Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book: The Forbidden Wish (The Forbidden Wish, #1) by Jessica Khoury

She is the most powerful Jinni of all. He is a boy from the streets. Their love will shake the world... When Aladdin discovers Zahra's jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn't seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra's very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?
As time unravels and her enemies close in, Zahra finds herself suspended between danger and desire in this dazzling retelling of Aladdin from acclaimed author Jessica Khoury. (via Goodreads)

Jessica Khoury's The Forbidden Wish is a retelling of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp from the book of One Thousand and One Nights a.k.a. Arabian Nights - only this time, the jinni is a girl and she falls in love with HIM. Interesting, right? 

I can't really remember the last time I read a retelling so this was really a thrilling experience for me: the familiarity, the references. First few pages, few chapters, and this book already charmed my socks off! I initially picked this in the list of recommendations for the Asian Lit Bingo challenge and I didn't really expect to like this book so much -- but man am I so wrong. This book haunted me even at work (I am a slow reader so it was daysssss) and that left me distracted most of the time. But I am not even the least bit sorry. 

Jessica's writing was immaculate. I can't quite put my finger to it, but it was golden. The Forbidden Wish was written in the perspective of the jinni, Zahra. The voice that felt like having the wisdom of a thousand years and, at the same time, the uncertainty of venturing in unexplored territory, the panic and confusion of falling (romantically) in love for the first time. I honestly don't know how Jessica Khoury did it.
"Wishes have a way of twisting themselves, and there is nothing  more dangerous than getting your heart's desire. The question is, are you willing to gamble? How much are you willing to lose? What are you willing to risk everything for?"

Zahra and Aladdin are two lost souls - burdened by pasts they cannot escape, uncertain as to what they really want. The romance was spoiled by the blurb, but I got to shipping them not immediately after the first few pages. It took time - like the dance of Fahradan, it was tension-filled, passionate, a slow-burn. And did I already mention the tension?! For some reason, I am captivated and drawn to this world because the tension in the scenes are through the roofs! Maybe I was just reading the right things at the right moments but the goosebumps it induced in me was amazing.  

But you know what? It feels too wrong to be calling it just another romance YA because there's so much going on in here. For starters, there's Princess Caspida and her Watchmaidens. Roshana the Wise, the greatest Amulen Queen to ever live. This book presented some issues that, even now, are still rampant throughout Asia and, to some extent, outside. That women are not fit to lead. That women need someone, others, to make it and be successful. That women's choices are not entirely her own. This retelling broke many barriers and is very feminist in it's own special way. Zahra is fierce, independent, willing to go to great heights for the ones she loves. Caspida was a destined leader, a queen in her own right. Roshana was a dreamer and a visionary. Even Caspida's Watchmaiden's refuses to take a shit from others. It was great, great.

"Our names are like the meaning behind names, sensations and images rather than words, communicated by thought and not voice."

One unique thing that really caught my attention was how the jinns were named in this book. It was something I haven't encountered before and it proved to be a charming aspect for the book. Like for example, Zahra's jinn name is: Curl-of-the-Tiger's-Tail, Smoke-on-the-Wind, Girl-Who-Gives-the-Stars-Away. There's also Serpent-Scale, Water-Drips-in-Darkness, Echoes in Cave. Zhian's is Sun-Burns-Bright, Scale-of-the-Red-Dragon, He-Who-Makes-the-Earth-to-Shake.  Can't you see how beautiful this thing is? "I am the Girl-Who-Gives-the-Stars-Away." Awesome.
"Wish for her love, and I will deliver it for you."He smiles grimly. "Then it wouldn't be love.""And what do you know of love?""That it must be a choice.""Oh, my naive thief." I pause briefly to meet his gaze. "Love is rarely a choice."
Despite it being a retelling, the plot felt fresh and not forced. The story line was heartwarming and at the same time goosebumps-inducing. I loved the way Zahra narrated the story, telling it to her Habiba. I loved the word, and how it was used in the ending. The story of friendship so dear was highlighted and a sight to behold - making that unexpected reunion near the end of the story heartwarming and heartwrenching-ly good. I loved how the element of time ("Time is the strongest magic.") was used and how it gave the revelation at the end more impact. The ending was majestic and one of the better closures I've read in a while. Personally, I am at awe. Definitely recommended.
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

If you follow me on Twitter, here's my The Forbidden Wish Reaction/Quotes Thread: CLICK HERE.

