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Book 137: The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Author: Neil Gaiman, 2013.
Genre: Fantasy. Horror.
Other Details: Paperback 248 pages/Unabridged Audio (5 hrs, 47 mns ). Read by Neil Gaiman.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

Although I had read this novel last October (2013 Book 194) it was a reading group selection this month and so I decided to first listen to its audio edition. I felt that Neil Gaiman did an excellent job of narration. His voice is rich and he clearly knows his material and brought his characters vividly to life. On the day of the meeting I also did a brief re-read of my paperback edition.

I felt the novel held up well for a second reading and I found had a deeper appreciation for its themes as well as its strangeness. Although I enjoyed it very much it didn't grip me as much as American Gods, though I did wonder if the three Hempstock women could be a form of the Fates or Norns given their work with threads and their seemingly eternal natures.

However, it was less well received by the reading group than I had expected. There was some confusion about whether this was for adults, given the age of its narrator, or more for young adults despite some mature themes.

Books 23 & 24 - 2012

Book 23: Stonehenge: English Heritage Guidebook by Julian Richards – 48 pages

Description from Goodreads:
Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the world. Its great stones were raised more than 4,000 years ago as a temple to the sun; its banks and ditches are older still. This new guide includes a tour and history of the site and its remarkable landscape, together with full-colour maps, plans, reconstruction drawings and historic photographs.

This is another brief little tourist book I bought while living in London – obviously about Stonehenge. It’s actually pretty comprehensive for a guidebook, going into detail about the various theories about why Stonehenge was built, whom by and what it was used for. It also goes into detail about the positioning of the stones and various other stone formations and indentations etc in the area. Very interesting.

23 / 50 books. 46% done!

7475 / 15000 pages. 50% done!

Book 24: Experience the Tower of London: Souvenir Guidebook by Brett Dolman, Susan Holmes, Edward Impey & Jane Spooner – 72 pages

Description from Goodreads:
Royal palace, fortress, prison and place of execution; arsenal, royal mint, menagerie and jewel house - for over 900 years the Tower of London has served all these purposes. In this lavishly illustrated 72-page guide you're invited to explore this formidable citadel as it was and is now.

Another tourist book (I read a whole stack of these before I packed my shipping boxes up to leave for Australia). This one is about the Tower of London, which is pretty much favourite touristy spot in all of London (I am a massive fan of the Tudors, in particular, Henry VIII). This book talks about the history of this very famous site, some of the significant deaths that have happened there, the mysteries of the tower, and the very famous Beefeaters. Always enjoyable to read about this very significant place.

24 / 50 books. 48% done!

7547 / 15000 pages. 50% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 326 pages
-        A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce – 392 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

17: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 17: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
17 THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE Muriel Spark (Scotland, 1961)


In 1930's Edinburgh six young girls begin a lasting friendship with their an eccentric high school teacher, and as a result, they are brought to the forefront of the school's intrigues.

I feel this is one of those novels that need to be read a second time to be fully appreciated. In the meantime, I can say that I enjoyed Spark's writing style, and more specifically the way she unfolded the story of the Brodie set through the use of flashforwards. They made the plot more tense, and emphasized the nostalgia that comes out of this book.
Miss Brodie, despite her altogether charming and annoying eccentricity, may not be the real main character. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is above all a coming-of-age novel, and it is the story of how those six girls ultimately grow up to be who they are that gradually becomes the author's main concern.
This novel was perhaps, in some ways, too subtle for me, and when I realized Miss Brodie herself was not exactly what it was all about, I wish I'd paid more attention to each of the girls' personalities, which is why I'd like to read it again sometime.


#71: Farthing by Jo Walton

One summer weekend in 1949--but not our 1949--the well-connected "Farthing set", a group of upper-crust English families, enjoy a country retreat. Lucy is a minor daughter in one of those families; her parents were both leading figures in the group that overthrew Churchill and negotiated peace with Herr Hitler eight years before.

Despite her parents' evident disapproval, Lucy is married--happily--to a London Jew. It was therefore quite a surprise to Lucy when she and her husband David found themselves invited to the retreat. It's even more startling when, on the retreat's first night, a major politician of the Farthing set is found gruesomely murdered, with abundant signs that the killing was ritualistic.

It quickly becomes clear to Lucy that she and David were brought to the retreat in order to pin the murder on him. Major political machinations are at stake, including an initiative in Parliament, supported by the Farthing set, to limit the right to vote to university graduates. But whoever's behind the murder, and the frame-up, didn't reckon on the principal investigator from Scotland Yard being a man with very private reasons for sympathizing with outcasts…and looking beyond the obvious.

As the trap slowly shuts on Lucy and David, they begin to see a way out--a way fraught with peril in a darkening world.

Oh wow. This was the kind of book where you want an excuse to have doctor appointments or long care rides, just so you can keep on reading. Foremost, its a mystery novel in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie. However, the alternative history component is not mere window-dressing--it's everything. Britain declared a cease fire with Germany in 1941 and by 1949 has slid into their own sort of fascism. The scope of racism and homophobia in the book is horrifying because it feels so real.

Despite my massive to-read piles, I've ordered the next two books in the trilogy. I'll impatiently await their arrival.
Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Young Adult/Juvenile Reader, Fantasy
percyjacksonbazbox I actually started the year off reading this series. I have gone a very long time with out reading a book, and then I got at Barnes & Noble, so of course I was exposed to books every day. With this series, I had heard so much about it and my sister had read the first book. I borrowed it from her and read it fairly quickly. It is fast-paced, funny and entertaining. I proceed to go to work the next day and bought the rest of the series and the next series Heroes of Olympus. I read through those just as quickly. The last book however, The Last Olympian, I read in a single day. The action was more intense, the stacks were higher, I could not put it down. It was a good ending to a good series. For those who are fans of Harry Potter, I would highly recommend this book.

