The Qwillery | category: Ian McEwan


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019

There was a point this year when I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to write a 'best of' post this year. I found it hard to find books I wanted to read, but more importantly, books I really enjoyed reading. I did hit the jackpot and found some books I really adored and here are my top 5 reads of 2019, starting in reverse order:

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Number 5 - Circe by Madeline Miller 

Back in April I finally decided to check out a recommendation from one of my friends Circe by Madeline Miller. I had the audio version of the book so this is technically a 'listen to' rather than a read...but lets not split hairs. Perdita Weeks brought the troubled daughter of the sun god Helios to life, as we follow Circe from her home with the gods, to her exile by Zeus on Aiaia. Miller creates a fantastic story for the mythical Circe and interweaves a number of other myths and mythical characters to share the stage with her. Miller has received awards and accolades for this Circe and here is one more - one of my fave books of 2019!

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Number 4 - Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

In July I took my sister's advice this time and purchased Machines Like Me (again another audio book). I loved everything about this book - the alternate history of 80's Britain, McEwan's android science, the moral conflict and finally, the narrator - Billy Howle. McEwan is one of those authors who are a bit hit and miss with me but this time it was a big hit. See my thoughts here.

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Number 3 - Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

I thoroughly enjoyed Arden's Winternight trilogy and thought that The Winter of the Witch was a fantastic ending to this series. Again, this was another audio book (I did actually read some books!) and the narration, again was amazing. In this final instalment we join Vasya on the end of her magical journey that is steeped in Russian folklore.  I liked it sooo much I wrote a full review if you want to check it out here.

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Number 2 - La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I was late to the prequel of the His Dark Materials party.  I had La Belle Sauvage on my TBR (yes Audible library) for too long before I decided I needed to find out what it was all about.  I was totally gripped from the first word until the last. Michael Sheen is a superlative narrator but it's Pullman's story that really shines through here. The young Malcolm, his daemon and the baby Lyra have an epic adventure that only Pullman could tell.  I almost think I liked this story better than the original  - His Dark Materials.

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Number 1 - it's a tie for first place in my book reading heart for 2019

A Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

A Thousand Doors of January tells the story of January Scaller and her life as the ward of the very wealthy Mr Locke. The story flits from past to present and from one world to another and it's not until near the very end that the reader gets to discover the intricacies of Harrow's plot.  Needless to say I loved this book and what is even more exceptional is that it is a debut novel. Kudos x 10 to Harrow for this very first novel. I wrote a full review if you want to find out more. Check it out here.

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
The Binding by Bridget Collins

I described The Binding in my review as a gentle love story but the more I think about my description of the story I don't think I did the book justice. There is a real ethereal and haunting quality to this story. The binding and what it really means for the main protagonist Emmett isn't uncovered until most of the way through which adds to the tension and the mood of story itself. This is a book that stays with you and even a year later (almost) I am still caught up thinking about Emmett and what happened to him and imagining what could happen next. Great book and a fantastic audio book as well.

Well that is faves of 2019.

I have an honourable mention (well mentions) - Aching God and Sin Eater by Michael Shel. Aching God was a finalist in the SPFBO 4 and one of Qwill's faves in 2018 but I only just read it in 2019. This is an amazing book and Sin Eater is even better. Thought I would keep these two as 'mentions' as Aching God was part of the SPFBO. My recommendation is to read both together to get the full effect. I can hardly wait for book 3 to come out.

I would love find out what your top reads of 2019 were so please leave me your top picks in the comments section.

Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

Machines Like Me
Nan A. Telese, April 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.

Winter of the Witch
Winternight Trilogy 3
Del Rey, October 1, 2019
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Hardcover, Audiobook, and eBook, January 8, 2019

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Vasilisa Petrovna is an unforgettable heroine determined to forge her own path. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

La Belle Sauvage
The Book of Dust 1
June 4, 2019
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
 eBook, October 19, 2017

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019

Philip Pullman returns to the parallel world of His Dark Materials–soon to be an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda–to expand on the story of Lyra, “one of fantasy’s most indelible heroines” (The New York Times Magazine).

