Review: Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen


Nine Women, One Dress

Title: Nine Women, One Dress Author: Jane L. Rosen Format: Hardcover and eBook, 272 pages Published: July 12, 2016 by Doubleday ISBN: 0385541406

Purple Goodreads

Natalie is a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years; now that he’s a lonely widower, she just needs the right situation to make him see her as more than the best executive assistant in Midtown Manhattan. Andrea is a private detective specializing in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and can’t figure out why her intuition tells her the guy she’s tailing is one of the good ones when she hasn’t trusted a man in years. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Georgia, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on…

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 3½/5 stars

My Review:

On the eve of his retirement, Morris Siegel is pleased to discover his last design, the Max Hammer LBD is the dress of the year.  Little does Morris know, his dress won’t just be the dress of the year but it will irrevocably alter the lives of nine women.  Here’s the breakdown:

Likes:  Though Morris plays a small part in the long-term plot line, his background and involvement with the dress is an interesting part of the read and a very good way to introduce the dress.  Morris has devoted his life to the creation of beautiful designs and the reception of his last creation is such a fitting end to his career. 

Natalie is the most unlikely of individuals to be wearing the ultra-high end Max Hammer dress but find herself in it, she does.  The cherry on top of the awesome dress sundae is the fact she is wearing the dress while attending a flashy event with a bona fide Hollywood star.  Natalie is still hurting from a recent break-up so being seen on the arm of a Hollywood star is sure to bring her ex running right back.  Her new “beau” is gay (or is he?) so being with him is certainly safe enough. 

Felicia and her boss!!  These are, by far my favorite characters in this read.  For twenty years, Felicia has served her boss faithfully and quietly loved him as he has loved his wife.  When his wife passes away, Felicia doesn’t swoop in and try to take her place but supports him as she always has and provides comfort where she can.  It is only by mistake and misunderstanding that Felicia finds herself wearing the year’s most wanted LBD and having dinner with her boss. 

Dislikes:  I really only have one dislike related to this read but it’s a pretty big dislike.  Nine women for one dress is a lot of women and, in truth, about four too many women for this story.  There are two actresses and a set of sisters that add very little to the overall story other than bringing the total number of women touched by the dress up to nine.  In fact, there are so many women involved that the story becomes far longer than it needs to be and there are some pretty serious stretches that have been made to connect everyone and everything.  Had these four women been left out, there would have been more time and space available to devote to the stronger, larger characters and the overall story would not have suffered at all for the loss of these four minor characters.

The Bottom Line:  Nine Women, One Dress is an absolutely character driven read that is just a bit too ambitious in its number of characters included.  The characters who are given more “screen time” as it were are by far the most enjoyable, most well-developed, and most interesting.  Had the read focused on just the five strongest women, it would have been a smoother, less convoluted read that would have certainly earned a much higher star rating.  With that being said, if you can get past the awkwardness of the four superfluous women, Nine Women, One Dress is a good read and will particularly appeal to those who are fans of big, fat, sappy HEAs.

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Review, Excerpt, and Sweepstakes: Ultimate Courage (Book #2: True Heroes Series) by Piper J. Drake


Ultimate Courage

Title: Ultimate Courage Series: Book #2: True Heroes Author: Piper J. Drake Format: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages Expected publication: July 26, 2016 by Forever ISBN: 1455536059

Purple Goodreads

Elisa Hall is good at starting from scratch. Leaving an abusive relationship in her rearview, she packs everything she owns into the trunk of her car and heads for refuge with her friend in Hope’s Crossing, North Carolina.  Alex Rojas returned from his second deployment as a Navy SEAL to find his condo empty and divorce papers on the breakfast table. Now he’s building a life for himself and his daughter at Hope’s Crossing kennels training younger dogs and handlers to search and rescue, struggling to adjust to life back in the States and as a single father.  When Elisa shows up at the kennels, it’s obvious she’s running from something. Luckily, the dogs and trainers at Hope’s Crossing are more than capable of warding off trouble. And with every minute he spends with Elisa, Alex becomes even more and more determined to protect the woman he’s certain he won’t be able to live without…

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Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

Holy Hell!  The men of the Hope’s Crossing Kennels sure do know how to find trouble.  Even when they are actively avoiding trouble, trouble seems to come looking for them and in this second installment of the True Heroes series, trouble doesn’t just come a calling, it comes with a scary stalker willing to go to incredible lengths to retrieve his “property.”

Alex Rojas is home at Hope’s Crossing Kennels and he, along with his ten-year-old daughter, Boom have no intention of ever leaving.  Alex is a retired SEAL who still deals, on a daily basis with the effects of PTSD.  Training and rehabbing the dogs at Hope’s Crossing isn’t just a job, it’s a passion.  His friends and partners are really his chosen family and his daughter, Boom is like a breath of fresh of air for the hardened military men.  In Alex’s world, there is his family and his dogs and not much else.  A very, very bad situation with Boom’s mother has left him wary of women so when Elisa Hall comes into his life, he isn’t quite prepared for the likes of her.

Elisa Hall was once a confident young woman with a promising career as a project manager ahead of her.  When she met her ex, it seemed like a dream come true.  Unfortunately, the dream quickly turned to a nightmare and getting free from her ex was a harrowing experience that has left her on the run for the last six months.  In what eventually turns out to be a wonderful accidental encounter, Elisa meets Boom and Alex at the ER.  With no intention of starting up anything even remotely close to a relationship, Elisa plans on slipping in and out of the ER but fate and Boom have other ideas.  In the coming days, Elisa finds herself not only on Alex Rojas’s doorstep but neck-deep in his life, a place she never thought to find herself again.  Trust isn’t at the top of Elisa’s list of things that come easily but, at every turn Alex proves himself to be a man of his word. 

