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Posts Tagged ‘Strong Characters’

Sail on Silver Girl, Sail on by -Paul Simon

It’s funny how you think you can know a person. -Tayari Jones

Reading Silver Sparrow felt like being the recipient of a secret. I had to read this book on my own. I holed up in my childhood bedroom in my parents house, blasted the fan on high, and read this book in two days and three sittings. Tayari Jones is my new favorite person. The book was such a surprise to me. Like receiving a secret, it was also like opening a gift, one page at a time. The synopsis blurb on the back only told me that the book was going to be told from the first point of view of the daughter of a bigamist so I didn’t know what to expect from the book.

The story is told from the POV of two daughters of James Witerspoon who is simultaneously married to Gwendolyn Yarboro and Laverne Witherspoon. The two girls are both his daughters but they are not treated equal. Dana, the daughter of Gwendolyn, the “second wife”, only gets to see her father on Wednesday evenings and then it’s only for dinner. Dana also gets shafted several times throughout the novel since she can not be around Chaurisse she is denied several opportunities like jobs, college and parties. However, as a trade off, she and her mother are aware of Laverne and Chaurisse, but Laverne and Chaurisse are completely in the dark when it comes to Dana and Gwen. After almost two decades of living like this Dana reaches out and befriends Chaurisse in order to see if life is better on the other side. As the two girls approach the end of their high school careers Dana becomes more and more involved in her “half sister’s” life and like every secret kept in the dark, this one will come to the light and explode each characters existence.

The novel is written with two very convincing and heartbreaking voices. I had to stop reading and research Jones’ life as the narration was so raw I honestly thought that perhaps this was a memoir. Each character has their own back story and their own cross to bear. Miss Bunny, the grandmother who only learns of one of her granddaughters right before she dies. Raleigh, the father’s best friend who has been in love with Gwendolyn since the day he met her. And Marcus and Jamal who are the first boys the girls let intimately into their lives.

The book poses many questions: Would you rather be the family that didn’t know about the other and living in privilege or would you rather know about the other and therefore that you are not #1? Is it possible for a father to love one child more than the other? Is James really married to both women? Are you on team Dana or Chaurisse? What is a marriage? What makes a family?

Though none of these questions are blatantly answered in the novel, the questions will linger with you for days after reading it. Five out of Five stars.

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Papa was a rolling stone, my son, where ever he laid his hat was his home -The Temptations

“There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” -Harper Lee

This week I need to do a Top Ten Thursday instead of a Top Ten Tuesday. I’ve got A LOT going on right now. My mom is very sick and my dad has his hands full with taking care of her so I’ve been trying to help both of them and finish up the school year and find a new apartment in a new town to move to and read and rest from the last awful school year and blog and I’m just now getting to the blog part and I haven’t really done any of the other parts. So for this weeks TTT I decided to list my top ten favorite fathers in literature in honor of Father’s Day being last Sunday. (*note: links to the books will now be accessed by clicking the picture of the book. All links will be from IndieBound.org- be a part of the story*)

10. Dr. Murray from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. Publication Date: 1962– The missing, but brilliant, dad.

It has been a really long time since I’ve read this book, and I don’t think I fully appreciated it when I did read it so this is one that I will need to revisit. Dr. Murray isn’t really in the first book very much I discovered (and failed to even remember) after some researching. This is a really cool dad though, he’s a physicist studying space-time continuums who is missing and NO ONE, not even the freakin’ GOVERNMENT knows where he is (and you know how those guys know EVERYTHING).

9. Charlie Swan from the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Publication Date: 2005-2008. The aloof dad.

The twilight saga hardback.jpg

I’ve said it before on this blog and I’ll say it again: I am a fan of Twilight. I am not sure if I am 100% a fan of Chuck Swan, father to Bella Swan-Cullen, Grandfather to Reneesme Cullen. Charlie is so distant from his daughter when first we meet him that he is awkward and it’s hard to believe he cares and actually wants her to live with him. Charlie develops the love I had hoped he would for Bella (and honestly, it was there all along, but dads can be weird most of the time) and has some touching moments with her, like at her wedding for example. One thing about Chief Swan that I can’t overlook is how he is so meek. He lets Bella fly out of the house and to ITALY without making much of a stink? He watches her become a vampire and yet doesn’t give it much thought? He doesn’t see her for almost a year and shrugs it off? Whaaaaaa? Overall, good guy, loving dad, I like him, but I don’t love him.

