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TBR Book Tag


We are apparently calling things “tags” now? I thought that was a Booktube thing. Alrighty then!

I was *not* tagged by the lovely Elle Thinks, but she swears it was just an oversight…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
Just recently, I moved my physical TBR to prime, eye-level shelves in my room (see above.) Before, they were mixed in with everything else. My Goodreads “To Read” shelf is more of a “to maybe think about reading” shelf. I keep track of review books in a Google spreadsheet. And, I randomly save links about books I’m interested in to Pocket.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
It’s mostly not in the physical realm, i.e. my Goodreads “think about reading” list is much longer than my pile of print books or my queue of ebooks.

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?
Library due dates, review commitments, recommendations, readalongs and blog events, movie adaptations, award long lists, award short lists, award winners, blogs, Booktube, and social media. Not necessarily in that order. But pretty much in that order.

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?
Physical: I recently unearthed some books that I’ve carried with me from my condo to my first house to my current house. Among them are Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Vancouver by  Alison Griffiths and David Cruise.
Goodreads: When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (since 2012) and I actually own a physical copy now.


A book you recently added to your TBR?
Physical: Ann Walmsely’s The Prison Book Club, which I had no intention of buying when I went to see her speak, but she’s just that good.
Goodreads: It’s November, so I’m adding to my Novellas in November bookshelf. The Trumpets of Jericho sounds completely bananas.


A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

I do really like The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go, though.


A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
Wouldn’t that be a TNR, to not read?

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Physical: Nope. I’ve stopped accepting review books, and all the publication dates for my BEA books have passed.
Goodreads: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the third (and final?) book in the Thomas Cromwell series. It doesn’t have a cover or a publication date yet. I do not expect to receive an ARC, but I do expect to buy it as soon as it comes out. I read somewhere that she’s still working on it. Sigh.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
The Glass Castle and The Round House come to mind.


A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
Also The Glass Castle, hence people recommend it. Also, The Road.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
Icefields by Thomas Wharton, even though Naomi wasn’t taken by it.
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce, because I’m liking the angry ladies lately. #FerranteFever


How many books are on your TBR shelf?

  • 74 physical
  • 10 ebook
  • 177 Goodreads

This is *not* a normal state of affairs for me and I’m a little dismayed. Many of those 74 books are either library book sale purchases, book swap finds, unsolicited ARCs, or contest wins. Do you sense a TBR challenge coming in 2016? I do…

Tag, you’re it, even if you’re not listed below:

CJ at ebookclassics
Rick at The Book a Week Project
Naomi at Consumed by Ink
Carolyn and Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Rory at Fourth Street Review

Reading in Bed’s 2015 totally legit, not-just-things-I-want-for-myself Gift Guide

Buying books for others is a fun way to indulge your literary leanings and feel good about supporting the industry, but the awkwardness of asking “did you read it yet?” and being met by a blank stare is enough to scare me off. So, while this is ostensibly a guide to buying books and bookish things for others, let’s be real. If I buy this stuff for anyone, in the immortal words of N*Sync:


Nell Zink Box Set from Fourth Estate

I’m editing this post to add this Nell Zink box set, which includes both her novels. I paid full price for The Wallcreeper ebook (which, ouch, because it’s a novella) and I still want this in my life.


The Short Story Advent Calendar

Just what it sounds like, the Short Story Advent Calendar is a collection of 24 short stories, to be opened and read from December 1 to 24. The creators are local (Edmonton author Michael Hingston and designer Natalie Olsen,) but the project has a broad geographic scope. You’ll find new stories and b-sides from authors across the country, like Heather O’Neill and Richard Van Camp, and American Jess Walter of Beautiful Ruins fame. Not all the contributors have been revealed yet, so who knows who else is in there?

The website will offer additional goodies about each story come December, and the creators hope to spark lots of conversation among adventers. This is the most interesting part, to me. Despite the size and commitment of the online literary community, not all of these things catch on. Hingston says,

The community element was part of it from the beginning. It was based off of this beer advent calendar I bought, and going to their Facebook page every day to see a video of beer people reviewing each beer.