Alex is bowled over by Elisa and the more she shares with him, the more he wants to help her out of the mess that is her life.  He and his friends have a great deal of specialized training that can help Elisa break free from her past if she will only trust them enough to tell them the whole story.  Elisa is smart, organized, compassionate, and the only person Souze, Alex’s current doggy project really responds too.  Alex has learned to trust Souze’s instincts and though it takes a great deal of patience and care (just like doggy training!) Alex is willing to try with Elisa.  In fact, each day he is around her, Alex finds his own demons are a bit easier to deal with which makes him an all-around better dad, friend, and trainer. 

A new relationship is hard enough but Elisa comes with a whole hell of a lot of trouble.  As she grows more comfortable with Alex and the Hope’s Crossing crew, she finds that she is tired of running and being scared and that there can be a happy and settled life for her if she is willing to take a stand.  Her ex isn’t just determined to have her back, he’s determined to make her pay for leaving him and is willing to go to some very scary lengths to take back what he views as his.  Her ex isn’t above intimidation, threats, and/or violence which means, not only is Elisa in danger but so are the people around her.  Getting and free and clear won’t be easy.

The Bottom Line:  Book two of the True Heroes series is stronger than the first and was a true delight to read.  This one has a little bit of everything including action, drama, a totally disturbing and bat-sh*t crazy ex, naughty bits, and a ten-year-old and dog who damn-near steal the show.  Much of the read is taken up by the anticipation of the awful and the awful happening very quickly near the end.  During the moments of anticipation, the characters are more thoroughly explored, relationships are established, and a place worth fighting for is established.  I liked the tension that was created throughout the read and how explosively quick the awful came and went at the end.  In many ways, the speed of the awful reinforced the idea that this moment is time is just that, a moment in Elisa’s life that will pass.  Her life with Alex, Boom, and the Hope’s Crossing Kennels is really the story and readers will be happy to know, this one ends with an HEA.  With the increased strength of this read, I have high hopes for the future of this series and sincerely hope it extends beyond a mere trilogy.

Excerpt from Ultimate Courage (Book #2: True Heroes Series):

Alex’s hand came up slowly to cradle the side of her face, encouraging her to tilt her head, and she did. He deepened the kiss then, his tongue running across her lips and coaxing them to open for him. She opened with a sigh, and his tongue swept into her mouth, gently tasting. She kissed him back in return, leaning into him until she had one hand braced against his hard chest.

A needy moan escaped her, and he responded in kind. When he lifted his mouth from hers, she almost tipped into him, her knees not holding her upright anymore and her head spinning. Wow.

She took not one, but several long breaths to clear her head, looking down at a black and tan face staring up at her with soulful, dark eyes. Souze wasn’t shy about watching, apparently.

The thought brought her the rest of the way to her senses, because weird. Yeah. Weird.

She took a step back, and Alex let her. He’d done that since the beginning. Letting her go if she wanted. So why was it so hard to leave now even if she kept saying she should?

“Thank you,” she told him, not looking up into his eyes.

“But?” Alex’s voice came cool, deep, and so sexy it just wasn’t fair.

“But I should go. Especially because this is obviously not a professional thing now.”

“No. But none of your previous employers particularly cared if you left, did they?” He sounded reasonable. “Did they bother to try to check on you?”

“Not that I know of.” She said it slowly. She’d had her phone with her, and she’d been checking her e-mail. Both big mistakes, she knew now. But she’d been paid under the table and they didn’t really have a way to contact her after she disappeared.

“I think that’s a little odd.” Rojas lifted his hand, giving her plenty of time to avoid him, and brushed her hair back from her face. “Maybe this time, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone care about whether you disappear.”

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About the author and where to find her:

Piper Drake Piper J. Drake (or “PJ”) began her writing career as “PJ Schnyder” writing sci-fi & paranormal  romance and steampunk. She has recently received the FF&P PRISM award for her work as well as the NJRW Golden Leaf award and Parsec award.   Now, PJ is exploring the complexity of romantic suspense, incorporating her interests in mixed martial arts and the military into her writing.

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Review: Wicked Dix (Book #2: Hard Love Romance Series) by Monica James

Wicked Dix

Title: Wicked Dix Series: Book #2: Hard Love Romance Author: Monica James Format: Kindle Edition, 398 pages Published: March 24, 2016 by Bookouture

Purple Goodreads

I’ve always been a bad boy, with a very wicked reputation.  But then I met Madison – sweet, vulnerable, innocent Madison. She makes me feel as if there is hope for me. As if I could be a good man. I need her more than I need air to breathe.  There’s just one problem: Juliet. She’s a temptress who won’t take no for an answer. If I resist her, she’ll use our dirty secret to ruin everything with Madison.  I don’t want to lose Madison, but can I really change? This is my chance to prove that I can. But it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review:


Holy cats!!!  Don’t let that wimpy little synopsis fool you, book two of the Hard Love Romance series is a fantastically crazy ride on a derailed train headed for a crash with the side of a mountain.  Yeah, it’s that kind of bad . . . .

Dix is up to ass in trouble and even with the advice of his two best friends, he can’t seem to find a way out of the trouble.  Since he can’t find a way out, Dix decides to play the game which means getting in deeper with Juliet while trying to maintain a real relationship with Madison.  Yep, Dix is leading a double life and as we all know, that business can’t last forever.

