Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I've been really terrible about posting on my blog and visiting other blogs, especially with final exams coming up next week. I promise I will reply to all my backlogged comments and visit all your lovely blogs very soon!

In the meantime, I won't be posting any more on my blog for this year, so see you all in January!

Happy Holidays :)

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Talk: Diversity in fiction

I'm sure on some level, I have always been aware that the characters in books weren't like me. As a child of immigrant parents, I have grown up with that whole in-between thing of not quite being American but not quite fitting in with "the motherland" because I was born and raised halfway across the world. This in-between crossed over into my books as well. I'd read about typical American teenagers, and be surprised about how they interacted with their parents and friends because it was so different from the values and experiences I've had growing up. Then I'd turn around and be baffled by daily life in Indian fiction because I had grown up in America and absorbed that culture.

I've been lucky enough to live in California for most of my life, where there are large immigrant communities and I never felt alienated, but if we ever took road trips to other states, I definitely noticed the funny stares (there are brown people in this country? whaaaat?). I know a lot of others aren't so lucky, and I just wonder what it would be like to have role models or people we could relate to in the fiction we read or watch growing up. I know Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani American superhero, did wonders for a lot of young Muslim girls living in America. Wouldn't it be cool to have that for everyone?

It wasn't until recently that I consciously realized that people of color and/or people on various points of the gender spectrum weren't really represented in mainstream fiction, and that this was a problem. When the real world is full of different kinds of people, shouldn't our fiction reflect that? It was actually a book (Ash, by Malinda Lo) that helped me understand what it was like to be part of the LGBTQ community. If I hadn't read that book, I'm ashamed to say I would not have been very supportive when one of my friends came out to me. But because of that book, I was able to overcome my ignorance and my prejudices.

Books can help you understand and respect people that aren't like you. Think of all the implicit prejudices and fears we could get rid of if books and movies portrayed the world as full of different kinds of people. I'm paying a lot more attention to this in the books I read thanks to all the lovely bloggers and authors who have championed diversity in fiction. Once I realized how strongly I felt about this, I created my feature DiverSFFy to highlight books that do do a good job of portraying those differences with love and respect.

Diversity in fiction could be one more step towards a more inclusive world. Isn't that reason enough to support it?

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review: The Art of Wishing

13530566Title: The Art of Wishing
Author: Lindsay Ribar
Genre: YA, contemporary, fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:
Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie's ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn't know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else's hands?
But Oliver is more than just a genie -- he's also a sophomore at Margo's high school, and he's on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.
A whole lot more.

I picked this book up because I needed a brainless fluff book after a bunch of dark ones, and two bookish friends with excellent taste recommended this to me. I was very excited for genies, because I loved Bartimaeus (of The Amulet of Samarkand fame) as a child and more recently fell in love with Helen Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni. This was certainly a cute fluffy book, but it just got too ridiculous towards the end. I think I would have liked it better if the ballistic arch-nemesis plotline hadn't been so dramatic.

I was sold with this story for the first half, in which Margo meets Oliver and discovers that this 16-year-old boy is actually a genie. Everything was just adorable - Margo and her banter with her friends, Oliver's earnestness about making people happy with wishes, Margo and Oliver getting to know each other. I thought the concept of how genies are "born" was really creative, and I thought it was a clever spin on genie folklore. I also really enjoyed how Margo was snarky and independent, and even when she started falling for Oliver, it wasn't a head-over-heels LOVE BEFORE ALL ELSE thing.

I had a couple of issues with the second half. The introduction of the fourth wish was so late and so convenient that it almost felt like a deus ex machina. The antagonist was creepy and totally insane, yes, but the entire final battle was incredibly predictable. The resolution to that battle was ridiculously abrupt, and my first thoughts were "WHAT ABOUT THE PARENTS?". SPOILERS: Highlight if you want to read them (my spoiler button isn't working right now...) (Yes, Margo has a strained relationship with her parents and they don't exactly spend a lot of time together, but don't you think they'd notice if their daughter turned into a genie and disappeared for good?) I just felt like the author made the buildup of the antagonist and final conflict far more dramatic than it needed to be, and in the end the resolution wasn't satisfying.
I'd recommend this for people looking for fluff, but with the caveat that you leave your logic at the doorstep when you start reading.
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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)Title: The Blade Itself
Author: Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads summary:Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.
Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.
Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.
Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he's about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.
Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. It is definitely a set-up book, in that almost nothing happens in terms of plot, but the characters were all fantastic and I can't wait to keep reading.