8. James Henry Alden from The Boxcar Children Series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Original Publication Date: 1924. The Grandfather Dad.

Though not actually a dad the grandfather in the boxcar children acted as a dad to the four boxcar children in Gertrude Chandler Warner’s AWESOME mystery series for children. After the death of the children’s parents, Grandfather steps in and cares for them. He’s wealthy, he’s kind, he’s patient, he’s full of advice, he’s not overly stern, he’s the worlds best grandfather! Too bad he’s fictional.

7. Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Publication Date: 1908. The adorable, adoptive, loving dad.

I promised you a few weeks ago when I did my Mother’s Day blog that I would touch on the awesomeness that is Matthew Cuthbert and here is where I do it. How awesome is Matthew Cuthbert? Let me count the ways:
1. He loves Anne at first sight. Sure he wanted, heck, NEEDED, a boy and ended up with Anne instead. He could have just left her at that train station, but you know that the thought never even entered sweet Matthew’s mind.
2. He had to put up with Marilla. Though she’s really a softy, she sure can come off as a mega b-i-t-c-h.
3. He is SO SHY! It might kill him to have to talk to anyone so he keeps to himself A LOT.
4. He’s Canadian.
5. He bought Anne that dress!
6-infinity. There are so many reasons to love this character, and I do!
(And yes, that is a picture of Richard Farnsworth who played Matthew PERFECTLY in the 1985 movie and not a cover of the book. Farnsworth did such a great job, I had to feature him. I’ll also do the same later in this post for Gregory Peck. See if you can guess which father from literature he played!)

6. Sirius Black/James Potter/Arthur Weasley/Albus Dumbledore/Severus Snape/Remus Lupin/Hagrid from The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Publication Date: 1997-2007. The Harry Potter Dad(s).
The Coat of Arms of Hogwarts, featuring scarlet and gold Gryffindor colours with the mascot Lion, yellow and black of Hufflepuff with the symbolic badger, bronze and blue Ravenclaw colours with an eagle, and Slytherin green and silver with a serpent mascot.

 When the story opens on Harry in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone we learn quickly that poor Harry is an orphan. Having lost both his parents to Lord Voldemort, Harry now is forced to live under the stairs with his awful aunt, uncle and cousin. During the series progression, however, Harry is able to have many characters step in as surrogate father figures to him. Each character offers something to Harry that the other’s can not. Sirius Black is Harry’s actual Godfather and James was his actual father. But all of the characters mentioned above were Harry’s fathers in some fashion.

5. Steve Miller from The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks. Publication Date: 2009. The Dying Dad.

The Last Song was probably the last Nicholas Sparks book I read all the way through. I used to enjoy Sparks’ books, mainly because they are all based in coastal North Carolina which is where I am from and where I grew up. I loved that he used real places that I could actually recognize; it made me feel like I was actually a part of the story and the characters lives since I too had been to those locals! However, after this book I realized that all of his books are exactly the same. Exactly. The. Same. Start off with a dysfunction in a family, throw in a disease or an accident, add a death, and there is _____ by Nicholas Sparks. I wanted to include Steve Miller on my list though because he really is a good dad. He has to contend with a spoiled, selfish daughter and try to connect to a son and try to help a neighboring church all while dying. He does all of these things with grace. Sparks’ characters are generally ones that are good role models for the other characters as well as for the readers and Steve Miller (not the musician, I should have mentioned earlier) is no exception.

4. Robert “Bob” Quimby from Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary. Publication Date: 1977. The fun dad.

