Review: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

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In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

review

3/5 Stars

***Potential triggers for human trafficking, abuse, animal cruelty, violence, death

It pains me to write this review because I was so looking forward to this book-it was at the top of my highly anticipated list for 2017. I mean, The Phantom of the Opera??? As a theater kid, this is my personal form of euphoria. Unfortunately, my feelings on this rendering are mixed. 

PROS:

  • Thorn’s story is almost as tragic and heartbreaking as the Phantom’s and yet so full of beauty. No matter the darkness and fear he experienced as a child captured by traffickers and tormented beyond measure, his heart is pure and OMG is he swoonworthy. Some of the stuff he says to Rune, I mean, my heart swelled with joy. He’s like a part-time poet and the way he plays that violin. He’s the definition of dreamy. That dark hair and those coppery eyes, and that jaw. Smokin’ hot. I loved the way his past evolved and changed him and his starry-eyed devotion to the Phantom. Plus the way he looks at Rune…it’s like she’s his world at first sight. Now, let me warn, this does read like instalove on Thorn’s part, but there are reasons so hold out. 
  • This twist on the Phantom is super weird and complex. It can be hard to wrap your head around and accept, but there are enough history and allusions to the original Leroux story. The Phantoms’s story is somehow even more depressing and horrific than in the original. When you read about the love he felt for Christine, the hope he held for a happy ending, it will crush you and hit you right in the feels.
  • There’s a ton of seriously disturbing elements to this story-from creepy, crawly animals that don’t belong in nature, to taxidermy, to cryogenics. It’s a mix and match of sci-fi meets paranormal. And when you find out the truth about Rune’s heritage and how she relates to the Phantom…well, whether or not you’re a fan is up to you, but for me, I was torn. It felt like the author didn’t stay entirely true to the mythology (and that’s all I can say without spoilers). 
  • One of my favorite characters was the cat, Diable. He’s not particularly cute, but he has so much attitude in his mannerisms and he’s so clever. A sassy cat, what’s not to love?

CONS:

  • This book is at least a hundred pages too long. Let me explain. There were so many parts that seemed unnecessary, dragged, and pulled down the whole sense of foreboding that should have wrapped around the reader. The pacing was in line with a Gothic novel, but because it is set in contemporary time, it didn’t fit well with the story, despite the setting. There were whole sections of sprawling description that could have been trimmed, but went on for pages. While these sections certainly painted a picture, the length didn’t really build the emotions, but distracted from them with painstaking details. Scenes that would have benefited from being shortened by heightening the anxiety and fear got lost in a sort of step-by-step, piece-by-piece map of the setting. It became more about setting the scene than the story/scene itself. 
  • There’s so much going on that it became overwhelming. After you get used to the shock factor and adjust to the bizarre twist on the traditional Phantom story, the shifts in POV, the flashbacks to the past, and the absolutely strange quirks of every character (which was a bit much to begin with) don’t fall into place but feel strung together and random. There’s not a feeling of cohesion and planning, it hits like chaos and stays that way. Told in a more measured way, these pieces are all elements that explain the characters and their personalities. I guess what I’m saying is that I would have liked more build up. 
  • So much time was placed on carefully crafting the back stories for the Phantom and Thorn, even for Jipetto and Audrey, so that you know their hearts, their motivations, how they became who they are. And yet, despite the tragedy of her past with her father and the terrible situations she had with her grandmother, and even the history of the family name, Rune’s character felt undeveloped in comparison. While there are tidbits, like her joy of gardening, her knitting, her personality was kind of bland for such a strong story arc. Honestly, she was much better, much more interesting when she was interacting with other characters than by herself. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan

Release Day Blitz & Giveaway: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

Release Date: January 10, 2016
syn
In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.
 
At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.
trailer
author
 

A.G. Howard was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. She always wondered what would’ve happened had the subtle creepiness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland taken center stage, and she hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child.

