Review: Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

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Agatha Arch’s life shatters when she discovers her husband in their backyard shed, in flagrante delicto, giving the local dog walker some heavy petting. Suddenly, Agatha finds herself face to face with everything that frightens her…and that’s a loooooong list.

Agatha keeps those she loves close. Everyone else, she keeps as far away as possible. So she’s a mystery to nearly everyone in her New England town. To her husband, she’s a saucy, no-B.S. writer. To her Facebook Moms group, she’s a provocateur. To her neighbor, she’s a standoffish pain in the butt. To her sons, she’s chocolate pudding with marshmallows. And to her shrink, she’s a bundle of nerves on the brink of a cataclysmic implosion.

Defying her abundant assortment of anxieties, Agatha dons her “spy pants”–a pair of khakis whose many pockets she crams with binoculars, fishing line, scissors, flashlight, a Leatherman Super Tool 300 EOD, candy, and other espionage essentials–and sets out to spy on her husband and the dog walker. Along the way, she finds another intriguing target to follow: a mysterious young woman who’s panhandling on the busiest street in town.

It’s all a bit much for timorous Agatha. But with the help of her Bear Grylls bobblehead, a trio of goats, and a dog named Balderdash, Agatha may just find the courage to build a better life.

Source: NetGalley and Alcove Press Rating: 4½/5 stars

Agatha Arch has everything she could have ever dreamed of and hoped for, she has a marriage she is happy with, two sons she adores, and a writing career that is both successful and fulfilling.  What’s more, Agatha’s husband is patient and kind enough to accept her eccentricities and shield her from the things that frighten her.  The list of what frightens Agatha is long and extensive, but her family accepts and loves her, nonetheless.

To think her world would ever come crashing down is as foreign to Agatha as getting over her prodigious list of fears.  Yes, Agatha is comfortable in her existence and sees no reason for any part of it to change.  And then, one day Agatha stumbles across her beloved husband banging the local dog walker in the shed.  As if the infidelity weren’t enough, the dog walker’s last name is Bean and Agatha is terrified of beans.  For the first time in her adult life, Agatha Arch finds herself completely alone and unsure of how to move forward with her life. 

Because she is full of good ideas, Agatha decides on a course that is both self-destructive and borderline illegal.  First, she destroys the shed in her backyard, then she increases her visits with her therapist (Shrinky Dink!), and then she begins to obsess over her husband’s new life.  Obsessing over her husband’s new life means Agatha needs to do some research on stealth recon.  In short order, Agatha buys a ton of spy equipment and learns how to use a camera-equipped drone from a kid in the local park.  Spying on her ex-husband and his new squeeze isn’t the healthiest of plans, but it is all Agatha has.  What she sees is a blissful new life that even her boys seem to be enjoying. 

In Agatha’s spare time, she delights in pissing off people through her thoroughly blunt and brutally honest posts on the community Facebook page.  All but one woman seems to steer clear of Agatha and that one woman is determined to befriend Agatha and help her change her ways.  Agatha is completely confused by the woman’s motives and in typical Agatha fashion does all she can to push the do-gooder away.  Fortunately for Agatha, there are people in the world just as stubborn as she is.  Unfortunately for Agatha, her means and methods are attracting attention and it isn’t the good kind.

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I am totally befuddled by the Goodreads rating for a book.  I found Agatha Arch to be a totally refreshing read and one that I had a hard time putting down.  Agatha is such a broken individual and without the life-altering events brought on by her husband’s infidelity, she would have continued to live her life in the same way.  Without the crutch of her husband and his enabling ways, Agatha is finally free to deal with her issues and forge a new path for herself.  Though her means and methods are completely unorthodox, Agatha does as she always has done and that’s her way or no way.  I found this book to be heartfelt, trying, hilarious, troubling, and wonderfully original.  I can’t say I’ve felt that way about a lot of books given how many I read and have read so it is nice when I come across something like Agatha Arch that blows fresh air my way.

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Mini-Review: The Summer of Wishful Thinking by Eve Edwards

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Gemma Whitehall helps people tie the knot as the local registrar, but watching loved-up couples exchange their vows serves only to highlight what’s missing from her own life. Gemma can’t ignore the fact that life – and love – are slipping through her fingers.

Sam Ranworth has spent the best part of a decade building walls around himself after tragedy struck. The last thing he wants is to get tangled up in Gemma’s messy life.

When Gemma rents the ramshackle cottage on Sam’s neglected country estate, neither of them can ignore the spark of attraction. Can they leave the past where it belongs and take a chance on happiness?

