Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason ~ Review~

Irish Meadows: The Courage to Dream Bk 1 by Susan Anne Mason

Irish Meadows

The author, Susan Anne Mason, has skillfully created a world into which we can feel comfortable. The two main characters, Brianna and Colleen, could be our sisters, realistically endearing and frustrating simultaneously. Brianna feels she has grown up in Colleen’s shadow, her father’s favored daughter. Nothing she did seemed to gain his respect. Colleen is the sister we love to hate. She is bold, brash, flirtatious, the apple of her father’s eye, and always on the prowl for rich, handsome bachelors. She played with them and even pit them against each other. Brianna, on the other hand, wanted to attend a university in the fall. She had no use for men at the moment, although her daddy wanted her to get married to a suitable (prosperous) gentleman as soon as possible.

But then Gilbert Whelan returned to Irish Meadows after three years at college. Gil grew up on the farm, the son of the O’Leary’s housekeeper. When she died, James O’Leary took in Gil and treated him like a son. He was big brother to all the rest of the five O’Leary children. Adam, the eldest son, resented Gil for that. Brianna wanted to enlist Gil’s aid in convincing her father to allow her to further her education. But it became a more complicated situation when she discovered her feelings for him were no longer brotherly. Gil himself has felt the stirrings of love for Brianna. When he finally gained the courage to approach James, his mentor and father figure, he was flatly refused. The reason shook him to the core.Irish Meadows quote1

One day a distant relative of mother 0’Leary’s came to stay with the family for awhile. Rylan Montgomery needed a place to stay for a few months while he worked on his internship. His goal was to become a priest. It was Colleen’s duty to ferry him around until he became familiar with the area. When her father caught her in a compromising position one evening, he “sentenced” her to working with Rylan at the orphanage. This was truly punitive for Colleen since she hated all things religious, including priests, church and orphanages. However, working with Rylan day after day brought about subtle changes to her heart. She began to enjoy working with the children. In introspection, she questioned her previous dubious behavior. And…she fell in love with Rylan. Colleen’s world was turned upside down. Family dynamics, secrets, disastrous emotional upheavals and more make this book an intriguing read.Irish Meadows quote2

There’s a lot to like in this book. First, the Point of View (POV) is key to how the author develops tension and suspense. There are four Points of View: Colleen’s, Brianna’s, Rylan’s, and Gilbert’s. This author manages to blend them so well that she avoids the disjointed feeling so common in books with so many POV’s. I feel these points of view are what keeps this storyline moving along without stalling for lack of physical action. That’s excellent characterization.Irish Meadows quote3

Second, the four main characters all have a crisis of heart to meet, deal with, and resolve. Even the secondary characters, Kathleen and James O’Leary, the parents, had to face issues themselves such as what really mattered in life, and how to handle secrets within a family unit. Each issue felt real, urgent, and relevant for today even if the source is a historical novel. I found each of the conflicts plausible and could relate to many of them myself. The author manages to create believable people we can become akin to and care for.Irish Meadows quote4

Third, this is a faith-based book. I love how each voice dealing with an issue was facing something that included a crisis of faith, as well as heart and home. When a faith issue has to be dealt with, even though it may be an entirely private matter between you and God, it does affect those around us because what we believe leads to how we live our lives. That is how this author presents each character’s conflicts. When we are privvy to their thoughts, feelings and the process of resolution within, we appreciate them more for their struggles, even if they are still a flawed individual. I enjoyed the process as I read along, because what they struggled with was thought-provoking and insightful. And since most of this was internal, none of it sounded even remotely like preaching or finger wagging. Rather, I felt blessed to gain a glimpse through the window of their souls. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series which will give us Adam’s story.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy (ARC) of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

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Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Spring Dawn (Seasons of Faith Book 3) by Rebekah Lyn

Spring Dawn

Spring Dawn is the third book in Rebekah Lyn’s Season of Faith series. In Book 1, we meet Elizabeth, Ian, Jeffrey, Stephen and Michelle. Book 2 continues the story of these five friends. In Book 3, the main plot is focused equally between Ian and Elizabeth’s growing romance and Jeffrey’s life and spiritual growth as a new Christian. You can read my reviews on Book 1 here and Book 2 here. By the time I finished reading the third book, I felt these five characters were also my friends. And because they are, I can’t wait to see more resolution in their lives.