Don’t miss Volume II of The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth

Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, are used to overhearing news and the occasional scandal at the inn run by his family. But during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm finds a mysterious object—and finds himself in grave danger.

Inside the object is a cryptic message about something called Dust; and it’s not long before Malcolm is approached by the spy for whom this message was actually intended. When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he begins to notice suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.

Lyra is at the center of a storm, and Malcolm will brave any peril, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through it.

“Too few things in our world are worth a seventeen-year wait: The Book of Dust is one of them.” —The Washington Post
“The book is full of wonder. . . . Truly thrilling.” —The New York Times
“People will love the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy with the same helpless vehemence that stole over them when The Golden Compass came out.” —Slate

A Thousand Doors of January
Redhook, September 10, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.

The Binding
William Morrow, April 16, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
Proclaimed as “truly spellbinding,” a “great fable” that “functions as transporting romance” by the Guardian, the runaway #1 international bestseller

"A rich, gothic entertainment that explores what books have trapped inside them and reminds us of the power of storytelling. Spellbinding.” — TRACY CHEVALIER

Imagine you could erase grief.
Imagine you could remove pain.
Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice amongst their small community, but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.

But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.

An unforgettable novel of enchantment, mystery, memory, and forbidden love, The Binding is a beautiful homage to the allure and life-changing power of books—and a reminder to us all that knowledge can be its own kind of magic.

Honorable Mention

Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
April 9, 2018
   eBook, 604 pages
March 27, 2019
   Trade Paperback 602 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.

Sin Eater
Iconoclasts 2
May 20,  2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 574 pages

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019


A year has passed since Auric Manteo descended into the haunted depths of a Djao ruin to return a lethal artifact, only to face down a bloodthirsty, imprisoned god. Now his daughter Agnes comes to bring him back to the capital with promises of hidden secrets finally revealed.

But the city decays, poisonous disorder is rife, and whispered prophecy foretells of cataclysm and doom. Summoned by their no-longer human queen, Auric and Agnes are commanded to carry out an impossible task, one that can be accomplished only with the mysterious blade Szaa’da’shaela, gifted to Auric on a lunatic's whim.

Can Auric and his daughter survive a journey fraught with blood, menace, and madness? And can they pay the price demanded by a being every bit as evil as the Aching God?

Sin Eater is the sequel to 2018’s widely praised Aching God and book 2 of the Iconoclasts Trilogy. Get your copy today!

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019

I can't believe July is over. The month has evaporated just like all the water I keep putting on my tomato plants (lets just ignore the fact that my tomatoes keep turning black!) Unlike my wilting toms I have been quite productive and read a couple of really good books. I am 'booking reading smug' this month as I got through more books then I expected. I am one of the Qwillery's agents for the next SPFBO and I wasn't sure that I would get much read but I managed to read some of my own books and some of the SPFBO books. Hurrahs!

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
First up is Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan. I have to admit that I listened to the audio version rather than read it. The characters really come to life through the narrator Billy Howle. If you are still aren't sure about audio books then this is a safe bet.

The story is set in an alternate 1980's England with a backdrop of the Falklands war. The main character, Charlie has so far successfully avoided having a real job and drifts through life following the news about the Falklands and secretly pining over his next door neighbour Miranda. When Charlie inherits some money he decides to buy one of the very first synthetic humans - a male named Adam. Despite designing Adam's personality with Miranda it's not long before Charlie is relegated to the third wheel when a love triangle starts to form. It's not long before Charlie starts to regret his impulse purchase. The story really starts to evolve when a secret from Miranda's is exposed which tests her relationship with Charlie and leaves Adam grappling with the morality of the situation.