Quotable Quotes:

Stories are truth told through lies.

"Being underestimated isn't flattering - but it's an advantage."

You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose who you become because of it.

"...nothing - nothing - is worth betraying someone you love."

"Loving someone is never wrong. [...] it's not a choice. It just happens, and we're all helpless in it's power."

"If you're not free to love, you're not free at all."
This is the 22nd book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 4th book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Retelling with Asian Main Character#Bookworm2017

Book: Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians, #1) by Kevin Kwan

When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers. (via Goodreads)

Few days after I finished reading this, one thought runs over and over on my mind: this is a book (series) I never knew I needed. I've had this book in my shelf for a while now but for some reason, I always always put it off - but now, I know that I've been blindly walking over a gold mine all this time. This book is delicious, light, over-the-top, funny and on-all-marks entertaining. This book was a sleeper hit for me, in a sense that I initially dismissed it as another chick lit that I'm just gonna read for the heck of it -- but then pages and pages after, I was hooked! (I even changed my rating from 3 to 4 after a week!) It was fun AND relatable. I am not crazy rich but being an Asian myself, some of the elements really hit home. The importance of family, class, the speed to which gossip travels among the clan (LOL), unrealistic expectations on children, the sub-class societal expectations for women (psssshhhhh!), the sad prejudices for single parents, and gaaaahd, the parading of wealth I can only glimpse following entertainment blogs and news. This was a crazy good ride.

The book introduced too many characters at once that made it a bit confusing at first. The sudden shift in POVs inside a chapter also presented a challenge and needed some getting used to. There were so many things that were left hanging at that ending. Maybe because it has a sequel (thank God it's already available) but I just wished Kevin Kwan milked out some of it more. There are so many things you can close and work with there that can give this a more decent ending without missing the "wanting" element for a sequel.

But you know what? Despite the obvious flaws, it still achieved what so very few chick lits failed to give me - it kept me wanting, it kept me entertained, it kept me interested. Some reviews remarked that this reminds them of Gossip Girl, but set in Asia - and I can see why. And also, Nick Young? He made it to my book boyfriend list! (Though I seriously think he should've prepared Rachel BEFORE bringing her to SG.)

Charlie Wu freakin' broke my heart. *softly cries*
My Rating: ★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
Quotable Quotes:

"At some point, we all have to pay the price for our excesses, don't we?"

This is the 21st book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 3nd book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Free Space#Bookworm2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Book: Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All The Boys I've Loved Before, #3) by Jenny Han

The To All The Boys I've Loved Before series are books that are really close to my heart. I've read the first book and found it really charming, so I moved on to the next, which I read last year, and it made me fall in love even more. I thought Jenny would finish Lara Jean's story right then and there: there was closure, but apparently, not enough. Now we've come to the conclusion of yet another charming series, the 3rd and final book (serious, this time?), this is Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. No one's complaining, though.

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.
Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.
But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.
When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?
 (via Goodreads)
I've been too foolish to not write a review for the previous two books - but I was in a reading frenzy and writing slump back then so it got buried along with other book reviews I've yet to write at that time. That was a grave mistake - so I guess my thoughts on this post will reflect the series as a whole, just highlighting enough things for this one book.

First off: Lara Jean is such a charming main character. She's awkward, nice, all the goody-two-shoes that she was raised to be - but as someone said in her yearbook - "it's always the quiet ones that are the most interesting." We watch her grow up and experience things from that sweet-sixteen Lara Jean to now, this almost-college-girl eighteen-year-old Lara Jean. It was hard to read sometimes, but as a teenager, that was a necessary phase. Her denials, her insecurities, and her love - for her family, for her friends, for Peter. It was such a joy to witness all that. Plus, her style is on point! Pinterest-worthy, even. Jenny Han curated the perfect style that I loved. Lara Jean is, head-to-toe, my aesthetic. Like everything spells like pastel, knee-high socks, cute clothes, girly things. It was all I ever wanted to be when I was that age (and maybe even now? LOL). I find it really cute and alluring since I am really drawn to today's Korean pop culture - and it shows. If I have a comment, I guess I wished for more emphasis on the Korean heritage thing here.

