Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Bellingham Bloodbath

Author: Gregory Harris
Genre: Historical Mystery
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Series: #2 in the Colin Pendragon mystery series
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Published: August 26, 2014
First Line: "One of Her Majesty's coaches was waiting to whisk us off to Buckingham Palace."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter a captain in Her Majesty's Guard and his young wife are brutally murdered in their flat, master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Major Hampstead demands discretion at all costs to preserve the reputation of the Guard and insists Pendragon participate in the cover-up by misleading the press. In response, Pendragon makes the bold claim that he will solve the case in no more than three days' time or he will oblige the major and compromise himself.

Racing against the clock - and thwarted at every turn by their Scotland Yard nemesis Inspector Emmett Varcoe - Pendragon and Pruitt begin to assemble the clues around the grisly homicide, probing into private lives and uncovering closely guarded secrets. As the minutes tick away, the pressure - and the danger - mounts as Pendragon's integrity is on the line and a cold-blooded killer remains on the streets.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I really enjoyed reading The Arnifour Affair, the first book in this series back in December 2013. So when I saw that Gregory Harris had a second book in this series out I jumped at the chance to read it.  I do love me a Victorian mystery with unique characters.

Unfortunately, I felt that this book suffered a little from the sophomoric blues and I didn't find it nearly as riveting.  Even though there is a definite time crunch for the duo to solve the crimes, it lacked suspense and I really missed the humour between the men and Mrs Behmoth.  She was a breath of fresh air in the first book as she put the men in their place.  And while she was in The Bellingham Bloodbath she was a very tertiary character and I missed her.

By this second book in the series I was hoping to get a deeper look into the characters, their relationships and how they solve the crimes.  I still like how Colin and Ethan's relationship is written in a very casual way since the novelty of the relationship has worn off by the second book.  That said, I was hoping for a better look into their relationship and their pasts. The reader gets a glimpse into Ethan's past but Colin is still very much a mystery.

What I do know about Colin Pendragon is that he continues to have a very strong Sherlock Holmes vibe to him.  He is moody, brooding, self-centred, brilliant and yes, very arrogant.  Without getting a chance to see more of Colin's inner workings I fear that he will begin to be (if not already) just a Sherlock cliché.  I continue to have a weak understanding about how Colin deduces whodunit or even how he feels about situations and people.  Instead his thought processes were replaced with scenes where he was either off pumping iron or doing push-ups while he figured out the mystery.  As a reader, I prefer to see how the sleuth comes to his or her predictions and ultimately solves the case.  In this book the reader is supposed to just assume that Colin knows what he's doing and that didn't sit well with me.

Ethan's character came off as much more of a petty doormat not wanting to disrupt the brilliance that is Colin even though he came up with some great tips on his own.  And their 'spat' seemed petty and didn't endear either of them to me or give me insight into their relationship (if that's what Harris was going for).

As in the first book there are two mysteries that Colin and Ethan are trying to solve.  While there was enough momentum to keep me reading I can't help but feel that the mysteries weren't as dynamic this time around.  And while I did find the overall theme of tolerance to be a good message the character development and suspense weren't as gripping or enlightening as I was hoping. 

With this review it sounds like I didn't like this book but I did.  I guess I was just hoping for more.  In the end I thought that this was a quick and easy read and while I didn't love it as much as The Arnifour Affair it is still a decent follow up.  I'm hoping that in the future books of the series the author will take the time to help the reader understand the enigma that is Colin Pendragon.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Lemon Basil Pesto

For my new followers, you'll begin to see that lemon and basil are some of the ingredients that will make appearances quite often here on my blog.  Because I do so luuurve them.  There's just something fresh and amazing about those two flavours and when you combine them?  Blam!  Gastronomical nirvana. 

If you're lucky, your basil plant is doing well this summer.  I'm not in that group of rare people (my plant looks pathetic this year) but I did manage to have a hearty crop last year.  Yup.  This is an old recipe (and pictures) from last year that I've been holding out on.

