Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Geography of War

Historic fiction is a two-for-one reading experience: a chance to get lost in a story while learning more about a period in time. Recent titles have taken readers to locales we might not have known were war zones during World War II.

"Guernsey" was more often associated with dairy cows than Nazi-occupied villages until Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, reminding readers of (or introducing them to) the English Channel islands near France and their significance during World War II.

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig's tale of a college football team from a small Montana town that enlisted at the beginning of World War II, also involves the WASPS--Women Air Force Service Pilots--who flew newly built planes from Montana to Alaska, where the planes were turned over to Soviet pilots.

Doig writes about Coast Guard patrols along Washington's Olympic Peninsula, looking out for Japanese balloon bombs; a newly released novel continues the U.S. angle with a story of American defenses in World War II. The protagonist of Brian Payton's The Wind Is Not a River is Canadian--a non-military hero who represents another seldom depicted element of the war. This novel set in Alaska recalls the little-known Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, the only World War II fighting to take place on North American soil.

The main character of The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway served in the Solomon Islands; years later, he reflects on researching local bird species as well as spying on the Japanese when he was in the Pacific.

World War II continues to fascinate many readers, and fiction reminds us that it was fought in more places than the well-known battle sites of Europe and Asia. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

The Writer's Life

Nancy Horan: Beating the Sophomore Slump

photo: Kevin Horan

Nancy Horan is the author of Loving Frank, a novel about Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her relationship with American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For that novel, her first, Horan was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction by the Society of American Historians in 2009. Her much-anticipated second novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky (see our review below), was just published; it tells the story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his feisty American wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne.

What drew you to the story of Louis and Fanny?

While I was visiting Monterey, California, I learned that Robert Louis Stevenson had lived there for a few months in 1879. I was curious about how this Scottish author found his way to California and for what reason. What I discovered is that he had fallen in love with Fanny in France and followed her to California to convince her to marry him. She was older than he and not sure about taking on the stigma of divorce--and he wasn't a great prospect. He was 29, suffered from a chronic lung disease, had almost no money and was not yet well-known. (His father kept him on a very short financial leash because he was disappointed that Stevenson wasn't practicing law, but instead wanted to write.) Fanny, true to form, decided to marry him--eventually--and their adventure began. Their married life was definitely what books are made of: filled with great happiness, difficulty, illness, almost constant travel, interesting and famous people and the quest for financial stability. What interested me was the complexity of their relationship: it was beautiful, complicated and at times aggravating to both of them.

What do you think made Fanny finally acquiesce to Louis's interest in her and come to love him?

Louis, too, had an intrepid spirit--trapped in a not-intrepid body. This appealed to Fanny. Also, everyone who knew Louis talked about how kind he was. Fanny needed that after her first husband's bad behavior. It was risky but she believed in him. It's also possible that there was a vestige of maternal affection which benefited Louis. Fanny had lost her young son, Hervey. Louis was frail and weak; maybe she could save him and have some sense of redemption.

In both of your books, you have mastered the art of bringing these people we know only by reputation to life on the page. How did you get to know them so well?

When I research, I always use primary sources, in addition to reading biographies and other materials. Stevenson, although he was often confined to bed, wrote 13 novels, dozens of stories and essays, travel books and poetry. In keeping with the times, he was a prolific letter writer--eight volumes worth--all of them very funny, brilliant and perceptive. I also read all of Fanny's unpublished letters, visited places in California where they spent time and stayed in Louis's boyhood home in Edinburgh, which is now a B&B. Louis's father was a lighthouse designer, from a long line of them. Fanny teased him about being a famous engineer with substandard toilet facilities, so he built a very posh bathroom adjoining his bedroom. I also visited the hotel in France where Fanny and Louis met, and their home in Hyeres.

It should be mentioned that, given Fanny's background, her age, and that she was American and had children, she was not an immediate hit with Louis's father, but her charm and personality won him over completely and he was known to say that Louis should not publish anything that Fanny did not approve.

Getting the approval of Louis's friends was another matter. It has been said that she was Louis's Yoko Ono--she came along and broke up the old gang. His best friend, Henley, was a particularly hard case. He had contempt for American culture and ended up bad-mouthing Louis and Fanny.

While they were always short of money, they traveled the world with an entourage. How did they manage?

Their entourage was even larger than what is mentioned in the book. Louis was making money from his writing. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a financial success immediately. Several productions for stage were mounted across England and Scotland.

Fanny was a writer, albeit a modest one, in her own right. Did her aspirations create problems for the couple?

