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Book #47: Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome



Number of pages: 350

The fourth book in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series feels different for two different reasons.

First off, it takes place during the winter, instead of the summer as with the previous three books. Secondly, it opens by introducing two new characters, Dorothea and Dick, from whose point of view much of the story (certainly the early chapters) seems to be told from the point of view of, as they witness all six of the original main characters arriving by boat. Almost immediately, Dorothea and Dick become part of the core group.

The plot of this story involves the characters getting ready for an "Arctic expedition", where they are going to imagine that they are trekking to the North Pole, with the exception of Nancy, who is sick with mumps. Most of the plot involves the children skating, and pretending Captain Flint's boat is an igloo while it is frozen in the ice.

I quite enjoyed this story, especially when the main characters finally set off on their expedition, which took place in a blizzard; I liked the characterisation of the children in the book, which still felt true to the original, and I hope to see Dorothea and Dick reappear in later titles in this series.

Next book: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

#92: Urban Allies edited by Joseph Nassise

Summary:
In this impressive anthology, 20 of today’s hottest urban fantasy writers—including Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Larry Correia, and C. E. Murphy—are paired together in ten original stories featuring their favorite series characters.

Urban Allies brings together beloved characters from two different urban fantasy series—Peter Octavian and Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, Joanne Walker and Harper Blaine, Joe Ledger and Agent Franks, Sabina Kane and Ava—in ten electrifying stories. Combining fictional worlds in one dual adventure, each of these stories melds the talents of two high-profile authors, many working together for the first time—giving readers a chance to see their favorite characters in an imaginative and fresh way.

Edited by acclaimed bestselling author Joseph Nassise—who is also a contributor—this outstanding collection showcases the brilliant storytelling talents of some of the most acclaimed fantasy writers working today, among them seven New York Times bestselling authors, two USA Today bestselling authors, and multiple Bram Stoker Award winners.

Contributors include:
Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden • Carrie Vaughn and Diana Rowland • Jonathan Maberry and Larry Correia • Kelley Armstrong and Seanan McGuire • Joe Nassise and Sam Witt • Steven Savile and Craig Schaefer • David Wellington and Weston Ochse • Stephen Blackmoore and Jeff Somers • Catie Murphy and Kat Richardson • Jaye Wells and Caitlin Kittredge


This new anthology from Harper Voyager features paired urban fantasy authors bringing their series together to take on demons, haunted houses, and twisted not-so-mythological creatures. It was interesting to see how the authors decided to cross their universes, too. Some had their characters inhabit the same world, while others found overlapping dimensions through interdimensional bubbles or fairyland.

Some of my favorite stories were set in series that I'm not that familiar, or I only know one of the authors. Also, some of these tales are DARK. I'm talking, don't read during a power outage or during a deep depression. The writing is consistently good throughout, with great suspense and wonderful teasers for what goes on in their full novels.

Books #67-68

Book #67 was "Ash" by Malinda Lo. This book is a retelling of the Cinderella story. Ash lives during a time when philosophers are in vogue and magic is only believed in by naive rural folk. When Ash's mother, who is a believer in magic and may have consorted with fairies, dies, her father remarries and then also dies shortly afterward, leaving her with a cruel stepmother who forces her to be a lady's maid for her two daughters. However, the plot deviates from the Disney version of Cinderella by giving Ash more options than simply char woman or marrying a rich prince. Instead, she is torn between the love of a fairy prince who once courted Ash's mother and the love of the king's huntress, who treats her as an equal. The prose is absolutely gorgeous in this novel. It's marketed as YA, but I believe most readers of any age could appreciate this story. Highly recommended, and I'm interested in reading more by Lo now.

Book #68 was "The Female Man" by Joanna Russ. It's hard to know what to say about this book. I tried to read it back in 2009 or 2010 and was so disgusted with it by the third page that I put it down and decided I wasn't going to read it. I found the prose clunky, and the sentence that made me set it down was "Miss Allison was a Negro." I mean, what? Why does that deserve a stand-alone sentence and a capital for "Negro"? After Russ died in 2011, I decided maybe I would give it another try, since it's well respected both by people I know and other authors I respect (Dorothy Allison has a blurb on the cover saying she wishes everyone would read it). I found myself infuriated with the book the second time around as well, but perhaps that was Russ's intent, since she's known to be someone who poured her own anger into her writing. The book follows 4 women in different timelines who are similar in some ways but shaped by their environment. One is Joanna, who lives in our timeline in 1969. Another is Jeannine, who lives in 1969 in a parallel timeline when the Great Depression never ended. Janet lives in an utopian all-female world, and Jael is a warrior woman from a timeline where men and women form two tribes at war with one another. Jael isn't introduced until nearly 3/4 of the way through the book, and you find out it is scientists from her timeline that are studying similar timelines and have brought the 3 other incarnations together. When Russ is doing straightforward narrative, I mostly enjoyed it, though it still felt somewhat didactic (in the spirit of "Herland" by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman). I got frustrated with her literary experiments and injection of her politics. It's really a treatise on gender and feminism disguised as a science-fiction novel. I felt intensely angry through much of the book because I felt like Russ was holding the reader in contempt, and treating science-fiction and the form of the novel with contempt. I LOATHE it when an author seems to feel they are "above" a certain genre but enjoy using the tropes from it for their own agenda, and anti-novelists anger me something fierce, like who are YOU you pissant to think you're above writing a conventional narrative? FUCK YOU!!!! So, I guess I'm glad I read this book, but I would only recommend it if you're up for reading experimental fiction or you just find her politics interesting enough to read it. If you're looking for a science fiction novel with a conventional structure, this would not be the book for you.


