cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Reading Round Up: July


Due to my recent mishap involving having to choose between  a rock strewn embankment and the asphalt bike path, I’m spending my recovery days reading more than gardening, walking, writing, driving, visiting and anything else that involves continuous sustained movement. I am now five books ahead on my Goodreads challenge. Good thing I like to read.

Top picks for July:

 I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

The cover states it succinctly: “Two friends. One wheelchair. A journey of 500 miles.”

Friends since birth, Patrick and Justin, share the usual boyhood mischief together, which bind and bond them together through childhood, college, and adulthood. They manage to keep their friendship going despite raising their families thousands of miles apart. Their friendship extends into one another’s families and they share adventures together such as European trips. Justin’s neuromuscular disability does not slow any of them down. In fact, it initiates the greatest adventure: the Camino de Santiago Trail.

This book is beyond inspirational. It’s an amazing story of two friends who experience the beauty of giving and receiving. There is also the unexpected blessings of the generosity of strangers. And throughout the journey Patrick and Justin reflect upon the strength of family and the joy of their friendship, as they face the rugged challenge of their pilgrimage.

A 5 star for not only the amazing adventure these two friends shared, but also for the storytelling itself.

 A Man Called Ove by Richard Backman

I heard subdued chatter about this one. When it finally came in from the holds list I wondered if I was up for yet another book about a grumpy old guy with an undiscovered heart of gold, and by page 12 I had decided I could not bear to dedicate my reading time to such an incredibly irascible man. Mr Wilson from Dennis the Menace seems a jovial saint in comparison.

But stuck with it I did because I knew old Ove would have to go through a character change. If he didn’t, he would no doubt self-implode from orneriness by page 17.

Much more said and there will be a Spoiler tab on this review.

It’s a 5 star because the epilogue made me sniffle.


Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Continuing with many of the same characters from the first book, the plot focuses on Henry, Perla and Casewell’s son. Henry struggles with several major decisions and faces them with the help of friends and family. The introduction of Margaret and Mayfair add a satisfying depth of the different aspects of love and faith.

As an aside, I suggest checking out Sarah’s website: http://www.sarahloudinthomas.com. We’ve become “blog pals” and I appreciate her down home Appalachian Thursday feature. Her character-driven plots are filled with insights on the different ways people deal with faith, grace, and forgiveness.


I decided to reread Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and just like my reread of the Hunger Games, I found myself favoring the first book and being disenchanted with the subsequent sequels.

Four is different, in that the Divergent story is told from his perspective and fills in some needed background that adds more depth to the story. However, once Four’s story intersects with Tris’s it becomes difficult to keep track of the story since there is pondering whether this is a repeat or new material.  Personally, I’d like to see Divergent continue from Four’s perspective, the aftermath of Allegiant. Maybe call the continuation Regiment as a new regime forms.

So, lots more reading than writing in August, and typing left-handed, actually left-thumbed, is more taxing than I thought. I will have a second career in thumb wrestling perhaps after this stint.

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Writing Quotes


Usually I dedicate a chunk of time during the summer to writing projects: finishing, editing, revising, submitting. This summer writing has taken a back seat to my dealing with healing. Typing with my left hand, mainly my left thumb while my right hand passively observes, is not conducive to getting a lot of writing done. There is a deadline of 10 pages by August 21 I’m gamely trying to meet.

So–I get sidetracked. One of my more diverting diversions is looking up words on dictionary.com and I came across these quotes of encouragement. Hope one of them rings true for you:

   
               

My Left Hand


Dear Left Hand:
Due to unforeseen circumstances, you have undoubtedly noticed the extra workload and overtime you've been having to cope with these last few days.

Management appreciates your willing attitude and unexpected diversity, if not ingenuity, in approaching situations your aptitude and abilities have previously not necessarily
prepared you to encounter.

Recently it was noted you coped well in the following situations:

  • signing release forms ("Better than the doctor's," noted the nurse.)
  • opening a child-lock prescription bottle (known to be difficult with two functioning hands)
  • making up a bed (we do acknowledge the assistance of pulling corners)
  • putting away dishwasher contents (commendable)

And this last one we found extraordinary:
Teaching a child how to darn her sock in order to uphold a commitment made prior to the stated unfortunate circumstance.

