Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: Girl From Above: Escape by Pippa DaCosta

Title: Girl From Above: Escape
Author: Pippa DaCosta
Series: The 1000 Revolution, Book 2 (Serial)
Genre: Sci-Fi Erotica Romance
Release Date: 19 June 2015

"There’s no quicker way to get yourself killed than trusting someone in the black." ~ Caleb.

Caleb Shepperd knows Fran has her own motives for helping him escape prison, but he’s not about to let a little thing like past betrayal stand in the way of his next paycheck. Until he’s forced to meet with the sexy and psychotic pirate, Adelina Cande. They’ve met before. When he seduced her, cleared out her credit account, and left her for dead in-the-black.

Caleb figures Adelina holds a grudge when she plants a bomb on his ship and demands he steal a fleet freighter for her, that is, if he ever wants to fly again. Get him drunk enough and he’ll try anything once, but this time, he has to balance his own greed, with the needs of a vengeful pirate and the scheming of his dubious second-in-command, Fran. What could possibly go wrong?

In the heart of Chitec headquarters, #1001 enlists an eager young technician to aid in her escape. But it’s not freedom she wants. It’s revenge. The memories of a life that don’t belong to her demand she finishes what she started. She believes she killed Caleb, now she's targeting Chitec CEO Chen Hung, and not even the hopeful technician can dissuade her.

Synthetics don't make mistakes.

She thought she knew the truth.

She was wrong.

It's not often that a second book in a series (or serial) will get a higher grade than the first from me. This one does. And earns it. Partly because it blew through all my expectations and gave me something that I wasn't expecting - more than once.

Everything I said in the first one still holds. Our protagonists are not heroes - they're not good people, and yet....I still root for them. I think that probably says more about me than it does about them.

There's a HUGE twist at one point in the book. Something I did NOT see coming, and still really shocks me with its simplicity and I-should-have-known moment. Then there's the moment when I start to complain about something, thinking that one thing is going on, thinking that it should go a different way, and something even better than I imagined happening, happened. Hell yes. Loved it.

There's a lot of sex, or near sex, in these books. It's usually angry sex, without a lot of "good" emotions behind it. But it's freaking hot as hell. And, to quote my friend Navessa:
Also, I figure in a near-lawless space setting, sex would be as common as violence, which seems to be the case in these books. Now that I think about it, I tend to feel that way about any setting in which humanity breaks down.
It's a good point, and I definitely agree. Violence and Sex are BIG in this series. So is self-recrimination, questionable actions, double-crossing, and lawlessness. For a society that's supposed to be "perfect" with Fleet and Chitec...it's pretty fucking grim.

And the ending? I saw it coming, I knew it would happen from the moment the scene started, and still - I read that last sentence and groaned that I have to wait (at least) a month-and-a-half for the next book. I needs it, precious. I needs it, NOW.

Grade: A

Review: Girl From Above: Betrayal by Pippa DaCosta

Title: Girl From Above: Betrayal
Author: Pippa DaCosta
Series: The 1000 Revolution, Book 1 (Serial)
Genre: Sci-Fi Erotica Romance
Release Date: 21 April 2015

WARNING: 18+ only. Adult content. Including sex, drug use, violence, & swearing.

"My name is #1001, and I am not ready to die." I’d only just begun to live.

When Captain Caleb Shepperd is released from prison, all he wants to do is keep his head down and earn a living smuggling illegal cargo through the nine systems. So when a synth stows away on his ship, and brings with her a crap-ton of problems, including guilt-ridden secrets he thought he’d escaped, he’d prefer to toss her out the airlock. The problem is, she’s priceless tech, and he’s fresh out of credit.

#1001 is not meant to exist. Created for a single purpose, she has one simple order: to kill. But not everything is as it seems. Buried deep inside, she remembers... Remembers when she was human. And she remembers what Shepperd did to her. She’s not ready to die, but she is ready to kill.

Novel length: Approximately 43,000 words. 155 Kindle pages. 177 paperback pages. (Not including sample chapter)
Genre: Space opera.

I feel awkward reviewing this because it's not an entire story. It's the beginning of the story. It does have a nice arc - for which I'm thankful - but it's so clearly just the start that I almost want to wait until I've read the next 2 books (which should finish it out, I hope) before I review and grade it. The ending can make a huge difference in how I feel about the earlier sections. However, this part of the story still made a really big impression on me and I have to talk about it.