For me, the story had two main themes. The obvious one - whether a machine, regardless of how human it appears, can truly think and act like a human. This was a question that Charlie regularly tried to grapple with and something that becomes Miranda's undoing. The second theme was the different types of love - romantic love, love for a friend, love from a child, love for your parents/family. McEwan explores these different types of love through the lens of the machine - Adam. Again, another exploration of whether a machine can love or understands what it means to love. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McEwan is a master at creating characters that you don't always like but can always relate to. The science was plausible. You could also believe, based on McEwan's, prose that you were reading non-fiction rather than fiction in his explanation of how technology evolved to create a living, breathing android. Adam puts Star Trek's Data to shame. If you need a book that gets you thinking then I highly recommend Machines Like Me. This is going to be in my top books of 2019!

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
My next two books are courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley. I used to get the majority of my books from NetGalley but I haven't had much luck finding anything I want to read that wasn't a 'wish for it'. First up is Thea Harrison's American Witch. Molly Sullivan's life has turned upside down. On the same day she discovers her husband has been unfaithful, again she also discovers that she has new powers awakening. Josiah Mason, a very powerful witch and leader of a secret coven has offered to help Molly manage her powers but can she trust him? Molly finds she doesn't have a choice when both her husband and her divorce attorney are brutally murdered. A deadly secret links Molly's husband and Josiah's sworn enemy. They decide to join forces to bring down someone who hides in the shadows and who is merciless and cruel. Its not long before what draws Josiah and Molly together isn't just the hunt for the killer but their explosive mutual attraction. Will they survive long enough to see if their romance has a chance?

I didn't realise when I requested this book that it was also in the same world as the Elder Races although none of the characters from that series popped up. My disappointment was that I was really hoping for something completely new. Overall, the story was a bit of a re-hash of Harrison's other novels - boy meets girl, boy and girl don't get along, boy and girl become attracted against all odds and despite immanent threat to their 'persons', boy and girl fall in love for ever and ever. Molly does in the end stand up for herself and become a power in her own right. The love interests were just a bit too one dimensional for my like. If you are looking for something to read at the beach then this may be a book to consider.

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
Book number 2 from NetGalley is The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken which is the first instalment in The Scarred Earth Saga series. The story starts out with lots of violence that follows the death of the old King where his sons go on a rampage of killing each other and anyone loyal to them in order to gain the throne and the power that it represents. However, a prophesy tells of a queen who will ascend the throne ....a daughter of a farmer. As the different factions fight it out the story switches to Keeley Smythe, the big and powerful blacksmith who likes nothing more than working her forge and loving her family. When a band of kilt wearing mountain warriors come to her small village she doesn't at first realise how much she will depend on their help and protection. Especially from the gruff but hunky Caid. When the prophesy seems to point to Keeley's bookish sister Beatrix as being the intended queen she has no choice but to defend her family from the royals who don't want to see a farmer's daughter on the throne. Luckily she has some help because she is going to need it.

The Blacksmith Queen is written in a similar style to Aiken's Dragon Kin series with fun loving characters, strong female heroines, and super natural beings. Keeley is fun, strong (both physically and mentally) and knows her power. The romance really didn't make an appearance until near the end of the book which was refreshing and the sex scenes weren't as 'detailed' as in some of Aiken's other books. What is also different is that there are chapters from Caid's POV which gives a different perspective and works well when Keeley wasn't able to be part of the scene (no spoilers here). There is also a very good twist involving one of the baddies that I wasn't expecting and makes me really want to see how this character gets their comeuppance. I am very likely going to continue with this series and if you are a fan of her other books I suggest you give The Blacksmith Queen a go.

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
The final book I am going to tell you about - a novella really - is Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews. This is a novella and part of the Innkeeper Chronicles series. The story is told, this time, from Maud's (Dina's sister) POV. Maud has travelled with Arland to his home world along with her daughter Helen. There is a big wedding planned between two, former rival vampire Houses which House Kaur are hosting. In the backdrop of Maud's reluctant romance with Arland there is something much more sinister at play and it's up to Maud to uncover what the other Houses are really up to and to protect her daughter and Arland's family in the process.

