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Aqua Follies, Liv Rancourt

Aqua Follies,  Liv Rancourt

Genre:  Romance, LGBTQIA

I loved this story, a great read, bringing in a very real feel of life in the fifties.
I was born at the very tail end of the fifties, but from my parents conversations about what they’d done this tale felt perfectly suited to the era.
Even in the sixties there was an emphasis on going out for entertainment. TV was limited, we didn’t have one like many families until i was maybe 9 or 10, and even then it was limited- no 24 hr TV, only two channels, definitely no daytime TV so we had to do things, not sit indoors. Carnivals, festivals etc all took place in the tiniest of villages even, with everyone turning out for what was a break from the usual work, home, sleep routine. As kids we were involved too so a festival like Aqua Follies which wouldn’t get off the ground now would have been high profile for many people. Liv does a terrific job or bringing that era to light.

Of course that makes it all sound like utopia, sunbeams and rainbows when it was anything but. Some of us lurked outside events, lacking the entry fee, trying to soak up a bit of atmosphere from the distance. There wasn’t parental leave, childcare etc in jobs so we were bundled off to others or left to roam when parents were working. It was work or starve, pay the rent or out, and Human Rights Act was a far off dream…
Life was tough if you were ordinary, toed the line, conformed, but if you dared to want a same sex relationship – woe is you….Still illegal back then. ( I’m not really sure when that changed, need to have a look at that) It was awful and guys like Russel didn’t even want to admit to themsleves they liked other men.
Its so sad, that pressure to conform, to stay safe and legal led to many marrying when there was no way they’d be fully happy. Russel certainly wouldn’t be and poor Susie, having a husband that doesn’t really love her. Sooner or later she’d realise that, and that’s what happened to so many couples, marrying to hide they really wanted a same sex relationship, but brought up to think it was perverted, against the Church, and risking prison if caught.
We’re a weird, judgmental group us humans.

I loved Russel and Skip. Skip’s sure in his desires for men, has found a group and places where he’s reasonably safe, but of course the police were given a pretty free rein then and he’s got one that keeps a close eye on him, never missing a chance to nip, berate, harass him.
Police brutality and harassment wasn’t recognised then so Skip had to just try to keep out of his way.
I loved Skip’s mum, in a sanitorium with TB, as happened to many then. The Fresh Air stance is very true, there was one near where I live and the huts were left open on one side all year round believing that it helped the lungs. Must have been pretty cold in winter!
When Skip is worried about being convicted, even if its a fine and caution he rightly says he’ll find it hard to get work. Who wants someone with a sex caution teaching music to their kids, joining their orchestra, working in their firm and of course without income he wouldn’t have anywhere to live, even if he could get a landlord to rent to someone with that on their record.
The world was a different place then, though some things seem good, there were things like this that made it a hard place for so many.

Russel, he sort of thinks he’s happy with Susie, there’s no grand passion but he has nothing to contrast with how he feels so he think that’s normal.
He knows his mum has been withdrawn after his brother died in Service, and he thinks it will make her happy if he gets married,so he’s planning to ask Susie to marry him – til he sees Skip. One look and he’s hooked, one word and he knows what he has with Susie isn’t Love.

What happens now though? What will they do, can they do living so far apart, when men cannot live openly with, be in a relationship with other men.
Is there a way through or are they a doomed, never to be together couple. And can he settle for Susie if that’s so?

Reading through the blurb I saw this was edited by KJ Charles, one of my favourite M/M authors – actually The favourite, she’s my number one for that genre, and it made me wonder if she had much influence over this book.
At the end reading through Liv’s explanations of how this book came to be she’s had the input of many people and it reminded me of the “it takes a village to raise a child” phrase. Maybe it takes a Team to raise a successful book.
Certainly its worked well this time, and its a great author who listens to critics, and shapes the story while still keeping it essentially the one they had in mind. You can please some readers some of the time and all that….

Stars: five, an enjoyable read, taking me back to a time when homosexuality was still illegal, still seen as perverted.

