Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cowboy Bebop (anime TV series), on DVD

Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode sci-fi series about a group of bounty hunters in space. The show starts off with Spike Spiegel (a laid-back cool guy) and Jet Black (a grumpy secret softie), who are later joined by Ein (a Welsh Corgi), Faye Valentine (a sexy bounty hunter with a tendency to gamble her money away), and Edward (a brilliant and weird young hacker). A good portion of the series is composed of self-contained single-episode stories, although there are a few story and character threads that run through multiple episodes.

The first time I saw this series was back when it was first airing on Adult Swim. I had seen other anime, but I don't think I'd ever heard such a wonderful English dub before. I can't say that Cowboy Bebop is my favorite anime – the pacing is a bit weird at times, and the ending still makes me mad – but its English dub is my favorite. I've never been able to bring myself to listen to more than snippets of the show in Japanese, because the English dub has, for me, become how the characters should sound.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset (e-book) by Sarah Ashwood

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is fantasy, the first in a trilogy. It's 78,380 words long and available for free on Smashwords.

This post includes some spoilers.

Review:

This was one of my freebie downloads. If it isn't self-published, it's very close to it – I just checked the website for Griffineus Publications, and Sarah Ashwood appears to be the only author they publish. Anyway, whoever chose the cover artist has fabulous taste. It's too bad that I can't seem to find the artist's name listed anywhere, and that the story didn't live up to the artwork.

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset begins in our world. Almost immediately, Hannah encounters an old man named Risean Wy' Curlm, who tells her that she's the Artan, the prophesied savior of Aerisia. Then, despite her protests, he magically transports her to Aerisia, where everyone again assures her that she will save them all from the Evil. First, though, she must be Joined to her Simathe (the Joining is so important that it must always be written in italics). It takes almost half the book before someone finally tells Hannah what the Joining is, although, to be fair, she doesn't try very hard to find out. Lord Ilgard, High-Chief of the Simathe, is supposed to be her protector, but all Hannah wants is to go back home.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ring of the Ruby Dragon (book) by Jeannie Black, interior art by Jim Holloway

Ring of the Ruby Dragon is the first book in the short-lived HeartQuest "choose your own adventure" series. I got it via interlibrary loan.

I won't be including any read-alikes in this post.

Review:

This was my first “choose your own adventure” book since I read Cinderella: Ninja Warrior almost a year ago. While that one featured better writing, I'd argue that this one was a better “choose your own adventure” - it included both more choices and more endings. Ring of the Ruby Dragon managed to occupy me for an entire day.

In Ring of the Ruby Dragon, you are Chandelle (yes, this is a traditional “choose your own adventure,” so it's written in the second person). Your father is a jeweler, and you've been his apprentice for five years. While on a journey to acquire emeralds for special jewelry for Lord Darkell, you and your father are attacked by a centaur and some winged lions. When you regain consciousness, your father is gone, and all you have are the ioun stones he told you about when you were a child. Each one has magical abilities, but you don't know exactly what they can all do. A young knight named Coren crosses your path, and you have to decide whether to trust in his abilities or head to town and find someone more experienced who can help you rescue your father.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vampire Academy (graphic novel) based on the series by Richelle Mead, adapted by Leigh Dragoon, illustrated by Emma Vieceli

Vampire Academy started off as a YA paranormal novel with a hint of romance. This graphic novel is based on that. I bought it at a used bookstore.

I'm not including any read-alikes in this post. Take a look at my post for the original novel if you'd like some.

Review:

This is a graphic novel adaptation of the entire first Vampire Academy novel. While I thought the original book was better, this wasn't all that bad.

My favorite thing about this adaptation was the artwork, which, other than a few odd-looking panels, usually looked really good - Vieceli's character designs were nice. Surprisingly, this adaptation was less shy about mentioning sex and showing skin than some adaptations of novels for adults I've seen (for example, the OEL manga adaption of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunters series). The scene with Jesse on the couch and the scene with Dimitri and the necklace were both included. I actually liked the scene with Dimitri even better in the graphic novel than in the original book, because it was clearer that something fishy was going on and that Rose's brain hadn't suddenly been overridden by her hormones.