One of my best friends recommended this book to me - in all CAPS - and we usually are on the same exact page when it comes to awesome books. So I immediately bought this one, and the second one from Amazon. (Sidenote: $2.99 for under 200 pages? Not cool. I'm going to end up paying around $9 for a full-length novel. Ugh. Do not like. Anyway.)

I flew through it. Read most of it on my lunch, and then did some sneak-reading because I just couldn't stop.

The world is interesting, but a fairly light background to the story and characters. It's a prop for them to play in front of. And I'm okay with that here. I would like to see it further explored, and see the implications of the characters' actions dig deep into that world, but that's for the second and third parts to live up to, I think.

What really shines here are the characters - which is kind of ironic, because none of the characters are what you would consider "good" people. Caleb (I love this name, I hate when it's shortened to Cale) is our "hero." And I use that term incredibly loosely. He's a womanizer, smuggler, asshole. He thinks with his dick, and has little regard for consequences. He also has a TON of guilt and self-recrimination (justly and rightly so).

Fran, Caleb's second-in-command (and only crewmate, so the title confused me a bit) fascinated me. She's Caleb in a female body. Everything I hate about him, I hate about her. They have little regard for anyone, including themselves. They're destructive and assholes. But...I love them. They're the kind of characters that I want to see - not redeemed exactly, but whole. I want to see them have the contentment they deserve, whatever that may entail. I want to see them stop hating themselves.

#1001 was a mystery for most of the book, though I began to guess about a third of the way in, so I don't want to spoil too much. Suffice it to say that I'm most interested in her. She has a hell of a story, and I'm really, really, really looking forward to seeing how Pippa DaCosta brings it all together.

The plot doesn't seem like much of anything until you get near the end - which is why I say that this is a starter story. It doesn't finish much of anything. What it does do is pull you in, sit you down, tie you up and demand that you finish. It builds beautifully, and upon finishing I immediately grabbed part two. I'm already lamenting the fact that the third (and final) part isn't available until December 2015.

Grade: B+ (I reserve the right to change this)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I love both of these covers. So much. So I had to share both of them in this review.

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Series: (Stand-alone)
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 19 May 2015

Naomi Novik, author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Temeraire novels, introduces a bold new world rooted in folk stories and legends, as elemental as a Grimm fairy tale.

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Where do I even start. I've had this book on my to-read pile for-ever. It's stared at me, urging me to start it and I, stubbornly, delayed. I wish that I hadn't. This is - easily - one of my favorite finds this year. It's an amazing fantasy book, told in the fairy-tale way.

Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that's not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he's still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we're grateful, but not that grateful.

I was immediately drawn into this world, it's so lush and vividly described. For some this might be a negative, as it's very much a fantasy in this aspect - the world is beautifully rendered, a painting that you could spend hours looking at and still see new details that maybe you've placed there yourself, and maybe the artist has creatively hidden with light and shadow. I could feel the pull of the land, the menace of the Wood, the heart of the stream. Even now, having just finished and set my Kindle aside with some reluctance, I want to re-visit this world, staying there to meander amongst the trees.

Those the walkers carried into the Wood were less lucky. We didn't know what happened to them, but they came back out sometimes, corrupted in the worst way: smiling and cheerful, unharmed. They seemed almost themselves to anyone who didn't know them well, and you might spend half a day talking with one of them and neve realize anything was wrong, until you found yourself taking up a knife and cutting off your own hand, putting out your own eyes, your own tongue, while they kept talking all the while, smiling, horrible...If someone we loved was taken by the walkers, the only thing we knew to hope for them was death, and it could only be a hope.

The story is classic fairy-tale, exactly what I was looking for and didn't even realize. Agnieska is the unlikely hero, set out to accomplish the impossible task. What makes this so much more than just another fairy-tale-like story is the beautiful prose that it's woven in. Time and time, again, I had to pause and simply appreciate a beautiful turn of phrase or description, or bit of speech from the characters. I felt each and every word that was written, as if the story had a life its own and was telling it to me.

I was in the Wood again, underneath the boughs, that cold hateful presence watching me. The momentary silence in the room was only its pause for breath. Stone walls and sunlight meant nothing. The Wood's eyes were on us. The Wood was here.