In looking back over the scope of the books I’ve read so far in this series, I could see a pattern. The first book was a book of disasters where many people were thrown together in an effort to survive the season’s group of hurricanes. Our five main characters meet under different conditions and in different capacities. The second book was a book of mystery and adventure where Ms. Lyn’s readers become better acquainted with the friends. This third book is a book of testing: testing character, testing resolves, and testing relationships. An example of this is in the development of Ian and Lizzie’s relationship. In the second book, the reader may conclude that their relationship was on solid ground. Yet this third book creates uncertainty, tests their stability as a couple and stretching each one individually. That makes for very good reading.

Spring Dawn quote1

Lizzie begins to put distance between herself and Ian, while simultaneously drawing closer to Jeffrey, especially after his car accident. Ian becomes jealous of Jeffrey when he finds out about this. Michelle, too, feels some envy at Jeffrey and Lizzie’s easy camaraderie. Ian is already frustrated with the slow growth of his design business. He begins to wonder if Lizzie is the One for him to settle down with. Lizzie is not aware of these undercurrents. She is battling her own fears about falling back into her past lifestyle which she has kept hidden from Ian.

Spring Dawn quote2

After going through a hair-raising experience in the second book, Michelle feels much less secure in the current book. She’s dissatisfied with life, leans a little more on her friend Jeffrey for friendship while at the same time nothing seems to go her way. This subplot left me yearning for some type of resolution for her.

Jeffrey shares the limelight with Ian and Lizzie. After the events of the second book, Jeffrey resolves to stay closer to God, stay dry and away from former relationships that could lure him back to his old ways. He spends a little more time with Stephen. At the same time, he also resolves to reach out to Michelle in an effort to “be Jesus” to her. Of course, most of these resolutions are tested repeatedly, creating a sense of mystery about his relationship with Michelle. His accident temporarily takes him out of Michelle’s sphere and into the care of his parents. Happily this gives him an opportunity to gain some peace with them.

Spring Dawn quote3

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. Rebekah Lyn’s writing style pulls us into the details of friendships and leads us to care for each of the five friends. The pace of this third book is slower than the previous books, which seems to be intentional in order to develop the tangled web of events, tests, and character development. If you enjoy delving into the details of life, watching how people going through life without God learn about Him and reach out to Him when others are not accessible, then you will enjoy this book.

Additional note: The fourth book in this series is soon to be released. Look for a December wedding!

Spring Dawn quote4

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn ~ Review

Winter’s End (Seasons of Faith, Book 2) by Rebekah Lyn

Winter's End

Winter’s End is the second book in Rebekah Lyn’s Seasons of Faith series. In book 1 we meet Elizabeth Reynolds, Ian Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Robbins, Stephen Longbottom, and Michelle Burton. The first book’s emphasis was on Elizabeth and those involved in her circumstances. By the conclusion of that book, Elizabeth and Ian had begun a new romantic relationship. Their story continues in this second book as a subplot where the author explores their growth individually and as a couple, while LIzzie and Ian are in Vermont on a ski trip with his parents and her adopted parents.Click here to see my review on book One

In the meantime, the main plot is split between Stephen and Michelle. While Lizzie is away on vacation, Stephen is in charge of their concierge team at Hotel Lago. He is professionally tested when he spends the weekend overseeing a particularly fussy group of executives on a business retreat. Michelle, on the other hand, had just experienced an exhilarating night with her rock band, only to arrive at her office job the next morning to discover a co-worker had been brutally murdered and left in one of the office’s bathrooms. The three storylines, plus a subplot where the murder investigation moves forward in its own suspenseful timeline, weave and intertwine with each other in a similar manner to Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series.

Winter's End quote1

Then there’s Jeffrey. He noticed Michelle was on the news because she was the one who discovered the body and called 911. Although their last time together was a disaster, he decided to call her to check on how she was dealing with the shock. They got together and she immediately noticed how he had changed. Eventually she discovered he had become a Christian. His presence helped her cope with her new fears. Their relationship is yet another subplot that will apparently continue in one of the future books in this series.

Winter's End quote2

Winter’s End gives readers a little bit of everything. Suspense quickens the pace when Detective Mike Emerson and his assistant try to hunt down the murderer while the evidence is fresh and before he strikes again. Good character work is evident as we learn how Lizzie and Ian’s relationship is developing. Spiritual topics crop up naturally when Michelle’s experience shakes her to the core. Jeffrey plays an important role in answering some of life’s toughest questions. Continuity flows throughout the tale, connecting the books closely, allowing resolution in some relationships while anticipating how some other events will need to be resolved in the future.

Winter's End quote3

I have noticed that the best way to read these books is to read them back to back to enjoy the story’s flow. The first three books are already out. Another book will be coming out soon, in late 2015 or early 2016. I am looking forward to reading the next two books. If you enjoy Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove books and other author’s works with a similar style of writing, then I highly recommend this book and the series to you.

