Review: Boy Queen by George Lester

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Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.
While his friends prepare to head off to university, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.
Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realises there might be a different, more sequinned path for him . . .
With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.

This book was every bit as fabulous as I expected it to be. Boy Queen follows Robin, who is struggling with knowing what to do when he gets turned down from his dream drama school. Surrounded by his friends, he ends up exploring the world of drag, and blimey it is a ride.

Look, I don’t know much about drag. I watched a bit of Drag Race yearssss ago, and I don’t remember much about it. But this book feels like a staple for those who love drag, and those who only know a little about it. As Robin is only just being introduced to the wonderful world of drag himself, I was very much along for the ride, and what a ride it was.

I absolutely adored the characters. Robin’s mum was my favourite. She was smart, she was sassy, and she loved Robin more than anything in the world. I loved every line she came out with, and the relationship between Robin and his mum was so heartwarming. The book never talks about why Robin and his mum live alone, and I actually really liked that. I’ve found a couple of books recently that don’t discuss single parent relationships in too much depth, and I find it really strong and a great thing to normalise. Not that it’s not important, it just wasn’t the story Boy Queen was here to tell, and that’s okay.

Robin was surrounded by a lovely, diverse group of friends who stand up for him when it really matters. They have their differences, which feels real and is done really well, but they also stick together. And Robin himself, the fabulous little drama queen he is, was a great protagonist to follow. He even made me properly laugh out loud in parts, which I find rarely happens with a book and I really appreciated!

I read this book in a couple of days, and although the pacing can be a little slow at times, it feels like an all-singing, all-dancing heart-warming pick me up. It was warm and fuzzy, but not without it’s family feuds, break ups and drama! What an absolutely sparkling YA debut! I can’t wait to see more from George Lester.

cw: homophobia, physical attack/abuse, homophobic slurs

★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

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Goodreads

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

So, going from I Wish You All the Best to this was a ride. I was not prepared for this much emotion, and once again, I don’t know if I can put into words how I feel about this book.

Felix is a trans boy who is still questioning his identity. He has a best friend called Ezra and goes to art school. And his story captured my heart. The thing about this book is it really allows the characters to be messy and real. Felix was far from perfect, and he made me angry at times. But I couldn’t help but forgive him because he was so soft and just trying to work out how he could be himself, in his own body.

I’m not flaunting anything. I’m just existing. This is me. I can’t hide myself. I can’t disappear. 

This book is about revenge. It’s about love. It’s about questioning your identity and coming to terms with yourself. It’s about family and friends and relationships. It’s freaking beautiful. Felix is constantly being bullied and struggling daily because of the negative way people treat him because he’s queer, Black and trans. And sometimes, he messes up. And the people around him mess up. But this book teaches so much about forgiveness, about being angry and being able to stand up for yourself and those around you.

I got through this so quickly, in just over 24 hours! I’ve been reading quickly at the moment anyway, but with this being over 350 pages, I thought it would take me a bit longer. But as soon as I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. It was so cleverly written, with a revenge plot and mystery thrown in too, that didn’t feel unrealistic or like it was forced in. It felt natural and I couldn’t help but be hooked by the story, I just wanted to find out what was going to happen.

And even if I could, I don’t f**king want to. I have the same right to be here. I have the same right to exist.

I had full body shivers/goosebumps at some parts of this book, especially at times that really meant a lot to Felix (I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say any more than that!). I had tears in my eyes multiple times. Again, this book is just so needed right now. It was raw and honest and vulnerable. It will change lives.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Loveless by Alice Oseman

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Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush – but as a fanfic-obsessed romantic she’s sure she’ll find her person one day.
As she starts university with her best friends, Pip and Jason, in a whole new town far from home, Georgia’s ready to find romance, and with her outgoing roommate on her side and a place in the Shakespeare Society, her ‘teenage dream’ is in sight.
But when her romance plan wreaks havoc amongst her friends, Georgia ends up in her own comedy of errors, and she starts to question why love seems so easy for other people but not for her. With new terms thrown at her – asexual, aromantic – Georgia is more uncertain about her feelings than ever.
Is she destined to remain loveless? Or has she been looking for the wrong thing all along?

Oh my gosh. We don’t need to talk about how much I love Alice Oseman, but it has to be said that this is her best writing yet. I just clicked with it immediately in a way I haven’t with her other books – it captured me from the off and I didn’t want to stop reading. Georgia was such a relatable character who was struggling with finding out who she is, which I think is something we have all found in life, whatever sexuality.