Reviewing a short story’s gotta be more interesting than reviewing a beer? Right? Follow me on Twitter to find out, as I have indeed bought this thing for myself.

Oh yeah, and you only have until November 13 to order. That’s in two days. And they may run out before then. It’s not cheap at $55, but it’s a thing of beauty!


A handpicked book from Vellum and Bloom

This Vancouver company bills itself as “purveyors of lovingly tailored literary gift packages.” I think of it as “when you want to buy a book for someone, but don’t want the blame if they don’t like it.” I’m dying of curiosity and want to try it for myself, to see if they get it right.

For $30, you get a book. For $45 (and up) you get a book plus additional treats of the literary persuasion. Readers fill out a survey about their favourite genres and recent reads, and Vellum and Bloom picks the book, with a special focus on current titles from Canadian independent publishers, which they think means it’s unlikely the receiver will have read the book, which means they don’t know me very well.

Yes, they do subscription boxes, and yes, you can return the book if you’ve already read it. Order by December 2 for Christmas delivery.

vellumandbloom vellumandbloomlogo

An antique book from Abe Books or Invaluable

I’m not much for books as collectibles myself (libraries and ebooks 4 life,) but a first edition of a classic book is pretty special. CanLit Booktuber From the Dusty Bookshelf got herself a signed edition of Hugh MacLennan’s Return of the Sphinx from Abe Books and she’s pretty happy with it:

While Abe Books is the go-to spot for used books online, Invaluable is a newcomer. They are  an online auction site that’s doing a promotional push with book bloggers of late. After comparing the sites, I find Abe Books much easier to use, because it’s set up for books specifically. It also has a wide range; from super-rare, signed first editions to regular used books. Invaluable focuses on the rare ones. If you’re after a really specific book or author, Invaluble is a good resource, but for browsing, and those who don’t have $1,000 to drop on a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces (I WISH) you will find more to work with on Abe Books.

Neither site had first editions of Tess of the D’Ubervilles, so I guess Christian Grey does his shopping elsewhere…

So, book people, what do you want for Christmas?

Note: I know some of the people mentioned in this post, and some of them sent me press releases, but none of them sent me any of the gifts listed here or money or anything like that.

Novellas in November 2015

Welcome back to the third edition of Novellas in November!

This event is so special to me, I stopped doing all other blog events. This year is super-special, because event creator The Book-A-Week Project is back, and is calling himself The Book-A-Week Project again.

How under appreciated are novellas? Well, how many times have you heard Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire referred to as his (900+ page) debut? Turns out, he wrote a novella back in 2008! No, I am not going to read it, as I already devoted weeks of my life to CoF, but you see: novellas get no respect.

It’s not all bad news. Giller Prize shortlisted Fifteen Dogs qualifies at 171 pages (and it’s freaking awesome,)  and there are a couple of short story collections on there too – or baby novellas, as I like to call them.

Novellas are a great way to sample a genre or author you wouldn’t usually read, not to mention they’ll kickstart that Goodreads challenge as we approach year end. Wanna novella with us? See below for inspiration, follow me and #NovNov on Twitter, and let us know what you’re reading.

The novellas are coming! The novellas are coming! #NovNov

A photo posted by Laura Frey (@lauratfrey) on

My 2015 novellas

  1. Ghosts by Cesar Aira (139 pages) Noted novella connoisseur Michael Hingston recommended this to me. I trust his recommendation so much that I dropped $14 on the ebook, which is a little hard to swallow for the length. It is creepy as hell so far.
  2. Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas (178 pages) Based on this intriguing review by JacquiWine.
  3. The Poor Clare by Elizabth Gaskell (60 pages) Because I wanted a super-shorty and because it’s Elizabeth Gaskell.
  4. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (96 pages) Is this a novella? I don’t know. But it’s been on my shelf for a year or so.
  5. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (183) Because novellas are short, not easy.
  6. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey (119 pages) So I can watch the adaptation.
  7. Every Day Is For The Thief by Teju Cole(128 pages) Another one that’s been on the shelf far too long.

