Saturday, 7 October 2017

6 YA Books to Add to Your 2018 TBR

It's only October, but I'm already thinking about what I'm reading next year. I've even started a 2018 TBR on Goodreads. I'm so excited for so many YA books coming out next year, but you'll have to stay tuned for THAT mega-post closer to the end of this year.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Teens Read Feed event hosted by Raincoast Books. At the event I got to learn all about the exciting books coming out this upcoming winter. Several books are grappling with important social issues, but one topic that seemed to pop up the most was violence against women and girls. I was excited to learn that Laurie Halse Anderson is releasing a graphic novel based on her critically acclaimed novel Speak, which helped set the bar for how YA authors write about sexual violence. Although Speak was originally published in 1999, violence against women is still unfortunately prevalent today. Many YA authors are confronting the realities that girls and women face in today's society, and quite a few of the books on this list are no exception to that.

Here are 6 YA books coming out in 2018 that I'm really looking forward to.

1. Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay
From Goodreads: "Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack? While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?"

2. A Girl Like that by Tanaz Bhathena
From Goodreads: "Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don't want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal."

3. Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia
From Goodreads: "In this gritty, contemporary romance, an injured star athlete escapes to a small southern town after an abusive relationship leaves her reeling. Before, Peyton was a star soccer player with the perfect boyfriend, Reed. Now, she has a torn knee ligament, a scholarship on the line, and a shattered sense of self. No one believes Reed pushed her, causing her injury, and Peyton just wants to leave the trauma behind. Living with her uncle and twin cousins in their small, football-obsessed town seems like a great escape plan. There, Peyton meets Owen—high school classmate and local MMA fighter. Though Owen is charming and gentle, Peyton is determined to repress her growing attraction. But when her old and new life collide, Peyton must reclaim the truth of her past in order to save her future. With southern charm, underground martial arts, and red-hot chemistry, Kami Garcia’s second contemporary romance will steal your breath away."

4. Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann
From Goodreads: "Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting--working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she's asexual). Alice is done with dating--no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done. But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!). When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood."

5. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
From Goodreads: "Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: 'Stay away from the Hazel Wood.' Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong."

6. Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
From Goodreads: "Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara's friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn't know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn't help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault."

Do any of these titles interest you? What are you most excited to read in 2018?
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Thursday, 28 September 2017

6 YA Books For Fans of Josie and the Pussycats

It's been 16 years since the highly underrated movie Josie and the Pussycats came out. Despite poor reviews at the time of its release, the movie developed a cult-like following (myself included!) While the movie is a live-action take on the all-girl Riverdale rock band from the Archie comics, the film also serves as a satire on consumerism and pop culture. The result is a weird yet hilarious commentary on fame, fandom and friendship.

Like many Josie and the Pussycats fans, I'm always on the hunt for books that combine pop culture, friendship and music. Here are 6 books to fill your geeky punk rock, girl band loving heart.

1. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
This book follows a girl who finds her way from being an outsider to becoming friends with a group of girls who love music. She also discovers her love of DJing--and her place in the world.

2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl follows college freshman Cath who is a mega-fan of Simon Snow--such a big fan, in fact, that she's dedicated a large portion of her life to writing fanfic about him. It's a major part of her and her twin sister's life until Wren decides she wants to become more independent.

3. Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl by Emily Pohl-Weary
Sam Lee is a bass player in an all-girl indie band until she gets bitten by a werewolf after one of their shows. Suddenly a rival girl band appears on the scene, and Sam has a feeling they had something to do with her new transformation...

4. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde 
Friends Taylor, Jamie and Charlie conquer a weekend at SupaCon, a large fan festival in the US. While Taylor deals with being a super fan who also has anxiety, Charlie tries to balance her fame as an up-and-coming YouTube star and actress.

5. The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour
Colby and Bev's friendship is put to the test when Bev decides she's ditching her band to go to college instead. The book follows their friendship while also serving as a testament to how music serves as a thread throughout our lives.

6. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This YA classic follows strangers Nick and Norah who are brought together by a love of music at a rock concert in New York. Nick asks Norah to be his fake girlfriend in order to make his ex jealous--and their first kiss sends them on an evening of music-filled adventure.

Have you read any of the books on the list? What are your favourite books about music, fandom and girl bands?
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Review: This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis

I received an advance reading copy of this book from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my opinion of the book whatsoever. 

I have a very physical reaction to Mindy McGinnis' writing. Immediately after I read her last book, The Female of the Species, I had to leave the house and take a very long walk. I needed air, happy thoughts and probably a nice warm shower. McGinnis has a way of creating extreme close-ups of the human body but also intimate studies of the human psyche. She puts her characters through both subtle and extreme forms of physical gore. Where The Female of the Species conjured the kind of anger in me that made me want to scream at society, This Darkness Mine left me reeling for entirely different reasons.

In This Darkness Mine, Sasha Stone is the epitome of the ideal student and daughter. She reminds me of Nina in Black Swan: a "good girl" on a destructive pursuit of perfection. She has perfect grades, is incredibly gifted at playing the clarinet, has the perfect boyfriend and is well on her way to becoming valedictorian. She never steps outside the lines of her perfectly constructed world where she has calculated and even manipulated life to go her way. Everything is going according to her master plan until she discovers she had a twin sister she never knew about. Because she absorbed her in the womb.

Yes, you read that correctly.

This Darkness Mine is refreshing not only because it is a major contrast to the themes typically explored in YA, but also because its protagonist is very, very unlikeable and unreliable. I felt like the source of my fear while reading this book kept switching from person to person. I never knew who to like and to trust, which kept the reading experience very suspenseful. I felt like I was lead to feel that way about Sasha in particular, who grew more and more distant from me as a reader. I appreciate how McGinnis unapologetically presents a female character who is incredibly flawed and not at all a standard to live up to. At times I wanted for Sasha to find some sense of normalcy, which in turn made me feel guilty because I was sympathizing with a character I was supposed to dislike. Because of this, I find McGinnis really, really good at toying with readers' emotions and leading them to draw unsuspecting and surprising conclusions. She exposes the darkness inside us all, even the ones who are supposedly good.

With that said, I wish McGinnis had made a clearer distinction regarding Sasha's mental health. Spoiler alert: It never becomes clear whether or not Sasha has a mental illness, though it is lightly suggested by some of the other characters, and I think that clarification is necessary. Maybe this was left open ended for the reader to decide, but even then I think there's too much room for potential harm. If McGinnis intended to depict a character with a mental illness, then this book could be a potentially damaging representation. But to be fair, I read from an ARC, so this may have been better clarified in the final version of the book.

I think it is very appropriate that I don't know whether to like or dislike this read. I don't think it's as simple as liking it 100 per cent. Like Sasha, who tries to find a distinction between two selves, I found myself torn between deciding who gets to be good and who is evil.
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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What I'm Reading This Fall + Life Update

Earlier this year, I made the decision to step away from freelance writing and enter the world of book blogging. The transition has been fun but hard at the same time. Feeling like the new kid at school is not something I want to relive, but I often feel that way whenever I make a tweet, post on Instagram or attend a bookish event.

Luckily for me, the book community is nothing short of friendly, creative and passionate. I think I have found my people, to say the least. I started an online course in publishing this month and whenever I log on, I feel this little burst of happiness. Like I have found a small corner of the world where it is okay to love the things I love (books!) and it is more than okay to gush over them. It is so awesome to be able to talk with others about marketing YA books and not feel like a total nerd. But I'm also learning there's nothing wrong with that.

My blog is still chugging along and I've been very lucky enough to attend events and receive ARCs from publishers. This has had a huge and very positive influence on my reading habits and my TBR. Even though I'm a little behind in my reading goal for 2017, I'm reading way more than I ever have before.

