Book review – Annie Darling – “Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” and “A Winter Kiss in Rochester Mews” #amreading

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A double review of two good reads I’ve powered through this week. The first one got me through the flight from Spain back to the UK and the second had to be picked off the TBR and devoured so I found out what happened to all the characters. I’ve already read and reviewed the two previous books in the series: I bought “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” because I’d won “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” on NetGally, and, in fact, I spotted “A Winter Kiss” in The Works and bought a second-hand copy of “Crazy in Love” so I could slot that one in and read them in the right order!

Annie Darling – “Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop”

(18 Oct 2019)

Each book of this series focuses on one member of staff of the romantic fiction bookshop and their loves and losses. We already have Posy, who inherited the bookshop and the owner’s grandson, and introvert Verity, who rules online ordering and health and safety with a rod of iron, settled down, and now we get to know Nina better. Nina’s all tattoos, innuendo, pastel hair and extravagant retro wardrobe, but she’s becoming a bit fed up with her life of app dating. Just to throw her woes into focus, the shop has a management consultant come in to see how things could be run better. With his sober suits and ever-present iPad for notes, Noah, is bound to rub Nina up the wrong way – but surely she knows him from somewhere. Well, she does, and when she realises from where, she gets all caught up in a web of lies by omission, just as they draw closer.

I loved Nina’s personality and her friends, the tattooist and retro clothes pusher, were a nice new couple of characters. I also really like all the Easter Eggs the author inserts – the pub they all go to after work is The Midnight Bell, which is the pub in Patrick Hamilton’s novels (I really hope that was on purpose, anyway!). Verity stays on brand and refuses to tackle Nina’s packing and there’s a lovely trip to one of her favourite places.

Annie Darling – “A Winter Kiss in Rochester Mews”

(09 October 2019)

In this novel we concentrate on half-French Mattie, who runs the tea shop next to the bookshop with the assistance of pensioner Cuthbert and his granddaughter, Little Sophie (who has been in the books since the beginning). Next door, the only person not now paired up is tweedy Tom, whose home life and background are a mystery and who has always been acting a bit posh and ‘lofty’ around the other gossipy and oversharing staff. When Nina decides to move out of the flat above the shop, there’s a fight over her room and then an uneasy truce. Will being flatmates thaw Mattie’s icy reserve or bring Tom down a peg?

Tom turns out not to be the lothario he appears when set against his very amusing friends, the Bantmeisters. Funnily enough, if you have been watching carefully, Tom was hissing about heteronormativity when it was assumed he knew the answers to the football questions at the pub quiz because he’s a man. And in fact this book is quite a lot about the performance of masculinity, with the Archbishop of Banterbury (aka Phil) getting lessons on not objectifying women and Tom correctly identifying a gaslighter. Although these are light novels to pass the time with, my library and information studies senses prickled (my unfinished Master’s dissertation research was on where best to put information for women experiencing domestic violence) as, much as another dissertation mentioned in the novel says, there’s more depth to romantic fiction than meets the eye.

We have more Easter Eggs – someone has parents called Margot and Jerry! – and commentary on romantic fiction, as Mattie discovers a whole slew of fiction written about women starting bakeries and cake shops: if you’ve ever wandered into The Works you can see quite clearly the trends that sweep across the genre.  Even Virago Modern Classics and their green spines are mentioned, when Nina creates a Christmas tree for the shop window out of books.

An ideal Christmas read, but do read the others in the series first, they’re very much worth it!


A couple of lovely incomings which bookended (haha) our Spanish trip. Cari sent me Ron Rubin’s “Anything for a T-shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon” with the aim that we read it together (although her copy hasn’t arrived yet). Fred is a big hero of Cari’s and she recently ran NYC so I’m really looking forward to finding out more. And waiting for me when I got home was Noel Streatfeild’s “Christmas Stories” which is a lovely-looking collection of stories Streatfeild wrote for various magazines and annuals, never before collected together, sent to me by dear Verity. I definitely plan to read that on Christmas afternoon.