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The Dance: A Novel (The Restoration series Bk 1) by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley ~Review

Dance, The

The Dance: A Novel by Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley

The Dance is the first book of Gary Smalley’s and Dan Walsh’s Restoration series. There are four books in the series. I have discovered that all the books can be read independently, but are easier understood and experienced if you read this first book before the others. I read this book after reading book four. Reading it filled in the gaps for me and helped me understand the underlying premise of the series. Book 1, at the time I have written this review, was/is a free ebook. You may want to check now to see if it is still free, before reading books two, three, and four.

Jim Anderson is the owner of Anderson Development, a commercial real estate company. He has built this company up from the ground himself. He is understandably proud of his accomplishments. His business has been successful for a long time, although recently it has reflected the slump in the American economy. In my opinion, Jim is a typical alpha male, in that the world must revolve around him, including his family. This has only created pain in his household, though he doesn’t see that. Suddenly and unexpectedly for Jim, his wife of 27 years left him. She quietly moved out, leaving most of her belongings behind.

Dance, The quote1

Marilyn Anderson love how she’s been protected and cared for by Jim. She loved her new home in the planned community. She took pleasure in choosing all the furniture and decorating the house right down to the smallest details. She could appreciate how Jim has worked hard to maintain they way of life. He provided well for their three children. He gave them nearly anything they wanted. But it wasn’t enough. He gave them everything but his heart. Marilyn had felt this lack the moment they were married until one day she couldn’t stand it anymore. Overwhelmed with sadness, she went out in search of a job, found an older person to board with, and left. The driving question in this book–what would it take for Jim and Marilyn to reconcile? This is their story and the beginning of the series.

Dance, The quote2

This book has so many elements I could relate to as I was reading it. First, both authors have been counselors and involved with Christian ministry and with marriage relationships for many years. Gary Smalley’s book on marriage helped my own marriage when my husband and I were a young couple. Dan Walsh admitted that Smalley’s books on communication aided his own young marriage as well. Through the expertise of both these men, this book is filled with nuggets of gold. The character development is heart gripping and real. The book is written just the way I enjoy reading character-based literature.

Dance, The quote3

Second, the turn around doesn’t occur overnight. It actually takes Jim about half the book length before he even began to look within himself to discover if he has done something to run off his wife and alienate his children. It easily provides us readers a character we “love to hate”. He is both despicable and a person we want to see turn his life around. I truly wanted to get my hands on his neck and choke the guy at the beginning of the story. I certainly yelled at him, in my mind, from time to time.

Dance, The quote4

Third, there’s a vivid analogy written into the storyline–that of a dance. The analogy which is responsible for the title, has multiple layers which we come to understand better as the story progresses. It is so well written and incorporated that it helps keep the storyline moving along at a good clip. Finally, I related very well with Marilyn’s plight. The break in their marriage wasn’t all Jim’s doing. Marilyn had much to learn before she could reconcile with her husband. In the series, the first step they take at the conclusion of this story is continued in the remaining three books. The three books each feature one of Jim and Marilyn’s children as they fit into the theme of the series. Jim and Marilyn’s story continues as a subplot, while the major plots are dedicated to each adult child in turn. That is why I not only recommend this book to you, but the series as well.

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A November Bride (A Year of Weddings Novella Book 12) by Beth K. Vogt ~Review~

A November Bride by Beth K. Vogt

A November Bride

Sadie McAllister and Erik Davis have been friends since junior high school. Now that they are in their early 30’s, they were both beginning to question the purpose of their lives. Did they really want to continue the direction they were going? Erik has his dream job, self-employed in marketing and working on a novel. He’s just landed a plum account and is happily established. Still, he has been yearning for something more. He just couldn’t decide what that more was. Sadie went to a culinary institute and graduated at the top of her class. She is now a personal chef, cooking for two families in the Denver area. She is satisfied with her life, if you didn’t consider her pathetic dating habits. But she was feeling the tug of her internal clock, desiring a family and home of her own.

When Sadie is asked by one of her employers to consider moving to Oregon with the family and be their chef, she is faced with a dilemma. She has friends, a church family and a home in Denver. Should she pull up roots and start her life over at the age of 30? Why is making this decision so difficult? Her friend, Mel, also a chef, has a few ideas about that. In the meantime, Sadie’s quandary wrenches Erik out of his complacency. He and Sadie are best friends. He doesn’t want her to leave. One day, during a talk with his friend Phillip, he realizes he may be in love with Sadie. What will he do if she moves away? He decides to take her out on a date, but Sadie refuses to take him seriously and turns him down. Should Erik try to change their status from friends to more? Would it even be possible?

trust unfailing love

There are several reasons why I enjoyed reading this faith-based novelette. First, it is a quick read, uncomplicated in structure and plot. It can be read in just a few hours, perhaps one or two sittings. The theme is light and breezy, without being overly shallow, perfect for a weekend read.

