Binge on Books Best of 2015: Judith’s Top Picks

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Paranormal Romance review: Stygian by Santino Hassell

StygianStygian by Santino Hassell

Published by: Dreamspinner Press

Format: eARC

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Order now: Amazon

Reviewed by: fabulous guest reviewer, Anna

Get ready for: In Santino Hassell’s Stygian, rural Louisiana serves as the backdrop for four young musicians who are forced to confront conflict both with one another and with the [SPOILER SPOILER] vampires who’ve made them their prey. Read More

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Publisher:  May 15th 2012 by Hyperion

Format: Hardcover borrowed from the local library

Reviewed by: Brittany from The Book Addict’s Guide

I’m not usually one for historical fiction, mostly because, well. I’m not usually one for history. All throughout my school days, nothing ever fascinated me about the subject so I always get nervous when I tackle books that entangle their fiction with factual events. I was pleased to find that even if you know nothing about World War II (my knowledge of the whole event is shameful), Code Name Verity is a fascinating and emotional read for anyone.

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Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Blaze (Or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton

Publisher: February 1st 2013 by Sourcebooks Fire

Format: ARC

Reviewed by: Brittany from The Book Addict’s Guide

With a title that mentions supervillains, I immediately think comic books and of course, superheroes. When I first picked up BLAZE, I wasn’t quite sure if this was a book actually about superheroes – Turns out… It wasn’t, BUT I did find something even better. What I would describe as a Big Bang Theory-lover’s YA contemporary novel. Read More

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Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

Publisher: January 8th 2013 by Hyperion

Format: ARC

Reviewed by: Brittany from The Book Addict’s Guide

Dear Amy at Tripping Over Books – Thank you for writing your review because otherwise I may have never picked up this book, and I’m SO glad I did! Upon finishing Shadowlands, my first reaction was, “Okay. WHO ELSE HAS READ THIS?” I had several things I needed to discuss and I was all in a tizzy about what had just happened.

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Torched by Andrea Lynn Colt

Torched by Andrea Lynn Colt

Publisher: Andrea Lynn Colt Books (September 6, 2012)

Format: Kindle Edition

Reviewed by: Brittany from The Book Addict’s Guide

First off, a big thanks to the author, Andrea Lynn Colt, for approaching me to review her book, TORCHED. I have to say that at that point I hadn’t been reading a lot of contemporaries since my first loves are dystopians and paranormals, but TORCHED sounded like it had a bit of a mystery in it and could easily sneak its way into my heart. I have to confess that it actually took me a really long time to read, but mostly due to the fact that it was on my Kindle and I just keep forgetting about all the books I have on my Kindle because I frequently revel in the glory that is my bookcase and then panic because of all the books that sit on it that I haven’t read yet. Anyway, I’m glad I finally finished and I promise that I’m working much harder on reading my Kindle books!

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Help! Blatant pleading and searching for a reader/reviewer on I Love YA Fiction

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number of books I want to read/review is just overwhelming. I think our reading queue is something like 40 deep! Poor Ellen is trying to finish out Grad School without flunking and I keep seeming to have crazy things like hurricanes and earthquakes take over my life.

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Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris

Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris

Publisher: Self Published

Format: Kindle edition

Guest Post by fabulous, Melissa Baron!

Plot: Every teenager has after school hobbies; sports, reading, music, video games, napping. Kait Lenox likes to crash funerals. Ever since her mother died, she’s found a small measure of comfort in attending funerals and listening to the stories and remembrances of others who’ve lost their lives, and has become something of an expert in the fine art of subtly crashing strangers’ funerals without getting caught. Until the one time she picks the funeral of the sister to the most attractive boy in school to crash, and the cat’s out of the bag. To Kait’s surprise, this turn of events leads to her helping Ethan try and solve what he is convinced was the murder of his sister, as other girls around town continue to die of mysterious drug overdoses. Kait just has to be careful she doesn’t become the next target as she and Ethan try and find the killer…

Review: Guys! I liked this one! Quite a bit, actually. I gobbled it up almost as fast as Kait can suck down a peanut butter banana milkshake. Kait is a really likable girl, with funny inner monologues and this resignation to her lot in high school life as a social pariah, keenly aware of her place in the social caste. Despite, or maybe because of, her mother’s illness and subsequent passing away, Kait just keeps her head down and doesn’t let it get to her, unless her former best friend is there to throw her misfit status in her face. My heart hurt a little for her that she sat alone during lunches; I can unfortunately relate. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me; it can suck the will to go to school right out of you. Kait finds solace in books, movies, and funeral crashing.