 Ramona actually makes appearances in several of Cleary’s books, but I chose this one since this is the one where Ramona gets to connect with her dad after he looses his job. I can’t rave enough about all of the Ramona books in this series and this one is no exception. This book is awesome because it’s difficult to find one where a young daughter can connect with a father the way these characters do. The plotline from this novel makes an appearance in the movie Beezus and Ramona which came out in 2010.

3. Vladek Spiegleman from Maus by Art Spiegleman. Publication Date: 1980-1991. The survivor dad.

What makes mouse Vladek Spiegleman seem so real in Art Spiegleman’s graphic novels is the fact that, well, he is. Through the use of animation and storytelling Art is able to tell his father’s story of his father’s history as Holocaust survivor. The illustrations in Spiegleman’s novels tells more of a story than the actual written words. I’m not a very big fan of comics, but this one flows so smoothly and the story is so gripping that you find yourself reading it as if it were an actual novel.

2. The dad from Go The F*** To Sleep by Adam Mansbach. Publication Date: 2011. The frustrated dad.

I don’t think that this dad ever really reveals his name, but with the honesty given in this book about the sheer impossibility of getting a young child to sleep, we have to assume that the dad’s name is Adam and that he is writing from personal experience. The book is hilariously funny and honest and loving and I dare you to read it without laughing out loud, especially if you have ever been in that boat of trying to get a child to sleep who just wants one more glass of water and one more story. For an even bigger laugh, get an audio copy of the book read by Samuel L. Jackson.

1. Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Publication Date: 1960. The moral dad.

Not only is Atticus Finch my #1 dad in all of literature, but he is also my #1 character. Atticus is the person that I hope that I as well as everyone else in the world will grow up to be. Atticus is revered by people the world overand the group The Atticus Circle which is a group of LGBT Allies named their group after them. Atticus is a hero to everyone in the book and he is the reason that my first born son will be named Atticus. Again I elected to place a picture of Gregory Peck instead of the cover of the book. This picture is perfect- it shows Atticus in court next to the African American man that he is defending much to the chagrin of Macomb County, Alabama. Plus, I wanted to put in a picture of Peck’s Atticus because…well… LOOK at the handsome man!

Who are some of YOUR favorite dads in literature?

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Our aspirations are wrapped up in books, our inclinations are hidden in looks –Belle and Sebastian

“That day Henry made a choice…that some men are just too interesting to die” –Seth Grahame-Smith

“So keeping the box closed just keeps you in the dark, not the universe.” –John Green

This weekend was a big reading weekend for me. I finished Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter  by Seth Grahame-Smith and I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. I wasn’t sure which of these books to review (they were both very good) so I figured that I would do a quick review of both of them.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Author: Seth Grahame-Smith. Publication year: 2010

The “quirk-book” trend of taking classic works of fiction and revamping them with zombies or sea monsters was a trend that I jumped head first into. The fact is that these books whether they be re-worked classics or re-worked histories of famous people, the history is still there. The entire plot of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters was still there and a few details were added to make the story have otherworldly elements. The entire history of Abraham Lincoln’s life is in AL:VH. That’s what makes these books so good and so appealing. You get the history and you get the classic literature, but it is more accessible to today’s generation because they do want to read about zombies and monsters and vampires.

I enjoyed AL:VH very very much. I love all things Abe Lincoln. I am so excited for the movie to come out in a few weeks. The book took a turn for me during the Civil War parts, but the ending was just so spectacular and so historically relevant and so, just, well…gnarly that I ended up giving Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 5 out of 5 stars! I highly recommend it!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Authors: John Greene & David Levithan. Publication Year: 2010.

What was great about this book is the fact that it was so obviously written by two different authors. The story is that of two high school aged youth boys in Illinois both named Will Grayson. The story is told in two points of view with each chapter being voiced by the two Will Grayson’s (eg. Chapter one is Will Grayson 1 and chapter 2 is Will Grayson 2 and chapter 3 is Will Grayson 1 again, etc. etc.). The voices are obviously different and the fact that each author wrote the POV of one Will Grayson worked PERFECTLY. I had no idea that this was the style that the two authors were doing so halfway through chapter 2 I realized that Will Grayson 1 wasn’t actually suffering from a bi-polar disorder, but rather it was the other Will Grayson narrating.