While the everyday and mundane tasks of personal hygiene maintenance and meal sustenance were expected, management appreciates the fortitude and perseverance shown in recent days.

At present it is not known when immediate relief from present duties will be expected nor the return of right hand's full capacity. Therefore, we encourage you to persevere and carry on, continuing appreciated efforts until further notice.
Sincerely,
Management

Another entry for my “What I Did Over Summer Vacation”


So far summer break has been great: a long-waited Hawaiian holiday, lots of hammock reading, editing projects, family visits–yes, an enjoyable break, that is until today. 

Today the break became literally great. Well, maybe not great but enough to earn an ER visit.

  This is prior to x-ray.

Highlights of the incident:

  • Renting bikes
  • Exploring bike paths
  • A sudden stop
  • Avoiding a major bicycle pile up
  • An abrupt encounter with the embankment
  • Bloody knee and that sudden epiphany I’ve broken my wrist
  • Thankfully I did not wipe out the grandkiddo
  • The kindness of strangers is a marvel–a shout out to James
  • Our smalltown ER staff is fabulous
  • My hubs missed his calling as a physician’s assistant
  • Life is going to be interesting the remainder of my vacation with my dominant hand in a cast
  • Oh–pain meds are my new best friend

So, tommorrow it’s off to the orthopedic surgeon for assessment.

Over sixty years of surviving various risky activities and I fall off my bike and break my wrist. Sheesh–

Shakespeare Goals


Although I’m known as a Bardinator, I confess I’m a bit of a poser in actuality.

I  truly know a handful of his plays, primarily the ones I teach, the usual: Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet. I do have a working knowledge of other plays: King Lear, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing , The Tempest, Merchant of Venice,Twelfth Night. And I have a nodding acquaintance with the Henrys and Richards. I tend to shudder and ignore the more violent plays where body parts and pies and such are a featured plot focus.

As for William’s sonnets–let’s just say while I’m not adverse to his verse, I prefer to revel in his plays.

So, my goal is to become more than a dabbler and get cracking at becoming better in my Bard. This will involve some serious study since Shakespeare is not for sissies. He provides stout meat and drink once at the table of literature feasting. I will *sigh* set aside some (not all) of my leisurely summer reading forays and bite off, rather than nibble, sizable portions of Shakespeare works.

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Here is a beginning goal list:

  • Select at least five-ten sonnets, mainly the ones we refer to in our current curriculum, and really study them beyond the quick note referring I usually do. Study what other critics have come up with in their analysis.
  • Move beyond my comfort zone and learn at least one play of William’s that I’m not familiar with. I’m still squeamish about reading about revenge pie, so perhaps I will look into a comedy not well known to me–maybe The Merry Wives of Windsor or As You Like It.

My basic Bard facts are decent: birth, death, family life, supposition of lost years. I even have Renaissance and Elizabethan knowledge down pretty well as it relates to Shakespeare. I could start committing more to memory and really dazzle the crowds.

Why take on Shakespeare this summer? I could just lounge and read for fun and drift and not work so hard. Didn’t I just get out of school?

One reason to push myself in this endeavor is that Shakespeare is so fascinating. I knew relatively nothing about him until I began teaching his works. For the past fifteen years I’ve learned so much more about the Bard and it makes me realize I have so much more to go. But, I’m in no real hurry.

Another reason is that if want to really become a Bardintor, not just pretend I know my Bard stuff. Please don’t expect me to spout off reams of memorized quotes and speeches. Memorizing, is unfortunately, a real problem. Short term gaps and all that.

One other reason is that I want to be THAT teacher, the one whose enthusiasm for Shakespeare overflowed into the curriculum and into the hearts and minds of my students. I still treasure that moment when one of my struggling students came up to me after class and said, “I will will studying Hamlet.” He got involved in our study of the melancholy Prince of Denmark, and that’s why I will learn more about Shakespeare.