I love how she stumbled upon Ethan; or rather, how he found her indulging in her secret favorite pastime at his own sister’s funeral. Kait has no other choice but to come clean with him, and pounces on the opportunity to help when he confides to her that he thinks his sister was murdered, but the only proof he has is the certainty that his beloved sister was not the type to die of a drug overdose. Kait simultaneously enjoys helping to solve the mystery and all the time she’s able to spend around Ethan, a previously untouchable, gorgeous, popular guy. The crush she has on him started with one simple kindness he gave her mother when she was dying, so I can see where Kait would put him up on this unattainable pedestal in her head. This moment, actually, was something of a missed opportunity that I wish Kait would’ve brought up to Ethan later on; that would’ve been a nice conversation.

But the cool thing about Kait’s expectations is that Ethan doesn’t live up to them at first. He’s still a great, thoughtful guy, but he’s also a grieving mess at times, and lashes out when he’s frustrated. At first I thought, huh – he’s not quite matching up to the portrait of this selfless, sweet volunteer Kait gives us in the beginning, but then I realized that’s the point. He almost trashes the investigation in its infancy, convinced he was wrong and they’re wasting their time, and you can tell even he thinks he might just be using Kait to find out the truth about his sister and their relationship isn’t really one at all; it’s just convenient. Kait sagely picks up on this and wildly fluctuates between accepting that and praying that through all this, Ethan might actually look at her and SEE her. So he’s not perfect, and argues with Kait and disagrees with her, but then he chooses to spend time with her in school and becomes surprisingly ferocious (in the hot way. YOU know) when he feels Kait is putting herself in harm’s way or is in a bad situation. Watching those two getting to know one another (they get to crash a funeral together! Huzzah!) and bounce ideas off each other was a joy. And they do it in the most realistic fashion, in the way actual teenagers would approach solving a mystery like this. Many times they’re stumped and have to reevaluate their plans, and sometimes sheer dumb luck helps them out.

There were just a few things that didn’t jive for me, however. It’s hard to go into it without spoiling the whodunit, so I’ll just say that I felt it wrapped up too quickly, the ending felt a little rushed, and the big showdown of the story fell completely flat for me. There was a scene before that involving Kait and an email that I thought packed in more genuine dread and suspense than the climactic scene did. I know this is chick lit, and maybe this is the diehard horror/thriller fan in me talking, but I was expecting more fear, more of a real sense of danger. The characters didn’t react the way I thought they should have in a situation like that, especially Kait, and the revealed killer almost degenerated to a caricature of a cartoon villain who makes really sloppy, bad decisions.

Beyond that, this was a quick, entertaining read with a love angle set to slow build mode, which I love. It allowed the characters to get to know one another, and the attraction and affection felt like it grew naturally. It gets bonus points for being set in a town not far from where I live, AND for featuring a heroine just as socially awkward as I used to be (still kind of am).

Based on the following criteria: 

How much did I like the heroine: 10. Kait is an extremely relatable heroine. She doesn’t have all the answers; she second guesses herself all the time, she’s a little bit boy crazy and subsequently distracted by that at times (in amusing ways), a junk food junkie, and prone to giving in to her temper when she feels she or someone she cares about is being slighted. She stands up for herself, shows surprising empathy for some of her fellow classmates, and displays some pretty savvy detective skills, even when some of her snap decisions aren’t so well thought out. She’s also very funny, and I laughed out loud a number of times at her observations and one-liners.

How much did I like the love interest: 10. Ethan is so adorable. Oh gosh, I really love him. He’s multi-faceted, crazy attractive, and clearly loved his sister very much. It’s amazing what you glean from him based on his behavior towards Kait, even when she’s not seeing it for what it is yet. He’s a pretty smart guy, too, unintentionally funny, and he *volunteers* in his spare time. And a snazzy dresser.

How believable is the plot: 7. Seriously, I only had two hang-ups here, otherwise the plot is great. Everything Ethan and Kait do to try and solve the case is utterly believable; they don’t go to great, ridiculous lengths beyond their means, no Deus ex Machina neatly answers all their questions. They’re frequently stumped, and I liked that it wasn’t easy. But. I had two qualms involving the murderer that I can’t talk about much without giving the mystery away, so all I’ll say is that I find it hard to believe that forensics would not have done an autopsy to determine cause of death (they kind of have to), and I found the grand finale a little unbelievable.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 6. Loved Kait’s voice. Little repetitive with a few words and phrases, but entertaining. There are some grammar issues and typos here and there (break instead of brake, for instance), and there’s a big issue with comma splicing. It’s all over the place, and it actually kind of distracted me at times. Instead of completing a sentence before the dialogue starts, a comma is put in place of the period, creating a run-on sentence. It would’ve work if a conjunction had been used to connect the two sentences, but as they are, they really needed to be two complete sentences and not joined by the comma splices. Commas are a wee bit abused here and there.