Jul. 10th, 2014

A page here and a page there, and after a while a book (or two) gets read.

So, at various times yesterday I finished reading two books:

First was an early Christopher Moore book, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove: a slight radiation leak from a nuclear power plant awakens a sea monster who comes ashore at Pine Grove and precipitates havoc. Fun read.

Then, Osprey Command #29: Ulysses S. Grant, an overview of primarily his military career, with a bit here and there of the rest of his life. It also goes into the history and background of several of his primary opponents. Pretty good read.

Hopefully, I'll get a lot of reading done in the next few days.

Book 61

The Better Part of Valor (Confederation, #2)The Better Part of Valor by Tanya Huff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I left reading SF thanks to the military Sf and this was a little militariatic but more about the characters than the flogging. Sadly when i got it from the library sale i didn't know it was book2. I like Tanya Huff so I read it. Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr told off a general and is now on a mission with a stupid attention seeking captain of a race new to the alliances they’re trying to promote. It should be easy help salvage captain Ryder brings in a strange yellow ship but it’s an unknown ship not from any known race. So Torin, or Staff as she’s usually called leads a new to her team of Marines along with the crappy captain and a team of scientists to check it out so Ryder can have it. Needless to say it goes wrong and their enemy shows up to boot leaving them stranded on an organic ship that can read their minds with the enemy there too.

I liked Torin, excellent strong female without being a bitch. But the story is slow to start, almost 150 pg before they get to the ship and stuff happens and nearly another 100 before the enemy appears. It’s a bit slow and the scenes could be very short as they bounced around the multiple povs.

Outside of Torin and Ryder, the other characters aren’t as well drawn as they could have been and there are many of them. The di’Taykan with their sex pheromones was the most memorable part. Over all, not my favorite Tanya Huff but it was still pretty good.

View all my reviews


Book #35: Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

The book's narrator, John Ridd, falls in love with the eponymous Lorna Doone. However, things are complicated by the fact that one of Lorna's family killed John's father, stirring up bad blood between the two families, resulting in a romance story that almost feels like Romeo and Juliet.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect of this book, imagining it to be a gothing, Jane Eyre-type story, but for a while (except for the killing of John's father), this felt like a more gentle story regarding John and Lornas' feelings for each other, that made me wonder if they would manage to have a future together.

As I got further into the book, it felt a bit more like an adventure story at times, as it portrayed John and Lorna fleeing from the Doones, and later on there were also some exciting depictions of battles, some between John and the Doones and also an account of John's involvement in a historical rebellion. Although at times I felt that it got a bit long-winded, with John going on about his feelings for what seemed like several pages at some points, I liked the fact that the book had several plot twists that I did not see coming, some shocking. I wasn't surprised to find that the drama was not over until the story's main villain (in this case the obnoxious Carver Doone) was finally dispatched with, and I found the book's final confrontation to be very satisfying.

Overall, I was glad that I read this book; it was very enjoyable and compelling enough to keep reading to the end.

Next book: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde


Although I haven't posted any book reviews since late January, there is a stack of work to be done, and there is now some time to get to it.  We'll get back to speed with an easy read. Book Review No. 3 is F. Beverly Kelley's Denver Brown and The Traveling Town.  It was de-accessioned from the Circus World Library and a bargain purchase for me at the recent circus model show.  Mr Kelley worked as a circus publicist and Broadway front-man. Denver Brown would be shelved in the youth or young adult collection in a library.  Young adult writing used to present gritty realities in a less direct manner.  Thus, if you want the seamier details of circus life, stick with Water for Elephants.  But Denver Brown makes it clear that the circus is a hard-knock life.  Its protagonist is a young man struggling in school who runs away with the circus.  But several people reinforce the idea that finishing school first is a wise move, even for a young person with sawdust in his hair.  And along the way, one learns a lot of the tricks of the animal-trainer's trade.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Jul. 8th, 2014

Before leaving for work yesterday, I got through another graphic novel, this one authored by Harlan Ellison, called 7 Against Chaos, which pits several human, demi-human and robot beings against an unknown force trying to change Earth's history. Of the books I've read so far this year, this wasn't the worst, but I'm afraid it was sort of ... ho-hum? I think that I have to blame the graphic novel format; I suspect that had I read this as an actual novel, it would have read better. Oh, well...

Books #16-17

16. Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen, 261 pages, Zombies, 2011 (Living With the Dead, Book 2).

Sarah and David’s marriage has never been so good; the zombie apocalypse really brought them together ever since their first zombie kill – their marriage therapist. In this book, they are spending the winter in Phoenix, Arizona, and have started up their own business – Zombiebusters Extermination Inc. In exchange for goods, especially food or medical supplies, they will kill your zombies. But there are rumors of special “bionic” zombies, zombies who can reason. But that isn’t as strange as the next client, a scientist who wants a live zombie to experiment with! Fun Zombie-Romantic-Comedy, and a quick read.

17. Eat Slay Love by Jesse Petersen, 279 pages, Zombies, 2011 (Living With the Dead, Book 3).

Sarah and David are heading towards the mythical Midwest Wall – a wall constructed to keep the threat of the zombie apocalypse from reaching the east coast of the U.S.A. They have a vial that just might be the cure, and they need to get it to some place that has electricity, and scientists, and an infrastructure capable of recreating and distributing it. But it isn’t easy to travel in a zombie apocalypse. Along the way, they meet up with a reporter (well, technically one of the paparazzi) and a drugged-out rock star. And the usual complements of cults, highwaymen, soldiers who aren’t receptive to news from their side of the wall, and zombies – lots of zombies. David changes some during this book, and it’s interesting to see the progression. Another quick read, lots of fun and a couple of thrills.