The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 109-110

QQ Sweeper 2 (QQ Sweeper, #2)QQ Sweeper 2 by Kyousuke Motomi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The second volume of this manga retains that hint of sweetness from the first even though it does deal with some very dark topics. After all, the function of the Sweepers is to clean the psyche of humans. This takes place a month after the first volume. Fumi is settling in well but Koichi (psychologist, school principle and sort of head of the house) and Granny think she’s hiding something. They are wary and hint at some tragedy that almost destroyed the clan and presumably left Kyutaro an orphan. Kyutaro is getting along well with Fumi but is still obsessing over his lost childhood friend, Fuyu. Fumi reminds Kyutaro of this lost girl and we learn two other key pieces of information. Fuyu disappeared through one of the doors that enter into people’s minds and that Granny and Hoichi aren’t convinced she ever existed in the first place. Granny especially thinks Fuyu might have been an imaginary friend because Kyutaro grew up so lonely.

It comes to a head when Fumi is strangled by a popular student and might have been seriously hurt if not for Kyutaro. Fumi reveals that she is considered 'cursed' and terrible things happen to the people around her. Her instinct is to cut and run but Hoichi stops her, showing there are other ways of dealing.

I really enjoy this odd manga. The characters are engaging and the storyline is interesting. The art is lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing more.



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The Mystery Boxes (Explorer, #1)The Mystery Boxes by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Like most anthologies, this graphic novel is built around a common theme, the titular mystery box. What's fun with anthologies is seeing just how many completely different takes on a theme you can have. All of these graphic novellettes are short and all are well drawn. Each has it's strengths and weaknesses but you're surely going to find ones you love.

There are terrifying wax dolls, crazy pain in the butt wizards, maze 'monsters', Asian spirits, the horrors of war and science fiction takes too.

Check it out. You won't be disappointed.



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I am counting this as a book due to the length. It was a good issue overall, though I couldn't get into the featured novella. Some of favorite works included:

- Sarah Pinsker's "Talking to Dead People." It mixes up model houses, a very famous murder, and some deep personal introspection.

- David Gerrold's "The Dunsmuir Horror." Gerrold's partly autobiographical stories in this vein are rambling and often nonsensical, yet also amusing. Plus, I love that he mentions the I-5 turn-off to my hometown, which is quite distinct because of the cattle yards.

Books #65-66

Book #65 was "A Gathering of Old Men" by Ernest J. Gaines. I've had this on my "to read" list for a while but I was putting it off because the subject matter is a bit grim: the book opens with a Cajun farmer dead, and a young white woman and an older black man both claiming to have done it. More and more older men from the sharecropping community in Louisiana show up claiming they did it, to the bafflement of the local sheriff. The white woman, Candy, and the old men are protecting their own from the sheriff and from the lynching they expect the Canjun man's family to head up. Each chapter is told from a different viewpoint, from the women and children who spread the word through the community to the old men themselves to the white family members of the dead man. I really, really adored the storytelling in this book, how you got multiple viewpoints on what happened and background on why each person in the farming community is bitter and has reason to hate the dead man. It was also surprisingly funny in places, and the plot doesn't go exactly where you're thinking it's going. I finished this in two days and found it to be a quick read that drew me right in. I'm interested in reading more by Gaines now and possibly watching the TV movie that was made from it, starring Holly Hunter and Lou Gosset Jr.

Book #66 was "Ancillary Mercy," the final book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I adore the main character, Breq, and I love this series so much. It's marketed as space opera, but there is more than science, big ideas and world-building -- the character development and change in relationships over the course of the book are also extremely well done. In this final installment of the trilogy, Breq, an AI in a human body who used to once be an entire spaceship with an "ancillary" crew of human bodies, is trying to save one planet and space station from the civil war triggered by the Lord of the Radch, who inhabits multiple bodies, which have broken into warring factions against themselves. Breq must deal with back-stabbing by the Lord of the Radch, competing factions on the space station and figuring out just what role the alien Presger might be playing in the conflict. Along the way, Breq discovers to her surprise hat she is not only admired, but loved. I ADORE this series and also am happy to recommend it because I like the author, who I met at a convention earlier this year. People who are tired of female under-representation and who appreciate someone challenging gender norms (everyone in the series is referred to with the pronoun "she") will especially appreciate these books.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Book 108

The Mystery of Nevermore (Snow & Winter, #1)The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Thank to netgalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for a review and in no way influenced the review. I really enjoyed this, especially the first half where we really get to know Sebastian Snow. He owns a successful antique shop, is in a strained relationship with a closeted cop, Neil, has a very supportive father and has achromasia, a lack of cones in the retina causing not only color blindness but a loss of sharp vision (and the author did seem to do a bit of research on this).

Like in all amateur sleuth stories, something has to happen to draw him into the mystery. In this case, someone buries a pig heart under the floor boards of his shop but Sebastian gets off lightly as other antique dealers end up murdered all in ways that reflect Edgar Allan Poe's stories/poems. This is how he meets Calvin Winter, homicide detective.

Calvin is as frosty as his name and he's not thrilled with Sebastian's nebby ways. He doesn't want Sebastian butting into the case but of course, like every amateur sleuth everywhere, Sebastian feels compelled to do so.

The bodies keep falling. His relationship with Neil implodes as his relationship with Calvin heats up. And like most mysteries there's a splashy violent ending that I don't want to spoil. I'd like to see where this series goes.

I do, however, have a few spoilery things to say so that's your warning. You can stop reading now if you haven't read the book.

spoilers


okay, this was nearly a star lower. I liked the story over all and I liked the writing style which saved that star but there were things that did annoy me (mostly personal choice sort of things).

