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review 2016-11-07 13:00
Bullet-Listed Thoughts: Grave Mercy
Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy

by Robin LaFevers
Book 1 of His Fair Assassin
Audio book narrated by Erin Moon

 

 

**See Also:  Collective Updates for Grave Mercy



I liked this book more than I expected to like it, and while there is a lot of monotony to be had between certain events, I surprisingly found those quite intriguing and nice anyway.  Being that this book focuses a lot on history and politics of Brittany during the pre-Renaissance era, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it if only because I’m usually bored by books that are heavy with politics.

So, kudos to Ms. Robin LaFevers.  I really loved this book in spite of the political conspiracies and the drawn out history lessons--in fact, these were the things, aside from the characters, that I found most fascinating.

But anyway, as I had let this book sit on my mind for a long time (a very long time), and then subsequently went back and "skim-read" it (via audio book) to refresh my memory before diving into reading what I thought were the last two books in this series (there have since been two more books added to the series), I really don’t have much in the form of a review.  So I decided to just bullet-list my thoughts and then call it a day.

Actually, a lot of these notes and thoughts had been written back in 2014 when I first finished reading this book.  Following, I decided to wait until the last book of the then-trilogy was published before reading the rest.  Time ended up eluding me and I never got around to finishing the last two books until this time in 2016.

Anyway, moving along now...


The Story:
Escaping the brutality of a forced marriage, Ismae finds sanctuary with the convent of St. Mortain who serves the God of Death.  She learns that she is blessed by the God of Death and that all the sisters of this convent serve Mortain as his handmaidens, meant to mete out his wishes as trained agents in the art of Death.

And thus NUN ASSASSINS.

Ismae receives her most important assignment in the high court of Brittany where she comes across deeper intrigues of conspiracies and deadly games of treason.  Her initial assignment is to uncover a possible treasonous plot taking place at court.   Her overall mission is to serve and protect the Duchess.

Oh yea, and she meets a man named Gavriel Duval who, knowing what she has been trained for, is Ismae’s means of remaining at the court to complete her assigned mission.  There’s also romance, but it’s quite subtle and not at all in the way of the actual conflict taking place in the story.

Meanwhile, Ismae slowly learns that maybe there is more to being a handmaiden of St. Mortain than simply killing in his name, and that her teachers at the convent may not always know what the God of Death truly has plans for.


What I liked:

  • Once again, I give kudos to the fact that the book’s political-historical intrigues managed to hook me rather than put me to sleep.   It’s not the fault of fictional politics, it’s really just me.  While I like a bit of history here and there, I’ve never fully been able to care for politics, so books with court conspiracies and political intrigue tend to become boring to me. (I’ve spent my childhood watching old Chinese historical television series that involve court politics; after a while, every treasonous plot just starts to sound the same.)

 

  • This book was a page turner--I hardly noticed this book was 500+ pages and actually yearned for more when it came to an end.  The "re-read" of the audio book had me hooked as well--I found myself unwilling to stop the player long enough to read other books, or even to go to sleep.

 

  • The subtle romance between Ismae and Duval was sweet and nicely developed.  I like that they started off as friendly rivals in the game of their court-related missions, and I like that they were a witty set of Bickering Romance love birds slowly building their chemistry from friendship to lovers as they continuously got on each other’s nerves.  And I like that once they got over their own stubborn prides and agreed to work together, they made a pretty powerful team.

 

  • Ismae is strong, intelligent, and knows her priorities.  When she realizes that she is in way over her head, she takes her self-proclaimed impatient ass back a step so that she can listen and learn and figure out what she needs to understand before she acts.  To be honest, even though it is described that Ismae is often too eager to mete out death and punishment and too impatient to wait for something to happen, I actually found her to be quite sensible in her actions.  And on top of that, romance does not tie her down and she knows what needs to be done first and foremost to best serve the Duchess and her God of Death.

 

  • The writing is beautiful.  Descriptions are vivid.  The historical atmosphere is palpable.

 


What I didn’t like:

  • There isn’t as much action as I would have liked.  Because the book deals more in politics and history and world-building, the amount of fighting and action and even the number of people Ismae has killed in this book seem quite sparse for a book about NUN ASSASSINS.