Book 60

Fairy Tail, Vol. 23 (Fairy Tail, #23)Fairy Tail, Vol. 23 by Hiro Mashima

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good- The three dragonslayer mages working together. Loved seeing Wendy, Gajeel and Natsu joining up, made for awesome results.

The not so good - The Exceed, sorry just didn't care about them. Mystogen and his rather convoluted and dumb plan

The bad - FT is descending into Bleach-like endless battle scenes including a few 2 page spreads. It feels so drawn out and it was boring me.

The plot is simple. this is the final battle to save Earth's FT guild members and to save the other world. Some was good but it dragged.

View all my reviews


Yesterday cannot last forever...

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

I received an advanced copy of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow has been getting considerable buzz, complete with a film option. It's a book classified as both cyberpunk and literary science fiction, and the latter was my immediate impression... but not necessarily in a good way. This book is very dense at the start, and it comes across in a pretentious, literary kind of way that reminded me of China Mieville in Embassytown. I imagine a lot of readers will give up in those first fifty pages. I stuck with it, though, and found the world-building evened out and the story pulled me in.

The whole concept of it is quite compelling: Pittsburgh was annihilated by a nuclear attack ten years before. John lost his wife and unborn baby in the attack (a cliche that makes me grimace), and is still caught in grief, drug-abuse, and severe depression. His day job is as an insurance investigator of deaths in the City, a massive virtual reality project that uses public and private footage of Pittsburgh to recreate the city as it was in the days leading up to and through the attack. Through it, he relives his best days with his wife, visits his old home, and pretends to be who he was once. That changes when a claim at work leads him to a young woman's body in a muddy river, and it seems she may not have died in the attack.

The book evolves into a serial killer murder mystery set against a cyberpunk world and post-apocalypse. The nature of the bad guys bugged me. I've read slush for a magazine, and Scheterlitsch sculpts his baddies as the extremist sort that is way, way, too common. One of the villains does offer a small surprise at the end, but otherwise they felt terribly cliche. There are also very graphic depictions of rape and assault.

The best villain in the book is John himself. His psychological battle, his need to truly live again. The science fiction elements are well-realized. The creation of the City and the brain's hard-wired access to the internet, feeds, and enhanced life reminded me of other books I've read recently (Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh, Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole) and likewise delve into gratuitous perversions of all sorts. The sad thing is... it has a ring of truth to it. The descriptions of Pittsburgh's demise also felt fully realized and accurate.

It's an uneven book that I ended up admiring because of its ambitiousness. If only the antagonists hadn't come across as cliches straight out of Law & Order SVU...!


Book 136: Searching for Arthur (The Return to Camelot #1).
Author: Donna Hosie, 2013.
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy. Arthurian Legend. Young Adult.
Other Details: ebook. 300 pages.

It is hard to make friends when you’re constantly on the move. Seventeen-year-old Natasha Roth’s father is a diplomat, and so her mother – who is paranoid about terrorists – has moved Natasha and her brother, Arthur, to their eighteenth house in seventeen years: Avalon Cottage, deep in the heart of a Welsh forest. Yet the terrorists are closer than they realize. While out running, Natasha falls into a hidden tomb and awakens the legendary knights of Camelot: young warriors who have been in an enchanted sleep for a thousand years. All have been waiting patiently for the return of Arthur from the mysterious land of Avalon. And now the knights are awake, they intend to reclaim their king.

When Arthur goes missing, Natasha joins forces with his girlfriend, “Slurpy” Samantha, in order to look for him. Natasha believes Samantha has fewer brain cells than an amoeba; Samantha believes Natasha is a freak. Retracing Natasha’s original steps to the hidden tomb, they bicker their way into a Welsh mountain and beyond, to the realm of Logres where the Knights of the Round Table are rallying once more.
- synopsis from author's blog.

I found myself enjoying this even though at times I wanted to throttle its narrator, Natasha, over her immature behaviour especially in regards of Sir Bedivere. Her jealousy was so infantile and kicking blokes in the goolies really is a very unattractive quality. Still, she also was extremely possessive of her brother as well, making for a lot of tension between her and his girlfriend, Samantha, who she dubs Slurpy Sammy. I will admit that Sir Bedivere is my favourite of the Arthurian knights and she just seemed unworthy of him. I could not see for the life of me why he was attracted to her. One might expect a diplomat's daughter to be less of a spoiled brat.

Yet despite Natasha I did feel that the author's heart was in the right place in terms of wanting to update the Arthurian legend for a new young adult readership. The fight scenes were well realised and quite brutal in places.

I have bought Book 2 in the series, which is a good indication that I enjoyed this to the point of wanting to see how things continue for Natasha , Arthur and the delightful Sammy, who seems to be taking her notions of evilness from studying episodes of 'Merlin' and then emulating Katie McGrath's Morgana.
Cats Sleep Anywhere, by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Anne Mortimer (reread)
So many paintings of kitties sleeping, so adorable.

One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva (advance reading copy)
This was awkward and clumsy and I often felt lectured - I was pretty disappointed because, you know, how many books about Armenian kids discovering they are really into someone of the same sex are there? This is the only one I know of, and I wanted it to be AMAZING, and it just wasn't quite all that. And yet, I slowly fell in love with the story as I became more and more fond of the main character, his friend, and his boyfriend. By the end I was really into it.
(121, A2, O28)

The Emperor's Edge, by Lindsey Buroker (nook)
Straightforward steampunk adventure with a fun side of spy/assassin stuff.