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I’m starting to feel like I may be reading books all wrong ☹  Yet again, I find myself quite enjoying a book that doesn’t seem to be fairing so well on Goodreads.  Outside of one wonky plot twist, I found this book to be a fun little read.  Gemma is a perfectly delightful if harried human trying to do the best for herself and her son.  Sam is a former cop looking for a second chance in life.  When Gemma, her son, Sam, and his aging father all come together on the grounds of Sam’s recently purchased estate, things get awfully interesting.  Sam and Gemma find a new relationship and Gemma’s son and Sam’s father make the most unlikely but completely endearing partnership.  There’s nothing new or groundbreaking here, but the story is solid, and the characters are interesting.  I wouldn’t move this one to the top of your TBR, but I wouldn’t leave it at the bottom either.  It’s worth a try and can easily be read in a sitting or two.

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Mini-Review: The Eyes of the Queen (Book #1: Agents of the Crown Series) by Oliver Clements

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After centuries locked in an endless cycle of poverty, persecution, and barbarity, Europe has finally emerged into the Age of Enlightenment. Scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets alike believe this to be a new era of reason and hope for all. But the forces of darkness haven’t completely dissipated, as Spain hunts and butchers any who dare to defy its ironclad Catholic orthodoxy.

Only one nation can fight the black shadow that threatens this new age, and that is Britain, now ruled by a brilliant young Queen Elizabeth I. But although she may be brave and headstrong, Elizabeth knows she cannot win this war simply by force of arms. After her armies have been slashed in half, her treasury is on its knees. Elizabeth needs a new kind of weapon forged to fight a new kind of war, in which stealth and secrecy, not bloodshed, are the means.

In this tense situation, Her Majesty’s Secret Service is born with the charismatic John Dee at its head. A scholar, a soldier, and an alchemist, Dee is loyal only to the truth and to his Queen. And for her, the woman he’s forbidden from loving, he is prepared to risk his life.

Source: NetGalley and Artria/Leopoldo Co. Rating: 2/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I am the first to admit I am a sucker for a good bit of historical fiction, and I have a particular fascination with Elizabethan-era stories.  I dove into this book anticipating an excellent period piece but what I got is something I still haven’t quite wrapped my brain around.  I believe I lost faith and interest in this book very early on, but I continued with the book to the very end hoping it would take a turn for the better.  My interest was lost, and pure disbelief set in following the descriptions of Mary, Queen of Scots and how she spent her days locked away as a “guest” of Queen Elizabeth.  I can accept a lot of things and like to consider myself open-minded, but this description seems tremendously far-fetched and wholly unnecessary to the telling of this particular story.  To make matters worse, I found most of the characters to be somewhat unrealistic and completely out of synch with what history tells us about the people, time, and place.  The point of historical fiction is to take the real and blend it with fiction to create a dynamic and interesting read based in reality.  What I got with this book trends far more toward pure and somewhat fantastical fiction rather than historical fiction. 

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Review: For Whom the Book Tolls (Book #1: An Antique Bookshop Mystery Series) by Laura Gail Black

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Trouble follows Jenna Quinn wherever she goes. Fleeing some unsavory doings in her hometown of Charlotte, Jenna accepts her uncle’s gracious invitation to stay with him in small-town Hokes Folly, NC. In exchange, she’ll help him out in his antiquarian bookstore. But soon after she arrives, Jenna finds her uncle’s body crumpled at the base of the staircase between his apartment and the bookstore.

Before the tragedy even sinks in, Jenna learns that she’s inherited almost everything her uncle owned: the store and apartment, as well as his not-so-meager savings and the payout from a life insurance policy…which adds up to more than a million dollars. This is all news to Jenna–bad news, once the police get wind of her windfall. An ill wind, indeed, as a second murder cements Jenna’s status as the prime suspect in both deaths.

Jenna can hit the road again, taking her chances that she can elude trouble along the way. Or she can stick it out in Hokes Folly, take over the bookstore, and try to sleuth out her uncle’s killer. On the one hand, she’s made some wonderful new friends, and she feels she can thrive in the genial small-town environment. On the other hand, trouble knows her address–and so does the killer, who is determined to write the final page of Jenna’s story.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 4/5 stars

If it weren’t for bad luck, Jenna Quinn wouldn’t have any luck at all.  She’s flat broke, her car is on its last leg, and she’s just found her beloved uncle lying dead at the foot of the stairs.

Jenna moved to the small town of Hokes Folly, North Carolina for a fresh start.  Her uncle, a widower for many years, invited Jenna to live in his home and help him run his bookstore.  With nothing left to lose, Jenna packed her bags, ready to start again.  Unfortunately, Jenna’s fresh start is put on permanent hold when she finds her uncle dead in his own bookstore.  What’s more, because of her past and the most unexpected inheritance from her uncle, Jenna becomes the prime suspect in his murder. 