More novella TBR inspiration

You know what I’m missing? CanLit. Where my Canadian novellas at?

LitFest 2015 Mini-Reviews: Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis and Separation Anxiety by Miji Campbell

LitFest-2clr-cmyk-smallLitFest is Canada’s only non-fiction festival. One of these years, I’ll get a pass and go to everything, but this year The Femme Memoir Hour is my one and only. It’s tomorrow, Saturday October 24, at 1:00 p.m. at the downtown library, and tickets are still available.

The theme of this event is tenuous. Yeah, they’re all memoirs written by women, but so what? Is that enough to tie these books together? I’ve read two of the books (kindly provided by LitFest, many thanks) and while they share some themes of recovery, they really couldn’t be more different.

girlinthewoodsGirl in the Woods by Aspen Matis
3 out of 5 stars

Let me just get this out of my system: Girl in the Woods is Wild for millennials!!

That’s too simple and kind of condescending. It’s not Matis’ fault that Cheryl Strayed released Wild in 2012, presumably while she was writing Girl in the Woods. It’s not her fault that Strayed also had a traumatic past, that she also had a near-death experience on the trail, or that she also changed her name after her journey.

It also feels condescending to say I wish Matis, like Strayed, had waited longer and matured as a writer before writing a memoir, and yet. The book includes childhood pictures of Matis (…for some reason) labelled with dates in the late nineties, just in case you forget that she’s super young. The reminder is helpful though. Matis is maddeningly self-centered and dramatic, which is less annoying when you remember that she’s 18 years old when she begins her hike. And privileged. I mean, when the word “self-care” appeared I thought I was done. But I stuck around and remembered that duh, I was a privileged, dramatic, self-centered 18 year old myself, and Matis captures something true about that experience that’s hard to describe. And, she’s done something with all that privilege. Not the hike, the book. No one made her write a story about being raped. Imagine being known for the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Then again, imagine reaching so many people who need to hear your story.

If you can push away the comparisons, and quit wishing that a teenager was more mature, which is silly, you will probably enjoy Girl in the Woods. It *is* well-written, well, a little over-written, but there are flashes of greatness. I appreciate what Matis did with her story and I’m really interested to see what she does next.

separationanxietySeparation Anxiety by Miji Campbell
2 out of 5 stars

Again, let me just get this out of my system: Separation Anxiety is Eat Pray Love without the eating, praying, or loving!!

It’s not fair to compare a book to EPL just because it’s a memoir by a woman who goes through a divorce. Well, comparing and contrasting. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Campbell’s life is privileged and suburban and normal. Traditional wifely and motherly roles aren’t enough for her. Neither teaching nor freelance writing lead to fulfillment.  This is where you expect Campbell to travel the world à la Gilbert or hike through the woods à la Matis. But she doesn’t. She doesn’t really do anything.

Well, she suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That’s not nothing. A weird, dysfunctional relationship with her mother is referenced as a factor but never really explained. She has debilitating insomnia as a young adult. She marries and has children. She divorces her husband for some reason which isn’t clear. She meets a new guy but we’re told nothing about the when or the how. Eventually, she is unable to work or leave the house, but the stakes don’t seem very high. It feels wrong to say that, because of course the stakes were high; this is her life. But it didn’t come through in my reading.

Traipsing around the globe and hiking across the continent can be inspirational (or aspirational,) but they’re not reasonable for most. Realism is good! But, it turns out, you do need something to hang your story on. The combination of Campbell’s short, clipped sentences, jumpy timeline, and lack of narrative almost made this a DNF. The last chapters, in which she gets her shit together, were good. There was some drive to the narrative and we got to hear from other people.

I will say the design of this book is wonderful. I’ve had several people admire the cover and ask me about it. You know what they say about books and covers, though.

The Femme Memoir Hour is part of LitFest. Meet the authors this Saturday, October 24, 1:00 p.m. at Stanley Milner Library.