 

  • This wasn’t the gritty, gory, badass NUN ASSASSIN book I had been expecting.  It’s much better than the other nun assassin book I had read previously, but it’s a lot calmer than I had expected.  In fact, if the whole NUN ASSASSIN thing hadn’t been my first “OMG!  I want this book so badly!” tagline, I might have just read it as a historical with political intrigue and there'd be no capitalization of NUN ASSASSINS to be had.

 

  • As much as I liked the sweet and quiet, friendly bickering chemistry between Ismae and Duval, in an overall romance rating, the love story was actually kind of lukewarm.  In fact, the two seem to mesh well better as friendly partners in crime with a sizzling undertone of attraction and unacknowledged chemistry.



Final Thoughts:
I had decided that was probably time for me to fit in Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart somewhere (this will happen soon)--it has been a very long time since I finished Grave Mercy (see above introductory confession).  I need to be able to, like, read twenty books simultaneously and take about two months worth of vacation to finish my reading list.  Because while I found Grave Mercy to be immensely enjoyable, despite being a genre I don’t normally touch at all, I’ve noted that many reviewers have stated that the next two books are supposedly even more awesome.  And so I really should have made time to finish reading the next two books to join and bask in the glory of having read the His Fair Assassin series.

Anyway...

This is a book I would definitely reread over again, to be totally honest.  And it got me curious enough about the history of Brittany as well as the Duchess Anne to want to do some genuine research.  Of course, so far, I’ve only done a Wiki search...

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2016/11/bullet-listed-thoughts-grave-mercy.html
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review 2015-06-19 17:03
Distracted Driving is the Drunk Driving of our Time
Reggie's Brain - Matt Richtel

Hi, welcome. I’m happy to see you are settling in to read this now. But…what?...really?…please…ignore that chirp that just told you a new e-mail arrived. It is probably just another add for Viagra or penile enlargement. It is almost never something critical, so…hey…come back. Son of a bitch. (Taps fingers on desk, plays some solitaire, checks watch) Ah, you’re back. Took long enough. Geez. All right, can we get back to it now? You remember? The book is A Deadly Wandering, a pretty amazing look at attention, the demands on it, how it functions, how it is being compromised, and what the implications are for some aspects of that. Stop, no, do you have to answer the phone now? Can’t it wait? (sighs loudly, checks e-mail on a separate screen; weather.com lets us know upcoming conditions in another tab; who is pitching for the Mets tonight?) Oh, you’re back, sorry. Been there long? I must have wandered off. Focus.

I know a little bit about distraction. My job entails constant blasts of it. I work as a dispatcher for a security company. I have a dozen or more sites checking in every hour to make sure our guards are not sleeping (or that they know how to set the alarms on their cell phones). People call asking for their schedules. People call at 2 in the morning to let us know they will not be showing up for their 6am shift. They call because they just turned the wrong way and the cell phone in their pocket somehow redialed the last number they’d called. They call at 4am to let us know they will not be coming in for their 6am shift. They call asking for direction when there is some event at their site that requires handling. (This does go on for a bit, so rather than inflict on you the horrors of my typical work night, I will leave a full viewing for the intrepid and tuck a chunk of it under a spoiler label)

Our clients call, sometimes asking for emergency ASAP coverage in diverse places across the continent, sometimes to add ridiculous increases to the number of guards they want for a morning shift at a large institution. Our security guards call to ask if their check is at the office, or to inquire as to why the totals on their checks did not match what they expected. They call to let us know they have arrived at their post. They call to let us know they have clocked out for the day. They call at 5am to let us know they will not be in for their 6am shift because they have a newly discovered “appointment.” There are many, many calls. It makes it damned tough to keep a log of all the calls, particularly when half a dozen arrive at the exact same moment. It makes it tough to prepare the multiple reports of overnight activity, all of which have to be transmitted during the busiest time of the morning. In the middle of this, the boss comes in, drops papers on my desk and asks when this or that person arrived at or left from a post sometime in the last week or so. For someone who is, shall we say, not comfortable with being interrupted, this presents some challenges. And it presents a real problem. I write the bulk of my reviews while at work. And to enter notes, do research on items, and then compose actual reviews of books during this time can be a bit difficult. Thoughts that have not made their way into a file are in constant danger of vanishing into the ether with the next barrage of incomings. I scream sometimes.