Before this book, I'd only read Half a King by the same author. I heard it was a watered down version of Abercrombie in terms of grittiness and gore, and I can see why people said that. The thing about the grittiness and gore of this book is that it isn't actually that dark. I am one of those very faint of heart that feels nauseous whenever blood and gore comes up. I absolutely cannot stomach cruelty, especially not torture. And yet I was reading a torture scene in this book where a character is having his fingers chopped off, and I was chuckling.

This is the power of Joe Abercrombie. Yes, his books are dark and gritty and his characters are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Characters are all rather morally ambiguous, and I'd hesitate to call any one of them a hero or a good person at heart. But despite all this darkness, Abercrombie puts in plenty of humor and clever conversation to balance out the darkness.

My usual complaint with epic fantasy is that the women are either nonexistent or objectified. This book leans a bit towards the nonexistent side, but the few women who were present were certainly not objectified, and in fact had a lot more agency than some of the men. Abercrombie turns stereotypes on their heads throughout this book, what with a dark-skinned wizard who could pass for a butcher and a pretty girl who absolutely isn't fawning over the supposedly charming nobleman. I had a lot more to say about the diversity in this book, and you can read my DiverSFFy discussion post on it here.

As I mentioned earlier, the main characters are all unconventional and decidedly not heroic: a crippled torturer, a barbarian who just might be turning over a new leaf, and a vain fool of a nobleman. I enjoyed seeing how their lives crossed and how they changed (or didn't change) over the course of the book.

I am looking forward to seeing how this series plays out!

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Slip and Grip by David Estes

slip banner

I'm participating in the book blitz for Slip (Slip #1) and Grip (Slip #2) by David Estes. This book blitz is organized by Lola's Blog Tours, and runs all of this week. You can find the complete blitz schedule on the website of Lola’s Blog Tours.

Slip coverSlip (Slip #1)
By David Estes

Genre: Dystopia
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: 1 December, 2014

Blurb:Someone must die before another can be born...
As sea levels rise and livable landmasses shrink, the Reorganized United States of America has instituted population control measures to ensure there are sufficient resources and food to sustain the growing population. Birth authorization must be paid for and obtained prior to having a child. Someone must die before another can be born, keeping the country in a population neutral position at what experts consider to be the optimal population. The new laws are enforced by a ruthless government organization known as Pop Con, responsible for terminating any children resulting from unauthorized births, and any illegals who manage to survive past their second birthday, at which point they are designated a national security threat and given the name Slip.
But what if one child slipped through the cracks? What if someone knew all the loopholes and how to exploit them? Would it change anything? Would the delicate resource balance be thrown into a tailspin, threatening the lives of everyone?

And how far would the government go to find and terminate the Slip?
In a gripping story of a family torn apart by a single choice, Slip is a reminder of the sanctity of a single life and the value of the lives we so often take for granted.

You can find Slip on Goodreads

You can buy Slip here:
- Amazon

Grip coverGrip (Slip #2)
By David Estes

Genre: Dystopia
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: 1 December, 2014

Blurb:In a tumultuous world of population control, one illegal child has slipped through the cracks. Now, as a teenager, Benson Kelly has escaped certain deaths at the hands of the Department of Population Control, only to find himself the symbol of a rebellion, something he never intended.
While trying to survive one day at a time, Benson seeks to unravel the tangled knot of secrets left behind when his father died, the key to which has something to do with his mother, Janice Kelly, recently escaped from the insane asylum.
As the rebel group known as the Lifers continue to use brute force to send a message to the government, Benson's twin, Harrison Kelly, seeks to exploit a loophole that could be the key to freedom for his brother. All that's required is a simple act of murder.
Meanwhile, Population Control's attack dog, a sadistic cyborg known as The Destroyer, closes in on Benson and his family. His directive: Kill them all.
Faith, family and love will be pushed to the limits in the GRIPping sequel to Slip.

You can find Grip on Goodreads

You can buy Grip here:
- Amazon

Author Photo - David Estes

About the Author:

Author of popular YA dystopian series, the Dwellers Saga and the Country Saga. Voted books to read if you enjoyed the Hunger Games on Buzzfeed and Listopia.

