Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My Favourite Reads of 2014 .... and a few to look out for in 2015

2014 has been another fabulous book year for me. I've read almost 180 books, but I've also abandoned many.  I've been to some fabulous bookish events, met some of my favourite authors and made new friends.

It's so difficult to choose the traditional Top Ten books, especially as I read so many. Last year I had a Top Twelve, and this year I've picked a Top Fifteen. Just like last year, I've also included some 2015 releases at the end of the post.  I've been lucky enough to read these pre-publication so I didn't want to add them to my 2014 picks.  

Random Things just wouldn't be the same without the support of so many authors, publishers, agents, PR agencies and of course, the people who read my blog. A huge thank you to everyone who played a part in another great year.  I really hope that people continue to enjoy reading my thoughts about the books that I've read.

So, here goes. Here are my favourite fifteen books of 2014, with a couple of recommendations for books due to be published in 2015.

I hope everyone has a Happy and Peaceful New Year and that 2015 is a wonderful year for you all

Anne xx

My favourite reads of 2014 - in the order that I read them.  Click on the book title to read my full review:

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Published by Ebury 

Hardback 30 January 2014  
Paperback 28 August 2014

Rowan Coleman's writing gets better and better.  There is no doubt that The Memory Book is her very best novel to date.  It is a joy, and I will be recommending it to everyone that I meet.

Wake by Anna Hope

Published by Doubleday

Hardback 16 January 2014
Paperback 1 January 2015

Wake is powerful and evocative, it is a tender but at the same time, brutal look at the aftermath of war. Anna Hope's writing flows with such ease, her use of prose and descriptions are beautiful and haunting.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

Published by Atlantic Books

Hardback 6 February 2014
Paperback 4 September 2014

 It is a unrelenting story, Audrey Magee is an extremely gifted author, her dialogue-led style of writing coupled with her depth of human understanding is outstanding.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Published by Tinder Press

Hardback 27 February 2014
Paperback 19 June 2014

The ending is shocking.  It is so cleverly written, and so unexpected - it felt like I was left hanging from the edge of a cliff by a fingernail.  The final paragraphs are the true triumph of this novel.

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

Published by Bantam Press

Hardback 13 March 2014
Paperback 7 May 2015

Some psychological thrillers are more about plot than character. Keep Your Friends Close is a perfectly balanced blend of compelling characters with a gripping story. 

The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings

Published by Cutting Edge Press

Paperback 1 May 2014

The Judas Scar is one of those novels that you need to keep reading ..... just one more page ..... because the instant that you put it down, you'll be thinking of it, and when you finish it, you'll be wondering about it for quite a while.

Before The Fall by Juliet West

Published by Pan MacMillan

Hardback 22 May 2014
Paperback 28 August 2014 

Juliet West's writing is as powerful as it is poetic, she creates an almost claustrophobic atmosphere with words. The complexities of forbidden love, the effects of war on the community, the sense of duty and utter hopelessness is portrayed skilfully and most beautifully.

The Broken by Tamar Cohen

Published by Doubleday

Hardback & Paperback 22 May 2015

Tamar Cohen is an exciting author who can build suspense expertly. Her characterisation is brilliant, her imagination and plotting is almost genius.  The Broken is a superb psychological suspense thriller, I loved every page of it.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Hardback 13 March 2014
Paperback 12 March 2015

Rene Denfeld is an incredibly talented writer. This story is sophisticated and subtle - it is moving and eloquently written. The Enchanted really is quite captivating ..... in fact, it will enchant you.

Who Are You? by Elizabeth Forbes

Published by Cutting Edge Press

Paperback 1 July 2014

I am in awe of Elizabeth Forbes. Her writing is chillingly unsettling; tense and so cleverly paced. Prepare yourself to be consumed by this story, to be terrified and at the same time to empathise with the hidden victims of other people's actions.

Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen

Published by Bantam Press

Hardback 31 July 2014
Paperback 12 February 2015

The thing that makes Where Love Lies particularly special and quite unique is that despite the obviously emotional, romantic theme to this novel, there is a twist to the story that will make the reader contemplate how love really works. 