Do you have a Christmas reading plan? Any series of books I should know about? (I have another set of Philippa Ashleys, one of which features Christmas, and another light novel, so will have a bit of a theme around the day for once!

Book review – Simon Napier-Bell – “Ta-ra-ra-BOOM-de-ay” plus some recent incomings

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I don’t seem to have read much this week, maybe because I went out one night and I’ve had quite a lot of work on, although I’ve written a post for Non-fiction November at least (I’m so enjoying taking part in this themed reading and blogging series!). I have read a bit more yesterday and today though and finished this one. And the last books I read were for NetGalley and I like to keep those ones free of random book acquisition chat, so see below for some incomings e-book and tree-book …

Simon Napier-Bell – “Ta-ra-ra-BOOM-de-ay”

(22 May 2018)

Almost the last of my May 2018 massive book haul from Foyles, which did include three books on music I’m having to spread out a bit. This one is subtitled “The (Dodgy) Business of Popular Music” and it’s a history of the business side of music – so publishing, record labels, promoters and managers – although it was a bit dispiriting to read that greed and payola have basically always run both the business and the choice of the songs we hear and notice. As a quote from music sociologist Dr Isaac Goldberg from the 1930s has it-

Everything we ever sing or whistle is the end result of a huge plot involving thousands of dollars and thousands of organised agents … the efforts of organised pluggery. (p. 288)

Everything has always been made as easy as possible, from simple sheet music onwards through to the non-threatening pabulum of the modern hit machine.

It’s good on the sociology behind new trends and fads, which the business kept up with until file-sharing, always edging in – for example the Tube being constructed meant people could come in from the suburbs to see shows and then buy the music, and the rise of colour TV ownership coincided with the launch of MTV. The changes in radio formats were interesting, with DJs coming in fairly late and amazing amounts of bribery going on. I did get lost in the machinations of the record labels but it’s all laid out for us.

The book was published in 2014 so streaming had not been going on long and it doesn’t cover this new development. I also noticed a few inaccuracies or oddities (Deadmau5 being spelled incorrectly; something weird about digital rights management on CDs letting viruses get into people’s computers and a claim that New Order’s “World in Motion” included the phrase “E for England” – I didn’t recall this and found it was only in the draft lyrics) which meant that I was slightly more wary of all the other assertions than I might otherwise have been. But an interesting read all told.


I had some nice book post in the last week or so. I needed to replace my lost (how?) original copy of Iris Murdoch’s “The Flight from the Enchanter” and some detective work in the IM group on Facebook found the date of the edition with the cover I had. Hooray! And my friend Zoe sent me Tayari Jones’ “An American Marriage” which she and a few other friends have read and recommended. It’s the one about a black couple where the husband suddenly gets sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and looks really good and important.

Then I feel duty-bound to record three new wins on NetGalley. “Miss Iceland is by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, whose “Butterflies in November” I enjoyed, and takes a trip to 1960s Iceland and a life of writing and expectations. Kiley Reid’s “Such a Fun Age” is a novel of modern issues, where an online influencer’s black babysitter is confronted for having charge of her two (white) children and the mum tries to make things right when she can’t really. “Tiny Habits” by B.J. Fogg is about how we can make small changes in our lives for the positive. So quite a range there!

Oops – edited to add I also received a lovely email from the folks at the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press with three excellent looking books which will be out in January. They chose to send me D. E. Stevenson’s “Vittoria Cottage”, first in her Dering Trilogy and I bet I find myself collecting the lot, Miss Read’s “Fresh from the Country” which is a standalone story about a new schoolteacher, and Doris Langley Moore’s “Not at Home” which is a just post-WWII story about renting part of one’s home to a relative stranger …

Have you read any of these?

Book review – Ian Jeffrey – “How to Read a Photograph” @Thamesandhudson @Shinynewbooks plus incomings

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The last of my reviews from the lovely Thames & Hudson’s Autumn catalogue came out on Shiny New Books this week.  Ian Jeffrey’s “How to Read a Photograph” takes the subjective matter of what is a good photograph and aims to answer it by showing us great photographs from a range of photographers from Fox Talbot to contemporary photography artists. For each we have a potted history and then a detailed examination of some seminal photos. There are old favourites and new artists to discover: this helped to cement my understanding of what I really like in a photograph. Reading it is a great learning experience and it’s an interesting read as well as a great reference book.

