Posts Tagged With: Book Reviews

Hike Books Forward – September 9

This week I have highlight two audiobooks. Both were published in 2018, One is a fun middle-grade fantasy novel, the other is a reflective adult novel placed in the context of heaven.

Granted – John David Anderson 2018

This middle-grade fantasy novel is a quick and easy read (listen). It is a cute story of a fairy (a granter-in-training), Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, who finally receives an assignment to grant her first wish. In order to do so, she must make a personal connection with the request, sprinkle some fairy dust, and declare the wish granted. Her assignment was a wish that was made on a coin thrown into a fountain by a young girl, but the task of finding the coin was not as easy as Ophelia thought it might be. The excitement and the acts of adventure surrounding the completion of this wish-granting task are creatively communicated by the author (John David Anderson) and made for an enjoyable read (thanks in part to the narrator of the audiobook, Cassandra Morris). Some of the characters and situations were a little dull for me but Sam saved the story and made the book well worth the time.

The Next Person You Meet in Heaven – (The Five People You Meet in Heaven #2) – Mitch Albom (author and narrator) 2018

This short book is an intriguing follow-up to the bestseller, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. This novel takes place 15 literary years after the original setting. In the first offering, Eddie dies saving the life of a young girl, Annie, at an amusement park and encounters five people as he enters heaven that have shaped his life experiences and provide meaning for his days on earth. Now, this book tells Annie’s story.

The accident that took Eddie’s life also greatly impacted Annie. It severed her left hand, which needed to be surgically reattached. Her daily experience was altered by her guilt-ridden mother and the bullies that made up her young life. Only one boy seemed to have compassion and understand but he moved away leaving despair and unhappiness. But as a young woman, Paulo reconnects with her, and the book opens on Paulo and Annie’s wedding day. Then, another unbelievable accident occurs, and Annie must face the realities of the past.

This is not a Christian book written from an evangelical perspective, but the sovereign hand of God in relationships and circumstances is easy to see between the lines. I don’t think the book is meant to be a theological treatise on heaven, but I appreciated the connections of the characters and the impact that people have on people.

Book covers found at Goodread.com

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Hike Books Forward – August 31

Two audiobooks are highlighted this week. They don’t have a lot in common, but I enjoyed reading (listening) to both of them. The first is a middle-grade novel and the second is a short murder mystery. The mystery was written in 1925 and the middle-grade offering was just published in 2020.

One Last Shot – John David Anderson – 2020

In my reading of One Last Shot there were a few times when my eyebrows went up with some adult-type humor, but the story was so well told that it made my cut list for this week. I also had to warm up to protagonist, Malcolm. He is an introvert (easy to identify with); he never felt like he was good enough, especially for his dad and especially in athletics; he seemed emotionally down for most of the first few chapters. I found I was growing tired of his self-deprecation. But then the back story began to come into focus and the pieces of the puzzle began to illuminate Malcom’s character and family situation.

The story-telling of this middle grade novel centers around miniature golf. Malcom discovers putt-putt and finds that he likes it and that he is quite good at it. Mom is supportive and dad goes over-the-top with excitement. Tournaments, coaches, practices, and competition combine for enthusiasm and excitement and relational train wrecks. I appreciated the author’s technique of walking through a tournament of miniature golf and each hole relating a flashback of significance and insight.  

The Witness for the ProsecutionAgatha Christie 1925

This short-story is a quick read (or a quick listen) but it is such a interesting plot. Emily French, a wealthy spinster, is murdered. Suspicion is cast upon Leonard Vole. Leonard has an alibi – his wife Romaine. His wife has an incredible response to the situation. The case goes to court and the evidence and testimony is rather amazing. No more can be said without providing a spoiler – it is a great little read, a nice little treat for mystery fans.

I found it amazing how many theories went through my head in such a short amount of time. It is easy to see why Agatha Christie is held in such high esteem. According to Goodreads.com,. she is the best-selling author of all time with 66 crime novels and story collections, fourteen plays, and six novels. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and then another a billion books in translation, having been translated into at least 103 languages.

