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Blog Tour: Help the Witch by Tom Cox

Welcome to my blog for the penultimate stop in the #HelptheWitch Blog Tour.

The Blurb

Inspired by our native landscapes, saturated by the shadows beneath trees and behind doors, listening to the run of water and half-heard voices, Tom Cox s first collection of short stories is a series of evocative and unsettling trips into worlds previously visited by the likes of M. R. James and E. F. Benson.

Railway tunnels, the lanes and hills of the Peak District, family homes, old stones, shreds fluttering on barbed wire, night drawing in, something that might be an animal shifting on the other side of a hedge: Tom has drawn on his life-long love of weird fiction, folklore and nature s unregarded corners to write a collection of stories that will delight fans old and new, and leave them very uneasy about turning the reading lamp off.

About the Author

Tom Cox has written ten books, including The Good, The Bad And The Furry, which was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and 21st Century Yokel, (a brilliant book), which was longlisted for the Wainwright Nature Writing prize earlier this year. He still hasn’t got around to getting any A-levels or a degree, neither has he discounted it. When writing, he can be discovered reading, mooching about in a secondhand record shop or bookshop, wild swimming or walking somewhere out in the elements in the South West. Cox has also DJ’d on a radio station called Soundart and once was a journalist. The amazing art in his books is created by his mum, Jo and if you were ever to meet his dad, you’d find he was very LOUD.

My Review

October is the time of year for ghost stories and come the end of the month when the clocks go back then it feels like the right time to read them. This very latest book from Tom Cox is his first venture into fiction and there are ten short stories from him in here that venture from ghost stories to a modern take on stories that we have heard time and time again.

Beginning with Help the Witch, a tale of a guy who has just moved into an old house in early December and is shortly snowed in. Not is all that it seems though, even though he has just split from his girlfriend, Chloe, he starts to hear voices around the house, voices that answer him back. Listings is an unusual take on a story, it is told through the small ads that you see in the local paper, and tell of a modern executive home with a cave underneath.

For a surreal take on the world, then you might like his nine tiny stories about houses, or the ghostly sighting on a speed awareness course, where a guy meets his uncle who he hasn’t seen in ages. Or there is the Pool, a place where teenagers swim in the summer and when they have all left is revealed as the home of something ancient that emerges from the depths as winter breaks. There are more like this, stories that exist in the gloaming moments of the day and on the liminal fringes of our culture.

Just Good Friends was probably my favourite of all of the short stories in this book, it manages to be both normal and very unnerving at the same time. Folk horror can be properly scary, probably because it is deeply rooted in our own psyche, but most of the stories in here I didn’t find that frightening. Rather the stories were eerie and often unnerving and even had proper goose-bumps moments too. Cox is a quality writer, prepared to explore different things in different ways and seeking unconventional ways around subjects. I loved his 21st Century Yokel and this is great stuff too. The cover of this is quite distinctive too, the figure that is tree-like is quite chilling and the gold foil makes it a striking book.

This tour was arranged by Anne Cater of #RandomThings. Do go and have a look at all the other blogs on the tour for their take on the book.

The book is published by Unbound and is available from your local independent bookshop 

Tom Cox lives here on the web

Review: Along the Divide by Chris Townsend

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Scotland is famous for its breath-taking scenery, the fertile lowlands, rolling hills and the much climbed Munroe’s. It has been extensively written about and photographed so finding another route and a narrative that flows from this landscape cannot be easy. Chris Townsend takes an idea that he got from Ribbon Of Wildness by Peter Wright. He wants to walk the spine of his adopted land from the border at Deadland Fell right up to Duncansby Head on the North coast.

 A watershed, a divide, between two worlds.

This backbone of the country that follows the line of hills that the water drops away either to the Atlantic or the North Sea is about 700 miles long. It is a tough walk too, crossing moorlands, bogs through forests and or course over the top of mountains at an average height of 450m. At certain points of the route, the line between the two directions of travel that the water goes can be less than 50m or be vast distances apart in the flatter parts of the country.