Her by Harriet Lane

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Hardback 12 June 2014
Paperback 1 January 2015

I am very very impressed by Harriet Lane's writing. She is so so clever and has produced a very intelligent psychological thriller that will certainly feature in my Top Books of 2014.  Her is a brilliant read - Bravo!

Your Beautiful Lies by Louise Douglas

Published by Black Swan

Paperback 14 August 2014 

Once again, Louise Douglas has written a book that engrossed me from start to finish. I am hugely impressed by her writing, and by her ability to produce such stunning novels - all so very different, but all so wonderful.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Published by Doubleday

Hardback 4 September 2014
Paperback 7 May 2015

This is a book that is harsh yet so so powerful. John Boyne writes intelligently, with emotion, yet is unsparing with his words, there is a lot of anger within the words. It is haunting and incredibly powerful writing.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Published by Blackfriars

Hardback 26 June 2014
Paperback 13 November 2014

Everything I Never Told You is a wonderfully perceptive debut novel, written with authority and passion. This book has been voted the No 1 Book of the Year 2014 by, and I can really understand why. It really is a beautifully written book.

I'd also like to give a very special mention to the following four books.  I read them in 2014 and they are due to be published in 2015.    Again, a very mixed bunch, but they are all excellent reads - look out for them!

Alice and the Fly by James Rice

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Hardback 15 January 2015

Rice does not hold back, his portrayal of the cruelty of some people towards those that they don't understand is so well done. The portrait of a modern, dysfunctional family; on the outside wealthy, shiny and happy, but underneath, decaying, hiding and denying is frightening real.

The Liar's Chair by Rebecca Whitney

Published by Pan MacMillan

Hardback 15 January 2015

It is psychologically thrilling, it is challenging and it is often an uneasy read. The author's characterisation is wonderful, but don't expect to actually like any of them, they are a bunch of cold and calculating, yet absolutely realistic people but at the same time are fascinating in a very dark sort of way.

The Year of Taking Chances by Lucy Diamond

Published by Pan MacMillan

Paperback 1 January 2015

The Year of Taking Chances is another triumph for Lucy Diamond, her fans will be delighted by this, and new readers will become fans immediately. This is a real treat, a story that will transport the reader into the world of the characters.

Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye

Published by Orion

Hardback 15 January 2015
Paperback 16 July 2015

A novel of small town America, of racial divide, of the strength of nature and ultimately a love story. Summertime is an exquisite piece of writing; rich, satisfying and beautiful.

Nineteen wonderful books, a very mixed selection, but each and every one of them were excellent reads.    I hope that I may have whetted your appetite with a least a couple of these, they all come very highly recommended.

So on to 2015, and I'm looking forward to seeing just what will randomly pop through the letterbox this year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Two of Us by Andy Jones

Falling in love is the easy part. 
What matters most is what happens next... 
Fisher and Ivy have been an item for a whole nineteen days. 
And they just know they are meant to be together. 
The fact that they know little else about each other is a minor detail. 
Over the course of twelve months, in which their lives will change forever, Fisher and Ivy discover that falling in love is one thing, but staying there is an entirely different story. 
The Two of Us is a charming, honest and heart-breaking novel about life, love, and the importance of taking neither one for granted.

The Two of Us by Andy Jones is published by Simon and Schuster in ebook format on 12 February 2015, the paperback version is published on 7 May 2015. The Two of Us follows on from Andy Jone's previous novel; Girl 99, which was published early in 2014.

Although I've not read Girl 99, this really does not matter, for The Two of Us is easily read as a stand-alone story, in fact it wasn't until I'd finished reading it that I discovered that it was a sequel.

The Two of Us is recommended for fans of One Day and The Rosie Project, which for me, was the first difficulty, as I am one of those rare breed who didn't really enjoy either of those books. I will probably be slated for saying this, but I often struggle with romantic comedy stories written by male authors (with the exception of Jonathan Harvey - whose writing I adore). However, I was pleasantly surprised by The Two of Us, it is a heart warming and funny novel that made me laugh, and tugged at my heartstrings in places.