Join 2,400+ David Estes Fans and YA Book Lovers Unite in David Estes' official fan group at:

David Estes was born in El Paso, Texas but moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was very young. David grew up in Pittsburgh and then went to Penn State for college. Eventually he moved to Sydney, Australia where he met his wife. They now live together in their dream location, Hawaii. A reader all his life, he began writing novels for the children's and YA markets in 2010, and started writing full time in June 2012. Now he travels the world writing with his wife, Adele. David's a writer with OCD, a love of dancing and singing (but only when no one is looking or listening), a mad-skilled ping-pong player, and prefers writing at the swimming pool to writing at a table.

You can find and contact David here:
- Website
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Goodreads

What's a Book Blitz without prizes? Here is what you have a chance at winning:

- Winners choice of book to the value of $15.00 U.S. from The Book Depository
- A signed copy of SLIP plus bonus swag- U.S. entrants only
- A signed copy of BREW plus bonus swag- U.S. entrants only
- 3 ebook packs with three David Estes ebooks of your choice
- 4 signed packs of bookmarks

You can enter the blitz wide giveaway here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sci-fi month: Bingo challenge update

It's Sci fi month hosted by Oh, the Books! and Rinn Reads!

Sci-fi month is almost over, but it has been a really fun month! I've gotten to talk about all sorts of things with other book lovers and sci-fi enthusiasts, from favorite books to pet peeves to awesome TV shows and movies. I wanted to close with a look at how my sci-fi bingo challenge went, since I think it does a pretty good job of encompassing most of the things I did this month.

The yellow squares are the ones that I have completed. A lot of them are from TV shows and short stories, since I didn't have much time to read many books this month. Here's what I've been up to this month:

1. Steampunk – Rogues Anthology: “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch

2. Absent-minded professor
3. Space opera
4. Immortality
5. Floating city
6. Superheroes – AGENTS OF SHIELD: Pilot
7. Apocalypse/world disaster – DOCTOR WHO: In the Forest of the Night
8. Mind control – Mockingjay (Part I)
9. Lost civilizations: Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
10. SF classic: Call of the Cthulu by HP Lovecraft
11. Teleportation
12. Colonization of other planets
13. FREE
14. Human Zoo – Collecting Team by Robert Silverberg
15. Alien Invasion – DOCTOR WHO: Dark Water
16. Invisibility – Rogues Anthology: "Ill Seen in Tyre" by Steven Saylor
17. Drugs and meds – Rogues Anthology: “Tawny Petticoats” by Michael Swanwick
18. Virtual reality
19. Mad scientist
20. Resizing – DOCTOR WHO: Flatline
21. Shapeshifters
22. Parallel universes – Rogues Anthology: “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell
23. Domed city
24. Award winner
25. Military SF

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sci Fi month: HP Lovecraft and the strange and scary

It's Sci fi month hosted by Oh, the Books! and Rinn Reads!

I read my first HP Lovecraft short stories (and novellas) this month, and it was an interesting experience. I hadn't heard much about Lovecraft and his work until last year when a friend recommended his stories to me, and I honestly had no idea what a Cthulu was until this month!

Reading Lovecraft was an interesting experience. I think I have decided that I really love Lovecraft's ideas and imagination, but I absolutely hate his writing style. For me, the way something is written is just as important as what's being said, so it was a bit of a struggle to get through some of his stories. I've discovered that I enjoy Lovecraft best in small doses - my favorite stories were the shortest ones.

What was it about his writing style that drove me nuts? It's remarkably wordy. Paragraphs will go by describing how terrible some unseen horror is, but after all those paragraphs, you never really get a clear picture of what this terrible creature looks like or what makes it so grotesque. Lovecraft paints a lot of his creatures through impressions and associations rather than actually describing them. Getting through Tolkein's Lord of the Rings was a struggle for me because of all the paragraphs of description, and this was a similar experience.

What I really enjoyed was all the interesting ideas Lovecraft has. His stories really make you think about human fears. What if we aren't the ones in control of the earth? What if there are giant unseen creatures waiting to eat us up? What if we try to understand too much about the universe and go insane in the process? What if we go to far trying to understand ourselves? While the "giant sea monster hiding in the deep" is a bit dated, it's such a good analogy for humans being unaware of their small role in a vast universe. The mythology introduced in The Mountains of Madness was fascinating, and I was so caught up I almost starting believing it could be true.