 A  trickle begins, running gently downhill, eventually to reach the ocean

This is the first of Townsend’s books that I have read and it is not going to be the last. This thoroughly enjoyable travel book about him walking through Scotland is written at the same gentle pace that he walked at. For him, the adventure is the journey, not the finish and over his route, he has some adventures, gets soaked several times, avoids being blown off a hill, watches the sunset on a perfect evening from his tarp. He has quite a philosophical outlook, reminisces about past walks and contemplates both the independence referendum in Scotland and rues the Brexit vote. We learn about the places that he passes, touching on the history and the wildlife that he sees, but not in an overbearing way. It also has some of the best maps that I have seen in a travel book, the route is clear and unambiguous as it wiggles it’sits across the landscape.

Review: The Life of Almost by Anna Vaught

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Almost Llewhellin has had an unusual upbringing on the coast of Wales,  being brought up by his sister Perfection. He travels all over the coast and local area, playing in the graveyards, exploring the sea caves and he is intrinsically linked to the landscape where he lives. Rather than other children to play with he knows mermaids and mermen, morticians and his own family’s undead. It feels to him like time has stopped, he is stood watching things as they drift on by. Even moving away has no effect, Pembrokeshire has its roots deep inside his soul and he returns once again.

I dreamed of pearls, full fathom five;

I sang of gales, the tang of salt

Almost as a character feels like he is not fully of this world, but rather he inhabits somewhere in between this world and the next as he mixes with mermaids and converses with the dead. This is a strange book in lots of ways, very surreal at times, blended with fantasy, a dash of folklore with hints of The Graveyard Book. It is a lyrical book and I really enjoyed the poetic elements, but personally struggled to engage with the characters at times.

BlogTour: LITERARY LANDSCAPES – Charting the Real-Life Settings of the World’s Favourite Fiction

Welcome to my blog for the start of the #BlogTour for LITERARY LANDSCAPES: Charting the Real-Life Settings of the World’s Favourite Fiction. This is a follow-up book to the richly illustrated Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created. Deatils on how to win a copy are at the bottom of this post.

Literary Landscapes draws together those well-loved authors who are synonymous with a place and time, celebrating Hardy’s Wessex, Joyce’s Dublin and Du Maurier’s Cornwall. It comes right up to date with recent bestsellers, such as Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. Its charm lies in the way these favourites are interspersed with the unfamiliar, providing much to explore.

Led by John Sutherland, a team of specialist literary critics have contributed individual essays on over 70 literary novels where landscape is as central to the tale as any character, and just as easily recognized. Entries are beautifully illustrated with archive material, original artworks, maps and photographs. International in breadth and scope, Literary Landscapes is an enchanting read that book lovers will not be able to resist dipping into.

Some stories couldn’t happen just anywhere.  As is the case with all great literature, the setting, scenery and landscape are as central to the tale as any character, and just as easily recognised. Literary Landscapes: Charting the Real-Life Settings of the World’s Favourite Fiction delves deep into the geography, location and terrain of all our best-loved literary works and looks at how setting and environmental attributes influence storytelling, character and our emotional response as readers.

Led by John Sutherland, a team of specialist literary critics have contributed individual essays on more than 50 literary worlds.  Beautifully illustrated with hundreds of full-colour maps, archival material, photographs and illustrations, the landscapes are vividly brought to life, evoking all the sights and sounds of the original works.

A great way to remind you of favourites, or inspire your next book choice, what will you read next?

These are the landscapes that are in the book:

Romantic Prospects, Up To 1914

JANE AUSTEN Persuasion

ALESSANDRO MANZONI The Betrothed

HONORÉ DE BALZAC La Comédie humaine

EMILY BRONTË Wuthering Heights

CHARLES DICKENS Bleak House

VICTOR HUGO Les Misérables

LEO TOLSTOY   Anna Karenina

THOMAS HARDY The Return of the Native

MARK TWAIN The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON Kidnapped

AUGUST STRINDBERG   The People of Hemsö

G. WELLS The War of the Worlds

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY Anne of Green Gables

WILLA CATHER O Pioneers!

