What We Are Reading-April

Christina: Their Castilian Orphan by Anna Belfrage is the epic conclusion to this amazing historical series and I was eager to see how things would play out in the end. It sees the return of the hero’s truly vile stepbrother, whose presence hangs like a threatening cloud of doom over the story, keeping you on the edge of your seat. And as always, there is a lot at stake for Robert and Noor d’Outremer and their family in every way. Ms Belfrage immerses the reader in the era (late 13th century Britain), bringing it to life effortlessly. It is clear that she’s done a huge amount of research, although this is never rammed down your throat, but subtly woven into the narrative. You really feel you’re there, in the drafty castles, in a damp tent on military campaign, or riding through the mist towards a Welsh manor – it’s all beautifully depicted. And the characters are wonderful, making you root for them and wish them to have a happy ending. There were some heart-rending moments which actually made me cry – that doesn’t happen often when I read – but overall it’s a very satisfying read. If you haven’t started this series yet, go and buy His Castilian Hawk and begin the journey – I can thoroughly recommend this to all lovers of history and romance!

I also just want to do a quick shout-out for the latest installment in Patricia Rice’s Gravesyde Priory Mysteries (No 3) – The Bones In The Orchard. I won’t give a summary as that might ruin the mystery and suspense, but I just want to say if you haven’t started this series yet, hurry up and do so! I’m loving the mix of Regency romance and sleuthing, and the unusual setting (out in the countryside rather than the ballrooms of London) is a very refreshing change. Already looking forward to the next one!

Pat here with two extremely different reads this month… I Have Some Questions For You, Rebecca Makkai: This book is deep, it’s brilliant, it reads like a thriller page-turner, but it’s actually…hang with me here…a literary women’s fiction crime thriller. Got that? It’s also an homage, a eulogy for all the abused women whose stories are never believed, whose assaults are never avenged. And wimp that I am, I gobbled up every word because it is so brilliantly written.

The protagonist is a forty-something podcaster, at some point in the story anyway. We get all her backstory as an impoverished fat kid from Indiana thrown into a posh New Hampshire boarding school where she thinks everyone is better than she is. A murder in her senior year ends up with the only Black person on campus going to jail. Twenty years later, she’s back, teaching students how to do podcasts, and they dredge up the murder that has haunted the back of her mind for decades.

The story unfolds in onion-like layers, revealing her, her life, those of the kids she’d gone to school with, until she gradually realizes nothing is what she believed, that she’s been fooling herself as others have done the same. And it’s all done against the backdrop of real news, of Covid and Trump and Me-Too, just one more tiny story in the middle of many. I really can’t explain how this book captivated me. I can’t say I particularly liked anyone or rooted for anyone. I just wanted to know what happened—and that’s exactly what the protagonist wants too. So, in ways, the reader is the protagonist, digging for truth.

Lavender’s Blue, (Liz Danger Series #1), Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. This one has been mentioned before, but it’s totally worth mentioning again:
Jennifer Crusie is back! And like the poor Ranger/cop in the book, she’s dragging Bob Mayer down the crazy road with her. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so seldom that I can say I couldn’t put a book down that I have to say it now. I grinned and cheered on the protags all the way. It’s pretty much impossible to summarize the story. Liz Danger is a ghost writer, stopping by to give a guilt bear to her mother, who lives in a town Liz hasn’t seen since she left fifteen years before. Things happen. Many things happen. If you’ve ever read a Crusie, you know what I mean. And despite all the crushing blows our fearless heroine takes, she comes out on top in every encounter. And then she’s matched with a stoic cop who never caves, and… Can I say rollicking delight?

Mary Jo here with my most memorable recent read. Crazy For You was an early single title romance by Jennifer Crusie that I  somehow missed when it first came out and it’s very much in the Crusie mode of zany plot and zingers with an undertone of seriousness.  The Amazon blurb was so good that I decided to borrow it:

“On Wednesday, Quinn McKenzie changes her life. On Thursday, she tries to get somebody to notice. On Thursday night, somebody does.
    Quinn McKenzie is dating the world’s nicest guy, she has a good job as a high school art teacher, she’s surrounded by family and friends who rely on her, and she’s bored to the point of insanity. But when Quinn decides to change her life by adopting a stray dog over everyone’s objections, everything begins to spiral out of control. Now she’s coping with dognapping, breaking and entering, seduction, sabotage,as  stalking, more secrets than she really wants to know, and two men who are suddenly crazy . . . for her.”

It’s a fun read as Quinn’s desire to make a small change completely changes not only her life, but has a domino effect on the people around her.  Trigger warning: stalking, and small dog with incomplete bladder control.

