Review: City of Villains (Book #1) by Estelle Laure

City of VillainsCity of Villains by Estelle Laure
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

City of Villains is the first book in an all new Fairy Tale-inspired Crime series from Disney Books.

We follow Mary Elizabeth, a teenage girl living in the Scar, an area where once magic was prevalent, but now supposedly no longer exists.

Having lost her family tragically, Mary’s main goal is to one day become a police officer. In addition to her schooling, Mary currently works as an intern for the Monarch City Police Department.

While her main duties generally involve pushing paperwork, when a classmate of hers, Mally Saint, disappears, the Chief actually assigns her to the case, partnering with a young detective, Bella.

Mary is over the moon to finally have the chance to prove to the Chief what she can do. She sees this as her opportunity to seal a position within the department after she finishes school.

Mary and Bella begin their investigation, but instead of gaining any clarity, the mystery only thickens.

After Mary’s best friend, Ursula, disappears as well, Mary knows something more sinister is happening than just kids running away from the Scar, but who will believe her!?

Even though I found this story intriguing, I did want to get to the bottom of the disappearances, the writing and overall plot are a little basic for my tastes.

I think this could have used another round of editing, perhaps cutting out some of the romantic aspects, changing Mary’s age, and allowing this to fall more into a higher Middle Grade, or Tween, category.

I just personally feel it is a better fit within that space than in YA; and that’s okay!

Tweens and Middle Graders deserve great stories as well!

I did like the appearance of some of my favorite Disney characters, Maleficent, Ursula and Captain Hook, with aspects of this story providing possible origin stories for all of them.

Overall, I think this is a solid premise for a series and I would be interested in picking up the second book. I’m not entirely sure where it will go from here, but I would like to find out.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: Lore by Alexandra Bracken

LoreLore by Alexandra Bracken
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I fully acknowledge Lore won’t be for everyone, I freaking loved this so much!!!

Greek Mythology meets The Hunger Games?

Every seven years, the Agon begins. Essentially a punishment, during the Agon, nine Greek Gods are forced to walk the Earth as mortals, all the while being hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines.

If a God is killed during the Agon, the hunter responsible for their death gets to seize their powers and immortality, thus becoming a New God.

Melora, known as Lore, is a part of the Perseous line. She is no longer participating in the Agon. Lore has left that whole world behind and kept herself hidden since the last hunt left her entire family dead in their home, including her two little sisters, murdered by a rival clan.

Living in New York City, Lore has done a good job blending in and has successfully flown under the radar of anyone related to the hunt. At least that’s what she thinks.

One night a blast from her past, her childhood best friend, Castor, ends up tracking her down. Their brief conversation intrigues Lore enough to make her question whether she really can leave that life behind.

Their interaction really rattles her. She has suspected that Castor was dead, so to have him just show up like that, it was a lot.

Little does she know, things are about to get a lot more interesting.

Arriving home, she discovers the Greek Goddess Athena, one of the few remaining original Gods, injured on the steps of her brownstone, pleading for her help!

Before she knows it, Lore has rejoined the hunt, pairing with Athena and hoping to finally get revenge on the man she blames for the murder of her family.

Y’all, I loved this book from the start.

I was so intrigued about this whole concept and absolutely loved the characters.

I think Bracken did a great job of building this out and keeping the pace steady throughout. There was always plenty of action and intrigue to keep me wanting more.

Lore is a very strong character, but you can tell that she is hurting a lot. As her past is slowly revealed, through chapters focusing on her childhood and the end of the last Agon, my heart absolutely ached for her.

This girl has been through it.

Over the course of the story, you really watch her character evolve from a damaged soul to a true force to be reckoned with.

I loved the relationships within this story. The friend group, made up of Lore, Castor, Van, Miles and Iro, was so great to read. I loved their dynamic and the way their personalities played off of one another; particularly Miles, the only one not from an ancient bloodline.

The Agon, at its heart, really is a competition; one of my favorite tropes. There was a lot of danger. I mean really, the entire time, Lore and her friends are on the move.

They’re constantly in fear for their lives, which makes you constantly in fear for their lives!

This felt like a superhero story to me and I was living for it. Towards the end, there are all sorts of surprising twists and reveals. Lore is a blast to read!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I truly appreciate it.

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Review: Rebel Rose (The Queen’s Council #1) by Emma Theriault

Rebel Rose (The Queen's Council, #1)Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Rebel Rose is the first book in the new series by Disney, The Queen’s Council.

