Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

What if your kids spontaneously burst into flames?

HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version of Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland.

It’s the story of Lillian, a 28-year-old woman from rural Tennessee who moves to the home of her wealthy high school friend Madison to take care of Madison’s stepchildren.

The two met at an elite boarding school some years before, to which Lillian had a scholarship and which she thought of as her way out of the sticks. Lillian and Madison, her randomly assigned roommate, became fast friends and played basketball together.

Lillian is everything I love in a protagonist: weird, dark with a tender side, funny, selfish, fallible, and self-aware but not enough to prevent the drama of the novel.

And narrator Marin Ireland’s reading from Lillian’s perspective is *finger kiss* perfect. I loved every minute of her reading and took a couple of extra long bubble baths to listen to more.

Lillian is also poor and Madison is astonishingly wealthy. I always enjoy seeing what rich people get up to through the eyes of characters who have less money. I empathize with that. Can’t think why…

Lillian and Madison’s relationship is weirdly, I don’t know, entangled, or something. And we don’t quite know why at the beginning of the novel. The two are attached. And we very slowly learn that, actually, Lillian took the fall for Madison in high school when she got into some big trouble. In fact, Lillian was actually kicked out of her boarding school because of this incident. And she never quite got her life back on track. But she remained in touch with and attached to Madison anyway.

When Madison asks her a very, very big favor to begin the novel, Lillian surely owes her absolutely nothing, but agrees to help her anyway. And we find out that Madison wants Lillian to care for Madison’s new stepchildren who have this teensy little problem.

They burst into flames when they’re upset.

It’s wild. I thought I would hate it. I have a very low tolerance for magical realism. I am annoyed by fairy tales and I find fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings irritating. And yet. This kids-bursting-into-flames novel is so well done. So believable. That I couldn’t get enough.

It was ridiculous and I loved it.

The resulting character development and sheer fun of the story is worth suspending your disbelief. And Kevin Wilson doesn’t make you work very hard to do it anyway.

He even rewards you with a fairly happy ending. A satisfying one anyway. I won’t give it away. But read this one if you are at all tempted. And let me know how you liked it.

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

I’ll pretty much read anything by Natalie Barelli

I discovered Natalie Barelli three weeks ago and I am now already at the point where I will read anything she writes.

On her website, Barelli says she writes “psychological thrillers, domestic noir with a touch of dark humor” and I’ve only just now realized that “domestic thrillers” is a genre.

I have only listened to the audiobook versions of her books so I can’t speak for the hard copy reading experience. The audiobooks are always narrated well by talented readers and the productions are solid.

So far, I have listened to:

10The Housekeeper

Blurb: “When Claire sees Hannah Wilson at an exclusive Manhattan hair salon, it’s like a knife slicing through barely healed scars. It may have been ten years since Claire last saw Hannah, but she has thought of her every day, and not in a good way. So Claire does what anyone would do in her position—she stalks her.”

Unreliable narrator, domestic worker, haunting past. Loved it from the get-go.

12The Loyal Wife

Blurb: “Tamra never dreamed she would marry someone like Mike Mitchell: handsome, rich, a wonderful husband… until she finds out that Mike is having an affair. But Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Mike Mitchell should have remembered that before he made a fool of her.”

It’s not as cheesy as it sounds. I mean, in some respect all thrillers are melodramatic and often lack character development and plot depth, I know. But this book is not soap-opera-melodramatic. It’s logical. But still spicy enough to keep me reading. I loved the protagonist.

13The Accident

Blurb: “Katherine knew she’d had too many drinks, but they were only going a short distance. And as Eve pointed out, it was late, there was no traffic anyway…Now, Katherine would do anything to turn back the clock.”

This is a delicious romp involving a blackmail scam. I loved it.

 


missingAnd right now I’m listening to Missing Molly, which I find to be a bit less skillful as far as building suspense. Also, the story often quotes websites, newspapers, and podcast episodes, and I always get annoyed by that kind of thing. I feel like I’m stepping away from the story even though they’re supposed to enhance the story. So I think that is coloring my opinion.

What I love about Barelli’s books is that they all involve a female narrator who trusts the wrong person/people. Sometimes they are naive, but that’s probably also what makes them relatable.

I bet that quality is appealing to readers because one always like to feel they know more than the protagonist. Think of all the times you’ve shouted at an actor in a horror movie, “No, don’t go in there!” You know what’s coming and the character doesn’t. It’s part of the fun.

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Two decent thrillers with unreliable narrators

I was painting the trim in the upstairs bathroom this weekend and used the opportunity to listen to a couple of audiobooks while I worked.