...But, and I hate to even bring it up because everything about this story left me full of wonder and marvel, except the romance. It was lightly incorporated, not integral to the story, and honestly the entire thing was fairly unnecessary, but I liked having it there. I just needed a little more to make it satisfying. In the end he felt too unwilling and begrudging about it, and she too forgiving and full of acceptance of his gruff behavior. It felt lopsided. Perhaps just another little bit at the end to show how it went from there? I don't know, but it left me hanging in a way that the rest of the story didn't. The relationship between Agnieska and Kasia was more nuanced and full of (obvious) love than the romance.

And I wasn't old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.

One minor complaint, I've said it and I needn't think about it again - I'd rather go on and on about the lyrical prose, beautiful story-telling, and wonderful world that Ms. Novik's created here.

Grade: A-

Friday, October 16, 2015

Review: Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Title: Halfway to the Grave
Author: Jeaniene Frost
Series: Night Huntress, Book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 30 October 2007

Flirting with the Grave...
Half-vampire Catherine Crawfield is going after the undead with a vengeance, hoping that one of these deadbeats is her father - the one responsible for ruining her mother's life. Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership.

In exchange for finding her father, Cat agrees to train with the sexy night stalker until her battle reflexes are as sharp as his fangs. She's amazed she doesn't end up as his dinner - are there actually good vampires? Pretty soon Bones will have her convinced that being half-dead doesn't have to be all bad. But before she can enjoy her newfound status as kick-ass demon hunter, Cat and Bones are pursued by a group of killers. Now Cat will have to choose a side . . . and Bones is turning out to be as tempting as any man with a heartbeat.

This was an attempted re-read. I first read this book years ago. Sometime around when it first came out. I had issues with it then. I had more issues with it now. I look back at years-old reviews and I know that I was incredibly forgiving back then, but I don't think I realized just how forgiving until I read this. Back then, I read everything to the end, no matter what. Now I get bored and will gladly stop in the first few pages. In the interest of nostalgia (and remembering that I enjoyed some of the sequels a lot), I persevered quite far in this book, but still only to 57%.

This book is a strong mix of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. In fact, going by my own rules I can barely decide where I'd classify it. If it weren't for the other books in the series, which I know point more to UF, I'd go PNR. At any rate, plan on sexy times, a lot of innuendo (for the job, of course), and insta-love. Yeah, yeah, it's been a few weeks, but they still both fall in love really quickly. Cat is strong and kick-ass, with a huge chip on her shoulders about vampires. Understandably, but even when evidence clearly points in a different direction, that there could possibly be an exception to the rule. I liked her, but she irritated me at the same time.

Bones, well, I don't know what to say here. I remember loving Bones the first time I read this. He was swoon-worthy. Maybe he still is. He's stronger than Cat, of course, being centuries older, but he'd never really hurt her. And he doesn't want her involved in hunting down these really dangerous vampires - never mind that she seems to keep getting into the middle of it and probably the best way to keep her safe is to keep her close. He trains her, and gives her the tools that she needs to continue doing what she wants to do. I love that. But what I didn't love was how quickly he fell in love with her. Why do so many of the UF heroes like prickly girls. Not just strong-minded, but these women are genuinely mean and jerks to the hero most of the time. They give off mixed signals like they're a strobe lights. They are, in turns, turned-on and disgusted by them. They attack and then kiss. They run away, and then demand. But he fell in love with her the first time she challenged him. That'd intrigue me too, but love? Meh.

The storyline moves at about a snails' pace. It's soooooooo slooooooooooow. My gods, can't it get moving already? For all the tempting and killing of vampires you'd think something more would be happening. But instead I feel like I'm just reading page after page after page of Cat's internal monologuing. Should she or shouldn't she? She's disappointing her mother. She's shaming her grandparents. She's doing everything for someone else's life, instead of her own. I just want her to live for herself (and this is a complaint I remember having throughout the series).

Then there's the corniness. Keep in mind that Bones is basically Spike (as confirmed by the author at one time). There were too many times I rolled my eyes at their interactions. They felt forced instead of organic.

I couldn't do it anymore. So I quit. Even if I do remember the next couple of books getting better, I just finally had to admit defeat and recognize that it was over between us.

Grade: DNF / C

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

Title: Magic Rises
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 7
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 29 July 2014

No matter how much the paranormal politics of Atlanta change, one thing always remains the same: if there’s trouble, Kate Daniels will be in the middle of it...

As the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe—especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear...