Each book will be written by a different author and follow the story of a different Disney heroine.

This first novel follows my favorite Disney heroine, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. The action picks up a few months after the conclusion of the Disney animated movie.

Belle and Lio have defeated the curse and his kingdom has been restored to its former glory.

The couple have since been married, although Belle refuses to take the title of Princess of Aveyon. One of their first orders of business as a couple is to travel to the beautiful city of Paris, with the hopes of restoring Lio’s relationship with the King of France.

Arriving in the City of Lights, Lio is reunited with his cousin, Bastien. They will be staying with him, which is fortunate for Lio, since as a Duc, Bastien is used to navigating the ins and outs of France’s ruling class.

Lio’s a bit out of his element, having been under the curse for a decade.

The year is 1789 and France finds itself on the brink of revolution. Belle is fascinated as she learns about the potential populous uprising.

She personally feels caught between the two worlds. She lived her early life as a commoner. It was only after being held prisoner at the enchanted castle, and starting a relationship with Lio, that she would ever be allowed to walk among the aristocracy.

She understands the plight and demands of the people and hopes that Lio will listen to her urgings to make their province a better place for all.

Returning to their own castle, Bastien travels along with them, trying to distance himself from the potential violence of the city. Lucky, Belle.

This guy is a creeper, y’all, and Belle can see if from the very beginning. She doesn’t trust him and the two are at each others throats.

What happens next is an odd series of events that leaves Belle and Bastien alone in the castle while Lio travels the province.

Things do not go well.

I really enjoyed this one, guys, and feel like this is a solid start to The Queen’s Council series.

I wasn’t sure going in what the connection of the series would be, but there were some reveals in here that provided insight into that. Let’s just say, I am really looking forward to continuing.

Theriault did a wonderful job of creating this historical world. I also loved how true to the characters she stuck.

I felt like it was a smooth transition from the movie content to this story. Belle, Lio and some other favorites, such as Mrs. Potts, Lumiere and Cogsworth, all behaved as you would expect them too and I appreciated that consistency.

There is quite a bit of serious subject matter within this story and I do felt it read fairly slow. There were some lulls in the action, or even some portions I felt could have been removed.

I love politics in stories though, so for me, it worked. I can definitely see how some people may not be as interested in those aspects however, or feel that the pace is too slow for their personal tastes.

Overall, I think this is a solid story and one that any Beauty and the Beast fan should check out. Particularly, if you are a fan of Belle’s strength, stubbornness and pure heart.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to the next book!

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Review: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Destroys The World (Tristan Strong, #2)Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tristan Strong Destroys the World was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2020.

I had so much fun reading Kwame Mbalia’s debut, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, last year. I fell in love with Tristan, as well as Mbalia’s wit and compelling writing style.

I was blown away by the fact that it was a debut. The quality of the story, as well as the world-building, were top notch.

The Tristan Strong series is published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.

If you aren’t aware, this imprint is focused on publishing novels that allow Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds tell stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their heritage.

I have read many of the books published through this imprint and I must say, each and every one has been absolutely fantastic.

If you are sleeping on the Rick Riordan Presents books, I highly encourage you to give one a try. There is truly something for every Reader among the releases.

My biggest observation of Mbalia’s writing is that he writes with HEART.

Tristan is such a well-imagined character. I absolutely adore his perspective, his humor and the many admirable qualities he is developing as he grows through the adventures held within these pages!

In this second installment, Tristan is forced back to Alke, the magical land of African Gods and African American folk heroes, after his beloved Nana is stolen away by a mysterious villain out for revenge.

There he is reunited with many old friends from the first book, including my favorite, the dynamic Gum Baby.

As with the first book, this installment offers up nonstop action and humor.

I was biting my nails in anticipation, while simultaneously laughing at Tristan’s thoughts or witty dialogue.

This book ended with a lot still at stake. I am so excited for the third book. It honestly cannot come soon enough.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, now is the perfect time to do so. Tristan Strong Destroys the World is releasing October 6th, so you have just enough time to get in the first book before its release!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate it so much and also appreciate the thought and dedication that goes into this entire imprint.

I have been exposed to so many new myths and legends from cultures around the world through RRP and for that, I am truly grateful!