Anyone out there desire a bit more Bard in your life?

Reader Quotes


One of my daily subscriptions is Dictionary.com. I’m a confessed word nerd. I enjoy learning a new word as much as some people get that thrill from a new tasty food item. Hmm, words are nourishing in a way, aren’t they?

Recently Dictionary.com sent out a list of quotes all about reading books. How could I resist? Here are the favorites gleaned:

wilde

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.” 
        Harper Lee

“If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
                                                                                 Jane Austen

worldquote

rousseau

Hope one of these inspired you to grab a book or sit down and write something simple or even profound.

And now it’s back to editing my own writing instead of veering off chasing my email distractions like a rabbit chasing a dog around the yard.

 

Philosophical Chickens


Okay, Kauai is still much on my mind. Did I mention how this tropical paradise is practically overrun with feral chickens? This was not mentioned in the guide books.

While I didn’t see this many chickens at one time, they are truly everywhere: four star resorts, the airport, restaurants, shopping centers. And people don’t pay them too much attention. The locals tolerate them. The tourists take photos of them. I guess in the same way that our locals tolerate the moose that often wander down the street. Then again moose don’t jump up on the table to snatch unattended fries. No, instead they decimate tulips. And even the locals take photos of the moose.

I usually discuss cows. Today the topic is chickens due to my spring cleaning in July.

In summer I attempt to tidy up my office in my free and unfettered time now that school is out. I came across this handout that is related to allusions. I had intended to introduce this witty combination of chickens and allusions to one of my AP Literature classes. Somehow it didn’t happen. It’s too good to toss so I share it with you. It means so much more to me now that I have encountered feral chickens. However, I doubt they would be into Nietzsche. Douglas Adams, maybe. What is your favorite reference? I grin every time I read Groucho’s comment. This is found all over the place on the Internet in different version, so I am not sure who to credit. Enjoy!

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Hamlet: Because ’tis better to suffer in the mind the slings and arrows of outrageous road maintenance than to take arms against a sea of oncoming vehicles.

Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.

Douglas Adams: 42

Nietzsche: Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road gazes across you.

Dorothy Parker: Travel, trouble, music, art / a kiss, a frock, a rhyme / The chicken never said they fed its heart / But still they pass its time.

T.S. Eliot: It’s not that they cross, but that they cross like chickens.

Darth Vader: Because it could not resist the power of the Dark Side.

Darwin: It was the logical step after coming down from the trees.

Emily Dickinson: Because it could not stop for death.

Robert Frost: To cross the road less traveled by.

Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.

Mark Twain: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

Martin Luther King: It had a dream.

Stan Laurel: I’m sorry, Ollie. It escaped when I opened the run.

Groucho Marx: Chicken? What’s all this talk about chicken? Why, I had an uncle who thought he was a chicken. My aunt almost divorced him, but we needed the eggs.

Review Round Up: June


My Goodreads barometer blithely informed me of being 8 books behind schedule. The feeling was akin to having the ATM receipt indicating my miscalculation of my debit card ledger, which activated my overdraft. In other words–I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because I am always, always ahead of schedule by a couple of books and feel rather proud of that, thank you very much. Just as I cautiously enter and reconcile my debit transactions in my little brown bank book. I blew it both ways: book and bank account. But no real damage was done. I deposited a goodly amount back into my Goodreads account and my bank account. Whew–budgeting reading and bank accounts, both must be tended to judiciously.

While in Hawaii, I knew I would be sight seeing more than reading. Yet, I couldn’t wait to focus on reading what I wanted, when I wanted with school being out. Books are heavy to pack and wanting to pack light, I only took along three: one for the plane, one for the beach, and one for the flight home. I ran out of books on the third day. One reason is because my husband started in on my beach read, and what I can read in two days, he will read in a week. I’m a gulper and he’s a savorer. However, it’s amazing to me how much reading I can actually fit into the day when I don’t have to grade essays or create lesson plans.

No thank you. I don’t do e-books. But thanks for the suggestion.