I did dislike how Seb and Calvin got together because a) Sebastian basically cheated on Neil even though he was already done with Neil in his head b) and more importantly there is no way Calvin could have cleared Sebastian by this point. They've had like three conversations and he jumps right into sex with Sebastian. Very unprofessional and that's usually a deal breaker for me so it says something about the story that I kept reading.

Sebastian falls hard on amateur sleuth tropes of doing stupid things like not telling the cops about things that are very obviously important and/or going after the killer on his own. I expect this in amateur sleuth fiction (and is why I read little of it even though mystery is the genre I read the most). However, it does make you want to shake sense into him.

But the thing that bothered me the most was Sebastian's utter failure to understand why both Neil and Calvin are closeted. He basically calls them cowards and ashamed of themselves. To me that is completely dismissive of the fact that there truly are jobs where being out means your career is deadended. Yes, it's horribly unfair but that's still reality. His argument is if no one takes a stand, it'll never change. That is true but would have carried more weight if he had tried to understand Neil and Calvin's point of view and he doesn't.



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Book #46: Knowing God by J.I. Packer



Number of pages: 351

This book is all about the concept of having a relationship with God and living as a Christian. It felt mostly like something for people just beginning to look into the Christian faith, but it made some good points, some of which I had never thought of before, such as that if you just have a mental image of God, you are putting a "graven image" before him, and that all hardships you face as a Christian are really intended to strengthen your faith.

The first J.I. Packer book I read felt like quite heavy going, and luckily I found this one more accessible, and easier to follow. I love how J.I. Packer summarises his points by use of various headings and lists of individual points, as well as iterating the purpose of each of the book's chapters.

Next book: Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
Since my last post, I've read a few more books.

First was Osprey Campaign #299: Zama 202 BC: Scipio Crushes Hannibal in North Africa which dug pretty far back into Rome/Carthage history before dealing with the battle itself. Not bad.

Then I read Osprey Campaign #285: Lewes and Evesham 1264 - 65: Simon de Montfort and the Baron's War, a bit of English history. Having heard a few podcasts about this period and to a lesser extent this battle, I found the book filled in a few gaps for me, so again not bad.

Next was Osprey Campaign #286: Catalaunian Fields AD 451: Rome's Last Great Battle, another one that had been foreshadowed for me by podcasts which was fine. Pretty solid read.

Finally, Osprey Elite #213: The Barbary Pirates 15th - 17th Centuries which was especially interesting in that it deals with a subset of pirates that our media rarely deals with. I liked this one very much.

More later!
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.

When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.

But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.


This book was mentioned on a couple different bookriot podcasts and was also featured on my library's summer reading list. I found it to be charming and touching. It starts out a bit slowly as we go through a languid summer, but the action picks up quickly when necessary. Many residents of this little town think that going to war will be a lark and adventure, but they soon learn that there will be hardships and heartaches for the civilians as well as the soldiers. There are also several social issues running through the story that are relevant today -- Belgian refugees who aren't necessarily as grateful and genteel as the town gentry expects, old white men who expect the world to bend to their will just because, and the crushing burden of "keeping up appearances" in the face of idle gossip and old prejudices.

I especially liked the main character Beatrice. She's smart and savvy as she navigates a changing social landscape, making mistakes and learning from them, and she doesn't let herself be a doormat even when it might be to her more immediate advantage.
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 Glokta 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.


This is my first Abercrombie book, and one that has wallowed in my to-read pile for several years now. My reaction: WOW. The plot of the book isn't anything new or fancy, really. It's secondary world grimdark fantasy, with barbarians, snobbish politicians, and nebulous ancient threats working their way south. What makes this book are the characters: they are vivid and complex, and become even more so when viewed through the points of view of the other characters. The best example of this is Glokta, a severely crippled master swordsman who is now an expert in torture. He's an awful, cruel man, and yet... Abercrombie writes him in a way that makes him compelling, not pitiful.

Books 105-107

Bleach―ブリーチ― 65 [Burīchi 65] (Bleach, #65)Bleach―ブリーチ― 65 [Burīchi 65] by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


More of the same old same old, endless battle scenes with increasingly weird villains (and thanks for nothing for making one of the bad guys transgendered for no apparent reason). The only break we get from the combatants foolishly explaining their powers and weaknesses to each other is when Ichigo finally returns to these pages and everyone stops to cheer. I wish I were joking about that. He's even a priority kill for the Quincies over many in theory more important Captains.

About the only thing in this worth reading was Ichigo being reunited with Chad and Orihime (if you ignore the time wasted on the two guys being offended by her boobalicious stupid outfit) and them deciding Uryu can still be saved from his fellow Quincies (provided he even wants to be). Ywach, the leader of the Quincies remains as confusing and arrogant (and straight out of the 70s) as ever.

Seriously just sticking with this because I need to see how the series ends.



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Bleach―ブリーチ― 66 [Burīchi 66] (Bleach, #66)Bleach―ブリーチ― 66 [Burīchi 66] by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


The title of this one is 'sorry I am strong.' It should be sorry I wasted your time. Literally almost nothing happens (except maybe some of your favorite captains die off screen and become zombies). Still endless battle scenes with characters you don't care about because there are so many new ones no one can keep track or care. They're still spouting off their powers and weaknesses leading to their immediate defeat (somehow to their surprise) and I thought the Quincies were human. So what's up with all the utter weirdness like the kid with two tongues dangling out of his mouth (not sure why other than Kubo wanted to draw that).

This thing is just spinning its wheels and stuck in the mud. Ichigo is hardly in it but even more characters from the very first chapters (back when this was worth reading) reappear.



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The Stonekeeper (Amulet, #1)The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I didn't know what shelves to put this on. It's sort of fantasy but not, ditto steampunk and SF. It's a little of each and I've been hearing tons of good stuff about the Amulet series. I wasn't as blown away by it as I expected. That said, it was good.