I can't end this post without sharing a hilarious facebook page for those of you familiar with Lovecraft's work. It's called Beauty by HP Lovecraft and features such gems as:

We don’t know if sleeping on your side causes wrinkles, but it definitely causes the dirt on the bottom of your coffin to stick to your day cream.

Can’t stand how that shoggoth so easily changed its shape? You, too, can be completely transfigured by our green tea and Innsmouth algae body wraps!

(Thank you to Stellar Four for posting about this site earlier this month! Never would have found it without you!)

What's your take on HP Lovecraft? Any favorite stories?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday 43 - Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's theme: Top Ten Books On My Winter TBR

This is a list of books I plan on reading starting December. The books on the right are rereads, because I've been meaning to do a bunch (some on audio and some paperback). I figured winter was the best time to cuddle up with a familiar good book :D


I think it's high time I get back into the Mistborn universe, don't you?

Audio reread -  I liked parts of this book and other parts really rubbed me the wrong way. I want to do an audio reread to see if I like it better the second time around!

I've heard that Scalzi is funny and clever, and I figured this would be a good book to start with. Any thoughts?

I read this for the first time last December, and now that I own a copy I really should read it again! Maybe this will be my annual holiday reread book :)

I'm reading Lirael right now, and I'm liking it more than Sabriel so far. Maybe reading the audio of Sabriel was what bored me about it, because the narrator had a very soothing voice and I kept falling asleep. Lirael is much better, so I'm excited to keep reading!

This is my favorite Gaiman book, and I should probably reread it before I continue passing it along to everyone I know hehe

I love mysteries and sci-fi, and my favorite city is San Francisco. This book has all three!

Childhood favorites can never be reread too many times. This was my first ever sci-fi book, so it's even more special!

After reading Fool's Assassin and having almost no idea what was happening, I figured I should catch up and read the previous books (whoops...). 

Audio reread: I reread the first Mistborn book on audio, and it was fantastic. I caught so much more foreshadowing and I was way more invested because I already loved the characters. I really want to reread this one as well (I'll probably skip WoA, because that one was painful to get through on paper...let's not even talk about an audio reread).

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Sci-Fi month: Review of Wool Omnibus

18626815Title: Wool Omnibus Edition
Author: Hugh Howey
Genre: Science fiction, dystopia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.

When I first encountered this book, it was in one of the book club groups I was in. Someone was saying something about how this book was really good, so good that it became popular enough to go from self-published to big publishing. Then I just kept seeing it around, and everyone who had read it had nothing but good things to say about it. This book was on my radar for months before I actually read it, and I had really high expectations. I was definitely not disappointed!

It's hard to talk about this book without revealing anything, because the brilliance of this book very much depends on discovering things for yourself. I went in knowing next to nothing about the plot, half the fun was watching connections formed between characters and places, and putting together puzzle pieces. Like you, most of the characters don't really know the truth about anything so you're all along for the ride.

There is so much interesting critique on our priorities and society today. The best part about dystopian novels is their social commentary, and after the whole Hunger Games and Divergent bandwagon, I felt like that had been lost. Wool has so many sharp insights, which made this engaging and intense book even more memorable.

I highly recommend this book!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

DiverSFFy: Ash by Malinda Lo

DiverSFFy is a new feature hosted by yours truly! The goal is to get the word out about books in science fiction and fantasy that do a good job of portraying people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives - be it race, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic levels, etc. I'd love it if you joined in - just link me to your posts in the comments or on twitter (@spidersilksnow)!

This week's pick: Ash by Malinda Lo

The Rundown

Title: Ash
Author: Malinda Lo
Genre: Fantasy, retelling, LGBTQ fiction

So what's so diverse about this book?

This is a gorgeously written retelling of Cinderella, with a twist. Ash, this story's Cinderella, doesn't want to marry the prince. Ash ends up falling in love with someone else - Huntress, a respected member of the King's court.

Yes, this is a lesbian romance. It may make some people uncomfortable, but I highly encourage those people to read this book anyway. When I first read this book, it was at a time when I didn't really understand what it meant to be part of the LGBTQ spectrum. I didn't understand it, so I was uncomfortable with it. This book not only helped me understand that perspective better, it made me realize that who you love doesn't define you. I happened to read this right before a good friend came out to me, and I'm very glad I did because it helped open my eyes and made me a more supportive friend than I would have been otherwise.