If you follow my posts you will know that I have already read Sweep of the Blade when it was released as a serial. I love this series and especially Dina, the Innkeeper. I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this serialised short story as much. I thought the plotline and the prose were tightened up from the serialised story to the book which made for a much sharper and enjoyable story line. There are also a few of the gorgeous drawings throughout the book which have been one of my favourite parts of reading these books. Even if you have already read the serialised version I urge you to give the published version a go. I am confident you will love it.

That is all for me for July. I hope you have had as many good books to read as I have had. Keep your fingers crossed that I have as many reviews in August for you. Until then Happy Reading.

Machines Like Me
Nan A. Telese, April 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.

American Witch
American Witch Trilogy 1
Teddy Harrison LLC, April 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 476 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Thea Harrison comes the first in a new spellbinding trilogy…

Power can change a person…

For months Molly Sullivan endures the inexplicable: electrical surges, car breakdowns, visions. She even wonders if she might be the cause… and wonders if she might be crazy. Then she discovers her husband has cheated on her. Again. Now Molly realizes she is a newly awakening witch and a woman pushed over the edge.

Revenge can shape a person…

Josiah Mason is a Powerful witch and the leader of a secret coven with a shared goal: to destroy an ancient enemy who has ruined many lives. Josiah lost years to this man, and his sole focus is revenge. He’s prepared for every contingency—except encountering a beautiful new witch who understands nothing of the immense Power building within her or the attraction she wields over him.

Danger can bring them together…

When divorcing her husband, Molly uncovers a dangerous secret he’s willing to kill to protect. She turns to Josiah for help, and they discover a connection between Molly’s husband and Josiah’s enemy.

As they work together, a spark ignites between them that threatens to become an inferno. But Molly is done compromising herself for any man, and Josiah’s mission is his top priority. And the enemy is cunning, cruel, and drawing ever closer.

As the danger escalates, so does the tension between them. Is a lasting relationship possible? Will either of them live long enough to try?

The Blacksmith Queen
The Scarred Earth Saga 1
Kensington Books, August 27, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
When a prophesy brings war to the Land of the Black Hills, Keeley Smythe must join forces with a clan of mountain warriors who are really centaurs in a thrilling new fantasy romance series from New York Times bestselling author G.A. Aiken.

The Old King Is Dead

With the demise of the Old King, there’s a prophesy that a queen will ascend to the throne of the Black Hills. Bad news for the king’s sons, who are prepared to defend their birthright against all comers. But for blacksmith Keeley Smythe, war is great for business. Until it looks like the chosen queen will be Beatrix, her younger sister. Now it’s all Keeley can do to protect her family from the enraged royals.

Luckily, Keeley doesn’t have to fight alone. Because thundering to her aid comes a clan of kilt-wearing mountain warriors called the Amichai. Not the most socially adept group, but soldiers have never bothered Keeley, and rough, gruff Caid, actually seems to respect her. A good thing because the fierce warrior will be by her side for a much longer ride than any prophesy ever envisioned.

Sweep of the Blade
Innkeeper Chronicles 4
NYLA, July 16, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 314 pages

Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019
Maud Demille is a daughter of Innkeepers—a special group who provide ‘lodging’ to other-planetary visitors—so she knows that a simple life isn't in the cards. But even Maud could never have anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her young daughter, Helen, were exiled with him for his treachery to the desolate, savage planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud—completely abandoned by his family—has spent over a year avenging his debts. Rescued by her sister Dina, she's sworn off all things vampire.

Except... In helping Dina save the world, she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr, one of the most powerful vampire houses. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Arland is not used to hearing the word ‘no;’ and try as she might, Maud can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is extremely influential and Maud knows that a woman—a human, with a very questionable past—who's turned down a proposal from its most beloved son won't get a warm reception. Maybe she’s not sure about marrying Arland, but House Krahr isn’t going to decide for her. Maud Demille has never run from a fight, and House Krahr will soon discover that there's a lot more to Maud than they’re expecting.
Melanie's Top Reads of 2019Melanie's Month in Review - July 2019

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