While nothing was changed in this adaptation (as far as I can remember), a few things were definitely left out. For example, although the scene with Rose and Jesse on the couch was included, Rose's partying and drinking was completely cut. I didn't mind this, because I thought it made her seem more focused and dedicated to her goal of becoming Lissa's guardian.

However, the cuts did make for some confusing moments. At one point in the graphic novel, Rose is “exiled” in her dorm room. I'm pretty sure that, in the original book, Rose got in trouble and was told to stay in her room, but in the graphic novel there was no evidence of this. In fact, the one who'd just gotten in trouble was Christian. Another odd moment: the flashback to the scene with Lissa, Rose, Ms. Karp, and the bird was basically just stuck into the story – the scene in which the bird was brought back to life was left out, so the extent of Lissa and Ms. Karp's powers wasn't as clear as it should have been.

Also, it bugged me that the graphic novel never mentioned why Lissa and Rose decided to run away from the Academy. The closest thing to an explanation that readers get is that Ms. Karp told Rose they needed to run away – that's it.

In short, the artwork was nice, but the story was a little choppy and lacked a few necessary explanations. Fans of the original book might enjoy it, if they can get past the things that were cut. Vampire Academy newbies might be a little confused, but would at least get a taste of what to expect.

A Spy in the House (e-book) by Y.S. Lee

A Spy in the House is a YA historical mystery/thriller, the first in Y.S. Lee's The Agency series. It was one of my Overdrive checkouts.

Review:

I don't think I'd have read this if it hadn't been for my local public library's very limited Overdrive e-book holdings. I decided I wanted to read a mystery, and this was one of the few mysteries immediately available for checkout that looked interesting to me.

On to the story. At the age of 12, Mary was saved from being hung as a thief and was given the chance to become a student at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. When Mary is 17, she is given another opportunity: if she wishes, she may become a spy for the Agency, an organization connected to the school. Mary's skills as a thief allow her to have a shorter training period than normal, and, only one month later, she begins her first assignment. Her job is to listen in on conversations in the Thorold household and hopefully acquire information about Mr. Thorold's smuggling activities. To make her work easier, Mary takes a job as the new paid companion of Angelica Thorold, Mr. Thorold's daughter.

Mary is a pretty terrible novice spy. She becomes bored with her work after only a few days. Her impatience prompts her to take greater risks, which result in her activities being discovered by James Easton. Luckily for her, James is doing some spying of his own and can't turn her in without drawing attention to himself. George, James's brother, is in love with Angelica, and James is concerned that Mr. Thorold may be involved in something that could become trouble for his family if George ends up marrying Angelica. He wants to find proof of his suspicions before it's too late, so he proposes that he and Mary work together as a team.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Humble Bundle - for lovers (of games)

If I didn't already own many of these games, I'd want this Humble Bundle. Warning: this bundle expires in only 16 more hours, so if you want it, get it fast!

Here are the ones I have, plus a bit about them. You can get all of them for only $8:

Long Live the Queen - Basically a Choose Your Own Adventure story, although you get to improve some of the main characters traits and abilities as you go along, making it slightly more game-like than some of the other titles in this bundle. The choices you make either allow you to survive a bit longer, or they result in your death. It's surprisingly fun to play over and over again, which is good, because dying is a very common occurrence.

Analogue: A Hate Story - A visual novel (less game-like than Long Live the Queen). You have to communicate with two different AIs in order to figure out what happened to the final generation on board the space ship. I haven't played this one completely through, but the portion I got through was fascinating. Lots of family drama, plus extremely biased AIs.

Hate Plus - I haven't actually played this one yet, but it's the sequel to Analogue: A Hate Story.

Hatoful Boyfriend - The visual novel in which you romance pigeons. The premise is wacky. If that's not enough for you, there's an underlying mystery that you slowly uncover with each playthrough.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (live action movie) - at the movie theater

I hadn't originally planned on seeing Jupiter Ascending. Then I read a review of it on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thought “eh, why not, the movie theater is cheap here.”

Because of that review, I knew to expect an enormous nonsensical mess. I disagree with SBTB a little as far as the movie's prettiness goes. There were some great shots – I loved the wedding, for example – but the big battles were just noise and a bunch of lights, moving things, and explosions.

