Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

embassy of the dead.jpgTitle: Embassy of the Dead #1

Author: Will Mabbitt

Genre: Children’s/Horror/Ghost Stories

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 12th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meet the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meets the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . .

~*~

Embassy of the Dead opens with Jake preparing for a school trip – as he is dealing with the separation of his parents. On his way home one day, he bumps into a ghostly figure called Stiffkey, who mistakes him for someone called Goodmourning – and gives Jake a box to take care of and deliver. When Jake opens the box, he sets forth a series of events that lead him into the world of the dead, and Undoers – set with the task of Undoing a ghost or becoming one himself. Accompanied by Stiffkey, a ghost fox called Zorro, and a ghost from a girl’s school Cora, Jake sets about trying to find a way to save his life so he doesn’t end up on the other side of the Embassy of the Dead.

His spooky journey takes him into the Embassy of the Dead – where the records of the dead are kept before they crossover, and where Undoers and their ghost companions meet and work. The world of the ghosts has rules – in breaking them, Jake has to pay a price, but he also has the finger to worry about, and Goodmourning to find before his time is up, and he has to leave his body and life behind forever. His adventure will take him far from home – further than he ever dreamed that he would go – and is full of fun, fear and laughs along the way.

Reading Embassy of the Dead was very enjoyable, and I think younger readers will enjoy it too. Aimed at early teenage, around eleven and older, it has fun characters and an intriguing plot that moves in ebbs and flows, at a decent pace that allows for the story to unfold continuously and for secrets to be revealed at the right moments, ensuring the mystery within the story is always there, and continues throughout the novel – and is not resolved instantly.

It is a fun, and quick read, and is also engaging for the reader. Will Mabbitt doesn’t talk down to his readers, and in the world that he has created, is unique and has all the hallmarks of a ghost story, but appropriately written for a younger audience, and those not quite into the full-scale horror stories that are available. Embassy of the Dead is a great start to what will be a very fun series.

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The Beast’s Heart by Liefe Shallcross

the beasts heart.jpgTitle: The Beast’s Heart

Author: Leife Shallcross

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Australia

Published:  24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A richly magical retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, from the point of view of the Beast.

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time – read the Beast’s side of the story at long last.

My beast’s nose scented cold, and earth, and the faintest tang of magic. Not the same magic that pervaded the house, or even the forest. This was something older and wilder, filled with sadness and decay. Yet at its core was something pure and clear, like the peal of a bell or the heat of a burning ember. Or the colour of a crimson rose.

 

I am neither monster nor man – yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

I know why I was cursed; I know the legacy of evil I carry in my tainted blood. So how could she ever love me?

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart when I was struggling just to be human.

And now I might lose her forever.

~*~

Most retellings of the French fairy tale, written in 1740, by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and influenced by the literary fairy tales of authors such as Charles Perrault and Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy. Unlike the fairy tales collected by The Brothers Grimm, which include a similar tale known as The Singing, Springing Lark, Beauty and the Beast was one of the first literary fairy tales recorded, though the specific tale that many retellings are based on oral tales over many years beforehand.

Where many retellings of this tale focus on the perspective of the Beauty – the girl who will break the spell, told in first or third person with this focus, Leife Shallcross’s debut novel takes the traditional fairy tale, and gives it new life, writing it from the perspective of the Beast, and how he deals with his situation and the beautiful girl – named Isabeau in this story – living in his house.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAt the start of the story, the Beast, whom we know to be a prince or at least, a noble from the original and previous retellings, is lonely, and losing track of time. He mentions a Fairy and the curse, and the invisible servants – who see to his every need. When Isabeau’s father, Monsieur de la Noue stumbles across his wintry castle, where seasons don’t occur as they do outside the gates, the Beast and his invisible servants extend hospitality towards him – until he plucks a rise from the rose garden for Isabeau – and a deal is struck: Isabeau must come and stay with the Beast for a year in exchange for her father not being killed. Isabeau agrees, and whilst she is at the castle, the Beast watches her family thrive with gifts he sends them magically, and their fortunes change. As the year goes by, the Beast and Isabeau become friends – but the Beast – as in other reincarnations – begins to fall in love, seeking for her to save him from the curse.