Cover photos from Goodreads.com

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Hike Books Forward – August 24

I was able to read (listen to) two outstanding audiobooks this week. Neither one was written this past year, or during the past decade, or even in this century, but both are very worthy of consideration for your reading list.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R.Tolkien

Listening time: 10 hours and 24 minutes.

I have read the hobbit twice before, but this was my first time listening to it as an audiobook. The narrator of this incredible tale was Andy Serkis, the actor who played the part of Gollum/Smeagol in the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings movies. His oral interpretation of the text was fabulous including the singing of the many songs presented in the book.

Bilbo Baggins comes alive as such a likable, humble, and quick-humored hobbit. The adventure is intense, the action flows, and the humor is so well done. Gandalf, the company of 13 dwarves with names that just crack me up, and the magnificent Smaug (or is that Smaug the Magnificent?) make the cast interesting and varied so that the story-telling moves at an exciting pace.

The book was published in 1937 (14 years before the Lord of The Rings series) but the writing style and the vocabulary seemed to transcend time as takes the reader into another land and an alternative history where the words and expressions “fit” the Middle Earth perfectly.

I love the movie experience of the Hobbit and I appreciate some of the additions/alterations of Hollywood, but the book is so complete and such a masterpiece that it is worth reading and listening to often.  

Echo in the Darkness (Mark of the Lion #2) by Francine Rivers  

Listening time:18 hrs. 30 min.

Book #1 (A Voice in the Wind) is a must-read to fully appreciate this second novel (Echo in the Darkness, published in 1994) in the Mark of the Lion series. I thoroughly enjoyed book #1, but I think book two is even better. The plot was full the individual stories involving the major characters of the cast: Marcus, Julia, and Hadassah, as well as the weaving of situations and circumstances that bring the lives together to a dramatic conclusion. This powerful story of redemption is written from a Christian perspective and shares the good news of Jesus with clarity. The powerful character of Hadassah, a humble, submissive Christ-follower, who is thought to have been killed by lions in the arena, not only survives but she ties this story together and is the major focal point of the novel. She continues to impact and serve the Valerian family within the veils of a hidden identity and a role of healer/caretaker.

The spiritual journey of a prosperous yet grieving man, the hopelessness of a selfish woman, the misunderstandings of a well-meaning physician, the misguided loyalty of a patient, the pagan society that provides many gods to appease, and the miraculous power of the Sovereign God are some of the elements that blend together to contribute to this enjoyable read by Francine Rivers.    

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Hike Books Forward – August 17

Two audiobooks appear in this week’s recommended folder. One work of fiction that reads like a true story and one memior that is filled with realism and the realities of World War 2. Neither book is very lengthy and yet the messages made me think and ponder on the depravity of man. I completed both books reflecting on the grace and mercy of God.

Safely Home – by Randy Alcorn 2001

Two college friends, one from America and the other from China, lose track of one another for 20 years. The American lives in corporate America with eyes set on the company’s CEO office. The company has major interests in China and the American travels to China and makes arrangements to reunite with his friend. The major contrasts between the two men are stark indeed including family, economic wealth, faith, and priorities  

This novel holds a powerful message for the comfortable church in the land of the free. The believers in China and many other countries around the world are not free to worship Jesus, but face persecution, opposition, and violence for their faith. It is so easy for me to focus on my first world problems (the price of gasoline, the coldness of air conditioning in fast food restaurants, and the speed on my internet connection) and forget that so many Christians around the world face imprisonment, ridicule, and joblessness because of their faith. This novel is an easy read without graphic violence or profanity or sensationalism, but with the faithful testimony of those who love God and live for the gospel of Jesus despite the cost and sacrifice.

It is a sobering book that made me think and pray and evaluate.