All right, on to the story, as I understood it. Warning: I'm going to try to avoid major spoilers, but I'm not guaranteeing anything. On the plus side, I don't know that spoilers would necessarily ruin the experience.

Jupiter, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, wants more out of life than waking up every morning before 5 and cleaning other people's toilets. Specifically, she would like a telescope, just like one her dad might have had if he hadn't been killed before she was born. This is why she agrees to her relative's idea to sell her eggs, which results in her nearly being killed by aliens. She is saved by Caine Wise, a half-albino wolf-human hybrid wearing sci-fi rollerblades.

I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details from here on out. Apparently, there are three royal alien siblings (who are actually humans) who are fighting each other for possession of the planet Earth. You see, they seed various planets with humans, which they later harvest for some kind of youth elixir, and Earth is ready to be harvested. Earth is assumed to belong to one of the siblings. The only problem is Jupiter (the girl, not the planet). As it turns out, she's an exact genetic match for the siblings' deceased mother, which makes her the true owner of Earth. This puts Jupiter in grave danger. Luckily for her, Caine's willing to betray his boss to keep her safe.

There is a lot of stuff in this movie. A lot. Bees recognizing royalty, exhausting bureaucracy, a sanitary napkin used for first aid, inheritance law, explosions, elixir of youth, angel wings, and more explosions. There were a few periods when I had no idea what was going on, and I'm still not sure why certain people did what they did, or what happened to them when the movie was done with them. Did the bounty hunters just leave? Was Kalique really just there to show how the elixir worked and that's it? How was Jupiter planning on keeping Earth for more than just a few decades? Why did that one ship support Jupiter when she had basically no power? I mean, sure, she was the queen, but it wasn't like she had an army of her own. Oh, and did Jupiter really read and retain an entire alien law book in just a few hours?

And I haven't even touched on the romance yet. This movie was what you might get if you put a bunch of romance subgenres in a blender and then poured the result in a space opera cup. This could have been really great, except either Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum had no chemistry or the action scenes and explosions didn't give them enough time to display any. Also, considering how quickly they fell in love (amazingly, if I remember correctly, Jupiter made the first move), I must say that the Wachowskis wasted a perfect opportunity for Caine to talk about soulmates and wolves mating for life and such.

I don't really know how I feel about this movie. Saying it was good would be a lie, but I had more fun with it than I normally do with movies I consider to be bad. I'm going to have to go with the general consensus on SBTB and say that I would give it a rating of “WTF.” It's a bizarrely appealing mess, and part of me wants to see it a second time. I just wish the aerial and space battles had been shortened, to make room for more bees, bureaucracy, and Channing Tatum getting there in the nick of time.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rats! (e-short story) by Brett James

Rats! is a self-published science fiction story.

I'm not including any read-alikes for this one.

Review:

My Nook Simple Touch said this was 23 pages long. It was actually 9 pages – everything after that was a sample from Brett James' The Drift Wars, which I opted not to read. I do not appreciate it when a large percentage of an e-book file is really an advertisement for something else, although at least my records tell me Rats! was one of my freebie downloads.

Rats! follows Jama'al, an exterminator from a long line of exterminators, as he participates in a hunt that could make or break his company. Twenty years ago, wild rats interbred with genetically modified super rats, resulting in enormous, intelligent, and deadly rodents that forced people to rethink food storage and distribution. Food is now delivered in armored cars. FOODex Direct's Staten Island storage facility is one of the largest food repositories in the world, and Jama'al's company oversees their pest control. The facility's latest infestation has taken out three of Jama'al's exterminators, so he has to suit up and go in himself.

This story would probably make a good scene in an action movie, but it's all explosions and no brains. I'm familiar with rats. Although I've never had to deal with an infestation, thank goodness, I've read a lot about them, I've owned pet rats, and I spent several months researching rodent control. I found it difficult to believe that the lab researchers from 20 years in Jama'al's past were so stupid as to cage their genetically modified rats in ways that allowed wild rats to get to them. Also, I'm pretty sure those genetically modified rats would have killed any of the wild rats that entered their territory.