Not having enough books to read created a wee bit of consternation. Fortunately, being resourceful, I located the hotel’s freebie library in the lobby. Unfortunately, the collection consisted primarily of romances and mysteries. I succumbed to reading one of the romances. The story wasn’t too awful. Okay, it was way awful. I skimmed much of the plot. I felt desperation set in and I didn’t want to bug the hubs too much ( “aren’t you done with that book yet?”). I think I began having withdrawals because I started devouring all the tourist magazines my husband had been bringing back to the room from the various stores and restaurants we visited. He consulted these as a general would plan an assault, carefully laying out our daily excursion menu. I didn’t mind seeing the sights as long as we included beaches. I got a temporary fix for my reading on our second day. While he explored the Princeville Shopping Center I explored its library. I scored a mystery about a library director who solves a murder(I kid you not) and he found a grocery store. We both made out well.

Overall, June’s Reader Round Up is a bit eclectic. Here are the top three picks. The rest of my choices are found, as always, at my Goodreads site.

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image: Goodreads

Bauer’s informative, approachable method of reading various subjects–history to novels to plays to poetry–makes sense. She presents a method to take reading, the means of furthering one’s education to a deeper level. It’s rated four stars merely due to being somewhat incomplete in its works list. The updated revised edition should remedy this.

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image: Goodreads

A reread–and I appreciated the story even more this time, having read most, if not all, of the books Mattie had devoured in her quest to further educate herself. As Mattie discovers for herself that life is not what books present. She learns that life is complicated, messy, unfair, and happy endings aren’t a given. Mattie also learns that sometimes truth and opportunities can become both a burden and freedom.

Found in the YA section, it’s one that is so riveting and so well-written, it should be read by anyone who seeks a well-researched historical novel that is a story within a story. A definite five star.

 

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image: Goodreads

I have read and appreciated Robert Whitlow’s books in the past and when I spied this on the giveaway shelf at the hometown library I grabbed it for the trip. This is the book I had looked forward to reading while sunning, the one I loaned out to my husband. The one I didn’t get to read until we got on the plane going home. At least I converted my only-reads-nonfiction hubby to expand his horizons.

Many people compare Whitlow’s writing to Grisham’s, in that he mainly writes legal thrillers, yet his plots have more faith-based aspects than Grisham’s, and Whitlow sometimes selects difficult, uncomfortable topics. For instance,  I almost didn’t read The Sacrifice since it is about someone planning a school shooting, which is  misleading. It centers more on a young attorney who is in the process how he handles relationships with family, friends, and faith, while he defends a troubled youth. Whitlow weaves in a couple of subplots that kept me guessing in terms of the identity of the school bomber. Fast-paced, excellent characterization, The Sacrifice is a legal mystery that provides a strong faith message without being preachy. I will be on the lookout for more Whitlows at the library. Five stars.

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image: Goodreads

The perfect summer vacation read. It kept me intrigued during the six hour flight to Kauai and helped me get through the early morning jet lag adjustment as I read it under the covers while the hubs snoozed. Heitzmann effortlessly weaves a tale of interpersonal drama that is laced with deep secrets that are need of airing so healing can begin. Faith, grace, and salvation are woven into the plot in a way that the message is a natural part of the story and not a tacked on sermon. Only a couple of plot holes or questions about Rese obtaining the villa and how the inn seems to function sufficiently with only a couple of intermittent guests, Yet it’s not enough to detract from such a well-developed story, one with plausible authenticity. The hallmark is that each featured character is developed fully. I look forward to the rest of the series. And I confess this is a reread, but isn’t summer the best time for reacquainting old friends while finding new ones? Four stars.

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image: Goodreads

A review book from BookLook Bloggers. An upbeat contemporary YA retelling of the Cinderella theme: good girl, harsh stepmother, stepsister rivalry, unfair favoritism, a prince of a fellow, a happy ending. Christina June saves the plot from being sappy with some snappy twists such as a spunky, creative protagonist by the name of Tatum who makes her dreams come true instead of waiting for a fairy godmother to change the situation. The fairy godmother in this case is a lively abuelita who plays bunco and watches reruns of The Golden Girls. As for the stepmother, she’s definitely harsh, but not evil. And the stepsisters? Only one–and she’s working out her own issues with her mother. The prince is a half Irish cello-playing musician who is almost too good to be true. Lots of plausible humor and drama with a healthy dose of life lessons worth noting. Four stars.