The Boy on the Wooden Box – Leon Leyson 2013

Leib Lezjon was only 10-years-old when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and uprooted his family to the Krakow ghetto. And the Plaszow concentration camp. One of the significant aspects of this memoir is that Leib (whose name was changed to Leon Leyson) was one of the holocaust survivors that found his name on Schindler’s List. Leon worked in Schindler’s factory and had to stand on a wooded box to perform his job. Schindler saved not only Leon Leyson’s life, but also the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings. Although the insanity of the Nazi soldiers is not withheld from the memoir, there is a spirit of hope throughout the storyline.

This audiobook is short and yet, the length was a perfect fit for Leon’s remembrances.  The narrator, Danny Burstein, did a fine job in maintaining a good pace and providing an excellent interpretation of the author’s work. This might be aimed at the middle grade level (and an excellent consideration for the classroom), I found it interesting and unique.    

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Hike Books Forward – August 10

Two audiobooks to recommend this week. Both are old, but one is 100 years older than the other. Both are spiritual books, but one is based in reality while the other is couched in fantasy. Both are excellent reads, but one is written for adult eyes while the other has young readers in mind.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – 1852 – Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Wow! What a powerful book. I had to remind myself several time that this was written in the 1850s. It is a book that addresses the mindset of American today. The church needs to read this book with eyes and ears and hearts wide open. The gospel is so beautiful proclaimed, and the hypocrisy of the religion is painted with stark realism and incredible insight. The faith of little Eva and of Uncle Tom brought me to tears many times.

I have never taken the opportunity to read this classic. What a loss for me. This profound work of fiction has real life behind it. The dialog of slavery speaks with a raw harshness and the attitudes of bigotry and prejudice fill many of the pages the text. And yet there are the golden rays of hope and love and prayer and compassion.

The book opens in Kentucky as a farmer, Arthur Shelby is in debt and in danger of losing his farm. He has a benevolent relationship with his slaves, but begrudgingly agrees to sell two slaves to a Mr. Haley, a slave trader. He sells Uncle Tom, a gracious, honest, loyal middle-aged man who loves Jesus and trusts in his Lord completely and he sells Harry, a young boy, a son of his wife’s maid, Eliza. Eliza hears of the sale and decides to run away with her son and head toward Canada. Thus begins the stories of hardships and encouragements; of harshness and compassion; of cruelty and support; of ignorance and confusion; of truth and deception; of good news and hatred. 

If you have never read this book, I highly encourage you to take the time. It is not a short book, but it is a powerful one. If you read it many years ago, this might be a good time to pick it up again and see the novel through the eyes of 21st century America.

The Horse and His Boy – 1954 – C.S. Lewis

The reading of the seven books that comprise the Chronicles of Narnia is always a treat. The order in which they are read involves a choice. Some like to read the books in the order in which they were published while others desire to read the stories in a chronological sequence within the times of Narnia. By publication dates, the order is 1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950); 2. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951); 3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952); 4. The Silver Chair (1953); 5. The Horse and His Boy (1954); 6. The Magician’s Nephew (1955); 7. The Last Battle (1956).

The Narnia historical sequence changes the order: 1. The Magician’s Nephew; 2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; 3. The Horse and His Boy; 4. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia; 5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; 6. The Silver Chair; 7. The Last Battle.

The reading order does not seem greatly significant in my opinion, although in The Horse and His Boy, I did scratch my head a bit at the first mention of Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Peter. The author quickly clears the air by mentioning the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW). Once I realized that The Horse and His Boy fits inside the story of LWW, the time frame made sense.  

I love the title of the book as it places the relationship between talking animal and young lad as well as the leadership in their escape from slavery in an appropriate dynamic. I have to admit that this is not my favorite volume in the chronicles, but the adventure is still rich, and the role of Aslan is powerfully written. Plots to kidnap and conquer, a boy and a girl and two horses on the run are keys to the fate of Narnia, and the interventions of the lion make this a wonderful book for all ages.   