Though Jenna knows she had nothing to do with her uncle’s death, convincing local law enforcement is going to be difficult.  Her lawyer, a very sharp and savvy litigator, is having none of the accusations and allegations and advises Jenna to go about her life as best she can until the real killer is caught.  Going about her life isn’t going to be easy as her uncle left a right mess in the bookstore.  First up for Jenna is to hire some help and get the store into some semblance of order.  Next up, get to know the neighbors and learn the lay of the land.  Finally, do her own investigating into her uncle’s murder since the police have no real interest in looking beyond Jenna as the culprit.

As Jenna begins to make a place for herself in Hokes Folly, she also begins to learn of the town’s crazy history.  The inheritors of that history are two aged sisters who own the antique store next to Jenna and while one is polite, demure, and genuinely kind, the other is a bit banana pants crazy.  As Jenna quickly finds out, banana pants is the way of the town and if she’s going to make her home in Hokes Folly, she’ll have to learn to accept a little crazy.  To that end, Jenna hires a young man her uncle once fired for theft and the two whip the shop into shape.  Just as Jenna begins to feel the smallest bit of comfort and accept the reality of her new life, yet another huge monkey wrench is thrown into her plans.  This time, the monkey comes in the form of a formerly unknown heir to her uncle’s estate.

The Bottom Line:  I do love a good underdog story and Jenna certainly qualifies as an underdog.  I am also quite fond of quaint and quirky small towns, and Holes Folly certain meets the criteria.  When you add in a good story with twists and turns aplenty, you have a recipe for a fine first-in-a-series book.  With all the things I like about this series, I also have at least one big reservation, if this series is going to continue and be successful, there needs to be a larger cast of characters.  In this first book, there are a limited number of secondary characters and in cozy mysteries, it is generally the crazy cast of characters that makes or breaks the series.

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Mini-Review: A Highlander is Coming to Town (Book #3: Highland, Georgia Series) by Laura Trentham

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You better watch out. . .

Holt Pierson is dreading Christmas. His parents absconded to Florida for the season and left him to handle the family farm which will be his one day―whether he wants it or not. Driven by duty, Holt has always followed the path expected of him. But lately, he’s been questioning what he wants and where he belongs. Will assuming the responsibility of the Pierson farm make him happy or is there something―or someone―else out in the wider world calling to him?


To Claire Smythe, the Scottish lead singer of a touring band, Highland, Georgia, is the perfect place to hide . . .until a very handsome and deeply curious Holt begins to ask all the questions Claire doesn’t want to answer. As Holt draws Claire out from under and into the fabric of small-town life, can Claire put the past behind her and embrace the unexpected gifts of the season―including the new and lasting love?

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I have generally enjoyed this series greatly, but every series seems to have a speed bump and A Highlander is Coming to Town is that speed bump in this series.  Claire and her very prickly personality were quite hard for me to like and even knowing her background didn’t help much.  The highlight of this read is absolutely Holt Pierson.  Holt is an intelligent country boy with kindness and a bit of mischief rolled into his personality.  Holt is also patient and willing to work with Claire’s prickly bits to get to her softer and far less prickly underside.  Outside of Holt, the little old lady Claire works for is quite the delight.  Her age brings wisdom and her advice to Claire and Holt help facilitate a happily ever after for more than one person.  I can’t say I disliked this book, but Claire sure made it hard to like this book as much as the preceding two.

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Ongoing Virtual Vacation

Dear friends and followers,

This is the longest virtual vacation I have ever taken from blogging. I love this blog and have spent countless hours, days, weeks, and months working to bring you book reviews, blog posts, spotlights, etc. Unfortunately, life is just piling up on top of me these days and I feel I must extend my virtual vacation through the end of the month. This deeply saddens me and I sincerely hope you will all still be here with me when I return at the beginning of October. I am still reading and have a pile of book reviews to write. I ask for your patience and thank you for your continued support of my little book blog 🙂

Sincerely,

Leisha O. @rolopolobookblog

Virtual Vacation

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Hello RoloPolians! RoloPoloBookBlog is a one-woman show and this one woman needs a bit of a virtual vacation. Never fear, I haven’t stopped reading and I’ll be back September 14th with two weeks of new reviews for your viewing/reading pleasure.

Be well and I will “see” you in a couple weeks!!