Louis remarked early on that it wasn't a good idea to have two writers in the family--but Fanny had published stories before she met Louis. It seems clear that Fanny wanted to be regarded as an artist and struggled to find her medium. So, my conclusion was that Fanny definitely felt the tension, and Louis probably felt it, too. Fanny influenced Louis's work. She persuaded him to re-write his draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, provided ideas for some of his short stories and encouraged him to collaborate on plays--most of which were unsuccessful. So, her advice was not always the best.

What's next? Now that you have clearly beaten "sophomore slump" with Under the Wide and Starry Sky, do you have another idea in the works?

It's much too early to talk about anything yet. I'm not sure that the next book will be about real people again, but talking too much about it makes me feel that I've lost control of it--so let's wait and see. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Book Candy

Twitter, Reading and Authors; Books About Houses

"Distracted by Twitter?" Buzzfeed discovered a thoroughly 21st century solution and the "perfect way to get back into reading. All it takes is everyone's Twitter profile and a hell of a lot of glue." Still in a tweeting mood? The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted "10 of our favorite author avatars on Twitter."


Ben Highmore, author of The Great Indoors: At Home in the Modern British House, selected his "top 10 books about houses" for the Guardian.


"When Modernism Met Science Fiction: Three New Wave Classics" were chosen by Kim Stanley Robinson for NPR Books.


CNN selected Panic as one of the top books to watch in 2014 (along with titles from Sue Monk Kidd, E.L. Doctorow, Chang Rae-Lee and Michael Cunningham), and Flavorwire named Lauren Oliver as one of "25 Women Poised to Lead the Culture in 2014," along with Shailene Woodley, Sasheer Zamata, Angelina Jolie, Neneh Cherry, Kelis and Melissa McCarthy.


Montreal artist Guy Laramée turned an old, 24-volume Encyclopedia Britannica set into a "sprawling mountainous landscape," the Huffington Post noted.

Book Review


Under the Wide and Starry Sky

by Nancy Horan

Following Loving Frank, her debut novel about Frank Lloyd Wright's love affair with Mamah Cheney, Nancy Horan returns to tell the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, in Under the Wide and Starry Sky.

It's apparent Fanny and Louis were meant to be together. He was fascinated by Fanny's intrepid nature, and she proved an intelligent, loving companion, not intimidated by his repeated bouts of illness. Fanny found Louis to be the kindest, best man she had ever known. They moved in together, with Fanny's two children, before she was divorced--to the disapproval of both families.

Her need to lead a creative life was subsumed in Louis's own writing and his illness, which resulted in periodic bouts of mental breakdown. They went from France to England to Scotland and back again, always in search of inexpensive lodgings in a climate congenial to Louis's condition. In Samoa they built a home in a small village. Louis wrote every day, Fanny tended her garden, they swam and walked. One night, Louis collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Fanny spent the rest of her days in San Francisco promoting Louis's literary legacy--and getting her own book published.

Since Horan wasn't there to hear them speak, she has "put into their mouths words from their written work or actual excerpts from their letters," with results that flow so logically and naturally the reader never questions the novel's authenticity. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: The story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, a relationship filled with joy and sadness, spanning time and place.

Ballantine, $26, hardcover, 9780345516534

A Star for Mrs. Blake

by April Smith

In the early 1930s, the U.S. government provided funding for thousands of Gold Star Mothers, women whose sons were killed in World War I, to travel to France to visit their sons' graves. April Smith's novel A Star for Mrs. Blake follows five mothers on a journey across the Atlantic to Paris and on to Verdun. Drawn together by their shared sorrow, these women come from vastly different backgrounds and situations, from an Irish maid to a Boston society matron. Accompanied by a young, idealistic lieutenant and an army nurse, the women must navigate both a foreign land and delicate social situations as they confront their own grief.

Cora Blake, a single mother from Maine, is Smith's most fully realized character, the one member of her party who sees past the distinctions of class and wealth to form deep friendships with the other women. Her fellow travelers, while interesting, are less distinct and the army personnel, particularly the general in charge of the trip, often lapse into stereotype. Unlike Smith's thrillers (North of Montana etc.), this story starts slowly and moves quietly, but she deftly portrays the effects of war on both the scarred French landscape and the mothers who lost their sons and have struggled to move on.

A meditation on loss, travel and unlikely friendships, A Star for Mrs. Blake is an unusual glimpse into a little-known slice of history. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The author of the Ana Grey thriller series changes pace with a historical novel about five women traveling to France to visit the graves of sons killed in World War I.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780307958846

Mystery & Thriller

The Last Dead Girl

by Harry Dolan

Fans of Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men will want to read the prequel The Last Dead Girl, which covers a dark time in protagonist David Loogan's past. Set in 1998, when Loogan still goes by his real name, David Malone, the story begins in a police station, where he is being questioned about the murder of law student Jana Fletcher, whom he's known for only 10 days. The narrative then goes back to one week earlier, when Malone and Fletcher meet one night after she hits a deer with her car. He stops to help, one thing leads to another and the two fall into a passionate, if obviously short-lived, affair.