ARC supplied for review purposes by author

Di Marcello’s Secret Son, Rachael Thomas

Di Marcello’s Secret Son, Rachael Thomas

Di Marcello's Secret Son (Mills & Boon Modern) (The Secret Billionaires, Book 1) by [Thomas, Rachael]

Genre:  Romance, Women’s Fiction

So, every now and then I want a dip back to an old fashioned, easy to read romance, usually after reading several intense contemporary romances or a string of fantasy/paranormal.
Its kind of like palate cleansing between courses, something fairly innocuous to clear the taste. This was just too innocuous though, too bland. I felt I was reading the same scenes over and over again.

Sadie would bear a grudge, then give in to Antonio, then something would be said and its grudge time again.
Antonio would be bitter about being kept away from Leo, then they’d get hot and heavy and everything would be wonderful for a short time, sometimes a very short time, just minutes. Something would be said and its Cold Wars all over again.

TBH I didn’t feel any connection between the two, found it hard to believe that undercover persona worked so well, and as for the Secret he’s holding about his first marriage. Yeah, that was pretty easy to guess.
Sadly not one for me, but everyone is different, its could be perfect for you – you chose.

Stars: Two, its me not the story, some will love it, I didn’t.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Just for the Holidays, Sue Moorcroft

Just for the Holidays, Sue Moorcroft

Just for the Holidays by [Moorcroft, Sue]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

I wanted something light, after a few dark, heavy reads and this was perfect, letting me relax while reading, lifting my mind up to bright and happy. Its not all smiles though, there’s some pretty sad moments, very real issues that will face many of us at some point in our lives.

So we start on holiday with Leah, and her sister’s family. It ought to be wonderful, relaxing, lazy days by the beach followed by nights spent with good food, wine and conversations. Well, that’s what * should * have happened. Instead poor Leah finds herself being a temporary parent to teens Jordan and Natasha, while her sister makes sporadic, desultory attempts to sort her life out, and her brother in law is mending a badly broken ankle….
Thankfully next door provides a distraction in the shape of hunky Ronan and his teen son Curtis.

Michele, Leah’s sister is a selfish woman. She’s two lovely teens – well, lovely as teens can be ;-), a husband who’s a kind, caring, responsible man and yet like many she’s discontented, has thrown herself into an affair with a younger man. Now she’s pregnant with her formerly happy, easy life strewn around her in ruins, blaming everyone but herself. I was so angry with her.
I haven’t patience with the “we just fell in love” mantra. There’s always a point when the harmless glances and occasional flirty chat moves forward, and its at that point a spouse should stop. Its not hard. just do the right thing.
Of course that’s not what they want, and Michele moves forward telling herself they can’t help it, ignores the heartbreak she’s going to rain down on her lovely family.
Sort your family issues out first is my solution, then once you’re separated there’s time for someone new.

And that’s my rant over, but you can see why I was so angry at Michele.
Right from the start she’s leaving Leah to do everything; shopping, cleaning, cooking, looking after the kids, citing morning sickness and feeling unwell as an excuse to stay away from anything resembling work/responsibility.
She’s actively jealous of Leah’s career, her child free life, but as Leah reminds her, she chose a different route, she shouldn’t be expecting Leah to take over her life now she doesn’t like it.
Her husband Alister is a lovely man, adores his kids and is trying hard to be civil, but his world has crashed and Michele isn’t making things any easier.
The kids were great, typical teens, ever hungry, full of energy – until they’re asked to do something of course, and they adore Leah. Until now she’s been cool auntie but now she’s a mum substitute, and after Alister’s injury a dad one too…
Teens are a mix, grown and wanting to be adults one moment but still kids inside and Michele’s actions have a huge impact on them.

Then there’s the family next door, Ronan and his son Curtis.
Curtis soon throws in with Jordan and Natasha, and the three are together having fun most days – and evenings.
Leah’s cooking is fantastic, she’s a trained chef, and soon they’re spending mealtimes with the family.
Ronan and Leah are attracted but the course of true love and all that…hasn’t hardly time to run smooth here with all the things being thrown up against it.

Its a fabulous read, heady warm summer days abroad, fabulous food – and lots of decadent chocolate desserts. The characters are a real mix of families, ones we all know, issues many of us have faced one way or another, and throughout I was rooting for Ronan and Leah, they’re two great guys and deserve each other. They’ve both been let down badly by others in the past, Leah especially is affected still by a past relationship that went bad, so though I wanted them to be together I kind of sympathised when I could feel her drawing barriers up.