 

Mapping Modernism, 1915–1945

H. LAWRENCE The Rainbow

SIGRID UNDSET Kristin Lavransdatter

EDITH WHARTON The Age of Innocence

JAMES JOYCE Ulysses

THOMAS MANN The Magic Mountain

VIRGINIA WOOLF Mrs Dalloway

SCOTT FITZGERALD The Great Gatsby

A. MILNE Winnie the Pooh

ALFRED DÖBLIN Berlin Alexanderplatz

ALBERTO MORAVIA The Time of Indifference

ISAAC BABEL Odessa Stories

LEWIS GRASSIC GIBBON Sunset Song

LAURA INGALLS WILDER Little House on the Prairie

WILLIAM FAULKNER   Absalom, Absalom!

DAPHNE DU MAURIER Rebecca

ERNEST HEMINGWAY For Whom the Bell Tolls

JORGE AMADO The Violent Land

JOHN STEINBECK Cannery Row

 

Post-War Panoramas, 1946-1974

GERARD REVE The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale

NAGIB MAHFOUZ Midaq Alley

CAMILO JOSÉ CELA The Hive

RAYMOND CHANDLER The Long Goodbye

DYLAN THOMAS Under Milk Wood

YUKIO MISHIMA The Sound of Waves

FRANCOISE SAGAN Bonjour Tristesse

SAM SELVON The Lonely Londoners

GRACE METALIOUS Peyton Place

PATRICK WHITE Voss

ELSA MORANTE Arturo’s Island

CHINUA ACHEBE Things Fall Apart

HARPER LEE To Kill a Mockingbird

TARJEI VESAAS The Ice Palace

MIKHAIL BULGAKOV The Master and Margarita

JOHN FOWLES The French Lieutenant’s Woman

TONI MORRISON The Bluest Eye

TOVE JANSSON The Summer Book

ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN The Gulag Archipelago

 

Contemporary Geographies, 1975–Present

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN Tales of the City

EARL LOVELACE The Dragon Can’t Dance

FERNANDO PESSOA The Book of Disquiet

PETER SCHNEIDER The Wall Jumper

JAY MCINERNEY Bright Lights, Big City

PATRICIA GRACE Potiki

MICHAEL ONDAATJE In the Skin of A Lion

LOUISE ERDRICH Tracks

TIM WINTON Cloudstreet

E ANNIE PROULX The Shipping News

NATSUHIKO KYOGOKU The Summer of the Ubume

THOMAS WHARTON Icefields

PATRICK MODIANO The Search Warrant

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN The Shadow of the Wind

ORHAN PAMUK Snow

KATE GRENVILLE The Secret River

ELENA FERRANTE My Brilliant Friend

YAN LIANKE The Explosion Chronicles

ELEANOR CATTON The Luminaries

NEEL MUKHERJEE Lives of Others

MIGUEL BONNEFOY Black Sugar

LITERARY LANDSCAPES: Charting the Real-Life Settings of the World’s Favourite Fiction

General Editor: John Sutherland

Published 25 October 2018 – Price: £25 hardback, full-colour illustration

Available from all good bookshops. I would urge you to buy them from an independent bookshop if you can as this supports them, the publisher and of course the author with one purchase.

You could win a copy too: Follow @modernbooks and tweet your own favourite #LiteraryLandscape for a chance to win a copy of Literary Landscapes.

 

 

 

Review: The Earth Gazers by Christopher Potter

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

“The Guide says there is an art to flying”, said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” ― Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything

For millennia man wished he could fly like the birds, people had been up in hot air balloons since 1783, but it wasn’t until 1904 with the first powered flight from the Wright Brothers that we saw the dawn of a new era. These early pioneers of the air began to fly around America, Charles Lindbergh became the first to fly from America to Paris in his epic flight and flight changed the way we connected with others around the world. But people still wanted to reach for the stars.