Come for the authors, or come to meet moderator Liz Withey and her friend Laverne. Thanks to LitFest for the review copies. I haven’t read the third book, The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley, but it sounds fascinating.



Ebook appreciation month #2: One (e)Book, One City

Ebook appreciation month continues!

One Book, One City events predate the ebook, but technology sure makes it easier to get one book into many hands. In my first ebook appreciation post, I told you how publishers put a damper on ebook borrowing, with limits on how many epub files can be borrowed and for how long. But a big event like this means a city (or its library) can negotiate a deal with a publisher to allow unlimited borrowing, and Edmonton is the first Canadian city to do so.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is the One Book One Edmonton selection for 2015. If you have a Edmonton Public Library card, you can borrow it. But, you can’t download it to an ereader, so you’re stuck with your phone or tablet. And it’s being released in six parts. The first one is up till the end of the program on November 16, and subsequent parts are available for a week at a time. Part 2 is only available till October 19, so get on it!

At first, I was put off by having to read on my phone. It’s smaller than an ereader, the battery life sucks, and the back-lighting is harsh. However, the BiblioCommons technology on the back end allows you to do this:

Not only can you easily share quotes to social media, but it’s all pretty. In other words: it’s branded, social media-ready content. What if a publisher could do this kind of branding in an ereader? Or an author? Or… a book blogger? Those who clutch their pearls at the thought of ereading must be strangling themselves over this kind of application, but I think it’s got a lot of potential.

Have you participated in a One Book, One City event? Would you post branded quotes to your social media?



October is ebook appreciation month #1: How to borrow ebooks from the library

October isn’t really ebook appreciation month, but I’m sick of posts about horror books.

A lot of people talk shit about ebooks, but I think they’re great. I’ve been reading them since I got my first ereader in 2010, but I borrowed my first library ebook just a few months ago. Now, I almost always have a library ebook on the go. It’s a great way to try out a new author or genre, or sample an award’s longlist. Hot books from a season or two ago are easily accessed, and even new titles come up pretty quickly. I’ve even borrowed books I own in print, so I could easily count the number of times certain words appeared. It’s handy!

Some of my  recent library ebooks include Giller and Alberta Reader's Choice shortlisters

Some of my recent library ebooks include Giller and Alberta Reader’s Choice longlisters

Commercial ebooks are expensive (up to $15.99 – $21.99 for new titles) and trading epubs with friends is sketchy. Here are my tips on ereading for free.

How to borrow an ebook

Borrowing ebooks from the library is hard, especially if you are An Old like me. I tried following the instructions on my library’s website, but got hung up with an error in Adobe Digital Editions. I waited months before swallowing my pride and asking a librarian for help. She helped me find an older version of ADE that worked, and I was off to the races within minutes.

Even when it works, the process is pretty clunky. Your library or device may vary, but you’ll probably need to follow a process like this to borrow an ebook and read it on an ereader:

  • On a laptop or computer, go to your library’s website, sign in, and find yourself an ebook
  • Download an epub file
  • Open the epub file in Adobe Digital Editions (if it doesn’t work, try downloading an older version)
  • Connect ereader to computer
  • Move the epub from the computer to the ereader.

If you can’t figure it out: ask a librarian! I can’t stress this enough, people.

Advanced topics in ebooks

I figured out the basic borrowing process, but I still had questions. I followed my own advice and talked to a librarian. Thank you to Edmonton Public Library’s Pam Ryan for filling me in.

Why do libraries limit how many people can borrow an ebook at the same time?

Blame publishers! Pam said that “publishers set the limits and public libraries do their best to provide the best service we can within those restrictions.” EPL tries to maintain the some number of digital copies as paper copies, but it’s often much faster to get an ebook of a hot new release, I find. If you’re interested in how libraries are trying to make ebooks more accessible, check out Fair Pricing For Libraries.

Why is is so hard to borrow an ebook?

