre: Adventure

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 140

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The Adamson family are set for a surfing holiday in Bali they’ll never forget. Dad wants to surf all day and Mum wants to shop. Zac is eager to explore a sunken WWII shipwreck. Luke is keen to cause mischief wherever he goes. Clare on the other hand, just wants to stay out of trouble.

But while building sandcastles on Kuta Beach, the kids unearth a surprising find that dramatically changes their holiday. Curiosity leads them on a dangerous path to an adventure where difficulties lurk around every corner.

Secrets Hidden Below takes the reader on an intriguing treasure hunt around an exotic tropical island that includes plenty of rotten-egg gas, a guardian snake and a volcano spirit you definitely don’t want to anger.

~*~

Zac, Luke and Clare are on a family holiday to Indonesia – where they are looking forward to swimming, snorkelling and diving with Dad on a World War Two wreck – but the kids are left very much to their own devices as Dad spends his days surfing and Mum spends her day shopping at the markets. So, the kids are left to play on the sand – that is, until they discover a map that leads to a secret treasure near a volcano, and a mystery that has been buried for hundreds of years, ever since Indonesia had been a Dutch colony.

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Following the map and the clues, Zac, Luke and Clare head off on an adventure – Mum and Dad are there, but are clueless as to what the children are really up  to – and begin to seek out the legend, and treasure and the volcano spirit they must appease before they can find what they seek, and also contend with someone else who wants to the treasure as well – but for what purpose? And what will the children find? It is this mysterious treasure hunt, filled with colourful characters, who also want the treasure, that make this book the exciting story it is, and that will engage younger readers as they read. The fast pace of the book ensures there is always something happening, and that things are not going to slow down any time soon, which made the story go faster, and allows the reader to be swept up into the action.

The first in a new series to be published by Elephant Tree Publishing in Canberra, Secrets Hidden Below is aimed at children aged eight and over, and as it uses Indonesian phrases, is a great way for beginner students to see the language they are learning being used in a practical setting.

The adventure that Zac and his siblings, Luke and Clare go on is fun, and engaging, with a decent pace for all readers of the story, to keep them intrigued, and interested in what is happening, whilst at the same time, exposing them to a new language, country and culture. It is a quick, light read, yet at the same time, filled with excitement, a bit of danger, and a treasure hunt that any kid would enjoy as they explore an island filled with culture and history, and sandy beaches.

With Zac in charge, Clare and Luke follow him on his quest to find the treasure, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It is Zac’s ability to translate and speak Indonesian that helps them, and brings an element of excitement and interest

to the novel. Having learnt Indonesian in high school, most of it came back as I read, and I was able to understand it – the glossary of every day terms in the back was useful to refresh my mind, and is also useful for those just starting out, and needing to check a word or two.

This book is the first in a series, it will be interesting to see what other books in the series have to offer, and what other adventures the Adamson family go on. It introduces children to adventure, a new language and culture, and with its spattering of Indonesian, is ideal for students learning the language at any level, to reinforce usage and how the language works – in a fun and inviting way.

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Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley by Annabel Abbs

frieda.jpgTitle: Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley

Author: Annabel Abbs

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 11th September 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 372

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The moving story of Frieda von Richthofen, wife of D.H. Lawrence – and the real-life inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel banned for more than 30 years

Germany, 1907. Frieda, daughter of aristocrat Baron von Richthofen, has rashly married English professor Ernest Weekley. Visiting her family in Munich, a city alive with new ideas of revolution and free love, and goaded by a toxic sibling rivalry with her sisters, Frieda embarks on a passionate affair that is her sensual and intellectual awakening.

England, 1912. Trapped in her marriage to Ernest, Frieda meets the penniless but ambitious young writer D.H. Lawrence, a man whose creative energy answers her own needs. Their scandalous affair and tempestuous relationship unleashes a creative outpouring that will change the course of literature – and society – forever. But for Frieda, this fulfilment comes at a terrible personal cost.

A stunning novel of emotional intensity, Frieda tells the story of an extraordinary woman – and a notorious love affair that became synonymous with ideas of sexual freedom.

‘Annabel Abbs’s poignant Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley captures the Lawrence s’ shifting emotions’ The Australian

‘I loved this novel so very much. Abbs’s writing is glorious’ MELISSA ASHLEY, The Birdman’s Wife

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Frieda Weekley, nee von Richthofen, is married to Ernest Weekley, and is living with him and their three children in 1907, in Nottingham. Born into German aristocracy, Frieda has in their eyes, and she has married well, and has three young children: Monty, Elsa and Barby. Yet Frieda yearns for more, and when she is exposed to ideas of free love and great intellect, she begins a series of affairs, starting with a doctor, Otto Gross, and culminating in an affair that saw her forever separated from her family wit author, D.H. Lawrence an affair that inspired the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned for more than thirty years after it was published.

Set in pre-World War One London and Germany, between 1907 and 1913, Frieda explores a very different world, where familial and societal expectations based on gender, class and for some people as war grew closer, nationality. Caught between wanting to please herself, please her family and stay with her children, Frieda finds decisions will be made for her, at times without her knowledge, and she is driven to desperate lengths to see her children, enlisting friends to try and maintain a connection to them after she is cut off from them by the Weekley family.

As a work of historical fiction, Frieda uses a woman’s voice – one who fought against oppression in favour of desire – is intriguing and gives a new voice to the world, and one I had not heard of, and a story I had not heard of, despite hearing about the novel that was based on Frieda and Lawrence’s scandalous relationship. It explores the perspectives of Frieda, her husband, Ernest, and their three children – Barby, Monty and Elsa, but particularly the eldest – Monty and the youngest – Barby, as Frieda weaves in and out of their lives and between Nottingham and Metz in Germany, where her family tries to convince her to remain with Ernest and leave Lawrence. These are some of the scenes where she feels the restraint of what her aristocratic family and society expects of her, and the hinted at war to come, where there already feel like there are tensions between some people in England and Germany, even though the war is several years away from beginning.

Filled with a strong female voice, caught between love for a man she truly desires, love for her children and respect for her family, Friedaexplores the changing attitudes towards relationships, and how these changes started to occur during the early decades of the twentieth century, and the consequences that a woman like Frieda faced for having an affair and turning her back on her husband, rather than staying in a socially acceptable position to keep the peace, and maintain the order that society so desperately sought to cling to. But by following her heart, though the initial decision appeared to have been made without Frieda’s knowledge, with Lawrence taking it upon himself to inform Ernest, there was still an element of Frieda not having the freedom to make her own choices, when ironically, this is what she was aiming to do, even though it left her with some regrets about not being able to see her children until they turned twenty-one.

Frieda’s story has a happier ending than Abbs’ previous book – The Joyce Girl – in what would become known as inter-war Europe, where Frieda is reunited with her children, and is able to live her life with D.H. Lawrence and provided him with inspiration for his oft- banned book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This was an intriguing story that dealt with various aspects of society, the individual, the arts, love and family, and concluded with a hopeful ending where everything felt as though it had concluded nicely, and showed that Frieda had found the freedom she longed for, even if it had come with a price.

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