It would take a World War for humanity to develop the technology that would make this possible though and it was the losing side that gave the rest of the world the rockets that would enable men to finally leave the grip of gravity for the first time. That brilliant scientist was Wernher Von Braun, a former Nazi, who spent the billions of dollars that the US government wanted to spend in the Cold War space race. This space race put men in orbit, gave us technologies that we are using today and 65 years later after the first powered flight, put the first men on the moon.

Two pictures from the Apollo missions Earthrise, taken during the first manned mission, and The Blue Marble, taken in the final one, became some of the most reproduced and influential photos of all time. It became the image that inspired the environmental movements around the world as people realised that this small blue planet was our home and that getting more than half a dozen people off at any one time was near impossible. We only have this planet. If we bugger it up, who knows what could happen

This is an enjoyable book on the rise of man to overcome gravity, rise from the surface of the earth and achieve the monumental task to stand on the surface of our nearest satellite. Good overview of the history of flight and the links that those first pilots had to the rocket men.

Recently Acquired Books

Just realised it has been a while since I posted here the lovely books that I have received from publishers recently, or got from the library or bought for myself (and others)

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

          

 

Blog Tour: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott

Welcome to my blog on today’s stop on the Dear Mr Pop Star Blog tour.

The Blurb

For more than a decade, Derek Philpott and his son, Dave, have been writing deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs. They miss the point as often as they hit it.

But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back…

Dear Mr Pop Starcontains 100 of Derek and Dave’s greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more.

 

My Review

3.5 out of 5 stars

Never Mind the Buzzcocks used to do a hilarious round called Indecipherable Lyrics where the panels would try to guess what the artists were actually singing. But even if you can understand them, have you ever been singing along to a song in the car, possibly even a favourite and realised that the lyrics make no sense whatsoever? You’re not the first. However, it has probably never even crossed your mind to ask the pop star just what they meant by their particular phrase, or even to gently rib them but utterly misunderstanding the significance of what they were singing.

For nearly 10 years, ‘Team Philpott’ as Derek and Dave are known, have been asking the questions that no one was really looking for an answer for. Sitting down in front of a typewriter and asking just someone like Katrina and the Waves just how she was going to be Walking on Sunshine; or if T’Pau really did have China in her hand. These letters are quite droll, often amusing, and pedantic with their tongues firmly wedged in their cheeks.

However, what is funnier still is these artists began to reply to these nonsense missives with even funnier replies in response to the letters sent over the decade. Their reputation grew, mostly because people loved seeing the responses on their website, friends of friends would ensure that the letter got to the bands in question and bands would let other bands would let others know what was going on and urge them to get involved.

Dear Ultravox,

I fear that your nonchalance towards Austria’s premier holiday destination may cause you to fall foul of the tourist board…

What you have here is a collection of the letters they wrote and the replies received. These would take as much glee in pointing out the errors in the first correspondence from Team Philpott. It is mostly about two guys writing daft things and getting equally daft correspondence back, and there are some very amusing moments. Great piece of light-hearted reading.

You can follow Team Philpott on Twitter : @DerekPhilpott

Don’t forget to have a look at the other reviews on the (humungous) blog tour:

Review: All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison

4 out of 5 stars

In rural Suffolk in the 1930’s the effects of the Great War still loomed over those working the land. There was some change in the air though, modernisation was slowly happening despite the global Great Depression. For everything that was moving on, there was as much standing still too. At Wych Farm, they farm the land in the old way and everyone, including the fourteen-year-old Edie Mather, is still expected to help with the harvest.

In these uncertain times the appearance of Constance FitzAllen from the heady heights of the capital looking for stories in the rural economy and hoping to capture the old ways before they disappear for good. For all her glamour, FitzAllen brings with her ideas that seem quite innocent at first, yet have deeply sinister and radical roots.  As Edie finishes school and has to decide what she does next, the appeal of heading to London grows on her and she hopes that it will take her away from the unwanted attention she is getting from a lad from a nearby farm. Things are coming to a head as FitzAllen starts to push her agenda to the villagers in the pub one night.