The Digital Rights Management layer (like Adobe Digital Editions) is what makes ebook borrowing such a pain in the ass, and prevents it from being seamless. But right now, it’s the only way libraries can lock down the access and control borrowing periods, as required by publishers. It is getting better though – even I figured it out! Eventually!

Do authors get royalties from library ebooks, like they do with print books? (in Canada, anyway – through the Public Lending Right)

Not yet, but they will as of 2016. So you’ll be supporting authors when you borrow from the library. It’s all good.

Ereading in Edmontonobyeg

This post was inspired by One Book One Edmonton, one of those whole-town-readalongs. If you’re in Edmonton, you can read an ebook of Etta and Otto and Russell and James by hometown girl Emma Hooper for free, but the process is a little different than described here. Stay tuned for more about that, or start reading, the first section is up!

Has borrowing ebooks changed your life? How do you eread?

Fall 2015 Preview Part III: BEA Books

I’m about halfway through my BEA stack. Many of these books will be in the spotlight this Fall. Let’s see what lives up to the hype, shall we? Full reviews to come on some of these.

The Good


The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth: Don’t let the whole “Anglo-Saxon shadow tongue” thing scare you. I had to read aloud for the first quarter or so to get the language, but after that it was a snap. You should let Buccmaster scare you though. I was shaking by the end.

When you think of colonizers, you think of the British, right? It was weird and jarring to watch them get colonized a thousand years ago. I blame the Canadian education system for the fact that I didn’t know one thing about the Norman invasion except the year 1066 (and I’m pretty sure I learned that in Billy Madison.) Now I know better. By the end of this book, you’ll question what you know about everything.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh: I almost didn’t grab this. I was almost an idiot. This story was totally unexpected and everything I love – weird, dark, seedy, with a main character I want to know and save and shake violently. Reviews are starting to trickle in around the blogosphere; check out blogger Ryan Reads for excellent GIFs and Booktuber Just a Dust Jacket for the short and sweet of it.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen: Reviewed here and here and here.

The Bad


In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware: This could be a genre thing; my mother in law is a voracious reader of mysteries and she liked it. I didn’t care enough about the outcome, which I saw coming a mile away. I did love the settings; the woods were creepy and the glass house was probably symbolic of many things but still felt real.

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall: Why people in their twenties shouldn’t write memoirs exhibit #172. Yes, Marshall is in his thirties now, but this memoir only goes up till his mid-twenties. It’s supposed to be funny but I found it to be trying way too hard. I should have known when I saw the Jenny Lawson blurb on the cover; I also found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened deeply unfunny.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: There were some good one-liners, making fun of literary conventions, but it didn’t add up to much for me.


City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: I’m gonna read this 900 pager before the end of the year. Promise.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks: Almost picked this up several times. I’m resisting because it feels so serious. But, um, so was her novel Year of Wonders (about the black plague) and I love that, so, I need to get over myself!

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey: I could pair this with a Peter Pan movie night with the kids.

The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley: Started, didn’t grab me, will try again.

Pillow by Andrew Battershill as seen in my CanLit preview.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford: I read Crazy Rich Asians recently and have had my fill of social climbers. Will revisit later.


Fall 2015 Preview Part II: Local Reads and CanLit

Last year, I didn’t do so well with my Fall Preview. The post was fine, but I didn’t end up reading a lot of the books. I aimed a little too high, I think, trying to compete with the 49th Shelves and Quill and Quires of the world. Rather than trying harder to stick to a TBR, I’m going to aim low and round up the books I have already started or will almost certainly read. You know, as Homer J says, if something is hard to do, don’t try.

Local Reads: Edmonton and Alberta


Honourable mentions: Rumi and the Red Handbag by Shawna Lemay (October) for the title, and Act Normal by Greg Hollingshead (August) for sounding very un-normal.



  • Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (September): Already read and reviewed! *sigh of relief*
  • Martin John by Anakana Schofield (September): I was fifth in line at the library when I got my birthday book money, so now I’m waiting on a preorder. Malarky was one of my favourite reads of 2014, so expectations are sky-high.
  • Pillow by Andrew Battershill (October): A BEA score that came with a chocolate coin which apparently ties into the story somehow, but who cares, it’s chocolate! I’m getting a Spat the Dummy vibe from this one.