Juliet has gone completely off the deep end and has her hooks sunk in deep where Dix is concerned.  Unfortunately, Juliet is out of her depth with Dix and he launches a psychological long game that is viscous yet still not evil enough for the likes of Juliet.  At every turn, Juliet launches a new attack that is arguably more wretched than the last.  Her goal in life is basically an emotional scorched earth that will leave as many bodies in her wake as is humanly possible.  Juliet has little to no conscience and succeeds in dragging Dix down to her level.While Dix is locked in battle with Juliet, he is also locked in tight with Madison and determined to go the distance with her.  As far as Dix is concerned, Madison is too damn good for him and he is going to do everything within his power to be worthy of her.  To Dix’s way of thinking, he has to go slow with Madison in order to help her face and overcome the demons of her past and protect her from the dangers in her present.  The trouble with this plan is that Madison has no idea there are dangers in her present and Dix is keeping some very, very big secrets from her. 

Here’s what I really, really, really liked about this read.  In most books, the sh*t hits the fan, quickly gets worked out, and the happy couple scoot on down the HEA road.  That tired old crap just isn’t good enough for Monica James and she puts her characters through the wringer more than once.  In fact, once the sh*t hits the fan (and really, who the hell would throw sh*t at a fan?) it is just as dramatic as the rest of the read.  There is no quick fix here and, in fact, there is a complete separation that forces both Dix and Madison to deal with their personal crap in a serious and significant way.  In so many ways, this part of the book is even better than what came before as we see two completely damaged people having to come to terms with their respective pasts and actions and the consequences associated with those things. 

 The Bottom Line:  Just like the first book in this series, Wicked Dix was all about Dix for me.  He really drops right on down through the rabbit hole and the drop to the bottom isn’t so much what hurts him as the sudden stop when he gets to the bottom.  Dix’s rock bottom is pretty spectacular and it, at least for a time costs him everything.  The darkness of this read is one of its finest qualities and the darkness of the events leading up to the big separation make the eventual HEA even more satisfying.  I liked the first half of this read but thoroughly and absolutely loved the last half.  There is so much evolution in Dix and Madison that I honestly would have been happy with this book had Dix and Madison not eventually found their way back to one another.  Yeah, I actually said that and I mean it too!! :)

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Review: Dirty Dix (Book #1: Hard Love Romance Series) by Monica James

Dirty Dix

Title: Dirty Dix Series: Book #1: Hard Love Romance Author: Monica James Format: Kindle Edition, 362 pages Published: October 8, 2015 by Bookouture ISBN: 1910751537

Purple Goodreads

I knew she was bad news when she walked into my office, but I just couldn’t help myself…  Filthy, sexy and full of surprises, Juliet is so hot she has me on fire. I’ve met my match and I can’t help going back for more.  Then there’s Madison… she’s sweet, funny and awakens in me a fierce need to protect her.   But I don’t do relationships. I don’t usually do the same woman twice.  Juliet and Madison: Two very different women have got me completely hooked.  Who will I choose?   I know who I should choose, but I never said I was the hero of this story, or even the good guy. And besides, who wants to be good, when it feels so good being bad?  My tale isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you’re game, strap yourself in and expect the unexpected. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:

Do you remember the show Dexter?  Yeah, the show with the serial killer that you totally knew you weren’t supposed to like but you did anyway.  Well, Dix is my new Dexter and I loves me some Dix just like I loved me some Dexter.

Dix is the best kind of anti-hero!  From the moment Dix is introduced, he owns up to his failings and faults and blames no one but himself.  If there is a moral/ethical/professional/social more that can be bent or broken, Dix has indeed shattered them and makes few apologies for having done so.  Since his most unfortunate and ugly break-up, Dix has had no interest in a relationship but has had loads of interest in banging a butt load of women.  Dix never offers the women he shags more than a physical encounter and if at all possible, he never “sees” the same women more than once.  The only women Dix sees more than once are his patients and while he feels the tiniest bit of guilt for shagging those particular women, his colleagues do often note the remarkable progress found among Dix’s patients. 

The moment Juliet walks into Dix’s office, he knows he is in for a wild ride that will leave him in search of his sanity.  In bed, Juliet is all Dix could ever hope for.  She is more than willing, totally able, and seemingly as disconnected emotionally as Dix.  Everything about Juliet raises red flags, even the sex but Dix can’t seem to walk away.  What Dix can’t possibly know is just how much of an impact Juliet is going to have on his life. 

At about the same time Juliet comes into Dix’s life, so does Madison.  Madison is perhaps the purest person Dix has ever met and she is everything he should want.  Dix does want Madison but, like Juliet, she raises a great many red flags.  Madison is kind and good but she is clearly hiding something that causes her a great deal of anxiety where physical intimacy is concerned.  With his great interest in physical intimacy, Dix knows he has no business sniffing around Madison but, also like Juliet, he can’t seem to walk away.  Quite unlike Juliet, Madison makes Dix care and that is something he hasn’t done in quite a long time.  Both Juliet and Madison have the capacity to ruin Dix.  He just has to decide if he wants the ruin to be moral or emotional.

The Bottom Line:  Dirty Dix is all about Dix for me and from beginning to end, I loved every minute of him.  No matter what new dumbassery he got himself involved in, and there’s a lot of dumbassery, I still found myself rooting for him.  Dix’s life is like a naughty, dirty three-ring circus that seems to get crazier with every turn of the page.  Though I found Dix to be the strongest and most interesting character, there is actually a whole cast of characters that surround him and most of them are quite entertaining in their own right.  Dix’s best friends are like yin and yang and when beer is involved, they’re a special kind of fantastic.  They work as Dix’s conscience (sort of!) and sounding board when he is desperate and try desperately to steer him in the right direction.  The women are certainly a factor as well but neither have the impact of Dix and I tended to see both Juliet and Madison as supporting characters.  In all, I very much enjoyed this first in a series read and dove right into the second book, Wicked Dix!