Second, I love the author’s sense of humor. Ever since Erik helped Sadie find her first apartment, he would surreptitiously disrupt her orderliness such as change a few books around on a compulsively neat bookshelf, or re-arrange items on a coffee table or mantle. Then he would sit back and wait to see how long it took her to notice. He’d also spent the past 17 years trying to guess what her middle name was. How many names could there be that started with “J”? One of my favorite moments occurred when Sadie’s friend finally made arrangements for her to appear on a televised cooking show as a guest chef. Things went so completely awry that she felt shamed months later.

don't allow stupid things steal happiness

Third, it is a faith-based book, and despite the story’s brevity, the character development in this book involves searching their hearts for the reasons why either Erik or Sadie were holding back on their relationship. Erik avoided commitment beyond a few months with his girlfriends, and Sadie wouldn’t allow herself to let go and trust the men she dated. No wonder they kept dumping her by text. These issues had to be taken before the Lord in prayer before they could move their own relationship forward. The author deserves kudos for bringing satisfying depth to such a simple storyline. I enjoyed reading this upbeat story very much.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of Zondervan books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Petticoat Detective (Undercover Ladies Book 1) by Margaret Brownley ~Review~

Petticoat Detective

Petticoat Detective by Margaret Brownley

Combine historical fiction, a female Pinkerton Detective Agency operative, a former Texas Ranger, a bandit who’s adept at keeping his identity hidden even from the best of sleuths, mistaken identity, false assumptions, a killer on the loose, a recent murder, a Madame who sells boots, and you get an adventure you won’t quickly forget. Then add some sly humor, a little bit of romance, some great character work, and the combo makes this book irresistible.

Former Texas Ranger Tom Colton was on a mission. His brother Dave’s last letter to him had indicated a change of heart and a desire to be reconciled with his young son, whom Tom was raising. Now his brother was dead, and Tom wanted to find his murderer and bring him to justice. His recent investigations brought him to Goodman, Kansas, right to the doorstep of Miss Lillian’s Parlour House and Fine Boots. Dave had written about a Rose, one of Miss Lillian’s girls, whom he had fallen in love with and intended to marry. Tom wanted to talk with Rose, hoping to elicit her help in finding Dave’s killer. This part of his quest made him uncomfortable, but he would do whatever it took to get his man.

best_relationship

Jennifer Layne was a highly trained agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her job often placed her undercover on a case where she could accomplish more than a man often could. Her quest had also brought her to Miss Lillian’s Parlour House where she was to talk to a Miss Rose whom the Pinkertons believed was a key to their investigation to the identity of the Gunnysack Bandit. She decided to apply to become a “resident.” She had just become established in a room and been made over to look more “decent” in Miss Lillian’s estimation, to get close to Rose. But a complication occurred when Miss Lillian discovered Rose in her room, killed but without evidence of a struggle. Jennifer’s job suddenly took a serious turn for the worse. She wondered if Rose’s death had anything to do with her investigation of the bandit.

Just moments before Rose’s death, Tom was directed upstairs to her room. He was told she was expecting him. Somehow he entered the wrong room–Jennifer’s room (as Amy Gardner). He assumed she was Rose, and Amy assumed he was a john! What ensued was a comedy of errors and gaffs until they heard Miss Lillian’s scream, sending them both out to investigate. From that point on, Amy in disguise as a “lady of the night” and Tom worked together on the case. Amy could not divulge her true identity so she had to keep her mouth firmly shut in spite of Tom’s concerns over her chosen profession. The tale comes to a satisfying conclusion, and all the misunderstandings, assumptions, clues and surprises make this a fun read.

faith trust God even unknown plan

This is the first Margaret Brownley book I have read. I’m pretty certain it won’t be the last. There are many reasons why I like this one in particular. First, there is a “who done it” thread running all throughout the story that’s well written. Tom wants to find his brother’s killer. In the process of picking up clues, he believes they lead him to the Gunnysack Bandit. Finding who this bandit is becomes his central focus. Between the Tom and Amy, clues begin to look as if Dave Colton might be the bandit. Disheartened, Tom returns home after the Pinkerton Agency concludes the same thing. But Jennifer doesn’t like the way the clues don’t exactly add up. Eventually she has an idea after the case was closed. The end solution took me completely by surprise. Kudos to the author for keeping the readers guessing right up to the end.