With that said, my fall reading list is compiled mostly of ARCs. I've already posted my review of They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera here, but expect more reviews of the following books to come over the next few weeks!

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu 
I joked on Twitter yesterday that I check my library account at least five times a day to see if Moxie has come in yet--and it's true! This is probably one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. It's about a girl who starts a zine inspired by the Riot Grrls movement after she's had enough dealing with all the sexism at her conservative Texas high school. I needed this book as a teen, but I also needed this book like yesterday! I'm hoping the library pulls through soon.

I just finished this read yesterday and...I have complicated feelings. I'm probably going to mull this one over for a few days before writing a review. I need to read something very happy after experiencing this one! 

This book was sent to me by Algonquin Young Readers and it sounds magical and breathtaking. It's a western YA romance that takes place in the desert with some magical elements. I can't wait to read it because it's not up my usual alley, so it will be a good change of scenery for me.

This is actually a play that was sent to me from Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press. I'm really looking forward to reading this play because it deals with homophobia, bullying and mental health in a high school setting. 

I just have a feeling this book is going to rip me to shreds and I am here for it. 

I learned about this book at the HarperCollins Canada Frenzy event earlier this month and I was instantly hooked. It's about a girl who takes action against the way dragons are treated in her world. I was so happy when I received an ARC of this book in my goody bag!

I'm hoping to read more than just these books in the fall, but for now these are the ones I absolutely have to read. 

What do you plan on reading this season?

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Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my opinion of the book whatsoever. 

You've seen the title. You know what's coming. But you still aren't prepared. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera will tease you with the promise of young love, fulfilling dreams and facing deep-rooted fears. But it will ultimately leave you feeling crushed and a little exasperated (in the one-of-a-kind Silvera way that the author has mastered since writing History is All You Left Me.)

The writer in me disliked a few aspects of the story (which I'll get into later.) But it's easy for me to look past those things knowing what this book stands for and seeing the potential is has to positively effect young readers. The story stars Mateo and Rufus, two queer boys of colour. One is hard-edged and a little rebellious, the other lives anxiously and is afraid to leave the comfort of his room. But both share the pain of losing loved ones and both know how important it is to appreciate the life you have, even in the face of devastating loss. It was honestly painful getting so close to these characters when with every page you know what's coming. I wanted to charge into the narrative and save them, stop this horrid End Day business from happening. But I couldn't. No one can. No one can stop the inevitable, death, from doing its thing.

Despite its morbid premise, They Both Die at the End is probably going to help so many teen readers in a way that publishing has failed to in the past. The boys are diverse characters, yes, but they don't serve as tokens. I love how Silvera planted these boys in a diverse world--because that's a genuine reflection of the world around us, no matter how hard bigoted people wish it wasn't. But most importantly, the book shows teens that their voices, dreams, interests and insecurities matter.

I think I would have clutched this book to my heart as a teen. But the adult is me is a little pessimistic, and I think that impacted my reading experience. I didn't enjoy how the dialogue felt stiff and very educational--like the characters were often lecturing each other on the importance of living your life to the fullest. It's a message that's been done to death (I'm sorry) but to be fair, maybe it's one that teens need to hear.

Other than these two small issues, I enjoyed They Both Die at the End and I can't wait to see what else Silvera puts into the world. Although this book has teen readers in mind, it reminds us all of the importance of chasing your dreams no matter how big or small they may be.

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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: Ragged Lake by Ron Corbett

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my opinion of the book whatsoever. 

You know that feeling when you watch a movie and realize all of the most exciting parts were in the trailer? That's what I felt like after reading Ragged Lake by Ron Corbett. The synopsis promised a "richly atmospheric mystery with sweeping backdrops," and I unfortunately didn't get that from the novel. I was surprised that I didn't enjoy this read because I usually love everything that ECW Press publishes. But this one just wasn't for me.