Although I’m not asexual myself, I found Loveless made me reflect a lot on my own sexuality. Almost a year ago, I realised I am demisexual/demiromantic, which means I am only sexually and romantically attracted to people I have an emotional connection with. Some of the stark and raw conversations Georgia and her friends have about sex were so bold and relatable and we simply need more of this in YA. These conversations not only made me chuckle, but it taught me a lot about why I am the way I am with relationships and my sex life.

Give your friendships the magic you would give a romance.

I (mostly) loved the cast of characters. Although they could be annoying at times, I think it was only because they were all learning and discovering things about themselves, which only prompted the story to be more realistic and relatable. The discussions the characters had were not only heartfelt, but incredibly sex-positive and funny. Hardly any books make me actually laugh out loud, but I couldn’t stop chuckling!

The plot was entertaining, and even if a little predictable at times, I still loved it. The diversity was amazing. The casual way Oseman would drop in white privilege and racial issues had me reeling. If she can do it, anybody can do it. It’s just not that hard. The diversity felt natural, added to the story, avoided stereotypes and tokenism. It was executed with grace and thought.

The friendships were also so great and well written. The way this book showed how friendships are just as important as relationship is perfect. I have felt this so many times in my life, and I definitely agree that friendships are just as important and meaningful as romantic relationships are. There is still love and adoration and fear and intimacy. I cannot express how grateful I am for Alice to writing this and these characters and this book.

Because they’re just as important.

I think the underlying most important thing about this book is we need it so badly. We need more books discussing sexuality. Exploring how identifying as a certain sexuality might mean a different life and that this is not weird or bad. We need more sex-positive books that talk openly about sex lives and masturbation and how it varies for different people. We need for teenagers, children and adults to be able to see themselves in books. Loveless taught me so much about asexuality. If all books did what Alice Oseman has done, how much could we learn?

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Blog Tour + Review: Lot by Bryan Washington

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In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.
This boy and his family experience the tumult of living in the margins, the heartbreak of ghosts, and the braveries of the human heart. The stories of others living and thriving and dying across Houston’s myriad neighborhoods are woven throughout to reveal a young woman’s affair detonating across an apartment complex, a rag-tag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, and a reluctant chupacabra.

Thank you to Darkroom Tours and the publisher, Atlantic Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

What a poignant and raw, emotional collection of voices. Lot is a short story assembly championing Black and Latinx working class voices, discussing racism, poverty, family, friendship and relationships. The stories felt strong, powerful and honest, really packing a punch.

All of the narrators were men, which I found really interesting but I actually really enjoyed. I thought this was a great way to highlight toxic masculinity and the spotlight men can be put under in certain situations, and how harmful this can be. I felt really grateful for how this was portrayed in the narration.

Your eyes will show you what they want to

This book felt alive, the narrators were brutal and had me gasping at times, and I felt like I was breathing alongside the men I was reading about, living their stories alongside them. It really captured me. I liked the short story aspect, and the narrators changing occasionally kept me on my toes, however I did enjoy coming back to the same narrator. I thought it was really inventive to read about the same stories of people in the same neighbourhood.

My biggest problem with this book was the lack of connection to the narrators. I’m unsure whether this was due to the short stories meaning we spent a fairly short amount of time with them, or something to do with not knowing their names or a lot about their lives, only seeing rough snippets and not much more. But the lack of connection ended up meaning a lot to me and changed my viewpoint of the book a lot.

or whatever they think you should see.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book despite feeling distant from the characters themselves. It felt hard hitting and important, and it was unfortunate I felt like I was almost listening to these stories underwater – I just wish I could have felt more connected to them.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC Review: How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

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Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?
Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a US Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I unfortunately went into this book with an already negative viewpoint as the author had twisted the words of a reviewer I personally know and attacked them on social media. However, I decided to push on anyway and pick this one up, more out of curiosity than anything.

The story follows Amir, who is 18 years old and earns money by writing Wiki articles for payment. When he is blackmailed with a photo of him kissing another boy, he uses his money to escape to Italy, where he befriends a group of older, gay men. This in itself felt problematic and somewhat predator-ish, how he was very quickly taken under the wing of these men, even living with one of them for a while and being made to feel uncomfortable by another, which appears to not change how his friends feel about this man at all, and has no negative impact on him. Even any other side characters were one-dimensional and unimaginative.

I wish I could say I enjoyed it other than that, but I’m far from done yet. As pointed out by other reviewers, this book does not take the opportunity to fully represent and discuss Muslim culture. Although the main character is Muslim himself, and makes it very plain that his sexuality would be a problem for his family due to their religion, this is the point in which the discussion of religion stops. Rather than feeling like I learned more about Muslim culture, I was left questioning whether Amir or his family even followed any Muslim practices as they are not at all mentioned in the narrative.

Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the problems for me. Although I adored the setting in Italy, Italian culture was very much stereotyped, full of pizza, pasta and Vespas. I’ve not visited Italy myself, but I’m damn sure there is more to it than that. I also want to bring up the subject of how panic attacks were represented, which, having suffered from panic attacks myself luckily only a couple of times in my life, felt completely unrealistic to me. Amir had a seemingly normal conversation with a guy in a bookshop, in which he seemed perhaps a little lovestruck. He then went back to his apartment and lay down, in which I thought ‘oh, he’s tired/going to have a nap’, and then proceeded to say how bad his panic attack had been. Now, I completely understand how different people experience panic attacks differently, but I was so disappointed by how this was represented. I had no idea Amir had had a panic attack, because he displayed no common symptoms. It felt like a missed chance to explain to the reader how a panic attack may feel, completely missing the mark for me.

That being said, I was intrigued by this book and absolutely sped through it, wanting to know what would happen next. Despite Italy being stereotypical, it made for a beautiful setting and I enjoyed the descriptions of the architecture and surroundings. Other than finding him vulnerable and frustrating, I liked Amir as a main character and sympathised with him. If this book didn’t have so many damn problems, I even might have enjoyed it. *sigh*

★★
2 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Date Me, Byrson Keller by Kevin van Whye

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Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.
Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.
Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I was so happy to receive an ARC from this through work. It caught my attention from the cover and synopsis, to the little rainbow Penguin logo on the spine. And I wasn’t wrong – I loved it.

This book drew my attention from the start, and I really liked the concept of the dare and Kai as a character. Although I was a little confused about his actions at times, I did sympathise with him quite a lot, and I found reading about the racism and homophobia he faced so heartbreaking. His friends and family were all brilliant, I love a good YA book that includes close family.

Although I found it difficult to like Kai’s parents at times, I really liked reading about some moments with them and his sister, Yazz, was just brilliant in every way. Kai’s supportive friends were lovely side-characters and so was Byrson and his family, the main scene in Bryson’s house warmed my heart so much.

The plot was so compelling, especially after the first half or so, and I ended up reading almost half of the book in an hour or two. I really enjoyed the pace, short chapters and day-by-day sections, and it made me rush through it and just want to read a couple of extra tables.

Overall, this was a great LGBT contemporary with some lovely family scenes and tackling difficult topics. I loved it!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

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Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

Warning: spoilers ahead! No necessarily large plot spoilers, but discussions of major scenes.

I’m going to have to clear something up -this is mainly going to be a rant. So before I go all negative, I’m going to have to tell you that there is no doubt, this book is beautiful. The narrative is absolutely breathtaking, and reads like a classic. This isn’t always a good thing, but it is emotional, raw and naked. Too naked, in fact, and so pretensions it really p**sed me off, but in the end that is frankly the least of my problems.

Other positives! I loved the Italian setting, it was utterly beautiful. I also liked the characters and I need to mention the discussion between Elio and his dad at the end of the book. It was definitely the most heartwarming part of the entire novel for me and I loved it.

“If I could have him like this in my dreams every night of my life,”

Okay, with that over let’s get to why I’m rating this book 2 stars. For many reasons, this book made me extremely uncomfortable. The worst possible feeling a book can make me, when I turn to reading for relaxation and comfort. I know everyone talks about this, but I have to mention the infamous peach scene. For those who haven’t read the book, Elio has a very intimate relationship with a peach. At this point, I let this wash over me and dismissed it. So what? People have their kinks. And then this happened.

“What a crazy thing this was. I let myself hang back, holding the fruit in both hands, grateful that I hadn’t gotten the sheet dirty with either juice or come. The bruised and damaged peach, like a rape victim, lay on its side on my desk, shamed, loyal, aching, and confused, struggling not to spill what I’d left inside.”

No no no no. And more no. Something that all authors in the entire world should know – never ever refer to a sexual act as rape if you want us to like and relate to a character. What the actual f***.

The book continued to disgust me, with two other scenes I will mention. One, where Elio actually searched for pubic hairs in a bathing suit because he wanted to find them. Another, when he declared to his lover not to flush, because he wanted to not only see his poop but poop on top of it. His lover then kissed him on the lips and rubbed his stomach while he pooped.

I’m sorry but what. This is not romantic. It doesn’t prove how close these two people are, and it is not needed. All of this is creepy, weird and actually made me feel slightly sick.