A story that was fun, felt very summery, with real characters, ones we know, can feel have genuine issues and problems that face many of us at some points in out lives.

Stars: five, a fabulous summery read, with real people and genuine scenes.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Another Postcard, (Stone Butterfly Rockstars 1), Elle Christensen

Another Postcard, (Stone Butterfly Rockstars 1), Elle Christensen

Another Postcard (Stone Butterfly Rockstars Book 1) by [Christensen, Elle]

Genre:  Romance, New Adult

I love rock band romances, so was excited to get this but….somehow I’m at odds with all those five star reviews I can see as for me this just wasn’t a five star read. I hate hate it when that happens 😦   * sigh *

There were parts of the story I enjoyed, that were well put together and fed me into the band aura, that made me feel I was there with them living the dream. That was the actual touring and writing/creating music and lyrics, it felt very realistic.
I love when a book does that, actually incorporates the whole band ethos, rather than just having the lead character be a band member but not actually writing about the scene in a bland, generic way.
I liked the band members, and could feel the sizzle between Levi and Brooklyn right from the start.
I just felt the first half dragged though, that nothing really happened except Brooklynn joined the band, and we met her sister.

The postcards from the title didn’t really play a part until the second half, and I’d a pretty good idea early on who was behind things.
I didn’t really get a sense of danger and suspense from the read, didn’t ever really feel there was any real issues here, and when things did take a turn for the worse it was kind of quickly wrapped up glossed over and tidied up, leaving Brooklynn and Levi free to follow their hearts. That just felt too slick, too easy and I’d have liked a little more reality here.

Sorry, a well written read that many will love,but just an OK, nothing special, read for me.

Stars: Three, well written story which didn’t play out as I’d hoped.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Summer Stock, Vanessa North

Summer Stock,  Vanessa North

Summer Stock by [North, Vanessa]

Genre:  romance, LGBTQIA

I’ve loved several of Vanessa’s stories now so looked forward to this. It was a good read, but for me not a great one. Somehow I just wasn’t as glued to my kindle, transfixed by the tale as I have been with her other reads.

Its a fun read, has a real feeling of Summer, and here in the UK seaside towns like the ones I have either side of the village where I live have Summer theatres just like the one in this book so that felt very real to me.

I liked both Trey and Ryan but didn’t really get a great sense of them as people. Usually I have a kind of mental image, not so much a visual one, but of what kind of people they are and for whatever reason this time I didn’t.
I understood Ryan’s need for a bit of anonymity, but I’m not sure it was going to happen in a public theatre.
I really felt for Trey and what he’d been through, abuse can and does happen in all walks of live and the way he was picking himself back up but sometimes had problems and flashbacks, the way he was with the counsellor and the solutions they spoke about gave a sense of reality to the situation. I’m lucky, never been in that place but so many have and its good to see it treated sensitively and sensibly. Its not something one can shake off overnight or with a few sessions of counselling.
They were terrific characters as individuals, i just wasn’t so convinced by them as a couple.

I loved seeing the other characters here too, Mason and Caroline, theatre owners, the rest of the cast, Trey’s sister and her husband. They’re a good tight knit group, as happens in this kind of situation. Trey’s dog, Ferdinand, was a star too!!

Stars: Three, a good story, great characters but the romance didn’t quite cut it for me.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Back to Us, Phlox Beauty Series Book 2, Julia Gabriel

Back to Us, Phlox Beauty Series Book 2, Julia Gabriel
Back to Us (The Phlox Beauty Series) by [Julia Gabriel]

Genre:  Romance, Women’s Fiction

I loved Julia’s DRawing Lessons and Chiarascuro, but somehow I missed the first book in this series, featuring Jared and Phlox. They appear in this book too as secondary but important characters and I worked out much of their backstory from that but its a book I’d like to read. sometimes. when the TBR list drops a bit….