Then again... there's Peter. Hmmmm... what can I say. Reading about all these potential book-boyfriend-list-worthy characters these past few months definitely drowned Peter's existence in my head. Lara Jean and Peter's story wasn't really that gut-wrenching and punch-in-the-stomach inducing compared to others. But it was special because of its sheer simplicity. When I read the first few pages, the spell was immediately back. I forgot how easily it is  for Peter K. to captivate a lost heart. He was adoooorable in this. The braiding, the Fight Club couple costumes, the promposal -- everything. And he was definitely more fleshed out in here than in the previous two books, at least for me - reflecting how he opened up more to Lara Jean compared from before. I love how their relationship made me remember that it's the little things that matter.

And alsooooo, how can I forget? The FAMILY. If there's one thing, besides the cute romance, that I'll take away from this series, it's the lessons about family - specifically the relationship between the Song sisters and the brief glimpses, emotions, towards the memory of their mother. All the mommy-memories are too much for me sometimes - but it was one of the reasons why I fell in love with the series in the first place, so it was a necessary thing to include in this experience. And I guess it was fitting since I read this book when Mother's day was just around the corner.

As someone who lost her mother just recently, this theme really hits home. I remember crying over the brief emotional moments from book 1 and 2 when they are missing their mom - spoiler, no shortage of that either in this book. Their family life served as the foundation of how they interact and how deeply their relationships with each other go. I love the Song Sisters to death, and though Lara Jean is the center of this series, you can't think of her without thinking of the other two, Margot and Kitty, too.

"How crazy, how thrilling that your whole life trajectory can change in just one night. I've always been scared of change, but right now I don't feel that way. I feel excited. I'm seeing now what a privilege it is, to be excited about where I'm going."

This book is about dealing with the inevitable changes that come along with growing up and accepting possibilities that, no matter how uncomfortable they are at the onset, may make all the difference in the life you make for yourself. I love how it doesn't feel like this story just revolves around Peter and Lara Jean's love story - but also about family, friendship and figuring out what she really want to do. Because life is like that - each aspect overlapping one another, all at the same time. This reminded me so much of the time when I was also preparing to leave high school and start college. Too much going on, too many drama. And when I look back, the experience just always leaves a smile on my face.

This was such a bittersweet goodbye to a series that is so close to real life, it's hard not to get attached. Weddings, college, decisions to make, things to leave behind. It's the perfect closure. I can't have it any other way.
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)

If you follow me on Twitter, here's my Always and Forever, Lara Jean Reaction Thread: CLICK HERE.
Quotable Quotes:

"Never say no when you really want to say yes."

"Is this how it goes? You fall in love, and nothing seems truly scary anymore, and life is one big possibility?"

"The thing is, you get used to it. Before you even realize it's happening, you get used to things being different..."

"There's so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be."

" is about making brave choices every day."

"It feels good to say a proper goodbye, to have a chance."

This is the 20th book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 2nd book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Contemporary with Asian Main Character. #Bookworm2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Short Story: The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi

I am a Filipina and reading this story felt like being slapped by the wind whispering "it's yours, it's yours." The first mention of the word "Lola" sent me reeling. And then there's the "anak", "salbahe", mention of the Santos I grew up with, the monster in the stories they told us when we were young, even the puto and others - delicacies only a true born-and-bred Filipino will understand. It was a different experience, that I immediately scoured the internet for Roshani's background because I am pretty sure she's not Filipina - well, judging by her name alone. Turns out, her mother was.

The use of Tagalog unnerved me because it's been too long now since I read a story set in the Philippines, much less without a shortage of sprinkled tagalog words here and there. It was the familiarity I guess, the ease to which I imagined the scenes: typical provincial life, with the nice little bungalow, the festivities, the family. First few sentences and I can almost see my life reflected back at me. I won't be surprised if this post would mostly be about me talking how relateable this story has been.

The story was bittersweet - simple but magical. This reminded me so much of my early elementary days when digging for old literature books for children was my thing. It was reminiscent of the stories in the children's local school books - the tone, the setting. My own Lola was a teacher, you see, and I do think that sparked my love for reading at an early age.

"I don't want to lose anything. Not again."

The moment before the party, that conversation with her Lola, broke my heart. Maybe I was more affected than necessary - but I can't help it because it did reminded me so much of my grandmother. The storytelling, the gentleness, the love. Each mention of the Tala's Lola sent me gasping for air because I can clearly see my own with her's.