Both psychological “thriller” type novels, they really captured my attention and I ended up just lying in bed part of yesterday and finishing the second one. This may or may not be related to the fact that I, ahem, overindulged a bit on Saturday night.


49199918._SX318_The first was The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli.

I mentioned last Friday that I was listening to this, saying how much I loved the narrator, Susie Berneis, who totally made the experience for me. I honestly don’t think I would have read this in regular hard copy format. But Berneis’ wry tone and husky smoker’s voice kept me listening.

The story follows Claire, a young woman on a mission to clear her father’s name and enact justice on the woman, former nanny Hannah Wilson, who Claire believes ruined her family’s lives.

It’s a twisted tale with a somewhat unreliable narrator. Claire is underemployed, lazy, conniving, and really kind of a mean person. She’s out for revenge and you don’t really know why until about a third of the way through the story when it is revealed that as a young woman Hannah worked in Claire’s family’s home as a nanny while Claire was growing up. After a few months, Hannah went home and then accused Claire’s father of molesting her. The wealthy family lost everything during her father’s trial and both Claire’s parents died in dramatic fashion.

Now, Claire is working as a housekeeper under a fake name in Hannah’s home, also caring for Hannah’s baby, Mia. But as she gets more involved in their lives, from reading Hannah’s diary to attempting to lure her husband Harvey into an affair, it turns out Claire is not the only one in the household living a double life.

Dum dum dum…..

This book was just good, juicy, dramatic (and yes, sometimes melodramatic) fun.

I did think the reveal about Hannah’s accusations came a bit too soon. And the drama-filled ending was kind of rushed. Too many reveals all at once. It was kind of cheesy. But I still enjoyed it, the way some people would enjoy a soap opera. It’s generally well-written and the characters are interesting.

Claire reminded me of Marie in Bad Marie or the protagonist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Not a great person, but you kind of root for her anyway.


49188648._SX318_Next, Hoopla, the app I listen on through the library, recommended The Wives by Tarryn Fisher and I cued it up.

It’s read by a talented narrator and actress,  Lauren Fortgang. I quite enjoyed her young-sounding but very clear voice.

The narrator of this story, who we know as “Thursday,” begins by telling us about her relationship with her husband Seth.

She is Seth’s second and official wife. But he has two others. This is an arrangement Seth has offered Thursday and she has agreed to live the life of a polygamist, never meeting or talking to Seth’s other wives, attempting to be satisfied with seeing her husband only on Thursdays.

Out of curiosity and rising jealousy, however, Thursday begins to investigate Seth’s other wives. She knows only what he tells her about them, that his first wife, Regina, never wanted children and instead was focused on her career as an attorney. That’s why Seth sought out a relationship with Thursday. He wanted a family and Thursday was in love with him, happy to bear his children. Unfortunately, Thursday became pregnant and her baby died. She then had an emergency hysterectomy. And then Seth added a third wife, Hannah, to the mix. Hannah is currently pregnant with Seth’s child.

This drama is all forced to a head by Thursday’s snooping and what you think you know about each character is called into question at the halfway point. From there, Thursday reveals herself to be unreliable as a narrator, but we only see the story from her perspective.

It’s a fascinating tangled web and there are some very dramatic revelations toward the end. Some tidy, some cheesy, all enjoyable.


I find I get frustrated with unreliable narrators. It’s a trope I tend to avoid. But both of these books were so fun, specifically because you couldn’t trust the protagonist’s points of view.

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Hunger

HungerRoxaneGayAfter listening to Bad Feminist last week, I moved right on to Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. It was, as I knew it would be, incredibly moving.

As I told a reader friend recently, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people’s memoirs of their childhoods. But, as I knew it would, Gay’s writing hopped over that personal barrier and pulled me right through her story.

I listened to the audiobook, which Gay narrates herself. While not as adept a reader as Bahni Turpin, who read Bad Feminist, Gay is a good reader and I appreciated hearing her story in her voice.

The memoir is divided into more than 80 sections, which switch back and forth between Gay’s growing up years and her current life as an adult, academic, and writer in her 30s.

The lengths of the sections vary depending on the amount of relevant content. Some tell an entire story. Some seem to be thoughts she wanted to make sure to include, relevant commentary or short scenes that make up part of her story. We get satisfying glimpses into her daily life as she explores the topics of emotional and physical hunger, woven as they are throughout her existence.

As you may know, Gay is an adept cultural critic. In Hunger, she addresses many of the stereotypes around fat people, as well as the way fat people are treated in a society that values thin.