You'll forgive me when you quickly whip this nut-free pesto up in your kitchens.  I love it over a log of goat cheese but put a bit with some hot pasta and grilled veggies and man-oh-man it is really good!

This pesto (as well as my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto) don't contain pine nuts.  This is due to severe peanut allergies in our family. Since pine nuts are closely related, and there's a high risk of reaction, we just leave them out. Pesto is amazing but not so amazing that you want to stab someone with an Epi-pen and take a trip to the hospital for a couple of days.  So really, this 'pesto' is more of a 'pistou' (nut-free pesto) but for the sake of clarity I'm calling it a pesto.
This recipe makes a fair bit and in order to have a taste of summer on those dreary winter days (or to help with fresh basil shortages!) I like to freeze this pesto.  You can use ice cube trays or a melon baller and place the balls on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Freeze for a few hours then place the cubes/balls of pesto into a Ziploc freezer bag and voila!  Garden fresh pesto whenever you want it!
Here's hoping that this hot summer weather stays with us for a bit more.  Maybe it will put some life into my wee basil plant so I can whip up some pesto for this upcoming winter!  Enjoy!
Lemon Basil Pesto
3 cups fresh basil leaves, stems removed
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (the bottled 'lemon juice' will not do!)
2/3 cup olive or grapeseed oil

Place basil leaves, garlic, Parmesan and lemon juice in a food processor.  Blend while slowly pouring the olive oil into the food processor as it's running.  Process until smooth or the consistency you'd like.

Use immediately, refrigerate for a couple of days or freeze as per the instructions above. 

Uses: over fresh pasta with grilled veggies, over a log of cream or goat cheese to serve with crackers, spread thinly on Panini sandwiches, put inside chicken breasts with brie cheese ...

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Ava and Pip

Author: Carol Weston
Genre: Children's
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jaberwocky
First Published: March 2014
First Line: "Dear New Diary, You won't believe what I just found out."

Book Description from GoodReadsAn endearing tween story about friendship, family, identity, and inspiration

Outgoing Ava loves her older sister, Pip, but can't understand why Pip is so reserved and never seems to make friends with others. When Ava uses her writing talents to help her sister overcome her shyness, both girls learn the impact their words and stories can have on the world around them.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Sourcebooks Jaberwocky and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: I have to admit that I very rarely read (let alone review) children's literature.  I'm not talking about Harry Potter or Percy Jackson but books for younger kids -- tweens and younger.  That age group just hasn't been on my radar as a book reviewer.  But as I try to get my almost eleven year old daughter into reading I thought reading and reviewing a book that looked like it would be her 'cuppa tea' would be a great way to encourage her.  The fact that Missy Moo is an introvert like her dear old ma and one of the main characters, Pip, is also an introvert was icing on the proverbial cake.

Going into this book I was assuming it was going to focus on the younger tween reader, grades 3-5, because the cover is really cute and oh-so-pink.  Ava (the main character and narrator) feels like a subdued Ramona (from Ramona and Beezus fame) which is also why I thought it would be for pre-teen girls.  But it also deals with Pip and the social issues she deals with as an introverted teen so in the end I'm not quite sure what age group this is aimed at. 

While this was a sweet book I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of the much used word games that Ava seemed to play throughout the book, specifically palindromes.  Ava and Pip's quirky parents love word games and their daughters love to look for palindromes in their day to day lives.  It's a cute idea but after more than a handful of palindrome examples I had had enough.  Perhaps they just felt out of place because I cannot imagine my daughter willingly throwing palindromes back and forth with her brothers or friends.  The story seemed to be peppered with them and, honestly I think it took the focus off the plot too much.

The relationships between the characters, specifically Pip and Ava as well as Ava and her mother were touching and felt authentic.  It was great to see how the sisters (and their friend) band together to help Pip with her awkwardness but the introvert in me (especially after recently reading and reviewing a book specifically on introversion) didn't like the fact that Pip's introversion was something negative within Pip that she had to change in order to be successful socially.