(spoiler show)

 

I frequently forget what I was doing before the latest set of calls. And, struggling to remember, I am interrupted yet again by the next set. The one good thing about this blitzkrieg of interruption is that I am not enduring it while behind the wheel of a ton-plus hunk of metal hurtling down the road at 60 mph. My sanity may be in jeopardy, (or long gone) but I present no existential threat to the rest of humanity. The same cannot be said for the main character in Richtel’s story.

 

By all accounts nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw is a decent young man. A Mormon, he was eager to serve his community by preparing for and then undertaking an LDS mission. His first try had come up short, so he was back home, working until he could build up enough moral credit to try again. In September, 2006, while driving a Chevy Tahoe SUV, Reggie had his Cingular flip-phone with him and was texting with his girlfriend. A witness reported seeing him weaving across the center line multiple times. Finally, Reggie weaved too far. The results were fatal. Reggie came through ok but two scientists were killed as a result of Reggie’s texting, leaving wives and children to pick up the charred pieces of their lives and go on without their breadwinners, husbands, fathers. Reggie denied he was texting when the accident occurred.

 

Matt Richtel is a novelist and top-notch reporter. He won a Pulitzer for a series of articles, written for the New York Times, in which he detailed the national safety crisis resulting from increasing use of distracting devices by drivers. He has written a few novels and even pens a comic strip. There is nothing at all amusing, however, about the tale he tells here.

 

Matt Richtel - from his site

Matt Richtel - from his site

 

The core of A Deadly Wandering is how constant distraction, particularly while in a car, kills. Richtel looks at the case of Reggie Shaw as a prime example of how the distractions that have become embedded in our lives have unintended consequences. Richtel spends time with Reggie, with the cop who pursued the case when most officials wanted to brush it off and move on, the surviving family members, and a victim’s advocate who pursued prosecution of the case. Richtel also talks with several neuroscientists who have been studying the science of attentiveness. That material is quite eye-opening.

 

There are legal questions in here regarding where responsibility lies for such events, and how far communities are willing to go to punish violations and even to establish that such behavior is not permissible. Where does your freedom to act irresponsibly interfere with my right to stay alive? There are scientific questions about how the brain functions in a world that seems to demand multi-tasking. How does the brain work in dealing with attentiveness? What is possible? What is not? Where are the edges of that envelope?

 

When drug companies want to bring to market a product for public use, they must go through a significant review process to make sure their product is safe to use. Before auto manufacturers can bring a vehicle to market they must put it through safety testing. 

But neither Verizon nor any other cellphone company supports legislation that bans drivers from talking on the phone. And the wireless industry does not conduct research on the dangers, saying that is not its responsibility - From - Dismissing the Risks of a Deadly Habit

 

And the corporations know what they are doing with their technology. 

 

If you take yourself back millennia, and you're in the jungle or you're in the forest and you see a lion, then the lion hits your sensory cortices and says to the frontal lobe, whatever you're doing, whatever hut you're building, stop and run.Well, here's what scientists think is happening in this data era, is that these pings of incoming email, the phone ringing, the buzz in your pocket, is almost like we get little tiny lions, little tiny threats or, let's say, maybe little tiny rabbits that you want to chase and eat, you get little tiny bursts of adrenaline that are bombarding your frontal lobe asking you to make choices. But these in some ways aren't these modern bombardments; they're the most primitive bombardments. They're playing to these most primitive impulses and they're asking our brain to make very hard choices a lot.- from the Terry Gross interview

 

In addition, and in a chillingly similar impact to other addictive substances, our communications technology knows how to make itself feel crucial to us.