Read my full review here. Thank you to Thames & Hudson for sending me lovely books in return for an honest review.


When you find yourself downloading a photo and calling it October 2019 7 and it’s got more than one book in it, you know you’re in trouble.

I had to buy myself a new copy of Marianne Grabrucker’s “There’s a Good Girl”, about raising her daughter in the 1980s and noting all the examples of gendered behaviour and speech around her, after I read and reviewed “The Gender Agenda” (my review here), which riffs off this book, and then discovering I couldn’t find my own copy. I must have loaned it to a harrassed parent one day! I managed to score the exact Women’s Press copy I used to have (well the edition, not my actual copy; that would have been weird) from Abe Books and I am tempted to read it again now!

Taking a day out to Alderley Edge to meet one friend and accompany her to another friend’s house for lunch, a lovely forest walk and a long chatty lunch (thanks, Kerry!) didn’t stop Laura and me from darting into one charity shop on the rather well-groomed high street before I caught my train home. I grabbed Bill Jone’s “The Ghost Runner”, which is about the endurance runner, John Tarrant, who accidentally lost his amateur status but joined in races anyway. I’d heard about him from other books so had to get this for just £1 in the Age UK shop. I put Jo Brand’s proper autobiography (vol 2) back on the shelf and now I wish I’d picked it up, so I sense a return visit on the cards!

I have started reading “Girl, Woman, Other” and my goodness, I’m enjoying it, however it was too large a hardback to fit in my handbag for the journey, so I got on with Clair Wills’ “Lovers and Strangers” which is a history of post-war immigration into the UK, and very good it is, too, covering all kinds of people, from Irish people and Displaced Persons to the more familiar Windrush travellers.

 

 

Book review – Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia” plus new books in @janebadgerbooks

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I picked a book off the shelf because I wanted to pass it to a friend, and now I’ve reviewed all my review books and read my Iris Murdoch for the month I can pick some more from the main TBR.  This was a tiny, slight book you can’t even see here as it was at the back. I promptly acquired three more – but two were from a friend’s publishing venture and the third just cried out to be bought – honest!

Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World”

(20 August 2019, Oxfam Books)

An interesting and rather charming book detailing the author’s adventures and travels as a modern yarn guru in North America. A fascinating insight into print and online magazine publishing, knitting conventions (including Yarnover, which is also big in my friend Kathy’s life) and their rise, fall and changes, TV appearances and online teaching programmes – all the industry that hangs off the modern revival of interest in knitting and other crafts.

Her preface concentrates more on her love of travel than knitting at first, and the whole book is entertaining and has enough other detail to keep the non-knitter (like me!) interested. Parkes charts the explosion in online mass communication but also the move towards more artisanal and specialist yarns, such as single-breed ones, something that’s happened simultaneously just as she was there to record it. There’s more traditional travelogue around meeting some very forthright characters and also acceptance being gained from various quarters. Debbie Macomber gets a shout-out amongst the other knitters, presumably for featuring knitting so strongly in her novels and it’s an entertaining and informative read all round.


Now for some exciting news from Jane Badger Books. I’ve been friends with Jane for some time, bought her book, “Heroines on Horseback” about the history of the pony book (my review here, now available in ebook format from the website) and talked about pony books with her. She’s decided to reprint some classics, including illustrations where they’re available, and kindly sent me two Patricia Leitch novels to review – “The Horse from Black Loch” and “Dream of Fair Horses”. I’m going to be putting together a piece on Jane and her publishing venture soon and look forward to revisiting these books, too. Pop through to the link above to see what else she has available. I LOVE that people can do this now off their own bats, it’s just great.

And given that I have and have read “The Testaments“, I really felt I should pick up Bernadine Evaristo’s “Girl, Woman, Other” which of course shared the Booker Prize this year. I tried to tell myself it was “to encourage her” although she needs no encouragement. Really I was just pleased to see that it was in a loosely flowing experimental format rather than in Actual Poetry, which I’d heard and had put me off. Ali’s reading it at the moment so I’m looking forward to discussing it with her.