Ava and Pip, while being a light read, also deals with many childhood issues including bullying, social groups and even feeling invisible within your own family.  I liked how the author focuses on one lesser known form of bullying.  I'm not even sure if bullying is the right term because it's not the 'in your face' kind of bullying, whether it be physical or verbal, but the bullying that happens by not thinking through our words or actions and hurting someone in the process.  I think that focusing on this kind of behaviour will help kids to think more of what they say and instill some empathy for others.

Overall, this was a cute book that focuses on the relationship between sisters and mothers.  It has a good overall moral message and I'd suggest that this book would be a good fit for older tween girls.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Friday, 15 August 2014

We Are Not Ourselves

Author: Matthew Thomas
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Published: August 19, 2014
First Line: "His father was watching the line in the water."

Book Description from GoodReadsBorn in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Lately I've been on a search to find a great sweeping saga of a read - one that spans a couple of generations and has a lot of drama.  So when I read the description of this book on NetGalley it seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

This book was described as 'epic in scope' so I suppose I was expecting much more of a intergenerational family saga with lots of energy, familial turmoil, engaging storylines and characters that I could root for.  Unfortunately, this book wasn't what I expected and I had a hard time staying interested.

I admit that certain scenes were touching but overall the book felt excessively long and lagged most of the way.  I think We Are Not Ourselves focuses so much attention on character development and relationships that the plot and energy waned and got bogged down in small, daily life details.

It didn't help that Eileen wasn't a character that I clicked with at all.  She comes off as self-centred and always on the hunt for the 'things' that will make her happy.  She was extremely superficial and I didn't connect with her at all.  I'm still not exactly sure why Eileen's xenophobia was brought into the storyline either.  It didn't seem to give me a better insight into her and made me like her even less than I already did.

Towards the end of this book I was still holding out hope that the author would divulge some big, monumental secret.  Some family skeletons that were going to turn things around and give this book some oomph.  Unfortunately that big reveal never came.  I will say that I found this book, at times, quite touching and emotional due to personal connections that I have with one of the major issues in this book. 

I truly wanted to like this book (and my feelings are in the minority with many other reviewers).  But while I found this book to be well written unfortunately it was just too slow moving and I wasn't fond of the characters or its unrelenting melancholy.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

Author: Susan Cain
Read by: Kathe Mazur
Genre: Self-Help, Non-Fiction
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House Audio
First Published: January 2012
First Line: "Montgomery, Alabama."

Book Description from GoodReads:  At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.

My Review:  As I enter my 40's I'm starting to 'get' myself more.  Accept me for me.  One of the main things that I've learned about myself is that I'm an introvert. That's no big shock to me or to my family and friends (I don't think anyway).  That doesn't mean that I'm ultra shy (although I can be quiet and sometimes was thought of as a snob when I just didn't have much to say).  I have a healthy sense of humour and will share it with people when I feel comfortable with them.  I much prefer to socialize in small groups and really get anxious when I think about going into a huge group, especially full of people I don't know well.  While I can't claim to having 500+ friends on Facebook, the friends that I have I keep close and have many friendships last for several decades.

Okay, enough background on me.  Because of this revelation of myself, when I saw this book on my friend Nicole's GoodReads feed I knew I wanted to read it.  I wanted to validate some of my feelings of being an introvert and maybe have someone tell me the positives about being more of a quiet person.

The main thing that I took away from this book was that it's okay for me to not be an extrovert.  We get so many messages on a daily basis (school, work, media) that an outgoing personality means success, more friends and is generally more valued than introversion.  It was nice to hear that it takes all kinds of personalities to make the world go round.

I also loved getting the validation that some of my anxious feelings in large groups may stem from the fact that I'm just not necessarily wired to like that kind of thing and that my feelings aren't a social deficiency within me.  Quiet also helped me to see the introversion in my own kids (and husband) and that I need to stop pushing so much to get my kids to be outgoing because that's what I've been told (by society and others) that they should be doing.  My new plan is to let them be who they are but still encourage them to live life to the fullest ... in their own, unique ways.