Fairest, vol. 2: The Hidden Kingdom, by Bill Willingham, Lauren Beukes et al; Fairest, vol. 3: The Return of the Maharaja, by Bill Willingham, Sean E. Williams et al
I liked the 2nd volume ever so much more than the 3rd (which was still a bit of alright) and I cannot decide whether the difference is that Lauren Beukes is far more to my taste as a writer than Sean E. Williams is, or whether it's that volume 2 really was about THE FEMALE CHARACTERS and volume 3, while purporting to have a heroine, was really all about Prince Charming. (Plus, dude, the "cad becomes an upright man due to the power of twoo wuv" plot? Way done. I'm oversimplifying a tiny bit, but not much. Too bad, because the side stuff was cool.) Either way, this series is still my favorite.
(123, 124)

Empress, by Karen Miller
OMG SO INTERMINABLE. But also so delicious. I felt overstuffed. Also I decided to not borrow or buy any more first books in fiction series (amazing most-beloved-already authors exempted as I see fit) until I catch up on them. Because this was one too many "wait, what about the rest of it???"s for me. I really want to read the rest of the trilogy, but decidedly NOT more than I want to read the rest of many other trilogies... and quartets... and 14-book monsters....

I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
This was so good that it took me until half way through the book to notice that it was written in present tense and even then I didn't mind. I wasn't quite satisfied with the ending but the rest of the book is, well, aces. (heh, couldn't resist.)

Full Contact: The Collection, by Daniel Kucan
I found many things about the narrator of this book frustrating, andbut I had to tear myself away every time I stopped reading it. Full of heart, full of insight, full of people whaling on each other, and the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts.
(127, A3)

Dead Neon, edited by Todd James Pierce and Jarret Keene
Speculative fiction about Las Vegas. It says "near-future" on the wrapper, but there was at least one far-future story, and a couple that felt like contemporary horror. Some stories were meh, some were "OMG THAT WAS SO GOOD I NEED TO ILL THE AUTHOR'S SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK AND HOPE UNLV LETS ME HAVE IT." Ok, that really only happened with one story, but there were at least 2 others that were just as delicious.

Ceres Storm, by David Herter
Science fiction, but heavy on the lyricism and introversion. An odd, poetic, fantastical book that I didn't entirely understand, but which I loved. And a surprisingly quick read.
Book 135: Unnatural Habits (Phryne Fisher #19).
Author: Kerry Greenwood, 2012.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1920s Australia. Crime Fiction. Mystery. GLBT themes.
Other Details: ebook. 249 pages/ Unabridged Audio (9 hours, 54 mins). Read by Stephanie Daniel.

1929: Girls are going missing in Melbourne. Little, pretty, golden haired girls. And not just pretty. Three of them are pregnant, poor girls from the harsh confines of the Magdalene Laundry. People are getting nervous. Polly Kettle, a pushy, self important Girl Reporter with ambition and no sense of self preservation, decides to investigate and promptly goes missing herself. It’s time for Phryne and Dot to put a stop to this and find Polly Kettle before something quite irreparable happens to all of them. It’s all piracy and dark cellars, convents and plots, murder and mystery …. and Phryne finally finds out if it’s true that blondes have more fun. - synopsis from Poisoned Pen Press website.

This proved to be another winner in this constantly excellent series. Still unlike many in the series I cannot class it as a 'cosy mystery' given that the plot involved the kidnapping of young girls for nefarious ends as well as the horrific conditions inside the Magdalene Laundry, a place that did actually exist. This part of the story obviously upset Kerry Greenwood as they do her fictional detective. It forms part of the social aspects of the story and proves a powerful condemnation of the attitudes of the time. In her author's notes Greenwood supplies some on-line sources of testimonies about the Laundry. Apparently two of the brothels that appear in the story also did exist, including the wonderfully named Blue Cat Club, which was part of the very secretive gay subculture of the day.

I am continuing my practice of listening to the series on audio and also reading the ebook edition at the end of the week. I have found that there are always a few lines swallowed up when driving, especially in this weather when windows are wound down due to heat. I note that Phryne seems to be now calling her rag-taggle group of friends, companions, and her adopted children as her minions. I find it amusing and keep thinking of the minions of Despicable Me.

#68: Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Amara is never alone. Not when she's protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they're fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she's punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can't be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.

This is a deep sort of YA novel that could have so easily been confusing or contrived, but in Duyvis's deft hands, it's a thing of beauty. The two parallel stories are distinct: Nolan would be a typical American boy if not for the so-called seizures he has dealt with on a daily basis since age 5. The truth is that when he blinks, he sees through Amara's eyes and experiences a world of magic far different from Earth. The thing that intrigued me is that both story lines are very intense, though Amara's is where the real action occurs--she's a servant to a cursed princess in exile. Nolan also suffers in his own way, especially as their stories converge near the end.

I appreciated how sexuality is handled within the book, too. Nolan can't help but see what Amara experiences. Her bisexuality isn't an issue within the book at all--it is what it is, and doesn't stand out in her culture.

There's a reason why there is so much buzz about this book. I will happily be passing my copy along to my teenaged niece.

#67: Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

Call of Duty meets Diablo in this fast-paced, action-packed novel from the author of The Wasteland Saga.

Gamer PerfectQuestion fights for ColaCorp in WarWorld, an online combat sport arena where mega-corporations field entire armies in the battle for real world global advertising-space dominance. Within the immense virtual battlefield, players and bots are high-tech grunts, using drop-ships and state-of-the-art weaponry to wipe each other out.