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Dirty Double Review: Girls on Campus and Heat

Girls on Campus

Title: Girls on Campus  Edited by: Sandy Lower and Stacia Seaman Format: Paperback and eBook, 240 pages  Published: May 17, 2016 by Bold Strokes Books  ISBN: 1626397333

Purple Goodreads

College: four years when anything goes and rules are made to be broken. A time for freedom, experimentation, and guiltless pleasures. Come join the co-eds for a homecoming bash, crash a girls-only party, and enjoy study hall where the topic is Eros. From roommates with benefits to sexy sorority initiations, hot professors demanding extra credit after class and summer vacation threesomes, this collection is required reading for anyone looking to earn an A in sex-ed. 

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:

Girls on Campus is a hit or miss collection of girl on girl short stories.  There’s no easing into this collection, it’s full on naughty from the first page and, for the most part, it’s the right kind of naughty.

Highs: Overall, Girls on Campus has more highs than lows and most of those highs occur in campus libraries for me.  There are three separate library stories in this collection and each one is hotter than the last.  There’s the story of a shared book, shared assignment turned sexy encounter as well as a legit princess and her wife who sex it up in one of the world’s most prestigious libraries.  From unplanned, spontaneous encounters to well-planned out, bring the security guards because I’m a princess encounter, the libraries on these three campuses are definitely the place to be for some down and dirty action. 

Two other highlights from this collection include professor/student encounters.  The hotter of the two stories involves the typical student lusting after her hot professor.  A happy yet painful accident brings the two women together for some dirty fun that becomes a habit.  There are some funny moments in this read that temper the naughty bits and keep the read light rather than salacious.  The other professor/student encounter is far more endearing with the two women meeting at the campus pool and striking up a sweet, physical relationship.  The dynamic between the older woman and the younger woman provides an interesting aspect which reinforces the professor/student relationship. 

Lows:  As with every collection of stories, they can’t all be winners and Girls on Campus has its share of stinkers.  The two lowest of the low in this collection include the theater offering and the sorority girl vampire.  The theater offering is just a bad story from start to finish with a terribly thin plot and even thinner characters.  Though the vampire story isn’t poorly written, it is just a really odd story given its paranormal nature.  There are no other paranormal offerings in the collection which makes this an odd man out to be sure.

The Bottom Line:  Girls on Campus might not ever make it to the top of your TBR list but it shouldn’t linger at the bottom either.  With the exception of a couple of stories, the bulk of the collection ranges from interesting to quite good.  There isn’t a huge amount of variety in the naughty bits but the locations and situations make up for this to be sure.  Again, with the exception of one or two stories, there are no major writing/technical issues to be found.  In all, Girls on Campus is a fine read that will certainly pass the time and if you don’t like one of the stories you encounter, don’t worry, they’re all short reads you can breeze right through.

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Title: Heat Author: Rachel Windsor Format: Paperback, 57 pages Expected publication: September 1, 2016 by Sapphire Books Publishing ISBN13: 9781943353453

Purple Goodreads

Award-winning lesbian erotica author Rachel Windsor delivers another book filled with sexy stories that flesh out your secret fantasies and beyond. Always wondered about exploring with stranger sex? HEAT will take you there. Got a thing for military women? HEAT has you covered. Ever fantasized about a doctor appointment that takes a naughty turn? HEAT takes care of you. Stir in first times, toys, college girls, and make-up sex and HEAT has something to excite every lover of lesbian erotica.
HEAT—the name says it all.

Source: Netgalley

My Rating: 2/5 stars

My Review:

Heat is a collection of eleven super, super short erotic stories by Rachel Windsor that left me feeling a wide variety of things other than heat😦

Let’s start with what I did enjoy about this read.  1) The cover is smokin’ hot and promises all kinds of goodness to come; 2) a complete collection of girl on girl action which I find myself in the mood for on occasion and; 3) a few of the short reads including While She Slept, The Sitter, and Standing at Attention.

With the likes out of the way, let’s turn our attention to my dislikes.  In large part, my dislikes boil down to a couple of major issues.  1) these stories really are so short that there really isn’t a lot of story to be had or getting to know the characters and; 2) the total and complete irrationality of many of the stories.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I am in the mood for a straight-up, nothing but the naughty bits kind of read but the synopsis for Heat really promised far more than it was able to deliver.  In truth, I expected longer reads with a more substantial plot, more character development, and something other than just sex.  This first issue seems to go hand-in-hand with my second major issue, the completely irrational nature of some of the scenarios.  I totally understand that sometimes, the mood just overtakes you and you have to shag your partner.  Totally. Understandable.  I do not, however see that happening when you are visiting the doctor for a gynecological exam (Doctor Feelgood), or as your driving down the interstate masturbating and a random trucker signals you to pull over so you can shag (Her Big Rig), or when you’re working on high level clearance business for the military and locked in a secured and sound-proofed room (Behind the Blast Door).   While I appreciate this is purely fiction, some of this came off as laughable rather than erotic. 

The Bottom Line:  If Heat had delivered on the promise of its synopsis, it would have proven to be a totally hot and thoroughly enjoyable read.  Unfortunately, too little time and space for each story and the characters as well as some completely unbelievable scenarios weakened the overall read.  I freely admit to liking a few of the stories, the cover, and finding no major technical issues but that is as far as I can realistically go.  In truth, there really isn’t enough in Heat to pull it up and out of the two-star hole.