In Jama'al's time, it's apparently no longer a rule that, if you see one rat, there are probably many other rats you can't see. The three he was hunting were it, and going after them with a rifle and some explosives was not considered wasteful and ludicrous overkill. Even though he destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of food.

If Michael Bay wrote a story about rodent control, the result would probably be something like this. Although maybe the big, infodumpy section explaining how the world got to be this way would be slightly shorter, to make room for more explosions and man vs. rat battles.

Thief of Songs (e-book) by M.C.A. Hogarth

Thief of Songs is a self-published fantasy romance. It's approximately 84,300 words long. Unlike Hogarth's other works, it's available on All Romance Ebooks, which means you can take advantage of ARe's Valentine's Day 50% rebate sale today if you'd like.

I had been dragging my feet on writing this review, because I knew explaining the world wasn't going to be easy. Well, I finally wrote it. I hope it all makes sense.

Review:

There was never any question that I was going to buy this book. I've liked or loved just about everything of Hogarth's that I've read. I enjoyed the development of the romance in Hogarth's Her Instruments trilogy, and I still think Mindtouch could have made a fabulous asexual romance novel had the ending been different. Thief of Songs is Hogarth's first book she explicitly wrote and marketed as a romance novel, and I was excited to see what it would be like.

That said, I don't know that I'd have purchased it if I hadn't already been familiar with Hogarth's writing. “Multiple partner” romances rarely work well for me, and I was concerned that the cover only showed two of the three characters I knew would be involved. If the asexual neuter character ended up feeling like a third wheel, I was going to be depressed. I also wondered how distracting Hogarth's pronoun choices (“en” for the hermaphrodite characters, “it” for the neuter characters) would be. FYI, from here on out, I'll be using the same pronouns for the characters that were used in the book.

Dancer and Amet, the book's main characters, are basically brought together by intellectual property infringement. Dancer, the royal composer, has just gotten back from a trip to the west and has a wonderful new arrangement of a western folk song to share. Dancer mistakes Amet for a brooding admirer and is shocked when Amet calls en a thief and slaps en. The song, as it turns out, was not a folk song, but rather one of Amet's original creations. Amet broke the law and allowed his song to be played by common minstrels in taverns in order to hurt his ex-fiancee, the person for whom he had composed it. Amet realizes pretty quickly that assaulting the royal composer was a bad idea. He apologizes, and he and Dancer soon learn that they not only share a passion for music, but also a powerful attraction to each other.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The History of the West Wing (manhua) story by Sun Jiayu, art by Guo Guo, translated by J. Gustave McBride

The History of the West Wing is a historical romance Chinese manhua.

Review:

I came across this while looking through the offerings in Right Stuf's latest Yen Press sale. I had never heard of The History of the West Wing before, but its title caught my eye. Reviews indicated that the story would probably be mediocre. However, I fell in love with the artwork that came up when I did a quick Google Image Search, and Right Stuf's sale price was excellent, so I decided to get it anyway.

The History of the West Wing is an English translation of a Chinese graphic novel influenced by Wang Shifu's play, Xi Xiang Ji. The play, in turn, was influenced by a fable. I know this because Yen Press included a page of background information. I appreciated that page, but later decided I would have liked more. Additional cultural notes beyond the one or two footnotes would have been nice.

Now, on to the story. Chen Yuqing is a wandering scholar. Five years ago, he was in love with Mingyan, the daughter of the imperial secretary, but their relationship ended badly. He now believes that all young noble ladies are haughty and cold. He's the only one who isn't eagerly awaiting the upcoming ceremony at the temple of Buddha the Savior, and the possibility of seeing beautiful Pianpian, the minister's daughter.

However, a chance encounter with Pianpian intrigues Chen Yuqing. He arranges to meet with her in secret, and the two fall in love. Unfortunately, Pianpian's mother has arranged for her to marry Du Heng, the only son of Imperial Secretary Zheng Du. Chen Yuqing must prove his worth to Pianpian's mother and convince her to break off Pianpian's engagement to Du Heng.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New arrivals on Netflix, plus some things I've been watching

Netflix now has Naruto Shippuden: The Movie (anime), Bleach the Movie: Hell Verse (anime), and Coffee Prince (K-drama).