How much did I want to keep reading: 10. I really loved the dynamic between Kait and Ethan, and I know I’ve got a good thing in my hands when I can overlook certain problems and still really enjoy the story. I was genuinely interested to see how they were going to solve this, and it was also a joy to watch their relationship develop.

Final Score: 8.6/10


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Existence by Abbi Glines

Existence, by Abbi Glines
Wild Child Publishing
Kindle edition

Guest post by Melissa Baron.

Hey. So. I read this book here. Isn’t that a nice cover? It’s pretty cool. It hooked me. The premise got me, too. I read some good reviews, got real hopeful. What’s not to love about a story where Death falls for someone?
…I feel like I read a completely different book from the people that raved about this one. I am straight up baffled. Because this? I just…help me understand what I’m missing here. Let me tell you why this was a painful exercise in perseverance.

Plot: Heh. So, Pagan Moore can see dead people (hey, that’s familiar). She’s seen these ‘souls’ all her life, never told anyone she could, and just deals. The souls can see her, but don’t interact and never talk to her. Until one actually does. Except he’s not a soul; he’s Death, and unbeknownst to her, Pagan’s time is almost up. And he’s about to break all the rules for her.

It started out promising. Pagan is a nose to the grindstone kinda gal, has this pesky ability she’s learned to live with apparently quite well, since she’s never told anyone about it and it doesn’t appear to bother her much. I found that a little odd in and of itself, that such a potentially frightening ability was so humdrum to her, or presented that way. She has a perky best friend who toes the line of complete caricature. A jock she easily dismissed as an arrogant jerk turns out to be quite the opposite, and I liked Pagan’s realization that snap judgments on people don’t always work. I know that misunderstood jock with a heart of gold is such a cliché, but I had a similar experience in high school. My hot guy actually looked a lot like Leif’s description, and funnily enough, it was in Speech class during a speech he gave where I realized I’d judged him rather harshly all semester. So, I was prepared to like this at that point.

But. Pagan’s growth completely stopped the minute she discovered Dank. Pagan’s a judging drama llama. Normally, it’s refreshing to have a deeply flawed character, but I feel like she straight up de-evolved when Dank came into the picture. I also grew tired of Pagan taking a backseat in her own story, never knowing what’s going on around her. I’m reading about her everyday life, that’s largely unchanged by whatever events Dank has set in motion by doing what he did (which is never clear to anyone until the very, very end). She doesn’t really try to get answers from Dank. It’s frustrating to feel like there’s a much cooler story going on when Dank is elsewhere, dealing with the reason Pagan is in ‘danger.’

Dank could be an interesting character to follow, if he wasn’t purported to be the love interest I’m supposed to find so amazingly hot. Or maybe I would’ve found him more attractive if Pagan actually challenged him, instead of letting him run the show and act like the immature child he accuses Leif of being. I was just not feeling him at all. He did nothing to endear himself to Pagan other than stand around and look sexy, and outside of that he’s intrusive, secretive in a really annoying way, a stalker, and condescending. He’s able to walk among the living, and transfers to her school with the cover of being in a band (of course. Of course you’re in a band), and for reasons that are never explained, he dates Kendra, a popular girl Pagan can’t stand, and I swear he only does it to make Pagan crazy jealous, because if there was an actual reason it’s just never stated or addressed at all.

I felt no sense of urgency over Pagan’s predicament, and I wasn’t even sure what her predicament was beyond falling in love with a jerkface and then being a jerk herself to the guy she chose to have a relationship with because he’s ‘safe.’ It’s totally cool, Pagan, you go right ahead and lead Leif on because he’s comfortable while you hunt Dank down and make out with him. It’s not cheating, because he’s not human. Also? This needed a good editor like whoa. The repetition killed me dead. Pagan repeats herself over and over, hammering the reader with ideas and thoughts already presented a dozen times over. Each character has a certain thing they do, and it’s repeated all the time. Miranda bats her eyelashes; Dank chuckles, and growls, and lounges; Gee (yeah, you read that right) cackles, Ky (see previous note) has tinkling laughter. The dialogue didn’t read like natural dialogue to me. Long-winded monologues about the many ways Dank and Pagan love each other – oh, let me count the ways – don’t happen like that outside of a Shakespeare play or an Elizabeth Browning poem, and it was hard to

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swallow. Everything was overly dramatic. Losing Dank is not just soul crushing, she loses the will to live completely, and I about ground my teeth into dust reading about her horrible, horrible existence as Dank ignores her, or flirts with Kendra, or isn’t in class, or disappears altogether.