Double Review: Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire (Books #1 and #2: The Great Library Series) by Rachel Caine

Hey, RoloPoloians!!  Today, I am shaking things up a little bit with my reviews of Rachel Caine’s first two books in The Great Library Series.  Here’s how this shake up came to be: when I finished Ink and Bone the first time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it so naturally, I texted my best friend, Margaret.  I didn’t want to influence her opinion so the only thing I told her was “this is a really slow starter but stay with it and let me know what you think.”  Three days later, we were furiously texting back and forth about the book and I asked her if she would be willing to do a conversation about the book with me here at RoloPoloBookBlog.  So, with that explanation in mind, please welcome my best friend, Margaret to RoloPoloBookBlog and I hope you enjoy our  conversations/reviews of these two books:)

Ink and Bone

Title: Ink and Bone Series: Book #1: The Great Library Author: Rachel Caine Format: Kindle Edition, 352 pages Published: July 7, 2015 by NAL ASIN: B00OQS4BQQ

Purple Goodreads

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.  Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.  When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn


Your favorite(s) character(s) and why? 

RPBB: The first time I read this I came away loving Wolfe and Jess.  The second time I read this, I came away loving Wolfe and Jess even more.  Wolfe is such a weird blend of awful and awesome in the beginning but as the story unfolds and I learned more about him, I really came to like him and better understand both his words and actions.  Even after all he has been through, Wolfe is still an honorable man and he is still standing despite all that has been done to and taken from him.  Santi is his balance, his true North and I think that helps keep Wolfe in line.  He is a natural rebel and ridiculously intelligent which makes him a threat.  I think he would have been dead long ago if it weren’t for his mother and Santi.

Jess is honorable and loyal to a fault.  Despite his background, his family Jess always does what he believes to be the right thing.  He assesses each situation and then acts rather than just doing what his father (and extended family) would want him to do.  Like Wolfe, Jess is ridiculously intelligent and has a load of common sense which makes him, also like Wolfe, a threat.  He is beyond good in a scrape and does all he can to help/protect his friends.  

C43DX: Wolfe and Santi…they make such a cute couple.  Now there is a background story that I would LOVE to read.  Wolfe’s character is such an interesting mix of good and bad that I think a lot of people can relate to him.  And Santi is just awesomness wrapped up in a High Garda uniform.

Weirdest character(s)? 

RPBB:  UGH, the ink lickers!!!  Those guys (and girls??) are some kind of weird.  They seem so devoted to their personal cause and that’s the part that icked me out the most.  Who the hell eats a rare and precious book???

C43DX:  The automata.  I love those things.  I want to know so much more about them.  How do they tick? What powers them?  What are they detecting that sets them off that they attack the innocent as well as the guilty?

Your least favorite character(s) and why?

RPBB: It’s not so much a single person but an entity for me.  The Library is my least favorite character and yes, it feels icky typing that J  The Library was meant to be something amazing for the world but has become nothing more than an outdated, backward, and power-hungry entity that will do whatever is necessary to retain their power and position.  The hiding of knowledge, the killing of innocents, the crushing of imagination and creativity is horrifying. 

 C43DX:  The book burners.  Suicide bombers have no place in society no matter the oppression of the government or political statement they want to make. There is nobility in giving your life to a cause, but not in that form, not ever. 

 What was the saddest moment(s) in the book for you?

RPBB:  Both times I read this book, the saddest moment was the same for me, the interview of Thomas just before his death.  Thomas was such a kind, sweet soul who sought to do nothing more than help the Library.  He truly loved the Library and wanted to see it survive, become better.  You can clearly see in his pre-death interview he had no ill intentions toward the Library, only a desire to do good.  Killing Thomas was soul-crushing and his friends’ reactions reinforce that feeling.  

C43DX:  When I came to the realization about how corrupt the Library had become, and to what extent they controlled the spread of and access to knowledge for the explicit purpose of maintaining power. 

What is the book’s best quality?

RPBB: The originality of the story!!  There’s nothing else like The Great Library series right now with its blend of steampunk and history all jumbled up into a completely original and fictional tale.  It’s a complex story that doesn’t hit you over the head with the obvious and I like that.  I very much appreciate that I can still be surprised and delighted by an author and a story. 

C43DX:  Definitely the originality of the story.  This book did an awesome job exploring deeper concepts such as the interplay between knowledge, power, and wisdom as well as the fine line between government over-site and government oppression.  Too many books revolve around who is dating who and angst from unresolved love triangles.  Holy hell, it’s good to find a book that focuses on something other than why that boy over there doesn’t like me. 

What is the book’s worst quality?

RPBB:  It’s a damn slow starter.  I’ve read this book twice now and both times I didn’t feel like the story really started rolling until about 1/3 of the way through.  I think a lot of readers will give up on this read because of its slow start and that’s unfortunate because it really is an excellent read overall. 

C43DX:  In the beginning I was worried about how superficial the characters appeared, but then I got to know them better.  I’ll be honest.  I like a bit more world building in the beginning, even when that does lead to a slower start.  There was just enough different from this world that I wanted explored in more detail.  It got there in the end. 

Did anything really surprise you in this read?

RPBB: So many things surprised me in this book.  For example, Wolfe and Santi’s relationship (which I LOVED!!), Wolfe’s lineage (oh, really??), Morgan and the extent of her abilities (Holy crap!!  That girl has power!), and the ephemera (there’s A LOT of information in there).  There were so many twists and turns that really delighted me as I read this book.  

C43DX:  The fact that the library had corrupted personal journals to spy on EVERYONE!!! That was so awesome!  Not that I would want that to happen, but seriously…isn’t that just what social media does?  In all honestly there were a lot of things that surprised me in this book, which made it such a wonderful read…I can’t wait for the next one! 

 The Bottom Line (aka: your overall impression/feelings about the read)

RPBB: I finished this book and immediately texted Margaret and asked her to read it.  I told her nothing about the book other than it’s a slow starter and not to give up.  I thought I liked it but wasn’t entirely sure and wanted her feedback.  After I thought more about the book, heard from Margaret, and read it a second time, I realized how much I really enjoyed this book.  There’s a lot going in this read that makes it a winding and complex tale.  All those threads that you think are going to just hang loose eventually come together to create a truly wonderful thing.  The writing is solid, the characters are strong (even the icky ones), and the pacing is good once you get past the first third of the book.  This is a book I can see making my TopTen of 2016 list and that surprised even me:)

C43DX:  I read this book in one go immediately after RPBB texted me about it.  She has truly never steered me wrong, but I felt that this particular book slapped me upside the head with it’s originality.  I like books that make me think about them long after I set them down, and this is one of the few that have done so.