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Hike Books Forward – August 3

Two books this week worthy of consideration. The first is basically a love story written in 2017, the second is a biography written in 1937. The first is a novel written from a Christian worldview, the second is a true story that reflects the pioneer spirit of the early settlers moving west in the 1870s. Very different books; different genres; different audiences; different settings; and different styles. But both are well-written and enjoyable reads.

 Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock 

Several stories weave together in this interesting love story, murder mystery, and child custody case. The plot includes arson, the misuse of political power, several child/parent dysfunctional relationships, a pardon from prison, and a deep commitment to healing emotional wounds.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel by Terri Blackstock. The protagonist, Nate Beckett, was a wildfire fighter with a strong faith and a compassion for people. He is an easy character to like and admire. An injury in the field sends him back “home” after a 14-year absence to many dark details that need to be explored. No spoilers here, just an encouragement to read this quick and easy read. The story is easy to follow, and the plot unfolds with good pacing. The many threads of the story are well defined and come together in a logical way for a good resolution and conclusion.     

On the Banks of Plum Creek (Little House #4) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have been slowly working my way through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is not my favorite series, but it does provide an interesting perspective of American Pioneer life written in 1937. In this 4th book in the series, Laura is between seven and nine years old and her perky, mischievous personality is developing in contrast to Mary’s quiet, obedient disposition. The historical setting is from 1875 to 1877 and the setting is (obviously)  on the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota.  The Ingalls family have relocated from Kansas to Minnesota, have traded their two horses for a farm, and have high hopes for an abundant wheat harvest that will provide financial stability for the family.

This portion of Laura’s autobiography relates the building of their house, attending school with their teacher, Miss Eva Beadle, and going to church services held by Reverend Alden. Nellie Oleson is introduced with all her better-than-thou attitude and actions.  Two different parties – one at the Oleson’s and one at the Ingalls’ – reflect the priorities and personalities of the characters.

Hard times emphasized by the locust and the hard winter show the determination of the family and the persistence of Ma and Pa to survive and thrive in their new home. The vocabulary is easy for younger readers and the stories are easy to understand. Not really my style or genre of interest, but still an amazing series with lots of appeal even after 84 years.

Book Covers found at Goodreads.com

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Hike Books Forward

Two books this week, both coming from the world of science fiction. Neither book would get 5-stars from my pen of evaluation, but both are interesting reads. Written 10 years apart, the first written in 1995 and the second was published in 2005.

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman

I am not so sure what to do with this book. If I read it as a book of fantasy and an alternative world filled with talking bears, personal daemons, strange particles called dust, witches, and pages of unusual phenomena, then I find this book as an intriguing volume of make-believe and imagination. If I read the book as a commentary on reality or an allegory attempting to reflect a genuine worldview, then I discover a book founded on misunderstanding, a rejection of truth, and even a perversion of the character of God.

The author seems to purposively intertwine his fantasy world with the world of our own. The author’s atheism surfaces often as he pulls religious elements into his plot. I found myself connected to the story of the young protagonist, Lyra, as she desires to save her friends, her father, and to confront the evils of the kidnapping Gobblers. And then I found myself bristling as his worldview of fantasy invaded the truths of the universe and the character of God. The re-writing of the Genesis creation narrative to include daemons is an example of the inappropriate invasion of Pullman’s imaginary creation into truth. It does not change truth, but it ruins the sci-fi aspects of the book.

This book was first published in 1995. I have read the trilogy many years ago and enjoyed it, but this recently read (audiobook) left me uneasy and conflicted. This is not a children’s book (in my opinion) and it might raise some questions in young adult readers that would warrant discussion/clarification. I have listed this volume on my blog not as an endorsement, but as a review for consideration. The author touches on a few heavy topics like spirituality, religion, morals, and the existence of the soul. But the plot is filled with the adventure, excitement, and the mystery of fantasy.  Instead of branding it as heresy, I have chosen to read it as well-written sci-fi story of fantasy. Take a read and see what you think.   