The trend of dystopian fiction and vampire fiction in YA literature as of late has been exhausted, in my humble opinion, so it was very refreshing to read a story about “normal” high school students dealing with “normal” high school problems. I also enjoyed this book because it really is a very good LGBT choice. One of the Will Grayson’s is gay and the other Will Grayson’s best friend is gay. A few of the supporting characters are also gay and several characters belong to a gay/straight alliance at school. A major event in the book revolves around a very gay character writing, directing, producing and staring in a musical designed to bring an understanding and a tolerance to gay students. The book is at the same time heartwarming and heart breaking. I loved it. It had humor, love, and honesty. The ending took a weird turn for me so I couldn’t give it the full 5 stars that it could have earned. However, I do recommend it for anyone who may be gay or questioning, especially high school students. This is not a YA book that I would recommend to my middle school students (the language and some of the situations were a little advanced). This is a book that could be beneficial to bullies who may be harassing gay students. This is even a good book for adult parents of gay teenagers and it’s just a good book for anyone looking for a good read. It was a quick read (I read it in a day). 4 out of 5 stars!

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“I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite. ” -Katniss Everdeen from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

“We can fight our desires, but when we start making fires
We get ever so hot whether we like it or not” -La Roux

In the spring of 2009 I arrived early to a class on The History of the Book. I always arrive early. To class. To work. To anything, really. I got there to pull out my Harry Potter that I was currently reading and found that for the first time in a long time there was someone who had arrived before me to class. She was a girl that I had had a few classes with and I knew her well enough to strike up a conversation. The Library Science program is small enough at UNCG that everyone knows everyone else and what they are doing at any given time. So, I asked her what she was obviously so engrossed in reading. This girl worked at the on campus Teaching and Resource Center that provided materials to those who may be seeking a degree in K-12 education. They got in tons of YA and children’s books and those that worked there got to read them before anyone else did (jealous).

The book that she was so into, she told me, was called The Hunger Games. She proceeded to give me the gist of what was going on in the plot up to where she was reading. It sounded just plain awesome. Cut to Fall 2010 when I am working in my first real, full-time, library job. I get some cash to order some books for the library and one of the books I pick is The Hunger Games. I will admit that one of the main reasons that I purchased this specific book was because I had been wanting to read it for so long. So, when the order arrived in November I took the book home with me for the weekend where I proceeded to do nothing but lay on my parents couch and read the whole book. It was just that good!

What I adored about this YA novel was how strong the main character was. Katniss Everdeen lives in a futuristic world in which the districts are ruled by an evil Capitol who forces two children “tributes” to play in an annual Hunger Games. During the games the children (one boy, one girl) are thrust into a thematic environment and forced to kill each other off until only one survives. When Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is called forth to be District 12’s tribute Katniss immediately jumps to take her place. Katniss is a powerful female protagonist which I think that YA literature has been missing lately. The first comparison that comes to mind is Isabella (Bella) Swan in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Now, I want to say that I adore Twilight, like it or not, I do. I am in line at midnight for the opening of each movie and I’ve devoured the books and I loved them before they became pop culture phenoms. However, my one major complaint with that series was how weak and Edward-obsessed Bella was. As soon as she met the vamp, she lost all ability to think for herself and to consider her own dreams for the future. Everything became about a man (undead, but still) and she was willing to die for him. Katniss Everdeen is the anti-Bella Swan and that is exactly why I love her. Like in the quote I chose, she does NOT have time for kissing, this girls got more important things to think of, like leading rebellions, fighting wars, surviving, providing for her family, and taking care of everyone around her.