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Paper and Fire

Title: Paper and Fire Series: Book #2: The Great Library Author: Rachel Caine Format: Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages Published: July 5, 2016 by NAL ISBN: 0451472403

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With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.  Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.  Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.  But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…


How do you feel about the placements/assignments each of the core group received from Scholar Wolfe?

RPBB: Scholar Wolfe is a mother effing genius!!  Khalila and Dario were meant to be Librarians and Wolfe is so very aware of that.  His placement of them is not only appropriate but very clever.  Those two know how to poke around, ask questions, and do research without drawing suspicion.  Glain was born to be a soldier so her placement just made sense and while it seems like Wolfe is totally screwing Jess with his placement, he is, in fact placing Jess (and everyone else) in a position to do the most good for himself and his friends.  The High Garda may be a 24/7 gig but Jess finds ways to carve out some time for himself and do some work related to finding Thomas.  In so many ways, the High Garda is the perfect place for Jess. 

C43DX:  The first three are obvious placements.  There is no where else they could have been placed.  Jess is another issues.  I was flat out surprised that Jess got a copper bracelet and only a one-year contract.  I am still mulling over why.  Wolfe knew that Thomas was alive…or at least had an extremely strong suspicion.  Jess was directed to spy on Wolfe by the Artifex Magnus, so it would make sense that Wolfe would want him as far from the library as possible.  But, Wolfe made that placement before Thomas was taken, and before the Artifex Magnus made Jess his spy.  Unless Wolfe had a way of changing Jess’s commission that morning, he had another purpose for placing Jess in the High Garda.  I wonder if his ties to his family were the reason, if Wolfe was attempting to put Jess in a position where his family would have no use for him and hopefully eventually write him off.   

The overall tone of this book is pretty dark/ominous.  How did that work for you?

RPBB:  From the very beginning, this book feels tense, anxious.  I always felt as if the ax were just about to fall and another head would roll.  Because of this, the book reads quickly and allows for very few breathers in between disasters.  Normally, I find this distasteful in books but it works here and it kept me totally engaged through both readings.

C43DX:  This is the type of book I like.  I like the jumping from one disaster to the next, especially when it flows as well as it does in this book.  It makes the resolution all that more enjoyable. . . if done right.  It’s like hitting yourself with a hammer…it feels so good when you stop.  The problem with this book is that they jumped into the next disaster and the book ended….arghhhhhh.  When is the next book coming out?

Any new favorite characters in this read?

RPBB:  Hmm??  I can’t say anyone new emerged for me in this book but I can say my love of a few characters from the first read was totally reinforced.  I am still slutty in love with both Wolfe and Santi and devoured every moment of their time together.  They are two halves of a whole and now the whole group knows it.  Santi isn’t effing around where Wolfe is concerned and Wolfe is clearly devoted to Santi; I love the strength of their relationship even in the face of so much awful.

Jess is still a favorite as well and I liked the evolution of him in this read.  He was already fiercely loyal but circumstances in this read allowed him to prove that to his friends or, those he now considers his family.  Jess is brave and strong and once he sees both Thomas and Morgan’s individual situations, he vows to protect them from those horrible fates.  It’s hard to dislike a guy with such strong convictions and devotion to his friends.

C43DX:  Thomas has become one of my favorites.  Don’t get me wrong Santi still holds that special place in my heart of mostest favorite.  In this book Thomas is showing much more character as someone with hidden strengths and compassions. I can’t wait to see how he develops next.   

Any new dislikes in this read?

RPBB: The Iron Tower (see below) and Jess’s actual blood relations.  It’s pretty stunning how truly wretched and awful Jess’s dad and twin brother are.  It is a wonder Jess has any sense of right and wrong or the level of compassion and devotion he does have.  Jess certainly didn’t learn those things from his father and brother.  The last few major scenes with Jess’s family certainly made their position toward Jess clear and I’m so glad Jess was able to reason and choose wisely. 

C43DX:   I have to disagree….slightly.  I think that there are hints of redemption in Jess’s brother.  He did not have to leave his girlfriend in Alexandria, he could have used her until she was a broken wreck and discarded her when he was finished.  That was his original plan.  At the end, there was a glimmer that he wanted to help Jess out.  Remember he was under the thumb of their father for many more years than Jess was.  Those are not shackles that are easily thrown off.  I believe that he has been misunderstood his whole life…I also believe that he is a selfish little shit, but I see a glimmer of redemption in his future, and aren’t we all looking for just a little bit of forgiveness. 

The Archivist holds the top mark for most disliked.  He displaced the Artifex Magnus by ordering the burning of the black archives.  Even though the Artifex Magnus lit the fire, he was physically sick for having to do it.  The Archivest showed no remorse. 

The Iron Tower?

RPBB:  WOW!!  This place is a piece of work and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way at all.  As Morgan so concisely points out, it is a very pretty prison.  I didn’t think I could dislike something more than the Library but there are so many secrets and wrongs contained within the Iron Tower that it was hard to muster up any feelings other than hatred.  The biggest surprise is Wolfe’s mother and how she has simply gone along with the program despite what’s been done to her son and so many others throughout history.  The confinement, the control, and the breeding program are simply disgusting and I can’t wait to see that place fall. 