 

Author Spotlight: Sir Conan Doyle


While on vacation I picked up a Dover Thrift Edition of four Sherlock Holmes stories–a bargain at 35 cents at the corner library. Ages ago I read through all the Sherlock Holmes books and stories I could find. Or I thought I did. I did not recognize one of the stories, which was a bonus treat.

While I do relish a good Holmes story, I have been a fan of most of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations–Basil Rathbone was a bit over the top, Benedict Cumberbatch is a bit too loose with creative license for my tastes–I’m a bit of a purist, which is why while Robert Downey Jr. is entertaining, he is not Sherlock (he even admitted in an interview the series was for the “kiddies). Jeremy Brett of the BBC series is by far the epitome of Holmes. He interpreted Doyle’s detective as being an intelligent, if not a genius, English gentlemen whose inductive reasoning skills profited him many an adventure with his faithful friend and partner in sleuthing, Watson.

Holmes and Watson remain favorites of literature and film, which is evidenced by the myriad forms of satire and pastiche that abounds. That is a post for another day.

Unfortunately, as most fans know, Doyle was not keen on Holmes, stating that he could not move forward with other writing since the public only wanted more of Holmes. This is why Holmes was tossed over the waterfall in his battle with the Professor. This didn’t work out so well for Doyle. The fans went mad, magazine subscriptions were cancelled, and Doyle had no choice–Holmes once again appeared in print.

Holmes is not the first literary detective, even Doyle points to Poe’s stories for inspiration. There is also Christie’s Poirot, among other famous detectives. Yet, what makes Doyle’s detective stories so memorable?

First of all, Holmes is a dynamic, unique character possessing an air of mystery while he conducts the sleuthing of mysteries. Websites and fan bases are set up to explore his parentage, siblings, relationships, and personal preferences. Then there is Watson, who adds reality to the idiosyncratic nature of our Baker Street hero. Watson is a soldier, a gentleman, a doctor, a husband, a friend, but he is not a bumbling doofus, as he is so often presented to be. I do like Jude Law’s take on Watson.

Doyle’s stories are full of intrigue and strange situations. He plays with clues, creates plot twists, and red herrings while providing an assortment of interesting characters such as Lestrade, Moriarty, Mary, Mrs. Hudson, and his Baker Street Irregulars. There is no formulaic approach. Each story is unique in its formation, even though the reader knows there is a mystery to be solved, it’s the getting there that makes Sherlock Holmes stories so worthwhile.

And to think Doyle wasn’t content with having created such a memorable literary icon. Holmes almost fell out of circulation by becoming a washed up sleuth.

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.jpg

So–do you prefer to read Sherlock Holmes through his many stories or do you watch him through film or television series?

Who is your favorite interpretation of Sherlock?
Basil Rathbone?
Jeremy Brett?
Benedict Cumberbatch?
Robert Downey Jr?

 

 

 

 

Aloha Ahas


Hawaii. The esteemed destination vacation. Until recently there has always been something to prevent going: budget, weather, budget (that did deter us a couple of times), timing. YET–the hubs turned 70, the 35th anniversary arrived, and I turned 60. No excuses allowed with this triple celebration.

After some research we went with a very reasonable Costco package (seriously, check out their travel options. They offer more than a good deal on Baby Bells.)

Since we were limited to date blocks we grabbed the June package, which meant I barely submitted my grades before we hopped aboard the six-hour flight to the Garden Island: Kauai. The best part? We flew out on my birthday. Cool, huh?

Here are some revelations:

  • Previously a Southwest devotee, I might be switching over to Alaska. Free charging stations, reasonably priced food menu, free Mai Tais (the leis weren’t available?) , $10 movie tablets (which was an unexpected birthday perk) efficient crew. Very nice.
  • Kauai is truly the garden island. Lush verdant plants with flowers so brightly hued they practically glow. Everywhere there are bizarrely beautiful plants that seem primordial. Giant fragrant blossoms. The air is tinged with briny sweetness–ocean and blossoms.