When she's murdered, he wants to find out why, and discovers the cause may have something to do with her work with the Innocence Project, which involved  trying to free a man convicted of killing his wife. Following her footsteps, Malone digs up old, terrifying secrets and puts himself in the crosshairs of Jana's killer.

One of Dolan's gifts is creating capricious and flawed characters who are nevertheless sympathetic. Jana is so well fleshed out and her life so tragic, her death is deeply felt. The tale is told in a nonlinear manner, with time jumps and interludes; the style is effective because it allows Dolan to keep shocking truths hidden until they're ready to be revealed. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja.

Discover: In this prequel to Harry Dolan's David Loogan novels, the protagonist tries to solve the murder of a woman he's known for just 10 days.

Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399157967

Saints of the Shadow Bible

by Ian Rankin

John Rebus is out of retirement and back on the force (though demoted to detective sergeant) in Saints of the Shadow Bible, Ian Rankin's 19th novel featuring the Scottish police officer. A change in the double jeopardy laws leads to the re-opening of a 30-year-old murder case tied to Rebus's former unit, the self-styled "Saints." Malcolm Fox is investigating a possible cover-up in the case, and Rebus soon finds himself pulled between his loyalty to his old colleagues and uncovering the truth.

Meanwhile, Rebus is also investigating a suspicious car accident that may have ties to the Scottish Independence Movement and the death of a high-ranking politician. When his research leads him back to one of the former Saints, Rebus is more determined than ever to solve both his current case and the old one.

Despite the longevity of this series, Rankin shows no signs of losing steam with John Rebus. Rebus's sense of humor, devotion to his job and sense of isolation consistently enhance his character and provide a peek into his psyche. In Saints of the Shadow Bible, his interaction with Malcolm Fox works to build empathy for both characters, as fans discover a side of Fox not seen before.

Rankin's gift with dialogue, his wit and raw examination of human nature continue to intensify, resulting in a resonant reading experience for both seasoned series devotees and new Rebus recruits. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: In the 19th outing for Rankin's popular Scottish detective, past and present collide in a pair of cases that force John Rebus to scrutinize his defining beliefs.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316224550


by Sarah Pinborough

London, 1888: The city is transfixed by the disturbingly flamboyant crimes of Jack the Ripper. Fear increases as the bodies pile up. But the situation may be worse than imagined: the police in Sarah Pinborough's novel Mayhem are beginning to suspect that there are two serial killers at work.

Dr. Thomas Bond, police surgeon, is called in to do an autopsy on body parts found hidden in the basement of police headquarters. This isn't the first female torso found, either--leading Bond and others to suspect "the Torso Killer" is someone other than Jack the Ripper.

As Bond continues to investigate, the strangeness of the case keeps him up at night, leading him to seek opium to ease his insomnia. The underground opium dens provide Bond with a clue to the killer's identity--and make him realize supernatural forces are at play.

Pinborough bases the story of Mayhem on a series of actual, unsolved murders, spinning historical fact into a well-researched mystery with an absorbing mystical twist. As Bond's drug habit becomes worse, his methodological accuracy begins to unravel, yet his desperation to find the killer increases--making for a fascinating character study. Mayhem is sure to appeal to mystery, horror and paranormal fans alike. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A dark supernatural mystery set in Jack the Ripper's London.

Jo Fletcher/Quercus, $24.95, hardcover, 9781623650865


One Tiny Lie

by K.A. Tucker

There is so much delicious escapism in K.A. Tucker's One Tiny Lie you may well fake a stomach virus so you can hide out to luxuriate in its angst-ridden love fantasy, a kind of Twilight goes to Princeton. The plot will be trumped by the desire to get to the red-hot love scenes between tightly wound good girl Livie and sexy bad boy Ashton.

Livie, introduced to readers in Tucker's Ten Tiny Breaths, is all grown up now and on the fast track to becoming a doctor and marrying a nice boy, both of which she believes would have made her deceased parents proud. Her circle of friends includes a party-girl roommate, a wild older sister and a nutty psychiatrist named Staynor (who, although he's a hoot, would have his medical license revoked in real life). But her whole world is turned upside down when she meets the mysterious and irresistible Ashton--especially since she's already dating his best friend. Although Livvie and Ashton's interactions are thick with building sexual tension, the rogue keeps warning her to stay away from him and his secretive past.