Nicola here: The bookshop where I work on a Saturday is stocking more romance titles these days and it would be rude not to encourage this trend so I’m doing my best to buy, read and review them. This month I picked up The Blonde Identity by Ally Carter. I didn’t previously know that Ally Carter is a massively successful YA author and that this is her first adult romantic comedy but I can see the progression. The Blonde Identity is a road trip spy novel which starts with our heroine Zoe regaining consciousness in a Paris street in the snow having lost her memory, knowing only that a very hot guy with a gun is standing over her, telling her to run, and that a number of people are trying to kill her. The hot guy is Sawyer, a spy, who agrees to help her escape both the assassins and the security services who are tracking her, and the story is a witty, fast-paced action road trip told in alternating chapters from Zoe and Sawyer’s point of view. There are more romance tropes than you can shake a stick at – identical twin sisters, pretend newly-weds, grumpy meets sunshine, but despite or maybe because of this I was totally charmed by it. Zoe and Sawyer make a great couple with oodles of sexual chemistry, it’s funny and sweet and romantic and both of the main characters have nuance.

Also this month, if you enjoy an interesting sort-of cozy murder mystery, I can recommend Death Under a Little Sky by Stig Abell. When Jake Jackson’s personal life falls apart, he takes leave from his job as a high-flying London detective and moves to the countryside. Of course the !”quiet country life” is anything but and he ends up being pulled into a murder investigation. What I liked about it was the writing style which was different, beautifully descriptive and thoughtful. The mystery was twisty and satisfying and there was also a slow-burning romance which was well-written.

Anne here. What with copyedits, doing my taxes, and rereading one of my own series with a view to writing a sequel, I haven’t read a lot of books that I’d want to recommend. I did read Rebecca Yarros’s – Iron Flame, the sequel to Fourth Wing and I planned to go on to read the rest of Sara J Maass’s series that started with A Court of Thorn and Roses. And so I reread the first book in each series to remind me of the ongoing stories. But although both books were well written page-turners, in the end I found the violence and cruelty in their worlds quite depressing. I decided I need a little more kindness and some balance in my fantasy worlds. So I went back to some favorite rereads, like Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric’s Demon.

I also read the latest of the JD Kirk Scottish crime series, which I’ve talked about before, and though there’s obviously violence in them, too — he doesn’t shy away from some really grim scenes — he balances it with humor, and the books almost always end with a sense of justice, though not always conventional justice.

These were not his usual series with DCI Logan, but a spinoff series about DI Heather Filson — The One That Got Away and This Little Piggy. I didn’t much like her at first but as the story progressed I grew to like her a lot. And the introduction of an “on the spectrum” teenage investigator in the first series and a bubbly blonde character from the original series in the second book in the series really added to the enjoyment. But I would really like to read some feel-good (though not saccharine-sweet) escapist fiction, and I’m hoping to find some here.

Andrea here, first off, I’m echoing last month’s shout-out to our own Nicola Cornick’s The Other Gwyn Girl. Nicola is brilliant at creating timeslip stories, and linking the emotional journeys and connections of her two heroines into a riveting narrative that both delights and surprises. Her knowledge of history added rich texture and atmosphere, and the mysteries have you keeping the light on WAY past your bedtime.

I’m also a big fan of the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency-set mystery series by C.S. Harris and snatched up the latest one, which released earlier this month. In What Cannot Be Said, St. Cyr’s finely-honed sleuthing skills are tested to the limit as he’s drawn into investigating a shocking murder of a mother and daughter who were enjoying an idyllic afternoon picnic in Richmond Park.

The challenge is fraught with emotional complications as the crime is an exact replica of one from years ago, in which the wife and daughter of his good friend—the Bow Street magistrate in charge of the current case—were murdered. Was the wrong man hanged for the old crime, and the killer has now stuck again? As St. Cyr slowly uncovers hidden secrets within the aristocratic family of the victims, the questions become even most tangled . . . and lead to an unspeakable answer. Harris is a master of creating intricate plots that also show a fascinating slice of Regency life. Highly recommended!

So what have YOU been reading lately? As always , please share your recent favorites—and prepare to add to your towering TBR stacks!

30 thoughts on “What We Are Reading-April”

    • So glad you enjoy our monthly round-up. Annette. I always make note of new books to try, which fun. Word-of-mouth is always a great way to find new authors.

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  1. Nicola’s book and the Ally Carter one are both on offer on Kindle at the moment, so the perfect excuse to get them, as if I need one. I have read all Jenny Hambly’s Confirmed Batchelor series this month. They are well written, character driven Regencies, rather like Mary Kingswood. Sometimes when the news is particular bad (and there appears to be little good news atm), this kind of book is an excellent escape.