While this book had some great validation and descriptions of introversion in the beginning and end of the book I will admit to skimming through the middle.  The middle felt like the author was focusing too much on extroversion with only little comments to show the benefits of being an introvert.

Overall, the benefits at the beginning and end of this book outweighed the slow go in the middle. This was a good book for those who want to learn more about the different social needs that introverts have compared to extroverts.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams ... a sad post

Robin Williams is gone.  And I'm sad. 

Sadder than I thought I would be at the sudden passing of the comedic legend. By nature, I'm not an overly emotional person so why am I so sad at this stranger's passing? I certainly didn't know him.  Sure, I enjoyed his movies, seemingly limitless energy and off the cuff comedy but I never met the man in my entire life.

And yet I'm really sad.

I think part of me is sad because he brought generations of people so much joy but you could see the underlying sadness within him.  He covered it well with his high energy, loud antics, spot on impersonations and amazing humour.  But it was there.  He suffered in relative silence and tried to cover the hurt with humour, alcohol and even drugs.  But the pain of depression wouldn't be dulled.

The fact that he committed suicide makes it feel like an even deeper loss.  Not because, as some people would say, that it was a waste or somehow wrong of him to take his own life.  As someone who has had suicide touch her family I remember struggling to understand why someone would do this.  I firmly believe that suicide is not a decision that a person takes lightly.  Nor does it stem from selfishness.  Instead, it is the very sad realization for Robin (and others suffering similarly) that they can see no other option to stop their intense pain except to end their own life.  And that's what hurts the most. 

Their desperation to feel peace.

So I'll be sad for a bit for Robin and his family.  And then I'll pop in Mrs Doubtfire, Aladdin or even Dead Poet's Society and remember a gifted comedian and actor who made the world laugh.  I hope that we will not remember him for how he left this world but for the humour, generosity and humanity that he gave and portrayed for the years he was with us.  I also hope that we remember that people are battling depression on a daily basis and that we help them to find the support they need in order to find the peace they so desperately crave and deserve.

Good-bye Mork and Patch Adams.  Good-bye John Keating and Mrs Doubtfire.

Genie ... you're free!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Brad's Sausage & Salsa Rice

There is just something about a man who can cook and has supper on the table when his wife comes home from work.  Last Saturday I had to work and it was a crazy, busy shift at the ol' library!  I walk in the door and Brad had supper ready to go (Husband Points appointed to Brad!).  And, of course, it was mighty delish because my man can cook! 

While I was eating it Brad kept asking me to guess the ingredients. Tomato sauce?  Nope. Canned tomatoes?  No siree! Only after I had eaten his delicious creation did he finally divulge what he used in his 'secret' mixture.  Salsa.  Say wha?  Yup, a good ol' jar of salsa.

I have to admit I was a little surprised but heck, it worked!  Plus you get the chunks of onions, peppers etc all in there too and it was a pretty quick meal to prep.  It was really tasty and the leftovers were just as good (I assume they were since Brad took them the following day).  A proud, proud boy was he! 

Perhaps I should appoint Saturdays as his day to show off his mad cooking skills!? I'll have to get him to whip this dish up again because, as you can see, the picture below isn't stellar.  I was too tired and excited to dig into a meal that I didn't have a hand in making.  Next time I'll take my time and set up the shot so that you can at least SEE the delicious sausage in this dish.  Until then, you'll have to just trust me that this is a yummy, week night meal option.

5 honey garlic sausages, grilled and sliced on a diagonal
1 (650mL) jar of salsa (you pick the heat - we did President's Choice Mild)
1 small can of pizza sauce
4 servings of rice, cooked and hot

Grill the sausages on the BBQ.   Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan or skillet, combine the salsa and pizza sauce and heat through.

When the sausages are cooked, slice them diagonally and place them in the skillet with the salsa mixture.  Place heaps of rice onto individual plates, top with the sausage-salsa mixture and serve immediately.

Source: Brad - Hubby Extraordinaire

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling

Author: Robert Galbraith
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Series: #1 in the Cormoran Strike series
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 455
Publisher: Mulholland Books
First Published: April 2013
First Line: "The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies."