But times are tough and the rent is due, and when players need extra dough, there’s always the Black, an illegal open source tournament where the sick and twisted desires of the future are given free rein in the Westhavens, a gothic dungeon fantasy world.

And all too soon, the real and virtual worlds collide when PerfectQuestion refuses to become the tool of a mad man intent on hacking the global economy for himself.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, who is also my publisher.

The pitch for this book is, "Call of Duty Meets Diablo," and that's apt. It's a future Earth where Mars is colonized and sky cities hover over Earth's landmass, and gaming has ascended to a whole new level. PerfectQuestion is a pro gamer in a Call of Duty-like game where major advertising rights are at stake. He's chivalrous and just. Even so, he's also pulled into an illegal fantasy game where he feels like the lone good guy amidst a virtual society where others lie out their fantasies and perversions. The two virtual lives run parallel to reality, where his girlfriend has just walked out, his lease is due, and he drinks more scotch than water. It's never said outright, but it's evident that his life of virtual warfare has him struggling with PTSD.

It's a fast-paced read with constant action in all three of his lives. The science fiction elements are present but light; really, it feels like the story reflects on how human behavior is embodied in gaming, both the good and the bad. I loved the heck out of it. I'm an old school RPG-gamer. The gaming notes hit just right. I loved following a hero who truly was in the mold of a samurai or paladin, though flawed and human; he truly has the best of intentions.
The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient earthly gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner before they do. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth that lives in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.

This dark and intense fantasy western follows two men across a border and into a heap of trouble. The most sympathetic of the men is Elim Appaloosa, a thoughtful man with the mottled markings of a "half." As such, he's a lesser man in society, regarded as a source of disease and disgust and likely a slave as well. His partner is Sil Halfwick, a young overly-white northman who's on his first journey to sell horses and wants to prove himself—and damn Elim and anyone else who stands in his way.

This is one of those books where you have a bad feeling about everything that will befall the characters and it almost hurts to read onward. I loved Elim. He's a fantastic character—good-hearted, a bit slow-witted, with a special fondness for horses--caught in horrid circumstances. Sil is the sort you love to hate, but even he doesn't deserve the things he endures, though he's certainly at fault. Crossing the border to Sixes brings them into a whole mishmash of societal warfare. The viewpoints increase as the story continues, and the motivations of the residents vary wildly. I read it as an ebook ARC and at times I wishes I had a guide to help me keep the characters straight; it turned out there was a guide, but it was at the back, so I think the paper version would have helped to alleviate some confusion on my part.

Thompson ends the book on a note that definitely reminds you that this is a series. With Elim's fate still very much on the line, I can't help but be eager to read onward.

Jul. 6th, 2014

While waiting for our show to start at Anime Expo, I finished reading a couple of graphic novels. Seemed like the right place to read such things...

Anyway, first was Before Watchmen: Ozymandius * Crimson Corsair; in this prequel to Watchmen, Ozymandius is a self-absorbed sociopath with delusions of grandeur, and even in the original book I found the pirate material uncomfortable; this was even more so. It was a fair spinoff at best.

Next was Usagi Yojimbo Volume 28: The Red Scorpion; I've enjoyed this series for most of its thirty years and this one is as good as they've all been. The quality has kept up the whole time. Forward by George Takei, if that's something that would amuse you.
An adventure featuring a non-existent twin who exists, and a fugitive atomic bomb that also doesn't exist--but weighs three megatons and is fairly difficult to hide. The protagonist is Nombeko, who at the start of the novel is fourteen and cleaning latrines in Soweto. It is the seventies, and apartheid is the social, political and economic reality that rules Nombeko’s life, and yet she makes the best of the situation, and ultimately saves the world. With Nombeko we travel from 1970's South Africa to 21st century Sweden.

Jonasson has created a captivating group of characters as well as an engaging plot that made this an entertaining and easy read. Nombeko is a self-taught mathematical genius who lives by her wits and cunning. Then there are the twins in Sweden, Holger One and Holger Two, only one of whom official exists. For reasons known only to himself when the twins are born their father decides only to register one of them. .The twins are born to a fanatical republican who is determined to eradicate the monarchy, a belief that Holger One learns to share. Of course our twins and Nombeko cross paths.

One of the best parts of the novel is when Nombeko is forced into indentured servitude. She is run over by the drunk and moronic engineer, Westhuizen, in Johannesburg after a long journey on foot from Soweto (she was hoping to make it to the National Library of Pretoria). The judge decided in favour of the engineer, a man who only graduated as an engineer due to nepotism and cheating. Obviously he is the perfect man to be in charge of South Africa’s nuclear weapons program. Due to his stupidity and constant drunkenness, and Nombeko’s mathematical brilliance she becomes his right hand man. They can get away with this because she is black and the cleaning woman and therefore ignored by all the politicians and the other engineers. Also featured in this part of the story are two Mossad agents, three Chinese sisters and various politicians.
Book 134: Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas #1).
Author: Charlaine Harris, 2014.
Genre: Supernatural Mystery. Witchcraft. Vampires.
Other Details: Hardback. 305 pages.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It's a pretty standard dried-up western town. There's a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There's a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there's new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he's found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own). Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth . . . - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I felt that this was a promising start to a new supernatural trilogy from Ms. Harris with a host of eccentric characters and an intriguing mystery. In addition, she has taken the step of bringing together some minor characters from her earlier series in a world in which vampires and the two-natured exist. It was a bold move that I applauded though I expect that some might not like this blending of what previously had been separate worlds and indeed separate genres.