Review: Romeantically Challenged (Book #1: When in Rome Series) by Marina Adair

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Growing up the lone Asian in a community of WASPs, Annie has always felt out of place.  Her solution?  Start a family of her own. Not easy when every man she’s dated, including her ex-fiancé, finds “his person” right after breaking up with Annie. Even worse than canceling the wedding eight weeks beforehand?  Learning the “other woman” plans to walk down the aisle wearing her wedding gown. New plan—find a fresh, man-free start. Too bad her exit strategy unexpectedly lands her working at a hospital in Rome, Rhode Island, rather than Rome, Italy, and sharing a cabin with a big, brooding, and annoyingly hot male roommate.

Home on medical leave after covering a literally explosive story in China, investigative photojournalist Emmitt embarks on his most important assignment—cementing his place in his daughter’s life. Three men and a baby might work in the movies, but with a stepdad and devoted uncle competing for Paisley’s attention, Emmitt has lost his place at the family table. Then there’s the adorably sexy squatter in his cabin, who poses another problem, one he’d very much like to solve up close and personal. But he can’t win—Annie has sworn off men, Paisley’s gone boy crazy, and Emmitt’s estranged father reappears with a secret that changes everything.

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Source: NetGalley and Kensington          Rating: 4/5 stars

Though her resume clearly states she is a physician’s assistant, Annie might as well change it to professional husband preparer.  Her last several relationships have all felt good, felt right, right up to the moment her boyfriend unexpectedly dumped her and quickly moved on to his “One.”  Perhaps the worst of all is her latest ex whose bride-to-be has not only hijacked Annie’s wedding but had Annie’s wedding dress altered to fit her much larger and bustier frame. 

That’s it . . . . .

Clearly, Annie has nothing left to lose and in a moment of panic, she has quit her job and landed a temporary position in a clinic and hospital in Rome, Rhode Island.  For the record, Annie thought she was signing on for a position in the other Rome.  Yeah, Annie’s life is in the crapper and inexplicably, it’s about to get worse. 

Emmitt loves his home in Rhode Island, but he loves being abroad and chasing a story even more.  Chasing a story, exposing the dirty details, and speaking up for those who cannot is where Emmitt is at his best.  If it weren’t for his young daughter back in Rome, Emmitt would likely stay on the road forever.  Unfortunately, thanks to a nasty head wound, Emmitt has been sidelined and sent home until he can be medically cleared for work.  Coming home with a head wound only to find a complete stranger living in his house is not how Emmitt saw his day going.  What’s more, the complete stranger is wearing a far too big wedding dress, throwing shoes, and using a very shouty voice.  Could it get any worse?

With a contract that has been signed, sealed, and delivered, both Annie and Emmitt are stuck with one another for the time being.  To Emmitt’s mind, if he’s going to be stuck with the feisty, sexy lady he may as well make a play for her.  Though Emmitt has every intention of seducing Annie, he quickly finds out she is virtually immune to his usual charms.  What’s more, she’s perceptive and knows his injuries are far worse than he’s letting on.  On the other hand, Emmitt has always enjoyed a good challenge.

Annie sees her time in Rome as a way to get her life back on track.  Her ex is being horrendously passive-aggressive, her parents can’t understand why she won’t patch things up with her ex, and her new roommate is so damn hot she can’t concentrate in his presence.  If Annie is going to get her life back on track, avoiding men like Emmitt is a priority but that’s far easier said than done.  Within just a few days, Emmitt begins to grow on Annie, and it isn’t long before the two discover they actually like one another.  As long as the relationship stays platonic, Annie will be just fine, but that is also far easier said than done.

In the days and weeks that Annie and Emmitt live together, they discover many mutual likes and dislikes, they have flirtatious fun, and they help one another with their collective life baggage.  As one thing leads to another, friends become lovers and things really start to go awry in Rome, Rhode Island.

The Bottom Line: I am a big fan of this book!  I knew the minute I met Annie I was going to like watching her blossom and become the badass she truly is under all the self-doubt and worry.  Annie is a thoroughly likeable character and a perfect match for Emmitt.  I truly enjoyed the back and forth between Annie and Emmitt from their texts to their actual conversations.  All the drama surrounding the pair made for a roller coaster of a ride that I really didn’t want to end.  There’s a lot going on in this book and it is all well-written and flawlessly woven together into a cohesive story.  Clearly, Rome, Rhode Island is the place to be and I can’t wait to go back for round two!