When she’s not writing, A.G.’s pastimes are reading, rollerblading, gardening, and family vacations which often include impromptu side trips to 18th century graveyards or condemned schoolhouses to appease her overactive muse.

giveaway
 
1 winner will receive a signed ROSEBLOOD poster and a Mask. US Only.
 
Ends on January 17th at Midnight EST!

 

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Spooky reading, 

Jordan

Review: The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

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Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

review

3/5 Stars

+++Contains graphic violence, grotesque imagery, self-inflicted mutilation, and scenes that could be disturbing to some readers. 

I loved Daughters Unto Devils so when I saw The Women in the Walls I was gleeful. It felt like a lovely early Christmas present for my horror-obsessed little heart. Then I started reading. I waited. And waited. And waited some more for something to happen and finally it did, but it took ages. The pacing is slow. So much so that the tension doesn’t build like it should. Scenes that should have sucked all the air out of the room with the sheer creepiness of what was going on fell flat and missed their mark entirely in some places. 

The setting didn’t quite fit with the story. The Women in the Walls read like a Gothic novel, but was set (I’m assuming because of a few-very few-references) in present time. There were so many details that were left out. It bugged me that I had no clue how old the main characters were. All we know is that they are not legal adults. I was at a loss for what Lucy looked like. Descriptions of people were sparse. Apart from Lucy’s habit of self-mutilation, we really know nothing about her hobbies, her interests, her friendships, nothing. There are measly references to her mother, and some moderately detailed memories of her and Penelope, but that’s it. Lucy’s closeness to Margaret was stressed throughout, but there are no flashbacks, no nostalgia, and certainly no friendly interactions as the story evolves. If anything, they look like enemies. It’s hard to invest in their relationship when it felt as though it was never there to begin with. 

What Amy Lukavics excels at is those spine-tingling, chilling images that are blunt and brutal and made of nightmares. The horror is grotesque, packs a punch, and so bizarre that it takes a second for it to process and then, boom. I said this about Daughters Unto Devils as well, this would make a fantastic scary movie. Some statements are disturbing on levels that sink their teeth into you and keep going, gnawing at your thoughts. I can’t get them out of my head and that shows you how powerful those scenes are. 

The ending. The bulk of the horror happens in the last 15 or so percent of the book. What gets you is the anticipation. You know something terrible is coming. Something so bad that you persevere and wade through the slowness. Will it be paranormal? Will it be bloody? Will Lucy make it to the end of the book? What happened? All of these questions nag and plague and will drive you mad with need. I had to know. I pushed and fought and when I got there…

Holy plot twist. That’s some next level horror. The clues are minimal. You might expect it a little, but the full extent of what happens-never. 

That finale. The gore is enough to keep you awake for days. Read it with the lights on. You were warned. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Hypnotic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

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A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Dawn Kurtagich is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The twists get me every single time. The darkness, the creepy, the utter shock, and grotesque horror will wrap you up in a gripping downward spiral towards madness. 

I loved this story. There are layers and layers of arcs and distractions that keep you guessing until the very end and when you get there, you still won’t be certain, and will have to ask yourself what just happened and if the end is truly reality. 

There’s a Gothic atmosphere that permeates the story. Despite being set in 1980 and 2013, there’s a gritty desperation that makes you feel like your sinking, slowly into the past. From the creaking floorboards, the blood red of the manor, and the shadows that lurk around every corner, get ready to be on edge until the bitter end. The isolation is killer. It consumes and tricks and manipulates so that you can’t be certain of anything but what is going on in the manor, and even that is suspect. 

Scattered throughout are cryptic diary entires, different POVs, and creepy (think little kids sing-songing in horror films or giggling in a corner) rhymes. You’ll feel it. That sinking certainty, the wrongness of every action. The corn husks, the sack dolls, the Creeper Man getting closer, beckoning from the deep and all-to-alive trees of Python wood. 