Any book confessions you want to share with me … ? At least I’m reading and reviewing fairly briskly at the moment!

Book review – Jo Brand – “Born Lippy” and really too many book acquisitions #amreading

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This was one of the books that I read on the way home from Cornwall last weekend: I finished “Unicorn” (reviewed yesterday, so I’m sort of catching up) and didn’t want to go for another Kindle book immediately, so had popped this one in my bag as a good read for a train journey. Of course, I then ended up trying not to laugh out loud on the train … oops.

More oops after the review. I appear to  have acquired even more books, and having put them on my TBR shelf, it’s all looking a bit perilous. I’d better get reading …

Jo Brand – “Born Lippy”

(29 September 2019, charity shop, Penzance)

Subtitled “How to do female”, this funny and useful book gives us a bit of memoir as well, which works well to protect Brand’s privacy (well, she lays a lot of stuff bare, but it’s not sold AS a memoir really) in addition to life advice aimed at, I think, teenagers and young women, covering family, relationships, drugs, health, friendship. There’s quite a lot on friendship, which is refreshing, including how not to behave to your friends when you get a partner, and how to keep friends.

She’s as no-nonsense and uncompromising as you’d hope and expect: for example, she has this to say in the clothes section:

My charming editor has suggested here that I talk about some of my favourite pieces of clothing. Hahahaha! I can barely remember the clothes I wore last week, so here are some weird clothes-related stories that stand out. (p. 41)

Also included are some great comebacks for when a sexist line is shouted at you, and good advice on work, family and relationship issues, all given in her exact voice: you can imagine her saying it all to you. A great travel read, too.


So as well as the journals I received in the week, I seem to have acquired even more books from shops and in the post!

On Wednesday I went into town to meet one of my lovely clients for a coffee, and when I arrived back on the high street, I realised my husband would be on his way to the dentist, so I stalked him and found him in The Works, where I spotted Simon Jenkins’ “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations” with lots of nice details and pictures, so he bought it for me from Bank of Matthew, which is a fund added to at Christmas and birthday and used to buy nice things. I did suggest he kept it back for Christmas but that apparently didn’t work.

Then later on I went out with my friend Sian to trawl the charity shops specifically for her to buy books from a couple of people’s wishlists to take to this weekend’s BookCrossing Unconvention. That’s for HER to buy BOOKs to GIVE AWAY. Second shop we went into and I was buying a CD shelf unit to use as a bookshelf and we were dragging it back to my house (at least the shop was on my road).

Then we spotted two books from Sian’s wishlist so I snapped them up for her Christmas present, some more Birmingham authors’ books which I will use for the Librarything Virago Not So Secret Santa (and two of these I managed to buy with two full Oxfam Books stampy cards, one of which Sian gave to me originally … it does get complicated!).

I found a book I’d been keeping an eye out for a while, “The Nakano Thrift Shop” by Hiromi Kawakami, so bought that for myself. And a lovely pristine copy of Paul Magrs’ “Exchange”, which I will be using for a giveaway next year (hint, hint).

And then we went back to The Works in case one of the books for Sian’s friends could be found in there – it could! hooray! – and I found Annie Darling’s “A Winter Kiss”, which is Book 4 in her Rochester Mews series (I’ve read “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” and “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” (the latter from NetGalley) and I have now ordered “Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” which had been sitting in my “Saved for later” bit of my Amazon basket for a while, so I get the order right (of course!).

Then, I came home from a walk on Friday and discovered two parcels almost stopping me from opening the front door. I won Phillipa Ashley‘s “A Perfect Cornish Christmas” on NetGalley the other day and guessed it might be part of another trilogy (you will recall I read her “Cornish Cafe” series on holiday) and bought “A Perfect Cornish Summer” second-hand (annoyingly I’ve also spotted it new in The Works since) so I got the order right (of course).