Book Description from GoodReadsA brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide.
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.

My Review:  I was nervous to pick this book up because, as it is well known now, Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym of the highly talented (and the author at the top of my 'author I most want to meet' list) J.K Rowling of Harry Potter fame.  Harry Potter is one of my all-time favourite series and the reason is due solely to Rowling's ability as a storyteller.  I honestly didn't find myself comparing Potter to The Cuckoo's Calling because, while her quality of writing is still superb, her style of writing was quite different.

This is touted as a suspense novel but I was surprised at how much more time Galbraith took to set up Cormoran and his new secretary, Robin's characters for the reader.  For the first third of the book the mystery took more of a backseat to the characters' development which I found a little odd.  But as I kept reading I felt that it worked because she hooked me with two interesting and strong characters and set the framework that will carry me into the future books in this series.

If you're looking for a suave, debonair English leading man (a la 007) you may be a little shocked with Cormoran Strike because he isn't the typical male lead.  Not only did I stumble over the pronunciation of his name throughout the book but he's not gorgeous, he's not successful, he's utterly disorganized and he doesn't have a whole lot going for him.  He comes off as a bear-like curmudgeon who is emotionally bereft and has lived a very hard life.  And yet there's something about him that's so interesting that you can't help but root for him.  I love the fact that I still feel like we've only scratched the surface of Cormoran's character and that Galbraith is holding back a little for future books.  Such a tease!

Be aware that it does take awhile for the momentum to get going on this one.  But once the mystery goes into high gear it is a journey with many twists and turns it is a good, interesting read.  And while I will admit to guessing whodunit I still enjoyed the journey and look forward to seeing where Galbraith takes Cormoran in The Silkworm (and future books in the series).

Ms Rowling can call herself Robert Galbraith, Madonna or Oscar the Grouch for all I care.  She's a wickedly amazing writer and I will read whatever she puts before me. 


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, 1 August 2014

Destroy Me

Author: Tehereh Mafi
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: Own
Series: #1.5 book in the Shatter Me series
Publisher: Harper
First Published: October 2, 2012
First Line: "I've been shot."

Book Description from GoodReadsPerfect for the fans of Shatter Me who are desperately awaiting the release of Unravel Me, this novella-length digital original will bridge the gap between these two novels from the perspective of the villain we all love to hate, Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

In Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me, Juliette escaped from The Reestablishment by seducing Warner—and then putting a bullet in his shoulder. But as she’ll learn in Destroy Me, Warner is not that easy to get rid of. . .

Back at the base and recovering from his near-fatal wound, Warner must do everything in his power to keep his soldiers in check and suppress any mention of a rebellion in the sector. Still as obsessed with Juliette as ever, his first priority is to find her, bring her back, and dispose of Adam and Kenji, the two traitors who helped her escape. But when Warner’s father, The Supreme Commander of The Reestablishment, arrives to correct his son’s mistakes, it’s clear that he has much different plans for Juliette. Plans Warner simply cannot allow.

Set after Shatter Me and before its forthcoming sequel, Unravel Me, Destroy Me is a novella told from the perspective of Warner, the ruthless leader of Sector 45.

My Review:  When I read Shatter Me a couple of years ago (and again a couple of months ago) I was enthralled by the writing, characters and storyline.  It was unique take on the popular dystopian genre and it had me on the edge of my seat.  Unfortunately I think my love of this series has waned just a bit with this book.

Since this was only a novella it was obviously quite short compared to the first book in the series so it didn't feel like I got enough time inside Warner's head.  He was my favourite character from Shatter Me so I expected a lot more insight into who he is and why he became the cunning, heartless bad guy we know and love.  The reader does get a glimpse into Warner and possibly why he's such a nasty piece of work as well as his true feelings for Juliette ... but I still wanted more.  

In the end, this was a brief, fairly shallow look into the evil that is Warner.  While I wasn't as enthralled with this book as other book bloggers I still think it will help the reader gain a bit more insight into who Warner is and I suspect that in the future books this information will come in very handy.  

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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