Emily and Navin are siblings and living a happy life with their parents until tragedy strikes. Their mother moves them to their ancestral home to start all over again. It's barely livable and in their attempts to clean it up and explore the kids learn their great grand father was a genius inventor and puzzle maker and Emily finds the titular stone amulet which whispers to her to keep it.

That very night their mother is kidnapped by a huge tentacle-tick thing leading them into a fantasy world where everything is out to kill them. Guided by the amulet, they're on the run to find their mother, stalked by an elf prince (though they don't know this yet).

They find their refuge and aid in Great-Grandfather's sentient robots and they go to rescue their mom. But the amulet's power comes at a price. Navin believes his sister should stop listening to the amulet, to get rid of it but Emily is willing to pay the price to save her mom, too young to understand really what she's getting herself into because there is more than her mom at risk: there's an entire world to save.

It's a good storyline with a young girl as the central character. I enjoyed that. I was less a fan of the art to be honest. Still, I'm looking forward to more.



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Book 104

Zombies & CalculusZombies & Calculus by Colin Conrad Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Don't go into this one thinking you're going to be reading a straight up horror, zombie story. This really is a vehicle to show how math works in the real world (for those who don't think it has applications, you're wrong). Note that it is put out by a university press, so yes, a teaching tool of sorts.

Dr. Craig Williams is a calculus prof whose class gets interrupted by a zombie student killing another student. Soon the whole university is on the run and only pockets of non-infected students and faculty are left. Craig along with some of his students, his former lover and his rival Gunderson (whom you'll wish to get eaten) have to figure out how long it takes for a bite to get infected, how fast this will spread, how fast can a zombie run etc etc.

Yes, all those things that need math. It gives you a lot of math (calculus and otherwise) and if you want more math just follow the bloody hand prints to the appendix and it continues there.

It's rather clever in a way. It's not great literature but it's not trying to be. It's certainly a fun tool to get students to think in mathematical terms as Craig tries to get home to save his kids and later all of humanity from this lab-generated zombie virus.

The most scary part of course was the calculus.




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Book 44

Title: Empire in Black and Gold
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pages: 611
Summary: The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace and prosperity for decades: bastions of civilization and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbours.

But meanwhile, in far-off corners, a warlike Empire has been deouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, its killing Art ... And now its hunger for conquest and bloodshed has become insatiable.

Only the ageing Senwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path. But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim.

My thoughts:
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Books! I finished reading several more books in the last ten days, but I didn't have time to post about it over the weekend.

Since I last posted, the first book I finished reading was Down and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers. Powers has a real knack at writing eerie stuff, and this one is right in line with it. A man has been tracking down an old friend who married and then murdered a woman that the man had always loved, but by the time he found the friend/murderer, he was already dead, and so the man wanted to die to completely wipe the friend from the Universe. Strange and eerie. Worth reading, as is much of Powers' works for the last twenty years or so.

Next was My Guide to RPG Storytelling, another gaming guide for gamemasters. It had some good ideas, some of which are sparking thoughts that I may use at my next gaming session, whenever that'll be.

Then I read Osprey Raid #30: Red Christmas: The Tatsinskaya Airfield Raid 1942. In support of the destruction of a German army at Stalingrad, a large formation of Russian tanks broke into the German rear areas, and wreaked havoc at one of the airfields that the Luftwaffe was trying to use to supply the cut-off units. The brave Russian raiders ended up being cut-off themselves, and this book discusses the overall effectiveness of this particular raid. I found it very interesting.

Next then was Figs: A Global History, not bad. Worth a peek at the library.

Then, Osprey Campaign #21: Gravelotte- St. Privat 1870: End of the Second Empire. I found this one pretty hard to read. I think that was mostly due to my fairly limited knowledge of the events of that particular war. Unfortunately, I didn't find the author's work engaging, so I had to slog my way through the book. Not great.

On to the next book!

Books #63-64

Book #63 was "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey. I'd heard somewhere that this was a classic of nature writing, and when I looked at my copy from the library, I noticed it had spectacular pen and ink illustrations as well, so I decided to pick it up and read it. Abbey was known as a novelist and nature writer, primarily with an emphasis on the American southwest. This book came from his experience as a park ranger in Utah's Arches National Monument park, spending many of his days alone. I loved his rhapsodic prose about the rock formations, plants and animals of the desert and the changing of the seasons in the desert, and I loved some of the kooky stories he told about treks he took by himself or with a friend. He is a bit of a crusty old hippy and yet is also a bit politically incorrect, so I liked it better when he stuck to personal anecdotes and observations about nature and enjoyed his political rants less, though I do agree that a balance has to be struck between making the parks accessible to citizens and protecting our natural assets and that the park system doesn't always get it right.

Book #64 was "The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures" by Christine Kenneally, as an audiobook. I liked this audiobook, though the narrator's thick Australian accent and soft, breathy voice took a bit of getting used to. The subject matter is extremely interesting, though. It's about genealogy and DNA and how DNA is informing genealogy. I learned a LOT of cool stuff, including more about Australia's criminal past, the tri-racial Melungeon's of Appalachia, and how our understanding of DNA and inheritance has become more nuanced over time. I recommend this highly.

The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Books 24-28

I’m thinking I’ll never catch up with myself if I keep posting book entries only sporadically, so here’s a burst of short blurbs.