But he can’t tell her this – the Fairy warns him against it and is quite malevolent in the few appearances she makes, and even when the Beast refers to her in his private musings. What I did like was that the Beast did not force Isabeau. Rather, he was hopeful and allowed her to come to him, but also, the respect and friendship they had for each other was more important. It was an exquisitely and enchantingly written story, where lessons must be learned by all, and where forgiveness becomes a large part of the plot – forgiveness of self, forgiveness of family and forgiveness of those who appear to have done the wrong thing. Set in France, in what I imagine is the eighteenth century, it has the same magic of the original and the other incarnations but an originality that no other retelling has come close to capturing. In each retelling, we always know the Beast isn’t the horrid monster some characters, such as Gaston in the Disney version – make him out to be – much like Isabeau’s father does in this novel, and her sisters, Claude and Marie, who are inclined to believe him, are the ones who at first believe their father’s claims but then begin to doubt them, hoping that Isabeau is alive – and it is Marie who is the catalyst for this.

Each character is flawed – not one is perfect, and to this end, I think this worked exceptionally well for this novel. It showed that flaws are everywhere, and that even if we see them in others, we don’t see them in ourselves all the time. Isabeau recognises her own flaws when she goes to live with the Beast and is aware of them. She can also see past his flaws. Yet it is her family she must find a way to reassure, with a father whose stubbornness would see her live at home forever, and sisters who once relied on her for everything, must recognise what they are capable of in her absence, and as a result, make their own fortunes with suitors. Each version of the story has a variance on the siblings the Beauty character has – from the six brothers and sisters of the original, to Belle as an only child in the Disney version, and in this version, the two sisters who work to pull the family through in Isabeau’s absence.

As each character begins to recognise their flaws, I could see them grow to accept what they had to deal with in life – except Monsieur de la Noue, whose resistance illustrated that not everyone adapts to change, or wishes to. Where I loved that his daughters made the best of their circumstances, I found myself wishing he would start doing the same.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I adore fairy tale retellings, and this is a really good one. It is up there with The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which is more of a fairy tale infused historical fiction, and other novels such as Frogkisserthat incorporate fairy tale elements. Whilst this used the traditional elements and tale, turning it around and telling the Beast’s story gave more of an insight into what it must have been like for him, living as a Beast under a curse that only love, and the promise of marriage can break, and return him to his true form. What I most enjoyed as well was that the mysteries of the castle, and magic, and Marie’s letters to Isabeau weren’t solved immediately – the answers to these and many other questions were given gradually.

The chapters where Isabeau was at home for a time were dealt with well, written from the Beast’s perspective as he watched them in his mirror – his window to the outside world. The mirror and the roses were there, as they always are – key aspects to the fairy tale that has sparked many retellings and interpretations over the years.

A delightful read, and one I hope to be able to revisit one day.

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When The Mountains Roared by Jess Butterworth

when the mountains roared.jpgTitle: When The Mountains Roared

Author: Jess Butterworth

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Orion

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 282

Price: $15.99

Synopsis: A vivid, warm and atmospheric adventure set in the mountains of India, about a girl who is determined to protect the wild leopards of the mountain from poachers, perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell.

I thought we’d live here forever … but then, I thought Mum would be here forever too.

When Ruby’s dad uproots her from Australia to set up a hotel in the mountains of India, Ruby is devastated. Not only are they living in a run-down building in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by scorpions, bears and leopards, but Ruby is sure that India will never truly feel like home – not without her mum there.

Ever since her mum died, Ruby has been afraid. Of cars. Of the dark. Of going to sleep and never waking up.

But then the last remaining leopards of the mountain are threatened and everything changes. Ruby vows to do all she can to protect them – if she can only overcome her fears…

~*~

When Ruby arrives home one day, she finds the house in turmoil, with boxes and suitcases half packed. Her father announces they are moving to India, and she needs to pack her own bags. At twelve, Ruby wants nothing to do with this move – she wants to stay in Australia, the only home she knows. To leave now feels like she’d be leaving the memories of her mum, and it also means leaving all her friends and not being able to see them again. When intruders force the family to flee and leave earlier than planned. Soon, they are on a ship, with their dog, Polly, and a baby kangaroo in tow, sailing across the sea to a new life, and a new venture in India.

But the hotel Ruby’s father has been asked to run is not all that it seems. High up in the Himalayas, stories of previous owners being plagued by a vengeful mountain goddess abound, and the stories lend themselves to more sinister goings on, and hint at tragedy when Ruby and her new friend, Praveen, discover what Dad’s bosses are truly up to, and find out about the poaching of the majestic snow leopards. Ruby vows to do all she can to save them – if she can overcome her fears.