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Review: Straight On Till Morning (Twisted Tales) by Liz Braswell

Straight On Till MorningStraight On Till Morning by Liz Braswell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Meg’s current ratings for the Twisted Tales series:

1. Reflection (Mulan): 4-stars
2. As Old As Time (Beauty & the Beast): 3.5-stars rounded up
3. Straight on Till Morning (Peter Pan): 3.5-stars rounded up
4. Mirror, Mirror (Snow White): 3.5-stars rounded up
5. Unbirthday (Alice in Wonderland): 3.5-stars
6. Conceal, Don’t Feel (Frozen): 3.5-stars
7. A Whole New World (Aladdin): 3-stars
8. Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid): 2-stars

In this twisted version of Peter Pan, we follow Wendy Darling, who though she has written many stories of Peter Pan and his escapades with the Lost Boys, she has never actually met him or been to Neverland.

However, Peter has sat many a night outside of the window to the nursery, listening to Wendy’s stories. On one such night, he accidentally leaves behind his shadow.

Wendy keeps his shadow, tucking it away in a drawer, and when she stumbles upon Captain Hook, she uses it as a bargaining chip to gain passage upon the Jolly Roger on a voyage to Neverland.

Unsurprisingly, Hook has more sinister plans in mind than he lets on to Wendy, however, and now Neverland’s entire existence is in jeopardy.

Upon discovering Hook’s true intentions, Wendy must work with a tiny and surprising ally, Tinkerbell, in order to correct her mistake.

What was she thinking trusting a pirate!?

Overall, I enjoyed this installment. There were some spots that felt a little slow, but mostly it kept me quite entertained.

I really loved the development of Wendy’s character. She is 16-years old here, on the cusp of adulthood, dealing with her parent’s expectations.

She’s not ready to enter womanhood in the way they would like her too. She finds it unnerving.

Her romp through Neverland is her last ditch effort to hold onto the carefree time of her youth.

If fact, that theme arises a lot, with Captain Hook also struggling with his lost boyhood.

In addition to the exploration of the shift your life can take as you grow older, I also enjoyed the evolution of the relationship between Wendy and Tinkerbell.

Tink and Wendy’s relationship, as we know it, was often steeped in jealousy and petty acts of sabotage.

While that is how it begins here as well, we also see the two of them growing to understand and ultimately, even care for one other. I thought that growth was very well executed by Braswell.

For fans of Peter Pan, I think this will be a lovely take on the original. It’s definitely worth at least picking it up and giving it a shot.

As always, I am looking forward to seeing what stories Disney chooses to twist next!!!

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Review: Unbirthday (A Twisted Tale) by Liz Braswell

UnbirthdayUnbirthday by Liz Braswell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Meg’s current ratings for The Twisted Tales series:

1. Reflection (Mulan): 4-stars
2. As Old As Time (Beauty & the Beast): 3.5-stars rounded up
3. Mirror, Mirror (Snow White): 3.5-stars rounded up
4. Unbirthday (Alice in Wonderland): 3.5-stars
5. Conceal, Don’t Feel (Frozen): 3.5-stars
6. A Whole New World (Aladdin): 3-stars
7. Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid): 2-stars

We all know the story of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, but what happened after?

In this installment of Disney’s popular Twisted Tales series, Liz Braswell examines just that.

Alice is now 18-years old and it has been many years since her last trip to Wonderland. In fact, it has been so long that the memories are starting to fade.

There are times when she wonders if it was even real and just the vivid dreams of a little girl with an overactive imagination.

Living with her parents and her slightly overbearing sister, Alice’s favorite past time is now photography.

She has a wonderful camera and wanders all over taking candids of various people and places.

When characters she met in Wonderland start magically appearing in the photos she develops, she can’t help but feel they are trying to get a message to her.

After more and more images come up, it’s clear, they need her help. Wonderland is in trouble and Alice is the only one who can save them.

Finding her way back to Wonderland is tricky, but she eventually succeeds and is able to reunite with old friends.

It appears the Queen of Hearts is more out of control than ever, continuing her reign of terror and executing Wonderland’s citizens seemingly for her own pleasure.

Does Alice have what it takes to defeat her once and for all?

Young Alice may have been afraid, but as an 18-year old, Alice is stronger and more willful than ever. You’ll have to pick it up to find out!

This novel is definitely an interesting one. It felt very different than the other books in the series; heavier in a way.

It follows Alice after her time in Wonderland, so there is no twist per se, to the original tale. It’s more of a follow-up, in my opinion.

A large chunk of the story follows Alice in our world with her interactions with her sister, parents and potential suitors.

There is also a large political element, as Alice’s sister is involved in local politics and tries to drag Alice along even if she is not as interested, or has conflicting opinions.

There was quite a bit of social commentary on nationalism and discrimination against minority groups and immigrant populations.