24. The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon – two sisters grow up in 1950s Vermont in a quirky hotel where things ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM. Has the bones of a good story but to me it was just okay. Fulfilled horror task of Read Harder Challenge.
25. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks – a novel about the life and times of King David as told by his counsellor Nathan. Goes WAY beyond the highlights taught in Sunday school! This is a future book club selection that I’m sure will generate a great deal of discussion.
26. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman – stand-alone mystery about a freshly elected State’s Attorney whose first murder case conjures up a previous murder case tried by her father as well as an old family story that may or may not have transpired quite the way she remembers it. Lots of personal local color which I really enjoyed, and lots quiet (sad) family drama.
27. Murder with Macaroni and Cheese by A.L. Herbert – follow-up to last year’s debut and the next installment in the Mahalia Watkins series. More local color for me! Also a good mystery storyline, fun characters … and recipes!
28. Badlands by C.J. Box – international drug gang tries to invade the booming economy of North Dakota’s oil fields, but their efforts are interrupted by the innocent actions of a young boy. Blood & Oil meets The Client meets Narcos. A real page turner but very violent.

Since I seem to be defaulting back to mysteries, and with many Read Harder Challenge tasks remaining unfulfilled this late in the year, I may need to make some adjustments to my reading plan. That’s okay!

Book 103

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, #1)Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I mostly like Harris's work though there are some I've really disliked. This is somewhere in between. It was good but not outstanding. It took me a while to realize why. It opens with a prologue (oh it's not labeled that, it's not labeled as anything but that's what it is) with someone moving to Midnight, Texas which seems to be the ass end of the middle of nowhere and that all of the few residents are a bit weird and have their secrets. And that's what bothered me, not to prologue per se but the fact that it and the first chapter made me think the newcomer was going to be the focus (the blurb also played into this).

Manfred is not the focal character. The povs are split mainly between Manfred, who is sort of a real psychic (hit and miss talent) and part psychic con man on the internet. He's about 23 with a face full of piercings (it's mentioned often). He was living with his grandmother, a strong psychic who has now passed (and from reading other reviews he's from another series, the one I hated so I didn't even remember him). Then another major point of view character is Bobo (shudders, it was hard to take that name seriously) who runs the pawn shop (granted I'm not sure how a pawn shop is surviving in such a small town as I've lived most my life in small towns and that's usually not part of them) and is a landlord to Manfred along with two other tenants, Olivia (who's real job isn't really clear but she has no problems with killing and disposing bodies) and Lemuel (a vampire who survives on little bits of blood and energy and is the night clerk in the pawn shop when all the true supernaturals come out) And the last major pov character is Fiji, a young with of indeterminate powers.

The second problem was there's not much of a plot especially in the beginning. It just meanders between all these characters and we get to know them as Manfred does. The key point turns out to be Bobo had a girlfriend, Audrey who disappeared when he was out of town and that Bobo's grandfather was a hero to the Men of Liberty, a White supremacist group and that he left Bobo a cache of weapons that Bobo swears doesn't exist (and he is the opposite of a racist, friends even with the Hispanic gay couple in the story) About a third of the way in (maybe more) we finally have a plot: Bobo's girlfriend is found when the whole town goes picnicking, dead by the river.

The rest of it is police investigations, magic and pissed off White Supremacists. The characters were interesting enough (but I was glad this was a library book instead of money out of my pocket). I was glad the real killer wasn't the obvious suspect. On the other hand, I didn't feel we had enough to figure out who it really was. In retrospect there were hints but this character didn't have enough face time really. Ah well. Would I read more? If the library has it yeah.



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This is the length of a book, so I am counting it as such. I'm really excited that I scored a $5 annual subscription to the magazine on Kindle just recently.

I found this to be a solid issue overall; I didn't need to skip or skim any stories. There were several stand-out works:

- "The Vanishing Kind" by Lavie Tidhar is a fantastic novella, one worthy of the award short lists this coming year. It's alt history, where Germany has won World War II. Yes, that's been done many times before, but this noir-styled approach is intense, brutal, and real. I could easily read more works set in this backdrop. This was my favorite from the issue.

- "An Open Letter to the Person Who Took My Smoothie from the Break Room Fridge" by Oliver Buckram. I read this short story as an early draft, and the final version is a pure delight. Don't mess with the lunches in a super villains' lair. Just sayin'.

- "Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can't You?" by Betsy Phillips is a short story that is undoubtedly blasphemous, but there's also something delightful about maintaining such a close relationship with Jesus that he becomes your tag-team wrestling buddy.


Number of pages: 272

Thomas Bertonneau is an English Professor, while Kim Paffenroth is a professor of religious studies.This is a book aimed at looking at the apparent religious significance of six classic science fiction TV shows, these being Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Prisoner, The Twilight Zone, The X-Files and Babylon 5.

I was mostly interested in reading this book because of its mentioning of the X-Files, but I read the whole book anyway. Most of the time, the writers treat the shows as religious allegories, although I wasn't entirely sure if this was intentional in every case. In the case of the Prisoner, apparently Patrick McGoohan did do this deliberately, and he sees Number 6 as a superior Christian role model to James Bond.

I found this book to be quite heavy going at times, because there was a large amount of philosophy involved, and occasionally even politics. At times I felt like I was reading a precis of various events from the shows themselves, rather than a summary of their Christian significance.

I could tell this book was painstakingly researched, and I could tell both writers really knew their stuff, both in relation to the TV shows and to theology, but some of the chapters were about shows that I knew very little about, so they were of less interest for me.

Overall, something mostly for hardcore fans rather than casual readers.

Next book: Knowing God (J.I. Packer)
Summary:
Gunpowder Girls is a story of child labor and immigrant hopes and the cruel, endless demands of an all-consuming war. Tanya Anderson (Tillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to Gettysburg) combines meticulous research and moving narrative to tell the true stories of three appalling Civil War disasters involving girls as young as ten.