The first couple of chapters are promising. Corbett establishes a spooky, wintery setting that totally reminded me of Twin Peaks, especially with the murder mystery element. From the first few chapters, you get a true sense of how sequestered this village is and how the looming storm only worsens that feeling of isolation. As I got a sense of the sparse setting and its hard-edged characters, I was also getting Fargo vibes, which heightened my expectations of the book. I was briefly hooked for the first few chapters, but the narrative unfortunately spiraled and didn't really pick back up.

My main problem with the narrative is that it relied heavily on flashbacks. One of the victims kept a detailed diary before she was murdered, which felt convenient to me. The journal didn't read in a conversational tone like an actual diary would. It read more like a real book with detailed quotes and conversations. It sounds like I'm nitpicking, but the journal entries are quite substantial. I wanted to follow Yakabuski's narrative more as he solves the murder, but I kept getting pulled out of it because of the long journal entries.

I also want to address the way some of the characters talk about First Nations people. I understand that I read from an uncorrected galley and some of these elements may change by the time the book is published this fall. But I did not want to write a review without addressing them. I am not a First Nations person, so I can't claim whether or not the representation offered by this book is good or harmful. But I do want to point out that a few characters use a term that many would consider a racial slur, and they aren't called out for doing so. I was also really put off by the fact that one of the police officers makes a comment about a Cree woman's good looks after he discovers her body. I understand these remarks are meant to illustrate what the characters talk like and they're meant to establish this particular setting, but the comment feels unnecessary to the overall plot. Sexualizing a dead woman's body is not okay. It's disturbing, even in fiction.

This might just be a case of my taste not aligning with this kind of book. I like reading crime and murder mysteries, but this was too slow paced for me and I didn't find myself rooting for the protagonist in any way. If you like stories with an incremental build where you don't have to get too emotionally invested in the story or its characters, then Ragged Lake might be for you.

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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Frenzy Presents Fall 2017 Preview: 5 YA Books I'm Excited About

My Literary Lenses recently celebrated a huge milestone: I went to my very first blogger event over the weekend! The Frenzy crew from HarperCollins Canada invited bloggers to preview their upcoming YA books. Although the preview was an absolute blast, it's safe to say most of us were very excited about the fact that YA authors Angie Thomas, Julie Murphy and Becky Albertalli were also in attendance!

I'm a huge fan of The Hate U Give by Thomas and Dumplin' by Julie Murphy—they're definitely both in my top 10 favourite books I've read this year—so I was a little bit starstruck when they walked into the room. Each author talked about the movie adaptations of their books and what it's like to interact with fans who relate to some of the heavier subject matter in their stories. These authors are so vital to the YA community: They are doing important work by representing marginalized teens who don't often see themselves in books. It isn't surprising that their popularity has exploded recently and I can't wait to read their next books.

I left the event on such a high—it was so uplifting to be surrounded by people with similar interests and hobbies. I also left with a lot more knowledge about some of HCC's upcoming books, which I discuss below!

Oh yes, there will be dragons. Lots of them. In Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows, the protagonist discovers a dark secret about the way dragons are treated in her world and she is determined to expose the truth.

Focus on mental health:
As a person with anxiety, I was so pleased (and actually quite surprised) to hear that so many upcoming books from HCC Frenzy follow characters living with anxiety. I obviously can't say whether the representation is good in any of these books since I haven't read them yet, but Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows, Top Ten by Katie Cotugno and Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza all include characters with anxiety. I also believe that one of the main characters in They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera deals with anxiety, but I wasn't able to confirm that through the synopsis.