Then I’d somewhat complicatedly paid the author direct and had a copy sent that was left over from the Iris Murdoch Society conference for Christopher Boddington’s “Iris Murdoch’s People A-Z” and there it was! It’s a substantial volume and far more rich and detailed than I’d expected – not just a concordance of names appearing in the novels, it goes right into places, real and fictional, books fictional characters have written, books they mention … how marvellous! I will use it for looking-up purposes but will probably actually want to read through it, perhaps in December at the end of my Iris Murdoch Readalong project.

And THEN (oh, it’s some kind of disease, isn’t it), I was shopping for a good friend’s birthday gifts and I spotted Simon Barnes’ “Rewild Yourself” which is about getting back in touch with nature. It was on a very special offer, and although I’ve not yet read his book on returning a bit of Norfolk to its natural state, as I only bought that on holiday (see top image), it felt like the right thing to do to buy it. So I did.

As I said, the TBR shelf is now really at over-capacity. I just have to finish “The Message to the Planet” (which is proving more enjoyable than I’d expected, as my less-favourite Iris Murdoch) and read and review a lovely book on photography and I’ll have to get a good move on. Fat books or thinner quick wins: which will it be?

Incomings and West Penwith highlights @Edgybooks @SharonMcSwiney

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I’ve just come back from a lovely week in West Penwith, staying in Penzance and roaming a little around the coast and across to St Ives. As I read 8.5 books in 8 days (this included two 7 hour train journeys!) I had to replace them obviously, so there’s a book pile later, and I also wanted to draw people’s attention to a lovely bookshop and a super maker.

Edge of the World Bookshop Penzance, external view

The Edge of the World Bookshop

The Edge of the World Bookshop is a wonderful independent bookshop on the main shopping street of Penzance. You can find them online here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. They do loads of author events and signings and have a brilliant stock that’s both deep and wide. I always buy a few books here when I’m in Penzance, and I’ve never been disappointed. I was really chuffed this time to manage to pop in during Bookshop Day – something I don’t usually do as it’s always the day we’re travelling down or back – and picked up a lovely book bargain.

I took a trip to St Ives mid-week and my best friend Emma had given me a mission to find Sharon McSwiney’s shop. Sharon used to share a workshop in the Jewellery Quarter with Emma’s and my mutual friend Esther (who is also now based in Cornwall, making jewellery and automata, website here). So I found the Drill Hall, just up the hill from the sea front, and there was the charming shop and Sharon’s very nice husband, who runs the shop while Sharon makes and teaches.

Sharon McSwiney’s shop

There are so many beautiful objects in the shop – I particularly loved the autumn leaves, and there is both jewellery and larger metalwork items.  Even better, Sharon runs courses, and I bet my local friends would be interested in those. I picked up a couple of leaflets and promised to share them!

You can do full or half-day courses and all info is on Sharon’s lovely website.

I always love finding quirky and interesting shops and artists when I’m away, or returning to favourite places, and I think it’s only fair to share the loveliness – no one asked me to share these details and I’m getting nothing from this apart from the joy of sharing some lovely places and things. Do let me know if you pop to the websites or find something fun to do or buy, though!

And those books?

I always do a trawl of the charity shops when I’m somewhere different and was surprised to find only two books this time. Jo Brand’s “Born Lippy” is a book of advice that also acts as something of a memoir: it’s hilarious of course but with good advice, too. As I’d finished all the books I took with me, I read half of this on the train home. Bernadine Evaristo’s “Mr Loverman” is a novel telling the story of an elderly man, born in Antigua and living in the UK since the 60s, a husband, father and grandfather, who has secretly been in a relationship with his (male) best friend almost his whole life. I got these two from the charity shop opposite the Davy statue, the charity of which I’ve shamefully forgotten.

“On the Marsh” by Simon Barnes tells of buying and living in a slice of Norfolk including some marshland which he then rewilds, giving his son, who is living with Down’s syndrome, a place of quiet and calm in the meantime. Bought at The Works when I went in for some post-it tabs.