Along with psychic Manfred Bernardo, who appeared in the Harper Connelly series, there is pawn shop owner Bobo Winthrop, who appeared in the Lily Bard series. I had thought that Harris had not brought in anyone from the Aurora Teagarden series until near the end when Sheriff Arthur Smith mentions that he had once been part of a club that looked into cold cases. So I looked him up and saw that he had been a former boyfriend of Aurora Teagarden. Although no characters from the Sookie Stackhouse series appear, at least not in this first novel, that characters seem not to be all that bothered by the presence of vampires and synthetic blood is mentioned was an indicator that this is the same supernatural influenced world that Sookie inhabited.

There were also plenty of new characters introduced including the delightful witch Fiji and her adorable cat, Mr. Snuggly. These two were my favourites along with the mysterious Olivia, whom I hope to learn more about in subsequent novels. Harris continues to explore themes of intolerance that are clearly important to her. Here a group of white supremacists that featured in the Lily Bard series return to haunt Bobo.

I read this in a single sitting and certainly will be looking forward to further books in this trilogy. It also reminded me that although I have read the Harper Connelly books that I do want to read the earlier Lily Bard and Aurora Teagarden series.

Book Report #3: The Fault in Our Stars

'Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.'

Such is our introduction to Hazel Grace Lancaster, a witty teen with terminal cancer. But this isn't a book about cancer. Regardless of the fact that Hazel isn't in immediate danger of dying, many writers would make the illness the focus of the story. But that isn't the novel that John Green wrote.

"The Fault in Our Stars" is the story of Hazel and Augustus Waters, as similarly witty young man who quickly takes to "Hazel Grace". It's a bittersweet story of first love between star-crossed lovers. A story of being not young and dying, but young and alive. A story of the wounds and wonders of life.

And I liked it very, very much. (Obviously.)
Book 132: Cockroaches (Harry Hole #2).
Author: Jo Nesbø, 1998. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, 2013.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Police Procedural. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Hardback. 388 pages.

Detective Harry Hole arrives in a steaming hot Bangkok.The Norwegian ambassador has been found dead in a seedy motel room, and Harry has been sent to investigate. It’s clear that the Ambassador’s family are hiding some secrets of their own, but few people are willing to talk. He needs to solve a crime and avoid a scandal. When Harry lays hands on some incriminating CCTV footage, things only get more complicated. The man who gave him the tape goes missing, and Harry realises that failing to solve a murder case is by no means the only danger that faces the unwary. But in an unfamiliar city, who can you trust? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

After a long wait the second book featuring Oslo Detective Harry Hole has been translated into English. As with The Bat the case takes place outside of Norway. The Thailand setting was vividly realised and overall this proved a complex and interesting mystery.

I enjoyed it very much and it made me want to re-read the next few in the series even though I am a little behind in the Harry Hole series and have so many on my TBR mountain.

Book 133: The Black Path (Rebecka Martinsson #3).
Author: Åsa Larsson, 2006. Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, 2008.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Police Procedural. Nordic Noir.
Other Details: Paperback. 384 pages.

A woman’s body is found on a frozen lake, bearing the marks of grisly torture. Inspector Anna-Maria Mella knows she needs help with the case – the woman was a key player in a mining company whose tentacles reach across the globe. Lawyer Rebecka Martinsson is desperate to get back to work, to feel alive again after a case that almost destroyed her both physically and emotionally. Soon she is delving into the affairs of the victim’s boss, the founder of Kallis Mining, whose relationship with the dead woman was complex and obsessive. Martinsson and Mella are about to uncover a dark and tangled drama of family secrets, twisted sexuality, and corruption on a massive scale. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was certainly not a typical work of crime fiction - even for Scandinavian crime fiction. There is a great deal of personal history explored in flashback of the murder victim, her family and of her business partner. This slowly reveals an extremely dark and complex tapestry of motive for her murder. Indeed, in some ways Martinsson and Mella are almost supporting characters though there is some investigation.

The last few scenes were truly shocking and quite brutal leaving me biting my nails as events played out. There were also a few questions left unanswered. It may be that these will be addressed in Book 4 if Rebecka does any reflection on recent events or she encounters Mella again.

Books 21 & 22 - 2012

Book 21: Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman – 274 pages

Description from
He smiles. "Hello." It's a deep voice. I can feel it reverberate in my chest and echo all the way down to my toes. I know I should leave, but I don't want to. I want to keep my senses like this forever. I'm all eye, all ear, all skin. Persephone lives in the most gorgeous place in the world. But her mother's a goddess, as overprotective as she is powerful. Paradise has become a trap. Just when Persephone feels there's no chance of escaping the life that's been planned for her, a mysterious stranger arrives. A stranger who promises something more--something dangerous and exciting--something that spurs Persephone to make a daring choice. A choice that could destroy all she's come to love, even the earth itself. In a land where a singing river can make you forget your very name, Persephone is forced to discover who--and what--she really is.

Of all the Greek myths, the story of Persephone and Hades is my favorite. Persephone is my favourite Goddess, because she is the balance of light and dark – Goddess of Spring, Queen of the Underworld. She is the personification of duality. I seek out retellings and analyses of the Persephone/Hades myth like most people read crime novels. This is another of these – a young adult version. Of course, as in most retellings, the plot is romantic – Persephone’s mother Demeter is overprotective of her daughter, and then along comes a mysterious man who promises Persephone adventure and she takes it. My main problem with this retelling is that Persephone felt very young, and Hades felt very old (not like old man old, but like a forty year old seeking out a teenager), and it made the romantic aspect of the story feel lecherous and slightly inappropriate. Perhaps if the book hadn’t been aiming to being romantic, but was aiming for the ‘kidnapped and raped’ version of the story, it would have worked better. It was still an okay read particularly for a young adult novel, with more of a plot than a number of other retellings I’ve read, but it would have been better without the slight creep factor.