 

when you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you hear a ring - you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline. So you're getting that more and more and more and more. Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're actually conditioned by a kind of neurochemical response. - also from the NPR interview

 

Richtel follows Reggie’s story through to the end, at least for some of the players here. Laws have been changed. New knowledge has been gained. Responsibility has been allocated. Amends have been attempted. It is a moving tale. In addition, you will learn a lot about what science has found about how our brains handle multiple concurrent demands. You will learn about change in how distracted driving is being addressed by our legal system. But most of what you will get from reading this book is a chilling appreciation for what is involved in distracted driving. You might even be persuaded to switch off your phone the next time you get behind the wheel. At least I hope you are. I would like to live a bit longer and not be taken out before my time because someone was talking on the phone with their friend, texting with their significant other, or trying to order penile growth products from the road. I would like to live long enough to spend at least a few more nights screaming at the phone to stop ringing at work so I can get some writing done. That call you were thinking of making while in the car can wait. It really is a matter of life and death. A Deadly Wandering is must read material. Please, please pay attention.


Review posted – 7/18/14

 

Publication date – 9/23/14

Trade Paperback - 6/2/15

 

This review has been cross-posted at GoodReads and CootsReviews

 

=============================EXTRA STUFF

 

Links to the author’s personalTwitter, FB pages

 

A list of Richtel articles in the NY Times’ Bits Blog

 

The Pulitzer site includes links to all the pieces in Richtel’s award-winning series. Very much worth checking out

 

Another article Richtel did looked at the benefits of uninterrupted face time free of technological intrusion, from August, 2010, Studying the Brain

 

There is some great material in Richtel’s 2010 interview with Terry Gross on NPR, Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets

 

 

There are some interesting pieces on Oprah’s site. Distracted Driving: What You Don't See  is pretty good.

 

And it is worth checking out Oprah's No Texting Campaign

 

 

The US Department of Transportation has a site dedicated to the problem of distracted driving. There are some interesting bits of information available there.

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review 2015-01-16 06:19
Review and other Thoughts: Naked Heat
Naked Heat - Richard Castle

While I was in the middle of reading Naked Heat, I suddenly had the urge to finally pick up Castle and see what it was all about. After marathoning the first three seasons, I’m delighted to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the television series that this Nikki Heat book series is based off of. And I can see all the parallels as well as why many people love the television series more so than they like the Nikki Heat book series.

There is a line in one of the episodes of Castle where Kate Beckett quips that maybe there’s a little bit more of Nikki Heat in her than one might have thought. Well, that’s all fine and good, is what I was thinking; because unfortunately, despite being based off of Kate Beckett, I feel like there isn’t enough of Kate Beckett in Nikki Heat.

This, unfortunately, is one of the downfalls of the Nikki Heat series, if we must split hairs. In comparison to the television series, the characters just don’t hold up very well.

Naked Heat was written a whole lot better than the previous book, Heat Wave. While the concept and the murder mystery were acceptable in the first book, I found the writing hard to appreciate. In contrast, the writing in Naked Heat was a lot more progressive, smoother, better edited… The characters were a bit better developed.

And had I not gone ahead and watched Castle, I might have thought that Naked Heat managed to build its characters in a better manner.

But alas, having seen the television series, there is one definite trait that the television series has over the book series. The characters of the Nikki Heat books, despite being based off of the Castle television series, just do not compare.

There isn’t enough of Kate Beckett in Nikki Heat to bring the detective to life. There are layers and layers to Beckett’s life, history, and personality. She’s a tough cop with a cool attitude, but she also has her moments of vulnerability and girlish glee that just doesn’t seem to translate through to Nikki Heat. She’s realistic and down-to-earth, and not at all hard to relate with. Nikki Heat, in contrast, is the tough cop with a cool attitude and some sarcastic quips… but ultimately, she just doesn’t show much human emotion and comes off more distant and kind of a bitch than anything else.

And the character of Jameson Rook is simply too simple to even compare with Richard Castle. Despite having the same personality traits--childish, easily excitable, has no sense of boundaries, annoyingly arrogant--Rook is more of a surface scraping of Richard Castle’s true persona. There are also many more layers to Richard Castle, and one of the unfortunate things about Jameson Rook’s character when set up against Richard Castle, is that Rook has no back history that helps you understand his personality. The only thing we know about Jameson Rook is that he has a diva mother… but otherwise, that’s about it. Castle’s individual and family history (with his mother and his daughter and his previous marriages) does miles of good in turning Richard Castle into more than just the immature, childish, too excitable for his own good, arrogant Jameson Rook persona. He’s charming as a man, loving as a father, and amazing as a loving son. Having these traits to color his background makes Richard Castle a much more complex and likable person; in contrast, Jameson Rook merely comes off as an immature and annoying brat of a man-child.