Then in Edge of the World I spent my book token from my friend Laura on “Homesick” by Catrina Davies – this is the book about the woman who lives in a shed on her parents’ land near St Ives after she realises she can’t afford to get on the property ladder. A very appropriate book to buy in West Penwith, and I had saved it to buy in the shop. Jonathan Gornall’s “How to Build a Boat”, which is about him learning to build a boat when his daughter is born, to sail in with her, was bought with a cheeky ‘book token’ from my friend Sian, and Isabella Tree’s “Rewilding” was in the bookshop’s Bookshop Day special offer – their favourite books for £5 each – which they are running all this week.

Have you read any of these? I know at least one person who’s just read “Homesick”. And if you have a small independent business that’s a favourite and you want to tell me about, pop a link in the comments!

Shiny Linkiness and incomings @shinynewbooks @thamesandhudson #amreading

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The lovely folk at Thames & Hudson have been keeping me topped up with super books to review for Shiny New Books magazine, and I’m sharing one from their Spring 2019 catalogue and one from their autumn one, plus I did some online ordering and have some lovely – and very worthwhile but not po-faced and worthy – buys to share, too.

I sprang at “Futurekind: Design by and of the People” by Robert Phillips because in my previous London incarnation, I worked in a New Deal for Communities project in South London, and one of our remits was doing community-led initiatives, which included designing a new medical centre with the community. There was talk of all sorts like WiFi in the tower blocks which was a bit ahead of its time, but it would have greatly profited from some of the great projects here, like the Community Fridge. Design ideas from around the world are shared, with information on their beginnings, design and implementation stages and lessons learned. Some are just so simple – like a pack supporting recovery from diarrhoea which was originally shipped in Coke boxes or the one-piece water filter that screws onto a plastic bottle, and there are local UK ones as well as international projects. Great pictures in a lovely book; really inspiring.

Read my full review here.

The Pursuit of Art” by Martin Gayford (which is the most beautiful object, mouth-watering to look at with cheeky little details on the dust jacket and end-papers) is international, too: we follow the well-travelled art critic around the world, learning what goes on behind those glossy images from press jaunts to artists’ studios. He goes from Japan to the American South-West, seeing art installed where it was made or where it’s been brought, from cave paintings to the most modern pieces (and yes, for the sharp-eyed among you, including one of Yayoi Kusama’s amazing pumpkins. He doesn’t spare us the horrors and frustrations of travel, including describing the horror of chasing down a set of wonderful pieces in situ, only to find they’ve been loaned elsewhere … He’s a friendly and avuncular companion, not fancy or pretentious at all and a great companion as we find out just how going to where an object or painting just IS and standing in front of it can have a profound effect.

Read my full review here.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for these great books for review, the ones that have come and been reviewed and the ones I have still to finish reading!


And some more treats, just because I don’t have QUITE enough books already … I’ve not had the best month or so and watching Queer Eye has been a lovely escape: who that watches the show wouldn’t want to grab Karamo’s book, especially on special offer? “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope” (and crediting his ghost writer on the title page: well done!) looks just lovely. I’ll be buying Jonathan Van Ness’s book when that comes out, too, as he’s made the brave step of disclosing his HIV+ status.

“I Will not Be Erased” edited by the redoubtable gal-dem collective (they did a takeover of the Guardian Weekend magazine a few months ago) shares stories women and non-binary people of colour tell of their past lives, giving advice to their younger selves from a position of knowledge and strength. “The Good Immigrant” edited by Nikesh Shukla also shares stories of growing up Black Asian or of another minority ethnicity in Britain. Both promise to be powerful: I’ve been resting on my privileged laurels for long enough, claiming to be a socialist feminist anti-racist, but not actually doing enough to embrace intersectionality and learning about my brothers’ and sisters’ different experiences growing up, and my record of my reading this year has been way too white-orientated, so it’s time to branch out and do some learning.


Have you read any of these? I know a few of the bloggers I follow have read “The Good Immigrant” and I’ll be picking up the US one when it’s in paperback. What are you reading RIGHT NOW? Me? Oh, a very light novel about a Cornish beach cafe. We can’t be doing design, art, intersectionality and powerful stuff all the time now, can we?!

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