Second, the pull of attraction between Tom and Jennifer (as Amy) is everywhere in this tale, twisted up in the main plot, complicating the urgency of their respective tasks. It is especially evident in Tom, a man of faith. Since he believes Amy is a “sporting woman” he fights his attraction to her all the way to the final chapters. In the meantime, Jennifer has her own conflicts because she too is a person of faith. She barely manages not to compromise her convictions without revealing her involvement with Pinkerton. I was a little surprised whom she took into her confidence. I think you may be too. But it works out well in the end.

Third, the book is heavily laced with good humor from mixed up identities to misunderstandings to just plain silliness. The strands of humor and adventure work well together. This coupling brought me back to re-read the book more than twice.

True friends love you as you are

Finally, I was given this book on CD to review. Jaimee Draper reads the book with so much talent and gusto that her acting ability made the story come alive. She added accents, hesitations, and mispronunciations at all the appropriate places with hilarious results. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. For all the above reasons, I highly recommend you read it too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Beyond All Dreams: A Novel by Elizabeth Camden ~Review~

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Beyond All Dreams

A peek into the history of the Library of Congress, a mysteriously inaccurate naval document that no one would discuss, a particularly persistent librarian, timid but with fire in her blood, an annoyingly arrogant congressman from Maine, and the circumstances that precipitated the Spanish American War are all ingredients that make this book a fascinating read. Add a generous amount of romance and the book becomes irresistible.

Anna O’Brian was one of only a handful of female librarians allowed to work at the Washington D.C. location of the Library of Congress in the late nineteenth century. For her, it was a dream come true. Anna’s responsibilities were to care for the library’s maps and to conduct research for congressmen. Occasionally librarians even provided expert advice and testimony for congressional committees as well as for individuals. It was her attention to detail and her persistence that made her an excellent researcher. It also got her into trouble with the US Navy when she noticed an error in the reports of an incident that occurred 15 years ago. It also happened to be the same incident in which her father, a cartographer, disappeared with the ship he was sailing on. There was a definite mystery and she wanted it solved.

Beyond All Dreams quote1

Anna’s retiring yet understated fire also caught the eye of Lucas Callahan, a fairly new congressman from Maine. His youth, energy and brashness were all the talk of the town. His rivalry with the Speaker of the House got him removed from the US Budget Committee and reassigned to the committee on Fisheries. Their former war of words had hiked up a notch. But under all his fuss and blunder was a man with principles, who understood the hard-working laborers, the every day man, because his own roots were from the lumber industry. His family’s newly gained wealth was only a thin veneer that barely covered a darkness he wanted very much to escape. When he met Anna, he discovered her naturally placid nature brought a peace and calm to his turbulent one. But getting Anna to accept his suit was a challenge. It was not until he became entangled in her mystery document and the affairs of the Navy that she realized how serious he was. The truth behind the mystery had the potential to either drive them apart forever or weld them together.

What I enjoyed most about this charming historical fiction was the author’s use of wit and humor. Because of her nature, Anna just could not refrain from delivering a not-so-gentle reprimand to the presumptuous congressman who attempted to summon her services and expertise by snapping his fingers. Later, when he began to pursue her with the idea of courtship, she couldn’t imagine why. She described herself as a “short, ordinary girl who had a voice like sandpaper and the habits of a hermit crab.” Luke himself described her as his opposite. “She never did anything impulsively and liked the safety of her map room in the attic of the Capitol. She hid up in that room like a princess in a castle tower, surrounded by a fortress of books and maps.”

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Some of the historical events in the book are based on actual occurrences. The author created a personal link to the tragic loss of life in the event that eventually helped to fuel the flame of American sentiment against Spain–the link that lead to the Spanish American War. Anna’s father lost his life in that tragic event, creating an inner conflict between her desires to avoid war and the loss of more lives and revenge for such a loss in her young life. I was touched by the author’s empathetic writing. Many readers today will be able to relate to such a conflict.

Beyond All Dreams quote3

The author wasn’t heavy-handed with spiritual lessons learned during a character’s development, but it was there, nevertheless. One doesn’t have to talk about God’s work to know His Presence is evident through their thoughts and actions. Each of the people we grow to love in this book had to face basic personal challenges. Not only did God meet them in their growing pains, He used other characters to assist in bringing them to maturity faster, much like a jeweler chips away the dross to find the diamond inside. I enjoyed how the author made this happen with every interaction between Luke and Anna.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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