Fisher and Ivy have been together for nineteen days. This is Fisher's story really, narrated by him, seen through his eyes. Those nineteen days have been great; with lots of sex. Fisher was very content, until Ivy seemed to change. The change is huge, and The Two Of  Us is the tale of how these two people deal with the consequences.

Fisher is a lad, and has been beautifully portrayed by the author. Sometimes he is annoying, sometimes he says or does something that really made me cross - but he's a guy, written by a guy, and he's pretty realistic. Ivy is a doll, I like her. I didn't always think she made the right decisions and sometimes she made me want to shout. Together, they make an interesting couple.

The Two of Us is a book that both male and female readers will enjoy, probably for different reasons, and I'd really enjoy talking to a male reader about the story, it would be great to get a male perspective, to see if they get anything different from the story than I did.

Warm, funny, characters that are real, including being annoying sometimes. An enjoyable, easy read that is light hearted around the outside, with a strong plot at the centre. I enjoyed this far more than either One Day, or The Rosie Project.

My thanks to Lovereading, Simon & Schuster and Books in the City for providing my review copy.

Andy Jones lives in London with his wife and two little girls. During the day he works in an advertising agency; at weekends and horribly early in the mornings, he writes fiction. 

Andy's new novel, The Two Of Us, is now available for pre-order.

Follow Andy on Twitter & Facebook:

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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Heavenly's Child by Brenda Reid

It is the late 1960s and after her strict English boarding school, Angel is delighted to be back on Crete, the island she loves. She and her friend Chrissi are planning to spend the long summer days as they've always done before, hanging out together, playing pranks on their unsuspecting neighbours and generally running wild on the mountainside.
But when tragedy strikes at the heart of Angel's family, she and Chrissi resolve to run away together. For two girls on the brink of womanhood, the turmoil that is Greece at that time makes it a dangerous place to be. As Angel falls in love, tragedy strikes a second time...

Heavenly's Child by Brenda Reid was published by Orion in February 2013, and is the sequel to The House of Dust & Dreams.

As well as the huge piles of review books that arrive through my letter box, I also have three very large bookshelves filled with books to be read. I do try to read and review the books that are sent to me, but I often gaze at my shelves of books that I've bought myself and wonder when on earth I will get the time to read them all. So, over the break from work, I decided that I was going to pick at least three of these long-neglected books and read them. Heavenly's Child by Brenda Reid was my first choice. I read The House of Dust and Dreams by the same author in July 2011, and Heavenly's Child follows on from that story.

Set on the Greek island of Crete during the 1960s, Heavenly's Child centres around Angel, a young girl who was brought up by her English Diplomat parents on Crete. Angel is headstrong and wilful and has been asked to leave her English boarding school, she is delighted to be back in the small village that she considers to be her home. Although she's not actually Greek, she loves Crete, she loves her Greek neighbours and most of all, she loves Chrissi, her childhood friend.

Brenda Reid brings the island of Crete alive through her writing. I have visited Crete many times, and yes, it is a Greek island, part of Greece, but there is something unique about this large island, and it's people, and the author really catches the spirit of independence and resilience of the place and it's inhabitants.

The 1960s and 70s were hard times for the people of Crete. The Government was in turmoil, there were many underground resistance fighters, people felt let down, they wanted change, but they were scared. The whole of Greece was a dangerous and violent place to be, and for two young girls, just on the cusp of womanhood and determined to live life to the full, it was especially dangerous.

The story follows Angel and Chrissi as they leave their small village and travel unaccompanied. There is a love story at the heart of the book, but the real story is that of the Greek people and their struggle to overcome the legacies of the war.

Brenda Reid writes with warmth and authority. The sights and sounds of Greece are realistic and authentic, the story is well-paced and the characters are beautifully drawn.