Pretties (Uglies #2) by Scott Westerfeld 

I included the first book in this series, Uglies, on this blog several weeks ago. This book of science fiction takes place in a dystopian world where teens go through the process of becoming “pretty” on their 16th birthday. They are transformed from being an “Ugly” to a fun, free world of beauty and the bubbly experiences of perfection. But unknown to the young people, they also lose a layer of personal identification, part of their drive to accomplish the unique, and an aspect of their ability to establish deep personal relationships.

In book one the protagonist, Tally, escapes her society as her date for becoming “pretty” draws close. She experiences another society outside the city – the world of the Smoke, where she discovers Uglies that desire to live outside the transformation. At the end of book #1, Tally finds herself back in Prettytown with the desire to find the cure for the transformation. Pretties chronicles Tally’s inner struggles, her establishment of new relationships, and her choices moving forward. As book #2 opens, Tally has finally become pretty. She looks beautiful, her clothes are exquisite, and she is in the center of all that is popular. It’s everything she’s ever wanted. But then a message comes from the past, and she begin to remember and reflect. Thus, the plot begins.

This is not the best sci-fi novel on my virtual bookshelf, and it does lead into yet another installment, but I found it interesting and engaging. It is a fast, light read with good pacing, an enjoyable flow, and lots of actions. Book #1 (Uglies) is a must read to understand Book #2 (Pretties).

Book Covers found at Goodreads.com

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Hike Books Forward

This is mystery week – not by design but by good reads. My two best audiobook selections for this week are both mysteries. The first (messenger of Truth) was written in 2006 and the second (Tales for a Winter’s Night) is a series of short stories written around 1898.  

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

 Messenger of Truth is book #4 in the Masie Dobbs series. The setting is London, 1931. Masie is a private investigator with incredible skills of deduction and observation. This novel takes the reader into the world of art and the deadly world of foul play. On the eve of a much-anticipated exhibition artist, Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls from scaffolding while attempting to mount his secretive masterpiece. The police visit the famed Mayfair gallery and declare the fall accidental, but the dead’s man’s twin sister (Georgina) has other opinions. With the case being closed by the police, Georgina seeks out a fellow graduate from Girton College: Maisie Dobbs and the investigation begins.
The facts of the case take Maisie to the beaches of Dungeness in Kent and the dark memories of World War 1.

Being book #4, the first three provide a great deal of background about Masie and her past relationships. It is a good series and I would recommend taking the time to read the first three novels. There are 16 novels in the series and #17 to be released in 2022. The British-born author has done extensive research into the story’s setting, and the protagonist continues to grow with each novel. A good read and an entertaining audiobook. The audiobook also contains a very interesting and insightful interview with the author.

Tales for a Winter’s Night by Arthur Conan Doyle
These eight classic Conan Doyle mysteries were originally published in The Strand in 1899 and then republished in 1908 as one volume entitled Round the Fire Mysteries. I thought these were going to be short adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but the master detective was not present in any of these mysteries. As an audiobook each tale lasts about 45 minutes so there are several nice stopping places. The table of contents reveals the short stories: The Man with the Watches, The Black Doctor, The Jewish Breastplate, The Lost Special, The Club-footed Grocer, The Sealed Room, The Brazilian Cat, and B.24. As in most collections, some of the stories were better than others. I personally liked The Man with the Watches, the Jewish Breastplate, and the Brazilian Cat. The formal, older, British syntax and vocabulary made comprehension a little more difficult and active listening a bit more difficult, but all in all it was an enjoyable audiobook

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Hike Books Forward – July 13

Let me highlight two excellent books that were part of my week. The first is a young adult novel that takes the reader to Lithuania. The second is a medical-oriented novel exploring the recovery of an accident victim.