As a person who is, at the time of writing, around 250 pounds overweight, she also uses experiences in her own life to illustrate the effects of extreme obesity, personally— physically, socially, and emotionally.

These personal stories are what really got to me. She relates the experiences of asking for a seatbelt extender on an airplane, fielding her family’s constant grave concern, being heckled on the street, and the impact of her obesity on her health, among other things.

Gay also explores the origin of her obesity, telling, once again, the story of her rape. Gay was gang-raped as a child and she mostly attributes her food addiction and her fatness to her need to protect herself, to make herself larger, and to become undesirable to men.

As anyone who is or has been obese would know, being overweight makes one less visible even as body size increases. Less visible, meaning less attractive and therefore less deserving of attention. If very fat people aren’t being ogled they are often, paradoxically, being ignored. Discounted.

Throughout this intense examination, Gay is exploring how her desire to be thin does or doesn’t fit with her values as a feminist. It’s a struggle when you reject society’s beauty standards but also want to meet them.

She says:

“As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.”

Lotta’ ins and outs when you are a critic of the society in which you are also trying to live peaceably.

This is becoming too long a post, but suffice it to say that I, once again, felt “seen” thanks to Roxane Gay’s work. And do let me know your thoughts if you read it.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Bad Feminist

Cover: Bad Feminist by Roxane GayI have such a hard time writing about books I really love.

Books that make me put my hand over my heart when I set them down. Books that affect me so much that, by the time I finish them and lay them aside, I only feel overwhelming gratitude.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay falls into that category for me. I realize I’m late to the party on this one. The book was published to much acclaim in 2014. The reason I waited so long to read it is that I suspected I would be required to feel deeply while reading it. I’m not always ready to dig into my emotions so deeply and I sensed this book would require that of me. It did. But in the best ways. And it was worth it.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin. She is an extremely talented reader. Her voice is excellent, for one, and she seems to get the material. It’s as if she studied it, knows what’s coming, and is fully behind it. Thus, Gay’s voices seems to channel right through her.

This was a powerful reading/listening experience for me. If I took the time to list how many times I felt “seen” by this book, I would end up citing every passage.

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Walking home, listening to an audiobook

A few bullet points on items that struck me:

♦  Much of the book involves Gay’s essays critiquing books, TV shows, and films. She’s known for this. And several of the essays were previously published on their own in various magazines and on websites.

I have a low tolerance for this kind of writing, especially if I haven’t read or watched the book/show/film that’s being discussed. This time, I didn’t care.

Gay’s talent for dissected the cultural background and then implications of these works, from Fifty Shades of Grey to the movie Django, pulled me in to the very end. What a mind this woman has. I wish I were half so intelligent.

♦  If you are a white person who struggles to understand, or who just wants to understand, elements of “the black experience” regarding popular culture—OK, overall culture—this book may help.

I appreciated Gay’s tuteledge on topics ranging from the “magical Negro” trope to Trayvon Martin’s murder. I need someone to help me understand such issues from a perspective that is not mine, namely that of a middle-class, cis, white woman.

♦  If you are fat, as I am, Gay’s essay “Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny” may help you feel seen, as it did for me.

♦  In “What We Hunger For,” we learn that Gay was gang-raped as a young girl. This essay is brutal and heart-wrenching and all those other words we use when we don’t know how to describe something that terrible. It ripped my guts out. After listening to it on my walk home from work, I had to turn it off, sit very still on the couch in the silent house, and let my feelings wash over me until they settled.

♦  Don’t worry, there is humor and fun in this book! Gay takes on serious and important subjects, no doubt. But her great talent in addressing some of them, when appropriate (not in the cases of rape, murder, or racism, of course), with humor provides relief and inspires commeraderie.

Throughout the book, too, she discusses the ways in which she feels she lets the side down as a feminist. Shaking it to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” for example. She calls her dad for car advice. She reads Vogue, and not ironically. She loves pink and dresses.

Gay acknowledges that she is not a “perfect” feminist, and then she helps us go even further, dismantling the idea that the perfect feminist even exists:

At some point, I got it into my head that a feminist was a certain kind of woman. I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are—militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humorless. I bought into these myths even though, intellectually, I know better. I’m not proud of this. I don’t want to buy into these myths anymore. I don’t want to cavalierly disavow feminism like far too many other women have done. Bad feminism seems like the only way I can both embrace myself as a feminist and be myself, and so I write. I chatter away on Twitter about everything that makes me angry and all the small things that bring me joy. I write blog posts about the meals I cook as I try to take better care of myself, and with each new entry, I realize that I’m undestroying myself after years of allowing myself to stay damaged. The more I write, the more I put myself out into the world as a bad feminist but, I hope, a good woman—I am being open about who I am and who I was and where I have faltered and who I would like to become.