As with her previous books, the natural world is the very bedrock of this story, but this time she has woven in the hardship of farming the 1930’s as well as the alarming rise of nationalism in the UK that had certain parallels to Germany. Draped over all of this is the story of Edie as she reaches a crossroads in her life, unsure of what to do, wanting to not be the baby of the family anymore, but fearful of the future. There is something about Harrison’s novels that resonate with me and in All Among the Barley, her writing is lyrical and eloquent without feeling rose-tinted and sentimental; there is proper drama within these pages. It feels authentic too, the research that Harrison must have undertaken to get the details right for the season, the region and the language spoken at the time. It evokes standing in that field feeling the late summer breeze brushing the barley. There are beautiful maps by Neil Gower too! I can highly recommend this book from Melissa Harrison, her stature with words increases with every book she writes. It is timely too as it feels that history is repeating itself at the moment.

 

 

Review: No Limits by Nightscape

3 out of 5 stars

London is an amazing city, it feels very organic with streets that ebb and flow rather than being in a tedious grid pattern. It mixes the very old, The Tower is over 950 years old, with the sharpest new architecture. Unless you are fortunate to live or work in the newest skyscrapers, you will rarely see the layout from above.

Nightscape is one of those who prefers to discover the delights of looking down over the city for himself and has become a  YouTube sensation for his videos of him and his friendsYouTubeing on the roofs of some of the highest buildings in the capital.

It is illegal and he has had several run-inss with the authorities, been arrested, had all his electronics siezed and he still does it. The prose is not why you’d get this book, but what you do get is some amazing pictures of the skyline of London with Nightscape and friends standing quite relaxed over some death-defying drops. She has been invited to other cities where the authorities were more than happy to assist him in hitting the city heights. One for the pictures, though if you like this can also recommend Bradley L. Garrett’s books Subterranean London and Explore Everything.

Another nice touch was when you tilted the pages:

Monthly Muse: September

It’s October! How did that happen? It feel like it has arrived a month too early. Had my hernia operation on the last day in August and the surgeon signed me off for three, yes three whole weeks! The MD at work wasn’t particularly enamoured about it and has extended my probation to cover the time I had off. Fingers crossed that I pass it soon. With that amount of spare time, I had hoped to read loads of books and more importantly, catch up on my reviews. managed to read ten books in those three weeks and ended up doing some work from home in the end. Got through 16 books by the time the end of the month rolled around. I read a varied selection, as you have probably come to expect now and he they are.

First up was The Rings Of Saturn: An English Pilgrimage. This was part of the summer reading book that Robert Macfarlane was running on Twitter (search for (#ReadingtheRings). Had got it out of the library, but then found a copy in a charity shop. In some ways this wasn’t a bad book, I particularly liked the narrative about his walk through the Suffolk countryside, but it veered off too far around the world in his various interests as he discovered facts about the places he was passing through. Some of the writing was very good though, and the translator had done a top job.

 

I was on the blog tour for my next book, Ladders to Heaven: The Secret History of Fig Trees. It was almost everything a good non-fiction should be; informative, a well-written narrative and properly researched by a scientific expert. If it had one fault, it was too short! Would have loved to have learnt about the use of figs in the pre-Christian Mediterranean and more of the wider history. Otherwise highly recommended.

Bloomsbury had kindly popped The Dark Interval: Letters for the Grieving Heart in the post to me. This beautiful hardback has been translated by Ulrich Baer and is compiled from the letters written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to friends and associates who were grieving after losing family, loved ones and friends, it is a collection that will comfort people these days in moments of loss. I passed this onto someone who had just lost a friend in truly tragic circumstances and they said it was a huge benefit.

Another blog tour ( I try and only do two a month) and this time it was the new science fiction door stopper from Peter F. Hamilton called Salvation. Set in an ultra-connected future world where transport is through quantum entangled portals and energy is almost limitless from the sun. Humanity has encountered one set of aliens, but the revelation is the discovery of another ship 90 light years away that has humans held in stasis. Very fast paced and a mash between a space opera and a spy thriller.