Dark themes: 
If you're sick of lovey-dovey YA where the characters are way too perfect and the story ends wrapped in a perfect bow, then these upcoming HCC Frenzy books may be for you. This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis follows a girl named Sasha Stone who discovers that she absorbed her twin sister in the womb. I've heard the word "freaky" used to describe this book many times, and if McGinnis' previous titles (like The Female of the Species) are anything like this one, I know it will be equal parts disturbing and suspenseful. Although literally everyone (except me) has already read this next one, it's worth mentioning They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (I mean, the title says it all) where two boys come to terms with the fact that they are going to die today.
1. This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis (October 10, 2017)
From HarperCollins Canada: "Sasha Stone knows her place—first-chair clarinet, top of her class, and at the side of her Oxford-wearing boyfriend. She’s worked her entire life to ensure her path to Oberlin Conservatory as a star musician is perfectly paved. But suddenly there’s a fork in the road in the shape of Isaac Harver. Her body shifts toward him when he walks by, and her skin misses his touch even though she’s never known it. Why does he act like he knows her so well—too well—when she doesn’t know him at all? Sasha discovers that her by-the-book life began by ending the chapter of another: the twin sister she absorbed in the womb. But that doesn’t explain the gaps of missing time in her practice schedule, or the memories she has of things she certainly never did with Isaac. Armed with the knowledge that her heart might not be hers alone, Sasha must decide what she’s willing to do—and who she’s willing to hurt—to take it back."

2. Release by Patrick Ness (September 19, 2017)
From HarperCollins Canada: "Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life. Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart. At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela. But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release. From the New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a raw, darkly funny, and deeply affecting story about the courage it takes to live your truth"

3. Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga (November 7, 2017)
From HarperCollins Canada: "Taliah Sahar Abdallat lives and breathes music. Songs have always helped Tal ease the pain of never having known her father. Her mother, born in Jordan and very secretive about her past, won’t say a word about who her dad really was. But when Tal finds a shoebox full of old letters from Julian Oliver—yes, the indie rock star Julian Oliver—she begins to piece the story together. She writes to Julian, but after three years of radio silence, she’s given up hope. Then one day, completely out of the blue, Julian shows up at her doorstep, and Tal doesn’t know whether to be furious or to throw herself into his arms. Before she can decide, he asks her to go on a trip with him to meet her long-estranged family and to say good-bye to his father, her grandfather, who is dying. Getting to know your father after sixteen years of estrangement doesn’t happen in one car ride. But as Tal spends more time with Julian and his family, she begins to untangle her parents’ secret past, and discovers a part of herself she never recognized before. By the acclaimed author of My Heart and Other Black Holes, this is an intergenerational story of family and legacy and the way love informs both of those things. It’s about secrets and the debt of silence. It’s about the power of songs. And most of all, it’s about learning how to say hello. And good-bye."

4. Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles edited by Natalie C. Parker (December 19, 2017)
From HarperCollins Canada: "You may think you know the love triangle, but you've never seen love triangles like these. These top YA authors tackle the much-debated trope of the love triangle, and the result is sixteen fresh, diverse, and romantic stories you don’t want to miss. This collection, edited by Natalie C. Parker, contains stories written by Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagan, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, EK Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff. A teen girl who offers kissing lessons. Zombies in the Civil War South. The girl next door, the boy who loves her, and the girl who loves them both. Vampires at a boarding school. Three teens fighting monsters in an abandoned video rental store. Literally the last three people on the planet. What do all these stories have in common? The love triangle."

5. Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows (September 12, 2017)
From HarperCollins Canada: "From the New York Times bestselling co-author of My Lady Jane comes a smoldering new fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Kristin Cashore about a girl condemned for defending dragons and the inner fire that may be her only chance of escape. Mira has always been a symbol of hope for the Fallen Isles, perfect and beautiful—or at least that’s how she’s forced to appear. But when she uncovers a dangerous secret, Mira is betrayed by those closest to her and sentenced to the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. Except Mira is over being a pawn. Fighting to survive against outer threats and inner demons of mental illness, Mira must find her inner fire and the scorching truth about her own endangered magic—before her very world collapses. And that’s all before she ignites."

Which YA books are you looking forward to this fall? 

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