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.

I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

Yes! Same!

This was a long post, after all, which wasn’t my intention. I just can’t say enough how much I love this book. If you’ve read this far, thank you! And if you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you thought.

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Paper Wife

45171444._SX318_The protagonist of Laila Ibrahim’s novel Paper Wife is one bad bitch. I loved listening to the audio version of this book read by Nancy Wu.

Set in the early 1920s, the novel follows Mei Ling, a young Chinese girl who is married to a widower that lives in San Francisco. She goes in place of her older sister, who becomes too ill to travel the night before her wedding is to take place. So Mei Ling, working through a Chinese matchmaker, is compelled to pretend to be her sister. Once wed, she finds out that in order to get into the U.S., she must now pretend to be her new husband’s deceased wife. She is also now mother to his four-year-old son Bo.

Bo becomes Mei Ling’s constant companion throughout the long and harrowing journey to San Francisco. Because it’s 1923, they go by ship and men and women, including husbands and wives, are separated on the ships. Children go with their mothers and so Mei Ling travels alone with Bo. It takes two ships, one from China to Hong Kong, and another from Honk Kong to Angel Island off the shore of San Francisco.

Thus, Mei Ling is thrust into a new life in which she must immediately navigate being married to a stranger, pregnancy, mothering a young child, grueling travel, and nervewracking immigration interviews in both Hong Kong and the U.S. And she must do it all while pretending to be someone else entirely. This is where the book’s title is taken from. She’s her husband’s deceased wife “on paper” and her papers get Mei Ling into the U.S.

What makes Mei Ling such a badass in my mind is her strength. Through the many daunting challenges of immigrating, she draws strength from her family back home. The parting words of her beloved grandmother echo in her mind. And she also relies on her faith, praying to goddess Quan Yin for protection and strength through adversity.

On the second ship, Mei Ling also cares for a six-year-old girl, Siew, who was brought aboard by an uncle, but separated from him while on the ship. Over the months-long journey, Mei Ling, Bo, and Siew become a family. June, an older woman who has already lived in San Francisco, befriends Mei Ling and helps her prepare for her immigration interviews.

Once they arrive in San Francisco, both Siew and June remain a part of Mei Ling’s life, though Siew is separated from her new little family. Searching for her and rescuing her from a terrible future consumes Mei Ling, even as she struggles to adjust to life in a new country.

This is an immigration story. While I came to care about the characters, I also appreciated the many details Ibrahim includes about the process of immigrating from China to the U.S. in the early twentieth century.

Because Mei Ling doesn’t understand English, narrator Nancy Wu reads the English spoken in front of her with the correct tone but only emits gibberish sounds. I don’t know how it’s written in the book because I don’t have a hard copy, but I thought that a brilliant way to show how a forgein language sounds to someone unfamiliar with it.

On her first trip to the Chinatown post office, Mei Ling learns that mail isn’t picked up. It’s delivered right to her home instead. She doesn’t know how many stamps to buy for a letter and a kind postal worker speaks to her in Cantonese and helps her learn the ropes.

Experiences like these, along with the overt racism on the part of white people on the street, drives home the isolation an immigrant might live in when unable to speak the language of their new country or attempting to understand unfamiliar customs. If you want to read a book that lays bare the immigrant experience in the 1920s, I highly recommend this one.

You’ll find many other joys along the way. They include the growing love between Mei Ling and her new husband, the incredible scene in which Mei Ling gives birth, and her and her husband’s dreams for the future of their family.

All in all, it was a wonderful listening experience and I was disappointed when it ended.

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Audiobooks, Top Ten Tuesday, What Shannon Read

10 of My Favorite Audiobooks

Walking

Walking home, listening to an audiobook, like I do

Top Ten Tuesday is sponsored by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’m a day late, but I decided to post anyway. This week’s TTT is a “freebie,” meaning “make up your own topic.” So, because I love a good audiobook, I thought I’d highlight 10 of my faves.

In order for me to stick with an audiobook, I must must must like the reader’s voice, accent, inflection, and style. There are notable exceptions—Sweet Lamb of Heaven, for example, where the story/writing is so good that I’ll tolerate a terrible reader. But, for the most part, the reader is paramount.
So, with that bit of preamble, here we go.

10 of My Fave Audiobooks



049561. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, read by Davina Porter

Historical fiction, romance, sword fighting, and a great reader. The romance gets slightly ridiculous, but hey, that’s why you read this kind of book, for the dramatic departure from real life. And Davina Porter’s reading is on point.