These are definitely important topics to explore in literature, but I must admit I was surprised to see it here in such depth.

I have read six other books in this series and this is the only one that I can recall having that type of narrative element. Normally, I am all for incorporating such discussions, but part of me feels like it was out of place in this story. It sort of made it feel disjointed for me.

The reason I say this is that when picking this up, I was expecting a magical jaunt through a nonsense world, spending time with some characters I know and love.

While I did get that, the story switched back and forth between the adventure in Wonderland to a very serious, more modern world, where the pace was slowed down quite precipitously. It made the book seem like it was too long.

With this small critique out of the way, overall, I did enjoy Unbirthday. It was nice to be back with Alice and the whole gang.

If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland, you should definitely pick this up and give it a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I absolutely adore this series and will continue to pick them up for as long as they are released!

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Review: Hood by Jenny Elder Moke

HoodHood by Jenny Elder Moke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

What happened after Robin Hood and Maid Marian rode off into the sunset together?

They had a daughter, Isabelle. This is her story.

Finding herself on the wrong side of the law, Isabelle is forced to flee the village of Kirklees and the priory where her mother, Marian, is Prioress.

With her mother’s aide, she sets out with a destination in mind, where dwells one of her mother’s old friends who can help her hide from the King’s men.

After a fearful journey, over many days, she reaches the Inn her mother advised her to go to.

It’s there she joins up with the Merry Men, learns the truth of her parentage and grows ever closer to meeting the infamous, Robin Hood.

This was an action-packed, super fun story, full of adventure and close calls.

I enjoyed where Moke took this, finding out how Robin and Marian’s ‘happily ever after’ went.

While I had fun reading this, it was quick and light, I wasn’t necessarily blown away by anything here.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good story, and if you are a fan of the Disney animated version, you should definitely check it out, but I can’t help but wish it would have been built out further.

Moke has a very pleasing writing style and all the bones were here, but I just wanted more.

I believe this is a standalone, but I sort of wish it was going to be a duology. I started to feel very connected with Isabelle towards the end, and the rest of the Merry Men. Personally, I would really enjoy following them on further adventures.

While I wasn’t crazy about some of the content of the conclusion to this tale, I do believe there is a lot more story to tell and Moke is the perfect person to tell it.

Give me more Isabelle. She is just starting to come into her own!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading more from Jenny Elder Moke!

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Review: Star Wars Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston

Queen's Peril (Star Wars)Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Queen’s Peril, when it releases on June 2, 2020, will be the newest addition to the Disney Star Wars Canon.

The events in this novel take place after the events of Master and Apprentice and just before the film, The Phantom Menace.

In fact, to my surprise, the last quarter of the book runs parallel to The Phantom Menace.

It is not a novelization of the events in the movie, it’s more of an expansion.

With that bit of timeline info out of the way, let’s get into this story, shall we?

At just 14-years old, Padme Naberrie is elected Queen of Naboo. Her parents exposed her early to civic duty and the idea that she could one day be Queen never felt far-fetched to her.

After her election, the Head of Security Forces for Naboo, Quarsh Panaka devises a plan to select special handmaidens for the Queen.

These handmaidens will be a lot more than meets they eye. They will actually serve as body doubles and protection.

Each one, chosen with care by Panaka himself, brings a different skill to the table. Together they make quite a team.

A large portion of the story is learning about the girls and how they contribute to the function of the Queen’s reign.

It was interesting to follow as these girls go from being strangers, to companions and ultimately, to friends.

As Naboo becomes threatened by the Trade Federation, maneuverings take place to secure the Queen and gain help for Naboo.

Once the events begin to align with those of The Phantom Menace, we get more insights into what was going on behind the scenes during Padme’s flight from Naboo.

E.K. Johnston writes with such care and skill within the Star Wars universe.

You can tell that she knows the ins-and-outs of this world, complex as it is, and that she is equally passionate about it as we are as readers.

I loved the subtle feel of the narrative. It’s a character driven story, although the action does pick up towards the end, and I feel like I learned a lot.

Some of the highlights for me were learning about each of the handmaidens, why they were chosen and what their specific skills were.

I also liked the little cameos of beloved characters popping up throughout, including Yoda, Anakin, Qui Gon and Jar Jar Binks.

Senator Palpatine is also explored in greater depth here which I loved.

The duality of his character is so freaking interesting and the way Johnston wrote from his perspective was perfection!