With thousands of men off fighting in the Civil War, the government hired women and girls-some as young as ten-to make millions of rounds of ammunition. Poor immigrant girls and widows paid the price for carelessness at three major arsenals. Many of these workers were killed, blown up and burned beyond recognition. Hidden history comes alive through primary-source research and page-turning narrative.

As Steve Sheinkin did with The Port Chicago 50, Tanya Anderson in Gunpowder Girls tells an amazing war story that finally gives its subjects their due.


I received this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers Program.

I have read numerous books on the Civil War, but I was completely ignorant of the three tragedies related in this nonfiction book: the young women, mostly immigrants, who assembled ammunition and were killed in accidental explosions on both the Union and Confederate sides of the war. These work place disasters took place decades before the Triangle Shirt Company Fire revolutionized work place safety. These were women tightly packed in rooms--and adorned in hoop skirts--who sat still for hours at a time as they packed cartridges. In only one of the cases was a woman the cause of the disaster; the other two were caused by the actions of men outside of the building. While investigations were made and some new safety standards were instituted, no one was held accountable, and the families (who in some causes lost multiple members) were not compensated for their losses.

It's a short, educational, and heartbreaking book. Anderson's writing is excellent. Illustrations and photographs throughout greatly illuminate the text; for example, they show how the ammunition was assembled and how the buildings were arranged. The target audience for the book is YA, and I think this would be a very eye-opening book for teenagers and adults when it comes to 19th century labor practices and the desperation of the times. Kudos to the author for exploring this topic and paying tribute to these women who were lost and forgotten.

Books #61-62

Book #61 was "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf. I've been meaning to read some Virginia Woolf for a while, but this is my first of of her novels. I am a huge Tilda Swinton fan, so I'd seen the movie adaptation before, but had never read "Orlando." It's about as weird as you'd expect for a novel about a noble person who lives for 400 years and changes gender without explanation. It's more funny than you might expect, and explores themes of gender, changes in society and fashion, and what it means to be a writer. I enjoyed it a lot, though I was jarred by the use of the "N" word a couple times, just didn't see that coming at all. I'm hoping it doesn't crop up in her other novels, because I am interested in reading more of her work.

Book #62 was "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. My husband found this book at a local sci-fi convention. It's a novella and was bound as a tiny little book, very hard to resist. It tells the story of four generations who are influenced by the mysterious waters of Wakulla Springs in Florida, from watching Johnny Weismuller film Tarzan movies there and the Creature from the Black Lagoon swimming around in the springs to future generations who worry about the development of the wilds around the spring. There are moments of wonder, and many of the characters think they *may* have heard or seen a monster or mythical beast, but the story isn't explicitly supernatural. If you're curious about it, the original version (it was since slightly edited for the publisher, Tor, is my understanding *Nope, please see comments below*) can be found in full here.



The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )

Books 11 - 20.

11. The NABRE Bible
Perhaps the best Bible I've read so far, certainly best of the Catholic ones. Great even for non-Christians as it's nicely thorough and critical. :)

12. Kendrick & Kendrick - The Battle Plan For Prayer: From Basic Training To Targeted Strategies
I have no desire to see the film that inspired this (nor the other films), but this is a solid book for pretty much anyone interested.

13. Lee - To Kill A Mockingbird
Classic.

14. Tassone - Day By Day For The Holy Souls In Purgatory: 365 Reflections
The last of Purgatory books from the author I had to read, and it was good.

15. Diogenes The Cynic With Other Popular Moralists - Sayings & Anecdotes (English translation)
Better to borrow first, for this may seem either like repetition or boredom (or both) to some people, like me.

16. Buettner - The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer From The People Who've Lived The Longest
Some may have read the National Geographic feature, but this expands the subject nicely, flows very well. Make sure to get the second edition because it adds more to the book.

17. St. Jerome - Selected Letters Of... (English translation)
Not a necessary book, but interesting anyway.

18. Reynolds - Slow Bullets
A good starter book into this author, for it is short and clear work with good depth.

19. B. Collins - Sailing Alone Around The Room: New & Selected Poems
Great poems, very visual, often surprising in their beauty. Worth it.

20. Storey, Storey & Todd - The Mount Athos Diet: The Mediterranean Plan To Lose Weight, Feel Younger & Live Longer
Better borrow it, take a note on the good parts (including the diet plan); otherwise has much which many may already know, some repetition and padding. Recipes are good, though some may find them bland.

Books #59-60

Book #59 was "Ancillary Sword" by Ann Leckie, the second in her Imperial Radch trilogy. I'd heard from others that this was the weakest of the three and/or that if felt like a bridge from the first to the third, but I still enjoyed it. Our main character, Breq, an AI who was once a ship with many "ancillary" bodies and now with only one, has determined in the first book that the Lord of the Radch[Spoiler (click to open)]has a split personality and that the war between herselves will tear the entire civilzation apart. In the second book, Breq goes to the star system where the surviving relative of a human she cared about lives in order to offer her help to the relative. The relative rejects her offer, but in the meantime, Breq gets caught up in politics and intrigue on the space station and planet and positions herself for the chaos she knows will spread as word about the Lord of the Radch spreads. I agree that this wasn't as good as the first novel, but I did still find it very satisfying and look forward to finishing the trilogy.