I know, I know I know. You can’t really have a YA novel without a little romance now can you? Enter Gale and Peeta- the two young lads who are vying for Miss Everdeens affections. Gale is the friend that Katniss has hunted with since Katniss’s father died in a mining accident. Gale is that first love, childhood friend character that the reader just roots for to win. Peeta is the artistic and articulate son of a local D12 baker. Peeta is the male tribute opposite Katniss. You see where that leads, right? Katniss must either kill Peeta or be killed by him. I won’t ruin the books for those of you who may have never read them, but Peeta AND Katniss are both in all three books. As is Gale. Triangle much?!

The love story is not the  main theme of the book though. It’s not just juvenile sappy romance. It’s about survival in the most chaotic, frightening, and evil of times. Children are killing children in gruesome ways here. The death scenes are amazing and creative. Katniss is a hunter, as I mentioned earlier. She has an acute ability to hit any target be it moving or still, human or not. The fact that this young teen girl has to provide for her poor mother and sister and does so without hesitation is what young girls should be reading about. They should be reading how a girl can beat the boys in something as fierce as a hunger game (spoiler: not once, but TWICE!). They need to be reading that boys are not the be all and end all of life. They need to know that they can all be a kind of Katniss and beat the boys and be in control of their own lives and survival. Are you reading this, Bella and Stephenie? I sure hope so!

My one complaint was completely about the last book. It didn’t read like the first two did. And perhaps this is because this is the only book in the trilogy that does not have a Hunger Games in it. This book felt rushed somehow to me, as if Collins was under an intense deadline to get this book written. It didn’t have the same feeling as the first two. I wasn’t as compelled to read this one. This one was more somber in tone. This one was about nothing but straight up war and revenge. There is an epilogue at the end of this novel that I could have so done without. We find out which suitor Katniss ends up with and what becomes of them. I don’t want to spoil anything, again for those of you who may not have read it all yet, but the future that Katniss has is not one that I envisioned for her. Reading the epilogue and how Katniss talks about her future, I also get the feeling that this is not a future that she envisioned for herself. I wanted Katniss to be out of the games and out of the control of the district and happy. I didn’t get the feeling that she was very happy. I would have rather had the book end open-ended so that readers could envision their own futures of happiness and hunting for Katniss.

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“…if you expect people to try to do things your way, you’re going to have to give some hints as to what that way is.”

I’d like to apologize to Bruce Springsteen for changing Billy to Jacob. I loved Water For Elephants. I loved how the story was told in flashbacks and dream-sequences. Jacob Jankowski is a nintey-something year old man who has been abandoned by his family in a retirement home. One day Jacob sees a circus come to town through the windows in his retirement home. This circus coming to town forces his aging and forgetting mind to remember a time in his life when he had lost everything and ran away to escape it. He ends up jumping onto a circus train and joining the Benzini Brothers as the circus doctor. On his journey he meets many friends and enemies. The story then alternately goes from present day to depression-era 1930s. While he is working for the circus, the ringleader Uncle Al picks up an elephant from another circus who has just gone broke. I absolutely adore the relationship that forms between Jacob and Rosie (the elephant). Anyone who knows me knows how deeply I care about animals. To see this character stand up and take such responsibility for an elephant in the 1930s was nothing short of heartwarming. This is a book that I recommend. This is a book that I was able to breeze through and I was so sad when I turned to the last page. Speaking of the last page, I adored the ending of this book. It was uplifting and it told me that no matter how old you are, you still have room and time to continue chasing your dreams.

Something that I noticed at one point in the book was how parallel Jacob’s geriatric life was to Rosie’s circus life. There was one quote in particular that I wanted to recall, but it was a library book so I didn’t dare mark in it and I returned it prior to writing this. It had something to do with Jacob being friendless, in his nursing-home cage, being poked and prodded. The quote that I selected to open the post with also shows that relationship. This was said to Jacob by Rosemary the nurse. However, this could be also said to the awful August who continually expects Rosie to do the tricks that he wants without giving her any indication whatsoever what those tricks are. I’m sure that with a second reading I could pick up on many other things as well.

As I was reading about the book online a lot of people had made comparisons to the HBO series Carivale which I never saw. I’m not sure that I could. I found several of the scenes of animal violence hard to read. One scene in particular still haunts me. In this scene two horses throats are slashed very violently.