I’ve also grown to love Lanie Parrish, Javier Esposito, and Kevin Ryan. Even Captain Roy Montgomery has a place in my heart. But on paper, in the Nikki Heat books, these people just don’t stand out.

So while written well with good story flow and progression (much better than the first book), the ultimate thing missing from the Nikki Heat series are the characters and their underlying lives that are supposed to make them shine. In the books, they just fall kind of flat.


Naked Heat is another high scale murder mystery with layers of secrets unraveling as the story progresses. A big name journalist is tortured and killed and Jameson Rook turns out to have his connections in this case because he’d been shadowing said journalist. On top of that, thanks to Rook’s other connections, he once again manages to help Heat and her detectives by providing his networking skills to get them interviews with celebrities and their ilk.

Along the way, Rook and Heat reconcile their relationship that had been strained at the beginning of this book due to Rook’s inconsiderate publishing of a “Nikki Heat”-centric article that, while casts her in a nice Tomb Raider-esque kickass light, also puts her name out for scrutiny by the rest of the NYPD who didn’t get mentioned.

So we have some human drama and the requisite murder mystery, and once again, I do appreciate the character interactions, the humor, and the investigative process that propels the storyline.


The mystery in this book is certainly more intriguing than the last, and the story progression and wit and humor were also at a higher notch. Still, the book itself comes off mediocre and uninspiring. And in a sense, it still reeks of “Now you’ve read another book, be sure to watch the television series” all over it.

And, in a way, if marketing for the television series is what this book sets out to do, then it is definitely doing its job.

As for the parallels, you can find them throughout the book. Except that this second book seems to correlate more with the second season and the third season of Castle. And I can’t help but wonder if these parallels are being thrown into the book on purpose to stimulate thought… because sometimes they come off as being a little awkwardly incorporated. But they are present such as the dead body snatching, or finding Castle/Rook at the scene of a murder, or even Rook/Castle introducing a famous professional thief of ye olden days to Heat/Beckett… though in a different context.

One thing I will say, however, is that I can’t fault the book too much on the underdeveloped characterizations. It’s probably not easy to compete with the crew of great actors and actresses who really manage to bring their own characters to life, and then trying to infuse a few tenths of that charm into a paper bio of a character.


Final Thoughts: A step up from book one, entertaining and enjoyable, better character developments, better story progression and writing. Enjoyable.

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review 2015-01-16 02:57
A Brief Bullet List of Thoughts: The Perilous Sea
The Perilous Sea - Sherry Thomas

This second book was much more fabulous than the first! And yet I felt like the first book had more story. I'm hard to please, apparently. HOWEVER, what's important are the 'FEELS' and The Perilous Sea was up to the brim with FEELS .

I wish I had read this book much earlier!

This review will be short and sweet. I can't think of anything to say about it if only because, even after a bit of time to think, I'm still reeling in FEELS for the story, for the romance, for Titus, for Iolanthe, and for Titus and Iolanthe together.

My review of The Burning Sky was a list of thoughts, so maybe I'll do so this time as well. I like lists after all.

So... randomly, with no formal format in mind:

 

 

  • There are FEELS. If I loved Titus and Iolanthe before, I love them even more now. Having developed a more romantic, intimate relationship with each other, the two definitely represent a very powerful couple (as seen throughout the future scenes of our couple in the desert where they've lost their memories). And having developed a romantic relationship, the FEELS were abundant when certain factors lead to a whole slew of frustrating yet feel good bitter sweet angst to play off of.

 

Oh, it all felt good.

 

 

  • I would say that Iolanthe has grown immensely as both an individual and as a mage. She's stronger now and even more idealistic and opinionated than she was in the first book. In contrast, Titus needs to follow up on that development angle because it irks me that he continues to live his life following a series of predictions written by his mother in a mysterious, magical journal.