Madness. Complete insanity. The slow, torturous crack to the inevitable loss of all reason. It’s there in sharp clarity. Each chapter brings Silla closer to the edge, that black hole of total madness. She straddles the line and each bit of wrongness is another blow to her psyche. The process is grueling and terrifying and SO IMPRESSIVE. I’ve never read insanity so stark and horrible. The confusion, the anger, the pain, the hope. It’s all there. 

Silla has a heart of stone, but she loves so fiercely that it becomes a prison. She can’t let anyone in and it becomes a single-minded goal to protect Nori at all costs. She sacrifices so much for her sister. She forgoes food, she shucks off her own hopes for escape or safety because the Creeper Man is a threat to her beloved little sibling. 

The ending. Explosive. Heartbreaking. Emotional carnage. So much tragedy. This story, the pain is immense and raw and oh so potent. Sometimes it’s all-consuming grief and sorrow. Others, love becomes both blessing and curse.

My one issue is that some parts dragged by and there wasn’t enough bizarre in those sections to keep me interested. But wade through reader, it’s worth it. 

Also, that cover. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Those We Fear by Victoria Griffith

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What do you get when you cross The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre with Psycho? Victoria Griffith’s latest thriller.

When Maria becomes a summertime au pair to the children of a Scottish lord, she discovers the family is living under the shadow of two suspicious deaths.

Vanishing portraits, cloaked figures, and bizarre shrines add up to a compelling Modern Gothic psychological mystery.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the publisher & publicist

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You are enchanted by all things Gothic
  • Mysteries are your kryptonite
  • You love a good twist 

PROS:

  • That darkly mysterious and cryptic feeling of foreboding that comes with not knowing if there’s a killer lurking in the literal mist or something paranormal is SPOT ON. There are spine-tingling moments of terror and subtle threats that will leave your skin crawling. One word: dolls.
  • The children. There’s nothing more horrifying than kids that say disturbing thing. Especially about their dead mother…as if she were still alive. Randomly opened doors, singing in the dead of night with no one around, getting locked in rooms, it’s all sorts of spooky. 
  • Maria is protective and compassionate. She genuinely cares. Even in her times of utter fear, she overcomes and becomes stronger for those children she hardly knows. Getting to the bottom of the mystery is everything, and the more clues she finds, the darker the truth seems.  
  • Red herrings galore. Victoria Griffith is a master at misdirection. You’ll never see it coming. 

CONS:

  • The story felt like two separate plots that didn’t mesh well. It starts with terrorism, murder, and witness protection, and evolves into a Gothic mystery. The transition wasn’t smooth, and the intrusion of the initial plot disrupts the time in Scotland. 
  • The pacing was slow. Though that’s pretty typical for a Gothic, the time span between spooky incidents was pretty large and diminished the actual creep factor. It wasn’t as scary as it could have been. Some parts are on the verge of terrifying and others fell flat.
  • This is not a romance. There’s barely chemistry. The characters are rarely together and nowhere near enough to build up the romance. When the attraction (barely a spark) does get to the next level, it feels random, fast, and unnecessary. A distraction. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading,

Jordan

ARC Review: Lair of Dreams-Libba Bray

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cooltext1889161239 copyAfter a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

cooltext1889171582 copy4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

 READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re hungering for diversity. Lair of Dreams lights on class issues, politics, disability, abuse (trafficking), racial issues, eugenics, and LGBT relationships. 
  • You love historical fiction or history in general. There are so many important issues raised that you quickly become engrossed in the colloquialisms, manners, expectations. Everything is made of speakeasy lingo and the old time euphoria of the early 1900s. 
  • You’re looking for something creepy crawly and horrific. The mixture of multicultural folklore, ghosts, and governmental coverups will make your skin crawl. 
  • You adore Libba Bray. Each book is a new, wonderful surprise with multidimensional and unique characters set in intriguing places rife with crime and mystery. 