I am intrigued to see what this time period in the circus did look like which is why I am excited for the movie to be released. I am so excited for Hal Holbrook to be the olde Jacob character and I’m a big fan of Reese Witherspoon however, I do not quite agree with Robert Pattinson being cast as a young Jacob. When I read it I imagined more of a James Franco character. However, perhaps R.Patz can step out of his brooding Eddie the Vampire mode and do an excellent job. We shall see…

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“I listened wide-eyed, stupid. Glowing by her voice in the dim light. If chocolate was a sound, it would’ve been Constantine’s voice singing. If singing was a color, it would’ve been the color of that chocolate.”

We had a “huge snowstorm” yesterday (barely 3 inches, but here in the costal south that’s a LOT) which led me to be out of school all day so needless to say, I had a lot of spare time on my hands. I was clicking around on NPR and saw an article that they had where the people affiliated with NPR had selected their choices of the best books for 2010. Since January 2011 just started I thought that I might blog and throw in my pick for the best book of 2010.

I have selected The Help Kathryn Stockett as the best book of 2010. Okay okay okay, I know that the book came out in 2009 but I did not read it until 2010 and it seemed to be such a very popular book last year. As I am writing this I just checked the NYT Bestsellers List and The Help is still standing strong on that list at #11 (January 11, 2011 6:40 PM EST). I am also excited to report that the theatrical version is set to be released on August 12 of this year. I read this book over the summer as I was moving from Greensboro, NC to the coast (about a 4.5 hour move). I was in the passenger seat heading back to Greensboro after a few days at the coast and my boyfriend was driving as I was reading this book. For several minutes we had been silently going down the highway when a minivan came up next to us and the wife was also reading The Help. She pointed this out to us and we both gave it a thumbs up. That’s when I knew it was a popular book! The book brought us two strangers traveling down I-40 together just for a split second. The book brought the characters and the different segregated races together for a lifetime.

The quote that I selected to start this post off is the narrarator, Skeeter Phelan reminiscing about her families former maid Constantine who rasised Skeeter. Constaintine was Skeeter’s friend, mother, confidant. Skeeter is a character who is so precocious and driven in her beliefs that you know from the start that that despite any hardships that may befall her, and believe me there are plenty, through the book her ending will be a triumphant one.

Skeeter is 22 years old and has just returned to her small southern town after graduating from Ole Miss. Skeeter has returned to a very unwelcoming situation. Her mother is a pain (as mothers almost always are) who wants the brilliantly talented Skeeter to get married despite the fact that a talent for words and writing ooze from Sketer. To make matters worse, Constaintine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone or the circumstances behind her sudden and (to Skeeter) unexpected disapperance. Despite the fact that Skeeter is our narrarator and the character in the story that I could most relate to, my favorite character undoubtedly is the sage-like Aibileen. Aibileen has lost her own son to an unfortunate and preventable accident. Raising her seventeenth white child Aibileen becomes the mother to this child that she can no longer be for her own son. Aibileen is such a rounded character. At times Aibileen is funny, wise, careless, thoughtful, and above all heartbreaking. Aibileen works for Skeeter’s best friend Miss Hilly. Miss Hilly is one of those characters that you wish was real, just so you could kick their teeth out.

The book centers on Skeeter’s need to connect to the silent Constantine again by telling the stories of all of the maids in the town. Though this just about the most dangerous thing that she and the maids can do, they all realize that it is something that they must do. While composing the histories of the towns help Skeeter grows up and becomes her own person, WITHOUT a wedding ring, I might add! She experiences heartbreak, loss, fear, ostracism, shame and disappointment. In one fashion or another, each of the maids as well as the other society women that make up Skeeter’s group of friends do as well.

The book is well written and it takes into account the views of each character. The book got under my skin and it made me want to be a part of the history much in the same way that Skeeter was. I would recommend this book to anyone. This book is a great one for book clubs. The discussion that can come from the action and the issues in the book is plentiful. Above all, this book is about connections made and friendships savored. I hope that you love it as much as I did!

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