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

7371 / 15000 pages. 49% done!

Book 22: Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House: Official Souvenir Guide by John Martin Robinson – 56 pages

Description from
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, built by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary dolls’ houses in the world. Standing over 2 meters (or 7 feet) high, it is a perfect replica of an Edwardian private residence of the grandest possible design, complete with Saloon, Library, Dining Room, private apartments, servants’ rooms, kitchen, wine cellar, and garage full of vintage miniature limousines—plus working lifts, running water and electric light. Every room is fully furnished with miniature replicas of the contents of a real Edwardian house—from the kitchen, with its copper pans and kettles, to the Saloon, with its tiny full-length state portraits. The wine bottles in the cellar each contain less than a thimbleful of vintage wine, the linen cupboard has a full complement of miniature sheets and tablecloths, and in the Strong Room minute replicas of the Crown Jewels are on display. It also has an art collection, by all the leading painters of the day, including Sir William Nicholson; and extraordinary Library, with miniature volumes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton, among others, and as the final touch, a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

When I lived in England I did a lot of travelling to all the tourist hot spots. One of the places I went was Windsor Castle. At Windsor Castle, the home of the British Queen (and my Queen, being an Aussie!), one can see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a magnificent dolls house created in the 1920s. I saw it while I was there, and it is truly extraordinary, with a million little intricate details that make it much more than a dolls’ house and instead something akin to a small functioning home for Thumblina people. This souvenir book takes one through the house’s creation and through the structure itself and many of the fascinating details. An interesting read for anyone who is interested in the British Royal Family or dolls’ house or exceptional feats of carpentry!

22 / 50 books. 44% done!

7427 / 15000 pages. 50% done!

Currently reading:
-        The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – 509 pages
-        The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of the Iliad by Caroline Alexander – 277 pages
-        Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan – 326 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Books 18-21

I’ve gotten woefully behind on my reading and even more behind on my posts, so here’s a quick catch-up entry.
18.   Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – this was the June selection for my book club, and it elicited much discussion even though about half our members were away on vacation or end-of-school activities. Sarah is a young Jewish girl living in Paris in 1942, when her family is arrested and taken to a local arena for holding. Before leaving, she locks her younger brother in a cabinet, thinking she will be back in a few hours to release him. Her story is interwoven with that of Julia, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, living in Paris in 2002. Her editor assigns her to write an article about the upcoming anniversary commemoration of the event, and during her research she uncovers a family connection to Sarah’s life and also begins to question many aspects of her own life. Although some characters are a little one-dimensional and the plot sometimes relies too much on coincidences, this is a heart breaking and fascinating story that explores a little known situation in France during World War II.
19.   Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline – this was the May selection for my book club, but due to availability issues I didn’t read it until after we’d met. In spite of the inevitable spoilers from that scenario, I enjoyed this book. It’s another story that’s told with dual timelines in the past and present. Vivian is an elderly woman who employs Molly, a troubled teenager about to age out of the foster system, to help her clean out her attic and get her affairs in order. In the process we learn about Vivian’s history as a young girl who rode the “orphan train” from New York City to the Midwest in hopes of being adopted into a new family after her parents and sister are killed in a fire. Inevitably, despite their surface differences, the two bond over their similar biographies. This is an ambitious novel that for the most part seems to hit its mark.
20.   Insurgent by Veronica Roth – the second in the “Divergent” trilogy. There’s very little exposition at the opening of this book, so it doesn’t stand alone very well. It does move the story along considerably, however. I deliberately waited until I’d seen the first movie before moving onto the second book, and I’ll wait for the next movie before tackling the last book; however, I’m definitely looking forward to finding out how the story arc ends. In this installment, Tris and Four team up with old associates and also meet some new players in the city, as they try to find out just what the Erudite leader has planned and protect their friends from her machinations. We learn more about the faction system as well as hints about the overall milieu in which this system was created in the first place. On balance I don’t like this series quite as much as “Hunger Games” – and I can see some definite parallels – but I will reserve judgment until such time as I’ve completed the whole trilogy.
21.   The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – another glaring hole in my mystery reading that has now been filled thanks to Amazon’s list of 100 mysteries/thrillers. On the other hand, this is not at all strictly a mystery or crime story. It’s more of a collection of vignettes with the loose through-line of a few puzzles that the protagonist (a Botswanese woman named Precious Ramotswe) solves by way of common sense, keen observation, intrepid sleuthing, and just plain nosiness. Since this is the first book in a series, we also learn a great deal about her childhood, her father, and especially her home in Botswana. She is a delightful main character, and I look forward to continuing the adventure with her as the series progresses.

Book #1 Turn Right At Machu Picchu

Title: Turn Right At Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
Author: Mark Adams
Genre: Travel
turn right at machu picchuRecently I've been going through what I would call a "Mid-20s Crissis." I have never left my own country (just got my passport this year) and I have a bucket-list a mile long. This book was a huge help on that front.
  Mark Adams was an editor for Adventure Magazine and wanted to travel to the places he read about. It started with an obsession with Hiram Bingham III, the man who rediscovered Machu Picchu. Adams decided to retrace the path Bingham took on his famous 1911 exploration.
  The book is written as a travel narrative and a historical one, chapters interchanging from the story of Bingham and Adams' travels. The book was very entertaining and engaging. The book is written almost like Adams is talking to you, a conversation between author and reader. For those who like travel and adventure, I would highly recommend this book.