Why you should read it:

Diverse twist aside, this book is one of the best fairy-tale retellings I have read. The world is richly detailed and the writing is lovely as well. There is a strong influence of Fae folklore and you really see the darker side of the Fae and the price you pay for every little bargain. All of the main characters were endearing (except Sidhean, who creeped the hell out of me). I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it.

The Twitter version:

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sci-fi month: "Because Science!" (a rant)

It's Sci fi month hosted by Oh, the Books! and Rinn Reads!

I was reading a book recently that decided that it would try and explain someone's superpowers with science. That's great, and being an engineer, seeing science in my books makes me very happy. Usually. In this case, the book's attempt at science made no sense, and was also completely unnecessary. It seems like a lot of books lately are deciding to explain the inexplicable with the blanket excuse, "Because science!" and I'm getting a little tired of it.

YA is most guilty. I don't know if it's because the authors feel like their audience isn't interested or smart enough to deal with actual science, or if it's because YA authors just don't like doing their research, but this excuse just seems like lazy writing to me.

I decided that I'd make a list of books that don't do the science in their science fiction justice, and pair them with books that do do a good job of explaining that area of science. The list is mostly YA science fiction, because as I said earlier, that's the genre that usually has a problem with faulty science. I'm going to include a list of adult science fiction books that do a great job of scientific accuracy/explanations at the bottom of this post as well.

Here goes!

Books with flawed science and some alternatives

 The not so great
 The great!

What bugged me:
This book is one of the worst about throwing its hands in the air and just saying "because genetics!" without any real understanding of what genetics can do. It's ridiculous to say genes determine our character traits. Psychosis or sociopathy, fine, but being selfish or less intelligent than average or more easily angered? Nope.

What made me smile:
This is a decidedly adult book, and one of my favorites. It's set in a world where the earth is in bad shape and very few foods can be grown due to genetic modifications. It also features a line of genetically modified humans known as "Windups". Not only is this book global in scope, talking about politics and environmentalism, it also has intensely personal stories to tell. The science and engineering are spot on, of course!
(keeping this category vague to avoid spoiling the second half of both books, which have similar premises) 

What bugged me:
There's a character in this book who has superpowers, which is totally fine. The problem is when he says he can "manipulate molecular bonds" and means that he can repair severed spinal cords and bring people back to life. Go ahead and repair those broken vases, but putting your chopped up carrot back together isn't going to bring it back to life.

What made me smile:
Not only was this book excellent in its portrayal of a character with synesthesia, its use of the same explanation as Unraveling for some mysterious events was far more satisfactory. The science in this one just generally makes a lot more sense, and the unconventional characters (and romance) make this a better bet.

What bugged me:
There is an unexplained reason why people have superpowers (well, the implication is dear old science), and an unexplained reason why all those people live in precisely one community and an inexplicable reason why a group that is trying to hide their powers would let their kids have football matches against other normal schools.
Also, apparently you can't use the knowledge you gain in the future to catch murderers. You just go with the flow and pick yourself a boyfriend...

What made me smile:
This is more of a crossover or adult book than YA, and I really liked it. The explanation for how people acquire their powers is incredible and very haunting. The characters are all shades of gray and intense and you never know what to feel about them. There is a concentration of superhero people in one town, but they aren't limited to being there, and there are plenty of good reasons for keeping your powers hidden (or not).

What bugged me:
Rhine lives in a world where men die at 25 an women at 20, because of a virus that came about after all other diseases and disorders were cured. If it were a virus, why does it only affect the 2nd and successive generations of genetically engineered people? How can a virus kill everyone only at exactly the same age? The way the disorder was described, it seemed more like a genetic mutation to me - and that could easily be fixed in this world  (everyone is genetically engineered in the first place). 

What made me smile:
In this world, humans created humanoid creatures called Partials, who unleash a virus that kills most of humanity and all newborns. The main character, Kira, is a medic and researcher, and there are discussions involving virology that are not only accurate but also very accessible. The science makes perfect sense without being overbearing and taking away from the intensity of the plot or the humanity of the characters. This book also just makes a lot more sense socioeconomically and politically as well.

Adult SF that puts the science in science fiction

I already mentioned Windup Girl and Vicious earlier, but here are some more:


Have you read these books and their alternatives? Did you notice some of the things I did, or do flawed scientific explanations not bother you at all? Let me know!

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