This is my second or third read of this book. When I started reading it this time, I was amazed (and shocked) that I hadn't yet written a review for it. I usually do that immediately upon finishing the first time. But what I realized, as I got further and further into the book, was that to review this was to have paragraph after paragraph full of spoilers. There's no avoiding talking about certain things, there's no way to be vague and still give an idea of what happens and what it means. There's no way to even start without giving away things that have been going on in the last six books. So, I guess I'll start with this warning: Spoilers ahead for everything through Magic Rises (Book 6).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: Princess of the Sword by Lynn Kurland

Title: Princess of the Sword
Author: Lynn Kurland
Series: Nine Kingdoms, Book 3 (Trilogy 1, Book 3)
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Release Date: 6 January 2009

The Nine Kingdoms Trilogy now explodes in the fiercest battle yet as the fate of a kingdom lies with a man and woman bound by love, magic, and a legendary—and perilous—sword.

When darkness falls...

As the mercenary daughter of Gair, the black mage of Ceangail, Morgan is the only one who can stop the terrible sorcery her father unleashed. To do so, she must race against time and find the spell that will allow her to close the well of evil he opened. But that quest will lead her to places she never dreamed existed and into a darkness she would give anything to avoid.

The magic rises.

With the fate of Neroche intertwined with the closing of Gair’s well, the archmage Miach must help Morgan find what she needs, not only because the safety of the Nine Kingdoms hangs in the balance, but because he will do anything to protect her. Now, as they search out the mysteries of Ceangail—and the dangers of Morgan’s own bloodline—Morgan and Miach have only each other to trust, heart and soul…

How to review this book....Hmm....

Here's the thing. I don't feel comfortable even talking about the events of the first two books in detail - because this is really one, long story. It should be handled as such. So I feel like it's really:

Spoiler spoiler spoiler, spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler. Spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler. SPOILER.

Spoiler, spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler. Spoiler spoiler, spoiler spoiler; spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler. Spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler.

Spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler spoiler. Spoiler, spoiler, spoiler. SPOILER!!!!

You get the point. I guess I could just say: I loved it.

This trilogy - the first in the overall Nine Kingdoms series - is definitely fantasy romance. However, the fantasy world - while built enough for its purposes - is light. It's a stage for the story of the romance to take place. The entire trilogy, a single story as I said, is fun, light, sweet, and romantic as hell. The first book builds it nicely. The second book is a bit slower and more focused on the romance. The third book brings it all together: romance, action, plot.

This series is such a comfort read for me. The characters (especially Morgan and Miach) are just wonderful - and though some might consider them Mary Sues, well, I simply didn't care. I love following their story over and over and over again.

Grade: A

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Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews

Title: Gunmetal Magic
Author: Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 5.5
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 31 July 2012

After eviction from the Knights of Merciful Aid, Andrea is a wreck. She starts work for best pal PI Kate Daniels. Shapeshifters under Raphael Medrano — Clan Bouda male alpha, Andrea’s ex-lover — die suddenly at a dig site. With Raphael, she seeks killer in deep dark Atlanta. Her feelings for him may take a back seat to saving the world...

Bonus: Kate Daniels novella "Magic Gifts"

Okay, here's the thing: I don't love Andrea. I know there are a lot of people out there that do, but I just don't. I also don't love Raphael. I never had prior to this book. They're both spoiled, think little of others, and whine when things don't go their way. Meh. I'm not into it.

That being said, by the end of Gunmetal Magic, even if I still don't LOVE them (like I LOVE Kate), I like them - although truth be told, I think it's because the drama between them is over now. At least I hope it is. Please gods, let it be over.

Anyway. So, with the fact of not loving Andrea and Raphael, I wasn't expecting to enjoy the romance, but I actually did. When the two of them decided to stop hurting each other purposely (which didn't do a lot to endear them to me), and get out of their own way - they found their HEA. I'm glad they did. They're actually better together than they are apart - truly. I like them much better as a couple than I ever did them individually. And while I also think that Kate and Curran are better together than apart, it's for different reasons. Kate and Curran are perfectly awesome, capable, GOOD people. They're whole and able to function without each other. They're not as happy as they deserve to be, and they are definitely stronger together, but if they had never gotten together they'd still be the kick-ass people they always were. Andrea and Raphael, on the other hand, seem to need each other to truly complete themselves. They're not whole, strong, good people without the other to balance them out. So, I'm glad they're together now.

The best part of this book is the plot and mythology. I was completely fascinated with it, and love that Ilona Andrews continues to bring amazing mythologies to play in their series.