Book #60 was "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Russian science fiction from the 1980s. The brothers' books are much better known in Russia than in the U.S., but if anyone here has heard of the Strugatsky brothers, it's usually this book, which was the basis for both a movie and a videogame. In the near future, aliens have come and gone without acknowledging man in any way and leaving behind their artifacts in "zones", much as picnickers leaving behind trash. People called "stalkers" sneak into the zones to try to profit from alien technology, and a government agency tries to stop the stalkers and take the artifacts for their own purposes. The novel primarily follows Red Schuhart, a stalker who sometimes acts as an illegal stalker and sometimes uses his talents for the government agency. The characters try to make sense of and profit from the alien artifacts but think they may be doing the equivalent of smashing walnuts with a sledgehammer even when things go right, but many objects in the zones are dangerous and even deadly. It's a strange but charming little book, less than 200 pages long. The introduction to my edition is by Ursula K. LeGuin, with an afterward by Boris, reflecting on how times have changed since the Soviets tried to censor the Strugatsky brothers. Highly entertaining.


The other books I"ve read so far this year:Collapse )


I was excited when I saw this crossover graphic novel in a shop, and immediately bought it. This was co-written by Steve Niles, who also co-created 30 Days of Night, a vampire movie set in the Arctic where it can remain dark for many days at a time at certain times of year; certainly a good setting for a vampire-based horror.

This story opens with the discovery of a group of decapitated truckers, which Mulder and Scully are called to investigate, much to the disgust of Special Agent French, the story's antagonist character, who has disliked Mulder since their days at the F.B.I.'s Quantico training academy.

The story gets pretty freakish and very gory quite fast, and very creepy. While I felt that I needed to watch the movie again to really get everything, I thought that it worked very well as an X-Files fan fiction. The story was written very well, with very good characterisation of the main characters, including Mulder's usual humour that features in even the bleakest of storylines. The art work by Tom Mandrake was also impressive, with some large images taking up one or two pages, containing a large amount of detail.

There were some very surreal characters in the plot, including a character who lost his arms and legs to the vampires, and another character who looked suspiciously like Davros from Doctor Who near the end, although my favorite moment was when an attack by the vampires turned seamlessly into a close up of a vampire movie that Mulder was watching on the TV.

Definitely worth giving it a go, although there are some things that would have maybe made more sense if I was more familiar with 30 Days of Night.

Next book: The Truth is Out There (Thomas Bertonneau and Kim Paffenroth)
Summary:
Veronica Mars meets the World of Warcraft in The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, a mystery romp with a most unexpected heroine.

If it were up to me this book would be called Hilarious Things That Happened That Were Not At All Dahlia's Fault -- or HTTHTWNAADF, for short.

OK, I probably shouldn't have taken money from a mysterious eccentric to solve a theft, given that I'm not a detective, and that I am sometimes outwitted by puzzles in children's video games. I probably shouldn't have stolen bags of trash from a potential murder suspect. Arguably-- just arguably, mind you-- it may have been unwise to cos-play at an event where I was likely to be shot at.

But sometimes you just have to take some chances, right? And maybe things do get a little unfortunate. What of it? If you ask me, an unfortunate decision here or there can change your life. In a positive way, just so long you don't killed in the process. Admittedly, that's the tricky bit.


This book is a geeky mash-up of noir detective novels and fandom culture. It's zany, sometimes outright ludicrous, and laugh-out-loud funny with its loving riffs on Pokemon, World of Warcraft-like culture, and cosplay. Heroine Dahlia is a hapless loser who has gone to job interview to job interview to no avail. When a guy shows up and offers her a load of money to play private detective for him and retrieve a stolen spear, she takes the job out of utter bewilderment. But when said dude ends up dead, things end up considerably more complicated.

It's not a "serious mystery." There are goofy coincidences and convenient plot elements, but with the zany mood, it's easy to forgive such things and go with the flow. I adored the book and I'll be on the look out for more by this author.


Number of pages: 198

I remember discovering this sequel to one of my favourite books, Watership Down many years ago and buying it right away.

The book has a slightly unusual structure, being divided into three parts:

Part one is about traditional rabbit folk stories, as stated by the blurb. The first five stories are about Elahrairah, established in the first book as sort of like a rabbit Jesus. The stories in this book are somewhat more bizarre than in the original (one story depicts animals hiding in Elahrairah's ear), and there was a mixture of comic stories and darker stories that felt like they could have been from the pen of H.P. Lovecraft because of the strange dark fantasy elements that featured in them. All of these stories are bookended by depictions of the original Watership Down characters talking to each other before the decision to tell a story is made.

Among the stories are The Hole in the Sky, whose title was briefly mentioned in the original story, and another called The Fox in the Water, which Richard Adams developed into a full story from a short snippet told as an aside in the original (one of the characters is heard telling it to distract others from the climactic events). I loved the way that Richard Adams realised that both should be turned into full stories, and his efforts here are impressive; the ending of The Hole in the Sky is possibly the creepiest moment in the hole book.

The first part includes two extra stories; one concerns a new character, who only appears in this particular chapter. Following a comment from Hazel that he's never known a rabbit who had ever seen a ghost, he proceeds to tell them a story of how he saw a ghost himself, and it is particularly spine-chilling.

The last story in this part is a nonsense story told by the character Speedwell about an adventure he supposedly had; you will be able to tell quite fast that he is making everything up (particularly when he tells of taking off his own head and putting it in a bucket). I find this one very funny, though I am still not convinced a rabbit would know what a bucket was!

Part two is all about Elahrairah, and recalls the very dark story from the original about how he met the rabbits' grim reaper, the Black Rabbit of Inle. This tells of his adventures after he left the Black Rabbit's domain and before he arrived home, and all are quite dark and serious in tone.

The first story is about a "comical field", which is what rabbits perceive a maze as, and it turns out to have a dark secret; the second tells of them crossing a marsh, while the third tells of rabbits effectively trying to take over a farm and hold a sort of coup, despite Elahriarah's warnings that the humans will kill them. It features a depiction of rabbits killing a cat that was particularly shocking, and ended up as one of the few moments in either novels where humans come across as sympathetic. The final story was mentioned in passing in the previous book and involves a Elahrairah and his friend Rabscuttle feeding a badger (lendri, in Lapine, the rabbit dialect).