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    • Thanks for the heads-up on the kindle sales, Alice! (ha, ha, on the “sale” excuse. As if any of us need a reason to buy more books!)

      I totally agree that these days, comfort reads are very welcome and I’ve heard the Hambly books are great,

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  2. I have 3 suggestions.
    The most endearing and funny one is The Enchanted Highlands series by Tricia O’Malley.
    Delemhack’s The House Witch is a 3-book series that is also a lot of fun, and reminds me of Like Water for Chocolate in that the house witch doesn’t know what his special power is, but he loves to cook and his meals have wonderful effects. He also never does things as expected and leaves everyone open-mouthed.
    The third suggestion is Jeffe Kennedy’s Bonds of Magic series, starting with Dark Wizard. “Dark” is in the sense of unknown. The protagonist’s family was taken off the wizard registry because they had not had any wizards for a few generations, and then he suddenly comes into his magic and is unable to control it–he wishes for rain and gets a flood. He realizes he needs help from the magic authorities but they are dismissive and he, having lived without magic, does not know about the rules governing the use of magic. He will end up being joined by many of the misfits in the kingdom as he struggles to regain his family’s position.

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    • Thanks so much for the recommendations, America. Paranormal/magic seems a very popular genre in tough times. Maybe we all like to imagine secret powers that can help right the balance of the world.

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  3. I have read 2 amazing books recently -both by TJ Klune – and both completely differentI, In the Lives of Puppets was truly everything I want in a book – heart tugging, eye opening, and simply lovely. It was one of those books that make you both proud and ashamed to be human. I can remember the same feeling many, many years ago when I read Stephen King’s The Stand. He just writes so differently and so well that I want to read slowly but I can’t. It is a love story in the future involving an android, a killer puppet, Nurse Ratched a medical machine, Romeo an automatic vacuum, and a human. The humour is wonderful and I enjoyed every single word.
    The second one was the first book in his quartet about shape shifters called Wolfsong. This is not gentle and definitely an adult book. The only threads that connect them are love and wonderful, awesome writing. I will say Wolfsong is both violent and M/M.

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  4. Definitely a Wench books month for me – as Alice mentioned, comfort reads seem mandatory right now, and I know just where to go!
    I re-read Anne’s first two Bellaire Gardens stories in anticipation of the new one coming soon, and it was so lovely to be back in the Garden.
    Then decided that “prepping” was a good idea, so re-read Susan’s Celtic Hearts before devouring the new version of The Swan Laird – just magical (pun intended) and swoon-worthy to the nth degree!
    Then I was on to Mary Jo’s Lost Lords series, which, for the first time, I read in order, loving every minute of each story.
    I was happy to see Jennifer Crusie mentioned twice above, and strongly second both those recommendations. The Crusie and Mayer books are great fun, but this month my only non-Wench read was Crusie’s Bet Me, one of my all-time favorite comfort reads.
    Thanks, Wenches, for all the pleasure – and comfort – you bring us!

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    • Constance, so glad to hear that the Wenches have filled your month with reading pleasure. I was also swept away by Wench Nicolas’ latest.

      I have to read “Bet Me” as I’ve heard is one of Crusie’s all-time classics!

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  5. This monthly post is always so much fun to read. It’s also dangerous in a very good way!

    Over the past month ~

    — finished my Linesman series reread with Confluence by S. K. Dunstall.
    — for my book group, I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. I found it a sad and rather depressing book as did the others. It is fiction about a young man and his Vietnamese mother and grandmother set primarily in the US.
    — enjoyed two books by author Gail Carriger. The first, Crudrat: The Tinkered Stars, is a science fiction novel for young adults. It features a teen on a space orbital who was cast out by her people at a very young age because her genetic tinkering was not deemed successful. She is one of many children who survive by scraping crud from dangerous scythes until they die or grow too big to do the work. When the story begins, she has been booted out of her work and an alien has arrived on the orbital.
    — enjoyed rereading The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery. This book takes place in the same universe as the above book but features significant adult content so was released under the author’s pen name, G. L. Carriger. It is set on a space station and features a human detective and a (generally) exuberant lavender colored alien with expressive hair; a mystery is involved.

    — I quite enjoyed Kiwi Rules and Stone Cold Kiwi by author Rosalind James. These are both contemporary romances set in New Zealand. Much of the second book was set in Dunedin where my husband and I visited our daughter who did her study abroad there. I could see rereading these books and would happily read more by the author. (It was also rather nice to read a book with a character named Karen where the name/person was not treated with disdain.)
    — I also reread a number of contemporary romance works by Sarina Bowen: The Year We Fell Down (this is one of my favorite new adult romances), The Year We Hid Away, Blonde Date (a favorite novella), and The Lucky One (a story).