Guys, gals, I guess I’m just sick and bloody tired of the heroine crumbling to pieces without her man. I lose respect for a character when they tie up all their happiness and reason for living into one person who doesn’t even treat them very good. It’s not romantic, it doesn’t show me how true their love is, it makes me want to slap everyone.

There’s also this brief stint where Pagan agrees to go to a home for girls dealing with mental illnesses, and that entire sequence literally made me want to punch a puppy. And I love puppies. Don’t even get me started on the events leading up to that, where apparently medical personnel can approach a girl having hysterics after witnessing a car accident with a syringe and sedate her, are you kidding me? Oh, we don’t need your permission to administer sedatives, even though you might be allergic to this, we’ll just stick you right – oh, my, you are allergic? Huh. That’s a shame.

Anyway, Pagan goes to this facility, and the therapists are either incompetent or mouthpieces for how not crazy Pagan is (because she’s kind and compassionate. You know, crazy people are incapable of kindness and compassion), and every girl there is a walking stereotype for whatever illness she’s supposed to have. Every phrase for crazy gets bandied about, and Pagan gets to be the one eyed chick in the kingdom of the blind because she’s not a ‘mental case’ like them and she doesn’t really belong there, she just can’t deal with life because Dank left her. As someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the past, and who has gone through counseling to overcome those issues, I absolutely hated the way mental illness was treated and portrayed here. Hated it so much I wanted to stop reading.

Things didn’t get interesting until the last fifteen pages, hand to God. I actually perked up a bit, and sorely wished a lot of this information had been brought to light sooner to give this book bigger scenery to chew than the inside of a classroom. Also, the ending – not an ending at all. Not even a good cliffhanger. I honestly expected another chapter to pop up, and I let out a ‘what the fritz?!’ when it was just over. So many questions went unanswered, and it didn’t have to be that way. There was plenty of room to make things clearer, and Dank could have still maintained his air of reticence and been a little more forthcoming to give Pagan, and the reader, some answers. And something to look forward to.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 4. Pagan. Darling. I need you to break out of this ‘I am nothing without my man’ trope. I need you to have your own desires, hobbies, future plans. I need you to grow a little. You started out so good. Smart girl, able to admit when she’s wrong, a good friend. And then…and then Dank showed up and – what’s that? Is that…is that a dead brain cell on the ground? Are brain cells just dribbling out your ears? Oh, dear. And suddenly you’re a judge-y, jealous, sobbing mess all the time, who uses Leif for comfort but will leave him hanging every time Dank so much as bats an eyelash your way.

How much did I like the love interest: 5. The entire 5 goes to Leif. I guess he doesn’t even count as a love interest, since Pagan overestimated her interest in him, but I liked him, poor guy, I don’t even care about that stupid cliffhanger in the end concerning him. I’m going by what I was shown, and I was shown a decent guy who treated his girlfriend like a queen and will get his heart broken for it. Dank, on the other hand, only simmered the few times he gave in to his feelings for Pagan, which I didn’t buy for the longest time. You’re saying the words, Dank, but your actions don’t really back it up. I know people like that: they’re called liars.

How believable is the plot: 4. Dank is Death who stalks and protects Pagan from…something. Other soul-type people who will do Bad Things to her? We only see this bad thing once. Pagan has a car wreck, recovers, flip flops between Leif and Dank, pines after Dank, loses him, then loses her ever-loving mind. If I’d known what the plot was other than Pagan and Dank circling around each other and Dank saying vague things about protecting her because he broke the rules, I’d have rated higher. But the plot doesn’t show up until the end, and then I was just sad for the missed potential. And it was amazing how long Pagan went before figuring out who he really was.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 1. Hardly any description, which is a shame, because Pagan’s supposed to live in a coastal town of Florida, which would’ve made for a pretty backdrop. I don’t even know if this was actually edited. Every so often typos and grammar issues pop up, but the worst is the repetition. Ideas and information are constantly repeated; as if we’d forgotten the first five times we were told. And let’s talk about how often the word ‘soul’ was used. Answer: 201 times. There are 170 pages in this book. There are huge scenes completely unnecessary to the plot – I do not need to hear about homecoming dress shopping, what speeches Leif is working on, every lesson in literature class, every meal they partake in, more poetic waxing from Dank or about him (that is the book, right there. Throw in a skiing trip with a car accident and a brief stay in a home for mentally ill girls.) If all of the repetition and unneeded scenes were taken out, I think it would’ve eliminated half the book.