Of course, she can't--and in this impassioned romp full of detailed descriptions of buff Princeton crew members, readers won't be able to stay away, either. One Tiny Lie is a read to be soaked in and savored, sure to keep any woman warm on a cold winter's night. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: The second in a four-book series depicting a brooding romance that will strike any woman's fancy.

Atria, $15, paperback, 9781476740478

Biography & Memoir

Wooden: A Coach's Life

by Seth Davis

UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood," was a gentle giant of wisdom whose reputation as selfless philosopher and teacher overshadowed the fiery competitor and mean taskmaster on court. Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis has produced a fascinating biography of college basketball's greatest coach in Wooden: A Coach's Life.

The son of a poor, sports-loving Indiana farmer, Wooden was an athletic phenomenon, the perfect foil for Purdue coach Piggy Lambert's style of basketball. Lambert's strategy evolved into Wooden's coaching model, which revolutionized college basketball with dogmatic attention to player fitness grounding a game focused on fast breaks and zone defense. Wooden wanted glory, but felt handcuffed by the pressures that came with it. Behind that façade of invincibility lay a remote individual whose dogged Midwestern work ethic and strict adherence to rules left him unable to be the father figure his young charges sought.
"The ten championships aside, John Wooden's greatest victory may well have been his ability to emerge from all the tumult without losing sense of who he was," Davis writes. "Not a perfect man, but a very good one, a teacher more than a coach, a Christian, a husband, a father, anything but a wizard."

Davis does a good job of paralleling Wooden's story with the evolution of basketball from a half-court, jump ball game to the full court press that came to define professional play. Try as he might to expose Wooden's all-too-human flaws in his quest for basketball perfection and glory, Davis's biography helps solidify the myth and legend. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: This well researched biography of UCLA legend John Wooden also chronicles the evolution of basketball in the U.S.

Times Books, $35, hardcover, 9780805092806


Journey to the Sun: Junípero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California

by Gregory Orfalea

Junípero Serra, the subject of Gregory Orfalea's Journey to the Sun, was a serious intellectual born with the gift of the gab, an astute politician and a man of unswerving Catholic faith. He also was devoted to the converted native Americans with whom he lived for much of his adult life--often at odds with the 18th-century Spanish bureaucracy. He came to the New World enchanted by the mystical nun Maria de Agreda's writings. Her visionary theories guided much of Serra's missionary work, giving him the opportunity to follow reverently in the footsteps of Saints Francis of Assisi and Augustine.

Serra and his contemporaries, Juan Crespi and Fermín Lasuén, were able to tame the tribes of Mexico and California where other orders failed by melding Catholicism with the naturalistic elements of native American religions. Most of Serra's personal diaries and writings have been lost, but Orfalea's exhaustive research and vivid imagination allows readers to relive Serra's travails in this scholarly, but intensely readable, account of his life. Despite Serra's remarkable accomplishments in promoting Catholicism and establishing missions throughout the Californian territories, Orfalea is not afraid to tackle the Franciscan missionary's all-too-human struggles while arguing the case for Serra's sainthood (an issue that provokes intense debate over the historical treatment of native Americans by the Spaniards). Nevertheless, Orfalea's engaging narrative should inspire readers to revisit the missions Serra established, from San Diego to San Francisco--key monuments in California's history. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: This lively and highly readable biography humanizes California's founding father and lays out the case for his sainthood.

Scribner, $30, hardcover, 9781451642728

Health & Medicine

What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives

by Bruce Grierson

Bruce Grierson woke up one morning feeling much older than his chronological age of 47: "Age flooded in all at once." Enter Olga: a 90-something competitive runner who seems indefatigable in both body and spirit. In What Makes Olga Run?, Grierson decides to unravel the mystery of Olga's health, vitality and longevity. He quickly learns that 70%-75% of longevity is lifestyle--particularly physical exercise. Like our paleontological ancestors, our bodies are designed to move. Short intense bursts of exertion, accompanied by continual activity throughout the day, encourage mental acuity, restorative slumber and a positive outlook.

Olga grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan with a high tolerance to cold weather; she eats very little processed food and experiences polyphasic sleep cycles, which involve two periods of sleep with a time of quiet wakefulness in the middle. During her "night watch," Olga massages her muscles, encouraging an interoceptive ability to become attuned to her body's signals, which prevent her from overextending as a competitive athlete. Thirty-five years as a teacher and the other personal challenges she overcame (like leaving her abusive marriage) also helped forge cognitive acuity and grit.