Jess Butterworth has again created a story, set in the Himalayas and India, where the characters are full of life and complex, and deals with issues of poaching, and what happens when someone gets involved with the wrong people in a clever and accessible way for younger audiences. Grief is explored through Ruby’s reaction to her move and the changes in her life – how she responds to the dark, and going to sleep, and of cars. But this hurried move, and the smuggled joey, and quest to uncover her dad’s secret drives Ruby to overcome her fears. Together with Praveen and her grandmother, Ruby will follow her heart, and instincts, and use her photography talents to bring some rather evil men to justice.

When The Mountains Roared has diverse characters, and a setting that is vastly different to what many readers will have experienced, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it – it allows the reader to travel without leaving the comfort of home, and go on an adventure with Ruby and Praveen to save the snow leopards of the mountains that they call home, and save Ruby’s dad from getting into trouble with men like the ones who drove them from their home in Australia.

A great read for middle grade and younger teen readers, or anyone who enjoys a good story.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of Orléans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as Orléans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of Orléans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look – skin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister – it is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, Rémy, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed – ensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray – the darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

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Surf Riders Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary Van Reyk

brontes big sister.jpgTitle: Surf Riders Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem

Author: Mary Van Reyk

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette

Published: 27th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 135

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: The Surf Riders Club is back! And Bronte has a problem – a big sister problem!

How’s Bronte supposed to catch waves when she keeps fighting with her big sister? She always wanted to be just like Carrie, but now they are growing apart. Bronte wants to do her own thing, but Carrie thinks Surf Riders Club is lame.

Now Bronte is torn between her friends and her sister. Will she get it together in time for the Beachcrest Carnival surf comp?

Ava, Alex, Bronte, Janani and Molly formed Surf Riders Club to help each other practise, but it has quickly become much more than that. Whether it’s learning how to get barrelled, problem parents or annoying boys, Surf Riders Club are there for each other, no matter what.

Officially endorsed by Surfing Australia and includes a special message from Tyler Wright, 2016 WSL Women’s World Surfing Champion.

‘kicks off in a very promising manner . . . Highly recommended for upper primary/early secondary readers.’
– Just So Stories on SURF RIDERS CLUB 1: AVA’S BIG MOVE

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe second in The Surf Riders Club series focuses on Bronte, and the problems that come with having a big sister. Carrie is seventeen, and almost finished high school. Carrie’s obsession with boys, parties and being social hasn’t rubbed off on Bronte, who would rather surf and hang out with her friends and prepare for the Beachcrest Carnival surf competition. While Carrie tries to set her boyfriend’s younger brother up with Bronte, Bronte keeps trying to find a way to please her sister and keep herself happy. When her parents punish Carrie for breaking curfew, Carrie decides to use Bronte as a cover for going out when she’s not meant to. The arrival of their older brother, Oscar, helps a little, but no completely. What will it take for Carrie and Bronte to see eye to eye?

Like its predecessor, Bronte’s Big Sister Problem presents its titular character with a problem that children and teens might face with friends or older siblings that readers of the series can relate to, such as moving away, or conflicts over interests with siblings – what a sibling might want you to do to keep them happy, and trying to find a way to compromise and make everyone happy.

Surfing is a main theme of the story again, and Bronte is a little more into it than the other characters, so seeing it through her eyes, it was a little more pronounced. Though simply told, the conflict with Carrie was interesting and gave the story some more interest than just the surfing, though girls who enjoy surfing will like seeing characters like themselves taking part in an activity they may not have thought about doing.

The story is complex, but the language is simple, aimed at primary school aged children, and early high school aged children. it is written in an accessible way for all readers, reluctant and confident, and will hopefully encourage reluctant readers to try reading, and help those struggling to gain confidence in their reading abilities. I enjoyed the themes of friendship and family the most, and loved the diversity of characters – just a simple mention acknowledged them and worked brilliantly.

Highly recommended for ages seven and older.

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Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers (Rose Raventhorpe #1)

rose raventhorpe 1.jpgTitle: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Black Cats and Butlers

Author: Janine Beacham

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Little, Brown Books/Hachette

Published: 28th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 263

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey

When Rose Raventhorpe’s beloved butler is found (gasp!) murdered in the hallway of her own house, she’s determined to uncover the culprit. Especially since he’s the third butler to die in a week!

Rose’s investigation leads her on a journey into a hidden world of grave robbers and duelling butlers, flamboyant magicians and the city’s ancient feline guardians.

Knives aren’t just for cutting cucumber sandwiches, you know . . .