Jul. 4th, 2014

I'm re-reading Redwall, by Brian Jacques, at the moment, so I guess for the purposes of this community? It counts as Book #1 :)

Book 1: Redwall
Author: Brian Jacques, 1986
Genre: Children's Fantasy. Adventure.

Other Details: 351 pages (US Hardback Edition).

Redwall Abbey is a place of peace, where the young mouse Matthias lives with the other mice of the Redwall order. They spend their days fishing, farming, gathering, and eating the most sumptuous feasts - and generally being peaceable, caring friends to the creatures who live in the woodlands surrounding the Abbey. The squirrels, the moles, the otters, shrews, hares and badgers are among those creatures who call themselves friend.

But Cluny is coming!

Cluny the Scourge is the stuff of nightmares. Mothers use Cluny as a sort of boogeyman, to scare their youngsters back into line. No one really believed that he was anything but a spooky tale, until he and his horde of rats, stoats and weasels banged on the doors of the abbey. They didn't want sanctuary, they wanted to conquer, to steal and to kill if necessary.

It's up to Matthias, young and untested as he is, to channel the spirit of Martin the Warrior, locate his long missing sword, and lead the Redwall creatures to victory over the evil Cluny.

I really loved these books when I first read them as a child, and I'm loving them the second time around. Jacques originally wrote them for his students at a school for the blind - because the children obviously couldn't look at the pictures in the books he read them, he wanted to write something that would stir their imaginations. In this he definitely succeeded.

The descriptions of the feasts are detailed enough that you can almost taste the (almost entirely) vegetarian dishes. You can picture the lush greenness of the woodlands, the rush of the rivers and the warm, welcoming sandstone walls of the Abbey. The recounting of the epic battles makes you feel like you are there, watching with your heart in your throat as you become every bit invested in the outcome as the creatures actually fighting!

If you like fantasy stories, epic adventures, and animals (and you don't mind the absence of a single human character), you stand a good chance of liking these books just as much as I do.

Books 99-104 for 2014

99. A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey. 246 pages.

Classic detective story. Good, but not outstanding. Somewhat reminiscent of Margery Allingham in places.

100. Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik. 259 pages.

I love this series, but this latest book was something of a disappointment.

This felt as though it was the outlines for three separate novels, with the action scenes fleshed out and not much else. What was there was good, but it felt as though great swathes had been left out. Not up to the usual standard at all, sad to report.

101. Dead Spots by Melissa F. Olsen. 254 pages.

This book uses a similar idea to that on which Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series is based - a person who has the ability to nullify the power of vampires and werewolves - but it goes in a rather different and more serious direction with it.

Scarlett Bernard is a null - being in her radius of influence turns supernatural beings temporarily human again, which makes her useful to the leaders of the various supernatural groups. When Scarlett meets policeman Jesse at a particularly vicious crime scene, both their lives are in great danger.

Nice plotting and worldbuilding plus sympathetic and interesting characters. I bought the sequel as soon as I finished it.

102. Room With a Clue by Kate Kingsbury. 169 pages.

I’m getting a tad fed up with authors who set their books in the Victorian/Edwardian period in England and then have their characters using modern American phrases. Do your research, people! Or if you can’t be bothered to do that, set your book in a time and place where people actually do speak like that.

Kingsbury has less excuse than most, having been born in England and moved to the US later.

The plot was reasonably Ok, but I kept getting jarred out of the book by the anachronistic language. I shan’t be in any hurry to read more of this series.

103. Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland. 226 pages.

Now that’s rather more like it! Antiques dealer Josie Prescott is implicated when a rich client is found murdered and goes to work to clear her name.

A much better effort and this series I will be looking to read more of.

104. The Penguin Who Knew Too Much by Donna Andrews. 228 pages.

Another outing for Meg Langslow and her demented pack of relatives. Not really remotely plausible, but so much fun it doesn’t matter :)

This time Meg and fiance Michael have a literal zoo descend upon them, rather than the figurative one they usually have to deal with….

Book 131: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Book 131: Cat Out of Hell.
Author: Lynne Truss, 2014.
Genre: Black Comedy. Horror. Magical Realism.

Other Details: Hardback. 240 pages. Unabridged Audio (5 hours, 13 mins) Read by Mike Grady.

The scene: a cottage on the coast on a windy evening. Inside, a room with curtains drawn. Tea has just been made. A kettle still steams. Under a pool of yellow light, two figures face each other across a kitchen table. A man and a cat.

The story about to be related is so unusual yet so terrifyingly plausible that it demands to be told in a single sitting. The man clears his throat, and leans forward, expectant. 'Shall we begin?' says the cat ...
- synopsis from author's website.

I totally adored this short novel even though in it cats are cast as minions of the Devil. After all this is a horror novel, produced under the Hammer Horror imprint, even if a comic one .However, over time the ability of cats to do evil has diminished. As one character reflects: "They get all the best seats in the house, they have food and warmth and affection. Everything is on their terms, not ours. They come and go as they please. Why aren’t they permanently ecstatic? Well, now it’s explained. It’s because they’re conscious of having lost their ability to do serious evil, and they feel bloody humiliated."

Whether someone loves cats, as I do, or hates and mistrusts them this novel has a lot to recommend it. There are also quite a few Sherlock Holmes references given that retired librarian Alex has a beloved dog that he and his late wife have named Watson in tribute. The presence of a talking cat as well as a giant black cat reminded me of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and I noted that this modern classic of Russian literature had been mentioned by a number of newspaper reviews for Cat Out of Hell.

It's pure fun while still keeping with the tropes of horror fiction with plenty of charm and wit. I loved it enough to both read the print edition and also listen to its audio release. It was adapted by BBC Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime in March 2014.



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