The ending made me cry. And the description of the dress won't leave my mind. If I could draw a proper sketch, I might've made one - but, alas, I can't.There was such mystery to the star maiden myth, that fed my curious mind - is her Lola telling the truth? Is she really a star maiden, tied to the Earth, and destined to come back to where she really belong? I would never know. But one thing's for sure: this story is such a magic to behold as it is entertaining to read. Kudos, to Roshani for this one.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

You can read the full story HERE.

Quotable Quotes:

"The curse is to love, and be loved in return, and still have to leave."

This story, The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi, is originally a part of Shimmer zine #26. This is the first I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Science Fiction and Fantasy with an Asian Main Character. #ownvoices

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book: Ruin and Rising (Grisha, #3) by Leigh Bardugo

After enduring an awesome ride with the two preceding books from the Grisha Trilogy, here we come to the conclusion of it all: This is RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo.

The capital has fallen.
The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for. (via Goodreads)
I'm sure many would agree that getting to the end and closing Siege and Storm was amazingly frustrating, with all the cliffhanger and unfinished businesses. I'm just so glad that I read this in a time when all the books in the series were already published and available in the nearest bookstores. But great as it might seem, I did everything I could to muster up the courage of finishing this series because the moment I finish reading the last book -- it means I also need to say my goodbyes. And considering how attached I became to this series these past few days, it was so damn hard. Me and my feelings. Right.


Looking back at my past reviews for this series, I noticed that I approached all of it character-wise. And in that element, this book is definitely a WIN. That was some amazing character development in there. We follow Alina, now hailed as a saint. The physical transformation was equally fitting and striking -- it mirrors so much of the things that changed ever since Alina discovered she could summon the light to this moment: how she became the face of the rebellion, redemption. Whoever thought of the white hair was genius, as it completely made her exact opposite of the Darkling - the light to his darkness.
I love tragic things and, as such, I loved Mal in this. You know me? Gut-wrenching lines and hard sacrifices are my thing - so in this regard, this part of the story spoiled me too much. I began to like Mal in the latter part of the second book and when it came to the third and final one, he finally got my heart. Can I talk about that revelation? (Of course, not but-) Just. Woah. The way the plot transformed itself was just jaw-dropping. It took a moment to register because everything was pointing the other way when the reality was its not. I was just too caught up with everything that I did not notice.

There's the matter with Genya and her "ruination" line that was too remarkable for words that, if ever I consider to have a tattoo, was really good candidate for one. There's also Nikolai and his proposals. In a perfect world where Mal (and, okay, the Darkling) does not exist, he is a very, very good match for Alina. I do believe that a love story between the two of them has potential but I can't have the ending any other way.  I just wished Leigh did more to his character than what he got in this book.
"You were meant to be my balance, Alina. You are the only person in the world who might rule with with me, who might keep my power in check."

But in the end, it was still the Darkling that captured my attention and feelings. I'm not sure if I already said it but I really think the heart of this series was his existence. He was such a complex character that it's hard to look away. Brilliant, brilliant characterization - it makes you want for more. What I would give for a Darkling POV chapter, because even in the end, there's too much I can't read, I can''t quite place. It haunted me, it left me wanting more - and I'm pretty sure that's as good as a character could get.
Darkling: You might make me a better man.
Alina: And you might make me a monster.
My heart broke numerous times because of him, the limited time we get to see and hear him. Most of the more striking Darkling scenes are from Alina's apparitions to the latter. They were charged with tension, and an air of loneliness and emptiness that was hard to ignore. I loved that, this time, Alina took the power-play approach to show him that he's not the only who can do that. There were glimpses of raw emotions from the Darkling, and, honestly speaking, those were the moments I loved the most. ("But i seem to be a victim of my own wishes where you are concerned.") Especially if  you've already had a look at the Darkling's back story via the story "The Demon in the Woods", your heart will break a little more for him - like mine did. It was heart-wrenching.

Again, impressive, impressive plot and character development for the most part. Very few YA fantasy series have captured me to such extent as this one -- and I'm glad to say that this really made its mark. I should've read this a long time ago. I spared myself with awesomeness far too long and I'm glad that I stumbled upon Leigh Bardugo's work.