PROS:

  • Diversity galore. Early 1900s beliefs and politics couple with each character. They all have something to overcome and work through. Historical truths like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the rise of the KKK, and raids on underground LGBT clubs all find their place in this unique story. Not only do we get to see conflicts that are relevant and the United States struggles with to this day but you get the different perspectives. From the extremely religious, from the Chinese restaurant owner, from a young gay lover who wants to find his place, and a woman who is hiding from an abusive past. There’s a little bit of everything and you’ll feel for every single character. 
  • Mysteries that started to develop in book one are even more prominent. The clues are everywhere. Everything is connected. The layering is astounding. 
  • The ghosts are out of this world horrifying and totally ghastly, a cross between malicious poltergeist and zombie, between their hunger, the chilling sounds, the music box song, and the general way they skitter and widen their jaws to eat people alive, have fun trying to sleep with the lights off!
  • Evie is far from the focal point. Each character has his or her part. I loved the mix of culture and drama. Romance is on the horizon for each character. It’s messy, complicated, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, another twist is thrown in. 
  • The dreamwalker world is intensely detailed and vibrant. You can picture everything and here, the emotions are larger. Desire meets desperation and happiness goes from total ecstasy to utter devastation. It’s a rocky, bittersweet, and often scary place. 
  • Ling and Henry quickly became my favorite characters. Their situations are fueled by haunting encounters, desire, and a strong thirst for freedom from the oppressive gaze of society. Ling is unexpected. A young girl with a disability that she won’t let rule her, she pushes past the bullies and the bigots, she uses her brain and things of science, working on becoming a future famous inventor. Henry’s past is intoxicating. His life on the bayou, his romance, the strict upbringing all took me by surprise. 
  • Sam. You can never really know a person. Just when you thought that Sam was an insufferable flirt with fast hands and a tendency to rob people blind, always looking for the next con, the past comes out like a slap to the face. Suddenly Sam has all this hidden depth that you don’t quite know what to do with. His hurt, confusion, and determination all center on his missing mother. He’s got feelings, true, brutal emotions that lurk just under the surface of his carefree attitude. 

CONS:

  • There are even more character POV swaps than the last book. Though all engrossing stories with their own contributions to the plot, it can be a little overwhelming, especially in a book 600-odd pages. The constantly flip-flopping back and forth actually left way more questions than answers. 
  • It took ages for the clues to build up to the point of uncovering the truth. For a novel that is set during a time span of less than a month, it felt much longer. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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2140278420934582The-EmpathJPG e-book Awoken by Sarah Noffke

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Release Day Blast & Giveaway: A Cold Legacy-Megan Shepherd

Pub. Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins
Pages: 400
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After killing the men who tried to steal her father’s research, Juliet—along with Montgomery, Lucy, Balthazar, and a deathly ill Edward—has escaped to a remote estate on the Scottish moors. Owned by the enigmatic Elizabeth von Stein, the mansion is full of mysteries and unexplained oddities: dead bodies in the basement, secret passages, and fortune-tellers who seem to know Juliet’s secrets. Though it appears to be a safe haven, Juliet fears new dangers may be present within the manor’s own walls.
 
Then Juliet uncovers the truth about the manor’s long history of scientific experimentation—and her own intended role in it—forcing her to determine where the line falls between right and wrong, life and death, magic and science, and promises and secrets. And she must decide if she’ll follow her father’s dark footsteps or her mother’s tragic ones, or whether she’ll make her own.
 
With inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this breathless conclusion to the Madman’s Daughter trilogy is about the things we’ll sacrifice to save those we love—even our own humanity. 
A COLD LEGACY excerpt
p.21-24
 
Montgomery stopped the horses outside a tavern. He came to the carriage door, opening it just a crack to keep the rain from drenching us. “I’m going to ask directions. We can’t be far now.”
 
We watched him saunter over the muddy street as though he didn’t even feel the bite of freezing rain. A face appeared in the tavern window. The door opened and he spoke to a woman in a wool dress for a few moments, then stomped back through the mud. “This village is called Quick,” he told us. “The manor’s only five miles from here.”
 