This audiobook was on repeat in the car for awhile when Jake was younger. I think Harris’ voice is burned into my brain. But it’s a delightful book and the narration is fantastic.

Actress Juliet Stevenson is my top favorite reader. There’s something about her British accent. And she’s just great at doing voices without overacting those kinds of things. I’m hoping she’ll record herself reading the phone book someday just so I can fall asleep to it. One good thing about following a great reader is that they usually pick awesome books to read and I can always depend on Stevenson for that.

4. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry, read by Jayne Entwistle

95607Another actress and reader with a fantastic British accent. But Entwistle’s voice is completely different and she really shows what it can do with the various characters in this very British children’s novel. It’s a Victorian boarding school, so you know I’m all about it. Entwistle is another reader I can count on to lead me to great books.

War5. The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle

Another Entwistle for your listening pleasure. I adored this story. Usually I don’t pick up stories set in WWII, but this one touched on a topic of interest: children sent away from London during the bombing. The main character, Ada, will tug at your heartstrings from the get-go.

Flight.jpg6. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, read by the author

Kingsolver isn’t my favorite reader, but she does, as the review on audiofile says, nail the main character’s Appalachian twang. And the writing is just so beautiful that I willingly overlooked Kinsolver’s imperfections as a narrator and got sucked into the story.

Kitchen7. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, read by Bahni Turpin and Orlagh Cassidy

I almost don’t want to write about this book because I loved it so much. I couldn’t do it justice. The story features two narrators as different characters, though the story centers on Cassidy as Lavinia, an indentured servant on a Southern plantation.

Cool story time – I actually emailed author Kathleen Grissom after I finished this book in tears and told her how much it affected me. She wrote back such a warm, kind response. One of my top author interactions ever.

Mare8. The Mare by Mary Gaitskill, read by Kyla Garcia, Christa Lewis, Sean Pratt, and Nicol Zanzarella

This book was more about the story than the readers for me, but, actually, I can still hear Ginger’s voice in my head. And it’s been two years since I listened to this book.

OCT9. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery, read by the author

Another one where the story did more for me than the reader. Ask Ben. I’m still talking about this book. It’s one of those animal books that makes me want to be a vegan out of respect for the animals in it. But now we know plants have feelings, so if I keep on like this, I’ll have to start photosynthesizing.

BAD10. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, read by Tim Curry

Tim Curry is a great reader. I highly recommend listening to the books in the series that he reads. Lemony Snicket himself takes over at some point in the series and Jake and I were upset by this bait and switch.

Note: All links (except for Henry and Ribsy) go to book reviews on Audiofile because I think it’s a fantastic resource for audiobooks.

Here’s a link to the TTT post on That Artsy Reader Girl.

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Sweet Lamb of Heaven

32191727“Narrated by the author” is one of my least favorite phrases to hear at the beginning of an audiobook. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet was no exception. Millet’s reading was flat and she swallowed her words at the end of many sentences.

…But that didn’t keep me from listening to this book and I feel like that says something.

This is the first of Millet’s novels that I’ve read and I had no idea how prolific she was until I started looking at her body of work. Millet is a writer’s writer, but lucky for us, she also knows how to move narration along toward a satisfying ending.

In this novel, in particular, we get the story of Anna and her precocious six-year-old daughter Lena, who live semi-permanently in a small hotel in Maine, where they’ve fled from Anna’s philandering narcissist husband Ned.

Since her baby was born, Anna has heard strange voices, which she attributes to auditory hallucination, though she’s otherwise a totally functional human being. Turns out, she’s not the only voice-hearer who’s been drawn to this Maine hotel. She and Lena get to know the protective owner, Don, as well as the other guests.

This is what drew me to the book, honestly. I was hoping for a good ghost story. I didn’t get it, but I honestly didn’t care because I felt such a sympathy for Anna. I loved that she isn’t all that concerned about her looks. She’s smart and a good mother. She’s an introvert whose daughter is an extrovert who brings other people into their orbit with her charm. I feel like I was a bit the same way when Jake was little.

Anyway, turns out Ned is running for office back in Alaska, but, to win the red state, he needs a family by his side. So, he begins to actively pursue the girls, becoming a threatening hound at Anna’s heels until, finally, he shows up one day, intent on bringing them back with him.

The threat of Ned is the main driver of the story—will he capture them or won’t he? And how? But this isn’t a straight thriller. It’s esoteric and doesn’t move as quickly as, say, a Chevy Stevens novel. But you’re also getting more literary bang for your buck.

Here’s the Slate book review if you’d like to learn more.

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