And the saving grace here? Roman. I adore Roman. Black volhv. Eeyore-pajama-wearing. Geek. Former Army Ranger. He's funny (somewhat surprisingly), good-natured, powerful, and kick-ass. I definitely want more. A lot more.

It's always fun to see Kate and Curran from different points of view, and this was no exception. Make sure to check out exactly what Kate's up to during most of this book in the novella "Magic Gifts", which is at the end of Gunmetal Magic. It should really be read prior to Gunmetal Magic, though you're not really missing out on anything if you read it after, I suppose.

So, good plot, better than expected romance, and some favorite characters really shining. I'm happy with this story in the series.

I still need more Roman, though. Can someone make that happen?

Grade: B

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: The Mage's Daughter by Lynn Kurland

Title: The Mage's Daughter
Author: Lynn Kurland
Series: Nine Kingdoms, Book 2 (Trilogy 1, Book 2)
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Release Date: 2 January 2008

Please see my review of Star of the Morning, Book 1 in the series if you haven't read it already.

Lynn Kurland’s trilogy of love, intrigue, and fantastic destiny continues as a female mercenary fights for her life, her future, and the one man who can save her...

Darkness in the kingdom...

Neroche is under assault by a magic that has stripped its king of his powers and unleashed nightmarish creatures in a war of evil in which Morgan of Melksham is fighting for her life. Recovering from a near-fatal attack, Morgan realizes that she must decide between two fates: that of being a simple shieldmaiden or accepting her heritage as an elven princess. If only she could ignore that she was the daughter of the perilous black mage of Ceangail...

Magic in the blood...

Duty bound to aid his king, Miach of Neroche is torn between what his responsibilities demand and what his heart desires. He is willing to risk his life to rescue Morgan from the darkness that haunts her, but he must do so at the peril of his realm. Forced to choose between love and the burden of his mantle, Miach sets out on his most deadly quest ever.

I said in my review of the first book that I have a hard time reviewing these. And I do. I think this one may be even harder for me.

There are flaws - these books would not pass a Bechdel test by any stretch of the imagination. Miach tries to make decisions for Morgan, which nearly results in tragedy (thankfully she quickly puts him in his place). And it's a transition book - there are things happening, but really it's all about getting to the final act of the story.

That all being said, I still love this book. It's FULL (to bursting) of romance. If the romance was light in the first book, it's here in abundance. I love watching Morgan and Miach figure out the definition of their relationship and how they're going to be going forward. It's sweet, and sigh-worthy, and absolutely beautiful.

Morgan may seem like a bit of a different person in this book than the first. But it's really just her getting to know herself. She has a bunch of shocks (you might remember from the end of the Star of the Morning), and most of those are dealt out in the first 30% of the book. That the hits and needs keep coming throughout the book does nothing to really let Morgan gain her balance. But she does, as she always has, through determination and strength. I think what I appreciate most about her in this book is that she is intensely vulnerable (after her convalescence) and yet she's never treated as inferior in any way.

Miach continues to be one of the best male characters I've ever read. He consistently makes it on my top 5 list of heroes, but it's not because he's an ALPHA, or a BARRONS, or an ass (which, let's face it - those guys definitely can be). It's because he's absolutely honorable, stead-fast, and kind. He's funny, down-to-earth, and honestly cares. He gives and worries little for himself. Though he does make me mad at one point in this book (listed earlier), he quickly realizes the error of his ways. I can forgive him. I get why he did it, even when I didn't like it. So when he finally realizes that it wasn't the right decision, and honestly apologizes, I'm good again.

Characters tend to be the number one reason I read. They'll keep me engaged when all else is failing. And there are a number of secondary characters here that I truly enjoy (Sosar, Turah and Weger to name a few). They added to the tapestry of Morgan and Miach's world in such an interesting way.

I did say that this was pretty much a transition book. While reading it, I am never bored. There's always battles and rushing from this to that, or something happening that needs to be seen to. But looking back? Not so much happened. We delved deeper into characters' histories, and learned more about the task to come. We traveled and had misunderstandings. We had a few battles, gained a few enemies, saw a few taken care of. And, of course, we had the incredibly satisfying romance of Morgan and Miach.

Don't worry, if the romance and middle-book-syndrome turns you off, the last book is well worth it. There's a LOT that happens in it, and I can't wait to dive into it again.

Grade: A-

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