This book series easily landed in my 'favorites' list, not just of the year, but all time. YA these days tend to be forgettable, sadly, but this book provided something unique among its peers. Action-packed as it may seem, but the ending was.... respectful. I'm not sure if that is a legit way of describing a book ending - but it is. It was explosive but it has closure - a luxury these days. It's finished and I couldn't be more emotional over it. With rich world-building, complex and interesting characters, amazing character development and story line and plot twists that will leave you gripping your seat.... this is really worth your while!
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 out of 5 stars)

If you follow me on Twitter, here's my Ruin and Rising Reaction Thread: CLICK HERE.
Quotable Quotes:

"I don't reserve my friendship for perfect people."

"I am not ruined. I am ruination."

"It's a promise to be better than I was," he said. [...] "And I guess it's a reminder that wanting and deserving aren't the same thing."

"Suffering is cheap as clay and twice as common. What matters is what each man makes of it."

"Maybe love was superstition, a prayer we said to keep the truth of loneliness at bay."

He watches her the way Harshaw watches fire. Like he'll never have enough of her. Like he's trying to capture what he can before she's gone.
This is the 12th book I've read this year. This is part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. #Bookworm2017

#AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge and TBR

I was lazily scrolling through Twitter yesterday when I stumbled upon an interesting tweet from Aentee. Apparently, there's this thing that's currently happening in the book blogosphere: curiously tagged as #AsianLitBingo - and I decided to check it out. 

So as a short background, May is designated as the Asian American Heritage Month in the U.S. In line with this, a group of book bloggers, headed by Shenwei, thought of a perfect way to celebrate it by holding a readathon/reading challenge specifically targeting books with Asian main characters (MCs) written by Asian authors. Isn't it nice? I though so, too.

This reading challenge takes the form of a 5x5 bingo board with a total of 25 reading prompts. Basic goal is to complete at least one line (5 books) in this board either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. But, of course, you can also exhaust all the 25 prompts and go all out! It's all up to you! However, there are a few ground rules to remember:
  1. Book must have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but #ownvoices is strongly encouraged.
  2. Book can be a novel/novella/novelette or comic book/graphic novel.
  3. Book must be read during May 1st through May 31st to qualify.
  4. Review link-up will close end of June 1st at midnight PDT. The extra margin is to give people the opportunity to write up a review for a book they might have finished late May 31st. We’ll follow the honor system assuming you didn’t read the book on June 1st.
Besides this being such an absolute delight, this also doubles as a contest! For more in-depth mechanics for this challenge, you can check out Shenwei's master post.

So here's is the #AsianLitBingo board designed by Aantee:

So I am targeting the 3rd horizontal line in the board. Now that I think about it, I really had a shortage of books written by Asian authors in my past reading lists - except maybe the obvious Haruki Murakami obsession. This is really a great chance to meet new authors - good thing the group provided a reeeeeally exhaustive list of recommendations for this challenge which you can view HERE.

As for my TBR list, here goes:

Contemporary with Asian MC
Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
I'm not sure if joining this challenge is just an excuse to read Jenny Han's latest offering or the other way around but any other way, I. AM. NOT. COMPLAINING. I've been waiting since forever for this book after P.S. I Still Love You so it;s really nice that it is qualified for this challenge.

Retelling with Asian MC
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
Found this in the list mentioned above and upon reading the blurb, I became instantly interested. This is a YA retelling of the story of Aladdin and received really good ratings and reviews at Goodreads. Plus, can you spot that S.J. Maas comment? Yeah, even I am freaking out.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I purposely aimed for that Free Space back there so that I could read two contemporaries in this challenge. God, I love contemporary fiction. But anyway, this is a book that I've been dying to read since forever but for some weird reason it always got put off. But since a movie is in the works already, might as well try this one now before all the hype swallows it whole. (#ReadIt1st!!!) I heard it's hilarious.

Historical Fiction with Asian MC
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Another YA book in the roster. Saw this at Aentee's review and it got an exemplary review so what am I even asking for, right? Plus, impressive blurb at Goodreads. #sold

SFF with Asian MC

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi

Torn lady, here! Again, I found these from the list. Let's what happens - whatever gives. :)

So there you have it: my TBR list for this challenge. Honestly, it's been a while since I did something fun in this blog... so I guess this is the first of many? I am really excited for this. 

Are you joining, too? Comment up and let's talk! :)


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