Words on Fire

The young protagonist, Audra, lives in a quiet farm in Lithuania. But the quiet farm is not a safe farm community. Under the control of the patrolling Cossack soldiers, Russia poses a dangerous threat. Audra turns out to be a strong, brave patriot determined to help save her country’s sense of identity and history. The Russian government has ordered that the Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language be eliminated from the country and all Lithuanians become Russians. Audra will be called upon to help resist such an assassination of her culture.

Her mother and father have sheltered their daughter from some of the realities of the cultural assassination, but the book quickly brings these conflicts to the surface. Audra is faced with many decisions that will determine her stand in the midst of conflict.   

This young adult novel is worth a read. It is filled with adventure, quick thinking, loyalty, mixed with some tricks and a dose of problem solving.

Left Neglected

Sarah Nickerson experiences a traumatic brain disorder called “left neglect.” One morning while racing to work, Sara is distracted by her cell phone, glances away for just a second or two, and finds herself in the hospital.  She discovers that she is unaware of everything on her left side. And now must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole.

This novel is written by Lisa Genova, a graduate from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. With this remarkable background, the author has the ability to paint the picture with realism and a medical foundation that allows the portrait to come alive with stark believism.  

This book is such an excellent read. I was not aware that Left Neglect even existed. The brain is such an amazing entity. This novel reads like a memoir and has all the rings of truth. Genova writes with the lightness of humor and the stress of tragedy as she spans the gamut of emotions experienced in this accidental injury. I would highly recommend this book for its honest approach and hopeful outlook on overcoming adversity.

Book covers found at Goodreads.com

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Hike Books Forward

The Uglies (#1)

This interesting futuristic sci-fi novel is set in a dystopian America and reflects a standard procedure that takes place when a person (called the Uglies) turns 16 years old. A physical cosmic surgery and emotional make-over transforms males and females into the Pretties. Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. She will join her boyfriend and be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

Enter Shay who has decided to abandon the process, flee the city and join David and the rebels. A chance meeting between Shay and Tally opens the plot and the window to alternatives. This book is written for young readers and is a clean read – sexually and in vocabulary. This is the first book of a series, but it can be a terminal volume if you want to fill in the blanks on your own without knowing the ultimate destiny of the characters. I have not decided if I am going to pursue the next installment or not.

This is not my favorite genre, but this book was both intriguing and well-written. I enjoy some of today’s young adult literature and this story was real enough so that my “impossible” buttons were not pushed, and yet mysterious enough to keep me guessing in the flow of the plot.    


The Apothecary (#1)

The year is 1952. It is a time of anti-communistic-phobia in America. Fourteen-year-old Janie’s parents are blacklisted as Hollywood writers and the entire family must move… to gray, cold, postwar London. Janie is not happy with the move from sunny California to dreary England.

School presents a problem for homesick Janie until she meets a kindly apothecary who provides a prescription for homesickness and his son, Benjamin Burrows, a fellow student. Before you can turn a few chapters, the story has brought the teens into a fantastic world of international intrigue, atomic warfare, and potions that can change the matter and nature of reality.

The book moves along at an interesting pace and involves a good “chemistry” among the characters. For a person that does not enjoy fantasy very much, these first two books are filled with worlds of imagination and wonder. Parents should give eyes on this book and be careful to provide input and discussion for their children. Lying, deceit, violence, and death are all part of this volume, topics that might need parental interaction.  

There are at least three books in this series – I have not read beyond this initial offering.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes #5)

This classic Sherlock Holmes mystery is so well written, although the older English vocabulary and syntax is not the easiest reading. The incredible death of Sir Charles Baskerville is completely filled with the impossible and yet Sherlock is more than capable to sort through the details. I, of course, am totally confused most of the way through the novel. Watson is the main investigator and narrator of the work as Sherlock is immersed in another pressing case.

Knowing that there are answers to every aspect of the case, the plot slowly opens up many details and relationships that add layers of questions to confuse the “facts.” I have seen the story on film, but it was many years ago, and all I could remember was the huge beast of a hound and being confused at the conclusion of the case. This is worth a slow read and contemplation. Holmes is truly amazing.

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