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Mini-Review: Coffee Girl (Book #1: Coffee Book Series) by Sophie Sinclair

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Either become her snarky sister’s nanny, or move halfway across the country to work as assistant-to-the-stylist of a country music star. Neither job sounds ideal, although bedazzling cowboy boots may be a hell of a lot more interesting than ironing her brother-in-law’s underwear. But life on the road as the errand coffee girl for a sold-out tour leaves much to be desired. That is, until Kiki meets her sinfully sexy new boss’s boss…

Tatum Reed’s career is flying high. He’s up for country music’s Entertainer of the Year and he’s headed out on a nationwide sold-out tour. So why does he feel like it’s all about to implode? His superstar ex-girlfriend seems determined to make his life difficult, his opening act is a handful, and the new girl on his tour, the feisty brunette, is quickly getting under his skin. In this crazy world of showbusiness Tatum needs to learn who he can trust, but that doesn’t come easily, because the one person who holds all the cards may just throw them down and walk away.

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Source: NetGalley          Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I’m going to freely admit that I put off reading this book because of a dumb assumption.  I erroneously assumed this was going to be a typical hit it and quit it kind of book with naughty bits galore, but what I actually got was a great story with fun characters, and appropriately placed and spaced naughty bits.  See kids, that why we shouldn’t assume 😊  I liked Kiki tremendously and while Tatum’s arrogance could sometimes be a bit much, he was also a generally decent character.  There are enough “bad guys” and dramatic moments to balance out the funny and the sappy moments and overall plot is both interesting and entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes of texting and the moments when Tatum and Kiki discussed music.  In all, I am happy to say that I have learned my lesson and I will try to stop assuming.  Coffee Girl put me in my place, and I am very much looking forward to the second installment of the series.

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Review: The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

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1789. Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the palace of Versailles for their château, deep in the French Alps. But as revolution spreads through the country, even hidden away the Auberts will not be safe forever. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.

Present day. When Lu’s mother dies leaving her heartbroken, the chance to move to a château in the south of France with her husband and best friends seems an opportunity for a new beginning. But Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history, and when she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets – and a mystery unsolved for centuries is uncovered…

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Source: NetGalley and HQ Digital          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Lu and her husband have been friends with the same trio for many, many years and as the group has begun to age, each has also begun to think about their respective future.  One night, after entirely too much wine and conversation, the group collectively decides to sell everything they can’t live without and buy a wonderful new home, big enough for all of them and their grown children, in the heart of France. 

Of the group, Lu is the most hesitant, yet she sees how truly happy everyone else is with the plan so resolves to make her way and make the best of the monumental change in her life.  Upon reaching France, Lu finds settling in to be more difficult than she imagined.  As her friends begin to find their way, find new hobbies, and new interests, Lu struggles to find her place.  That all changes when Lu and her son find an unexpected mystery in the great tower.  As one thing leads to another, Lu finds herself wrapped in research and taken back several centuries to the late 18th century.  Lu’s discoveries will not only solve the mystery of the tower, but it will also lay to rest many questions related to local history and legend.

Lu’s research takes her back to the time of the original owners, Pierre and Catherine Aubert.  The Aubert’s, once welcomed and loved members of the French court, found it necessary in the wake of revolution to escape to their home in the French Alps.  While their escape is initially successful, Pierre and Catherine are members of the aristocracy and the revolution is raging on.  Though they both hope they are far enough from Paris to remain undetected, each knows their escape and existence could be discovered at any moment.  As Catherine goes about her days hoping for a return to the splendor and grandeur of Paris, Pierre secretly works out plans for their escape from France should the need arise. 

Though their lives aren’t perfect, Pierre and Catherine do find some measure of peace in their chateau.  Catherine bears their children and manages the house while Pierre maintains the laborers and lands attached to the chateau.  For a time, the two are blissfully happy, but all good things must come to an end and before Catherine can even wrap her head around the danger, Pierre is ordering her to safety in the face of invasion.

Back in the present, Lu becomes somewhat engrossed in her research and what she uncovers is disturbing.  The fate of the Aubert’s and their descendants has largely been lost to history, but Lu is like a dog with a bone and she refuses to give up on her task.  As she works, she discovers great and terrible secrets as well as parts of the chateau and surrounding property that have been forgotten in the interceding centuries.  What Lu brings to light doesn’t just inform she and her housemates, but the community as a whole. 

The Bottom Line:  I quite liked this read and while I usually gravitate toward the historical side of these types of books, this time I found myself more completely enjoying the present.   Lu and her friends and their various activities really bring the setting to life in this book and I found that to be the most enjoyable bits of reading.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the bits in the past because I most certainly did.  The crashing together of the past and the present is always one of my favorite genres and in this instance, I was not let down.  This is a hard thing for an author to do properly and if it isn’t done properly, the whole read is a failure.  The blending here is excellent, and the transitions are smooth.  In all, a fine read.

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