I don't expect much of either of the anime movies, although it's still nice to see them in the catalog. It'll be interesting to see how well I can follow the Bleach movie, since I haven't even been keeping up with the manga, much less the anime.

Coffee Prince was the first K-drama I ever watched and enjoyed. I'm still debating whether to rewatch it - I really do think The Great Doctor has ruined me for other K-dramas. Nearly everything I've tried since then hasn't held my attention well, and I wouldn't be surprised if even Coffee Prince ends up not comparing favorably.

A few things I've been watching on Netflix lately:

City Hunter (live action TV series) - After enjoying Lee Min Ho's performance in The Great Doctor, I figured I'd try another one of his shows. While this isn't bad, I don't know if I'll be watching much more than the 6 episodes I've seen so far. Kim Nana seems more immature than Yoo Eun Soo. Also, it struck me as strange that it took so long for someone to bring up the potential security issues posed by Nana being both dirt poor and a secret service agent (or whatever they're called in Korea). Yoon Sung (Lee Min Ho's character) is technically a good guy, but he has to pretend to be a womanizing jerk a little too often for my tastes. I want to shake him whenever he acts all hurt that Nana doesn't like him. Lee Min Ho as Choi Young was so much better.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel (anime TV series) - I only started watching this because I had heard that it had submarines controlled by AI characters. I need to make myself finish it and write a review, but the short version is that it's pretty meh unless you're into watching submarine battles. The human characters are incredibly boring, I can barely follow the battles, and I can't bring myself to care about what's going on. It also upsets me that the AI character who chose to hide herself under an enormous jacket has been stripped down to her underwear multiple times as a joke. I do not find her embarrassment to be funny.

Cheongdam-dong Alice (live action TV series) - Here is Netflix's description for the show: "A young, aspiring fashion designer believes her positive attitude and sheer determination will help her get whatever she wants out of life." It sounded like light, fluffy fun to me. It was not. I stopped after two episodes and don't know if I'll ever watch any more. It was so depressing. The heroine keeps having her face shoved in the fact that great effort and a positive attitude aren't always enough. Her family might get evicted, her boyfriend has a mountain of debt, his mother is dying, and she was only chosen for her job because the girl who hated her in high school is now her boss and wants to make her suffer. I kind of like the Count of Monte Cristo-esque storyline involving the ruthless luxury brand president, but I don't know if that's enough to get me to continue. Watching the universe crush ordinary people's souls is not my idea of fun.

Dr. Jin (live action TV series) - You need a strong stomach to watch this show. It's incredibly gross - in 6 episodes, there has been brain surgery, trepanning, syphilis, and cholera. Brains, blood, bone, vomit, sores, and diarrhea. And also a time traveling embryo lodged in some guy's skull. The romance doesn't do anything for me at all, but thankfully the focus is more on the medical emergencies. I may actually manage to get through this one, despite its somewhat shaky acting.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Brood of Bones (e-book) by A.E. Marling

Brood of Bones is a free self-published fantasy novel that I downloaded from Smashwords. It has a word count of 86,650.

Review:

I found this while browsing through freebies. I liked the cover, but the description made the book sound like a train wreck. I admit, I downloaded it mostly out of morbid curiosity.

Hiresha is an Elder Enchantress, a woman who possesses powerful magic but can only use it in her sleep. Her sleeping disorder gives her great power as an enchantress but prevents her from achieving the life she most wants, that of a wife and mother. At the request of Sri the Flawless, she returns to Morimound, the city of her birth, only to discover that something awful has happened. Despite being in her eighties, Sri the Once Flawless is now pregnant. Not only that, so is every other woman and girl age 12 and up.

The city is in turmoil. Some, like Abwar, the Priest of the Ever Always, declare the pregnancies to be a divine gift. Others beat the women and girls, call them sluts, and feed them poisons to try to purge them of their pregnancies. As Hiresha begins her investigation, she learns horrifying things about the fetuses and finds herself having to make choices that could potentially bring even greater harm to the citizens of Morimound.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Skies of Dawn (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith

Skies of Dawn is the fourth book in Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms series. I've been debating what genre to put it in. It's definitely fantasy. I'd also argue that it's epic fantasy - this book alone covers 100 years and multiple kingdoms.