Honourable mentions: These Good Hands by Carol Bruneau and  The Hunter and the Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock – I will look into these if the mood for historical fiction strikes.

Fall 2015 Preview Part I: Edmonton Literary Festivals and Events

So much for a preview: these festivals are underway! Get out there, #yeg.



This will be my third LitFest and I’m most looking forward to the Femme Memoir Hour event, featuring local memoirist Miji Campbell (I’ll review her book Separation Anxiety,) Aspen Matis (I’ll review her memoir Girl in the Woods which, between the on-trend “Girl” title and the Lena Dunham endorsement, is sure to be huge,) and Ann Walmsley (just added to the roster, author of The Prison Book Club, which sounds a lot more interesting than Orange is the New Black,) and moderated by Edmonton’s own Liz Withey and Laverne. See you there on Saturday October 24, 1:00 PM, downtown library.

Girl in the Woods Aspen Matis Separation Anxiety Miji Campbell

Check out the whole lineup here, get your tickets for headliner Jon Ronson, and peruse these events that caught my eye:

  • Free Word on the Square events taking place Tuesdays at lunchtime in Churchill Square Sept. 15 through Oct. 6. Follow #wordonthesquare for schedule & updates.
  • Free lunch time events Take Back Your Food Thursday October 15 and Gender Talks Friday October 16, both at noon, both at CBC Centre Stage, which is in the downtown mall just before you get to Winners.
  • Just Words #MMIW October 18 at 2:00 PM at the downtown library – social justice writers “discuss the challenges, setbacks, and struggle to find justice for Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
  • Wab Kinew launches The Reason You Walk October 19 at 6:00 PM, Garneau Theatre.



It’s too late; you already missed Lawrence Hill. Now, make haste! Tickets are sellin’ fast. I could just list every event but here are my must-sees:

  • Sandra Gulland, Friday October 16, 7:00 PM, Forsyth Hall: The Josephine B. Trilogy was one of my first historical fiction loves. Those titles, for one thing. It’s been many years, but I recall something YA about them (and I guess I was a Young Adult back then too,) but these books are certified classics, no matter the category.
  • Clare Cameron, Wednesday Oct. 21, 7:00 PM Forsyth Hall: Cameron broke my heart and put it back together again with The Bear. I’m just going to try and not make a fool of myself when I meet her.
  • Heather O’Neill, Friday October 23, 7:00 Forsyth Hall: Lullabies for Little Children is one of those reading experiences I can remember in such vivid detail – not just the book, but where I was (on holiday with family,) what I was doing (ignoring family,) and part of the reason I haven’t picked up her subsequent books is I’m afraid to break that spell. I might be convince to try, though.

Readings and Bookclubs and more

  • Check Audrey’s and YegWrites for plenty of readings, including Jennifer Quist reading from Sistering on September 29.
  • Upcoming #yegbookclub picks are Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton on September 14, and Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist on September 21. Join the chat on Twitter at 7:00 PM. Both books are heartbreaking and beautiful.

Undermajordomo Minor: Patrick deWitt stays weird


Publication date: September 5, 2015
My rating: ?? out of 5 stars
Read this if you like: Dark comedy, dark fairy tales, darkness, happy endings
Check out Undermajordomo Minor on Goodreads
Thanks to: House of Anansi Press for the review copy and CJ for the “in.”

Patrick deWitt writes some weird shit. His writing has been described as dark, intense, grim, poetic, bold, and funny. Undermajordomo Minor is all of those things, but also nothing like his previous two novels, Ablutions and The Sisters Brothers. The covers all look the same, and the title plays with opposites in the same way The Sisters Brothers did (brother/sister, major/minor) but if you are expecting The Sisters Brothers set in a castle, or Ablutions with a butler rather than a bartender, hoo boy, you better sit down. Read more


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