    — read (the currently free) Cursed (The Electi Series Book 1) by Elise Noble. This featured a woman who can see (and talk with) ghosts and a private investigator who together solve a mystery. This is not a book I expect to reread, but I could see reading on in the series.
    — enjoyed the male/male romance Beautifully Unexpected by Lily Morton which is set in London and features a barrister and an artist who are aged 52 and 48. I enjoyed the friendship that developed between the leads as well as their banter.
    — reread Quarter Share (Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper Book 1) by Nathan Lowell.
    — read a goodly number of the hundreds of Kindle samples I’ve managed to acquire.

    — continued rereading the Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell and have now finished Half Share, Full Share, Double Share, and Captain’s Share. I enjoyed revisiting them all.
    — I was surprised to find Life of Fred–Jelly Beans in a Little Free Library so, out of curiosity, brought it home and read it. This is part of a math curriculum used primarily by homeschoolers.

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    • As usual, such a wonderful and varies selection of titles, Kareni. Thanks so much for sharing it. I have been busily making notes as I read the list. I have red great things about the Ocean Vuong’s book, so that moved up on the TBR pile.

      And I really enjoyed Sarina Bowen’s The Year We Fell Down.

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    • Kareni – always find your list so intriguing — had to say that Sarina Bowen taught me everything I know about ice hockey! Love her books for their banter, too!

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    • I love Gail Carriger but I haven’t read her new series and Tales From the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper is one of my absolute favourite series ! Have you read TJ Klune’s In The Lives of Puppets? – Loved it!

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      • I tried TJ Klune’s In The Lives of Puppets, Janet, but sadly it didn’t grab me at the time. Perhaps I’ll try again at some point.

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  6. I read quite a bit this month but the 2 standouts were The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki and The Moonlight School by Suzanne Woods Fisher. Both are historical fiction and are about real women. You can’t get much further apart society wise as these two women. I think one reason I saw such a great contrast was because I read them back to back.

    Marjorie Merriwether Post ends up being ultra rich and living in high, high society. Money was no object to her style of living. She lived hard and loved hard but had bad luck with her husbands. She had a loving relationship with her daughters but they too had very bad luck with their husbands.

    It was a very fascinating book as it was well written and well researched and as a side note, I learned a lot about Post Cereal and Birdseye Foods.

    Cora Wilson lived and worked in rural rural Kentucky in the Appalachian mountains. Money was always a concern since the area and school district she worked in were dirt poor. The book was set in 1911. Its a fascinating book about literacy and teaching up in the hollows of the mountains.

    She had a light bulb moment when she found that several women had learned to read late in life. Why not have a night school to help teach ALL the men and women in the county to read, write and do math. The night school was called Moonlight School because they were scheduled in the fall during the brightest, longest moons over a 6 week period. She wanted to make everyone literate so they could participate fully in society and not be taken advantage of.

    The main protagonist is Lucy Wilson, Cora’s cousin and there is a small romance in it (successful one). A small mystery as well concerning Lucy’s missing sister. Lots of growth and blooming in Lucy’s life as Cora expands her horizons and involves her in organizing and teaching in the Moonlight School. Cora is a very inspiring person to Lucy and everyone else she comes into contact with. A very well written book as well.

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    • Vicki, those both are wonderful recommendations. I really enjoy Allison Pataki’s writing, and Moonlight School sounds wonderful!

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  7. I have been doing some comfort reading this month and that means rereads. Mostly Georgette Heyer books and also Mary Jo’s The Diabolical Baron. I bought Nicola’s book and hoping to get to that soon. Hubby had double knee replacement surgery so as you can imagine I’m running round like a headless chicken trying to keep up with everything. My reading time has diminished a bit and I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything new.
    Great new selection here!

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    • I hope that your husband’s recovery will go well, Teresa, and that you’ll
      soon be able to stop your poultry impersonation!

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    • Teresa, best wishes to your husband for a speedy recovery. And be sure to take care of yourself!

      Comfort reads are always a good idea in times of stress. Georgette Heyer and Mary Jo are great selections. And I promise that you will love Nicola’s new book.