“I’d stake my entire life on dreams and be done with the rest.”

So overall, I am going to watch the movie with the hope of this book being portrayed better on the big screen. I won’t deny that the writing is beautiful, but this book is too flawed and littered with issues for me to enjoy it.

★★
2 stars

-Beth

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Review: Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.
So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

I didn’t think I was going to read this book – I was just unsure that it was my thing as I’m getting older and my reading tastes are developing, but I’m so glad I did! It was a combination of loving The Upside of Unrequited and @bookish_and_proud (shoutout to Becky!) enjoying it that made me finally picking up, and it was definitely worth it.

“Imagine going about your day knowing someone’s carrying you in their mind.”

In some ways, this book was exactly how I expected it to be. It was angsty, cheesy and cliche, but I also loved it. I’m trying to be honest with myself here, and be honest with you guys too, so I’ll just come out with it. I really want to be cultured, and educated, and have an obsession with classics and other  books that will shape me as a person. But I honestly really love a good YA contemporary, so here we are. This book was my guilty pleasure in written form.

First of all, Leah. I loved her, she was so relatable and badass and I really found myself enjoying reading about her character. But I have to say, she was also incredibly…brash? I don’t really know how to describe her, but she really needs to learn to forgive and stop holding so many grudges. I get it, I can be like her as a person too, but sometimes it just annoyed me a little how she seemed to hate people for no reason (*cough* Wells *cough*).

“That has to be the best part of being in love- the feeling of having a home in some else’s brain.”

But that really has to be the only downside of Leah on the Offbeat, because I couldn’t help but love the rest. It’s cliche, but it also has a balance of deep, meaningful stuff which is really true about growing up. But what I really loved about these books was the laughter. I find it really, truly difficult to laugh-out-loud at books, but this one really tickled me. I kept having to stop and recite funny passages to my boyfriend.

On top of it being so funny, it was also so current! I found myself giving a little fist-pump when I saw Troye Sivan was mentioned. It warmed my heart at every single Harry Potter reference. I melted when I saw a reference to Six of Crows. I’m going to have to stop, because I loved this book so much I could go on and on about it, so I will say one last thing – I love how this book is in the same world as Simon vs. and The Upside of Unrequited. And I love how they’re not direct sequels, because there is no pressure to go back and remember what happened in Simon vs!

★★★★
4 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

This book honestly really surprised me! I thought I was over cutesy YA romances like this but it turns out I can’t help but have a soft spot for them. And it also turns out that my friend Amy knows me even better than I know myself, because she sent this to me knowing how much I’d love it!

Before I start, this book isn’t perfect. I’d rather finish on the good, so I’m going to start with the little bad there is. Even though I enjoyed it, it is predictable and all of the characters have their…problems. For example, there was a few places that made me cringeeee. Basically, Molly (the main character), talks to her cousin Abby and the conversation almost suggests Abby is a slut because she slept with her serious boyfriend of 4 months. Why is that even a consideration? It’s up to Abby whether she sleeps with her boyfriend or not. If they were ready at 4 months, great. If they were ready sooner, great.

“You would matter. That’s the thing. I get into this weird place sometimes where I worry about that.”

But apart from a few little things, I did love this book. I had to put myself into my mind a year or two ago, but I couldn’t help but really enjoy this. It is exactly how I felt when I was Molly’s age and crushing. She felt so real to me. I love how much I could relate to her and her situation. Molly wasn’t perfect but who is? And this book was so diverse, with so many LGBT and POC characters! Sometimes I struggled to remember Molly was still growing up (I was a little more mature than her at the same age), but that was just her as a person, and I could sympathise with that.

“I’ve never told anyone this – not my moms, not Cassie – but that’s the thing I’m most afraid of. Not mattering. Existing in a world that doesn’t care who I am.”

Maybe this book says something about me, because I feel like I’m one of the only readers who didn’t find Molly a little annoying because I found her so relatable. I loved that Molly suffered with anxiety and that was part of her character. I loved that she was fat and that was discussed in relation to how she was feeling. I loved her addiction to Pinterest.

So overall, this book feels like a guilty pleasure to me. I just couldn’t help but fall completely in love with it. Molly is the perfect representation of a 17 year old girl with low self-confidence. Her story, and the stories of the people around her, brought tears to my eyes even though I kind of knew what was about to happen. If you love romance and have a secret obsession with contemporaries, please go and read this. It’s beautiful and perfect and includes many, many Mini Eggs. It’s the definition of cute and fluffy, but it warmed my heart so much.

★★★★
4 stars

-Beth

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