Little Toller are a Dorset based publisher and new books from them are always something to look forward to. Cornerstones is no exception to that. This book is a compilation of essays written by a variety of writers about their favourite rocks, hence the subtitle, Subterranean Writings; from Dartmoor to the Arctic Circle. There is not a bad essay in here and there are some exceptional one too and sits well with their Arboreal compilation released a couple of years ago. Thoroughly enjoyed this and it is my book of the month.

I am not sure what category The Devil’s Highway sits in. Three stories, one historical, one contemporary and one set in the future are in this book. The common thread here is that the three sets of characters all inhabit the same piece of Surrey Heath, just with millennia in between them. The book is laid out with a chapter from each time and then cycles round again. I would have preferred it if they had been three blocks, but when reading you can sense that the common threads of landscape that are present all the way through. Struggled with the language in the final part, but the message of this environmental warning is very clear.

Next up were a couple of fantasy books that were the third and fourth in a series by MD Lachlan. Gollancz were kind enough to send me the fifth and I fully intend to get that this month. First up was Lord of Slaughter. They draw heavily on the Norse and werewolf mythology, that he has brought out of North and into other countries. In this Constantinople is plagued by sinister sorcery and magic is threatening the world. All paths lead to the squalid prison deep below the city, where a man who believes he is a wolf lies chained. Valkyrie’s Song takes some of the characters from the previous book that carry the runes within their souls and puts them in the north of England currently being harried by the Norman invaders. These are dark, bloody tales with a razor-sharp supernatural edge.

 

The Royal Society shortlist always has a great selection of books on it, and the first from those that I got to read was Liquid by Mark Miodownik. His previous book, Stuff Matters, had won it a few years before, so was really looking forward to this one. It didn’t disappoint either, through the narrative of a flight to America, he takes us through the science of liquids in his unique and entertaining way.

 

Second from the shortlist was Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester. An excellent book on the way that engineers have utterly changed the world that we live in from the first screws that fitted things together to the fact that the phone in your pocket is many more time powerful that the ship that took men to the moon.

Third from the shortlist was The Unexpected Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos And Other Wild Tales. This book by Luck Cooke sought to explain the real truth about animal behaviour and separate fiction from the real facts. Highly entertaining and I frequently laughed whilst reading it.

 

I had been sent this ages ago from Faber, but I finally got round to reading Cræft by Alexander Langlands. In this book, he is exploring how Traditional Crafts Are about More than Just Making, themes that are finding traction elsewhere. I liked the book but did feel that he was heading into hipster territory far too often.

The fourth book from the Royal Society Shortlist was Hannah Fry’s Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine. Almost everything that we do, online or not, has some sort of algorithm, that ‘helps’ us make the choices that are presented. However, there is a sinister side to all this and Fry makes it very clear that a lot of the algorithms we encounter have some (or a lot) of flaws. A really good book that even people who aren’t computer savvy could engage with.

 

Another review copy that the people at The Book Publicist had sent me was The Modern Shepherd. Written by AlBaraa Taibah it details his time spent shepherding sheep in the Sahara and the lessons he learnt and could apply in his business life. Very short book and only thought it was ok overall.

 

The final two this month were by the genuine and humble author Matt Haig. In Reasons To Stay Alive, he tells us his story of standing at the top of a cliff in Ibiza seriously contemplating suicide and taking the brave decision to turn around and face the demons that were plaguing his life. It is a truly heartfelt, raw and emotional book on the issues of mental health and how he dealt with them. More importantly, he gives suggestions that others suffering from the terrible affliction of modern life could use. Even if you don’t suffer from mental health, then you should read this as the insights in here could help you help someone else. Then read Notes From a Nervous Planet. This is about our addiction to social media and the benefits that it can bring, but also the things to be wary of and the best time to step away from the computer and go and do something else. I would say that this is an essential book for teenagers.

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