C43DX:  Pretty prison, breeding program and all that…yeah, not a nice place.  Home of the black archives….WOW!  The thought of something like that existing.  How many times did the printing press get invented and snuffed out before the idea got out and contaminated the world with its presence? How may other ideas?  How many lives lost to history?  Even before it was burned, I was horrified to think of how many of those earlier works would have been lost just through neglect.  

Favorite moment(s) in this read?

RPBB: There are a couple of moments that really stand out for me in this read: 1) When Thomas is finally rescued from the prison beneath the Basilica Julia and, 2) when Santi threatens to kill Wolfe’s mother should she betray and/or hurt him again. 

C43DX:  It wasn’t so much a favorite moment in the story line, it was more an epiphany I had while reading.  I love to be surprised, and this was a surprise.  I read on a Kindle.  It’s convenient, it’s light….it makes a great paperweight when I forget to charge it.  When I was reading this book on my kindle I kept coming across Jess’s descriptions of how it felt to handle original books.  The feel of the bindings, the smell of the paper, the originality in the ink and the lettering, how it was so different from a blank where the content may be identical, but the spirit and soul of the book were just not there.  I realized that I was reading on a blank.  Walk into any library or used book store and there is almost a physical force impacting all your senses.  That is not a feeling you could ever get from holding a tablet. 

Least favorite (saddest) moment(s) in this read?

RPBB:  Ironically, one of the saddest moments in this read is also one of my favorite moments.  Thomas’s condition when he was finally rescued was just heartbreaking but the moments after may have been even worse.  Thomas endured a particularly awful sort of hell while imprisoned and though he tries to behave normally around his friends, it is clear his spirit was broken while in prison.   He is so thin and weak, and even the most mundane things, like food are now tainted for him.  I can’t wait for that kid to get it together and work as an instrument of the Library’s destruction!

The burning of the Black Archives.  I damn-near cried when all those centuries of knowledge and innovation went up in flames.  Sadder though was the fact that the Black Archives even existed and the lives that had been snuffed out because of a desire to improve the world.  They may as well have burned the authors alongside their works😦

C43DX:  The burning of the black archives, but it was so well written.  No matter how corrupt the Artifex Magnus was, it tore his soul to burn those books.  The second saddest moment was the loss of Thomas’s lion.  I swear I love those automata.  I like to think that they are powered by the souls of dead obscurists. 

Lots of loyalties and friendships are tested in this read.  Thoughts?

RPBB: The core group was so strong at the end of book one but moving forward, they all know they are in constant danger which makes them hyper-vigilant and super-paranoid.  Every action, every word is suspect even among friends and trusted allies.  It makes me sad to see the group turning on one another but they are all smart enough to see the hand of the Library in the mix. 

C43DX:  One of the main themes in this book appeared to be betrayal and how the characters dealt with it.  Are you following orders, such as with Tariq and Jess?  Are you protecting someone you love from yourself, as with Brenden and Neksa?  Are you being abandoned by your family due to rules, as with Wolfe and his mother or expediency as with Jess and his father?  Are you betrayed by an institution or ideal, Thomas and Wolfe with the Library?  Are you being forced into it by forces stronger than yourself as Dario and the group?  The big question is how each of the characters deals with the betrayals.  Do they forgive, become embittered, vow to change the establishment.  If you think about it, we are all often put into positions where we will let someone we know down.  Some of those positions we put ourselves in, some we have absolutely no control over.  What I got from these books was that if we truly care for someone and we truly value the relationship, we can remedy a large part of the damage from these betrayals by communication. 

The Bottom Line (aka: your overall impression/feelings about the read)

RPBB: Just like book one, I read this twice and I fell a bit more in love with it the second time around.  There really is a little bit of everything in this story: romance (old and new), mystery, adventure, danger, and more drama than should be legally allowed. I devoured every word, page, and chapter of this book though not in the icky ink licker kind of way J  Though Paper and Fire doesn’t end on a cliffhanger per se, it also very clearly isn’t the end of the line and I want more right the hell now!!

C43DX:  This book definitely moved much quicker.  I was audibly groaning when I reached the end because I knew it would be awhile before the next one came out.

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About the author and where to find her:

Stacks Image 13636Rachel Caine’s rich, diverse bibliography of more than 45 books in print covers many categories and genres. She started out writing horror and fantasy as Roxanne Longstreet (Stormriders, The Undead, Red Angel, Cold Kiss, Slow Burn) before switching to the name Roxanne Conrad and publishing romantic suspense and mystery (Copper Moon, Bridge of Shadows, Exile). By 2003, she began to publish under her current pseudonym, specializing in urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal young adult fiction.   She has been writing original fiction since the age of fourteen, and professionally published since 1991. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso Texas (where she was a UIL all-state champion in music and journalism) and went on to earn an accounting degree from Texas Tech University. She played professionally as a musician for several years once out of college, but ultimately gave up the music for writing.  She’s had a varied “day job” career, including web design, graphic arts, accounting, payroll management, insurance investigation, and (most recently) corporate communications and crisis management. (It all counts as research.)  Rachel loves reading, writing, and mild amounts of arithmetic when required … but she has a special place in her heart for history, music, and science, and you’ll find those themes in many of her works.   A full bibliography and press kit is available here as a PDF. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

**All information in this section and the image are from the author’s website**

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Review and Interview: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

The Woman in the Photo

Title: The Woman in the Photo Author: Mary Hogan Format: Paperback, 432 pages Published: June 14, 2016 by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN: 006238693X

Purple Goodreads

1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.  Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?