Brenda Reid was an award-winning producer at the BBC before becoming Head of Drama at Anglia Television. 
She worked with, amongst others, Rose Tremain, Alan Bennett, Jilly Cooper, P.D. James, Fay Weldon and Lynda la Plante. 
She was also the executive producer of the popular series Ballykissangel. 
Brenda now divides her time between the Welsh borders, her children's houses in London and her village house in Crete.

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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Significance by Jo Mazelis

Lucy Swann is trying on a new life. 
She's cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but she's only got as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. 
When Inspector Vivier and his handsome assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance. 
Lucy's death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Significance by Jo Mazelis was published in paperback by Seren Books on 11 September 2014.

Lucy Swann is dead. She came to France to escape her life in England. She changed her hairstyle, her clothes, her outlook and spent just a few days in an ordinary hotel room in an anonymous town in France.

During those few days, Lucy met or was associated with various people, both local and visitors, and it is these people who form the chapters, and the detail of this incredibly clever book.  It doesn't matte whether Lucy spoke in depth to these people, or just briefly encountered them, the author ensures that each one of them have a voice and a story, and each one of them are intriguing in their own way. As the reader learns more about Scott, the Canadian visitor; about Suzette the waitress and her emerging relationship with Fabien and about Joseph, the African medical student-to-be, we also learn more about Lucy herself.

It is a brave author who creates a murder mystery, but makes the murderer and motive have so little significance, yet it is clever and very different and allows the reader to delve deeply into the would-be suspects, whilst at the same time understanding that the who and the why are far less important than the victim herself.

I have never read anything quite like Significance before, it is original, it is thought-provoking, it is multi-layered and complex yet enticing and very addictive.

It is a murder mystery story, it is a thriller, it is also a delicately crafted, beautifully written story that will both delight and perplex the reader.

My thanks to Sarah at Seren who sent my copy for review.

Jo Mazelis is a short story writer, novelist, photographer, designer and illustrator. 

Born in Swansea, she has a BA from Swansea Institute and a MA from the University of Wales Swansea. 

She has been a prize-winner in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition three times, and her stories and poetry have appeared in New Welsh Review and Poetry Wales, among other publications. Circle Games (Parthian, 2005) was on the Wales Book of the Year 2006 Long List.

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Tsunami Kids: Our Journey from Survival to Success by The Gandy Brothers

On Boxing day 2004, Rob, Paul, Matty and Rosie Forkan tragically lost their parents in the Boxing Day Tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka. Aged from 8 to 17, they subsequently faced a harrowing and solitary 200km trek across the decimated country to get home to safety.
The bravery, ingenuity and resilience they displayed was the result of their unusual upbringing. Taken out of school at a young age, they received an unconventional and global education, learning independence and resourcefulness whilst carrying out voluntary work for charities in India alongside their parents.
In the decade since the tsunami, Rob and Paul have achieved an incredible feat. They have created a multinational brand, Gandy's Flip Flops, based in the front room of their rented flat and endorsed by entrepreneurs including Richard Branson, and set up Orphans for Orphans, a charitable organization that uses 10% of the profits to support children deprived of education, nutrition and medication.
This is a heartbreaking, engaging but ultimately uplifting journey from the streets of Sri Lanka to the boardrooms of London, Downing Street and beyond as told by two inspirational survivors.

Tsunami Kids was published in hardback by Michael O'Mara Books on 13 November 2014.

There can't be many people who don't remember seeing the television coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004. The sheer enormity of the devastation, the horror of the news footage, there was nothing we could do but watch in horror as more details emerged.

Rob Forkan and his family were staying in Sri Lanka. Four children and their parents, their two elder siblings were back at home in the UK. Their parents did not survive the tsunami, but these four amazing, resilient youngsters not only survived but have gone on to make a huge success of their lives, and there is no doubt that their parents are the drivers in their lives.

The book opens on Boxing Day 2004, in the bedroom that Rob and his younger brother Paul were sharing. His description of what happened that morning is vivid and terrifying, and must have been extremely difficult to put into words.