   

   

  • Being 20 steps from the ocean is pinch worthy. I would wake up, open the sliding door and in a moment I was on the beach. This is not your pretty calendar white sand beach, this is an almost frantic roller wave beach that has buckskin-colored sand full of riptide branches. It’s not a posted swimming beach due to the coral reef and undertow. This meant it was fairly desolate. Quite peaceful, almost like having a private beach. The locals were the main visitors. They would come down in the morning to fish. We watched a twenty-something dude spear dive and bring up an octopus. I liked how our resort’s frontage was not a swimming beach but one the locals come and enjoy. This made the dxperience even better.
  • Humidity is a way of life. Hair does odd things in this weather. A person is either sticky from the misty rain or the moist, clingy heat. Any clothing that is 100% cotton remains 100% damp. I should have gone with the polyester shirts.
  • In June there are peekaboo sunny days mixed with muggy grey skies. But you know what? It’s Hawaii. I will take grey skies in Hawaii any day–even grey days are amazing.
  • Casual. Shorts, t-shirts, and bathing suits are the mainstay of dress. I felt overdressed with the one dress I brought. Forget capris–too hot. Shorts. Next time more shorts and tank tops. But not cotton.
  • Time is irrelevant. We gained three hours flying to the island and they were a bonus. Everyone lives in a relaxed attitude, even the K-Mart clerk. No hurry. No worry. Island time.
  • I always check out libraries wherever I vacation, and Princeville’s was jaw-dropping gorgeous with its amenities of open layout, pristine equipment. I grabbed a mystery off of the free rack. Gotta have a beach read when at the beach.
  • While the island itself is mesmerizing in beauty, the architecture is bland. Most buildings are block-shaped and are tan . No noted embellishments of design. Some houses sit on 12 foot high (or higher) stilts of concrete block (flooding?). 
  • There are so many places to see and so many things to do. Those days of hanging out by the pool working on the tan as I orignally planned got ditched once we saw how much there was to see. I sat out one day and I felt silly.
  •  Yet the one day I sat out I scorched. Not evenly, mind you. In blotches–because I sat under the shade tree. Whereever the sun peeked through I scorched. Yes, I was wearing sun block.
  • No one has perfect bodies. There were a couple of people under thirty who qualified, but most people at the resort were over forty and were far from svelte. This encouraged me to ditch the tankini and drag out the bikini. I scorched. There is a lesson in this.

 

Discoveries not in the guide book:

  1. There are feral chickens all over the place. Apparently the 1992 hurricane released chicken coops and their contents. The island has not been the same since. There are flocks of these wiry little cluckers all over the hotel compound. They have no shame. They will flap right up on the table if not watched with diligence. They wander into the open air restaurant. The sparrows are even cheekier. A trio of them perched on the opposite chair and didn’t flinch even with hand shooing and water flicking. Sheesh. Chickens are, in fact, all over the island. We traveled up to the top of the mountain for the canyon view (fabulous!) and chickens were wandering in the parking lot. Did they hitchhike a ride up?!?
  2. The snails are fantastic. Not to eat, mind you. Although these guys might serve up well as escargot they are so huge! Their shells are colorful spirals, the type a beachcomber yipes up and down in delighted discovery. As a gardener I abhor snails, yet I’ve grown fond of these guys. Every morning there is a commute of about a dozen roaming all over the hedge and ground outside on our miniscule patio. There is a huge cache of empty shells under the hedge to the point it looks like a used parking lot.
  3. One of my favorite beaches was actually an industrisl dump way back when. Located in Port Allen, Glass Beach is the site where empty bottles were dumped. Over time the ocean wore down the glass into bits and pieces. The beach is now a mix of glass pebbles and black volcanic sand.   

   

  While there are many islands to visit, it would be difficult to explore beyond Kauai. We are already saving to go back.

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