So even though this is a second in sereis its a stand alone, and it didn’t matter I hadn’t read book one.
I really enjoyed this story, felt so much for both characters and as before Julia doesn’t just stick to a standard romance of man meets woman, they fall in love, have a hiccup and then a HEA. No, Julia adds more and that’s what makes it perfect for me.
Its not just that Colt and Zee were in love four years ago, not that they are perfect for each other, but that they somehow lost their way, had a big breakup but after being captured and tortured Colt had lost huge chunks of his memory, including the fact he doesn’t live with Zee now….

Poor Zee comes home after a busy day, crawls into bed, only to find Colt in it. Colt who she’s not heard from in four years after living with him for a while and he left!
What a huge shock..and then he explains and she feels for him, but won’t open her heart again, it took her too long to recover the first time.
Since then she’s had more issues with her love life, when her lover who worked for the company she and best friend Phlox own sabotaged it, and nearly brought it to collapse. Its taken hard work and money to keep things going, and somehow Zee feels all the blame, has lost confidence in her judgement so has sworn off men.
And then Colt comes back, and she can feel him all over again, feel how right for her he is. Still, the reasons the broke up were solid, she can’t let herself go that route again.

Colt goes to stay with Max, her grandfather and the man who inadvertently brought them together.
He was Max’ writing professor, and there’s still a lot of respect between them. Colt has literally just left hospital and doesn’t know where he lives, doesn’t have access to his bank, which was emptied by his captors, so is in a really hard postition. As well as the memory loss, he’s physically weak from being beaten and starved and having a badly broken leg.
The trauma has left him with nightmares and he keeps losing bits of the present, such as forgetting where he is, right now. Its clear he can’t live alone so Max takes him in, although he’s away for a few days.
The first night he has a terrible nightmare, and in desparation somehow phones Zee, who collects him, takes him home and he ends up staying there for a few days til everything is sorted.
Of course Zee can’t stay in bed when she can hear him screaming in terror – who could, and slowly he works his way back into her heart.

She won’t tell him why they split up though, still trying to keep him at arms length and like Colt I was desperate to know. And when we did find out I was heartbroken for her, even though knowing Colt’s background I can see why he made the decision he did.
We all think time is limitless when we’re young, that there’s another chance, another time. Carpe Diem is a good motto, who knows what’s round the corner?
Trouble is when its two people who have different priorities for right now, different things they want to seize on the day.

Poor Zee, still working long days, trying to assuage her guilt over the sabotage, trying to put things right even though it wasn’t her fault, and now she’s more pressure with Colt back in her orbit.
He’s determined to wear her down, to get her back. he knows that for him she’s it,. and now he’s a better sense of life priorities.
Zee can’t trust he’s changed though, and she’s her own background issues to contend with. her mother is famous, an award winning actress and for much of Zee’s life she was dragged around, tutored privately and following her mother as she worked on yet another film. Her only stability came from her grandparents and after her grandmother died Max is the closest person in her life.

Its a book full of love, full of small and bigger dramas and one I loved. I was so wanting Zee to let Colt in, so understood why she didn’t though and was engrossed in seeing how on earth Julia could resolve things for them. And she did, in a perfect way.

Stars: five,a lovely story, sensual romance, with real issues and characters

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

So Wicked, Melissa Marino

So Wicked, Melissa Marino

So Wicked (Bad Behavior Book 3) by [Marino, Melissa]

Genre: Romance

I was in the mood for something light and flirty so chose this one. Well, it is light and flirty but also has some heat and a solid romance behind it.
What coloured it too much for me though was Alexis’ past. I just couldn’t respect or like someone who could do what she did. I know there were reasons, I know its all explained later in the book, but for me that just didn’t fit, didn’t excuse her actions.

Though I’d have loved her if I’d met her as she’s presented in the novel if I didn’t know her past, I did know and I found that changed all that I thought about her…..Wrong? Maybe but internal issues and bias often affect what we read and how we feel about stories and characters.

I could see easily how she and Marshal disliked each other – or hated on Marshals part! The way they slipped slowly into them having a relationship didn’t feel right though, just felt a little forced to me.
I did love the bar and the cake parings, my mouth was watering at some of the desserts.

If you want a quick sweet romance and can get over Alexis actions then you may love this.
If you’re a surly, judgmental person when it comes to book characters then like me you may find things too difficult to get past.
I can’t help how I feel, a well-written book brings characters to life, and then of course I think and judge them as real people.