Grierson discovered five qualities of personality that contribute to longevity: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and a lack of neuroticism. Spending time with Olga, he also began to feel better, younger and healthier. Although he maintains a self-depreciating sense of humor throughout What Makes Olga Run?, his demeanor lightens. Olga is bound to have a similar effect on readers as well. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: An inspirational blend of hero's journey and science that delves into the mystery of longevity, health and personal fulfillment.

Holt, $25, hardcover, 9780805097207

Art & Photography

The Reluctant Father

by Phillip Toledano

When photographer Phillip Toledano (Days with My Father) became a father at age 40, he expected to be overwhelmed by "a tsunami of love." But instead of being captivated by his daughter, Loulou, Toledano was initially baffled by the small, alien creature suddenly demanding most of his wife's attention and affection.

The Reluctant Father is a series of photos accompanied by brief commentary, chronicling the first year and a half of Loulou's life and Toledano's frustration with the cultural "script" for new fathers, which was limited to a dewy-eyed joy he didn't feel. His candor can be jarring at times, but he gradually comes to accept, even to adore, his daughter--especially when she grows old enough to be teased and to tease him back. Readers will notice the shift from early photos of a screaming Loulou to latter portraits of her in calmer, happier moments. Just as importantly, the back half of the book is suffused with Toledano's newfound love for his child. A poignant afterword by Toledano's wife, Carla Serrano, gives balance to the story and offers a glimpse into the couple's marriage.

A perfect gift for sleep-deprived new parents with an offbeat sense of humor, The Reluctant Father is moving, challenging and ultimately charming. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: In this photographic chronicle of new parenthood, a baffled father gradually comes to adore his daughter.

Dewi Lewis Media, $19.95, hardcover, 9781905928095

Children's & Young Adult

How I Discovered Poetry

by Marilyn Nelson, illus. by Hadley Hooper

Marilyn Nelson (A Wreath for Emmett Till) calls this collection of 50 poems "a personal memoir, a 'portrait of the artist as a young American Negro Girl.' " As in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the protagonist is a stranger in her own land, seeing its beauty and its cruelty. Nelson harnesses her observations into unrhymed sonnets in iambic pentameter, and unpacks their power one line at a time.

The poems cover the evolution of a child's thoughts from age 4 to 14, from 1950 to 1959, in states stretching from Ohio to Texas, California to Maine. They chronicle the becoming of a poet and the maturation of a nation. Like Frost and Dickinson, Nelson moves from the specific to the abstract and back again. On the eve of her best friend, Helene, moving away, she writes, "Tomorrow I'll feel lonely as Sputnik," only to have Helene put their situation in a larger context in the last lines: "Helene talks about the kids in Little Rock:/ how brave they are, how lonely they must feel."

Young Marilyn questions the American mythology--the Sweet Land of Liberty and Thanksgiving: "I read by the window in the attic,/ and things people believe in are unmasked/ like movie stars whose real names are revealed/ in their obituaries." The seeds planted in the early poems flower by book's end. Like Stephen Dedalus in Joyce's Portrait, a teenage Marilyn begins to own the power of what a calling as a writer might mean. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Three-time National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor author Marilyn Nelson's memoir of her 1950s childhood through 50 poems.

Dial, $17.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 12-up, 9780803733046

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

Very much a journey book, this sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children moves quickly through many landscapes and time periods as the children flee from threats, both "normal" and "peculiar."

With their home destroyed and Miss Peregrine stuck in the form of a bird, Hollow City sends the unusually gifted children known as peculiars on a dangerous quest to find others of their kind, in order to save their beloved headmistress. The children must avoid capture by wights and nightmarish hollowgasts while racing against time, armed with little more than their individual abilities (great strength, invisibility, creating fire) and a book of fairytales. The longer Miss Peregrine remains a bird, the less chance there is of returning her to human form. Jacob must help lead their ragtag group across war-torn London, circa 1940, as he hones his ability to sense hollows and learns more about his grandfather's--and his own--role in this peculiar world.

Vintage photographs add to the novel's haunting atmosphere, while appearances by Gypsies and carnival folk give it a grounded mystique. Riggs masterfully builds suspense while revealing new information about the peculiars' world, making it at once sinister and captivating. A surprising twist at the end will keep readers on the edge of their seats and leaves the story poised for a third installment. Ideal for fans of Neil Gaiman and Daniel Kraus, Hollow City blends fantasy and horror into a world that will engross readers and leave them eager for more. --Julia Smith, blogger and former children's bookseller

Discover: In this suspenseful sequel to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the "peculiars" become homeless and must save their headmistress.

Quirk Books, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9781594746123

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