 

~*~

 

aww2017-badgeIn the City of Yorke, butlers are dying and cat statues are going missing. Rose Raventhorphe, daughter of a prominent figure in Yorke, living in the Ravensgate area, sets about uncovering the murderer and thief after her beloved Butler, Argyle, is murdered in her own home. Argyle’s murder is the latest in a series of attacks on butlers in Yorke, and it seems each murder is accompanied by the disappearance of a cat statue from one of the Gates in Yorke. Each murder brings Rose closer to the truth, and into contact with a secret society of duelling butlers, protectors of Yorke. To investigate and help the butlers, Rose must escape the watchful eye of her mother, whose idea of what a young lady of Rose’s upbringing should be doing does not include hanging around graveyards and befriending butlers.

 

Rose’s Yorke is a fictional, almost magical version of the real York. It has the same sense of mystery and intrigue that some of the small streets and alleyways of the real York has, and in a Victorian setting, shrouded in mist and lit only by gas-lamps, the city feels even more mysterious. The shadows of the city that Rose encounters add to the mystery she needs to solve. Where Rose’s mother demands she do the ladylike thing of practising her piano and sitting around daintily to preserve an image of high class upbringing, the butlers who seek to find the Black Glove murderer, are protective and concerned about Rose in a more loving and caring way – and in the end, this is why they allow her to help them as much as she can.

 

Rose’s instincts aren’t always spot on, and like any investigator, her initial suspicions are not what she expected, and her desire to find the truth is constantly at the heart of the story, making her a likeable, flawed and realistic heroine whom I look forward to seeing develop across the series as she straddles the line between doing what is expected of her and what she desires.

 

The Rose Raventhorpe series is a charming way to introduce younger readers to the thrills and chills of the crime and mystery genre that so many love. For me, it was a quick read but hopefully will be one that is accessible for many, and enjoyed by many. With book three out in January, I am catching up on books one and two before I read it, and thoroughly enjoying my journey,

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Ava’s Big Move by Mary van Reyk (Surf Rider’s Club #1)

Ava's big moveTitle: Ava’s Big Move (Surf Rider’s Club #1)

Author: Mary van Reyk

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books Australia

Published: 12th September, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 129

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Join the girls as they take on the world, one wave at a time!

Meet five very different girls with one thing in common: they’ve caught the surfing bug!

Ava has grown up in a big city. But everything changes when her parents decide on a sea change – they’re moving to the small town of Beachcrest to open a cafe. Ava will be starting high school that year, and now she has to say goodbye to her life in the city. Her new school is very different and Ava misses her friends. When she hears that surfing is going to be offered as a sport for the first time, Ava uses her snowboard skills to give it a try. Not everyone thinks she can become a surfer but Ava is determined to prove them wrong, and she’s making new friends along the way!

Ava, Alex, Bronte, Janani and Molly form the Surf Riders Club to help each other practise, but it quickly becomes much more than that. Whether it’s learning how to get barrelled, problem parents or annoying boys, the Surf Riders Club are there for each other, no matter what.

~*~

aww2017-badgeWhen Ava’s parents decide to move to a coastal town, Ava is distraught at the thought of leaving her school and her friends, and having to start over in a place where she’ll be the outsider. She has always been close to her older brother, Shane, who spends the summer teaching her to surf and body board at the local beach before school starts, prompting her to join the surfing sports club at school with a group of girls who immediately pull her into their circle: Alex, whose bubbly nature and kindness is instantaneous, Janani, whose Sri Lankan parents run a restaurant, and is part of the circle as a body boarder, Molly, whose mother is vehemently against her taking up a sport and would rather she spends her time on the piano, and Bronte, with two older siblings and parents who own the local surf shop, Ava finds friends, even though at first, she is unsure about Bronte until the girls start hanging out at Ava’s parents cafe and spending their weekends surfing together.

Aimed at children ages seven years and older, it is written for readers of all reading levels, from those who may need help to those who can read alone, and deals first and foremost, with friendship and acceptance. The surfing comes later, and whilst it forms the backbone to the friendship group, it is not the be all and end all, which is nice, as it presents opportunities for exploration of characters and relationships.

It is simply written, so it’s easy for readers starting to read alone to get through, but also a good book for not so confident readers to test themselves out on and learn to read longer books than they might normally be reading. For someone like me, who has been reading much longer books since I was quite young, it was a quick, two nights read. The surfing aspect wasn’t as interesting to me as it will be to some readers, but I did like that it had themes of friendship and acceptance, regardless of who you are and where you are from. It dealt with the idea that girls shouldn’t surf, perpetuated through some of the secondary characters, but will hopefully encourage girls who do want to surf that they can do it, and overall, I think sends the message that anyone can do anything they desire, and they shouldn’t allow people to put them down.

An enjoyable novel for young girls aged seven and older, and especially for those with an interest in surfing.

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