Part three takes up almost half of the book, and continues the story almost from where the orignal left off, but takes part before the epilogue.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Since the epilogue featured Hazel dying of old age, and several of the other main characters may have been dead by this point, this is a good idea as it allows the reader to see more of their favourite characters.



The story feels more episodic than the original, with each chapter effectively telling a self-contained story, although there is an overarching plot running throughout, particularly one involving the creation of a new warren to prevent overcrowding. I liked the fact that there was a lot of my favourite characters; Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig, although I noticed that some original characters were almost pushed into the background completely; one is only mentioned once, at the moment when he is killed off.

I liked the fact that Hyzenthlay, one of the main female characters from the original (she first appeared quite late on in the first book), got a lot to do, including a chapter that completely revolved around her, although would have liked it if Keehar the seagull had been used more. The last chapter revolves around the character Campion, who has started taking rabbits from the new warren on wide patrols (something like the army going on manoevres) without permission; it was a decent story about rabbit politics, although it felt strangely low-key for a final chapter, despite its dramatic ending. It made me feel that there could be even further tales from Watership Down.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and it was great to read more about the characters from a book I loved. It wasn't quite as good as the original, but it definitely had plenty of enjoyable moments, and the characterisation of the rabbits is as good as it was before.

Next book: The X-Files/30 Days of Night (Steve Niles, Adam Jones, Tom Mandrake)
Students from a university mystery club decide to visit an island which was the site of a grisly multiple murder the year before. Predictably, they get picked off one by one by an unseen murderer. Is there a madman on the loose? What connection is there to the earlier murders? The answer is a bombshell revelation which few readers will see coming.

If you think this sounds a bit like a certain Agatha Christie novel, you're right. It's an intentional but not obvious homage to And Then There Were None" -- which the characters themselves recognize with varying degrees of irony -- but it's a story that could stand on its own as well. There are similarities such as a quirky house on a remote island with some mysterious correspondence thrown in the mix, but a significant difference is that the visitors to the island all know each other (perhaps not as well as they think?) to at least a certain extent. We also see quite a bit of parallel activity from other players on the mainland taking place at the same time, and that is added seamlessly to the island portion of the story. I thought I had some idea about who the culprit might be, but I was quite wrong!

This was originally published in Japan in 1987 and has only recently been translated, yet it seems timeless and universal.

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Book 101-102

ノラガミ 9 [Noragami 9] (Noragami: Stray God, #9)ノラガミ 9 [Noragami 9] by Adachitoka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This volume is very good and very Japanese lore heavy. There are translation notes (man I wish ALL manga publishers would include these) which helps to explain Yomi. I'd bookmark them and flip back and forth while reading or re-read the volume again after you get to the notes and read them).

Anyhow, Yato and Ebisu are trapped by the queen of Yomi (and her real form is pretty darned gruesome) One of them may have to die to get free. Worse, Ebisu's head now has a bounty on it by the council of Gods but not every god is happy about this. Some of them are ready to revolt and save him.

While the heavens are about to pull themselves apart, Hiyori and Yukine are searching for Yato (as he didn't tell Yukine where he was going) only to get waylaid by an old enemy who has the power to kill them both.

So plenty of action in this, fairly well balanced with plot and story arc advancement. The art is lovely.

Can't wait for more.



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Bleach―ブリーチ― 64 [Burīchi 64] (Bleach, #64)Bleach―ブリーチ― 64 [Burīchi 64] by Tite Kubo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Honestly this nearly a flat out one star. It got the second one in honor of the longevity of this series (and obviously I'm fairly alone in absolutely hating this. Literally the only thing that happens in this entire volume is Kenpachi fighting one of the Quincys, Gremmy who can imagine anything.

The powers of the Quincys are now mind-numbingly stupid and unbelievable. Literally nothing should be able to stop that but as Kenpachi kept saying again and again 'I can cut anything.' I don't even care if it's a spoiler, because it's just so dumb. Kenpachi cut a meteor into tiny pieces in one blow.

And if I didn't know this was the final arc I'd be out of here with that. But it is so I might as well see how it ends.

Then along come three more super powered Quincys (and if they were this strong why the hell have they waited so long to attack the soul reapers?), all girls so naturally one has to have gravity defying boobs of doom and a skeevy outfit. (strains eyes rolling them so hard).

I really miss the days of the first several volumes so many years ago when the story line made sense and the plot knew how to balance action with you know, plot. This volume does nothing to advance the plot. It does nothing at all worth bothering with.



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Book 43

Title: 100 Jahre Leben
Author: Kerstin Schweighöfer
Pages: 367
Summary: Was uns die Weisheit hundertjähriger Menschen über das Leben, das Glück und die Liebe lehrt

Denken wir an Hundertjährige, dann bekommt das ansonsten so gefürchtete Alter etwas Geheimnisvolles. Sie ziehen uns in ihren Bann. Umso mehr, wenn sie uns an ihren hundert Jahren Lebensklugheit teilhaben lassen. Denn wann, wenn nicht dann, weiß ein Mensch, worauf es letztlich ankommt?

In wunderbaren Begegnungen und berührenden Gesprächen mit zehn Hundertjährigen erfährt Kerstin Schweighöfer manch ein Geheimnis und erhält oft verblüffende Antworten auf die großen Fragen des Lebens: Was macht eine gute Freundschaft, Beziehung oder Ehe aus? Wie kann die große Liebe zur Liebe des Lebens werden? Wie soll man umgehen mit Schmerz und Verlust? Welche Werte zählen im Spiegel der Zeit?

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