Overall, this book is a joy to read and for Padme fans, an absolute gift!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Lucasfilm Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I had already preordered my copy prior to receiving my ARC and was beyond the moon excited to be able to get my hands on it early!

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Review: Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (Sal and Gabi #2) by Carlos Hernandez

Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe (Sal and Gabi, #2)Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

My favorite Middle Grade magician, Sal Vidon, returns in this second installment of the Sal and Gabi series.

Pairing with his whirlwind best friend, Gabi Real, and their wild and wacky families, this installment continues to bring the humor and good heart.

There is no other way to describe these stories, but: FUN, FUN, FUN!!

Low-key scifi ideas are explored and allow for a lot of flexibility with reality. Magical and heartwarming, I think so many kids are going to fall in love with these characters.

Even as an adult reader, I was fully engaged the entire way through. You just never know where it is going or what is going to happen next.

There are so many important lessons woven throughout as well; just tidbits on how to be a good human and put your most positive side out to the world.

Sal and Gabi attend a private school in Miami called, Cuelco. My interpretation is that it is a kind of performing arts school. This school is an absolute utopia for kids that are different.

I love reading everything about the school and how it functioned. The kids in this one prepare a performance for their parents based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it was EVERYTHING!

Although I did enjoy this so, so much, I didn’t love it quite as much as I did the first book. It did have all of the humor, seriously, I laugh all the time reading from Sal’s perspective, and all of the great characters, but I found the plot to be a little choppy.

It didn’t flow as well as the first one did scene-to-scene, in my opinion. Obviously, this is coming from the perspective of an adult, I think for kids reading this, they will likely not feel that same way.

Overall, I am obsessed with this Middle Grade series. I am not sure how many more of these books are in the works, but I do know, I will read any that are released!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: Elysium Girls by Kate Pentecost

Elysium GirlsElysium Girls by Kate Pentecost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Ten years ago, the Goddesses of Life and Death decided to play a little game. Their game board, a settlement town called Elysium, set amidst a stark desert landscape.

The inhabitants, the game pieces, scurrying around like the ants in A Bug’s Life, trying to gather up enough sacrificial materials to please the Goddesses once the ten years are up.

Within the settlement, an elder witch, Mother Morvena, seeks her replacement. She is nearing the end of her life, and as the settlement’s unofficial leader, someone needs to take over her duties.

Sal Wilkerson has never quite fit in. She’s different than the other girls and has few friends. She lost her mother to the Dust Sickness and has found it hard trying to make it on her own.

She knows she is meant to be a leader, but getting others to see her as such will be a battle. Her recurring false visions of rain aren’t helping matters.

But when Mother Morvena selects Sal as her successor, things change. Sal begins to see how she can truly contribute and discovers her powers as a witch.

Her new found celebrity is dimmed, however, when a new man arrives in town.

A magician named, Asa, who happens to be a Daemon in disguise! All the townsfolk are completely enamored with him and constantly after him to perform tricks.

When a magical duel between Sal and Asa goes horribly wrong, the entire fate of the game has been ruined. Blamed for the catastrophic result, they face excommunication and Asa disappears.

Now alone, Sal is tossed outside the border wall and forced to survive in the desert, where cannibals are said to lurk.

When all hope seems to be lost, Sal finds her salvation. A badass group of girls, the leader of which was also kicked out of Elysium for bad behavior.

The group takes Sal in, along with Asa, who just couldn’t keep away from those darn humans. They form a beloved found family that was an absolute delight to read.

Together they plan to get back in the game and save all of Elysium from the clutches of Death.

Y’all this book was so much fun to read. Super unique and absolutely full of action. I loved the setting, a sort of magical Deadwood meets Mad Max: Fury Road, and if that isn’t reason enough to pick it up, I’m not sure what is.

I loved both Sal and Asa, as well as many of the side characters. They were full of grit and fun to follow. I really started rooting for this girl gang.

They were smart, tough and never afraid of a fight. The giant mechanical horse on the cover is in the story as well, so there’s that!

The whole way through I was so into it. Thinking all along, this is a 5-star read, but then, the last 20% sort of lost me.

I found it confusing, it was going so fast and there were multiple twists thrown in right at the end. I still don’t really understand the conclusion. I guess if I would have had more information on the world outside of Elysium, it may have solved some of the uncertainties.

With this being said, this is still a highly enjoyable read. One that I can treasure for its magical narrative and captivating setting.

I would urge anyone who finds the synopsis interesting to pick it up. I do not think you will be disappointed.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I had so much fun with it and look forward to seeing what Kate Pentecost dreams up next!

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