Stars:Three, a good read with some gentle humour, a real light chick-lit story for summer on the beach.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Faking It, Christine d’Abo

Faking It, Christine d’Abo

Faking It (Ringside Romance Book 2) by [d'Abo, Christine]

Genre:  Romance, LGBTQIA

I really enjoyed book one in this series, which was also a first read of Christine’s books. Book two is Max and Grady, Max being involved in Ringside as well as owning a busy nightclub.
I loved that we met Zack and Nolan from book one again too.
Grady kind of stumbles into Max life, escaping from his bullying father, his unwanted fame and now he discovers he’s not escaped.
Dad’s taking advantage of the Gay side of him, hoping to cash in on the Liberalist views, marry Grady off to the son of a wealthy connection and bring even more profit to his investments.
Poor little rich boy….and yet Grady’s likable, we can see that underneath his seeming to despise his father he really just wants his approval. But that’s not been forthcoming for a long while, and Grady isn’t prepared to marry a stranger just to get it.
Max seems like an honest guy, he didn’t try to rip him off when he had the chance, didn’t snap photos or tell stories to the press, and he wonders – would he pretend to be engaged if they agree a suitable recompense? It would only need to be for a few weeks.
Max’s first thought is no, he feels sorry for Grady, is of course strongly attracted and knows that’s reciprocated but no, just no, he can’t do it. Well, until something happens to change his mind on the spur of the moment.

Its a fun story, I liked Grady and Max, loved seeing updates on Zack and Nolan but overall it was a bit ..slow. There was lots going on but it was all very subdued, understated and when it came to the wrap up, I just couldn’t really see it happening that way. It was such a complete turnaround that it didn’t feel real, and that’s a kicker for me, situations need to feel that they could happen. This time I didn’t see how it could roll out that way.
Its still a good read, a well written story with the good sex v story balance that book one had for me. I hate when sex overtakes the story, for me that just doesn’t work, but this read had it just right.

Of course the lack of drama and the ending that didn’t work for me will be perfect for others. Such is life so make your own judgement, if you liked soft and understated romance this could be just right for you. I love drama and an element of realism, and that lack was what brought it down for me.

Stars:Three, a good story but I felt for me it needed more drama and a bit more realism in the ending.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Solo, Lauren E. Rico

Solo, Lauren E. Rico

Solo (Symphony Hall) by [Rico, Lauren E.]

Genre:  Romance, New Adult.

Well, I hesitated over reading this one. I read book one of Lauren’s music trilogy, and though there were parts I loved, such as the music, there were parts I found really hard to get along with, and haven’t yet decided if I’m going to read parts two and three. Eventually I took the plunge with Solo – and I’m So glad I did.

Its a wonderful story, perfectly written as far as my reading tastes go, mixing story, sex, drama and intrigue to make a tale I was gripped by. I’ve said often I hate when sex becomes the story, here its just right, sensual and erotic but fits within the book so very well.
I have to say though, that cover is just awful, really tacky and just doesn’t do the novel justice IMO. I’m one who rarely looks at covers, just reads the blurb, its only the brilliant or awful ones that catch my eye….

I loved Katherine, such a hard worker, so loyal to her father even when he’s acted so harshly, when she could make her life easier if she did things another way.
She doesn’t though, she’s strongly moral, and just keeps her head down, works hard, and struggles through whatever the personal cost.
I so felt for her all the awful things she had to endure. Drew’s hassling of her, he really picked on her, her advisor Tessa, wasn’t any help, she seemed to dislike Katherine so its no wonder she didn’t go to her for help, the other students were horrible to her.
She’s so alone, friendless, family less and just has learned the only person she can rely on is herself. Isn’t that horrible? When Drew asks her when was the last time someone gave her a present and its years, my heart cracked a bit, such a simple thing, a gift that shows someone cares about you and she’d had nothing from her father, had no freinds with whom she could exchange gifts, just this lonely, solitary life.

Drew, he was a real piece of work the way he singled her out, the way he picked on her for every imagined infraction. I did wonder how he got away with it, and I guess its only because Katherine avoided anything that might throw controversy on her father that she didn’t complain.
Then they get thrown together and he sees a different side to her, sees that he’s projected his anger at Cassie onto her. There are some really emotional moments when the penny drops as to just how awful he’s been to her over the last five years. We see a different side to him too.