Rob's story goes back to when his parents met first, their ideals and beliefs. How they raised their children, always encouraging, adventurous and unusual. The family travelled, the children came out of school, but what they learned from their parents and their travels was probably a far better education that they would have got at home. They didn't stick to the tourist areas, they visited real people, children's homes, they played with local kids, they did charity work.  This is the background that has formed their future.

Returning to the UK after the tsunami, and after trekking for miles through devastation and death, at first the family were not sure of what lay ahead of them. Gradually, Rob realised that he wanted to help other people. He wanted to create a social enterprise that would benefit orphans; 'orphans for orphans'. And so, Gandys was born. A brand of flip flop that echoed everything that they believed in with the profits going to provide a children's home in India.

Rob and Paul are two amazing guys. Tsunami Kids is written with honesty and warmth, and throughout the story, it is so obvious to the reader of the impact of their parents. The boys were determined that everything their parents had done for them and had taught them would not go to waste, and have created a successful, well-known brand that is in turn, creating opportunities for children who have nothing.

This is a moving and quite humbling story. This family are astounding and they really have turned tragedy into positivity.

To find out more about Gandys and check out their fabulous range of flip flop, check out their website

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Monday, 22 December 2014

A Blogger's Year of Bookish Events

When I started Random Things it was a place for me to share my reviews of books that I've read and enjoyed. I had been submitting reviews to Amazon, Waterstone's and Goodreads for a few years and blogging seemed to be taking off in a big way so I thought I'd have a go at it.

It's been such fun, I really love talking about books and being part of the blogging world. It's still purely a hobby, for my pleasure, and I enjoy every minute of it. I know that some bloggers begin to feel bogged down by how many books they receive, and feel tied to deadlines. I've never felt like that. Yes, I do get far more books through the letterbox than I'll ever be able to review, but if I promise a publisher or author that I'll review their book, I do. If someone chooses to send a book to me without checking first, well that's their gamble - if I can, I will review, if I don't have time, then it will go on the ever-increasing 'to be reviewed when I have the time' pile.

What I never expected, and what has been the most exciting part of being a blogger has been the invitations to bookish events. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be meeting the authors that I idolise, or frequenting such places as The Ivy! Never in a million years!

2014 has been a year of wonderful bookish events. Living in Lincolnshire can make it very difficult to attend launches and parties, as most of them are in London, and the journey is quite long and fairly expensive. I was sorry to have to decline some really exciting invitations this year, but I did get to some fabulous events over the past twelve months.

January; the year began with the Pan MacMillan Women's Fiction Party and launch of The Window
Seat. This was held at Paramount Bar, Centre Point, New Oxford Street and this was the second year that I was invited to attend this party.
We had a fabulous evening thirty-two floors above London, and it was a chance to meet up with my great friends Nina, Jenny and Rebecca. I chatted to lots of authors including Lucy Diamond, Naomi Wood and Rebecca Wait.

February:  February brought two amazing invitations, and also a battle against the striking Tube drivers. I was delighted to be invited to the  launch of Rowan Coleman's The Memory Book being held at The Parlour Bar, Jewel Piccadilly. Despite the Tube strike, I was determined to get there and Rowan tweeted encouragement throughout the day. I did make it, and it was a wonderful night. I was so pleased to meet Rowan at last, along with lots of other of my favourite authors and some new book blogger friends too. Getting home was another story, but I am grateful to the doorman of The Ritz who flagged down a black cab for me (it's a long story!)

Later on in February I found myself at The Ivy, yes The Ivy! I was honoured to be the guest of Cathy Rentzenbrink who is Associate Editor of The Bookseller  at the launch of The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, hosted by Penguin.  I was the only blogger at the party, and it was top secret, I had to keep it secret until after the event. I was in the same room as some of my all time favourite authors; Victoria Hislop, Jojo Moyes and Jenny Colgan. The Ivy is a fabulous venue, the champagne flowed and the canapes were delicious. I really didn't want to leave!