“Did you hear that?” Lucy murmured to Edward, still stroking his hair. “We’re almost there. Just hold on. Everything will be all right once we arrive.”
 
Montgomery’s eyes shifted to me. Neither of us wanted to remind Lucy that the prospect of Edward’s fever breaking—and the Beast’s reappearance—was almost more frightening than the fever itself. Delirious, he was less of a threat.
 
“Let’s go then,” I whispered to Montgomery. “And quickly.”
 
He closed the door and in another moment we were moving again, passing through the rest of Quick. Then all too soon the village was nothing but fading lights. The storm grew and the road became rougher, and all the while Edward’s eyes rolled back and forth beneath shuttered lids.
 
Thunder struck close by, and Lucy shrieked. Montgomery whipped the horses harder, pulling us along the uneven road impossibly fast, trying to outrun the storm. I twisted in the seat to look out the back window at the pelting rain. A stone fence ran alongside us.
 
“We must be getting close,” I said.
 
“Not soon enough,” Lucy breathed. “We’re going to crash if he keeps driving like this!”
 
The road widened, straightening, letting us travel even faster. Lightning struck close by, blinding me. The horses bolted. Lucy screamed and covered her eyes, but I couldn’t tear mine away. The lightning had struck an enormous oak tree, twisted from centuries of wind. The oak took flame, blazing despite the rain. A smoking gash ran down the trunk—the lightning’s death mark. I watched until the rain put out most of the flames, but it still smoldered, billowing hot ash into the night.
 
The horses pawed the earth, and I grabbed the window to steady myself. At this wild speed, just hitting a single rock at the wrong angle would send the carriage shattering to the ground. It was madness to go so fast. Couldn’t Montgomery calm the horses?
 
Just when I feared the carriage would careen out of control, it stopped short, throwing me against the opposite wall. I tangled in Lucy’s limbs as the chains around Edward’s body clinked. Balthazar grunted, jerking awake at last. We scrambled in the bottom of the carriage until the door flew open.
Montgomery stood in the pelting rain. I feared he’d say we’d broken another strut or the horses had gone lame or we’d have to spend the night in the harsh storm.
 
But then I saw the lights behind him, and the night took shape into a turreted stone manor with bright lamps blazing and gargoyles on the roof vomiting rain into a stone courtyard.
 
Montgomery’s eyes met mine beneath the low brim of his hat.
 
 
“We’ve arrived,” he said.
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Hello!  I’ve been many things, like a professional exchange student, park ranger in Montana, and LOST enthusiast, but what I am now is a writer.
 
I think it’s fair to say I was born into it. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, raised behind the counter of my parents’ independent bookstore, Highland Books in Brevard. Ah, so many free books. But I never thought being a writer could be a real career. After college I thought I’d end up as a foreign service officer somewhere dashing and exotic, like Canada. I studied French, Spanish, German, and Russian and still speak a few of those. Then I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Senegal, where I learned a few more languages I’ll never speak again and lived in a mud hut with no electricity or running water. You can probably imagine how that experience went, but if you’re curious, here are the dirty
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It wasn’t until a chance aquaintance read something I wrote and said, “have you ever considered being a writer?” that something clicked and I realized it was possible. My husband encouraged me, and I quickly fell head-over-heels in love with writing and children’s literature in particular. I started out writing articles, which have appeared in Faces, Appleseeds, and Calliope magazines, and stories for younger children. I soon realized I wasn’t sweet enough to write fiction for that age and found myself writing young adult literature instead, which doesn’t require nearly as many tender moments and includes a lot more cursing.
 
When I’m not writing, I can usually be found horseback riding, day dreaming at coffee shops, or hiking in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. I love to hear from readers, so please drop me a line!
 
I am represented by Josh Adams of Adams LiteraryAuthor Photo by Kristi Hedberg Photography
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1 winner will receive a signed copy of A COLD LEGACY and swag! US Only. Ends on February 6th at Midnight EST!

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Happy reading,

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