Of course as student and professor anything between them is forbidden and they’re risking so much, and they do try to stay on the right side. Still, you know how it is, in the first throes of attraction we tend to think we’re being careful when it reality we’re anything but.

There’s drama here too with the press, in particular one sleazy guy, always sneaking round for a story, trailing her for months, asking everyone about her, trying to find dirt, especially now her father may announce his bid for presidency.
With their actions and they way they don’t see just how much they’re giving away its not long before it all goes wrong.

When it does,  well – boy – is Drew a first class jerk!
I kind of understood where he was coming from, understood that he hadn’t really let go of the past, and I’d guessed who was behind things and why – well, part of the why 😉
I loved the way it wasn’t all hate on one page all love again on the next. I like my drama dragged out, I like to wallow and poor Katherine really hit the depths.

I did find the way they fell headlong into romance despite the risks a little bit, teeny bit difficult to take, both had so much to lose, but I put that to one side as it made such a great read for me.
See, I like some realism in my novels, but this wasn’t too far off course, people do act in stupid ways when in love 😉

Stars:Five, a story I really enjoyed, Lauren’s love of music really comes through and gives a solid, realsitic background to the novel even to someone like me who knows little about orchestras, composing, conducting and the world of Classical music.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

Obsession, A shocking psychological thriller where love affairs turn deadly, Amanda Robson

Obsession, A shocking psychological thriller where love affairs turn deadly, Amanda Robson
Obsession: A shocking psychological thriller where love affairs turn deadly by [Robson, Amanda]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Mystery & Thrillers

This is an amazing debut book but a very, very uncomfortable read. The characters are not exactly likable, yet at the start they could be any of us, they’re fairly ordinary types, there’s nothing to suggest just what is going to unfold, how dark their lives are going to turn.
Its not a happy ever after read, so take note! It is a rivetting read though, I found myself saying internally “just one more chapter” as I just had to see how things would progress. And of course that led to one more and then one more chapter after that 🙂

We meet Carly and Rob on holiday, he’s a GP, she works on the practice part time and looks after their kids with her mother Heather’s help. They seem innocuous, though its clear Carly doesn’t feel motherhood particularly satisfying. there’s lots of parents like that though, its not all Johnson’s baby powder and sweet kisses in real life, and not everyone is cut out to be a full time parent.

She’s an odd woman is Carly, feels a bit…brittle and insecure though pushes this outward appearance of being very confident and capable. Then she asks Rob That Question, and the answer has repercussions you just can’t imagine. Would things have turned out differently if he’d answered another way? Would something else have been the catalyst, and events happen regardless?
There’s any number of points where looking back one of them could have said “if only I’d done/hadn’t done… ” Hindsight is a wonderful thing as the saying goes.

I didn’t really like Carly but I did feel for her unhappiness. Rob was just a typical busy parent and didn’t look far into what was going on underneath. Like most people he was satisfied by the surface appearance of everything and assumed they were all happy.

Then there’s the second couple, Jenni and Craig. Jenni, she seemed such a gentle, quiet soul and deeply adored her family. Is that love or smothering? Was she as she seemed, content, happy to be a parent, basking in husband Craig’s adoration?
They were two very different people – Jenni was quiet, shy, strongly religious, while Craig was handsome, outgoing and a real play -the-field guy. What brought them together? And could they have stayed in that same happy state they seemed to be when we first met them or were threads already unraveling?

Its a tough look at human nature and behaviours, depression, family life, how we’re all tightly knit in groups and one thread unwinding affects the whole group. Like I said its really uncomfortable reading. I kept thinking “no, she/he wouldn’t do that” and if we’d been plunged right into those dramas I could believe it, but we’re led carefully and slowly down a path of destruction, til almost without realising everything we thought we knew about the characters had changed, and I really couldn’t predict how things would pan out.
Stars: five, a fabulous debut, but its dark and definitely not a HEA! Its not one I’d reread, tending to only read again the lighter, happier ones. there’s enough dark in my life without reading it too often!

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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