March: Up North this time, just a short train journey to York. My friend Anne who blogs at Being Anne asked if I'd like to join her at the Literary Lunch with Rowan Coleman, part of the York Literature Festival. A three-course lunch at the lovely Dean Court Hotel, another chance to meet Rowan Coleman, a day out with a great friend and a day off work? How could I resist?  We had a great afternoon with delicious food, a funny and warm talk from Rowan and a huge hug too. The perfect day! 

April:  Spring had sprung and I found myself in London again. This time at Penguin's very impressive head office at Strand. Again, with my friend Anne and this time we were joined by our friend Karen who blogs at My Reading Corner. We had been invited to the launch party of One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis. All three of us have quotes from our reviews printed in the paperback edition, and we all felt very honoured by this. It was fabulous to meet Tina at long last, she had successfully self-published her novel before getting a deal with Penguin. 

May:  In May I finally got to meet the team from Cutting Edge Press when I attended the launch party for The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings.  I've been a fan and a supporter of Cutting Edge for some time now, they publish some wonderful books that have been a real joy to read. It was fabulous to meet them at at long last. Amanda was a great host too, welcoming and bubbly and very thankful for all the support that she's had. 

June:  Summer was upon us and I was absolutely thrilled to receive another invitation from Cutting Edge Press.  This time it was the launch party for Who Are You? by Lizzie Forbes. I'd been lucky enough to receive a pre-proof, pre-publication copy of Who Are You? and read it long before most people even knew about it, and it's a stunner. 
A taut psychological thriller that sends shivers down the spine. This party was held at the incredibly posh Cavalry & Guards Club in Piccadilly, so swish! I met up with my good friend Nina again, and we were joined by Leah who blogs at Reflections of a Reader and Karen from My Reading Corner. It was a wonderful evening, I met so many people and at long last, I finally met Lizzie herself. She's adorable. I was honoured and thrilled to find that the finished book has a quote from my review on the BACK COVER!  

Also in June, I was really happy to hear that Lucy Diamond would be at Waterstone's in Doncaster as part of a promotional tour for her book One Night In Italy.  I really enjoyed the book and as Doncaster is just 25 minutes away, I thought it would be lovely to go along and support her. I met Lucy earlier in the year at the Pan Macmillan party, and I follow her on Twitter and Facebook. 

July:  Yet again, I found myself in London in July. Myself and Anne from Being Anne were invited to the launch party for Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen. The party was held at Lutyens & Rubenstein bookshop in Notting Hill on a beautiful summer's day. The shop was beautifully decorated and was jam packed with lots of our favourite authors. I was delighted to meet Julie Cohen and to listen to her read from her fabulous novel. Everyone had such a great evening, there was lots of laughter and lots of wine.

A little nearer to home for my two final bookish events of the year. In July, I went along to an event organised by a new independent bookshop in Lincoln. Lindum Books only opened this year, but already it has become one of my favourite shops in the City. I was excited to learn that they were
hosting an event with Pan MacMillan, and that Jessie Burton would be coming to Lincoln to talk about her hugely successful book The Miniaturist.
The event took place at The Collection in Lincoln on another beautiful summer's evening. Jessie's talk was fascinating, she's very personable, very funny and has great talent. I was delighted to meet her after the event and thrilled that she recognised me and thanked me for my review.

And finally, my last bookish event of the year was another local event. I went to listen to Lincolnshire author Rebecca Mascull talk about her novel The Visitors. This event was hosted by Waterstone's and took place in their Lincoln High Street store. When I read The Visitors I hadn't realised that the author was local, she comes from Grimsby - which is officially classed as North Lincolnshire. It was really interesting to listen to Rebecca talk about how she had got the idea for her novel, and I was also really pleased to see so many young adult readers at the event. I got a chance to chat to Rebecca and her beautiful little daughter too.

It's been a full and exciting year of wonderful bookish events. I've met so many authors, publishers, agents and bloggers over the past twelve months. I really love being part of the blogging community, it's great to feel part of this book-loving community, and wonderful to think that we ordinary readers can help our favourite authors to get their books noticed.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who included me in their events in 2014, and apologies to those that I had to decline.

Here's to 2015, and hoping that it is another fabulous book year, filled with parties and fun and laughter.

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