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  8. I finished “A Speculation in Sin” by Jennifer Ashley, and loved it. I thought it was one of the best entries in the Below Stairs series yet. I discovered Anita Mills, a Signet Regency author who had somehow escaped my notice all these years. The 2 books by her I read, Scandal Bound” and “The Rogue’s Return” were wonderful, so I’ll be exploring more of her backlist. Then I read “The Untied Kingdom”, in which the heroine somehow lands in an alternative, dystopian version of England. A very compelling and thought provoking read, but I have to issue a warning about LOTS of violence, bloodshed, and death. It’s the 20th century, but England is quite technologically primitive and there is a civil war going on. However there is an HEA!
    I read “Wild Rain” by Beverly Jenkins, and enjoyed the story as well as the Old West setting. I always learn something new about American history from her books. I also read an older historical by Rexanne Becnel, “The Heartbreaker”. Good story, but the hero was a hot mess! 3 illegitimate children from 3 different previous relationships! It takes him forever to realize he’s in love with the heroine and he didn’t do nearly enough groveling
    I just finished “The Countess’s Forgotten Marriage” by Annie Burrows, with a classic amnesia plot! It has much the same feel as a Harlequin Presents contemporary, so if you enjoy that type of angst and emotion, but like a Regency setting, I recommend it. It was a compulsive read for me. I just picked up “What Cannot Be Said” from the library, so that will be my next read.

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    • I also enjoyed The Untied Kingdom when I read it some time ago. The version available now has been rewritten so I can’t help but wonder how it differs. Have you read any of her other books, Karin? I read the author’s Impossible Things (just checked) ten years ago; I enjoyed it then but barely remember it now.

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      • No, I haven’t read anything else by Kate Johnon(I forgot to mention above that she’s the author of The Untied Kingdom). Except for Impossible Things, which seems to be fantasy, but very gritty, most of them seem to be cozy mysteries. If I read anything else by her I’ll report back. She’s certainly a talented writer.

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  9. I have a confession to make: I’ve been listening to the same bedtime comfort “read” for several months. It’s Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer. Up until now I had mentally put that book back to the midbottom of her list and had read it in print only a few times over the years. However I happened to come across a terrific performance by Eve Matheson and it took on new dimension for me. There are many subtleties in the book that had slid under my radar before.

    Sometimes I have to take a break from regencies because too often the characters are too perfect; the authors try to include some human flaws but they fade in the presence of the characters’ utter physical, intellectual and moral perfection. Does the hero who has had an iffy previous life with mistresses and wild nights with his pals have any STDs or illegitimate children? Nope. Somehow he has just learned great manners, how to improve his wealth status and how to make himself agreeable to the heroine. Can a heroine who does not want a loveless marriage and a boring future actually make the break with her family or will she be stuck at home forever? In LOQ Heyer deals with some of this. The hero is a bossy, rude man with a past, and he doesn’t really change. The heroine is an aging (29) woman with “rumgumption” who wants a life of her own, not one as someone’s chattel or dependent – and she has enough cash of her own to carry that off. These concerns (not the STDs, Heyer did have some restrictions 😉 get discussed in this book. It is also a book with no real villains – Annis’s brother is sincerely concerned about her welfare, even if he tries to be controlling about it; her companion Maria Farlow does the wrong thing (over & over) but we see how scared she is of going back to her old life. And the wisest person in the book turns out to be the one who seems the dumbest.

    It’s just a really brilliant character book. I never get tired of it.

    In newer books I have read Every Other Weekend by Anthony J. Mohr, a former Superior Court judge, who is the son of the actor Gerald Mohr, mostly known as Philip Marlowe on the radio and as an actor in a zillion B movies and TV shows of the black & white era. He’s the man with the remarkable baritone voice. It’s about Anthony’s growing up in LA with his biodad (Mohr) and his stepdad, businessman Stanley Dashew, going back & forth between households. To me it was LA nostalgia but also the tale of three men living in some confusion who turned out pretty good anyway.

    I have also started the Videssos cycle novels by Harry Turtledove, which is about a Roman legion magically transported to an alternate universe in which there is no Roman Empire, the lands are not exactly the same, and the people living there are different (because there are no Romans). I find I have to read them in patches and let them settle – this is worldbuilding in enormous detail. I could really do with a character and location list. I almost groaned when I saw that there are several novels that followed. But I find it very engaging.

    Otherwise I am still catching up on Harlequin regencies. My local Barnes & Noble has become too snooty to carry them so I’ve been getting them from Amazon and the swap club. Right now I am enjoying Spinster with a Scandalous Past (don’t they all) by Sadie King, an author new to me. I am enjoying paragraphs longer than one sentence 😉

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    • What a nifty collection of books, Janice J.; thanks for sharing. I’ll admit to having had similar thoughts regarding rakes, STDs, and illegitimate children.

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