 

 

  • The world building of The Elemental Trilogy was fairly hard to grasp in The Burning Sky. While I overlooked it in favor of the story progression and the character developments, it would still be nice to see more world building to help grasp what kind of a setting we're in. And unfortunately, The Perilous Sea doesn't pick up that slack.

    No matter, considering there was quite a bit of progression going on to keep me busy... while at the same time there seemed to be very little story going on to merit such progression.

 

 

  • The conflict between Titus's choice of either working with Wintervale or Iolanthe was moot, honestly. He could use a lesson or two from Kashkari about the workings of prophecy, fate, and those actions we take to maneuver fate into being. I've never really liked the idea that fate is written to the last word for everyone's life and for Titus to cling to his mother's visions so zealously makes you wonder if he's even really interpreting them properly... and if he really needs to do so.

    The minor conflict of believing that Wintervale is the great elemental mage that he's supposed to work with the save the world instead of Iolanthe was a frustrating one. Titus's conviction coupled with Iolanthe's heartbreak turned out a nice bittersweet angst of story, though, so I don't condemn it. It was actually a nice little twist.

 

 

  • The alternating back and forth of future scenes in the deserts of Africa and the present day happpenings at the school in London were interestingly set up. From the moment our couple appears as two individuals without their memories, I had a feeling this tangential adventure would be an amazing one. Watching a memory-less Titus and Iolanthe start off wary of one another, then begin to partner for survival, then ultimately falling in love with each other all over again despite knowing nothing of themselves or the other person... it speaks volumes of their characters and personalities.


I think my bullet list of thoughts stops there. So much for short and sweet, but I honestly did kind of grasp for things to write about. Once I got going, I guess I just kept going.


Final Thoughts: I really can't wait for the conclusion of The Elemental Trilogy to come around. The more you follow Titus and Iolanthe, the more you find you've fallen for them, both as individuals and as a love story. If I wasn't invested in them before, I certainly am now: I'm invested in their struggles, their plight to save the world, their growth as children to adults, and of course, their ultimate outcome as a romantic couple.

While the story depicted in The Perilous Sea seemed a bit lacking, there was still a lot of forward movement. There was a lot of action that didn't even point me into wondering about the world building, and there were enough revelations and secrets unveiled to keep me on my feet.

This is definitely one of my more favorite books read and published in 2014.

Also, if there are more thoughts that come to mind soon, I may or may not add it to my bullet list of thoughts.

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review 2015-01-16 02:45
Thoughts: Death Sworn
Death Sworn - Leah Cypess

This wasn't the best book in the world, but it kept me hooked from the beginning until the end. Unfortunately, it also felt like an extremely long prologue of sorts with things happening, but at the same time, things NOT quite happening.

Ileni is losing her magic powers and so in a final attempt to make herself feel more than worthless, she "volunteers" to become the next Renegai tutor in the assassin caves. Unofficially, Ileni's mission is to uncover the details behind the deaths of two preceding Renegai tutors--circumstances surrounding their death seemed unusual.

With a reckless death wish, and a ton of inner conflict, Ileni arrives at the assassin caves where she is immediately tested for skill and worthiness. At the same time, despite her death complex, she still harbors a slight survival instinct within her.


The mystery aspect was mediocre--once Ileni found out that magic had thrown the knife that killed her preceding Renegai tutor, Cadrel, I figured out the whole conspiracy in the Assassin's Caves.

The romance seemed a bit moot... and flat at the same time. Soren didn't really stand out much from the standard "broody alpha male assassin in a YA" if there is such a categorization for such a character. Basically, he wasn't very outstanding.

The entire story is carried by Ileni, and as such, I really DID enjoy following her through her monotonous day-by-days.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and liked that we get a pretty kickass female heroine who can hold her own even with her dwindling magic powers. She is smart and resourceful and sometimes having her wits about her is better than having any kind of physical or magical power.

I am looking forward to seeing how the conflict in this series continues on.


Overall: Enjoyable with potential, but could have been more exciting. A great female main character, but no one else really stands out. A predictable mystery, but written well nonetheless.

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