Source: Publisher/ William Morrow Paperbacks

My Rating: 3½/5 stars

My Review:

The tragedy of Johnstown, Pennsylvania is not one of the more widely known incidents in American history but it is one of the most devastating.  Mary Hogan explores this very real disaster in her new historical fiction novel, The Woman in the Photo

Elizabeth Haberlin was born and raised to be the model daughter, the perfect society girl who would one day fulfill her sole purpose in life, marrying well.  Unfortunately, for her parents, Elizabeth has always known she was meant for something far greater than simply marrying well.  In the summer of 1888, Elizabeth is brought face-to-face with her destiny when her small, secluded, and undoubtedly spoiled life comes crashing down around her. 

For many years, Elizabeth and her family have summered in the Allegheny Mountains surrounded by the beauty of the natural world.  Their private club, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club is frequented by America’s most elite families and is kept completely separate from the mill town of Johnstown below.  In fact, the SFF&H Club has so separated themselves from the town below that they even have their own man-made lake and dam.  The dam also serves as the bridge from one side of the lake to the other and the lake serves as place for fishing, swimming, and sailing  – activities reserved for members only.  While the surroundings are gorgeous and the amenities are plentiful, the members of the Club are completely oblivious and/or unconcerned about the tragedy that will come from their private world.

For years, the people of Johnstown have been concerned about the upkeep and maintenance of the dam and even petitioned the SFF&H Club members to see to its safety.  With little to no concern for the welfare of those beneath their social standing, the members have consistently ignored the requests and petitions.  In the summer of 1888, the dam gave way under the pressure of heavy rain and sub-standard care and quite literally washed away Johnstown and her inhabitants.  In the aftermath of what was total devastation, Elizabeth Haberlin learned what it was to be a compassionate and caring human being rather than just a pretty society girl with nothing of substance to offer the world.  Alongside Clara Barton and her newly established American Red Cross, Elizabeth worked tirelessly to help the people of Johnstown bury their dead, care for the survivors, and rebuild a town that was washed away.  Defying her family and following her conscious, Elizabeth gave up everything she was born to in order to become a useful person. 

The Bottom Line:  If you have read the synopsis for this book and my review, you know I have completely ignored half of the book in this review.  In truth, the half of the book dedicated to Lee Parker and her search for her biological family adds nothing to the overall plot line and I found myself skimming through her chapters in order to get to the good stuff.  The Woman in the Photo would not have suffered one bit – and, in fact it may have been made stronger – if the focus was solely on Elizabeth Haberlin, Clara Barton, and the flood of epic proportions.  These people, both fictitious and real as well as the devastating natural disaster are more than enough to carry the book and keep the reader engaged.  My most engaged moments all involved Elizabeth’s chapters and the life she carved out for herself in the wake of disaster.  With the exception of Lee Parker, The Woman in the Photo is a tremendously compelling read that delves into an American tragedy that has all but been forgotten in the modern world.  Historical fiction isn’t an easy genre but Hogan’s writing style is strong and she has managed to skillfully bring to life both people and events that are often hard to get readers interested in.  Overall, a worthy read if you don’t mind skipping over some bits and pieces here and there.

A Q&A with Mary Hogan, author of THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO

What’s the story behind THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO?  How did the book come to be?  I first had the idea for this book 24 years ago! I’m not kidding. In 1992, my husband, actor Robert Hogan, was in an off-Broadway play called On the Bum, also starring Cynthia Nixon and Campbell Scott. The play was set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, several years after the epic flood. The characters talked about a “lake in the sky” which piqued my curiosity. A few days later, I went to the library to read about such strange geography. That’s when I read the real story of the Johnstown disaster. Wow. I was blown away. What a great story! I held my breath for 24 years worrying that someone would write my book before I got a chance to. There are other books out there about the flood, but nothing like mine.

How did you conduct your research for the book?  Are any of the characters in the book inspired by real-life people?  While on book tour in Pittsburgh for my first young adult novel, The Serious Kiss, I had a free afternoon. So, I rented a car and drove two hours to Johnstown to see it for myself. I could have stayed there for two weeks. There was so much of interest for this Californian girl. Over the years, I would visit twice more. Generously, the President of the Johnstown Heritage Association gave me a day-long tour of everything I needed to tell a compelling tale, including access to the inside of the private Clubhouse which is still standing! Aside from the very real members of the exclusive club: steel titans Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, bankers like Andrew Mellon, U.S. Senator and Attorney General Philander Knox, all the characters are fiction.

How was the writing experience for THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO different from your experience writing your previous novel, TWO SISTERS?  Two Sisters was a process of opening up my heart and spilling its contents onto the page. Inspired by the early death of my older sister, I told a tale of family secrets that I knew all too well.  Writing The Woman in the Photo was a completely different experience. First, I read a gazillion historical novels. Then, I read every book I could find about Johnstown. I even read a novel called, Annie Kilburn that was written in 1889 to get a feel for the language of the day. Research, research, research. I was told that women who read historical fiction are fiends about accurate detail. So, my biggest fear about creating a main character who was an upper class woman of the nineteenth century was getting her many corsets right.

Both THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO and TWO SISTERS center around female relationships.  Why do you think readers are so fascinated by the bonds between female family members?  Ah, yes. Those bonds are complicated, indeed. I have yet to meet a woman who didn’t have a knotty relationship with her sister or her mother. Even when they are smooth, they are bumpy. In my case, my mother and I were very much alike, and my sister and I were very different. So there were a lot of crossed wires. We hurt each other even when we didn’t know it. My dad and my brothers sort of kept their heads down and watched sports:)

For me, the best characters are flawed, striving, loving, selfish, feeling, reacting, deep, curious, furious, and worried—mostly—about their hair. In other words: women. 

Is there a particular message you hope readers will take away from THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO?  One of the themes of this novel is: Is DNA your destiny? Are you born to be who you are? Or, can life itself mold you? I would love for readers to finish The Woman in the Photo with the sense that we are all on this earth to be kind to one another. To live together. Even on bad hair days.

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