How much did I want to keep reading: 3. If only to find out when the plot would kick in.

Final Score: 3.4/10. It needed a thorough edit. Cut out on the repetition, help me root for someone I actually like, and give me a plot. Dress shopping, football games, vacations, and wangsting do not a plot make. I wanted to like this, and I saw potential, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

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Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1) by Moira Young

Have you ever read a book and been all, “huh. That was…interesting. I wonder what a guy would have thought of that story. Wait, I don’t know any guys who read YA fiction (or at least none that would admit it) so I guess I’ll just have to sort of make up a male point-of-view. Can I do that? Is my mind even capable of comprehending whatever’s going on up there?”

Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer cause: this is a male review! An all-male review! Get what you want out of that line because seriously, I’ve been waiting to use it FOR WEEKS.

Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1), by Moira Young
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback

Review by guest blogger: Aaron Bergh


Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba’s world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she’s a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

I dare anyone to read the first chapter of this book and then try to put it down.  Blood Red Road is easily in my top ten best YA reads of all time.  Fighting, Killing, Kidnapping, Rescuing…I mean come on!

This book is a refreshing break from the norm in YA fiction.  It’s basically written in its own dialect and is narrated by the main character Saba.  She almost sounds like my redneck in-laws in Alabama, but not so honky-tonk.  I admit, it takes a few pages to get the rhythm and flow down of the creatively spelled words, but it’s worth it.  There are no quotation marks used anywhere and plenty of breaks within the long chapters.  Don’t let “long chapters” scare you!  The pace of the story moves quickly as you feel Saba’s determination to find and rescue her twin brother Lugh.


Saba is an ass-kicker.  She’s not a trained fighter.  She has no special powers or giftings.  She’s a survivor.  She’s a scrappy country girl who’s on a mission to rescue her brother from the men that kidnapped him.  She is ruthless in her pursuit.

Tagging along with Saba is her younger sister, Emmi.  The development in the relationship between Saba and Emmi might possibly be my favorite aspect to the story.  In the beginning of the book, Emmi is annoying as hell…and Saba lets her know it.  As time goes on, the relationship changes as both Emmi and Saba change.  It’s beautifully done!

There is a whole host of interesting characters in this story.  I should mention Jack, since I’m sure that’s all Judith and Ellen are waiting for.  I’ll let the ladies decide if he’s a stud or whatever.  What’s entertaining about Jack and Saba is watching Saba try to figure him out.  Jack is well-traveled and knows how to manipulate people.  It’s Saba’s first time away from home, on her own, and she sure as hell isn’t going to let some handsome boy sweep her off her feet.  Then there’s the Free Hawks, a group of assassin-like girls that Saba joins up with.  And of course, Nero, the loyal pet crow.  I admit that it sounds silly, but it plays out well.

The only part of the story I didn’t find myself loving was the Bad Guy-Vicar Pinch.  He says weird things and dresses funny.  He reminds me of the creepy King from those Burger King commercials.

So based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 10.  Saba is flawed to pieces.  She has a bit of a temper.   She’s uneducated.  Mean.  But if there is anyone in the world you want coming to rescue you…it’s her.  She is loyal to the death.  Determined.  Nothing is going to stop her!  She’s a redneck Rambo.

How much did I like the love interest: 9.  Jack is a great match for Saba.  He’s good to her, but doesn’t always put up with her crap.  For me, the romance between Jack and Saba wasn’t a main focus, and I have no problem with that.  The only boys Saba grew up around were her brother and father, so it would have been a bit unnatural for her to dive in to a deep romantic relationship.

How believable is the plot: 9.  It’s technically a dystopian book, which to be quite honest, is irrelevant to the heart of the story.  Yes, it takes place in the future, and yes, things are different, but the story could have been set in any time period in any desert and I would have felt the same way about it.

How much did I like the writing style/editing: 12/10.  Yes.  I know.  Seriously though, the writing is special.  It’s original and clever.  Once you get the hang of reading it you will fly through it.

How much did I want to keep reading: 10.  The story moves with action and emotion.  I felt Saba’s fury.  I felt her heart for her brother.  It’s the same way I feel when I’m in line at Chipotle and am about to order that burrito.  Passion.

Times I had to tell my kids to go to bed early because I was trying to read Blood Red Road! 100

Final Score: 10/10  In a YA fiction market saturated with “I wanna be like the Hunger Games” dystopian novels, Blood Road Read kicks all there asses.

*The second book in the Dustlands series, Rebel Heart, is due out in October of 2012.

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