Review:

I have now finished all of the books in this series that were licensed and translated into English. If I could ask for one Tokyopop license rescue that hasn't already been announced, I'd ask for this. Ono created a fascinating world, and I'd happily read more about it.

Skies of Dawn is probably the most complex book in the series so far, because it doesn't just deal with one main character, but rather three: Yoko, Suzu, and Shoukei. Readers who've read the first book should be familiar with Yoko. Skies of Dawn picks up almost where Sea of Shadow left off - Ono chose to skip Yoko's defeat of the false king and the death of the King of Kou, and began instead with Yoko's coronation. Yoko quickly learns that her problems aren't over – her new kingdom, Kei, is a mess. As King, she has the power to make things better, but she doesn't even know where to start.

The two new characters, Suzu and Shoukei, are located in completely different kingdoms. Suzu is a Japanese girl who was transported to the Twelve Kingdoms one hundred years ago. After a few years, she became the servant of a flying sage in the Kingdom of Sai, which granted her immortality and the ability to understand all languages. Although her mistress is cruel, she doesn't dare leave, out of fear that she'd lose her new linguistic skills. Shoukei also had a painful history. Thirty years ago, her father was King of Hou. He was so unyielding and brutal that he, his wife, and his kirin were eventually killed by his own people. Shoukei was spared but forced to live the life of an ordinary villager.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Prince Who Charmed Her (book) by Fiona McArthur

The Prince Who Charmed Her is a Harlequin Medical Romance.

No read-alikes list this time. I'm feeling lazy, and coming up with read-alikes lists for Harlequin romances always takes me a lot of time.

Review:

This is another one of the books that was in my used bookstore Harlequin Medical Romance bargain pack. It didn't work for me, but at least I liked it more than Her Christmas Eve Diamond.

Dr. Kiki Fender is working on a cruise ship as a way to escape. Nine months ago, she'd had a whirlwind romance with Prince Stefano of Aspelicus. Soon after he suddenly left her, she'd learned she was pregnant. She spent the next few weeks hoping he'd contact her, but he never did. Kiki miscarried at 18 weeks, and there was still no word from Stefano. Now it's mere days before what would have been her due date, and Kiki is shocked to encounter Stefano while treating a passenger suffering from a severe allergic reaction.

Stefano had meant to call Kiki and explain himself, but he'd been delayed by an accident and a long rehabilitation period. By the time he'd recovered, she was long gone. Their sudden reunion on the cruise ship shocks him as much as it does Kiki. Even if he can't mend things between them, he at least wants to explain himself and apologize. Unfortunately, it seems as though everything he says and does just makes Kiki more upset with him.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Her Christmas Eve Diamond (book) by Scarlet Wilson

Her Christmas Eve Diamond is a Harlequin Medical Romance. I got it as part of a used bookstore bargain pack a while back.
 
Review:

Well, crap. This was supposed to be some nice, fluffy fun. Instead, I now want to cry, and not in a good way.

Cassidy Rae is a Scottish nurse. She was badly hurt a few years ago when her Spanish fiance went back to Spain and cut things off with her when she refused to go with him. All she wants to do is take care of her grandmother, who has Alzheimer's, and find herself a nice Scottish guy. She's not happy when a fortuneteller tells her that she's going to be a Christmas bride, and that her groom won't be from Scotland.

Soon after getting back to work, Cassidy meets Brad, a new doctor at her hospital. He's from Australia and probably won't stick around any longer than her fiance did, but she can't help but be charmed by him. The attraction is mutual, but Brad has something he hasn't told Cassidy: he has a young daughter named Melody. Melody's mother, Alison, took off with her in the middle of the night two years ago, and he's been looking for her ever since. Odds are good that Alison fell in love with an American doctor and moved to the United States with him – Brad just doesn't know exactly where. When he finds out, will that be the end of his and Cassidy's romance, or will she unbend enough to reconsider her decision never to leave Scotland?
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